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My Favorite Short SF stories (today)

Jim Harris presented his list of Favorite SF short stories (shorter than novel length), and challenged his fellow members of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction (BSFFSF) Facebook group to present their lists.

We don’t have to agree, and we won’t, which is OK. Jim does a very nice job of verbalizing what he was thinking about when he came up with his list. I don’t go through all of this consciously, but my favorites involve stories that:

  • Are well written with interesting characters. I also recognize that it is harder for me to like any work of fiction if there are no characters that I like or can sympathize with. Finally, I am willing to give older stories more of a pass on this, as the general level of writing in SF stories has improved a lot;
  • Have interesting plots and ideas, and that talk to my “sense of wonder”;
  • Explore a new idea or are in conversation with an older story or idea in a new and interesting way;
  • Perhaps appealed to me as a younger person, and maybe I still enjoy the idea of how much I enjoyed it originally, regardless of how I feel about it today; and
  • Finally, especially when reading older SF, you can encounter attitudes and artifacts of racism, misogyny, colonialism, anti-LBTGQ sentiment, and ableism. These can be both overt and implicit. You can encounter these things today, but it is not as pervasive. When I read older SF, I have to decide if I can accept what I read and still enjoy the story or not. The answer varies for me.

Since I joined that Facebook group, I realized that I had to track, rate and comment/review the stories I read to be able to remember them (and keep them straight) and to discuss them adequately. I fell back on one of my typical tools, a spreadsheet. My spreadsheet tracks story name, original publication date, length, date I read it, what the story was about and how I felt about it, and my rating of the story on a 1 (worst) to 5 (a classic) scale.

The other thing about Jim’s challenge is that I still have a lot of stories that I might want to include that I have not read recently enough to have in my spreadsheet, or perhaps have never read. Jim had this issue as well; I think we all do. Without counting, I’m sure I have at least 100 to 200 stories from our (BSFFSF) Recommended Reading List that I have not read recently. There are many other sources of fine short SF that I am still queuing up to read, like Rich Horton’s list of the best SF of the last 20 years, etc. Without a doubt, many of these could be in my “favorite” 100 short SF stories; I could see 1/3 to 1/2 of my list of favorites change. I’m not going to worry about that today; that is a sure fire route to paralysis.

I’ve sorted my spreadsheet by rating, which produces groups of stories with the same rating. I’m not going to rank them within each rating; I have done that kind of thing professionally for risk assessments, and it is important there and would be both unwarranted and tedious here.

Here are my favorite 101 stories, grouped by ratings. Within each rating, they are sorted by date of original publication. These represent how I feel about the stories on the day I read and commented and rated them, perhaps mediated by the comments and discussion found in the BSFFSF if we have read them.

This is very personal and biased. For instance, I am a huge fan of Cordwainer Smith (Paul M. A. Linebarger) and his Instrumentality of Mankind stories. I have 6 of his stories in my “favorites”. Three of these stories are listed in the some 430 of the BSFFSF Recommended Reading List, so you could argue I am overbalanced in his favor, and you would be right. I don’t care; these are my favorites.

Also, you’ll notice that there are both rather old stories (“The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells, 1895) and also many newer ones (“Come Home to Atropos”, by Steven Barnes, 2019, in New Suns). No doubt, this list is an artifact of my reading over the last 2 years, when I started tracking short SF reading. That reading has both deliberately and randomly attempted to simultaneously read currently (for the Hugo nominations and voting and our BSFFSF reading) and more historically and strategically (at the Recommended Reading List and also the six door-stop anthologies that purport to survey 20th century [and 19th and 21st for some] SF, which I plan to write about when I am done later this year).

I have attempted to limit this list to SF (science fiction), although there is definitely material here that is crossover such as SF and horror or fantasy. I would argue that both Moore’s “Shambleau” and Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” fall into the SF/horror space. I talked about the difference in my blog post on reading short SF, and I have generally used those thoughts here on categorizing. I have eliminated stories that I thought were fantasy; that is why Ted Chiang’s astounding first story, the 1990 novelette “Tower of Babylon”, is not on this list. Some could argue that some of what I have left is really fantasy, or that some of what I have excluded is SF.

First “Shambleau” publication

I did include “The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells. My initial look at ISFDB had that listed as a novel, not short fiction. However, as I thought, a look around the internet on word count had it as somewhere between 32,000 and 36,000 words. Either way, that makes it a novella and short fiction, not just a short novel.

Another interesting aspect (to me at least) is that 7 of these 101 favorite short SF stories are either the first (paid) published work by the author in SF or the their first published work. I wrote about my favorite first SF stories on my blog. That includes “Shambleau” by C. L. Moore, “Scanners Live In Vain” by Cordwainer Smith, “E For Effort” by T. L. Sherred, “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras, “That Only A Mother” by Judith Merril, “Bircher” by A. A. Walde (his only published story!), and “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.

I’m not going to include my comments/reviews of the stories, just a list. I’d be happy to talk to anyone about why stories are or are not in my top 101. I’m sure we’ll be talking about this for a while at the BSFFSF, as always with passion, civility and a sense of fun.

