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. 

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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: 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: 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.