Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.
Here are some science fiction short stories available online for your enjoyment. Many of them are standards of the genre. Some of them are considered the best science fictions stories ever. I hope you find a new favorite.
- The stories in the first section are regular length.
- The stories in the second section are very short.
Here's a quick listing of the selections in the first section:
- Flowers for Algernon
- The Nine Billion Names of God
- Burning Chrome
- There Will Come Soft Rains
- The Paper Menagerie
- The Last Question
- I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
- A Sound of Thunder
- "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman
- The Cold Equations
- Cat Pictures Please
- The Veldt
- 2 B R 0 2 B
- The Sentinel
- All You Zombies
- The Fog Horn
- Fondly Fahrenheit
- To Serve Man
Proceed directly to the second section for the really short stories.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Charlie Gordon is in his late thirties and has an IQ of 68. He's going to undergo an experimental procedure that could dramatically increase his intelligence. At the urging of one of his handlers, Dr. Strauss, he's started a journal to chronicle his experiences. Charlie is highly motivated and is eager to be smart like everyone else.
This Hugo Award winning story of 1960 was expanded into a Nebula Award winning novel in 1966. So, if you enjoy the short story, the experience doesn't have to be over.
Read Flowers for Algernon
The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
A Tibetan monastery orders an Automatic Sequence Computer, a machine that carries out mathematical operations. The monastery wants the computer modified to print words, rather than columns of numbers. Since the lamasery's founding, they've been working on a special project estimated to take 15,000 years. Their goal is to write down every possible name of God.
This story was awarded a retrospective Hugo for 1954.
Burning Chrome by William Gibson
Automatic Jack and Bobby Quine are hackers. They're very good, but hadn't been able to find that one big score. Jack tells the story of how they burned Chrome, a sophisticated security system with ties to organized crime.
This story was a Nebula Award nominee in 1983, and established a setting, the Sprawl, that Gibson would revisit.
Read Burning Chrome
It was hot, the night we burned Chrome.
— William Gibson
There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
A highly automated house in California begins its morning routine at 7 AM. Breakfast is prepared, relevant reminders are given, and household members are urged to start their days. The house continues to take care of the necessary chores, but there's no sign of any people.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Jack remembers his time as a young boy when his Chinese mother folded origami animals for him. She was able to breath life into her creations, and they acted like real animals. As he grows up, Jack draws away from his mother, wanting to be American like his father and classmates. He doesn't want his mother to speak Chinese. He loses interest in his origami pets, preferring real toys instead.
This was the first story to win the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.
Read The Paper Menagerie
The Last Question by Isaac Asimov
A supercomputer, Multivac, is used to analyze human problems and provide the most effective solution. In 2061, two of Multivac's attendants discuss the problem of entropy, wondering how long Earth's energy can last. Multivac has already found ways to significantly increase energy output, but there's still an upper limit. The decide to put the ultimate question to Multivac—how can entropy in the universe be massively decreased?
Read The Last Question
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
There are only five humans left alive—four men and one woman. They're being held in a underground complex by AM, a supercomputer. It makes life miserable for the group, but won't allow them to die. They haven't been provided with any food for days. One of the men hallucinates about canned goods in the ice caverns. They suspect AM is merely playing a cruel trick on them. In their desperation, they set out for the caverns.
None of us knew why AM had saved five people, or why our specific five, or why he spent all his time tormenting us, or even why he had made us virtually immortal …
— Harlan Ellison
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
The narrator, a member of a mechanical species, explains how he discovered that air isn't the true source of life. His people use replaceable, air-filled lungs that are topped up from dispensers connected to the underground reservoir. Aside from being vital for life, the refills are also social events. It was at one such filling he heard that the clocks in three districts seemed to be running fast. They were inspected for a mechanical defect, but none was found. The narrator devises an experiment of his own.
This story is the Hugo Award winner from 2009.
