29 votes

What are the best science fiction short stories, novellas, and novelettes you have ever read?

I developed a taste for short science fiction and would love to know which stories you lovely Tilda Swintons like the most!

39 comments

  1. [13]
    spctrvl Link
    I'd be a little surprised if you hadn't read it already, but The Last Question is one of the most iconic sci-fi short stories out there. If you're interested in something a little longer, True...

    I'd be a little surprised if you hadn't read it already, but The Last Question is one of the most iconic sci-fi short stories out there.

    If you're interested in something a little longer, True Names by Vernor Vinge is a novella that originates tons of the tropes and ideas that underpin modern cyberpunk, transhumanist, and singularity-oriented scifi.

    17 votes
    1. [9]
      Amarok Link Parent
      Last Question always rubs me the wrong way for some reason, feels like cheap theism masquerading as an empty ah-ha moment. That's just me, though. I'm more partial to shorts like The Gentle...

      Last Question always rubs me the wrong way for some reason, feels like cheap theism masquerading as an empty ah-ha moment. That's just me, though. I'm more partial to shorts like The Gentle Seduction, After Life, and Learning To Be Me.

      4 votes
      1. [8]
        spctrvl Link Parent
        Really? I always read it as a very humanist story, about humanity and their descendants using technology to outlive and rebuild the universe itself, with the final 'let there be light' being...

        Last Question always rubs me the wrong way for some reason, feels like cheap theism masquerading as an empty ah-ha moment.

        Really? I always read it as a very humanist story, about humanity and their descendants using technology to outlive and rebuild the universe itself, with the final 'let there be light' being either a dig at people who expected there to be some benevolent god to fix the whole thing, or else showcasing god as a creation of man.

        7 votes
        1. [6]
          Amarok Link Parent
          I see it as a handwavy deus ex machina. I enjoyed it right up to the end and then felt rather cheated. :P

          I see it as a handwavy deus ex machina. I enjoyed it right up to the end and then felt rather cheated. :P

          2 votes
          1. [5]
            Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
            But the "deus ex machina" is a combination of people and people's creation. It's we who fix the problem of entropy. It's we who create the universe. We are the deus, and the machina was something...

            But the "deus ex machina" is a combination of people and people's creation. It's we who fix the problem of entropy. It's we who create the universe. We are the deus, and the machina was something we built. It's all us.

            In that sense, it's a very Asimovian story. He strongly believed that humans could solve problems thrown at us, and was optimistic about our ability to use technology to achieve our goals.

            2 votes
            1. [4]
              Amarok Link Parent
              While I share those sentiments, the way it's handled in last question is about as subtle as a lead pipe. Humans create a superintelligence early on and then abdicate everything. They have about as...

              While I share those sentiments, the way it's handled in last question is about as subtle as a lead pipe. Humans create a superintelligence early on and then abdicate everything. They have about as much to do with the 'solution' as the bacteria that life evolved from.

              1 vote
              1. [3]
                Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
                I totally agree. It's not a subtle story. That's one reason it's not a favourite of mine. I strongly disagree with this. The computer on its own is unable to solve the problem, even given the...

                the way it's handled in last question is about as subtle as a lead pipe.

                I totally agree. It's not a subtle story. That's one reason it's not a favourite of mine.

                Humans create a superintelligence early on and then abdicate everything. They have about as much to do with the 'solution' as the bacteria that life evolved from.

                I strongly disagree with this. The computer on its own is unable to solve the problem, even given the whole lifetime of the universe to do so. It's only when Man* merges the final sum of his* entire consciousness with the computer that the resulting combined entity is able to solve the problem. Humans are an integral part of the problem-solving process.

                (* Asimov was unintentionally sexist in his terminology in those days.)

                1. [2]
                  Amarok Link Parent
                  And yet, no human can even comprehend the problem, much less propose a solution. Rather soundly defeats the notion that they somehow helped solve the problem. How much smarter would you be if you...

                  And yet, no human can even comprehend the problem, much less propose a solution. Rather soundly defeats the notion that they somehow helped solve the problem. How much smarter would you be if you knew everything every bacteria ever knew?

                  1 vote
                  1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
                    We did comprehend the problem: it was humans asking how to reverse entropy, not Multivac or its successors. With all due respect, I can't help but think you're projecting your own beliefs on to...

                    no human can even comprehend the problem, much less propose a solution.

