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.

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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’.