Dec 30 2012 3:50pm

Locus Reveals Results of Its All-Century Short Fiction Poll

Locus Reveals Results of Its All-Century Short Fiction Poll

Locus Magazine recently conducted the herculean task of polling its readers about the best SFF novels of the 20th and 21st centuries. Called the All-Century Poll; they also asked readers to pick their favorite SFF short fiction! Below are the top 10 short stories selected for the 20th century. Is your favorite on there?


10 Best Short Stories from the 20th Century:

  1. Arthur C. Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953)
  2. Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973)
  3. Harlan Ellison, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman” (1965)
  4. Harlan Ellison, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967)
  5. Arthur C. Clarke, “The Star” (1955)
  6. Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder” (1952)
  7. Robert A. Heinlein, “All You Zombies— ”(1959)
  8. William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981)
  9. James, Jr. Tiptree, “The Screwfly Solution” (1977)
  10. Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948)


10 Best Short Stories from the 21st Century:

  1. Ted Chiang, “Exhalation” (2008)
  2. Margo Lanagan, “Singing My Sister Down” (2004)
  3. Neil Gaiman, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (2006)
  4. Peter Watts, “The Things” (2010)
  5. Michael Swanwick, “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” (2001)
  6. Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Bones of the Earth” (2001)
  7. Kij Johnson, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”
  8. Daniel Abraham, “The Cambist and Lord Iron” (2007)
  9. Kij Johnson, “Spar” (2009)
  10. Alastair Reynolds, “Zima Blue” (2005)


10 Best Novelettes from the 20th Century:

  1. Daniel Keyes, “Flowers for Algernon” (1959)
  2. Isaac Asimov, “Nightfall” (1941)
  3. Roger Zelazny, “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” (1963)
  4. Isaac Asimov, “The Bicentennial Man” (1976)
  5. George R. R. Martin, “Sandkings” (1979)
  6. Alfred Bester, “Fondly Fahrenheit” (1954)
  7. Harlan Ellison, “A Boy and His Dog” (1969)
  8. Greg Bear, “Blood Music” (1983)
  9. Octavia E. Butler, “Bloodchild” (1984)
  10. Tom Godwin, “The Cold Equations” (1954)


10 Best Novelettes from the 21st Century:

  1. Ted Chiang, “Hell Is the Absence of God” (2001)
  2. Ted Chiang, “The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate” (2007)
  3. Neil Gaiman, “A Study in Emerald” (2003)
  4. Paolo Bacigalupi, “The Calorie Man” (2005)
  5. Kelly Link, “The Faery Handbag” (2004)
  6. Paolo Bacigalupi, “The People of Sand and Slag” (2004)
  7. Jeffrey Ford, “The Empire of Ice Cream” (2003)
  8. Charles Stross, “Lobsters” (2001)
  9. China Mieville, “Reports of Certain Events in London” (2004)
  10. Peter Watts, “The Island”


10 Best Novellas from the 20th Century:

  1. Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” (1998)
  2. Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Word for World Is Forest” (1972)
  3. James, Jr. Tiptree, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976)
  4. John W. Campbell,  “Who Goes There?” (1938)
  5. John Varley,  “The Persistence of Vision” (1978)
  6. Gene Wolfe, “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” (1972)
  7. Fritz Leiber, “Ill Met in Lankhmar” (1970)
  8. Robert A. Heinlein, “The Man Who Sold the Moon” (1950)
  9. Nancy Kress, “Beggars in Spain” (1991)
  10. C. L.  Moore & Henry Kuttner, “Vintage Season” (1946)


10 Best Novellas from the 21st Century:

  1. Kelly Link, “Magic for Beginners” (2005)
  2. Charles Stross, Palimpsest” (2009)
  3. Ian R. MacLeod, “New Light on the Drake Equation” (2001)
  4. Ted Chiang, “Liking What You See: A Documentary” (2002)
  5. Vernor Vinge, “Fast Times at Fairmont High”
  6. Alastair Reynolds, “Diamond Dogs” (2001)
  7. Connie Willis “Inside Job”
  8. Charles Stross, “The Concrete Jungle” (2004)
  9. Kage Baker, “The Empress of Mars” (2003)
  10. John Scalzi, “The God Engines” (2009)


Check out the Locus site for the full (and massive) results in all categories, along with how the votes tallied out. The process is nearly as fascinating as the winning fiction itself!

