I’m reading my way through the science fiction and fantasy stories of the 20th century. Here’s why:

I love science fiction and fantasy novels. But, like most people who received vaccinations as a child, I am full of nanomachines. And as these tiny robots gain more and more control of my body, they demand I spend more and more time studying nanomachine periodicals. Magazines like Popular Nanomechanics and The Nano Yorker. I just don’t seem to have the time to enjoy long-form scifi and fantasy anymore, and am thus forced to read only short stories. In fact, I only have time to read one scifi story published in each year of the 20th century.

Damn nanomachines.

As a service to those with even less time than me, I will give every story I read a rating, so that the may know which stories are good and which are turds. To do this, I will use the most accurate and well-respected form of literary criticism available, the Hertzsprung-Russell star classification chart:

This chart generates a story rating based on two factors: the quality of the story and its length. Quality is represented by star class letter, O,B,A,F,G,K,M, from bad to good. Length is determined by star luminosity, from 10-5 solar units (short) to 106 solar units (long).

For example, an excellent 7,000-word story would receive a Hertzsprung-Russell rating of M102. A bad 1,000-word story would receive a Hertzsprung-Russell rating of O10-4.  It couldn’t be simpler.

To sum up: If you’re looking for pithy, illuminating insight into the science fiction and fantasy stories of the 20th century, this website may prove to be a complete waste of your time.

Then again, what in this life isn’t?

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M10-4.5

Available in: The Hashish Man And Other Stories

After a catastrophic manmade, uh, catastrophe, the boatman of the Styx takes the very last human being to Hades, wondering what the Hades he’s supposed to do with his life now that all mankind is dead. Of course, if Charon is looking for another job shuttling people across a dismal river to Hell, there’s an opening on the Manhattan-to-Newark ferry.  Zing! I’m going to sell that joke to The New Yorker. And if they reject it, I’ll change the names and sell it to their New Jersey competition, The Newarker. 

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: K10-3.5

Available in: Dagon And Other Macabre Tales

Cthulhu was Lovecraft’s bread and butter, but among his admirable repertoire of non-Cthulhu tales is this one. Read it: if you fail to pick up on its overarching themes of desperation, personal failure and the futile repetition of history, you’ll at least learn the location of the Pole Star, the preferred celestial body of firemen, strippers and Polish people.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: 0106.5+

Available in: The Early Del Ray Volume 1

A brilliant biologist imbues a statue of Hermes with life using unorthodox methods. But in order to survive, his creation requires a steady diet of hard liquor.  I suppose you could call it a science experiment gone a-rye. Many famous scientists allowed alcohol to interfere with their work. A drunken Nikola Tesla, for example, would often ‘prank’ Thomas Edison by leaving a steaming ‘Tesla coil’ on Edison’s doorstep. And every Saturday night ended with Marie Curie puking her guts out, although that was from radiation poisoning.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F103

Available in: Adventures In Tomorrow

An alien in the year 4000 reads a C20 pulp scifi story about a time machine, builds it, then goes back in time to C20 to write the story he learned about the time machine from. Personally, I hate pulp in my scifi, so I read only the strained, pulp-free kind. Seriously, though: you can’t write a time-travel story without paradox. It’s like writing a tragedy with no sadness – there’s no fucking point. So just pretend it’s your creepy drunken uncle you see once a year at Christmas, embrace it, and hope it doesn’t get a boner.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: The Book Of Philip Jose Farmer

Intercourse between humans and aliens isn’t always the tasteful, soft-lit lovemaking you see on Star Trek and in the studio-owned, unreleased director’s cut of E.T. Sometimes, as in this story, it’s a grotesque biological process involving bizarre skin flaps, pulsing bladders, asexual trenches and a tumescent third leg. Not the Terrestrial slang for ‘penis’, but an actual third leg. Phil Farmer – what a weirdo.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Study War No More

A tale of futuristic American military Imperialism, but instead of bombing, torture and rendering extraordinarily, invading soldiers deliver brand-new home appliances to third world countries and force enemy combatants to use them at gunpoint.  Forget napalm in the morning; wait’ll you get a whiff of freshly-made Freedom Toast served piping hot from a General Electric 3000-Series Liberator oven. Yum! BREAKING NEWS: I’ve just learned that, because of its involvement in the overcooking of a civilian casserole , General Electric has been court-martialed.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M10-4

Available in: Interfaces

The sole survivor of a once mighty empire returns to the glorious city of his birth to find it overrun with barbarians who’ve slaughtered the inhabitants. Hey, barbarians – would it kill you to not kill everyone for once? Sheesh! I loved this story, cuz it reminded me of when I was 35 and went back to my favourite university dive bar, only to discover it had been converted to a fabric store. Curiouser still, my favourite university fabric store is now a dive bar. So, zing.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M104

Available in: Stories Of Your Life And Others

Among Ted Chiang’s small but brilliant body of work is this story, which describes the construction of the titular tower (you know that thing ain’t up to code) and what happens when its builders finally reach Heaven. Whether you’re a contractor looking for tips on how to work with bricks made of baked clay, or just a time-travelling, homesick Babylonian eager for news from back home, this story rocks. Read it, and everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Ted Chiang tonight.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A1

Available in: Best Short Stories Of H.G. Wells

Wells was the Pink Floyd of early scifi; prolific, visionary beyond his time and British. But this story isn’t one of his best. It’s a foray into fantasy (the ‘magic spell’ kind of fantasy, not the sexy nurse kind) that draws away from the hard scientific foundation of Wells’ more notable work. And when that happens, know what you get? You get Pulse.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B10-3

Available in: 50 Great Short Stories

A surreal story in which a nameless narrator plods down a long, dusty road and struggles with life’s burdens. “Plods?’ you exclaim, your interest piqued, “Struggles? Long and dusty?  Sounds like a real page turner!” You’re a cynical jackass. Actually, this story is a highly allegorical tale about our journey through life and our search for truth and success (or, ‘truthcess’). As a rule, I consider everything in life allegorical. Everything is actually something else. This blog, for instance, is actually a sandwich.

