Very Short Science Fiction Stories Online

Updated on August 18, 2019
Howard Allen profile image

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:

  1. Flowers for Algernon
  2. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
  3. The Nine Billion Names of God
  4. All Summer in a Day
  5. Burning Chrome
  6. There Will Come Soft Rains
  7. A Martian Odyssey
  8. The Paper Menagerie
  9. The Last Question
  10. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
  11. Exhalation
  12. Nightfall
  13. A Sound of Thunder
  14. "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman
  15. The Cold Equations
  16. The Machine Stops
  17. Cat Pictures Please
  18. The Veldt
  19. Coming Attraction
  20. 2 B R 0 2 B
  21. Farewell to the Master
  22. Mimsy Were the Borogoves
  23. The Sentinel
  24. All You Zombies
  25. The Fog Horn
  26. Pelt
  27. Fat Farm
  28. Third From the Sun
  29. Arena
  30. Fondly Fahrenheit
  31. To Serve Man

Proceed directly after entry #31 for the really short stories.

1. 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

2. 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.

Read The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

3. 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.

Read The Nine Billion Names of God

4. 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

5. 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

6. 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.

Read There Will Come Soft Rains

7. A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum

The four-man crew of the Ares are the first humans on Mars. Jarvis, a chemist, is out in an auxiliary rocket photographing the landscape when it loses power and he crash-lands. He starts walking back to base. He sees a birdlike Martian being attacked by another creature. He lends assistance to this intelligent being, Tweel, and they travel together.

This is considered one of the best science fiction stories to be written prior to the Nebula Awards.

Read A Martian Odyssey (Novelette)

8. 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

9. 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

10. 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.

Read I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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

11. 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.

Read Exhalation

12. Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

On Lagash there is no night—one of its six suns always provides light. A journalist is interviewing a group of scientists who have reason to believe that their civilization is in danger. They've found evidence of many ancient civilizations on Lagash, all apparently destroyed by fire about 2,000 years apart. They calculate that a total eclipse is imminent, and speculate it is related to this destructive cycle.

This is considered one of the best pre-Nebula Award stories.

Read Nightfall (Novelette)

13. 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

14. "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.

Read "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

15. 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

16. The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

Humans live below ground with their needs taken care of by the Machine. Kuno contacts his mother, Vashti, via a video imaging apparatus. She's busy with her projects and doesn't have much time for him. He wants her to come visit him on the other side of Earth. She's reluctant but makes the trip. Kuno is dissatisfied with the mechanical quality of life—he has even visited the surface.

Read The Machine Stops (Novelette)

17. 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

18. 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

19. Coming Attraction by Fritz Leiber

A car with fishhooks welded to the fender climbs the curb, headed for a woman. A man pulls her out of the way just in time. The police race into view but are unable to follow the car. The woman makes arrangements to see the man later, but she leaves before the police approach. The man bribes the officers and they talk about the current fashion of mask wearing among women.

This is considered one of the best pre-Nebula Award stories.

Read Coming Attraction

20. 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Life has improved greatly—there's 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.

21. Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates

An alien ship lands on the United States Capitol grounds. An alien and an 8-foot tall robot emerge. The alien, Klaatu, states his name and that of his companion, Gnut. Klaatu is shot by a madman. On the scene is Cliff, a photographer who relates the events surrounding the incident, as well as the consequences.

Read Farewell to the Master (Novelette)

22. Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett

Millions of years in the future, Unthahorsten prepares to test his time machine. He has to send a solid object that can be properly analyzed when it returns. He hastily throws some of his son's old toys into a box. He repeats the procedure with another machine. Neither box returns, but they did end up in the past.

This is considered one of the best science fiction stories prior to the Nebula Awards.

Read Mimsy Were the Borogoves (Novelette)

23. 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

24. 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

25. 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

It's happened three years now, and this is the only time anyone's been here with me to verify it. You wait and watch.

— Ray Bradbury

26. 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.

Read Pelt

27. Fat Farm by Orson Scott Card

Mr. Barth returns to Anderson's Fitness Center after a three year absence. The receptionist is put-off by his extreme size, but hides it well. Mr. Barth doesn't mind being fat as long as it doesn't interfere with his other pleasures. He's reached that point, now, so it's time for a renewal. The proprietor, Mr. Anderson, welcomes Barth back. They discuss the usual procedure.

Read Fat Farm

28. 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

29. 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.

Read Arena

30. 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

31. 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

Very Short Science Fiction Stories

These sci-fi stories have a maximum of 2,000 words.

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

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.

Read Prolog

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.

Read See?

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.

Read Barney

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.

Read Reunion

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.

Read The Ingenious Patriot

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. 33)

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.

Read Upstart

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