Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Project: ISFdb Top Short Fiction


ISFdb article on Wikipedia.



The Internet Speculative Fiction database is an excellent resource. Along with concise bibliographical information on speculative fiction and non-fiction, it allows users to rate nearly everything, from novels and stories, to essays and book covers. These ratings, or "votes" as they are sometimes referred to on the site, translate into two "Top" speculative lists: Top Novels and Top Short Fiction, based on user ratings.

Unfortunately, despite the seemingly numerous editors and registered users (Wikipedia indicates over 67,400 people visited the site monthly, back in 2013), not many actually rate the works they read. Therefore, these "Top" lists include primarily the more popular of speculative novels and stories. As of this date (1 November 2022), the Top Short Fiction list includes only 155 individual works, and considering the vast number of works in the database, this is a smidgen of what is available. In addition, of the 155 stories, only a mere 69 authors are represented. There are eight authors with more than five stories on the list: Isaac Asimov (8), Robert A. Heinlein (8), Harlan Ellison (8), H. P. Lovecraft (7), Edgar Allan Poe (6), Philip K. Dick (6), Ted Chiang (6), and George R. R. Martin (6), and four others with five (Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., and Arthur C. Clarke). Robert Silverberg comes in close with four.

In brief, this potentially excellent reference resource is underutilized. In order to make of it a better tool, I encourage people to create an account and rate the works they read, as I do.

To date I have read 60 of the 155 short fiction works included on the list (as far as I can remember those I have read). This is not because I am oh so well-read, but simply because, as mentioned above, the stories that have so far made it onto the list are among the most popular, or most read. (You will note that stories adapted into popular feature films, for instance, tend to make the list.) Perusing the list a week or so ago, I decided to hunt each story down, regardless of where they rank on the list, and read every one of them. And when the idea festered and bloomed, it became a serious challenge, leading to a project: I will write an article for each of the stories included in the list, and post it on this site. (Let's see how far I actually get--even one story a week will take me nearly three years.)

So, based on today's version of the list, which I have captured and pasted a copy below, I will read read/re-read and review each of these titles. Some articles will be brief, since the more popular stories have been reviewed to death, while others may be more elaborate. I will stick, for the time being, to the 155. If you heed my request and rate the stories you read and have read, that list will likely expand. (Note that to be eligible to make it onto either of the Top lists, stories need a minimum of six ratings/votes; I've noticed that many stories are nearly there with four or five.) The lists are updated every Sunday, and I will be checking in to see if they expand. (The Top Novels list currently includes 391 entries).



1 November 2022

Rank

Rating

Title

Year

Author(s)

1

9.79

Flowers for Algernon

1959

Daniel Keyes

2

9.67

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

1962

Richard Matheson

3

9.67

It's a Good Life

1953

Jerome Bixby

4

9.67

Reasons to Be Cheerful

1997

Greg Egan

5

9.5

The Screwfly Solution

1977

James Tiptree, Jr.

6

9.5

Dear Devil

1950

Eric Frank Russell

7

9.38

The Women Men Don't See

1973

James Tiptree, Jr.

8

9.33

The Black Cat

1843

Edgar Allan Poe

9

9.33

Behold the Man

1966

Michael Moorcock

10

9.3

The Shadow Over Innsmouth

1936

H. P. Lovecraft

11

9.18

Jeffty Is Five

1977

Harlan Ellison

12

9.17

Story of Your Life

1998

Ted Chiang

13

9.14

A Rose for Ecclesiastes

1963

Roger Zelazny

14

9.14

The Last Question

1956

Isaac Asimov

15

9.14

Scanners Live in Vain

1950

Cordwainer Smith

16

9.14

Light of Other Days

1966

Bob Shaw

17

9.12

The Little Black Bag

1950

C. M. Kornbluth

18

9.11

Fondly Fahrenheit

1954

Alfred Bester

19

9.08

Mimsy Were the Borogoves

1943

Lewis Padgett

20

9.08

The Call of Cthulhu

1928

H. P. Lovecraft

21

9.06

Nightfall

1941

Isaac Asimov

22

9

The Pit and the Pendulum

1842

Edgar Allan Poe

23

9

The Tell-Tale Heart

1843

Edgar Allan Poe

24

9

The Cask of Amontillado

1846

Edgar Allan Poe

25

9

The Machine Stops

1909

E. M. Forster

26

9

Enemy Mine

1979

Barry B. Longyear

27

9

Kaleidoscope

1949

Ray Bradbury

28

8.93

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

1973

Ursula K. Le Guin

29

8.91

A Sound of Thunder

1952

Ray Bradbury

30

8.9

The Word for World Is Forest

1972

Ursula K. Le Guin

31

8.88

Sandkings

1979

George R. R. Martin

32

8.88

Second Variety

1953

Philip K. Dick

33

8.86

The Marching Morons

1951

C. M. Kornbluth

34

8.86

The Quest for Saint Aquin

1951

Anthony Boucher

35

8.83

The Gernsback Continuum

1981

William Gibson

36

8.83

And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side

1972

James Tiptree, Jr.

