10 of the Best Science-Fiction Short Stories Everyone Should Read (2023)

What are the best places to begin exploring the wonderful world of science fiction? Some of the classic novels of the genre, from Frank Herbert’s Dune to Asimov’s Foundation series (which eventually stretched to seven volumes), might appear daunting because of their sheer size and scope. Below, we introduce ten short science fiction stories which offer the perfect way in to the imaginative wonders of science fiction.

1. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine.

Wells stands at the beginning of science fiction in the English language. Although he wasn’t the very first English science fiction author, his contemporaries, such as George Griffith, have long since been forgotten.

The Time Machine is technically more of a novella than a short story, but it heads Wells’s big, fat complete short stories collection, so we reckon that qualifies it for inclusion here. Published in 1895, this tale centres on a Time Traveller who invents a machine that enables him to travel far into the future. He ends up in the world of AD 802,701, in a London that has been transformed into a vast garden, and where humankind has evolved into two distinct subspecies: the above-ground Eloi and the sinister subterranean Morlocks …

We have discussed this remarkable novella in more detail here.

2. E. M. Forster, ‘The Machine Stops’.

Is this the most prophetic story of the twentieth century? Published in 1909 and showing Forster’s disdain for technological advancement and the way it would make our lives poorer, this story attracted plenty of new readers in 2020 when so many people’s lives ‘went virtual’. It’s all here: Zoom, self-isolation, and even the fear of other human beings. Controlling everything is ‘the Machine’, a mysterious technological entity worshipped as a god by many of the inhabitants of this future Earth.

You can read our analysis of this prescient short story here.

3. Shirley Jackson, ‘The Lottery’.

This 1948 story is among the most acclaimed short stories of the twentieth century, and earns its place on this list because of the speculative nature of its scenario (recalling, perhaps, Borges’ ‘The Lottery in Babylon’) and the ambiguous setting.

The story is set in a fictional town. Every year an event known as ‘the lottery’ takes place. This lottery involves a member of the community being selected at random – but the fate of the person selected is truly chilling. Jackson’s story, like Le Guin’s (see below) is about the concept of the scapegoat and the dynamic between the individual and the collective in society. The story initially attracted much negative reaction from readers of the New Yorker (where it was first published), with many readers cancelling their subscriptions, horrified and disgusted by the story. It is now regarded as a classic.

4. Isaac Asimov, ‘Nightfall’.

This 1941 short story, written while Asimov was still only in his early twenties, is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction short stories of all time. Indeed, in 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted it the best science fiction short story written before 1965.

The story is about a planet which doesn’t experience nightfall, except once in every 2,049 years, because it is normally lit by six suns. Since every human being alive will find nightfall a terrifying experience when that rare eclipse occurs, scientists worry about their chaos that will ensue when night falls …

5. Ray Bradbury, ‘A Sound of Thunder’.

This is another classic time travel story, this time involving a journey back into the distant past rather than the far-flung future. The story was first published in Collier’s magazine in 1952 and then collected a year later in Bradbury’s short-story collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun.

The story begins in the future, sometime around 2055. A time-travel safari company in the United States, Time Safari Inc., allows animal-hunters to travel back in time in a Time Machine and kill a long-extinct animal, such as a dinosaur. A man named Eckels turns up ready to undertake his safari … with disastrous results.

You can read more about this story in a separate post.

6. Arthur C. Clarke, ‘The Nine Billion Names for God’.

This 1953 story is another which, like Asimov’s ‘Nightfall’, is often given the title of ‘one of the best short stories written before the Nebula Awards were created in the mid-1960s’.

A group of Buddhist monks think that, once every single name by which ‘God’ is known has been listed, the world – indeed, the whole universe – will end. They predict there are 9 billion different names in total, which new technology will allow them to itemise. Two men are hired to be the computer programmers for the monks’ task. What happens when all nine billion names are printed out? Well, that would be telling …

7. Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’.

This story, like Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’, is perhaps more correctly labelled ‘speculative fiction’: it’s set in the fictional town of Omelas, in which everyone is happy and prosperous. But such happiness and prosperity has come at a terrible cost, for the success and contentment of everyone’s life is dependent on the suffering of a small child which is kept in miserable conditions in a room in the town. Le Guin raises some deeply unsettling but important ethical questions in this classic story, which is told in the beautiful, eloquent prose for which Le Guin’s work is rightly famed.

We tease out some of the elements of this story in a separate post.

