A pretty good anthology, with a wide cross-section of genres, albeit a little fantasy heavy (I actually see that as a good thing). I've seen a number of negative reviews for this particular collection, and I wonder if that's just a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that Martin's putting out a book other than the one that many fans want. I found a lot of these stories to be quite strong. I'll go through them one by one.
Some Desperado: This was a decent effort by Abercrombie, but not the best I've read from him by a long shot. Although Shy was certainly a dangerous woman, I never felt even close to the same connection to her as I have to other Abercrombie characters. This may be a result of the fact that this was one of the shortest stories in the book; it might be that Abercrombie needs or is used to a lot more space in which to develop his epic fantasy characters (I don't know for sure, as I've not read any other short fiction by him).
My Heart Is Either Broken: This is a noir crime drama, and a tough one to read. I found the narrator and his significant other to be fairly unlikable, and the situation they were in with regards to their missing child was indeed heartbreaking and emotionally draining (I've had a harder time with terrible things happening to children since having kids of my own). Having said that, I was riveted until the end of the story, and a story that can do that to me is a well-told one, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how uncomfortable it made me feel. I'd never read Megan Abbot before, but I'm impressed.
Nora's Song: This is the second short story I've read by Cecelia Holland, and because the first one I read (The King Of Norway) was so good, I was really excited to see her name in this anthology. I usually really enjoy historical fiction. Unfortunately, though there were interesting moments in this story, I felt like the rising action didn't rise enough and the climax fell a little flat. I'd still be willing to give some of her other stuff a try, but this one disappointed me.
The Hands That Are Not There: An entertaining SF story, although one that relies fairly heavily on predictable SF tropes. I definitely saw where this one was headed long before it actually got there. I think I'd only previously read some of Melinda Snodgrass' stuff in the Wild Cards series, so this was my first real impression of her style. I think I'll reserve judgement on her until I've read some of her other work, because as I said, this one was good despite its derivative nature.
Bombshells: So, before every story in this anthology, Dozois and Martin do a little intro/write-up on each author and their body of work. I approached this story with some trepidation, as I'd only read the first three books in the Dresden Files series, and I was hoping the intro would give me some idea as to whether or not this story would be about Dresden or one of Butcher's other works, and if it were a Dresden story, I wanted to know if I had to worry about spoilers. To my dismay, instead of warning about potential spoilers, the write-up itself contained a HUGE spoiler for book 12 in the Dresden Files (a book that otherwise would have been the most shocking in the series). Thanks a lot, guys. At that point I figured that I might as well read the story since the whole series had basically already been spoilered for me. It was an alright story, very action-packed, but it definitely didn't stand on its own.
Raisa Stepanova: This is the second story I've read by Carrie Vaughn, and it's remarkably similar to the first one; but whereas the first one, The Girls From Avenger, was about female American pilots in WWII, this one is about female Russian pilots in WWII (and this one's better, in my estimation). Although Vaughn doesn't delve too deeply into the historical aspects of this historical fiction, she nails the characters, and the pacing of the tale is excellent.
Wrestling Jesus: Not a big fan of this one. The humour was largely predicated on coarse language, which can work in some cases, although it didn't here. The relationships were largely superficial, and the ones that could have been interesting (like that of Marvin and his family), were glossed over in a few throwaway paragraphs. The combat was a strange mixture of legit martial arts techniques and silliness. Joe Lansdale clearly knows something about fighting, so I'm not certain why he chose to write the fight scenes in such a slapstick manner, and I also had a hard time believing that these doddering old dudes could pull off some of the moves he has them perform. Also, the fantasy element, that of Felina's voodoo magic, was so peripheral that it might as well not have even been included in the story. All told, this wasn't my kind of short story.
Neighbors: I love Robin Hobb, but this was the first time that I'd read anything by her Lindholm pen-name. This was a slow-moving, thoughtful yarn about an elderly woman trying to prevent her adult children from putting her in a home (although it later turns into an urban fantasy/alternate universe tale of weirdness). It was very low-action, but Lindholm/Hobb makes you care about all of her main characters, no matter how boring they may seem from the outset. I was completely gripped until the end.
I Know How To Pick 'Em: I've read two stories now by Lawrence Block - two stories about psychopaths where their incestuous relationships with one of their parents was romanticized. Fuck you, Lawrence Block.
Shadows For Silence In The Forests Of Hell: I was sort ambivalent about Sanderson going into this one. Although I'd enjoyed the work he had done on The Wheel Of Time, the first Mistborn book had been really hyped up, and although it had a really interesting and unique magic system it was pretty generic in every other way. I had started to assume that Sanderson was overrated, but this story changed my mind completely. Great characters, solid relationships, and a brilliant and innovative world and magic system (this guy is obviously quite good at devising unique magic systems). A fantastic story.
