Be sure and play with our new database query tool to create your own lists of classic short stories.
[The project mentioned in this essay to create an all-time list of classic science fiction short stories has been completed. Jump to the Introduction to read how we created it or to Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories to see the ranked list.]
I’ve always wanted to identify the best science fiction short stories by the same method we used for the novels, but there’s just not that many lists devoted to identifying the best science fiction short stories of all time. There are some though:
- Most Viewed Short Fiction Since 2005 ISFDB
- ISFDB older lists
- Top 100 SF Short Fiction 1-100
- Next 100 SF Short Fiction 101-200
- Anthology & Collection References
- Top 10 Reprinted Stories (see bottom of page)
This essay is for anyone who has thought about collecting science fiction short stories. First, let me thank P. F. Nel for sending me a spreadsheet of most of the annual best-of-the-year anthologies. Second, I’d like to thank all the folks at ISFDB.org for their magnificent database work. Clicking on the links below will take you to the table of contents and cover images at ISFDB. Piet and I have discussed the various ways to collect SF short stories:
- Collect the original magazines (thousands of magazines)
- Collect the annual anthologies (100-200 volumes)
- Collect the very best retrospective anthologies (2-25 volumes)
I’ve always considered stories appearing in the science fiction magazines to be the heart of the genre. Anyone who read the magazines as they came out would sense the evolution of science fiction, especially by reading the most famous titles: Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories, Astounding/Analog, F&SF, Galaxy, IF, and Asimov’s. Gideon Marcus over at Galactic Journey even started blogging by jumping back 55 years to read the science fiction mags in order. It’s possible to find scans of old SF magazines on the internet, but that’s far more reading than I want to do. The easier and quicker method of getting an overview of short science fiction is to collect the major retrospective anthologies. Some of my favorites have been:
- Adventures in Time and Space (1946)
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1970)
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2 A (1973)
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2 B (1973)
- Before the Golden Age (1974)
- The Road to Science Fiction (1977-1998)
- The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction (1980)
- The Ascent of Wonder (1994)
- Visions of Wonder (1996)
- The Science Fiction Century (1997)
- The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2000)
- The Best of the Best (2005)
- The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction (2010)
- The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016)
Piet and I, along with a few others, have an online discussion group where we read the best retrospective anthologies and discuss which stories we’d collect if we were editing our own anthology. We use a Google spreadsheet to track our favorite stories. We figure it will take us years to find the best stories published between 1939 and 1964. We’re using The Great SF Stories 1-26 (1939-1964) edited by Asimov/Greenberg/Silverberg, and the best of the year anthologies edited by Bleiler & Dikty, and Judith Merril as our guidebooks, supplemented with other retrospective anthologies.
Somewhere in the middle of collecting pulps and buying the best retrospective anthologies, would be to collect all the annual anthologies. I’ve listed below some of the most popular annual anthologies for the 20th century and added in a few retrospective anthologies to cover the years before 1939. Piet’s list is much more extensive, so there’s a good deal to collect if you want to be a completest.
The column for year(s) is meant for when the stories were first published. The tradition for the annual anthologies is to put the year the anthology was published in the title, but collect stories from the previous year. I’ve always hated that tradition.