I have a guest columnist for y’all, Szymon Szott. Szymon worked out a computer program to find the minimum number of anthologies to buy that had the most stories from the Classics of Science Fiction Short Story list. The results were presented in these three columns:
- The Science Fiction Anthology Problem – Solved
- The Science Fiction Anthology Problem – Kindle Edition
- The Science Fiction Anthology Problem – Audiobooks
Szymon was the first reader to tell me they’ve read all the novels on the novel list, and now he’s read all the short stories on the short story list. I still haven’t finished either list. Here’s his report on the short story reading experience.
Hi, Szymon here again. Last time I wrote that “you won’t love every work of classic science fiction” and that was after reading all the books from the list of classic SF books. Now I’m back with some thoughts after reading all the works from the classics of SF short stories. Currently, the list consists of 110 novellas, novelettes, and short stories. I read these works over a period of about four years although 80% in the last twelve months.
It was great fun to read these outstanding works, I enjoyed most of them, and those that weren’t as good at least ended quickly. The brevity of these works makes them more accessible: a short story doesn’t require the same commitment as a novel. Also, if you’re an obsessive checklist completist like I am, then you’ll be making faster progress through short stories than through the list of classic SF novels.
I rated each story on a 1-5 scale (5 being ‘excellent’) and the average of all my ratings was 3.5 which confirms my overall positive experience. I gave 19 stories a score of 5, but if I were to recommend my top 10 favorite stories (at this moment) they would be the following.
|Nightfall||Isaac Asimov||1941||Grand tale, memorable idea (but I don’t want to spoil it).|
|Arena||Fredric Brown||1944||Like a Star Trek episode, a timeless classic!|
|Second Variety||Philip K. Dick||1953||A movie (Screamers) was based on this tale. Similar themes to Blade Runner, vintage PKD.|
|The Last Question||Isaac Asimov||1956||At least my third read. A great look into the possible future of any sentient life in the universe.|
|Flowers for Algernon||Daniel Keyes||1959||I knew the novel, which I prefer, but the story is still outstanding!|
|Inconstant Moon||Larry Niven||1971||Last day on Earth. Apocalypse/catastrophe story. Great fun, I love this kind of tale!|
|Vaster Than Empires and More Slow||Ursula K. Le Guin||1971||Colonists on a forest world find that it is conscious (as a whole planet/biosphere). Perfectly done!|
|Jeffty Is Five||Harlan Ellison||1977||Very nostalgic and a bit on the horror side (well, it is Ellison). Memorable!|
|The Mountains of Mourning||Lois McMaster Bujold||1989||I first thought it was great, but then the denouement hitched it up a notch. Worthy of the Hugo and Nebula that it won!|
|Story of Your Life||Ted Chiang||1998||Hard SF. The perfect marriage of story, plot, and physics (Fermat’s principle).|
Surprisingly, only one story from the 90s made it to the above list even though the 90s were on average my highest-rated decade (with a score of 4.0). I was in my teens then, which is in line with the theory that “the golden age of science fiction is thirteen.” Meanwhile, the true Golden Age of SF (the 40s and 50s) are my next favorite decades, both with an average rating of about 3.8.
These are the authors that had the highest average scores (among authors with more than one story on the list):
- Isaac Asimov
- Ursula K. Le Guin
- Octavia E. Butler
- Connie Willis
- George R. R. Martin
- Harlan Ellison
- John Varley
- Larry Niven
- Arthur C. Clarke
- Robert Silverberg
- Ted Chiang
- Robert A. Heinlein
- Roger Zelazny
- Philip K. Dick
The authors in bold are those I already knew I enjoyed. I’ll be reading more works by the other ones!
One of the coolest aspects of completing this list was finding sources (books, podcasts, etc.) from which to read the stories. For each story, I looked to see if it was available online for free, in any of the books I already own, in any of the book services I subscribe to, and, finally, in my local library. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database was an indispensable resource in this regard. Ultimately, I didn’t follow my own advice but rather worked with what I had available. I used a total of 48 unique sources to find the stories, but two of them stand out in terms of the number of stories: Sense of Wonder and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. They’re both great anthologies and I’ll be reading the other stories they include as well.
Looking at the per-source average rating, these were my favorite, which I’ve arranged by type:
- Anthologies: Future On Fire (80s stories, edited by Orson Scott Card)
- Podcasts: Drabblecast, Escape Pod
- Collections: Exhalation (by Ted Chiang), Dreamsongs (by George R.R. Martin), The Best of Connie Willis
- Magazines: Clarkesworld
Finally, I’d like to share two stories that aren’t on the list. The first one is a classic: “The Colony” by Philip K. Dick. It doesn’t have enough citations to make the list. The second one is too new to have been included: “The Ocean Between the Leaves” by Ray Nayler (which Jim has blogged about). Both have what I love most about SF stories: a sense of wonder and high “readability”.
Overall, I think the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories v2 list is just as great a resource as the novel list. And it’s even better if you want to read all the stories from beginning to end: it’s not that long a project and you can find the best that SF has to offer in compact form. Highly recommended!