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?

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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.