The 10 best science fiction and fantasy short stories ever according to Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams

In celebration of the first ever science fiction and fantasy volume of the renowned BEST AMERICAN SERIES of anthologies, editors Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams compiled a list of their top ten (5 each) favorite science fiction and fantasy stories for VOX. Seven selections are currently available in various Tachyon anthologies and collections.


John’s first pick: “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes appears in THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION.

One of the things that I think is so amazing about the story is how Keyes is able to really have the prose style tell the story all the way through it. It starts off with Charlie being very unintelligent. He gets the drug that boosts his intelligence, and the writing improves as Charlie improves. That’s such a hard thing to pull off, and yet all of it just works wonderfully together. Of course, the story has the tragic end where Charlie loses the intelligence that he got to have only briefly, so he’s returned to the same sort of writing style from the start. It packs such an emotional wallop.


Joe’s second pick: “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” by James Tiptree Jr. appears in HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER.

It’s very prescient, considering when it was published. It was concerned with the damage that could happen if man didn’t get his industrial inclinations under control, if we weren’t good tenders of the Earth. It is a great story of environmental concern before I think that was common.


John’s second pick: “The Deathbird” by Harlan Ellison appears in THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION.

This one is likely one of the weirdest-formatted stories that I’ve ever read, probably. Part of it is sort of told in the style of a multiple-choice test. Then there’s a story within the story about a guy and his dog. It’s very mythic. “The Deathbird” is like nothing I’ve ever read.


Joe’s third pick: “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link appears in both FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY and DARKNESS: TWO DECADES OF MODERN HORROR.

In the case of Kelly Link, I just think she writes better ghost stories than almost anyone. She’s right there with Neil Gaiman and M.R. James. Her stories have what I think all really good ghost stories need, which is a sense that things will never quite make rational sense. There’s a puzzle, but it’s a puzzle that’s beyond the human imagination’s ability to solve. I love that.


John’s third pick: “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin appears in THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION.

This story has such a wonderful emotional impact. It’s presented mostly as utopia, but then you only slowly figure out what the problem with this society is. When you get to it, it’s so important that it really flips the entire story on its head. This wonderful reversal happens in the story for the reader. You have to ask yourself what evils are you willing to do in order to achieve things you think are going to be great.


John’s fourth pick: “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler appears in ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY.

One of the reasons I picked it is because it has a brilliant conceit to it. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. I’m fascinated by the linguistic damage that is presented in that story. I’m terrified by that kind of thing.

Joe’s fifth pick: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut appears in THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION.

In that world, if you’re really intelligent, you have to wear a thing in your ear, and it buzzes at you like every 15 seconds to break up any intelligent thought that you have, thus reducing your intelligence to an average IQ. That seems to me a deeply prophetic notion. Now we all carry that device in our pockets. Whatever you’re thinking, whatever you’re doing — bloop! — another text message comes in, and it’s gone. The leveling that Vonnegut was writing about is happening right now.

Read the rest of the selections and comments at VOX.

For more info about THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover art by David A. Hardy

Cover design by Bryan Cholfin

For more info about HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by John Picacio

For more info about FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by John Berry

For more info about DARKNESS: TWO DECADES OF MODERN HORROR, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Ann Monn

For more info about THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Ann Monn.


Cover by Michael Whelan.