8. Philip K. Dick, ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’.

Dick (1928-82) has attracted a devoted cult following since his untimely death, and his work fuses Kafkan paranoia and fear over police states and totalitarianism with an interest in psychedelia, drugs, altered consciousness, and related paraphernalia of the 1960s. In this story, which formed the basis of the 1990 film Total Recall, a man named Douglas Quail learns of a special ‘holiday’ to Mars that can be implanted into the brain so one can experience a trip to another planet without having to go anywhere.

9. J. G. Ballard, ‘Billennium’.

This 1962 story from one of the most original authors of the twentieth century is a dystopian tale set in a vastly overpopulated future, in which the world’s population is around 20 billion. As a result, people live in extraordinarily cramped rooms in vast cities. The story focuses on two friends, Ward and Rossiter, who find new living quarters and then discover a whole new room behind one of their cupboards.

10. William Gibson, ‘Burning Chrome’.

Often credited with coining the term ‘cyberspace’ (a word he certainly helped to popularise), William Gibson (born 1948) is perhaps the greatest living science-fiction author, and one of the most prophetic. His early novels of the 1980s helped to establish ‘cyberpunk’ as a new branch of science fiction, and no writer has engaged so imaginatively and prophetically with our new world of the internet and digital communication as Gibson.

Like many science fiction writers, Gibson started out writing short fiction such as ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ and ‘Burning Chrome’. The latter story prefigures Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, from two years later, in focusing on a computer hacker: a startlingly new character type in the early 1980s.

This story is not available online, but is the title story of the William Gibson collection Burning Chrome.



10 of the Best Science-Fiction Short Stories Everyone Should Read? ›

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that contains imagined elements that don't exist in the real world. Science fiction spans a wide range of themes that often explore time travel, space travel, are set in the future, and deal with the consequences of technological and scientific advances.

What is science fiction answers? ›

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that contains imagined elements that don't exist in the real world. Science fiction spans a wide range of themes that often explore time travel, space travel, are set in the future, and deal with the consequences of technological and scientific advances.

What makes a good science fiction short story? ›

A good science fiction work posits one vision for the future, among countless possibilities, that is built on a foundation of realism. In creating a link between the present and the future, science fiction invites us to consider the complex ways our choices and interactions contribute to generating the future.

What was the first science fiction short story? ›

Published in 1616, The Chemical Wedding predates Johannes Kepler's novel Somnium, which was written in 1608 but not published until 1634 and “which usually gets the nod” as the first science fiction story.

What are the 3 types of science fiction? ›

An alternative classification system proposed by Isaac Asimov in 1953 suggests that each science fiction plot exists in one of three categories: gadget, adventure, or social.

What are 2 examples of science fiction? ›

Examples of Science Fiction Literature
  • H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds. ...
  • Doris Lessing, Shikasta. ...
  • Ted Chiang, “The Story of Your Life”

What makes a perfect short story? ›

The three main things that make a good story are the hook, characters, and the voice. Hook – start your story in a way that will hook your readers and keep them interested. Characters – make sure they are interesting and that (although most probably flawed) your readers will root for them until the end.

What is science fiction in one word? ›

science fiction. noun. : fiction that deals with the influence of real or imagined science on society or individuals. science-fictional.

What is one main point of science fiction? ›

Answer and Explanation: One main purpose of science fiction is to warn people not to misuse technology or science. For example, there are science fiction stories focused on the dangers of cloning, nuclear power, and space exploration.

What famous sci-fi stories do you know? ›

The Top 9 Science Fiction Short Stories
  • #1 NIGHTFALL by Isaac Asimov (1941) ...
  • #2 MIMSY WERE THE BOROGROVES by Lewis Padgett (1943) ...
  • #3 ARENA by Frederic Brown (1944) ...
  • #4 THE WEAPON SHOP by A.E. ...
  • #5 THE MILLION YEAR PICNIC by Ray Bradbury (1948) ...
  • #6 THE LAST QUESTION by Isaac Asimov (1956) ...
  • #7 A WALK IN THE DARK by Arthur C.

What are the greatest science fiction stories of the 20th century? ›

They are: "Why I Left Harry's All-Night Diner" by Lawrence Watt Evans, "Jeffty Is Five" by Harlan Ellison, "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Crystal Spheres" by David Brin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Huddling Place" by Clifford D.

What is the oldest fiction story? ›

While Shuruppak's fatherly wisdom is one of the most ancient examples of written literature, history's oldest known fictional story is probably the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a mythic poem that first appeared as early as the third millennium B.C. The adventure-filled tale centers on a Sumerian king named Gilgamesh who is ...

What are the seven 7 essential elements of a short story? ›

These elements are character, plot, setting, theme, point of view, conflict, and tone. All seven elements work together to create a coherent story. When you're writing a story, these are the fundamental building blocks you should use. You can approach the seven elements in any order.