                    We did comprehend the problem: it was humans asking how to reverse entropy, not Multivac or its successors.

                    With all due respect, I can't help but think you're projecting your own beliefs on to this story (just as I am). You're seeing this story as denigrating humans, whereas I see it as celebrating them: glass half empty versus glass half full. That difference of opinion is obviously not coming from the story. That's coming from you and me as individuals. We're projecting our personal beliefs on to this, like any piece of art acting as an ink-blot test.

                    And you're wrong! :P

                    1 vote
        2. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
          Exactly. I read 'The Last Question' as a statement that, given enough time, humans can and will achieve feats which we currently consider god-like.

          Exactly. I read 'The Last Question' as a statement that, given enough time, humans can and will achieve feats which we currently consider god-like.

    2. [3]
      Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      "Iconic" doesn't mean "good". This is basically just a punchline fleshed out with some narrative (which is a tendency that Asimov had in some of his short stories). I like it, but it doesn't blow...

      but The Last Question is one of the most iconic sci-fi short stories out there.

      "Iconic" doesn't mean "good". This is basically just a punchline fleshed out with some narrative (which is a tendency that Asimov had in some of his short stories). I like it, but it doesn't blow my mind like it seems to blow everyone else's.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        mundane_and_naive Link Parent
        Just curious, which do you consider as Asimov's best short stories?

        Just curious, which do you consider as Asimov's best short stories?

        1 vote
        1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
          I'm going to be writing a proper answer to OP's question when I'm at home, with access to my library (to prompt my memory). But, for now, I'll say that 'The Ugly Little Boy', 'The Bicentennial...

          I'm going to be writing a proper answer to OP's question when I'm at home, with access to my library (to prompt my memory).

          But, for now, I'll say that 'The Ugly Little Boy', 'The Bicentennial Man', and 'The Dead Past' are among my favourite Asimov short stories. (Note: "my favourite", not "the best". I wouldn't presume to judge which stories are objectively good.)

          2 votes
  2. [2]
    masochist Link
    I really liked Andy Weir's The Egg, which is more than I can say about The Mary Sue Martian.

    I really liked Andy Weir's The Egg, which is more than I can say about The Mary Sue Martian.

    12 votes
    1. zlsa Link Parent
      While I get your point about Mark Watney being a Mary Sue, I'd like to raise the argument that that's the kind of person that NASA looks for when they're picking astronauts. To fall back to...

      While I get your point about Mark Watney being a Mary Sue, I'd like to raise the argument that that's the kind of person that NASA looks for when they're picking astronauts. To fall back to cliché, they pick the best of the best because that's the kind of person you want when something goes wrong and you're 250 miles away from the next-closest person.

      8 votes
  3. famicommie Link
    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - short story by Harlan Ellison widely considered to be the beginning of the "evil AI trope" Ubik - novella by Philip K. Dick that isn't my favorite but really...

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - short story by Harlan Ellison widely considered to be the beginning of the "evil AI trope"
    Ubik - novella by Philip K. Dick that isn't my favorite but really shines as an example of Dick's surrealist style
    Roadside Picnic - Soviet novella that inspired the STALKER film and video games
    Neuromancer - William Gibson novella that's widely considered to be the first cyberpunk work

    I can't remember the name, but there's also a book that's a collection of Gibson's short stories and I have a couple of books with collections of Soviet science fiction short stories.

    8 votes
  4. [2]
    Algernon_Asimov (edited ) Link
    I started writing a list of stories, then I realised the list was approaching 10 in number, so I decided to make it a Top 10, because I'm a sucker for a cliché. :) So, I hereby present Algernon's...

    I started writing a list of stories, then I realised the list was approaching 10 in number, so I decided to make it a Top 10, because I'm a sucker for a cliché. :)

    So, I hereby present Algernon's Top 10 science fiction short stories and novellas!

    Number 1 is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

    In case anyone doesn't immediately recognise this title, it's the story of a mouse called Algernon and his friend Charlie who both become subjects of a scientific experiment to make them smarter. It's written by Charlie himself, in his own words, clumsy or otherwise.

    So many people think of the novel when they think of this story, but it was originally a novella - and without the extra padding and digressions, the story packs more of a punch.

