Are the Classics the Stories We Don’t Forget? – Classics of Science Fiction


I’ve been writing about science fiction short stories from 1957 for the past two months, but I realized today I’ve already forgotten most of them. I can’t tell if that memory loss is due to aging or forgettable stories. No science fiction story from 1957 made it to The Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list. To get on that list a short story needs eight recommendations that we call citations. Here are the 1957 SF stories in our citation database, a total of 43. For our Facebook group discussion we read 23:

The most remembered story by our system was “Call Me Joe” by Poul Anderson. It had six citations. Next was “Omnilingual” by H. Beam Piper with four citations. I remember both of those stories very well because I’ve read them multiple times over the decades. “Call Me Joe” was included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes, which helps it to be remembered. “Omnilingual” is much less famous, as is its author, H. Beam Piper.

My favorite, and most remembered SF story from 1957 is “The Menace from Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein is famous, and that helps his stories to be remembered. I love and remember this story because I love Heinlein’s juveniles, the twelve YA novels he published in the 1940s and 1950s with Charles Scribner’s Sons. I feel “The Menace from Earth” is the only Heinlein juvenile short story. However, “The Menace from Earth” has not been popular with our group. It only has three citations in CSFquery. If you look at the list of Heinlein’s stories, and sort the list on citations, you’ll see “The Menace from Earth” isn’t one of Heinlein’s most remembered stories.

Dave Hook took a deep dive in 1957 and liked quite a few short stories. He read 102 stories, of which he rated 51 great or superlative. I wasn’t that generous. I wouldn’t call any of these stories great, and I would only use the description superlative for less than a dozen science fiction short stories ever published, such as “Flowers for Algernon,” “Fondly Fahrenheit,” or “Light of Other Days.”

“Omnilingual,” “Call Me Joe,” and “The Menace from Earth” are only very good stories in my opinion, but they are among my all-time favorites.

Besides the three I’ve already mentioned, I think I’ll only remember two others in the future, “The Language of Love” by Robert Sheckley and “Time Waits for Winthrop” by William Tenn, and I thought they were merely good because of their ideas. I say I’ll remember them because I’ve already remembered them for fifty years.

I liked “Small World” by William F. Nolan and “Game Preserve” by Rog Philips because they were gritty and dark. Both of which I read before, but I hadn’t remembered, and I think I’ll soon forget again.

I enjoyed reading all these 1957 stories as I read them. Sadly, most of them just aren’t that memorable.

James Wallace Harris, 4/30/24

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