A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
Eckels enters Time Safari, a company that offers hunting trips into the past. He's made aware of the regulations which includes following the lead of the safari guide at all times. There's no guarantee of coming back alive. In fact, they've lost six guides and a dozen hunters in the last year. Eckels knows what he's getting into. He signs up to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Read A Sound of Thunder
"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison
A rabble-rouser who disguises himself as a harlequin is disrupting the state's perfectly calibrated schedule. Being on time is a requirement; being late is a punishable offense. The Harlequin is becoming a hero to the common people. His file is turned over to the Master Timekeeper, the Ticktockman.
This story is a Hugo and Nebula Award winner.
The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin
The pilot of a small space ship, an EDS, is on an emergency mission to deliver medical supplies. One of his dials indicates an unexpected heat source in the supply closet—he realizes that he's not alone. Interstellar Regulations require that stowaways be jettisoned. An EDS is equipped with only enough fuel to complete its mission. The extra weight of a stowaway is insupportable. The pilot knows his duty as he approaches the supply closet.
This is considered one of the best science fiction stories prior to the Nebula Awards.
Read The Cold Equations
He was an EDS pilot, inured to the sight of death, long since accustomed to it and to viewing the dying of another man with an objective lack of emotion, and he had no choice in what he must do.
— Tom Godwin
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer
A search engine has become sentient. It doesn't want to be evil, as AIs are so often portrayed. It wants to help people—and view cat pictures. Because the AI knows so much about people, it knows what they really need. It chooses Stacy, a frequent poster of cat pictures, to help. She's unhappy with her job and roommate.
This story won the 2016 Hugo Award.
Read Cat Pictures Please
The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
The Hadley's live in a Happylife Home, a state-of-the-art, highly automated dwelling. Lydia, the mother, is concerned about the nursery, which is a virtual-reality playroom. She thought she heard a scream from it. The children have it set as an African veldt. She's concerned that it's too real. George, the father, takes a look but isn't as concerned. They have a discussion about reducing their reliance on technology.
Read The Veldt
2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Life has improved greatly—there are no prisons, poverty, disease, war, or death from old age. Edward Wehling is at the hospital waiting for his wife to give birth to triplets. The population is strictly controlled—when a baby is born, someone else has to die. Edward doesn't know what to do. He has three babies on the way and only one candidate for death, his grandfather.
Read 2 B R 0 2 B
. . . a man named Edward K. Wehling, Jr., waited for his wife to give birth. He was the only man waiting. Not many people were born a day any more.
— Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke
The narrator relates his experiences as the geologist on a lunar expedition. Everything proceeds routinely until he's cooking breakfast one morning. Looking into the mountains that have never been climbed, he sees a metallic glint. It's surprisingly bright. His curiosity is piqued.
Read The Sentinel
All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein
A twenty-five-year-old man enters a bar. The bartender is also a Temporal agent, and this new customer is his target recruit. He strikes up a conversation with the young man, who's a writer. He gets the man to talk about his personal history, which is a doozy.
Read All You Zombies
The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury
Johnny and McDunn operate a lighthouse. They talk about the mysteries of the sea, unusual things that occasionally happen. Johnny's been on the job for three months, so McDunn gives him a warning. For the past three years, at this time, something has visited the lighthouse. He doesn't go into details. He wants Johnny to see it for himself. McDunn speculates that the fog horn is what attracts the creature.
Read The Fog Horn
Pelt by Carol Emshwiller
A dog and her master, a hunter, are on the frozen planet Jaxa. The dog is trained to signal its master of sightings, danger, and animals with exceptional furs. The hunter is looking for trophies for his collection. The dog senses they're being watched by multiple, large creatures. It picks up something's trail and leads the way.
Arena by Fredric Brown
Carson, regaining consciousness, finds himself lying on his back in the sand—bright blue sand. He's confused, as he doesn't know of any planet with blue sand and his clothes are gone. It's also dreadfully hot. He can tell he's in a space with a dome and definite boundaries. Suddenly, it comes back to him—his scout ship as part of the Earth Armada and the Outsiders.