Hertzsprung – Russell rating: B1

Available in: The Pandora Effect

A fiction writer from the far-flung future (or the F3, as scfi fans call it [I feel like I’ve used that joke in this blog before {and also that I’m using too many parenthesis}]) decides to do some research for his next interplanetary adventure novel by actually visiting Venus. But due to tropical storms, alien carnivores, and a below-par Venusian dollar, he pussies out and hightails it back to Earth. To research this story, Jack Williamson must’ve actually visited a crap factory.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O106.5+

Available in: The Human Zero

From the creator of ‘Perry Mason’ (yeah – no kiddin’!) comes a scifi detective tale about an evil scientist who builds a weapon that lowers people’s body temperatures to 0° Kelvin. Spoiler alert: then they die. Things get tense as the heroic leading man searches frantically for the source of the deadly freeze ray to save the dame he loves. If people were searching frantically for the source of my deadly freeze ray, I’d taunt them by saying ‘You’re getting colder….colder….colder….’

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O103.5

Available in: The Vortex Blasters (duh)

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith is of an era when professional scifi writers often adopted their former day jobs as nicknames. Smith, for example, maintained a lifelong correspondence with Robert ‘Halal Butcher’ Silverberg, Harry ‘Non-Union-Bull-Inseminator’ Turtledove, and Philip Jose ‘Farmer’. But if Smith was as bad a doctor as ‘The Vortex Blasters’ is a story, I’m going to stop mailing him my urine samples, because I don’t think he knows what he’s doing.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F1

Available in: The Wooden Star

A Cold War-era urbanite moves his family to a remote farm in anticipation of an impending Commie A-bomb attack. There, he drills them in the fundamentals of root vegetable farming, iodine consumption, and all-pervading nuclear paranoia. It’s like ‘Green Acres’ with a bomb shelter. The best thing about being a farmer during WWIII is that nuclear fallout completely obscures the sun so, technically, you’re always up before dawn.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F101.5

Available in: The Book Of Saberhagen

What happens when the leader of a totally totalitarian (‘totallytarian’?) society decides to rebel? Well, I don’t want to give away the ending, but it involves torture, brainwashing and the reconfiguration of reality itself. You want my advice? Saberhagen has way better stuff; read that instead. You want some more of my advice? Learn to drink vodka straight, with no chaser. That way, if you go to a cottage for the weekend you’ll only have to carry one bottle.


 

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O106.5+

Available in: More Tales Of Pirx The Pilot

In Stanislaw Lem’s native Poland, the letter ‘w’ is often represented by the letter ‘v’. In tribute, I will follow the same rule for my review of this story. Ahem. This story is wery, wery boring. I would rather have a wiolent wasectomy with a scalpel soaked in winegar and then get kicked and wigourously and wiciously in the testicles by Darth Wader than read it again.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A102

Available in: Fire From The Wine Dark Sea

Man, this is a weird one. It’s about a cult of aliens who ride terrestrial roller-coasters to bring about the arrival of their messiah. That’s right; their messiah demands they ride roller coasters to please Him (Her? It?). I’m an atheist, but if I had to choose a belief system, I’d go for the one where I got to spend every Sunday at an amusement park riding a roller coaster. Their communion wafers are probably funnel cake. And their St. Peter is probably a fortysomething ex-con who’s not supposed to let you in if you don’t meet a minimum height requirement, but usually just says fuck it and looks the other way because he’s making eight bucks an hour. Either way, every earthly religion sucks.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G102.5

Available in: The Mammoth Book Of Alternate Histories

The trick to writing good AltHist is making the world-that-never-was relatable to the reader without getting bogged down by too many scholarly details. Cadigan succeeds with this dystopic tale of 1960’s radicalism that sees the war in Viet Nam won, Kennedy alive and things still in the toilet. This story has a Watchmen-esque feel to it that will unnerve anyone with an ounce of left-leaning blood in their veins.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-4.5

Available in: Irish Folk Tales

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Two travelers on a lonely road encounter a demonic pig. Terrified, they run, but the bedeviled ham follows them until it vanishes mysteriously, leaving just a whiff of brimstone in the air. Delicious, delicious bacon-scented brimstone. Personally, I prefer my fictional pigs friendly, bipedal and wearing white gloves while gesturing invitingly for me to eat them. That’s also how I prefer my women.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F10-5

Available in: The Book Of Fantasy

A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings. That’s not a synopsis – that’s the whole story (the Coles Notes are ‘Woman. Alone. Doorbell.’) Writing of this brevity was common in the early twentieth century, when a single piece of typewriter paper cost more than a pair of spats. Spats, in turn, cost so much that people would fight over them in the streets. These disagreements were called ‘spats spats’ and could easily escalate into full-blown spattles.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O103.5

Available in: The Coming Of The Robots

A Martian robot crash-lands in Australia (which is really close to picturesque New Zealand, by the way) and battles both the rude locals and the poorly-performing Australian dollar in an attempt to get back to his home on the red planet. Australia has a lot in common with Mars: both are sandy, devoid of intelligent life and far less preferable than a seven-day family-friendly stay in New Zealand starting at an affordable $499 per person, all inclusive. Full disclosure: this post is sponsored by Tourism New Zealand. New Zealand: Land Of Zeal!TM (we gotta work on that tagline, guys).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F/G3.5

