Friday, July 5, 2019

Ten Science Fiction Stories

I know, I know. The listicle format requires something more dramatic, like “Ten Science Fiction Stories Everybody Should Read.” Well, I do think anybody who’s interested in science fiction should be familiar with these ten stories, but this is hardly an exhaustive list. A more accurate title might be, “Ten Science Fiction Stories that Made an Indelible Impression on Me When I Discovered the Genre.” Because when I sorted these stories by publication date, I discovered that they’re all old. Really, really old.

Like me.

You’ve probably heard that the golden age of science fiction is thirteen. Some truth in that, certainly for me.
In 1959, when I was eleven, we moved to Georgia and spent some time living with colleagues of my father’s until my parents could rent a house of their own. These sweet people had a summerhouse in the back yard which their son had filled with pulp science fiction magazines before he left home; I discovered that hoard, spent most of our visit to the Huffs trying to read my way through the entire collection, and continued for a number of years doing my best to read all the science fiction and fantasy that was published each year – not an insanely impossible project at that time, but subject to some natural limitations based on my allowance and the public library’s very small budget for weird stuff.
This isn’t an exhaustive list even of the stories I remember even from that period of my life, not to speak of all the excellent work that was yet to come; something at the back of my head is grumbling, “You left out Shambleau! And you didn’t include even one of Bob Shaw’s ‘Slow Glass’ stories! And what about Connie Willis, and ‘James Tiptree,’ and Ursula LeGuin, and…”
Yeah, yeah. Given another month of browsing my memories, and this would probably be a list of a hundred science fiction stories. Aren’t you glad I decided to quit before then? So here’s a list of ten stories I think of as saying something intrinsic to the field, and in most cases, saying it so well that it’s hardly possible to improve upon them.
One good thing about these old and much-anthologized stories; I was able to find all of them online. So if any of these are unfamiliar to you, and you find them a little bit interesting, you can read them with one click!

Who Goes There? John W. Campbell, 1938. (Written under the pseudonym Don Stuart.) I’m not sure about this one; I did read it during that golden summer, but the 1982 movie made more of an impression on me than the actual story. But I’m including it because I don’t think the dilemma of identifying a shape-shifting alien has ever been better dramatized.­ It's got to imitate us - it's got to be one of us - that's the only way it can fly an airplane - fly a plane for two hours, and rule ­- be ­ - all Earth's inhabitants. A world for the taking - if it imitates us.

The Green Hills of Earth Robert A. Heinlein, 1947. You could probably stage a marathon food fight among Heinlein fans arguing about which was his best short story. This is my favorite, possibly for Rhys' songs rather than for the plot. We pray for one last landing/On the globe that gave us birth./Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies/And the cool, green hills of Earth.

To Serve Man Damon Knight, 1950. Like a number of stories in my list, it was the basis for a Twilight Zone episode. It’s a cookbook!

The Nine Billion Names of God Arthur C. Clarke, 1953. Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

It's a Good Life Jerome Bixby, 1953. Probably better known from the Twilight Zone episode. Cornfields will never look the same to you again. Everything had to be good. Had to be fine just as it was, even if it wasn't. Always. Because any changes might be worse. So terribly much worse.

The Cold EquationsTom Godwin, 1954. Sometimes criticized because “it’s lousy engineering” to build systems with so little margin for error that the tragic ending is necessary. I've even read that the editor kept sending the story back as the author kept finding ways to save the girl, because the tragedy was what made the story. But since 1954 we've seen a lot of disasters and near-disasters in our actual space program, from Apollo 13 to Challenger. And so I find the story even more credible now than when I first read it. You know you have a limited supply of fuel; you also know the law as well as I do.

All Summer in a Day Ray Bradbury, 1954. Picking just one gem from Bradbury’s oeuvre is all but impossible. But this story is the one that’s engraved on my heart. Margot stood apart from them, from these children who could never remember a time when there wasn't rain and rain and rain.

Or All the Seas with Oysters Avram Davidson, 1958. Why are there never any safety pins? Or, the life cycle of the coat hanger.

Harrison Bergeron Kurt Vonnegut, 1961. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. The quest for equality leads to the bed of Procrustes.

The Ballad of Lost C'Mell Cordwainer Smith (aka Paul Linebarger), 1962. There’s no way I’m going to do a “Best 10” collection without one of Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality stories. I was torn between this one and “When the People Fell.”
She got the which of the what-she-did,
Hid the bell with a blot, she did,
But she fell in love with a hominid.
Where is the which of the what-she-did?


  1. Some authors I'm familiar with but most not, even though I've read a lot of science fiction thanks to my late husband. Which tells you I didn't start reading the classic authors until I was in my 20's. Even so, the titles you share of those authors recognize on this list I'm pretty sure I have not read. So I guess I have some books to add to my reading list!

    1. Heh. There's always hope for late starters. And if you want a free view of these particular stories, just click on the titles!

    2. Thanks! and get to work on the next list of ten . . . and the ones after that - lol


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
My Blogger TricksAll Blogger TricksLatest Tips and Tricks