Rated a perfect 5/5:

Mimsy Were The Borogoves
  1. “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, a 1943 novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Astounding.
  2. “Huddling Place”, a 1944 short story by Clifford D. Simak in the City universe, Astounding
  3. “Vintage Season”, a 1946 novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Astounding.
  4. “Coming Attraction”, a 1950 short story by Fritz Leiber, Galaxy
  5. “Baby Is Three”, a 1952 novella by Theodore Sturgeon, Galaxy.
  6. “Flowers for Algernon”, a 1959 novelette by Daniel Keyes, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).
  7. “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, a 1963 novelette by Roger Zelazny, F&SF.

Rated an almost perfect 4.9/5 (8 to 14):

  1. “Scanners Live in Vain”, a 1950 Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Cordwainer Smith, Fantasy Book.
  2. “The Little Black Bag”, a 1950 novelette by C. M. Kornbluth, Astounding.
  3. “The Nine Billion Names of God”, a 1953 short story by Arthur C. Clarke, Star Science Fiction.
  4. “The Big Front Yard”, a 1958 novella by Clifford D. Simak, Astounding.
  5. “Light of Other Days”, a 1966 short story by Bob Shaw, Analog.
  6. “Ship of Shadows”, a 1969 novelette by Fritz Leiber, Jr., F&SF.
  7. “The Queen of Air And Darkness”, a 1971 novella by Poul Anderson, F&SF.

Rated 4.8/5:

  1. “The Machine Stops”, a 1909 novelette by E. M. Forster, The Oxford and Cambridge Review, Michaelmas Term 1909.
  2. “E for Effort”, a 1947 novelette by T. L. Sherred, Astounding.
  3. “In Hiding”, a 1948 novelette by Wilmar H. Shiras, Astounding.
  4. “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”, a 1962 Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Cordwainer Smith, Galaxy.
  5. “Drunkboat”, a 1963 Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Cordwainer Smith, Amazing Stories.
  6. “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, a 1966 novelette by Philip K. Dick, F&SF.
  7. “Day Million”, a 1966 short story by Frederik Pohl, Rogue.
  8. “Slow Sculpture”, a 1970 novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, Galaxy.
  9. “The Ugly Chickens”, a 1980 novelette by Howard Waldrop, Universe 10.

Rated 4.7/5:

  1. “There Will Come Soft Rains” a 1950 Martian Chronicles short story by Ray Bradbury, Colliers.
  2. “It’s a Good Life”, a 1953 short story by Jerome Bixby, Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2.
  3. “Rogue Moon”, a 1960 novella by Algis Budrys, F&SF.
  4. “The Moon Moth”, a 1961 novelette by Jack Vance, Galaxy.
  5. “Second Person, Present Tense”, a 2005 novelette by Daryl Gregory, Asimov’s Science Fiction (Asimov’s).

Rated 4.6/5:

  1. “Shambleau” a 1933 novelette by C. L. Moore, Weird Tales.
  2. “That Only a Mother”, a 1948 short story by Judith Merril, Astounding.
  3. “Born of Man and Woman”, a 1950 short story by Richard Matheson, F&SF.
  4. “The Game of Rat and Dragon”, a 1955 Instrumentality of Mankind short story by Cordwainer Smith, Galaxy.
  5. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”, a 1967 short story by Harlan Ellison, If.
  6. “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, a 2012 novelette by Pat Cadigan, Edge of Infinity.

Rated 4.5/5:

  1. “The Time Machine” a 1895 novella by H. G. Wells, The New Review.
  2. “Arena” a 1944 novelette by Fredric Brown, Astounding.
  3. “With Folded Hands…”, a 1947 Humanoids novelette by Jack Williamson, Astounding.
  4. “Mars Is Heaven!” a 1948 Martian Chronicles short story by Ray Bradbury, Planet Stories.
  5. “The Cold Equations”, 1954 novelette by Tom Godwin, Astounding.
  6. “The Anything Box”, a 1956 short story by Zenna Henderson, F&SF.
  7. “The Country of the Kind”, a 1956 short story by Damon Knight, F&SF.
  8. “Consider Her Ways”, a 1956 novella by John Wyndham, Sometimes, Never.
  9. “Call Me Joe”, a 1957 novelette by Poul Anderson, Astounding.
  10. “No, No, Not Rogov!” a 1959 Instrumentality of Mankind short story by Cordwainer Smith, If.
  11. “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul”, a 1960 Instrumentality of Mankind novelette by Genevieve Linebarger and Cordwainer Smith (as by Cordwainer Smith), Galaxy.
  12. “‘Oh, to Be a Blobel!” a 1964 novelette by Philip K. Dick, Galaxy.
  13. ‘”Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’, a 1965 short story by Harlan Ellison, Galaxy.
  14. “Going Down Smooth”, a 1968 short story by Robert Silverberg, Galaxy.
  15. “Catch That Zeppelin!”, a 1975 short story by Fritz Leiber, Jr, F&SF.
  16. “The Persistence of Vision”, a 1978 novella by John Varley, F&SF.
  17. “Blood Music”, a 1983 novelette by Greg Bear, Analog.
  18. “PRESS ENTER █” a 1984 novella by John Varley, Asimov’s.
  19. “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”, a 1987 novelette by Octavia E. Butler, Omni.
  20. “Bears Discover Fire”, a 1990 short story by Terry Bisson, Asimov’s.
  21. “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a 1995 novelette by James Patrick Kelly, Asimov’s.
  22. “Story of Your Life”, a 1998 novella by Ted Chiang, Starlight 2.
  23. “Finisterra”, a 2007 novelette by David Moles, F&SF.
  24. “The Emperor of Mars” a 2010 novelette by Allen Steele, Asimov’s.
  25. “Useless Things”, a 2012 short story by Maureen F. McHugh, Eclipse Three: New Science Fiction and Fantasy.
  26. “Pathways”, a 2013 novelette by Nancy Kress, Twelve Tomorrows.
  27. “Come Home to Atropos”, a 2019 short story by Steven Barnes, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color.