37

8.83

Arena

1944

Fredric Brown

38

8.83

The Lucky Strike

1984

Kim Stanley Robinson

39

8.82

The Veldt

1950

Ray Bradbury

40

8.75

The Monkey's Paw

1902

W. W. Jacobs

41

8.75

The Dunwich Horror

1929

H. P. Lovecraft

42

8.71

"—And He Built a Crooked House"

1941

Robert A. Heinlein

43

8.71

By His Bootstraps

1941

Robert A. Heinlein

44

8.71

The Nine Billion Names of God

1953

Arthur C. Clarke

45

8.71

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

1890

Ambrose Bierce

46

8.7

Tower of Babylon

1990

Ted Chiang

47

8.7

Passengers

1968

Robert Silverberg

48

8.7

A Boy and His Dog

1969

Harlan Ellison

49

8.67

Desertion

1944

Clifford D. Simak

50

8.67

Impostor

1953

Philip K. Dick

51

8.67

Nightwings

1968

Robert Silverberg

52

8.67

Sailing to Byzantium

1985

Robert Silverberg

53

8.62

Foundation

1942

Isaac Asimov

54

8.62

Hell Is the Absence of God

2001

Ted Chiang

55

8.62

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

1966

Philip K. Dick

56

8.6

When It Changed

1972

Joanna Russ

57

8.57

The Persistence of Vision

1978

John Varley

58

8.55

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

1967

Harlan Ellison

59

8.5

Fire Watch

1982

Connie Willis

60

8.5

Houston, Houston, Do You Read?

1976

James Tiptree, Jr.

61

8.5

The Colour Out of Space

1927

H. P. Lovecraft

62

8.5

A Martian Odyssey

1934

Stanley G. Weinbaum

63

8.5

Seventy-Two Letters

2000

Ted Chiang

64

8.47

The Cold Equations

1954

Tom Godwin

65

8.46

"All You Zombies ..."

1959

Robert A. Heinlein

66

8.44

Allamagoosa

1955

Eric Frank Russell

67

8.43

Blood Music

1983

Greg Bear

68

8.43

The Ugly Chickens

1980

Howard Waldrop

69

8.43

Beyond Lies the Wub

1952

Philip K. Dick

70

8.43

To Serve Man

1950

Damon Knight

71

8.33

Understand

1991

Ted Chiang

72

8.33

The Pusher

1981

John Varley

73

8.33

The Star

1955

Arthur C. Clarke

74

8.31

Ender's Game

1977

Orson Scott Card

75

8.29

Speech Sounds

1983

Octavia E. Butler

76

8.29

The Crystal Egg

1897

H. G. Wells

77

8.25

Microcosmic God

1941

Theodore Sturgeon

78

8.25

There Will Come Soft Rains

1950

Ray Bradbury

79

8.22

Coraline

2002

Neil Gaiman

80

8.17

The State of the Art

1989

Iain M. Banks

81

8.17

That Only a Mother

1948

Judith Merril

82

8.14

That Hell-Bound Train

1958

Robert Bloch

83

8.14

Neutron Star

1966

Larry Niven

84

8.14

The Way of Cross and Dragon

1979

George R. R. Martin

85

8.14

The Bicentennial Man

1976

Isaac Asimov

86

8

The Big Front Yard

1958

Clifford D. Simak

87

8

Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death

1973

James Tiptree, Jr.

88

8

A Song for Lya

1974

George R. R. Martin

89

8

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

1943

H. P. Lovecraft

90

8

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

1845

Edgar Allan Poe

91

8

First Contact

1945

Murray Leinster

92

7.94

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

1965

Harlan Ellison

93

7.91

The Sentinel

1951

Arthur C. Clarke

94

7.89

Nine Lives

1969

Ursula K. Le Guin

95

7.89

The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth

1965

Roger Zelazny

96

7.88

The Fall of the House of Usher

1839

Edgar Allan Poe

97

7.86

A Meeting with Medusa

1971

Arthur C. Clarke

98

7.86

The Monkey Treatment

1983

George R. R. Martin

99

7.86

The Day Before the Revolution

1974

Ursula K. Le Guin

100

7.85

Press Enter ?

1984

John Varley

101

7.83

Rescue Party

1946

Arthur C. Clarke

102

7.83

Earthmen Bearing Gifts

1960

Fredric Brown

103

7.83

Air Raid

1977

John Varley

104

7.8

Nightflyers

1980

George R. R. Martin

105

7.75

The Rats in the Walls

1924

H. P. Lovecraft

106

7.67

Liar!

