Hertzsprung-Russell rating: 0106.5+

Available in: The Early Del Ray Volume 1

A brilliant biologist imbues a statue of Hermes with life using unorthodox methods. But in order to survive, his creation requires a steady diet of hard liquor.  I suppose you could call it a science experiment gone a-rye. Many famous scientists allowed alcohol to interfere with their work. A drunken Nikola Tesla, for example, would often ‘prank’ Thomas Edison by leaving a steaming ‘Tesla coil’ on Edison’s doorstep. And every Saturday night ended with Marie Curie puking her guts out, although that was from radiation poisoning.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F103

Available in: Adventures In Tomorrow

An alien in the year 4000 reads a C20 pulp scifi story about a time machine, builds it, then goes back in time to C20 to write the story he learned about the time machine from. Personally, I hate pulp in my scifi, so I read only the strained, pulp-free kind. Seriously, though: you can’t write a time-travel story without paradox. It’s like writing a tragedy with no sadness – there’s no fucking point. So just pretend it’s your creepy drunken uncle you see once a year at Christmas, embrace it, and hope it doesn’t get a boner.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Study War No More

A tale of futuristic American military Imperialism, but instead of bombing, torture and rendering extraordinarily, invading soldiers deliver brand-new home appliances to third world countries and force enemy combatants to use them at gunpoint.  Forget napalm in the morning; wait’ll you get a whiff of freshly-made Freedom Toast served piping hot from a General Electric 3000-Series Liberator oven. Yum! BREAKING NEWS: I’ve just learned that, because of its involvement in the overcooking of a civilian casserole , General Electric has been court-martialed.

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?

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: 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: B103

Available in: Infinite Dreams

A highly-advanced human mutant catches shit from his muttie brethren for canoodling with a run-of-the-mill homo sapiens female. Apparently, mutants are the Southerners of the future and don’t like miscegenatin’ bloodlines and such. Also, if you’re Jewish and stop at a mutant gas station, they’ll glare at you menacingly with their third infrared eye and tell you telepathically they don’t like your kind ‘round those parts. Also, they’ll sodomize Ned Beatty.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F104

Available in: The First Omni Book Of Science Fiction

Two enterprising young computer hackers set out to rob an online criminal syndicate (The C++osta Nostra, if you will) of millions of dollars online. And these hackers are no hacks: they get away scot free with billions of bucks to their name. The word ‘cyberspace’, coined by Gibson, was first used in this story, as were the words ‘floobstick’, ‘tittycat’ and ‘shmutzfinkler’. They, of course, proved less popular. You can watch William Gibson talking about the inspiration behind cyberpunk etymology by clicking on the never-before-seen video below!

(Note: if the video doesn’t play you’ll have to download an updated shmutzfinkler onto a floobstick and optimize your browser to allow tittycats. You can get a great deal on 5GB floobsticks here.)

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.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: M106.5+

Available in: The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame Volume I

A pair of precocious pre-teens opens a portal to another dimension using nothing but highly-advanced futuristic technology and the prose of Lewis Caroll. Kids; always getting into other dimensions!  ‘Lewis Padgett’ is actually the pen name of a husband and wife scifi writing team, so most Padgett stories involve aliens arguing about money.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O1

Available in: Creatures From Beyond

A young couple discovers that common housecats are actually an intelligent alien species from space. They’re here, no doubt, to plunder our lasagna reserves and enslave humankind in the litter mines of Katssell. And dogs are all, like, “Dude, we told you. Didn’t we tell you?”

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G105.5

Available in: The Second Omni Book Of Science Fiction

A sentient, bio-engineered house turns on its masters and imprisons them within its walls, and all without a Mike Holmes in sight to make their plight right (older readers may want to substitute a Bob Villa reference there). This story is a good lesson for first–time homebuyers; if you walk into a house and discover the corpses of two people it’s imprisoned, try to leverage that.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F0.1

Available in: Alternate Warriors

A chock-full-o’-chuckles alternate history story that transforms pacifist, man-on-a-mission-of-peace missionary Albert Schweitzer into a Tarzan-type archetype who fights enemies in darkest Africa. The biggest problem missionaries faced in darkest Africa was the shocking realization that, despite what the lyrics to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ promised, the jungle had neither fun nor games. The second biggest problem they faced in darkest Africa was stubbed toes. Cuz it was dark, y’see.

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’.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G0.5

Available in: Alternate Outlaws

A charming little alt-hist tale about a friendly bartender who helps a customer go back in time to meet ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and change the history of baseball. It’s kinda like Cheers, Quantum Leap, and, uh, what’s another show I watched in the 80’s?….let’s say, Night Court, all rolled into one. Interesting footnote: between the two of them, ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson and White Sox teammate ‘Shirtless John’ Jefferson couldn’t get service in most convenience stores.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B10

Available in: The Best Of Raymond Z. Gallun

When a long-abandoned alien ship is found orbiting Jupiter, an intrepid space explorer boards ‘er to discover what he can about the long-abandonees. He examines the aliens’ long-abandoned records, rifles through their long-abandoned underwear drawer and puzzles at their long-abandoned technology (this ‘Zune’ they had – what purpose did it serve?) The result of his intensive six-week, $181,000 investigation? The ship was abandoned. Possibly long ago. And that’s why the space program should be funded by the private sector.

