List below was seeded, on 20 March 2008, from Contento's famous list (based on Contento's version dated 26 January 2008); then decorated with my annotations.
Contento looked at "3,900 SF anthologies and single-author collections published before 1984". He sorted "over 38,000 stories by 3,880 authors" from this list by frequency - how many times a story was collected. List below is top 10 entries from this sort.
Note the list contains far more than 10 entries - because some stories were collected equal number of times. Even the stories at the very bottom of the list had been collected no less than 17 times till 1984.
This process obviously suggested far above average story quality. So, I decided to locate & read as many stories from this list as possible. Unread entries come at the end of my list (& in Contento's order).
I came across some surprises:
- Stories are not really all good - though overall it's a good list. Partly, because of my personal tastes. Partly, because these are old stories; I sometimes don't see the point that an elder generation would have seen.
- It's not all science fiction, though that dominates.
-  Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" (A); download text or MP3; Astounding, August 1954; science fiction: An innocent girl is to be executed due to apathy of administration (according to author, due to nature's laws, but that's not how it comes across in the story). Intensely emotional.
-  Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" (A); F&SF, April 1959: Don't maltreat mentally retarded, please. Very moving story.
-  [novelette] Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" (A); download MP3; Astounding, September 1941; science fiction: A world with 5 or 6 suns - with always a sun in the sky - except when it's not once several thousand or tens of thousands of years apart...
I personally prefer the corresponding parts of its longer novelization - about first half of the novel. Later half of novel is just another post-apocalypse story.
-  H G Wells' "The Star" (A); included in his collection "The Door in the Wall and Other Stories", download collection; The Graphic, December 1897; science fiction: An extra-Sol body has wandered into Solar System, & will wreck havoc on earth during its fall into Sun. Arthur Clarke's "The Hammer of God" & Hollywood movie "Armageddon" both seem to be ultimately inspired by this story.
-  Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (A); download; Collier's Magazine, 28 June 1952; science fiction: Minor carelessness of time-traveling T-Rex hunters has very slightly modified history...
-  Murray Leinster's "First Contact" (A); download text as part of scans of Astounding issue it appeared in, MP3; Astounding, May 1945; science fiction: How do you establish trust when there is no common ground between the transacting parties, & the stakes are very high? I might have really liked this story if its solution involved exchanging some clever messages; this one involves exchanging the hardware. Very logical, under the circumstances, but programmer inside me was unhappy with the outcome.
-  A E van Vogt's "The Monster" (A); Astounding, August 1948; science fiction: Nasty aliens attempting colonization of dead earth get a rude shock.
-  Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" (A); Astounding, December 1938; science fiction: A hominid robot in a female body is madly in love with "her" creator!
-  Arthur C Clarke's "The Star" (B); Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955; science fiction: Star of an alien world explodes, killing local intelligent beings. But something survives.
-  Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" (B); science fiction: Description of a post-nuclear-war city with a single house standing (but inhabitants dead). Story is told via the highly automated & intelligent home & its appliances. This is a much lighter read than the two Clarke stories I've read on essentially the same theme: "The Curse", & "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth".
-  Judith Merril's "That Only a Mother" (B); Astounding, June 1948; science fiction: Very sad story. Atom bomb testing has been going on even after the two bombs were dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Much of earth's environment is contaminated. So many genetic mutations have been happening - mostly bad, that having a baby is a very hazardous affair. This is a moving account of a woman's wish for a normal child, & her inability to see anything wrong with her little daughter even when she's born without any limbs.
-  Arthur C Clarke's "History Lesson" (B); Startling Stories, May 1949; science fiction: Sun has cooled turning earth into an icy wasteland, & Venus into a habitable world. Humanity is long extinct & sentient space-faring Venusians are trying to figure out the lost civilization of earth.
-  H G Wells' "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" (B); download; fantasy: A man who can will miracles - essentially the same in spirit as Hogbens stories of Henry Kuttner & C L Moore, but less humorous. He will eventually will his capability to make miracles happen, after disastrous miracle to stop earth's rotation so it won't be daylight for a while longer!
-  Clifford D Simak's "Desertion" (B); download text as part of scans of the Astounding issue where it originally appeared; Astounding, November 1944; science fiction: To colonize the "surface" of Jupiter, humans have a machine that can transform an earth animal (including humans) into an animal similar to one of the Jovian natives (& back)! But every human sent out of research "dome" into the wild has vanished. Story is about resolving the mystery of these vanishings.
-  Brian W Aldiss' "But Who Can Replace a Man?" (B); Infinity Science Fiction, June 1958; science fiction: Chaos among robots after the reports of last man's death arrive - in a world with a lot of robots. A group of these marauding robots with eventually find a man alive, & a purpose in their life!
-  James Blish's "Common Time" (B): Science Fiction Quarterly, August 1953; science fiction: Assume you could build a space ship that moves faster than light. This story is some speculations on how time would behave for an observer inside the ship, & at terminals of the trip. Story is told from the perspective of the pilot inside the ship - to go to Alpha Centauri system & return. He meets intelligent locals there too!
-  Arthur C Clarke's "The Sentinel of Eternity" (B); download text/MP3; 10 Story Fantasy, spring 1951; science fiction: Aliens watching the development of intelligent life on earth have left a beacon on moon. This is the story that seeded the famous movie & novel titled "2001 A Space Odyssey".
-  Harlan Ellison's '"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman' (B); download comic book adaptation; Galaxy, December 1965: Does the clock serve you, or have you become a slave of the watch & have forgotten to enjoy life? But this message is handed out via a rather dark story set in an extremely autocratic society.
-  Arthur C Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" (C); download text/MP3; Frederik Pohl (Ed)'s "Star Science Fiction Stories 1", 1953; fantasy: A certain Buddhist sect believes that the ultimate purpose of life is to spell all the nine billion names of God!
-  [novelette] Fredric Brown's "Arena" (C); download text or comic book adaptation; Astounding, June 1944; science fiction: In a war between humans & aliens, god-like aliens intervene to ensure a decisive conclusion.
-  Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (C); download text/MP3; Frederik Pohl (ed)'s "Star Science Fiction Stories, No 2" (1953, anthology); fantasy, horror: A mutant telepathic monster in the form of an innocent child is born in a community, & the life of the village has been hell ever since.
-  J G Ballard's "Billennium" (C); New Worlds Science Fiction, November 1961; population dystopia: Very depressing story about living space crunch on an over populous earth. And only descriptions are offered - of ever reducing square feet available per person; no solution is offered.
-  Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (C); If, March 1967; horror: Computers controlling the big powers' war machines have turned into a single malevolent sentient AI, has destroyed all of humanity except a handful of prisoners, & enjoys torturing them!! I just cannot figure out whatever made this story so popular - it's amongst the worst genre stories I've seen.