Available in: The Thirty-First Of February

Things I love: fart jokes, lollipops, the songs of Tom T. Hall, and stories where historical and/or cultural phenomena are explained as being the result of alien intervention. In this tale, God is an alien scientist who was exiled to Earth by His alien superiors because He created a disobedient race of creatures called ‘humans’. Take it away, Tom T. Hall: ‘I love candy on a stick/fart jokes that are sick/songs by Tom T. Hall/and scifi stories where historical and cultural phenomena are explained as being the result of alien intervention.’ Okay, the lyrics need some polishing, but cut Tom T. Hall some slack; he’s 75, for Christ’s sake.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M10-3

Available in: A Cupful Of Space

A short, beautiful, surreal story in which the basement of a nondescript dive bar contains a portal to another dimension. And that’s why you should patronize locally-owned watering holes instead of faux-Irish chain ‘pubs’; in addition to never forcing you to listen to a Chinese girl in a kilt tell you the special of the day is traditional Irish lasagna with a pint of Bud for $13.99, they also contain portals to other dimensions.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F/G10-2.5

Available in: The Best From Fantasy & Science Fiction

Dirt: we earthlings never realize how important it is until we don’t have any under us, on us, or in us. In this story, a criminal exiled in space longs for the brown, brown ground of home. The lesson? Don’t take Earth dirt for granted. Stop washing your potatoes before you eat them. Re-watch the seminal 2001 David Spade comedy Joe Dirt. And for Christ’s sake lay off the Tide.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B103

Available in: Infinite Dreams

A highly-advanced human mutant catches shit from his muttie brethren for canoodling with a run-of-the-mill homo sapiens female. Apparently, mutants are the Southerners of the future and don’t like miscegenatin’ bloodlines and such. Also, if you’re Jewish and stop at a mutant gas station, they’ll glare at you menacingly with their third infrared eye and tell you telepathically they don’t like your kind ‘round those parts. Also, they’ll sodomize Ned Beatty.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F104

Available in: The First Omni Book Of Science Fiction

Two enterprising young computer hackers set out to rob an online criminal syndicate (The C++osta Nostra, if you will) of millions of dollars online. And these hackers are no hacks: they get away scot free with billions of bucks to their name. The word ‘cyberspace’, coined by Gibson, was first used in this story, as were the words ‘floobstick’, ‘tittycat’ and ‘shmutzfinkler’. They, of course, proved less popular. You can watch William Gibson talking about the inspiration behind cyberpunk etymology by clicking on the never-before-seen video below!

(Note: if the video doesn’t play you’ll have to download an updated shmutzfinkler onto a floobstick and optimize your browser to allow tittycats. You can get a great deal on 5GB floobsticks here.)

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G106.5

Available in: Faces At The Bottom Of The Well

Aliens land in America with a deal: they’ll give Americans enough gold to wipe out the national debt and extraterrestrial technology that will reverse pollution. In return, they want all the black people (and they’ll be checking, so don’t try to slip any Mexicans in there at the bottom of the pile!) Someone get me a Cosby sweater, because this is a chilling commentary on race in America.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G10-3.5

Available in: 75 Short Masterpieces

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A rambling old grandmother in an equally rambling old house warns her grandkids to steer clear of the magical trunk in the attic – it’ll swallow them whole, she warns. They ignore her (as all elderly people everywhere should be ignored) and, sure enough, they vanish one by one as they climb inside. No big loss: if the magical trunk didn’t get them, the bewitched china cabinet or the enchanted credenza would have.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: The Best Science Fiction Of Arthur Conan Doyle

In this story, Doyle postulates colonies of bloodthirsty creatures which inhabit the upper skies, attacking and beheading aviators and tossing their noggin-less corpses to the ground far below. So, technically, The Weather Girls were correct. Initially this premise is horrifying, but having recently sat through The Green Hornet on a four-hour Air Canada flight to Tampa, a mid-air beheading doesn’t sound so bad.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F106.5+

Available in: The Best Of Edmond Hamilton

When scientists discover the sun is about to ‘splode, they devise an ingenious plan: build giant jets in New Zealand and use them to steer the planet to a more hospitable galaxy. It’s a logistical nightmare, but humankind moves Heaven and Earth to move Heaven and Earth to someplace less blowy-uppy. Plus, New Zealand is now obliterated by giant jets, but fuck those guys. Full disclosure: this post is sponsored by Tourism Australia to counter the previous post sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M106.5+

Available in: The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame Volume I

A pair of precocious pre-teens opens a portal to another dimension using nothing but highly-advanced futuristic technology and the prose of Lewis Caroll. Kids; always getting into other dimensions!  ‘Lewis Padgett’ is actually the pen name of a husband and wife scifi writing team, so most Padgett stories involve aliens arguing about money.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A1

Available in: The Third Galaxy Reader

 

A highly intelligent alien is captured (couldn’t be that intelligent, if they caught him), tortured, brainwashed, and imprisoned on Earth where his superior mind is used to judge a cake-baking contest. Insidious, to be sure. If, however, such initial brutality could guarantee the moistness of all future Earth desserts, I believe we’d have no choice but to support it.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-3

Available in: Button, Button

In a radioactive, post-apocalyptic America (where, in addition to red states and blue states, there are now incandescent green states), a clan of mutant backwoods hillbillies go about their daily lives, which involve foraging for food and having body parts fall off. So, basically, if you live in the American South and there’s a nuke war, you’re really no worse off than you were before.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O1

Available in: Creatures From Beyond

A young couple discovers that common housecats are actually an intelligent alien species from space. They’re here, no doubt, to plunder our lasagna reserves and enslave humankind in the litter mines of Katssell. And dogs are all, like, “Dude, we told you. Didn’t we tell you?”