1941

Isaac Asimov

107

7.67

The Green Hills of Earth

1947

Robert A. Heinlein

108

7.58

Born of Man and Woman

1950

Richard Matheson

109

7.57

Super-Toys Last All Summer Long

1969

Brian W. Aldiss

110

7.57

Shambleau

1933

C. L. Moore

111

7.56

Bloodchild

1984

Octavia E. Butler

112

7.56

The Fog Horn

1951

Ray Bradbury

113

7.56

The New Accelerator

1901

H. G. Wells

114

7.56

Third from the Sun

1950

Richard Matheson

115

7.5

Bears Discover Fire

1990

Terry Bisson

116

7.5

Requiem

1940

Robert A. Heinlein

117

7.5

Grotto of the Dancing Deer

1980

Clifford D. Simak

118

7.5

Call Him Lord

1966

Gordon R. Dickson

119

7.44

The Deathbird

1973

Harlan Ellison

120

7.43

Dagon

1919

H. P. Lovecraft

121

7.42

The Roads Must Roll

1940

Robert A. Heinlein

122

7.4

Gonna Roll the Bones

1967

Fritz Leiber

123

7.38

The Star

1897

H. G. Wells

124

7.33

Out of All Them Bright Stars

1985

Nancy Kress

125

7.33

Vaster Than Empires and More Slow

1971

Ursula K. Le Guin

126

7.33

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand

1973

Vonda N. McIntyre

127

7.29

Or All the Seas with Oysters

1958

Avram Davidson

128

7.29

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss

2008

Kij Johnson

129

7.25

Helen O'Loy

1938

Lester del Rey

130

7.25

Life-Line

1939

Robert A. Heinlein

131

7.17

The Whimper of Whipped Dogs

1973

Harlan Ellison

132

7.17

Roog

1953

Philip K. Dick

133

7.17

Division by Zero

1991

Ted Chiang

134

7.17

A Subway Named Mobius

1950

A. J. Deutsch

135

7.14

The Father-Thing

1954

Philip K. Dick

136

7.14

Reason

1941

Isaac Asimov

137

7.12

The Weapon Shop

1942

A. E. van Vogt

138

7.12

Runaround

1942

Isaac Asimov

139

7

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes

1967

Harlan Ellison

140

7

Grandpa

1955

James H. Schmitz

141

7

Coming Attraction

1950

Fritz Leiber

142

7

The Monsters

1953

Robert Sheckley

143

7

Meathouse Man

1976

George R. R. Martin

144

7

He Who Shapes

1965

Roger Zelazny

145

6.89

Aye, and Gomorrah ...

1967

Samuel R. Delany

146

6.86

Dinner in Audoghast

1985

Bruce Sterling

147

6.83

Slow Sculpture

1970

Theodore Sturgeon

148

6.83

Strange Playfellow

1940

Isaac Asimov

149

6.57

Good News from the Vatican

1971

Robert Silverberg

150

6.55

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones

1968

Samuel R. Delany

151

6.33

Fermi and Frost

1985

Frederik Pohl

152

6.33

The Man Who Could Work Miracles

1898

H. G. Wells

153

6.17

The Hole Man

1974

Larry Niven

154

6.17

Blowups Happen

1940

Robert A. Heinlein

155

5.5

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54' N, Longitude 77° 00' 13" W

1974

Harlan Ellison



7 comments:

Todd Mason said...

I'm never one for the Vox Pop approach to fiction...I didn't see any actively bad stories on the list you captured, but they aren't the best fantastica stories I've read, either. "The Black Cat" is at best borderline fantastica, for example, and not my choice for best Poe story...but it could be fun, and you'll probably pick up on some trends beyond the obvious!

Well, "The Monkey Treatment" is pretty crass, and "The Deathbird" is certainly better Ellison than "Jeffty" and...

Casual Debris said...

I've read all the Poe on the list, & "The Black Cat," though a great story, is certainly not his best. The top three stories I genuinely like very much.

I'm mixed about both Ellison & Heinlein, but they are popular hence so many of their stories appear. Unfortunate, since better short story writers aren't represented at all, & this perpetuates the cycle of more people choosing Ellison & Heinlein over better writers, because their work is continually being, by default, popularized through lists like this. Their work becomes canonized while better work is becomes less available & more obscure. (Ellison's story which appears at the bottom, I have not read. Yet. Heinlein's which appears next to the bottom I have read, and it is not a very good one.)

George said...

I agree with Todd. This is a flawed list, but reading all the stories on it would be fun.

Casual Debris said...

Agreed George. The worst thing about the list is that its generated by a very few votes/people.

Anonymous said...

I used to edit for isfdb and rated the stories too but lost interest. Now I use it mostly to look up stuff. The site is more focused on the bibliography so I don't know why they bother running the list. It is interesting to see but I agree it's not a good tool. Next time I'm browsing I'll rate some stuff I read recently. I hope you continue I'd like to read the reviews.

Casual Debris said...

Thanks Tarbandu. At least those rated above 7.5 should be semi-descent. I read "Helix" some time ago & did not like it; it's one of the lowest rated stories here so I guess it's general consensus, despite receiving both a Hugo & a Nebula. I don't think I've read Zelazny's "Doors/Lamps" which is ranked below the half-way mark. I have not read "Blood Music" & this one's rated at the higher end.

Casual Debris said...

Thanks Anonymous for the support! I'll see how far I get with this. I've just finished a draft of the Matheson and will publish the first article, on Keyes, tonight or tomorrow morning.

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