James Davis Nicoll
1. James Davis Nicoll
Past two centuries would get us back to 1812.
D. Bell
2. SchuylerH
For quick reference:

20th novellas:
1: Story of Your Life (Chiang)
2: The Word for World is Forest (Le Guin)
3: "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" (Tiptree)
4: "Who Goes There?" (Campbell)
5: The Persistence of Vision (Varley)
6: The Fifth Head of Cerberus (Wolfe)
7: Ill Met in Lankhmar (Leiber)
8: The Man Who Sold the Moon (Heinlein)
9: Beggars in Spain (Kress)
10: Vintage Season (Kuttner & Moore)

20th novelettes:
1: Flowers for Algernon (Keyes)
2: Nightfall (Asimov)
3: A Rose for Ecclesiastes (Zelazny)
4: The Bicentinnial Man (Asimov)
5: Sandkings (Martin)
6: Fondly Farenheit (Bester)
7: A Boy and His Dog (Ellison)
8: Blood Music (Bear)
9: Bloodchild (Butler)
10: The Cold Equations (Godwin)

21st novellas:
1: Magic for Beginners (Link)
2: Palimpsest (Stross)
3: New Light on the Drake Equation (MacLeod)
4: Likeing What You See: A Documentary (Chiang)
5: Fast Times at Fairmount High (Vinge)
6: Diamond Dogs (Reynolds)
7: Inside Job (Willis)
8: The Concrete Jungle (Stross)
9: The Empress of Mars (Baker)
10: The God Engines (Scalzi)
James Davis Nicoll
3. James Davis Nicoll
The fraction of stories by women is

20th Century Novella 12 %
20th Century Novelette 11%
20th Century Short Story 15%
21st Century Novella 24%
21st Century Novelette: 8%
21st Century Short Story 36%

The oddly low % of stories by women in the21st Century Novelette category is in part because the voters in a helpful display of the sort of problem this sort of poll can have gave five slots to Bacigalupi.
James Davis Nicoll
4. Gardner Dozois
"The Nine Billion Names of God" is not even the best short story by Arthur C. Clarke--that would be "The Star," for my money--let alone the best short story of the 20th Century.
D. Bell
5. SchuylerH
I wrote a very long comment detailing my response to each story but the system eated it. The gist of it is that I liked many of the stories selected, it's just that I wouldn't necessarily have voted for them.

Also, I'm appalled that some of these stories weren't first published by Tor; didn't you have any agents doctoring the results?
Arghya Raihan
6. Umbar
I agree with Gardner Dozois. (I never imagined I would one day have occasion to make that statement in the virtual presence of the man himself. Thank you, internet. And Tor.) "The Nine Billion Names of God" was more of a 'whoa, gnarly' story for me than "The Star", which - if I remember correctly - left me a contemplative mood...and a little teary-eyed.

Mr.Dozois, would you be willing to state any opinions on the other winners and selections on the list?
James Davis Nicoll
7. manglar
I agree with the comments re "The Star", but my favourite Clarke short is "Transit of Earth", a story published in the early 70s.
James Davis Nicoll
8. Patricia Mathews
They missed Forster's "The Machine Stops" from 1908. How he could have foreseen the Internet society so clearly is amazing, and as a cautionary tale, it is still fresh.
D. Bell
9. SchuylerH
@8: It is on the list of 20th century novelettes. In 77th place.
James Davis Nicoll
10. Alan Heuer 2.0
Well, this is how I voted in the 20th century categories.

1. A Momentary Taste of Being (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2. Houston, Houston, Do You Read? (James Tiptree, Jr.)
3. Born with the Dead (Robert Silverberg)
4. The Death of Dr. Island (Gene Wolfe)
5. Hardfought (Greg Bear)
6. Molly Zero (Keith Roberts)
7. Eifelheim (Michael Flynn)
8. Protection (Maureen F. McHugh)
9. The Persistence of Vision (John Varley)
10. The Scapegoat (C.J. Cherryh)

1. The Screwfly Solution (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2. The Girl Who Was Plugged In (James Tiptree, Jr.)
3. Microcosmic God (Theodore Sturgeon)
4. Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)
5. On the Last Afternoon (James Tiptree, Jr.)
6. Emergence (David R. Palmer)
7. The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk (Daffyd ab Hugh)
8. Understand (Ted Chiang)
9. Divided by Infinity (Robert Charles Wilson)
10. The Cold Equations (Tom Godwin)

Short Story:
1. Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2. Ripples in the Dirac Sea (Geoffrey A. Landis)
3. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Ursula K. Le Guin)
4. Weed of Time (Norman Spinrad)
5. White Creatures (Gregory Benford)
6. The Last Flight of Dr. Ain (James Tiptree, Jr.)
7. Schwartz Between the Galaxies (Robert Silverberg)
8. A Mouse in the Walls of the Global Village (Dean R. Koontz)
9. To See the Invisible Man (Robert Silverberg)
10. Speech Sounds (Octavia E. Butler)

I didn't like it that they split things up by centuries. I realized that if they'd combined the centuries, very little from the 21st century would have made my ballot. So I didn't vote in the 21st century part of the poll.