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G105.5

Available in: The Second Omni Book Of Science Fiction

A sentient, bio-engineered house turns on its masters and imprisons them within its walls, and all without a Mike Holmes in sight to make their plight right (older readers may want to substitute a Bob Villa reference there). This story is a good lesson for first–time homebuyers; if you walk into a house and discover the corpses of two people it’s imprisoned, try to leverage that.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Alternate Warriors

A chock-full-o’-chuckles alternate history story that transforms pacifist, man-on-a-mission-of-peace missionary Albert Schweitzer into a Tarzan-type archetype who fights enemies in darkest Africa. The biggest problem missionaries faced in darkest Africa was the shocking realization that, despite what the lyrics to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ promised, the jungle had neither fun nor games. The second biggest problem they faced in darkest Africa was stubbed toes. Cuz it was dark, y’see.

Hertzprung-Russell rating: A10-3.5

Available in: Eye Of The Heart – Short Stories From Latin America

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This is one of those why-things-are-the-way-they-are stories like ‘How The Leopard Got His Spots’ or ‘How The Puerto Rican Got His Horns’. In this one, the plants all decide they want to be the same size – straight up botanical socialism – and quickly learn that not everyone has what it takes to be a towering oak. Some of us have to settle for being something simpler, like a daisy or a Douglas fir. Of course, if you’re a chick named Daisy or a dude named Douglas Fir, that’s no problem.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F105.5

Available in: Conan The Barbarian

In this story, the Sneerin’ Cimmerian (that rhyme is lame and I know it) joins a pirate crew and goes adventuring after some jewels or something. Or maybe it’s an idol. Or maybe it’s Billy Idol. Whatever. All Conan stories kinda blur together, but you gotta love ‘em. Otherwise you’ll get your whoreson head split to the collarbone with a great axe.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A106.5+

Available in: The Mammoth Book Of Golden Age Science Fiction

The language is corny, the characters are 1D and the title has an exclamation mark after it. But, despite all that, this classic story about a possessed and rampaging bulldozer is quite enjoyable. It is a testament to Sturgeon’s mastery of language that he is able to make a detailed technical description of heavy machinery interesting to read for more than fifty pages. Indeed, his skill at keeping the reader ‘hooked’ is why he eventually had a fish named in his honour.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A102.5

Available in: Robert Adams’ Book Of Alternate Worlds

So many alternate history tales go wrong because they posit realities which differ from ours in ways only appreciated by historical scholars (‘Imagine if Jacob van Arteveld had aligned against Bruges and Ypres in 1337; what a deliciously topsy-turvy world we’d live in now!’). In Earth II of ‘One Way Street’, Toulouse-Lautrec was of average height. Awesome.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F102.5

Available in: The Book Of Gordon Dickson

When aliens land, it ain’t homo sapiens they want to talk to. It’s those fun, fin-tastic chickens of the sea, the dolphins. Humanity cock-blocked by dolphins! I can’t say I’m surprised, though. The dolphins are intelligent, empathetic, and have a real shot at the playoffs now that Matt Moore has recovered from last season’s injury. Humans are kinda shit. We’re dumb, selfish, and any attempt to jury-rig a blowhole in the back of our skulls with a Makita cordless drill and a hand mirror results in yet another visit to the E.R.

Hertzsprung-Russell Rating: A10-5

Available in: 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories

Got a second? That’s how long it’ll take you to read this three-word story (spoiler alert: the last word is ‘up’). There’s a famous anecdote about Hemmingway writing a six-word story (‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’) but ‘Sign At The End Of The Universe’ is half as long as Papa’s. Which means, of course, that Duane Ackerman is twice as good a writer as Ernest Hemmingway.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F10-4

Available in: The Orange Book

A utopian comic tale of government-funded public masturbation sessions that take place several times a day, leaving the populace clear-headed, focused, and altogether more productive. In the future, being paid by the government to jerk off is called progress. Today, it’s called ‘an arts grant’.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G0.5

Available in: Alternate Outlaws

A charming little alt-hist tale about a friendly bartender who helps a customer go back in time to meet ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and change the history of baseball. It’s kinda like Cheers, Quantum Leap, and, uh, what’s another show I watched in the 80’s?….let’s say, Night Court, all rolled into one. Interesting footnote: between the two of them, ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and White Sox teammate ‘Shirtless John’ Jefferson couldn’t get service in most convenience stores.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: 100 Years Of Science Fiction: Book One

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In this visionary tale of a glorious world-to-be, humankind’s airways have become populated with thousands of flying machines that criss-cross the globe delivering goods and sundries. ‘Sundries’ is always plural; you never hear of someone buying a single sundry. While we’re on the subject, what are ‘notions’?  And why are some ice cream desserts called ‘novelties’? Ice cream’s been around forever – there’s no novelty to it any more. Unless, of course, you had the notion to make a novelty ice cream sundry. Now that’s visionary – take note, Mr. Kipling.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G102

Available in: Strange News From Another Star

A naïve young lad from a peaceful, peaceable kingdom (read: ‘pussies’) journeys to the warring nation next door and witnesses, for the first time in his life, death, suffering and bloodshed. How much bloodshed? Well, they have an actual blood shed – a small wooden structure designed to hold all the blood that’s been shed until they figure out what to do with it. JK, of course. But this story does mess with your head a little bit. No wonder it prompted already-insane Spanish dramatist Jacinto Benavente y Martínez to exclaim when he read it in 1915: ‘You tryin’ to get crazy with us Hesse? Don’t you know I’m loco?” (Christ; that was long way to go for a really outdated Cypress Hill reference.)

