Science Fiction Short Stories
When you receive short answer questions on a text in English, it’s an opportunity for you to respond to the themes, ideas and issues in a text. You should treat these questions as an opportunity to develop your literacy skills. Your answers should be detailed and thoughtful. These science fiction short stories provide an opportunity for you to practice discussing texts.
A well-answered question is very structured. In the opening sentence, you should provide a succinct answer to the question. After you have answered the question, go on to provide greater detail, discussing the question in detail and exploring possible responses to the question. A good response will use short and relevant quotations—textual evidence—to support the discussion.
Using Textual Evidence. When answering short questions on a text, you will need to use textual evidence. The best way to do this is by incorporating short, direct quotations from the text into your own sentences. Quotes should always be surrounded by quotation marks. You can use either single or double quotation marks but don’t use both, e.g. Extinction is Forever features a race of “mackerel coloured, sea-dwelling” creatures that descended from humankind.
Introduce longer quotes using a colon, e.g. Extinction is Forever is a science-fiction story because it features mutated, other-worldly creatures like Vanya: “…a scaly mutant, mackerel-coloured, sea-dwelling creature.”
Always make sure quotes are short and appropriate to your discussion.
Using ellipses. An ellipsis can be used to shorten quotes: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy…no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind.”
Where do I put a full stop? When using quotations, students often ask whether they should put a full stop inside or outside the quotation marks. If the quotation has a full stop at the end and that’s where you want to end the sentence, then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks.
e.g. Stephen is stranded in the future, “the only one of his kind.”
If the quotation doesn’t include a full stop and you want to end a sentence, then the full stop goes outside the quotation mark.
e.g. Professor Goddard had “waited all afternoon”.
Only punctuation that appeared in the original quoted material should be included inside the quotation marks. Otherwise, punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation mark.
SHORT STORY: EXTINCTION IS FOREVER
‘Extinction is Forever’ is a short story written by Louise Lawrence. Read the short story ‘Extinction is Forever’ and answer the following questions.
- Give a brief outline of the plot.
- What makes this story science fiction? Give examples from the story, including characters, setting and themes.
- How are ‘the Ancients’ described in the story? Give examples.
- Why do you think Louise Laurence chose to end the story in this way?
- Write definitions for the following words: annihilation, incredulity, holocaust, cryogenic, reverence, genocide, abolish, vitrified, inferno, lemming, mackerel, incongruous, girder, perceive, sonar, harpoon, mastodon, fell, shoal.
How are ‘the Ancients’ described in the story? Give examples.
‘Extinction is Forever’, Louise Lawrence’s story about a time traveller who discovers the fate of humanity after a nuclear holocaust, describes human behaviour in very negative terms. In the story, humans – who are called ‘the Ancients’ by a race of mutant, sea-dwelling creatures – are considered destructive and violent. The story opens with a class of these creatures discussing the destruction of the human race. They joke about homo sapiens meaning ‘wise man’. Vanya feels sad about humankind and how they ‘engineered their own extinction’. Later, her instructor Kermondley, reflects on the ‘horror and grief’ he felt over the extinction of humankind and how he could now “laugh at the arrogance of those who had called themselves wise”. When Vanya encounters Stephen, who was born in the twentieth century, she tells him that his kind were murderers who “killed everything that lived upon the land”. Stephen is dismayed that all that survived was their “murderous reputation”. Throughout ‘Extinction is Forever’, Louise Lawrence describes humankind in an extremely negative light.
When you’re answering questions like these, always start off with a topic sentence that explains your answer. Then, you should go on to provide a detailed discussion of the question, exploring ideas and using short quotations to support your answer. You should sum up very briefly at the end, restating your answer. This approach to answering questions is very similar to the way you would structure a body paragraph in an essay. Remember, by this stage you shouldn’t just be writing one or two sentences. Try to put as much thought and detail and effort into your responses as you can.
SHORT STORY: THE PEDESTRIAN
‘The Pedestrian’ is a celebrated short story by author Ray Bradbury. According to Bradbury, the idea for the story came to him when he and a friend were out walking one night. They were stopped by a police officer who asked what they were doing. ”Well, we’re putting one foot in front of the other,” he told the officer. The officer looked at them suspiciously and told them to go home. ”Yes, sir, I’ll never walk again,” Bradbury replied. This short story inspired the beginning of Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451. Read ‘The Pedestrian’ and answer the questions below.
- In the second paragraph of ‘The Pedestrian’, how does Bradbury describe the city? What does this tell us about the people who live there?
- Why is Leonard Mead considered an outcast in this society?
- Why is he arrested and what will his punishment be?