Also, "The Screwfly Solution" is well over 8000 words and should have been in the novelette category, not the short story category. But a lot of stories were put in the wrong category.
D. Bell
11. SchuylerH
@10: In the interests of full disclosure, here's what I would have voted for if I had sent in an entry (order of preference and line-up is subject to sudden, arbitrary change, also probably quite wrong due to the gaps in my collection, including, unfortunately, "A Momentary Taste of Being"):

1. Houston, Houston, Do You Read? (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2: When It Changed (Joanna Russ)
3. The Star Pit (Samuel R. Delany)
4. Ill Met in Lankhmar (Fritz Leiber)
5. A Boy and His Dog (Harlan Ellison)
6. Starfog (Poul Anderson)
7. The Persistence of Vision (John Varley)
8. The Borders of Infinity (Lois Bujold)
9. The Well Wishers (Colin Greenland)
10. The Queen of Air and Darkness (Poul Anderson)

1. The Screwfly Solution (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2. The Girl Who Was Plugged In (James Tiptree, Jr.)
3. Divided by Infinity (Robert Charles Wilson)
4. The Cage of Sand (J. G. Ballard)
5. On the Last Afternoon (James Tiptree, Jr.)
6. Shambleau (C. L. Moore)
7. Weihnachtabend (Keith Roberts)
8. Scanner Live in Vain (Cordwainer Smith)
9. Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)
10. The Lake of the Gone Forever (Leigh Brackett, though any other Brackett novelette would do)

Short Story:
1. Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death (James Tiptree, Jr.)
2. The Day Before the Revolution (Ursula K. Le Guin)
3. Sunken Gardens (Bruce Sterling)
4. The Horse of Iron & How We Can Know It & Be Changed By It Forever (M. John Harrison)
5. The Last Flight of Dr. Ain (James Tiptree, Jr.)
6. The Gernsback Continuum (William Gibson)
7. "Catch That Zeppelin!" (Fritz Leiber)
8. And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side (James Tiptree, Jr.)
9. The Men Who Murdered Mohammed (Alfred Bester)
10. Sporting with the Chid (Barrington J. Bayley)

To be perfectly fair, the boundaries between novellas, novelettes and short stories aren't always rigid. "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" won the Hugo for best short story but it won the Nebula for best novelette. Novelettes are an awkward category to define and manage and I would rather dispose of them altogether in favour of short stories and novellas.
James Davis Nicoll
12. James Davis Nicoll
Really, "Starfog"? I'd lean towards Anderson's whimsical "Uncleftish Beholding." I also have fond memories of "Goatsong" but I preserved them by not rereading Homeward and Beyond so I don't know how it stands up.
D. Bell
13. SchuylerH
@12: Here's my reasoning: We need, proportionately, two Anderson stories>"The Queen of Air and Darkness">That was easy!>"Un-Man">Well, not really, I like it but it's not representative of his work as a whole and it's fairly early.>"No Truce With Kings">That's too representative of his work as a whole.>"Goat Song">Heh, the version in my head was better.>"To Outlive Eternity">Not really, it's just a short version of Tau Zero>"The Saturn Game">I'm not desperate.>"The Man Who Came Early">Hmm, I've already got a time-travel story.>"The Night Face"> I like it but it's really a novel.>Just pick one.>"Starfog".

In retrospect, "The Sharing of Flesh" and "A Tragedy of Errors" would probably have been better choices but I confess I'm quite surprised that you would include a nonfiction essay, "Uncleftish Beholding", written in a tragically doomed attempt to prevent the precious bodily fluids of the world's most mongrel language being contaminated by the French and other members of non-Teutonic races. Though that does of course open up the question of best non-SF work by an SF writer:

Clearly, there is much worthy of consideration. For diplomacy alone, I would have to go with Travis S. Taylor's calm, reasoned assessment of the benefits and dangers to humanity of first contact, Alien Invasion: How to Defend Earth. Of course, those interested in the application of pure logic, the most rigorous standards of the scientific method and Occam's Razor in all things may wish to read James P. Hogan's Kicking the Sacred Cow. However, for its determined work to anticipate the every move of the Kremlin, I must award top prize to the SF contingent of the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy for their direct, can-do attitude when it comes to cutting through red tape and getting straight to the heart of the Kremlin.
James Davis Nicoll
14. James Davis Nicoll
"Uncleftish Beholding" is fiction, it's just written in the form of a non-fiction essay. "Wolfram", that might count as non-fiction.