Rated 4.4/5:

  1. “The Proud Robot”, a 1943 Gallegher novelette by Henry Kuttner (as by Lewis Padgett), Astounding.
  2. “The Marching Morons”, a 1951 novelette by C. M. Kornbluth, Galaxy.
  3. “A Bad Day for Sales”, a 1953 short story by Fritz Leiber, Jr., Galaxy.
  4. “Fondly Fahrenheit”, a 1954 novelette by Alfred Bester, F&SF.
  5. “When You Care, When You Love”, a 1962 novelette by Theodore Sturgeon, F&SF.
  6. “Bircher, a 1966 novelette by A. A. Walde, If.
  7. “Weyr Search”, a 1967 novella by Anne McCaffrey, Analog.
  8. “A Special Kind of Morning”, a 1971 novelette by Gardner Dozois, New Dimensions 1: Fourteen Original Science Fiction Stories.
  9. “Patron of the Arts”, a 1972 novelette by William Rotsler, Universe 2.
  10. “Enders’s Game” a 1977 novelette by Orson Scott Card, Analog.
  11. “Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, a 1980 short story by Clifford D. Simak, Analog.
  12. “For White Hill”, a 1995 novella by Joe Haldeman, Far Futures.
  13. “The Things”, a 2010 short story by Peter Watts, Clarkesworld.

Rated 4.3/5:

  1. “Who Goes There?”, a 1938 novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding.
  2. “When the Bough Breaks”, a 1944 novelette by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Astounding.
  3. “Desertion”, a 1944 City short story by Clifford D. Simak, Astounding.
  4. “The Lovers”, a 1952 novella by Philip José Farmer, Startling Stories.
  5. “The Midas Plague”, a 1954 novella by Frederik Pohl, Galaxy.
  6. “It’s Smart to Have an English Address”, a 1967 short story by D. G. Compton, SF Impulse.
  7. “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain”, a 1969 short story by James Tiptree, Jr., Galaxy.
  8. “Goat Song”, a 1972 novelette by Poul Anderson, F&SF.
  9. “When It Changed” a 1972 Whileaway short story by Joanna Russ, Again, Dangerous Visions.
  10. “The Day Before the Revolution”, a 1974 Hainish short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, Galaxy.
  11. “Wives”, a 1979 short story by Lisa Tuttle, FS&F.
  12. “Sur”, a 1982 short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, The New Yorker.
  13. “Souls”, a 1982 novella by Joanna Russ, F&SF.
  14. “Speech Sounds”, a 1983 short story by Octavia E. Butler, Asimov’s.
  15. “Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana”, a 1989 novella by Michael Bishop, Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana.
  16. “Great Work of Time” a 1989 novella by John Crowley, Novelty.
  17. “Beggars in Spain”, a 1991 novella by Nancy Kress, Asimov’s.
  18. “Even the Queen”, a 1992 short story by Connie Willis, Asimov’s.
  19. “Coming of Age in Karhide”, a 1995 Hainish novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin, New Legends.
  20. “Evolution”, a 1995 novelette by Nancy Kress, Asimov’s.
  21. “The Lincoln Train”, a 1995 short story by Maureen F. McHugh 1995, F&SF.
  22. “Maneki Neko”, a 1998 short story by Bruce Sterling, Hayakawa’s Science Fiction Magazine (in Japanese) and F&SF in English.
  23. “The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter”, a 2007 short story by Alastair Reynolds, Interzone.
  24. “Exhalation” a 2008 short story by Ted Chiang, Eclipse Two: New Science Fiction and Fantasy.
  25. “The Highway Code”, a 2009 novelette by Brian Stableford, We Think, Therefore We Are.
  26. “The Invasion of Venus”, a 2010 short story by Stephen Baxter, Engineering Infinity.
  27. “Meat and Salt and Sparks”, a 2018 short story by Rich Larson,

One response to “My Favorite Short SF stories (today)”

  1. […] SFF over the last two years has lead me to focus my efforts a bit. When I recently wrote about my favorite short SF stories, I did have to mention that there were many, many potentially great short SF stories that I know […]


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