11 Sci-Fi Short Stories You Can Read For Free Right Now
Short stories are the perfect medium for science fiction. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love a space opera as much as the next nerd—but there's something about short-form sci-fi that has the potential to be especially mind-blowing. In just a few pages, the author must set up an entire new world (or a world that is just ever so slightly different than our own), and then deftly twist this new world into some kind of satisfying (or devastating) conclusion. It's no mean feat. Lucky for us, though, some of the greatest sci-fi authors out there today have published stories available for free online — and you can read them right now.
Between Black Mirror and the whole gaggle of Marvel movies, we're all but drowning in science fiction media right now. And I genuinely think that's great! You can never have too many stories (although I do think that keeping up with every single superhero show would constitute a full time job these days). Every so often, though, it can be nice to return to the world of written science fiction. You don't need CGI or recognizable super-powered characters to have a fascinating sci-fi adventure, after all. Sometimes all it takes is a few paragraphs and a truly inventive author:
1. 'Spider the Artist' by Nnedi Okorafor
If you're not such a fan of spiders... you're going to want to take a deep breath and read Nnedi Okorafor's "Spider the Artist" anyway. It's set in a future Nigeria where oil pipelines are guarded by spiders with artificial intelligence, and it might mess you up a little (but in a good way).
2. 'All Summer in a Day' by Ray Bradbury
One of the all time classic sci-fi short stories, "All Summer in a Day" follows a day in the life of a young girl on the distant, rainy planet of Venus. Warning: reading this story may cause wistfulness and painful memories of elementary school bullies.
3. 'The Effluent Engine' by N.K. Jemisin
Steampunk fans, rejoice: "The Effluent Engine" is available to read online, and it is the steampunk spy adventure story about Haitian independence that you didn't know you needed.
4. 'Day of the Builders' by Kristine Ong Muslim
"Day of the Builders" takes us to a small, rural village, in a world much like our own. The Builders have arrived, and our narrator is tasked with showing them around. As for who the Builders are, and what their mission is... well, just read Kristine Ong Muslim's wonderfully unsettling story to find out.
5. 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects' by Ted Chiang
It was a Ted Chiang short story that inspired the film Arrival, so it's safe to say that Chiang is a mastermind of mind-altering short fiction. "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" is one of his best-loved stories, about what it means for an artificial entity to "grow up."
6. 'The Game of Smash and Recovery' by Kelly Link
For fans of supremely creepy sci-fi, Kelly Link is a name you're going to want to remember. In her standalone story, "The Game of Smash and Recovery," she weaves an especially weird game of hide and seek (kind of) between two siblings on an alien planet.
7. 'The Paper Menagerie' by Ken Liu
OK, so "The Paper Menagerie" veers closer to fantasy than to science fiction, but you'll be sobbing so hard by the end of it that the genre hardly matters. Ken Liu's award-winning story speaks to anyone who's ever struggled to understand a parent.
8. 'The Janitor in Space' by Amber Sparks
"The Janitor in Space" is about, well... a janitor in space. A very lonely janitor who cleans during the artificial "nights" up in space. So if you've ever wondered how one would clean in zero G's, then this is the story for you.
9. 'The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees' by E. Lily Yu
Some wasps conquer a group of bees in "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees." Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But in this work of speculative biology, the wasps' control over their bee "colony" is anything by straightforward.
10. 'The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant' by Rachael K. Jones
"The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant" might not be the ideal read for extremely squeamish vegans. But for everyone else, it's a wonderfully weird, funny, creepy, meat-filled story.
11. 'The Red Thread' by Sofia Samatar
In "The Red Thread," a girl travels through a post-apocalyptic America with her mother, all the while trying to reach someone from her past. As the story unfolds, we slowly begin to piece together more about this world, and about this girl trying to survive in it.