"The Saturn Game". Feh. Even "The Pugilist" was better than that one.

Anderson had some good essays on world-building, as I recall. Also an OK book on thermonuclear war, but my go-to book for nuclear explosives is and will remain Glasstone's The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (free slide rule included!).

I am shocked and amazed at the lack of love you are showing for JWC's articles on the Dean Drive, the Hieronymous Machine and D**n*t*cs.
James Davis Nicoll
15. James Davis Nicoll
Speaking of non-fiction, as I have mentioned before writing a bajillion books in every category of non-fiction save philosophy did quite a lot for Asimov's profile:

When I checked local libraries, I discovered that (unsurprisingly) an order of magnitude more books by Asimov are still on the shelves than are books by Heinlein.
D. Bell
16. SchuylerH
@14: I was going with the ISFDB, which calls "Uncleftish Beholding" an essay. It might reasonably be interpreted as an alternate world nuclear primer though.

One of my favorite essays on fantasy in "On Thud and Blunder", Anderson's essay on realism that every aspiring modern fantasy author should read at least a thousand times before writing anything at all. A book with a free slide rule I can get behind. It is the sort you can clamp between your teeth while propelling yourself up to the bridge in case the valve in the shipboard computer breaks? They are my favorite sort.

Heh, perpetual motion and fake medicinal treatments have been around for ages and convinced smarter men than Campbell. Anyway, reading them back its hard to tell whether he was genuine or just prepared to peddle the stuff for a profit. Now, Hogan was a True Believer...
James Davis Nicoll
17. James Davis Nicoll
The slide rule in The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was a circular slide rule so not only could you hold it the way you want to, it could also be used as a shurikan.
D. Bell
18. SchuylerH
@15, 17: Yes, writing about ten times more books than your rival helps as well. Asimov and Heinlein never got on after Heinlein married Virgina, did they? I remember a very awkward moment (it might have been in Expanded Universe) where Heinlein is required to mention Dr. A. in an essay and, of all things, writes about Pebble in the Sky, seemingly the only Asimov book Heinlein had got round to. (At least, I can't remember Heinlein ever making reference to another Asimov book.)

I want a mathematical space shurikan!

Anyway, shall we move on to the 21st century?
James Davis Nicoll
19. James Davis Nicoll
It's not just writing 10x as many books or Poul Anderson, Andre Norton and Robert Silverberg would also be winning the Shelf Wars and as I recall they are not. It's writing 10x as many books in a range of non-fiction categories that are useful for e.g. high school students to use for essays. A fair amount of Asimovian non-fic is no more badly out of date than it was in 19xx.

The 21st is too young for us to have a cool, dispassionate view of its fiction.
D. Bell
20. SchuylerH
@19: True, though it has been quite a while since I've seen any of them on the shelves with any regularity, particularly since Twilight and the Hunger Games took off. The problem is, my nearest bookshop doesn't have a non-fiction section as such. It has a shelf with some self-help books, A Brief History of Time, half of the collected works of Malcolm Gladwell and a copy of Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief.
James Davis Nicoll
21. James Davis Nicoll
The problem is, my nearest bookshop doesn't have a non-fiction section as such. It has a shelf with some self-help books, A Brief History of Time, half of the collected works of Malcolm Gladwell and a copy of Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief.

This is my sad face.

This is the nearest book store to me.

It's a used book store but the stock levels are respectable and it is well organized . And the staff knows their stuff.

1: One of the other used bookstores in KW was quite resistant to the idea of alphabetizing their stock, preferring the books crammed onto the shelves in random order within their category system. I did not find this approach to be optimal.
D. Bell
22. SchuylerH
@21: This is my envious face.

It's not too early to talk about this year's potential trends, is it? I've noticed that Mike Resnick is launching a new online magazine named Galaxy's Edge, which looks as if some of it has a chance of being potentially good. Of course, there's also the relaunch of Michael Moorcock's New Worlds and Amazing Stories, so I wonder if a few more ezines might be on the way. (Omni? If?)

Also, predictions for upcoming scandals: the wrong people either win or are nominated for an award, an noted SF author produces an explicitly literary novel and claims that it isn't literary fiction but a work of character-driven ultra-realistic earthbound Hard SF about the search for meaning in globally-connected world, an egregiously terrible novel is published by an author who had lost their brain to the Eater some years previously, a libertarian author threatens to go Galt, promptly does so and isn't missed in the slightest, the Brain Eater strikes again and we learn a dark, horrifying secret about Charlie Stross.

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