The 9 Greatest Classic Science Fiction Short Stories of All Time

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Don’t think you like sci fi? You’ve never truly experienced science fiction if you haven’t read any classic short stories. Here are the 9 greatest science fiction short stories from our special guest, a science fiction expert, who happens to be one of our favorite people.

We have a real treat for you today. Instead of hearing from Rachael or Jaclyn, today we have a special guest post … from our dad!

Growing up, our dad fed us a steady diet of science fiction. We grew up watching Star Trek, The Outer Limits, and Lost in Space. Even today, whenever he visits, he always brings old black and white sci fi movies to show his grandkids. Think gigantic tarantulas.

Who better than our dad to share the best science fiction short stories of all time!

While you might be picturing aliens and spaceships at the mere mention of science fiction short stories, science fiction is much more than that.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Science Fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something the couldn’t happen – though often you only wish that it could.”

If you truly want a taste for science fiction, try out these classic science fiction short stories. They don’t take long to read, but oh how well they tell a story in such a short space. You really can’t say you don’t like sci fi until you’ve tried some of these science fiction short stories.

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The Top 9 Science Fiction Short Stories

Science Fiction is a genre unto itself. It combines humor, wonderment, inspiration, hope, and entertainment; opening our eyes towards new horizons and personal introspection in a wondrous and believable way.

In 1966, the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) instituted the Annual Nebula Award for the year’s best science fiction short stories. However, the SFWA also recognized the immense contributions in the field prior to 1965, and convened a special one-time convention and vote for the greatest science fiction short stories of all time written prior to 1965 (the classics), compiled in “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” Vol. I. This must own book for all sci-fi lovers contains the very best stories as voted by the authors themselves.

Science fiction short stories (as opposed to novella’s and novels) were limited to 15,000 words or less. The following sci fi short stories are my all-time favorites, including stories not contained in the Hall of Fame final vote.

Book cover for The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964

#1 NIGHTFALL by Isaac Asimov (1941)

Voted by the SFWA as the greatest sci-fi short story of all time. A classic tale of wonderment, paranoia, insanity, and introspection. It masterfully dives into one’s deepest fears and opens the mind to the wonderous possibilities just outside our view. There is also a novel version of this classic; how-ever I would recommend the short story over the novel. Do not miss this one! Asimov is a wonderful writer and this story brings together the very best spirit of sci-fi.

#2 MIMSY WERE THE BOROGROVES by Lewis Padgett (1943)

A top ten finisher in the SFWA vote, this marvelous, very believable story takes one back into the excitement and puzzlement of childhood. The angst, fears, and concern of the parents is something every parent has experienced. With a special ending that absolutely tugs at the heart strings this is one story not to be missed.

#3 ARENA by Frederick Brown (1944)

The original “kill or be killed”, man versus alien contest. The storyline was the prototype for many follow-on movies and TV episodes in the 1950’s/60’s. The ultimate guys action tale, with twists and turns and a very satisfying ending. Another top ten entry in the SFWA vote.

#4 THE WEAPON SHOP by A.E. van Vogt (1942)

A classic tale of pride, tradition, introspection, tyranny, and freedom. Fara’s journey from obstinate believer to doubter to enlightened awareness is something we all can connect with. The ending is special and engenders the sweet feeling of freedom from oppression. This story was also a top ten entry in the SFWA hall of fame.

#5 THE MILLION YEAR PICNIC by Ray Bradbury (1948)

Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” is a classic compendium of marvelous sci-fi short stories. Although his short story “Mars is Heaven (The Third Expedition)” made the top twenty in the SWFA vote, I would highly recommend the final story “The Million Year Picnic”. Bradbury has a unique writing style; with absolute moments of sheer verbal artistry. Take the time to read “The Martian Chronicles” in its entirety and you will more fully appreciate the superb and poignant ending in the final story.

#6 THE LAST QUESTION by Isaac Asimov (1956)

This very short story is classic Asimov, with an interesting storyline and a powerful thought-provoking ending. Although not contained in the SFWA Hall of Fame compendium, you can find this story in another old release “Nine Tomorrows” by Asimov, which is in itself a very fine collection of short stories by the master writer. This particular short story was supposedly his favorite and one of the very best sci-fi has to offer.

#7 A WALK IN THE DARK by Arthur C. Clark (1950)

The very popular Arthur C. Clark has legions of followers, and placed two stories in the top fifteen of all time (“The Star” and “The Nine Billion Names of God”). With an interesting, whimsical style, coupled with a knack for making the technical seem understandable, he is one of the icons of science fiction. His short story “A Walk in the Dark” is a classic “bump in the night” scary story with an ironic ending. You can find this and other stories in the compendium “The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clark”, also a must have for your library.

#8 MICROCOSMIC GOD by Theodore Sturgeon (1941)

Pure old fashion sci-fi is the name of the game in this story. A classic villain versus unwitting hero tale; highly entertaining with first rate sci-fi imagination. This story was a top five entry in the SFWA hall of fame.

#9 RESCUE PARTY by Arthur C. Clarke (1946)

A very appealing story which highlights the indomitable spirit of mankind in the face of enormous challenge. The ending is very satisfying. This story is also available in the “Collected Works of Arthur C. Clarke”.

Last Words on Science Fiction Short Stories

Those with background in science fiction will probably disagree with my choices. That’s OK. The beauty of science fiction is the wonder and sheer delight of having your understanding expanded into new, thought provoking areas. Hence, there are no best stories, only those stories which most appeal to you, the reader. For those not familiar with these works by the “icons” of the genre, welcome aboard and prepare to enjoy many hours of enjoyment and satisfaction.

Special thanks to our dad for the list. The book mentioned is one of Rachael’s favorites. A great addition to any sci fi lover’s library. And to round out the list to the top 10 science fiction short stories, Rachael just wants to add The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke to the list. It’s short and sweet but extremely memorable.

What are your favorite science fiction short stories?

You've never truly experienced science fiction if you haven't read these 9 classic science fiction short stories - the best of the best.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Rachel @ Never Enough Novels March 25, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Love this idea for a guest post 🙂 I’ve only read a few sci-fi books, but I’d like to get more into it. This is a helpful list!

  • Reply CJ | A Well-Read Tart March 29, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Sharing this with my husband! I usually don’t like sci fi, but he loves it! The only times I see him read are when he has a sci fi book, haha. Thanks for the list! And, thanks to your dad! 🙂

  • Reply Michael Wilhoyt June 5, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    These are great, but any SciFi Short Story list needs at least one Phillip K. Dick on it.

  • Reply Mark June 25, 2019 at 12:24 am

    The Science Fiction Hall of Fame has some weird stories in it, but it also has some fantastic ones. Definitely worth the read, even if some are duds. My favorite was First Contact, and I also really liked Nightfall, Arena, The Nine Billion Names of God, and Flowers for Algernon (it later became a book).

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