My Favorite Science Fiction Stories

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In my library is a small volume titled My Favorite Science Fiction Story edited Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, 1999). Greenberg asked a number of prominent SF writers to name their favorite reads, and it contains tales beloved of Connie Willis, Greg Bear, Lois McMaster Bujold, Arthur C. Clarke, and more. It was a fascinating peek into their heads, to see what entertained or inspired some of my favorite authors. I picked it up after being on several panels with Greenberg, where he always had a light scotch that he sipped as he shared his expertise.

I have a few favorite science fiction stories that I read and reread. I’m no Bujold, or even a Greenberg, but in case you have not read these gems I hope you can find them and enjoy them. They pass the test of time. And they give you a glimpse into my head, as it were; if you are submitting to Abyss & Apex that might be a useful thing.

Hands down, the best classic story comfort read I’ve even read was “The Ethical Equations” by Murray Leinster, published in Giants Unleashed, edited by Groff Conklin (Grossett & Dunlap, 1965). The shiny idea: mathematicians have figured out the equations that govern ethical behavior and can predict how individuals and groups will fare based on their choices. The story is done as a mystery: a young, politically-connected ensign finds what looks to be an alien ship out past Jupiter. How he handles the intricacies and side issues of applying the ethical equations has implications for all of humanity.

If I need a little fun I reread (or if I really want to tweak others I read aloud) “Bronte’s Egg” by Richard Chwedyk (F&SF 2002). It concerns life in a charitable group home for bio-toys that had been abused or abandoned, miniature dinosaurs– Saurs–who have a lot to offer.  It’s a faux light tale with a very, very strong message: how we treat other sentient beings is not always correct, but hopefully enough of us will get it right so there’s a chance for them.

I’m a fan of the entire Vorkosigan Saga  but for a short read it’s hard to beat “Winterfair Gifts” by Lois McMaster Bujold in the Irresistible Forces edited by Catherine Asaro (New American Library, 2004). The story concerns a horrific murder averted, with a side order of romance, and it’s told unusually in the POV of one of Miles’ armsmen: Roic. The “live in the now” message and the acceptance of who you are that both he and the bioengineered female soldier Taura evince is affirming.

Another hard science fiction story I really enjoy is “The Hydrogen Wall” by Gregory Benford, published in Hartwell & Cramer’s Year’s Best SF 9 (Eos, 2004). We are about to be consumed by a cosmic event that will destroy our solar system, but a potential salvation comes in the form of an alien intelligence, and a message, transmitted encoded in nothing less than a pulsar. What will it cost–personal and species-wide–to implement that salvation?

Every once in a while I reread “A Quiet One” by Anne McCaffrey in  2041: 12 Tales from the Future, edited by Jane Yolen (Laurel Leaf, 1994). It’s such a satisfying tale, where a young woman in the future is “horse-crazy” but overpopulation and interstellar travel have relegated horsemanship and horse breeding the work of a very select few humans. She does all the requisite work to try out for that group. There are, however, certain universal things about proving yourself to a bunch of rugged ranch hands. I, who worked in a male-dominated field, always strongly identify with the female protagonist and her hard-fought victory in fitting in.

Then there is the story of how Honor Harrington’s great grandmother made the first contact between the sentient, six-limbed tree cats of her homeworld and humanity. “A Beautiful Friendship” in More Than Honor (Baen, 1998) traces the start of the unbreakable bond between select members of the two species, where despite the disapproval of peers the human girl and the tree cat she emotionally mates with fight incredible odds–to the death–rather than be separated. It’s a very well-done first contact story, with a fully believable and entrancing alien POVs.

I understand that my favorite short story by Joe Haldeman is his favorite as well. “For White Hill” in his collection, A Separate War and Other Stories (Ace, 2006) is based on a Shakespearean sonnet and talks about many things: the fleeting nature of life, the enduring nature of love and beauty, and the law of unintended consequences.

Finally, I have to mention that I love “Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson (Asimov’s August, 1990 – get it now in this collection) not only because it overcame my late mother’s prejudice against SF and turned her into an avid reader of the genre, but because of its warmth and wit and sense of wonder.

I’ve been privileged to publish quite a few of my favorites are well. But that, as they say, is tale for another day.


Wendy S. Delmater

Illustration “Whispers in the Spectrum” via

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