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.
- “2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt VonnegutGot a problem? Just pick up the phone. It solved them all—and all the same way!
- “A Pail of Air” by Fritz LeiberA sci-fi short story by Fritz Lieber, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction 1951. “The dark star passed, bringing with it eternal night and turning history into incredible myth in a single generation!”
- “Coming Attraction” by Fritz LeiberA sci-fi short story by Fritz Lieber, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction 1950. “Women will always go on trying to attract men… even when the future seems to have no future!”
- “Dalrymple’s Equation” by Paul W. FairmanA sci-fi short story by Paul W. Fairman, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1956. “You meet a lot of screwy people when you do police work. Like the guy who popped up in a murder job. Offered to solve the case with—”
- “Doorstep” by Keith LaumerA sci-fi short story by Keith Laumer, originally published in Galaxy Magazine 1961. “The general was bucking for his other star—and this miserable contraption bucked right back!”
- “Export Commodity” by Irving Cox, Jr.A sci-fi short story by Irving E. Cox, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1955. “Henig was sent to obtain a soil sample of the planet. It was a routine assignment, but not necessarily the only method for discovering an—”
- “In the Year 2889” by Jules Verne and Michel VerneA sci-fi short story about the far future by Jules Verne and Michel Verne, originally published in Forum 1889.
- “Messenger” by Joseph SamachsonA sci-fi short story by Joseph Samachson (aka William Morrison), originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1954. He had to find a single planet somewhere in the vast Universe. The trouble was, if he found it—would he remember what he must do?
- “Hall of Mirrors” by Fredric BrownA sci-fi short story by Fredric Brown, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction 1953. “It is a tough decision to make—whether to give up your life so you can live it over again!”
- “From an Unseen Censor” by Rosel George BrownA sci-fi short story by Rosel George Brown, originally published in Galaxy Magazine 1958. “You can’t beat my Uncle Isadore—he’s dead but he’s quick—yet that is just what he was daring me to try and do!”
- “Mystery at Mesa Flat” by Ivar JorgensenA sci-fi short story by Ivar Jorgensen originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1956. “A small desert town didn’t seem a likely place to encounter murder—especially one that had been planned on a world light years away!”
- “No-Risk Planet” by Milton LesserA sci-fi short story by Milton Lesser, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1955. “Sam had sold life insurance to every race in the galaxy. But on Halcyon he found a people who not only didn’t want it—but didn’t need it!”
- “The Incredible Aliens” by William BenderA sci-fi short story by William Bender, Jr, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1954. “Narant’s personal problem seemed of more importance than his mission as an interstellar investigator. But they combined when he met—”
- “A Spaceship Named McGuire” by Randall GarrettA sci-fi short story by Randall Garrett, originally published in Analog 1961. “The basic trouble with McGuire was that, though ‘he’ was a robot spaceship, nevertheless ‘he’ had a definite weakness that a man might understand….”
- “World of the Mad” by Poul AndersonA sci-fi short story by Poul Anderson, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1951. “Langdon had found immortality on the planet Tanith. Naturally he wanted his wife to share it—if he could prevent her from going insane first….”
- “Selling Point” by Norman ArkawyA sci-fi short story by Norman Arkawy, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy 1955. “A new industry blossomed when U.S. Robot Company put their perfected models on the market. Perfected? Nobody had considered the one defect!”
- “Queen of Space” by Joseph SlotkinA sci-fi short story by Joseph Slotkin, originally published in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy, Aug 1954. “Helen LaTour had the best hip wriggle in galactic Burleyque. In fact, it was so good she hipped herself smack into another dimension!…”
- “The Six Fingers of Time” by R. A. LaffertyA sci-fi short story by R.A. Lafferty, originally published in If, September 1960. “Time is money. Time heals all wounds. Given time, anything is possible. And now he had all the time in the world!”
Have a story to add to the list? Leave a comment below.
Mette Lundsgaard says
Matt – thanks for the short stories. I have sent the link to a few friends.
One thought – and I may have missed it – would you put the year the story was first published? My apologies if I missed it.
M.G. Herron says
That’s a great idea! Thanks, I can definitely do that.
M.G. Herron says
Again, excellent suggestion, Mette. Thank you! I’ve updated all the stories so they have the year the source text was published.
Thank you very much for taking the time and selecting the books, it’s a great help. And also, many times I forget to go to the Gutenberg site. And because I also already have way too many books to pending to remember Gutenberg. Lol.
Have a lovely and inspirational week ahead. I’m waiting for October! 😉
John Feaster says
I’ll never regret the time spent reading this awesome little fingernail paring of a story by Algis Budrys – ‘The Stoker and the Stars’. It has a very ‘Germany post-WW2’ feeling to it, with its beaten and humbled Earthlings and the more advanced alien cultures who crushed them during an interstellar war Earth started a decade prior. Now, the engineer on a broken down tub of a system ship starts carrying around his old military uniform…just waiting for the chance to do…what? Read it. It’s a 15-20 minute read at most, and has a nice mix of the grim and the hopeful.