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B10

Available in: The Best Of Raymond Z. Gallun

When a long-abandoned alien ship is found orbiting Jupiter, an intrepid space explorer boards ‘er to discover what he can about the long-abandonees. He examines the aliens’ long-abandoned records, rifles through their long-abandoned underwear drawer and puzzles at their long-abandoned technology (this ‘Zune’ they had – what purpose did it serve?) The result of his intensive six-week, $181,000 investigation? The ship was abandoned. Possibly long ago. And that’s why the space program should be funded by the private sector.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G/K10

Available in: The Twilight Zone – The Original Stories

A guy with the ability to see all possible future timelines provides people with everyday items they’ll need to better themselves in those timelines – non-slip shoes, scissors, a dildo, a comb (just checking to see if you’re paying attention [he never gives anyone a comb]). This story was made into a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, so if it would help you for me to type like Rod Serling spoke, I’ll try: “THIS IS A story ABOUT A MAN WITH A gift. A GIFT THAT, WHEN opened, ALSO OPENS THE door TO A strange AND OMINOUS place, KNOWN as……LINE?” Pretty good, huh?

Hertzsprung-Russell Rating: M10-4

Available in: The Day It Rained Forever

Things you can’t argue with: a shark attack, gravity, the Mafia and the fact that Ray Bradbury is perhaps the greatest writer of the 20th century in any genre. ‘The Dragon’ is a remarkable fusion of fantasy and time travel, simply constructed and beautifully presented. And if you argue, I’ll send a Mafioso shark to your house to push you down.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B0.5

Available in: Good Neighbors And Other Strangers


Little blue alien bugs invade Earth and fill hitherto normal people with self-loathing and rabid misanthropy. Apparently the office where I work is their base of operations.  Pangborn is a great writer, but this story didn’t quite cut the mustard. I didn’t relish it at all and just wanted to finish it Quik-ly  (so I use Strawberry Quik as a condiment – sue me.)

 

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G0.1

Available in: The Best Of New Dimensions

A 22nd-century rabble rousing artist visits a walled ‘Utopia’ to convince its inhabitants their ‘freedom’ is illusory and that their quotation marks are being used to express false ‘sincerity’. But the sheeple say no thanks-y to this futuristic Banksy and choose to remain high, dumb and happy. I really don’t think sheep deserve their obsequious reputation. Ever tried to tongue-kiss one against its will? They bite!

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B10-2

Available in: Azazel

This story is part of a series of ‘comedic’ (the great thing about the printed word is that you don’t have to use air quotes: you can use real ones!) fantasies Asimov wrote about a demonic imp named Azazel who grants humans their hearts’ desires, only to leave them disappointed with the results. The moral? Impin’ ain’t easy.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G106

Available in: Tales From Jabba’s Palace

Tales from Jabba's Palace

Return Of The Jedi aficionados know Bib Fortuna as a head-tentacled bit player at Jabba’s palace; a pale, near-anonymous Rusty the Bailiff to the Hutt’s imposing Judge Wapner. But we always wanted more Bib. Give us more Bib, we pleaded with George Lucas, but an extended ‘Now With 48% More Bib Fortuna!’ version of ROTJ was not forthcoming. And we wept. Then this story came along. It’s all about Bib Fortuna; his character, his desires, his backstory, and his never-ending machinations against Jabba the Hutt. And it was good. So good, in fact, it left me drooling. Luckily, I was wearing a….wait for it…..napkin in the front of my shirt.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A0.1

Available in: The Oxford Book Of Science Fiction Stories

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Things heat up considerably on planet Earth after a gigantic second sun mysteriously appears in our sky. Oceans boil then fall as scalding rain, the sauna industry tanks and Buster Poindexter is mercilessly beaten in the street (which, let’s be honest, was bound to happen anyway). And, yet, the story’s lone Republican congressman still insists global warming is nothing to worry about.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F10-2.5

Available in: Weird Tales, Volume VIII, No. 3

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A man employed by a news wire service (sigh…remember the news?) hears the story of a mysterious fog that has enveloped a small town and subjected its inhabitants to bizarre lights and noises, vertigo and a general sense of temporal displacement. If that small town were only full of stupid hippies selling t-shirts for thirty bucks a pop, it’d be just like a Grateful Dead concert. Or, I guess maybe a Foghat concert, since it’s a story about fog. But definitely not Ram Jam.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10

Available in: The Best Of Murray Leinster

A man invents a device that can duplicate matter on the molecular level, so he naturally uses it to double his supply of money, liquor and women. This also doubles his supply of headaches, hangovers and hysteria but, as the old saying goes: ‘mo’lecularily duplicated matter, mo’ problems’. I myself own a molecular duplicator I use to duplicate copy for this blog when I don’t feel like writing more. I also own a molecular duplicator I use to duplicate copy for this blog when I don’t feel like writing more (I also duplicated this bit about duplication I used in another post).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O/B10

Available in: Thrilling Wonder Stories, Vol. XXIX, No. 3

A Nebraska-grade corny story about a spore-woman from Venus who lands on Earth and grows in a man’s garden. Any guy who can grow a woman from scratch must have quite a green thumb, but the fact that she’s described as being buxom, beautiful, and rooted to the ground tells me it’s not his thumb she should be worried about.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G104

Available in: Galactic Cluster

Do you like surprise endings? For example; would it thrill you if, instead of the question mark you were expecting at the end of this sentence, there was a miniature picture of Bob Uecker instead Then you should read this story. It has a surprise ending that’ll make that question mark/Uecker thing seem hackneyed and pathetic by comparison. Much like Bob Uecker himself (bet you didn’t see that coming, Uecker!)


