Click Here to See the List

Dave Hook thought it would be revealing to combine four lists that identify the most remembered science fiction short stories to see which stories are on the most lists. Be sure and review the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet for different versions of the data, links to the original lists, and a sheet where you can track your reading. Just save a copy of the spreadsheet to your own Google Drive, or download a copy in your preferred format if you want to track your reading history.

125 stories were on all four lists (Classics, Locus, SFADB, SciFi). Dave is a moderator for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction group on Facebook and he also provides links to where the group has already discussed the story. Those stories have been read because the group has read over two dozen anthologies together. That’s just another validation of the popularity of these science fiction short stories.

Of course, we’re the creator of one of the lists, The Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories found at CSFquery. We know it’s dangerous to claim such lists reveal the best stories because tastes are so subjective. Most people look at lists on the internet to see what they’ve read and what stories they love that aren’t on the list. Quite often they accuse the list maker of making poor choices. None of these lists were chosen by their creators. Two were created through statistical analysis and two were created by fan polls. That’s why I like to say these lists track the most remembered stories. Claiming any kind of quality leads to trouble.

However, I will say that statistically, you have a better chance of liking these stories more than from any other method of identifying short fiction. I have read a large percentage of these stories and most of my favorite science fiction short stories are on this list. However, there are many stories I love that are missed by these lists. For example, my favorite Robert A. Heinlein short work is “The Menace From Earth.” It’s not here. Lists, no matter what the methodology used to create them, are never perfect. But I like Dave’s list. It’s a solid piece of work.

What’s even more interesting, is the number of stories that are on all four lists outnumber the stories that are only on three lists. That suggests the popularity of these 125 stories is quite significant.

If you look at the four lists Dave used to create his list you’ll see the stories are ranked, but the rankings differ from one list to the next. Dave used a statistical method to compare the rankings and produce a Top 20 list. I wish he had gone beyond 20, maybe 50. But even his rankings don’t match the rankings of the four original lists. There’s just no agreement for what are the best science fiction short stories to read.

One flaw in these methods is newer stories have had less opportunity to get recognized and remembered. That’s just how things work, but it does mean when a story from the last twenty years does show up it means it really stood out from the rest. Ted Chiang is a wonder.

James Wallace Harris, 11/10/21

3 thoughts on “Dave Hook’s Recommended Reading List – Short Fiction 2.0

  1. There is also the systematic problem that Locus hasn’t been updated last time in 2012. The weighing doesn’t represent that. Nonetheless, I love those lists. I don’t mind what they don’t have. Instead, I focus on what they have that I didn’t read, yet. There are so many opportunities!

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  2. Jim, thanks for a great write-up. My thanks to your putting this out there for more people to use and enjoy. Two updates. I just added a new sheet, “Top 125 List Ranked”, that presents the Top 125 stories (the ones that showed up on 4 lists) ranked according to their normalized, weighted, and aggregated rankings. Anyone wanting this should get today’s version, although the information is buried in the “Ranking the 4 List Stories” sheet. Second, I agree that we should consider how to lower the weighting of the 2012 Locus poll as it continues to age.

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  3. Just for entertainment value, I reran the Top 125 with the Locus weighting down to 0.75 from 1. The biggest changes were “Seventy-Two Letters” by Ted Chiang, which dropped from #101 to #106, and “Swarm” by Bruce Sterling, which improved ranking from #80 to #77. 56% did not change at all in ranking. The top 16 did not change at all. This is arbitrary but an interesting snapshot of the sensitivity of the rankings to the Locus list.

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