    This is my favourite story of all time, in any genre, of any length, but I avoid reading it. That's partly because I've practically memorised it, and partly because I know what will happen when I get to the end, and it ain't pretty.

    Now... the rest of the Top 10, in alphabetical order:

    • The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov. Andrew Martin is a robot who wants to be human - and does everything he can to make it happen.

    • The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin. The hardest of hard science fiction. After all the romantic stories about people stowing away on spaceships and having adventures, this story shows what having an extra person on board a spaceship really means.

    • Computers Don't Argue by Gordon R. Dickson. This comedy of errors about computers, bureaucracy, and typos might have been written over 50 years ago, but it rings even more true today.

    • The Dead Past by Isaac Asimov. Wouldn't it be nice to have a time machine that allowed you to view the past? Asimov demonstrates some unexpected - and unwanted - consequences of such a machine.

    • Enemy Mine by Barry Longyear. Two alien enemies are stranded together on a planet, and have to get along with each other to survive.

    • I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison. This twisted story about a psychopathic artificial intelligence toying with its human playthings is nightmarish.

    • I, Robot by Eando ("Earl and Otto") Binder. Long before Asimov's famous book, there was Eando Binder's story of a misunderstood and maligned robot called Adam Link. It's Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' updated for the then-modern age, told from the point of view of the monster/robot.

    • It's a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. This story of a young boy who can make anything happen just by wanting it is terrifying. And being written in such an understated way somehow makes it worse.

    • The Ugly Little Boy by Isaac Asimov. Even Asimov says he was writing above himself when he wrote this story. It's a moving and emotional story about an ugly little boy who was nothing more than the subject of a scientific experiment and the woman who was hired to take care of him.

    7 votes
    1. mrbig Link Parent
      I know this as an episode of The Twilight Zone, and it's a great one!

      It's a Good Life by Jerome Bixby

      I know this as an episode of The Twilight Zone, and it's a great one!

  5. [2]
    frickindeal Link
    I know it's cliché at this point, but The Jaunt by Stephen King. Short stories are one of the places King actually produces satisfying endings. Mrs. Todd's Shortcut is another by King that is very...

    I know it's cliché at this point, but The Jaunt by Stephen King. Short stories are one of the places King actually produces satisfying endings. Mrs. Todd's Shortcut is another by King that is very interestingly written and one I think about quite often.

    5 votes
    1. teaearlgraycold Link Parent
      I came here to plug "The Jaunt" as well. Definitely my favorite SF short story, even though the ending is pretty weird. I'd recommend anyone who likes it to get a copy of Skeleton Crew.

      I came here to plug "The Jaunt" as well. Definitely my favorite SF short story, even though the ending is pretty weird. I'd recommend anyone who likes it to get a copy of Skeleton Crew.

      1 vote
  6. [2]
    mir Link
    You already have a great collection of stories to get through in these comments, but my absolute personal favourite is The Man Who Sold The Moon by Cory Doctorow. It has space, 3D printing, and...

    You already have a great collection of stories to get through in these comments, but my absolute personal favourite is The Man Who Sold The Moon by Cory Doctorow. It has space, 3D printing, and Burning Man in it, and I have read it more times than I can count.

    3 votes
    1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      That juxtaposition of title and author confused me, because Robert Heinlein wrote a story called 'The Man Who Sold The Moon'.

      That juxtaposition of title and author confused me, because Robert Heinlein wrote a story called 'The Man Who Sold The Moon'.

  7. markh Link
    Wool by Hugh Howie. He turned it into a full trilogy of novels, but the original short story is great.

    Wool by Hugh Howie. He turned it into a full trilogy of novels, but the original short story is great.

    2 votes
  8. [3]
    playeren Link
    Message Contains No Recognisable Symbols by Bill Hibbard. Found it very randomly in a text file while cruising through a ton of telnet servers looking for TimBL's first webserver.

    Message Contains No Recognisable Symbols by Bill Hibbard. Found it very randomly in a text file while cruising through a ton of telnet servers looking for TimBL's first webserver.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      I started reading this. I made it partway through the third section before I gave up: I really didn't like the writing style.

      I started reading this. I made it partway through the third section before I gave up: I really didn't like the writing style.

      1. playeren Link Parent
        Fair enough. I guess he hasn't become famous for his fiction for good reasons. The story resonated with me for several (probably mostly personal) reasons, and I really like the ending. It...