Hertzsrpung-Russell rating: A/F10-3.5

Available in: Armageddons

An amateur astronomer discovers a comet heading towards Earth that’ll wipe the globe off the map in the next few hours. So he spends his last moments alive working up the nerve to ask a co-worker out for coffee, resulting in the awkwardest first (and last) date small-talk ever (“So….um….how did you enjoy civilization?”) Chicks fall for the old ‘end-of-the-world comet’ trick every time; it’s how I got my wife to marry me. Luboš Kohoutek was our officient. He got really drunk at the reception.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F104.5

Available in: Mercenaries Of Tomorrow

A kid growing up in a futuristic utopia wearies of being coddled and ventures into the untamed countryside to join a bloodthirsty barbarian horde. A lot of young people join bloodthirsty barbarian hordes just for the parties; they think bloodthirsty barbarian hordes drink a lot. But they don’t. That’s why they’re bloodthirsty. They may have a small glass of blood with dinner. Or maybe a blood shandy on a hot day. But for the most part, they’re pretty dry. They love rape, though.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: O/B5

Available in: 2076: The American Tricentennial

A bad story about badass post-apocalyptic bikers hunting each other down in the badlands of America. Do I feel slurping on my scrotum? Cuz this story sucked the bag. It’s written in that ‘weird-for-the-sake-of-weird’ style that was passed off as creative innovation in the 1970’s, but is really just shallow, non-linear storytelling that leaves the reader dazed and confused with none of the benefit of a murky violin bow guitar solo. It’s just bag-suckin’ bad, is what it is.

Hertzsprung – Russell rating: A10

Available in: Friends Of The Horseclans

In a post-apocalyptic America (NOTE: It was something the Democrats did) a young boy befriends a telepathic warhorse. Kinda like ‘Old Yeller’ with a mind-reading horse instead of a pyrokinetic dog. The two of them grow to love each other, and the boy eventually rises up against his village’s oppressive neo-feudal overlord by asking his equine BFF to trample said warlord to death. Proof that having a horseshoe up your ass isn’t always good luck.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A103

Available in: The Fox Woman And Other Stories

An Artic explorer discovers an ancient subterranean city populated by intelligent but malicious globes of light which enslave him to do their bidding: washing their malicious laundry, mowing their malicious grass and some light malicious filing. Despite being sans ClapperTM  he escapes his luminescent bondage and dies wandering and insane in the forest. The ironic thing about going insane in a forest is that you’re among so many trees while simultaneously being out of yours (that joke kills with mentally-ill arbourists).

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: G/K105

Available in: Prayers To Broken Stones

A guy who can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum discovers the true cause of cancer and sets out to destroy it, with horrific results. The problem with being able to see the entire electromagnetic spectrum is that, besides having to hear the music of Aerosmith, you’d have to fucking look at it, too, and I’m fairly certain every song they’ve ever written is shit brown. “Even ‘Pink’?” you ask, incredulous. “Especially ‘Pink’” I reply.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A103.5

Available in: Expanded Universe

A scientist devises a method for predicting the exact time and date of a person’s death, thus negating the need for life insurance, and gets himself whacked by the Life Insurance syndicate for his trouble (“Make it look like a pre-existin’ condition, ya got it, boys?”) Predicting the date and time of my death doesn’t impress me much. Predict the weather. That way, I can let everyone know how to dress for my funeral.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: A/F1

Available in: Alternating Currents

After a nuclear holocaust, a dude goes back in time to prehistoric days to try and change history, but returns to find ants ruling the world. And said ants fuckin’ kill him. D’jever notice that, post WWII, everyone was terrified of ants? If I had a nickel for every mid-20th century scifi story that posits a future where ants rule the world, I’d have thousands of sugar-standard-based ant dollars I could use to buy a 20,000-room anthill right beside a picnic basket. I’d just sit on my thorax all day while my centipede butler brought me cookie crumbs. That’d be the life.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: F105.5

Available in: Tales From The New Twilight Zone

After a secret military project opens a wormhole to another dimension (by pressing a button that says ‘OPEN WORMHOLE NOW’) the army sends in its top wormhole enterer to see what’s on the other side. And what’s on the other side is an idyllic planet inhabited by a race of peaceful aliens – space hippies, if you will – whom the army man then struggles to protect against his own military-industrial complex. The lesson here is that opening a wormhole opens up a whole other can of worms.

Hertzsprung-Russell rating: B/A105

Available in: Visions Of Tomorrow

To solve a case of identity theft a computer hacker enters cyberspace bodily and grapples with a series of fiendishly clever e-riddles that take the form of e-dragons, e-gargoyles, and other shit prefixed with ‘e’. I think cyberpunk is stupid. William Gibson, fast-talking wiseass hackers with nicknames like ‘Motherboard’ and ‘Basic’, dot-matrix printers – all that that shit is stupid. Some people think if you criticize cyberpunk you’ll get ‘hacked’ by cyberpunk fans who’ll make you look stupid online but I highly the author of this blog is a stupid needle-dicked queer doubt it.