The Sword of Conan by Robert E Howard [Gnome Press]

This is a collection of short stories, apparently from the middle of Conan’s career. The included stories are The People of the Black Circle, The Slithering Shadow, The Pool of the Black One, and Red Nails.

I actually liked all of them. The People of the Black Circle was the longest; it’s a cool arabesque adventure, with lots of riding among the steppes and plateaus, dark sorceries, and the like.

The Slithering Shadow doesn’t pull any punches; it begins with the heroes out of food and water, stumbling into the desert as the last remnants of an army, expecting to die. Then they come on a city of weird technology (it made me think of Hawkmoon style brass and jewels) that’s haunted by a demonic thing that slinks through the city…

The Pool of the Black One is an interesting depiction of life at sea… until they stumble on a bountiful island. Conan’s not a hero (he murders the captain unprovoked), until the Black Ones take the crew back to their enchanted pool…

Red Nails is an interesting–they encounter one giant house, with a war/feud among the remnants who are trapped within the walls for generations.

Each story partners Conan with a woman early–a different woman each time. Sometimes they are commanding and respected leaders, sometimes they’re fainting maidens, and sometimes she’s a skilled warrior in her own right. I could see “the women of Conan” as an interesting project from these 4 alone.

Ash by Malinda Lo

A great fairytale retelling, grounding the story and explaining (or justifying) the faerie interference. It’s long on setup–with Ash being acted on, as a child–but eventually she starts to stretch within the confines of her family.

There’s a cool element with the huntress, but that part seems underdeveloped–or, I suppose–mostly hinted at until the very end. The second debt seemed much thinner than the first–I could feel the rails of “must match” more strongly, but it’s imaginative and well told altogether.

While the above is a bit of faint praise, I did really enjoy the book and will look for other things that the author wrote.

Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon

A neat collection of short stories; all well crafted and relatively uniform in length. They’re mostly books from her universes.

My reaction to stories mostly corresponded to the exposure to the source books. The one short story about the composer who hastily signs a contract was good and memorable — and unfamiliar to me. The stories in universes that I already liked (Paksenarrion), were cool additions to the universe — not required, but new slantwise reads on the way things are. The Vatta series came out well–I really liked “Say Cheese”, and may have to track down the novels that go with it. (The short story about the musician in Sparta was also interesting, but relied on familiarity with the culture (and maybe the hero) a bit too much for me to love it. The Ladies Arms short stories were humorous, but didn’t really grab me.

In the end, it was a fun read–and no clunkers.