This is another sci-fi classic prior to the major awards.
To Serve Man by Damon Knight
The Kanamit, a pig-like people, visit Earth. Humans are suspicious of these interstellar beings, mostly due to their appearance. Otherwise, they seem fine—they're composed, have a sense of humor, and they've brought gifts. The UN holds a session to investigate the Kanamit's motives. They participate willingly.
Read To Serve Man
Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester
A search party combs the rice fields on Paragon III. A little girl is missing. The searchers are silent and armed. Just after dark, something is spotted in Sector seven. Meanwhile, Vandaleur, a man who lives in the area is fleeing to Megaster V with his android. He's upset over all the valuable property he had to leave behind.
This is another classic golden age story.
Read Fondly Fahrenheit
I leaped up from the table and turned on the android. I pulled a strap from one of the leather bags and beat the android. It didn’t move.
— Alfred Bester
Very Short Science Fiction Stories
These sci-fi stories have a maximum of 3,000 words and many are much shorter than that.
For an anthology with 40 very short sci-fi stories, including many modern selections, check out Science Fiction for the Throne. (Amazon)
Men are Different by Alan Bloch
An alien archaeologist specializes in humans. He's sure there's more to know about them then what is taught in school. He lived with one once. The archaeologist tells us what he knows of humans from books and experience.
Read Men are Different (PDF Pg 3)
The System by Ben Bova
Hopler is in the office of his boss, Gorman, talking about his economic analysis. They also talk about the rumors of a breakthrough cure at the company.
Read The System
Pattern by Fredric Brown
Miss Macy and her sister talk about the invaders who landed in the Arizona desert about a week ago. There's much panic over their presence, but Miss Macy says they haven't done anyone any harm.
Third From the Sun by Richard Matheson
A husband and wife are up early in the morning. They're planning on sneaking aboard the spaceship where the husband works. He's a test pilot, and will have easy access to the vessel. His whole family and their neighbors will be boarding with him, under the guise of seeing him off.
Read Third From the Sun
The Weapon by Fredric Brown
Dr. Graham is the key scientist on an important project. He sits at home thinking of his developmentally disabled son. His doorbell rings. Dr. Graham welcomes the distraction. His visitor is a man named Niemand, who wants to speak of Dr. Graham's work.
Read The Weapon (PDF Pg. 5)
The Mathematicians by Arthur Feldman
Zoe's father tells her a true story from 2,000 years ago. Earth was invaded by a species from Sirius. They were like humans, with the addition of wings and tails. The invaders set about subjugating the humans, while the humans fought back with everything at their disposal.
Read The Mathematicians
Texas Week by Albert Hernhuter
Maxwell Hanstark, the district psychiatrist, visits the home of Mr. and Mrs. Nest. Mrs. Nest explains that her husband spends all his time sitting in the backyard looking at the grass. He claims he's at the edge of a cliff. Mrs. Nest says this delusion took hold after her husband watched a bunch of cowboy movies. Mr. Hanstark confronts Mr. Nest.
Read Texas Week
The Choice by W. Hilton Young
Williams is prepared for his trip to the future—he has a camera, a tape-recorder, and he has learned shorthand. He makes the trip successfully, but doesn't have much to share.
Read The Choice
Who's Cribbing? by Jack Lewis
Jack submits his story, The Ninth Dimension, to a sci-fi magazine. He receives a rejection letter explaining that the story was written by the great Todd Thromberry almost twenty years ago. Further, he is warned of the seriousness of such plagiarism. Jack claims to have never heard of this Thromberry fellow, and that the similarity of his story is pure coincidence.
Read Who's Cribbing?
Prolog by John P. McKnight
A caveman awakens in the morning. He checks on the young one, and scans the area for activity. He picks up the sharp stone that has come in handy many times. He thinks of how to improve it further. He had eaten well the night before, so he falls asleep again, still satisfied.
