Sandkings by George R.R. Martin contains seven science fiction pieces that showcase his imagination, his skill at developing character, conflict, and settings in short order, and his mastery at telling an interesting and compelling story. This was a wonderful book to spend time in.
The Way of Cross and Dragon - A priest of the Knights Inquisitor is sent to a distant world to stamp out a heresy related to the growing church of Saint Judas Iscariot, dragon tamer, great friend of Christ, king, and leader of men. The priest finds a man who invents religions for the purpose of giving men hope and peace. "... perhaps someday we will find one great lie that all humanity can use. Until then, a thousand small lies will do."
Bitterblooms - A story about a young girl living a harsh existence in a frozen wasteland who is captured by an eccentric witch. The girl rebels against the witch who constructs a fantasy world around her. After getting back to her own people and her own difficult life, she regrets the fantasy world that she ran away from.
In the House of the Worm - A group of young men set out on a quest to avenge a perceived insult that takes them into the vast underground realm beneath their city. When the last light goes out their false bravado turns into whimpers and terror. Absolutely bone-chilling and the ever-present looming of the enemy will stay with you long after the lights are back on.
Fast-Friend - A tale about a lifetime of dreaming about a trip to the stars only to let the dream escape just when it is within arm's reach because it wouldn't be the right thing to do.
The Stone City - The crew of a human ship traveling to the galactic core are stranded on a dead planet of vagabonds and aliens, they are imprisoned and their ship is confiscated. Most of the crew goes off to seek ways of escape and never return. Two of the crew remain, and their plan is to map an ancient and seemingly infinite set of ruins called "The Stone City" to trade for passage off the planet, yet their plans get sidetracked by despair, hopelessness, and madness.
Starlady - A story about a young lady and a young man who are tricked out of their identity on an alien world and are forced to work for a small-time pimp, a small fish who is constantly threatened by a bigger fish. Gallantry? No. Just folks doing what they must to survive.
Sandkings - A rich man with a taste for ever more exotic pets stumbles across a shop selling small, semi-sentient creatures that would do battle with each other. However, soon the terror levels rise out of control when the creatures escape from their confines. A tale that will affect you for days after you turn the last page.