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: The Twelve Frights Of Christmas

Aliens with the ability to mimic humans infiltrate a space colony, and the captain is forced to take desperate measures to figure out who’s who, and who’s an ‘it’. Do you have what it takes to be a captain? One of these blogs is an alien mimic. Figure out which one it is and eliminate it.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: The Twelve Frights Of Christmas

Aliens with the ability to mimic humans infiltrate a space colony, and the captain is forced to take desperate measures to figure out who’s who, and who’s an ‘it’. Do you have what it takes to be a captain? One of these blogs is an alien mimic. Figure out which one it is and eliminate it.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: K0.1

Available in: Orsinian Tales

An arrogant travelling priest tries in vain to convert a barbaric mountain tribe to Christianity. But the village chieftain, having none of it, slits the priest’s throat (God, while omnipresent, is nowhere to be found at the time of the priest’s gurgling death). A nice little gem of a story that reminds us that, while many of us make sacrifices for our careers, a few of us actually become them.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-2.5

Available in: Sword And Sorceress III

A wandering African female warrior meets a shape-shifting succubus in the jungle and is lured into a life of captive lesbian sexuality that makes said jungle even hotter and stankier than it is. ‘Marwe’s Forest’ is part of an anthology of ‘female fantasy’ that purportedly celebrates strong female characters penned by strong female writers, but it’s written by a guy and is naught but boner-inducing jack-fodder. You get the feeling it started off as something serious and sincere, but kept coming back from a cigar-chomping editor with ‘NEEDS MORE TITS’ scrawled in the margins. And tits it got.

Hertzsrpung-Russell rating: A/F10-3.5

Available in: Armageddons

An amateur astronomer discovers a comet heading towards Earth that’ll wipe the globe off the map in the next few hours. So he spends his last moments alive working up the nerve to ask a co-worker out for coffee, resulting in the awkwardest first (and last) date small-talk ever (“So….um….how did you enjoy civilization?”) Chicks fall for the old ‘end-of-the-world comet’ trick every time; it’s how I got my wife to marry me. Luboš Kohoutek was our officient. He got really drunk at the reception.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A0.1

Available in: The Apes Of Wrath

An ape who apes human thought and behavior waxes homo sapient about his decision to renounce jungle living and dwell amongst men as a famous concert performer. His concert rider? All bananas – absolutely no plantains! Humans and primates actually aren’t that different. Monkeys hurl their feces at each other, while humans voluntarily organize themselves into tightly knit social structures that require close interaction and interdependence to succeed. Either way you’re always dealing with someone else’s shit.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G103

Available in: The Shout And Other Stories

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A young couple meets a hermit who possesses a magical shout (and I don’t mean the stain remover); a bellow so big and bold it drives people insane.  I’m going to shout it from the rooftops – this story is great! Another thing I’m going to shout from the rooftops is for someone to bring me a ladder because the one I used to get up here fell over and now I’m trapped. Also, the roof is dirty and my pants need some ShoutTM. And that time I did mean the stain remover.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B102.5

Available in: Before The Golden Age Book 3

Two eagle-eyed astronomers discover a massive planetoid is about to hit Earth (our Earth! Where we live!!) so they attach rockets to the moon and use it to blow said planetoid out of the sky. Course, now we’re moonless, which means no more tides, but fuck the Bay of Fundy, right? You know a story’s bad when the central scientific premise sounds like a rap lyric: “Strap a rocket to the moon and use it as a weapon/and, like the moon, the total Gs are lessened when they steppin’.”

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B0.5

Available in: Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume XXX, No. 3

A  mapcap tale in which highly-intelligent donkeys enslave humans. They’re all, like, ‘Fuck this – you guys pull the carts and carry Juan Valdez’ coffee and bring Jesus into Jerusalem and be the briefly amusing but now thoroughly grating comic sidekick in Shrek.’ Basically, it’s Planet Of The Apes, but with donkeys (and somewhere, someone has spoken the previous sentence to the head of a movie studio, who is currently writing them a cheque for a hundred million dollars.)

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F104

Available in: The Worlds Of Robert F. Young

An interplanetary mountaineer becomes sexually obsessed with a woman-shaped mountain and decides to ‘tap’ that. Mostly with a mountain-climbing hammer. But he gets his pitons in a knot when he reaches the top and realizes he’s not the first one to plant his flag in her moist, quivering peak. That ignominious, igneous bitch! That’s why, geologically speaking, I’m an isthmus man.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F104.5

Available in: Mercenaries Of Tomorrow

A kid growing up in a futuristic utopia wearies of being coddled and ventures into the untamed countryside to join a bloodthirsty barbarian horde. A lot of young people join bloodthirsty barbarian hordes just for the parties; they think bloodthirsty barbarian hordes drink a lot. But they don’t. That’s why they’re bloodthirsty. They may have a small glass of blood with dinner. Or maybe a blood shandy on a hot day. But for the most part, they’re pretty dry. They love rape, though.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O/B5

Available in: 2076: The American Tricentennial

A bad story about badass post-apocalyptic bikers hunting each other down in the badlands of America. Do I feel slurping on my scrotum? Cuz this story sucked the bag. It’s written in that ‘weird-for-the-sake-of-weird’ style that was passed off as creative innovation in the 1970’s, but is really just shallow, non-linear storytelling that leaves the reader dazed and confused with none of the benefit of a murky violin bow guitar solo. It’s just bag-suckin’ bad, is what it is.