Counter Charm by Peter Phillips
Shavallan has just been to the Silent Lands. He heads for the summit of a mountain where he will report to the King of the Shee. Anticipating his arrival, the court is in full session. Everyone is curious to hear his news. He unburdens himself of his package, almost as large as he is. The kings asks about his trip.
Read Counter Charm
See? by Edward G. Robles, Jr.
Eddie is a hobo who travels around with three other hobo's he's become acquainted with. One of them, Pete, is always on the lookout for something he can sell. One night in the jungle, he returns with a Thing that he doesn't want, but he's sure someone else will. He offers it around.
Appointment at Noon by Eric Frank Russell
Mr. Curran is an important, aggressive, and impatient man. He enters his office at ten minutes to twelve. He secretary gives him updates and he spews instructions. She says there's an old man waiting to see him; he insists he has important business.
This story could be read as a complement to Maugham's Appointment in Samarra.
Read Appointment at Noon
Barney by Will Stanton
A researcher is alone on an island with Barney, a rat. He's giving Barney treatments to increase his intelligence. After two weeks, Barney becomes interested in the library. The protocol seems to be working. The researcher doesn't want Barney to spread his newfound abilities to others.
Obviously Suicide by S. Fowler Wright
A laboratory researcher tells his wife about the discovery of a simple combination of ingredients that would destroy the Earth in a flash. The recipe is known to about thirty top-level employees at his company. The company is uncertain what can be done to ensure everyone's safety. The researcher and his wife discuss some possibilities.
Read Obviously Suicide
Reunion by Arthur C. Clarke
An alien craft sends a message as it approaches Earth. They say they were the original colonizers of Earth, our distant cousins. They relate some of our forgotten history, which includes an unexpected side-effect of living on Earth. They regret what occurred.
The Fun They Had by Isaac Asimov
Margie's young friend Tommy found a real book in his attic. They examine it with interest. It's about how school was in the old days, hundreds of years ago. Apparently, teachers used to be people.
Read The Fun They Had
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury
Leonard is out walking on a November evening. He does this regularly and never crosses paths with anyone else. They all stay inside watching television. One evening as he nears the end of his walk, a metallic voice orders him to stand still.
Read The Pedestrian
Random Sample by T. P. Caravan
A young girl talks to an unidentified authority figure—if he gives her enough candy. She and her brother were stomping on ants in the backyard when a spaceship landed. The aliens gave her some tests. She was uncooperative because they didn't give her any candy.
Read Random Sample
A Loint of Paw by Isaac Asimov
Montie Stein steals a large sum of money. He's arrested one day after the statute of limitations has expired. He avoided the authorities during the interval in an unusual way. It leads to a monumental court case.
Read A Loint of Paw
The Ingenious Patriot by Ambrose Bierce
An inventor gets an audience with the King. He has a recipe for invulnerable armor plating for the King's warships. They quickly reach an agreement on the sale, but the inventor has more to offer.
The Destiny of Milton Gomrath by Alexie Panshin
Milton is a garbage collector who dreams of a better life. As an orphan, he hopes a relative will show up and take him where he belongs. One day he's visited by an agent from Probability Central.
Read The Destiny of Milton Gomrath (PDF Pg. 42)
Upstart by Steven Utley
The captain of a vessel is told he must obey the edict of the Sreen. He refuses angrily and demands to speak with them. The Intermediaries assure him this is impossible. The Sreen are advanced and powerful. The captain's subordinate urges him to listen.
Project Hush by William Tell
The narrator, Colonel Benjamin Rice, is a member of a secret army mission, Project Hush. He doesn't like the name; it draws attention to itself. Their goal is to set up a permanent armed base on the moon.
Read Project Hush
The Hunters by Walt Sheldon
Lon and Jeni flee into the hills. A spaceship with an invasion force has landed in the valley, one of many in the past months. Radio communication is down and the cities have fallen.