A Queen In Exile: A decent, if uninspiring historical fiction story by Sharon Kay Penman. It's about Constance, Queen of Sicily, and although the historical facts presented were interesting, the story moved along at a fairly slow pace, while the characters (with the exception of Constance) had little depth to them. As a story with no action to speak of, it was reliant upon the strength of its characters, which were unfortunately weak.
The Girl In The Mirror: This was an excellent story, and it really makes me want to read more by Lev Grossman. The characters are interesting and the dialogue is funny, and it features a weird, psychedelic chase scene near the end that was a real trip to read. A tie-in with his Magicians trilogy, I didn't know anything about his books and didn't ever feel out of the loop, showing that this story stands on its own.
Second Arabesque, Very Slowly: A very disturbing, brutal distopian where the world has been ravaged by a disease which drastically reduces the amount of women who are fertile, making fertile women a prized possession, and where a woman's only value lies in her ability to bear children. A tough read, but very compelling. Nancy Kress knows what she's doing.
City Lazarus: This is a crime drama that seems to take place in an alternate New Orleans, but aside from the alternate world thing, Diana Rowland didn't do anything here of much interest. The characters were exactly what you might expect from this type of story, very archetypical, and they reacted in the expected ways. The "dangerous woman" in this story was a treacherous stripper (of course), the second time that particular trope has featured in this anthology, and the Snodgrass story pulled it off in a far more interesting fashion.
Virgins: This story was pretty bad. Although I've never read any of her novels, this was the third short story I'd read of Gabaldon's, and this was actually the best of the three. It's weird, because the basic framework of her stories (historical romances) are promising, it's just that...she really can't write men very well. Admittedly, it seems like it would be hard to write someone of the opposite gender, but it is, after all, her job, and it seems to me that she writes men the way she wishes men would be. Needless to say, I'm not a fan.
Hell Hath No Fury: This story was actually terrible. It's one of those ghost stories where all the characters are very attractive, the plot is beyond predictable, the story simply serves as a vehicle for the author's cheap attempts at moralizing, and the prose:dialogue ratio is something like 10:90. I told my wife (who likes Sherrilyn Kenyon's books) that I'd read this and how bad I thought it was, and she replied "Yeah, I thought you'd say something like that about her stuff. It helps if you try not to judge it." I just don't think I'm capable of that.
Pronouncing Doom: I'd previously read one of S.M. Stirling's Emberverse short stories (Ancient Ways), and although that one was more action-packed, I liked this one better. About a female clan chief in post-apocalyptic Earth who must pass judgement on a criminal, there were even helpings of well-delivered ethics (tough to do without sounding preachy), solid character relationships and interactions, exposition that avoided the info-dump syndrome, and realistic gender equality. Very good.
Name The Beast: I enjoyed this one despite some clumsiness in POV shifts. Taking place in a fantasy world where there is a conflict between invading human colonists and the non-human forest dwellers, there is quite a bit that is typical about this story, but it's told well, and Sam Sykes breathes new life into these worn tropes. Also, his characters are well defined, the children in particular.
Caretakers: No fantastical elements here, just a contemporary crime story, and a well-characterized one. Pat Cadigan forgoes the typical hard-nosed detective or cop and instead tells a tale about two adult sisters trying to show their ailing mother that they still love her, even though they've had to put her into in a care home. They find that there's more going on at the home than they at first supposed. Very well-told relationships in this one, especially the bond between the sisters.
Lies My Mother Told Me: Caroline Spector is another author who I've only encountered within the confines of the Wild Cards universe, and in all honesty (and perhaps this is just due to the mosaic-like nature of Wild Cards) I don't really remember her specific contribution. I'm not sure why that is, because this particular story was one of my favourites in this anthology. It features The Amazing Bubbles fighting against a power stealer who hijacks the abilities of her friend Hoodoo Mama, and it was a dark, serious, thoughtful and yet still action-packed story that was easily one the best Wild Cards stories I've read.
The Princess And The Queen: Martin is not only one of the editors of this tome, but also certainly the main selling point of the book. In light of that, I can see why many fans would be upset over this story, insofar as it's written in a completely different style from not only the main books of the A Song Of Ice And Fire series but also the Dunk And Egg short stories, and it's written as if it were an entry in a history book, which in and of itself is not going to be to everyone's taste. Having said that, I feel as if comparing it solely to the rest of the series is not entirely fair to this story, and I believe that if you allow yourself to be drawn into the style Martin uses in this story you will become enthralled like I did, and although it's not my favourite story about Westeros, it definitely does not suck. It has romance, treachery, interesting characters, dragons, plenty of bloodshed...real history books are not nearly this entertaining. It's a war-torn tale of the actual Dance Of The Dragons, and true to form, Martin slaughters almost everyone by the end.
In summary, this was a good anthology that introduced me to the works of several authors who I'd never before read, which is one of the main things I like about short story collections. There were only a small handful of stories I didn't like, and I loved the ones by Lindholm, Sanderson, Grossman, Spector, and Martin.