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: 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: 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: 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.

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: 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: 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.