Hertzsprung – Russell rating: A10

Available in: Friends Of The Horseclans

In a post-apocalyptic America (NOTE: It was something the Democrats did) a young boy befriends a telepathic warhorse. Kinda like ‘Old Yeller’ with a mind-reading horse instead of a pyrokinetic dog. The two of them grow to love each other, and the boy eventually rises up against his village’s oppressive neo-feudal overlord by asking his equine BFF to trample said warlord to death. Proof that having a horseshoe up your ass isn’t always good luck.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-3.5

Available in: Tales From Watership Down

 

I really revere rabbits, and the more rascally they are the more I love reading about them (NOTE: our scifistoryscentury.com intern, Josh, was supposed to change all those r’s to w’s to make the preceding sentence more Elmer Fudd-ish; can we do that please, Josh?) This story, based in the Watership Down universe, follows the further furred adventures of Richard Adams’ beloved lupines (‘lupines’ means ‘wolves’ Josh; ‘lapines’ is rabbits. Can we fix that before we post this entry?) as they search for a new warren before the arrival of a harsh winter. A pretty good story to settle down with – just make sure you tell everyone that you’re trying to read so they have to be wvery wvery quiet! (you’re fired, Josh).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A103

Available in: The Fox Woman And Other Stories

An Artic explorer discovers an ancient subterranean city populated by intelligent but malicious globes of light which enslave him to do their bidding: washing their malicious laundry, mowing their malicious grass and some light malicious filing. Despite being sans ClapperTM  he escapes his luminescent bondage and dies wandering and insane in the forest. The ironic thing about going insane in a forest is that you’re among so many trees while simultaneously being out of yours (that joke kills with mentally-ill arbourists).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A106.5+

Available in: Fighting The Future War

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From the creator of Buck Rogers comes the tale of a futuristic America at war with a global Mongolian empire that wants to wipe them out. To combat these retarded Mongoloid schemes, a few brave fugitive ‘Muricans take to the skies in airships to do battle. Belligerent Americans – real creative, Phil. In reality, the only time we need to fear the Mongolians is during the high jump event at the summer Olympics; they’ve had 3000 years to practice on that wall the Chinese built.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A10-2

Available in: Timeless Stories For Today And Tomorrow

The story of a pig possessed by a demon and two brave young priests who strive to save the impious porker’s soul from piggy Hell (which smells delicious, by the way). Demons started inhabiting pigs in Biblical times (Matthew 8:30 – 37) because they knew the Jews wouldn’t touch them, but just once I’d like to see Jesus call their bluff. Son Of God be all, like, “Fuck it! Cook ‘em up! Get thee inside me, Satan! And round up some possessed chickens and some evil toast, while you’re at it; we’re one demon away from an all-day breakfast! I’ll say Grace, too: ‘Dear Me – I thank Me for this food I am about to receive.’” Wow. What a fertile bit.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B106.5+

Available in: The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame Volume IIB

Rumour has it this story served as the inspiration for Marvel’s X-Men: a psychiatry professor (possibly bald; it’s not explicitly stated that he is, but we have no reason to assume he’s not) discovers a brilliant mutant child (possibly with the innate ability to shoot lasers from his eyes; it’s never alluded to, but we have no reason to assume it couldn’t happen) and encourages him to seek out and band together with other mutant children (possibly to fight Magneto; no such conflict is even hinted at, but we should just go ahead and imagine that’s what the authour intended).  Also, the word SNIKT! appears over 400 times in the story.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G/K106.5+

Available in: A Mile Beyond The Moon

C.M.K. doesn’t seem to have a bad writing bone in his body; not a punny tibia or hackneyed distal phalange to be found. ‘Shark Ship’ begins as a story about a future civilization living at sea, and ends up touring the abandoned slums of New York City. Like a Nazi slipping on a banana peel it’s all at once scary and hilarious, and proves that the Jew-run banana peel industry is still very much a threat.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G1

Available in: The Farthest Reaches

Spinrad spins a rad yarn about a vanished alien civilization that leaves behind a stately pleasuredome designed to lure humans into eternal paradise. I like this story because it uses the word ‘spacer’ to describe professional interstellar travelers. Such a sadly optimistic, fun, corny, word. ‘Spacer’. Say it with me now: ‘spacer’. Neat.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: K/M102

Available in: Shatterday

Fuckin’ Harlan Ellison’s awesome. Not having intercourse with him, mind you; I mean, he’s a fuckin’ awesome writer. This is a chilling tale about the special hell that awaits people who waste their lives (by, say, writing and reading blogs about science fiction), all told with Ellison’s trademark blend of Beauty N’ HorrorTM. Plus, look at the cover of Shatterday. Doesn’t that just beg for a caption-writing contest?!? Here’s mine:‘Talk about a wrong number!’ Intercourse with Harlan Ellison is awesome.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G/K105

Available in: Prayers To Broken Stones

A guy who can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum discovers the true cause of cancer and sets out to destroy it, with horrific results. The problem with being able to see the entire electromagnetic spectrum is that, besides having to hear the music of Aerosmith, you’d have to fucking look at it, too, and I’m fairly certain every song they’ve ever written is shit brown. “Even ‘Pink’?” you ask, incredulous. “Especially ‘Pink’” I reply.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: Everything’s Eventual

An in-between-Gunslinger-novels story starring King’s resident pistol-packin’ poppa, Roland Deschain. In it, the roving, revolving cowboy finds himself laid up sick in an abandoned town and cared for by a hoard of vampire nurses. Now, if you wound up on this page as the result of a misdirected search for the R-rated 1987 Ivan Reitman teen sex comedy Vampire Nurses, I have two bits of advice. Firstly, read this collection of stories, specifically ‘Room 1408’, which is truly horrifying in the Lovecraftian tradition. Secondly, stop using Bing.