What are the seven 7 common elements of fiction? ›

Did you know there are seven basic elements in every successful story?
  • Character. This is so important, because unless your reader feels something for the characters, they won't care what happens to them, and they won't read on. ...
  • Plot. ...
  • Setting. ...
  • Point of View. ...
  • Style. ...
  • Theme. ...
  • Literary Devices.
Sep 13, 2018

What is science fiction 5 points? ›

Science fiction (sometimes shortened to sf or sci-fi) is a genre of speculative fiction, which typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

What are 4 themes of science fiction? ›

As the 20th century dawned, many of science fiction's most common themes—space travel, time travel, utopias and dystopias, and encounters with alien beings—bore British postmarks.

What is science fiction often called? ›

Usually futuristic, science fiction speculates about alternative ways of life made possible by technological change, and hence has sometimes been called "speculative fiction." Like fantasy, and often associated with it, science fiction envisions alternative worlds with believably consistent rules and structures, set ...

Why is it called science fiction? ›

Definition. SCIENCE FICTION is a fictionalized story wherein the setting and plot are centered around technology, time travel, outer space, or scientific principles, with or without the presence of aliens. Story elements are not found in the known universe and explained by scientific means.

What is the 5 example of fiction? ›

Mysteries, science fiction, romance, fantasy, chick lit, crime thrillers are all fiction genres.

What are the 2 most common forms of fiction? ›

There are three main types of fiction, also known as forms: short story, novella, and novel.

What are the 5 important things for short story? ›

  • 5 Important Elements of a Short Story. The 5 key elements that make up a short story are: ...
  • Character. A character is a person, or sometimes an animal, who takes part in the action of a short story or other literary work. ...
  • Setting. Setting is the time and place that a story occurs. ...
  • Theme. ...
  • Conflict. ...
  • Plot. ...
  • Plot Diagram. ...
  • Exposition.

What are 3 most popular short story types? ›

While there are many different short story styles, here we will consider three popular short story types: lyrical, flash fiction, and vignette.

How long is a short story? ›

Most short stories seem to be between 1,500 words and 7,500 words long so about 3- 30 pages long (a typical printed page is somewhere between 250 and 450 words) depending on font and print formatting. Also, pages of dialogue may have fewer words, which affects length too.

Is science fiction a short story? ›

Science fiction. The term often conjures up images of epic space battles, time travel hijinks, and daring rescues in rocket ships. And while there certainly are plenty of science fiction short stories like that, the genre offers a level of variety that is, well, out of this world!

Is Harry Potter a science fiction or fantasy? ›

The Harry Potter novels, seven in total, are fantasy, not science fiction.

Why do people read sci-fi? ›

The benefits of reading sci-fi include those listed for reading fantasy — stimulate imagination, creativity, problem solving and coping skills, but we have to add vocabulary, analytical skills, and memory and mental stimulation.

What is science fiction short? ›

Science fiction is a genre of fiction in which the stories often tell about science and technology of the future. It is important to note that science fiction has a relationship with the principles of science—these stories involve partially true- partially fictitious laws or theories of science.

What is an example of a science fiction book? ›

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

One of the earliest examples of pure science fiction, Mary Shelley's debut novel has remained one of the most iconic science fiction books of all time. Just remember: Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster.

Who is the grandfather of science fiction? ›

Born in Nebraska on March 23, 1869, Robert Hobart Davis has been called the greatest editor of the pulp era.

Who were the Big 3 sci-fi writers? ›

"Big Three"

For much of the later 20th century, Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein were informally known as the "Big Three" of science-fiction writers.

What is the most important machine sci-fi? ›

You guessed it: the venerable 555 Timer. And so it is that the 555 timer runs The Most Important Device In The Universe.

What are the seven wonders of science fiction? ›

Csicsery-Ronay's seven "beauties" of science fiction are: fictive neology (words), fictive novums (new thing), future history, imaginary science, the science-fictional sublime, the science-fictional grotesque, and the technologiade.

What makes the 100 science fiction? ›

In classic sci-fi form, The 100 is set in the not-too-distant future. All that remains of the human race is a small colony living on The Ark, a space station orbiting Earth. The idea is that humans will live there, die there, and reproduce there until Earth becomes inhabitable again.

Who is the king of science fiction? ›

Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels.

What is the oldest book still in existence? ›

Diamond Sūtra. A Buddhist holy text, the Diamond Sūtra is considered to be the oldest surviving dated printed book in the world. Found in a walled up cave in China along with other printed materials, the book is made up of Chinese characters printed on a scroll of grey printed paper, wrapped along a wooden pole.