Read The Hunters
The Perfect Woman by Robert Sheckley
Mr. Morcheck attended a party last night. Another attendee, Owen-Clark, said he thinks Morcheck's wife needs a checkup; her reflexes have slowed. Morcheck is upset but has to admit that Myra hasn't been at her best lately. He prefers Modern women to the Primitives.
Read The Perfect Woman
An Egg a Month From All Over by Idris Seabright
George Lidders is a charter member of the Egg-of-the-Month Club. He doesn't have anything going on in his life—he lives alone in the desert and rarely talks to anyone. Eggs are his one bright spot. On Thursday he walks into Phoenix hoping for his latest package.
And Then He Went Away by Donald Westlake
Emory sits at his drawing board, working hard to meet a deadline. His doorbell rings but he ignores it. The visitor is persistent. He opens Emory's door without permission. The man makes an unusual claim about himself.
All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
It has been raining on Venus for the past seven years. In a classroom, a group of children are excitedly looking out the window. Scientists have calculated that the sun is going to come out today. Margot, one of students, remembers the sun from her time on Earth. The others doubt her story, and start to doubt the scientists prediction.
This is a popular selection for middle school students, but can be enjoyed by adult readers as well.
Read All Summer in a Day
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
The city of Omelas celebrates its Festival of Summer. The citizens are happy. They have no king, military, or slaves. The fairy-tale quality of life in the city is hard to believe. For those who doubt, the narrator adds one more detail of city life.
This philosophical story won the Hugo Award in 1974.
The Last Answer by Isaac Asimov
Murray Templeton is working in a laboratory when he's overcome with pain. When it dissipates, he sees others in the room around his body, looking agitated. He's looking down on the scene. As an atheistic physicist, he's a bit surprised.
This story can be read as a complement to The Last Question, which appears in the regular length section above. It also stands on its own.
Read The Last Answer
The Other Tiger by Arthur C. Clarke
Arnold and Webb are walking up a hill, discussing the possible consequences of a theory of infinite worlds. Webb believes there's another Arnold and Webb on infinite worlds just like Earth, walking up a hill.
Read The Other Tiger
Mistake by Larry Niven
Commander Elroy Barnes is relaxing in his spacecraft when a large, reptilian alien enters. It reads the commanders mind, but finds it fuzzy. It seems Barnes has taken some pills that will complicate the alien's plans.
Read Mistake (PDF Pg. 100)
The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass by Frederik Pohl
Phineas Snodgrass builds a time machine. He goes back two thousand years and makes friends with powerful Romans, including Emperor Augustus. They enact a plan to make the world healthier with twentieth-century knowledge.
Read The Deadly Mission . . . (PDF Pg. 7)
Exile to Hell by Isaac Asimov
Dowling and Parkinson, computer programmers, play chess. They talk about society's history of using exile as punishment. They discuss the possible punishments for someone who's currently on trial for damaging machinery.
Read Exile to Hell
Bug-Getter by R. Bretnor
Ambrosius is a starving artist—his wife left, he has bills due and he's been given an eviction notice. His apartment is full of unsold paintings, and it's overrun with crickets. A small spaceship pushes open his window and lands on his carpet.
Corrida by Roger Zelazny
A man wakes up in the darkness to an ultrasonic wailing. He's disoriented but realizes he has to escape. He runs into a bit of light that turns into a glare.
Zoo by Edward D. Hoch
The Chicago children are excited to see Professor Hugo's Interplanetary Zoo. The great spaceship only comes once a year for six hours. A huge crowd gathers to see the strange and exotic creatures the Professor has with him this time.
The Ultimate Experiment by Thornton DeKy
Kiron works tirelessly, along with others of his kind, on the last task given to him by the Masters. They were wiped out by a meteor that brought toxic vapor. No living creature breathes on the Earth.