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.

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: 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.