Who was Gilgamesh in the Bible? ›

Gilgamesh himself was recorded as the fifth king of Uruk (probably the Biblical Erech) and ruled approximately 2,600 BC. The father of Gilgamesh was also a king, and his mother was supposedly a goddess, and hence he himself was partly a god.

Which book of the Bible is the oldest? ›

The first book written was probably 1 Thessalonians, written around 50 CE. The final book (in the ordering of the canon), the Book of Revelation, is generally accepted by traditional scholarship to have been written during the reign of Domitian (81–96).

Who is the father of short story? ›

Maupassant is considered a father of the modern short story. Literary theorist Kornelije Kvas wrote that along "with Chekhov, Maupassant is the greatest master of the short story in world literature.

What are the 4 elements short story? ›

The four elements necessary for your story structure are character, plot, setting, and tension. Balancing these elements is the first step to making your creative writing amazing.

How should a story start? ›

Starting Stories: 5 Great Beginning Strategies
  1. Strategy 1: Begin with action or dialogue. ...
  2. Strategy 2: Ask a question. ...
  3. Strategy 3: Describe the setting. ...
  4. Strategy 4: Begin with background information. ...
  5. Strategy 5: Have the main character introduce himself or herself.

What are the 9 elements of fiction? ›

To recap, the 9 elements of a story are main theme, characters, setting, tension, climax, resolution, plot, purpose and chronology.

What are the eight 8 elements of fiction? ›

The 8 elements of a story are: character, setting, plot, conflict, theme, point-of-view, tone and style. These story elements form the backbone of any good novel or short story.

What are the 6 elements of fiction short story? ›

Characters, setting, plot, conflict, point of view, and theme are six key elements for writing fiction.

What is 12 in science fiction? ›

Peter Scott Graham has been variously quoted as saying that the Golden Age of science fiction is twelve and that it is thirteen. The point is the same whichever number is chosen. The Gold comes from the age of the judge, not from the vintage of the fiction judged.

What is science fiction in simple words? ›

Usually futuristic, science fiction speculates about alternative ways of life made possible by technological change, and hence has sometimes been called "speculative fiction." Like fantasy, and often associated with it, science fiction envisions alternative worlds with believably consistent rules and structures, set ...

What is science fiction explained? ›

Science fiction (sometimes shortened to sf or sci-fi) is a genre of speculative fiction, which typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

What is science fiction quizlet? ›

Science Fiction. a genre of fiction dealing with imaginative content such as futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, parallel universes, extraterrestrial life, and paranormal abilities. genre.

What is science fiction for dummies? ›

What is science fiction? Science fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction, which is an umbrella term for all works of fiction that defy the common laws of our reality such as fantasy, superhero stories, etc..

What is the main point of science fiction? ›

Science fiction – a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. Exploring the consequences of such innovations is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas".

What is science fiction 5th grade? ›

GENRE UNIT / TITLE SELECTIONS. Science Fiction: Science fiction is a genre of fiction in which the stories often tell. about science and technology of the future.

What is science fiction well known examples? ›

Shop for essential science fiction books
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth. By Jules Verne. ...
  • The War of the Worlds. By H.G. Wells. ...
  • Brave New World. By Aldous Huxley. ...
  • When Worlds Collide. By Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie. ...
  • Odd John. By Olaf Stapledon. ...
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four. By George Orwell. ...
  • Earth Abides. By George R. ...
  • Foundation.

Is science fiction true or false? ›

Science fiction is a type of fiction where the stories revolve around science and technology of the future. As exciting as these books can be, it's good to remind your child that while science fiction may be based loosely on scientific truth, it is still fiction.

What did science fiction begin? ›

History of a Genre

Mary Shelley is widely considered to have started the genre with her book Frankenstein, the classic mad scientist tale published in 1818. Edgar Allan Poe continued the movement, which solidified with Jules Verne in the very late Victorian period ("Science fiction (sci-fi)").

What is fiction vs science fiction? ›

Fiction is defined as, "any literary work with imaginary characters and events." Certainly, Star Wars fits into this category: it's fictitious. That's an undeniable fact. But science fiction is fiction (imaginary characters and events) bound by the observable and repeatable laws of science.

What's realistic fiction? ›

Contemporary/Realistic: Realistic fiction creates imaginary characters and situations that depict our world and society. It focuses on themes of growing up and confronting personal and social problems. This genre portrays characters coming to understand themselves and others.

What is real life fiction? ›

What is Realistic Fiction? REALISTIC FICTION is a genre consisting of stories that could have actually occurred to people or animals in a believable setting. These stories resemble real life, and fictional characters within these stories react similarly to real people.


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