Hertzsrpung-Russell rating: A10-3.5

Available in: The Best Of Saki

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A small English town is shocked to discover one of the local boys is actually a werewolf. Conversely, a small English wolfpack is shocked to discover one of the local cubs is a wolfwere. Anyone could be a feral wolf in disguise; I’d start by rounding up Will Ferrell and Dick Wolf. Even if they’re bona fide humans you’ve still got the beginnings of the most hilarious sex crime police procedural ever committed to film.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F106.5+

Available in: The Big Book Of Adventure Stories

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A scientist develops a formula that reduces him to the size of a single atom (talk about shrinkage!) and allows him to discover and explore hitherto unknown worlds that exist on the microscopic level. Eventually, he falls in love with the tiny unsuper-sized civilizations and decides to stay down there forever. No biggie. While entertaining, the whole story is preposterous: I took a shrink formula thirty minutes ago and nothing is happening yet and oh shit it’s kicking in and if you’re still reading this you have really good eyesight.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O/B102.5

Available in: Great Science Fiction About Doctors

A young couple buys a robo-nanny to care for their newborn baby in all the ways a real mother would. The robot feeds the baby, rocks the baby and writes about the baby on an insufferably self-righteous mommy blog. In the end, however, the baby grows to love the robot more than its human parents. Children eschewing their progenitors in favour of machines is nothing new. In the 80s I spent so much time playing Nintendo I forgot my father’s name. I think it was ‘Mario’. Is this thing on? The computer, I mean – is it on? Yep. Green light’s flashing. It’s on.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A103.5

Available in: Expanded Universe

A scientist devises a method for predicting the exact time and date of a person’s death, thus negating the need for life insurance, and gets himself whacked by the Life Insurance syndicate for his trouble (“Make it look like a pre-existin’ condition, ya got it, boys?”) Predicting the date and time of my death doesn’t impress me much. Predict the weather. That way, I can let everyone know how to dress for my funeral.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F1

Available in: Alternating Currents

After a nuclear holocaust, a dude goes back in time to prehistoric days to try and change history, but returns to find ants ruling the world. And said ants fuckin’ kill him. D’jever notice that, post WWII, everyone was terrified of ants? If I had a nickel for every mid-20th century scifi story that posits a future where ants rule the world, I’d have thousands of sugar-standard-based ant dollars I could use to buy a 20,000-room anthill right beside a picnic basket. I’d just sit on my thorax all day while my centipede butler brought me cookie crumbs. That’d be the life.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F10

Available in: The Mind Spider And Other Stories

This story has something for everyone: a family of telepaths and an unfathomably evil presence from beyond the stars imprisoned at the South Pole which they band together to defeat. On second thought, this story doesn’t really have something for everyone. In fact, the segment of people this story appeals to is incredibly small: the intersection of the Venn diagram for readers who enjoy both familial telepathy and imprisoned evil looks like Smurfette’s vagina. Still, ich liebe Leiber.

 

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A0.1

Available in: From The “S” File

A comic future tale where humans are cold, impersonal, and detached, and machines pine desperately for our love. I can relate. I’ve only had my iPod for two weeks and it wants me to move in with it and meet its parents. It’s too much, baby! You’re smothering me! I know you provide me with 60G of storage, but I need some space!

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F1

Available in: Heroic Fantasy

You probably recognize the cover of this anthology from the popular website Comely Maidens With Douchebags, but the real treats are the stories inside. In ‘The Age Of The Warrior’ an old knight goes on one last quest to prove there’s still some tilt in his lance, and in the process raises some poignant…um….points….about what it means to get old. In this case, it means he is brutally slain.


Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F105.5

Available in: Tales From The New Twilight Zone

After a secret military project opens a wormhole to another dimension (by pressing a button that says ‘OPEN WORMHOLE NOW’) the army sends in its top wormhole enterer to see what’s on the other side. And what’s on the other side is an idyllic planet inhabited by a race of peaceful aliens – space hippies, if you will – whom the army man then struggles to protect against his own military-industrial complex. The lesson here is that opening a wormhole opens up a whole other can of worms.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A105

Available in: Visions Of Tomorrow

To solve a case of identity theft a computer hacker enters cyberspace bodily and grapples with a series of fiendishly clever e-riddles that take the form of e-dragons, e-gargoyles, and other shit prefixed with ‘e’. I think cyberpunk is stupid. William Gibson, fast-talking wiseass hackers with nicknames like ‘Motherboard’ and ‘Basic’, dot-matrix printers – all that that shit is stupid. Some people think if you criticize cyberpunk you’ll get ‘hacked’ by cyberpunk fans who’ll make you look stupid online but I highly the author of this blog is a stupid needle-dicked queer doubt it.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.5

Available in: Supertoys Last All Summer Long

This is good entry-level Aldiss: a more-or-less straightforward tale about an alien invasion and a single terrestrial priest struggling to maintain his faith in the face of powers much greater than his beloved Biblical God. Many of the other stories in this anthology were, I found, too weird for words. Mind you, the phrase ‘too weird for words’ actually uses words, so I guess it’s somewhat redundant. Not to mention redundant.