- In ‘The Pedestrian’, what does Bradbury fear about the future?
- What does Bradbury see as the danger of television?
- Make a list of the similes and metaphors used in this story.
SHORT STORY: THEY’RE MADE OUT OF MEAT
‘They’re made out of meat’ is a humorous and endearing story written by Terry Bisson. Read the story and answer the following questions. When you’re done, check out this short adaptation of the story.
- Define the following words: reconnoissance, sentient, conscious, quadrant, prejudice, infinitesimal, unutterably.
- Describe the occupation of the two main characters.
- Which parts of the story do you think are most amusing? Explain.
- What themes or ideas do you think Bisson is exploring through this short story?
SHORT STORY: BROTHER TO THE MACHINE
‘Brother to the Machine’ is a short story by Richard Matheson, the author of Duel and I am Legend. Read the story and answer the questions below.
- Define the following words: myriad, distinction, indoctrination.
- Write a brief outline of the story.
- What hints are there in the story about what the main character is?
- How are the people in the crowd at the beginning of the story described?
- Why is it interesting that the main character might look to the sky?
- What is the significance of the Venus Baby in the story?
- What sort of government exists in this world? Give five examples from the story.
- What do you think the Adjustment Centre is? Use evidence to support your answer.
Here’s a sample answer to one of the questions on ‘Brother to the Machine’. This is the type of detail, writing and use of textual evidence you’re expected to use when answering questions.
What is the significance of the Venus Baby in the story?
Brother to the Machine by Richard Matheson is a story about a destructive and emotionless society, a society that oppresses other robots, animals and other races. This oppression is expressed through the Venus Babies that the main character looks at through the glass of a pet shop window: “He looked into the eyes of the small tentacled things and saw there intelligence and pleading misery.” The main character moves on, “ashamed of what one people can do to another people.” In Brother to the Machine, it isn’t only the Venus Babies that are victims of this society. The main character comes across a newspaper that features an article about why Earth had been forced to annihilate Martians: “On the back was an editorial that told why Earth forces had been compelled to destroy all the Martians.” The same society that keeps the Venus Babies as pets also ignores its weakest members. The main character notices an ex-space pilot who is forced to beg on the streets. “He put his hand on the blind man’s shoulder. The man did not speak but passed by and moved on, his cane clacking on the sidewalk until he had disappeared. It was not allowed to beg in this district.” The passage about the Venus Baby is significant because it highlights how this short story is about a heartless society and what “one people can do to another people.”
SHORT STORY ANALYSIS
Write an essay on one of the short stories studied in your class.
Choose one of the following essay topics to write about the above short stories.
• Extinction is Forever is a cautionary tale about the fate of humankind.
• Extinction is Forever is a classic science fiction story. Discuss.
• They’re Made out of Meat is a blend of science fiction and humour. Discuss.
• In The Pedestrian, Ray Bradbury expresses his concern about how television will affect society.
• In The Pedestrian, Leonard Mead is persecuted for being different. Discuss.
• In Brother to the Machine, Richard Matheson explores what “one people can do to another people”.
• In Brother to the Machine, it’s difficult to tell who are the robots. Discuss.
If you’re not too confident at writing essays, you may choose one of the sample essay plans below as the basis for your writing.
In The Pedestrian, Ray Bradbury expresses his concern about how television will affect society.
Extinction is Forever is a cautionary tale about the threat of nuclear war. Discuss.
Brother to the Machine is a story about slavery and oppression.
If you’re a confident essay writer, you can create your own essay topic on one of the short stories.
Read the story several times. What important ideas are explored in the story? What stands out to you about
You could include:
- name the work discussed and the author;
- provide any interesting or relevant information about the author;
- provide a very brief plot summary;
- discuss the main ideas explored in the story;
- discuss the characters and their motivations;
- explain what makes this story science-fiction;
- discuss any interesting or relevant uses of language;
- describe how the write has attempted to engage the reader.
Your work should make appropriate use of textual evidence. Often, when writing on a novel or short story, you will be given an essay topic. Not for this task. Here you’re being encouraged to think. What, in your mind, is the most important aspect of the story you’ve studied? Read through the story several times. Write down quotes that you feel are important or relate to important ideas in the story. Make notes detailing your thoughts. If you’re having difficulty, try using these starter sentences to kick-start your brain:
- This story is about…
- The most interesting part of this story is…
- One of the important themes in the story is…[
- This theme is developed when…
- The reader is likely to think that the main character is…
- When the reader finishes this story, they are likely to feel…
- One of the most interesting examples of language in this story is the use of…
There is no minimum word length for this essay, it needs to be the best you can possibly do.
Check out the assessment sheet before you get started.