        Fair enough. I guess he hasn't become famous for his fiction for good reasons. The story resonated with me for several (probably mostly personal) reasons, and I really like the ending. It continues in several parts after this one, neither of which I find interesting.

  9. [5]
    calcifer Link
    Not exactly what you are asking for, but I can strongly recommend Compelling Science Fiction. It's a 100% reader funded magazine for sci-fi short stories, with a preference towards stories that...

    Not exactly what you are asking for, but I can strongly recommend Compelling Science Fiction. It's a 100% reader funded magazine for sci-fi short stories, with a preference towards stories that are self-consistent and scientifically plausible. Most are good, some are amazing.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      Hypersapien Link Parent
      In addition, there is 365 Tomorrows, a web site with a new short science fiction story every day, with an archive going back nearly 15 years.

      In addition, there is 365 Tomorrows, a web site with a new short science fiction story every day, with an archive going back nearly 15 years.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        calcifer Link Parent
        Looks very intertesting, thanks! Though the archives are a bit too long to ever catch up.

        Looks very intertesting, thanks! Though the archives are a bit too long to ever catch up.

        1 vote
        1. Hypersapien Link Parent
          Yeah, and they aren't organized very well. You can't go to a specific date without manually altering the URL. They do have a "Random" button, though.

          Yeah, and they aren't organized very well. You can't go to a specific date without manually altering the URL.

          They do have a "Random" button, though.

    2. Amarok Link Parent
      This looks promising, thanks for the share. <3

      This looks promising, thanks for the share. <3

      1 vote
  10. Grendel Link
    So I read this one called "The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine" recently and really liked it. It ties in well with current events. My favorite SciFi short story for certain is "I Have No...

    So I read this one called "The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine" recently and really liked it. It ties in well with current events.

    My favorite SciFi short story for certain is "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream". It has horror elements as well and is a very well told story.

    2 votes
  11. kayelcio Link
    Besides The Egg, which is one of my favorites, I'm a big fan of They're Made Out of Meat

    Besides The Egg, which is one of my favorites, I'm a big fan of They're Made Out of Meat

    2 votes
  12. [2]
    smoontjes Link
    A bit off-topic but what's the difference between a short story, novella, and novelette? A short story = novelle in Danish, so I'm kind of confused!

    A bit off-topic but what's the difference between a short story, novella, and novelette? A short story = novelle in Danish, so I'm kind of confused!

    1 vote
    1. Thales Link Parent
      The distinction is based on length, where short story < novellette < novella < novel. The designated word limits for each are a bit arbitrary, though, so there are no firm guidelines as to how...

      The distinction is based on length, where short story < novellette < novella < novel.

      The designated word limits for each are a bit arbitrary, though, so there are no firm guidelines as to how long any of them should be (as far as I know).

      According to Wikipedia, for example:

      • < 17,500 words = short story
      • 17,500 - 40,000 words = novella
      • 40,000+ words = novel

      It doesn't list an approximate length for novelettes, unfortunately.

      3 votes
  13. parenthesis Link
    Meanwhile, Elsewhere is one of my favourite sci fi anthologies. All of the stories are by different trans authors. It's a mixed bag in terms of quality, but I really loved a lot of the stories. I...

    Meanwhile, Elsewhere is one of my favourite sci fi anthologies. All of the stories are by different trans authors. It's a mixed bag in terms of quality, but I really loved a lot of the stories. I especially highly recommend it to anyone who's trans!

    1 vote
  14. BrutalN00dle Link
    The Region Between, by Harlan Ellison. I encountered it in a scifi collection and got caught up in the prose, and the crazy typesetting. Worth tracking down in print just for how obnoxious it is...

    The Region Between, by Harlan Ellison. I encountered it in a scifi collection and got caught up in the prose, and the crazy typesetting. Worth tracking down in print just for how obnoxious it is to read (one page has the text as a spiral, and other whacky variations).

    1 vote
  15. euphoria066 Link
    It's technically a novel and you've probably read it, but 160 pages is short and I read it in one single bath (it was probably a long bath) so I am going to say it's a novella. if you haven't read...

    It's technically a novel and you've probably read it, but 160 pages is short and I read it in one single bath (it was probably a long bath) so I am going to say it's a novella.

    if you haven't read it, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is a great story and even better the less you know about it.