From A(simov) to Z(ahn): The Very Best Science Fiction Short Stories
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When we think of the all-time-greats of science fiction, we tend to think in terms of the novels. It’s all too easy for us to think of science fiction as beginning in the 19th century with books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's utopian novel The Coming Race. It's only natural to assume that the genre then continued with writers like Jules Verne, with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and H. G. Wells, whose The Time Machine remains an archetypical futuristic dystopia.
Science fiction is often seen as having crystalised over the course of those novels, gradually moving from the romance and gothic-horror of Frankenstein, into the stories of the future that we enjoy today. The truth is though, between all of these novels there is an untapped and under-appreciated well of short stories that would now be recognised as science fiction.
As a genre, science fiction seems perfectly suited to the short story. The limited space allows an author to skip over details that might otherwise see the narrative bogged down in lengthy explanation, allowing science fiction writers to jump straight into a narrative set in a distant time or place without the reader feeling as though they’re missing some elements vital to their understanding. The necessities of the format ensure that the content can be delivered as tightly as possible without the details feeling too vague.
It is science fiction’s suitability for short story writing that have given us many of the genre's best adaptations, including its manifold adaptations for radio and film.
That said, it can be extraordinarily tricky to know where to start with endless list of short stories, a task made only more daunting by the endless different collections and anthologies available. Fear not, below you’ll find some of the best science fiction short stories you could hope to read.