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.