These days, it can be difficult to get your hands on many of the most famous classic science fiction short stories. Even outside of the famous names like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, the majority of stories are still under copyright, and will be for years to come. Some are available as overpriced paperback collections or—more rarely—as ebooks. Most not at all.
Fortunately, for those interested in exploring the wealth of “Golden Age” sci-fi stories published from the mid 1930s SF pulp magazine era onwards, there are exceptions.
For starters, a growing number of SF stories are (slowly, ever so slowly) making their way into the public domain—more each year, as the “70 years after death” copyright terms expire, or publishers allow their copyrights to lapse. A few authors have even voluntarily released their work into the public domain, such as Cory Doctorow.
Open source initiatives like Project Gutenberg do a great public service by cataloging and converting these public domain works into readable formats. They offer ebooks you can side-load onto your devices, or read in HTML.
Still, as a reader, you have to go digging for a while into the Gutenberg archive to find the good stuff. They have a “Science Fiction Bookshelf” on their site, but it’s a laundry list of everything, not carefully curated.
So consider this my collection. The best classic sci-fi short stories I could find in the public domain.
Ask yourself: Where would I send someone who wanted to read the BEST sci-fi short stories available online and in the public domain?
You’d send them here.
I’ll continue adding to the collection. To dive in, scroll down to find a story that interests you. Read the excerpt, then click through to read in full.
Classic Sci-Fi Short Stories
- “Omnilingual” by H. Beam PiperRead the sci-fi short story “Omnilingual” by famed sci-fi author H. Beam Piper. A classic science fiction story, with text provided by Project Gutenberg.
- “Sentiment, Inc.” by Poul AndersonRead the sci-fi short story “Sentiment, Inc.” by Poul Anderson. A classic science fiction story about psychologists with too much power. With text provided by Project Gutenberg.
- “The Day Time Stopped Moving” by Bradner BucknerAll Dave Miller wanted to do was commit suicide in peace. He tried, but the things that happened after he’d pulled the trigger were all wrong. Like everyone standing around like statues. No St. Peter, no pearly gate, no pitchforks or halos. He might just as well have saved the bullet!
- “Youth” by Isaac AsimovRed and Slim found the two strange little animals the morning after they heard the thunder sounds. They knew that they could never show their new pets to their parents. “Youth” is a short story by Isaac Asimov in the public domain.
- “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night” by Algis BudrysHe was a vendor of dreams, purveying worlds beyond imagination to others. Yet his doom was this: He could not see what he must learn of his own!
- “A Little Journey ” by Ray BradburyShe’d paid good money to see the inevitable …and then had to work to make it happen! A sci-fi short story by Ray Bradbury.
- “The Holes Around Mars” by Jerome BixbyScience said it could not be, but there it was. And whoosh—look out—here it is again! “The Holes Around Mars” is a classic science fiction short story by Jerome Bixby.
- “The Lost Kafoozalum” by Pauline AshwellOne of the beautiful things about a delusion is that no matter how mad someone gets at it … he can’t do it any harm. Therefore a delusion can be a fine thing for prodding angry belligerents…
- “The Tunnel Under The World” by Frederik PohlPinching yourself is no way to see if you are dreaming. Surgical instruments? Well, yes—but a mechanic’s kit is best of all!
- “The World That Couldn’t Be” by Clifford D. SimakThe tracks went up one row and down another, and in those rows the vua plants had been sheared off an inch or two above the ground. The raider had been methodical; it had not wandered about haphazardly, but had done an efficient job of harvesting the first ten rows on the west side of the field.
- “Cry From a Far Planet” by Tom GodwinThe problem of separating the friends from the enemies was a major one in the conquest of space as many a dead spacer could have testified. A tough job when you could see an alien and judge appearances; far tougher when they were only whispers on the wind.
Have a story to add to the list? Leave a comment below.