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I found the ranking pretty easy, though hesitated between the top two. See also my guide to getting hold of them - unfortunately the direct link for “Mimic,” by Donald A. Wollheim is no longer working. NB that there is precisely one speaking female human character in these six stories (not surprisingly, in the one story which has a female co-author).

Normally I give the second paragraph of the third section as a taster; none of these stories is subdivided, so I'm just giving the third paragraph in each case.

6) “Etaoin Shrdlu,” by Fredric Brown

Third paragraph:
I admitted my identity. and he said, "Glad to know you, Mr. Merold. I'm—" and he gave me his name, but I can't remember now what it was. I'm usually good at remembering names.
This is a Tall Tale about a printing machine that becomes animated by a mysterious intelligence. That's about it.

5) “Runaround,” by Isaac Asimov

Third paragraph:
"Yaaaah," snarled Donovan, feverishly. "What have you been doing in the sublevels all day?" He took a deep breath and blurted out, "Speedy never returned."
I hope that by now it's well recorded that I hate cute robot stories. The Asimov Laws of Robotics stories are a particularly pointless exercise, with the author setting up rather silly laws purely to hang rather silly plots on them. In the case in point, a robot is torn between loyalty to its human master's orders and self-preservation, and ends up running around a pool of molten metal on Mercury singing Gilbert and Sullivan.

4) “The Sunken Land,” by Fritz Leiber

Third paragraph:
To begin with, he did not like the huge, salty ocean, and only Fafhrd's bold enthusiasm and his own longing for the land of Lankhmar had impelled him to embark on this long, admittedly risky voyage homeward across uncharted deeps. He did not like the fact that a school of fish was making the water boil at such a great distance from any land. It seemed unnatural. Even the uniformly stormless weather and favorable winds disturbed him, seeming to indicate correspondingly great misfortunes held in store, like a growing thundercloud in quiet air. Too much good luck was always dangerous. And now this ring, acquired without effort by an astonishingly lucky chance—
Now we're getting better. This is a nice bit of writing in which poor Fafhrd gets kidnapped by a sinister boatsman who is raiding an even more sinister island. Lots of atmospherics but doesn't quite get anywhere.

3) “The Twonky,” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner)

Third paragraph:
Drunk? Lloyd, in his capacity as foreman, couldn't permit that. He flipped away his cigarette, walked forward, and sniffed. No, it wasn't liquor. He peered at the badge on the man's overalls.
This is basically the same story as “Etaoin Shrdlu,” but better written and (as noted above) with an actual speaking female character. In this case the machine is a phonograph/radio rather than a printer, so it has the added frisson of the latest communications technology.

2) “Mimic,” by Martin Pearson (Donald A. Wollheim)

Third paragraph:
We know little or nothing. Some of the most startling things are unknown to us. When they are discovered they may shock us to the bone.
Very close between the first two stories for me; both are about Hidden Secrets, and in this case it's non-human creatures masquerading as humans in contemporary New York. Several chilling images. A bit closer to horror than my usual tastes, but well done.

1) “Proof,” by Hal Clement

Third paragraph:
Kron could "see" all this as easily as a human being in an airplane can see New York; but no human eyes could have perceived this city, even if a man could have existed anywhere near it. The city, buildings and all, glowed a savage, white heat: and about and beyond it—a part of it, to human eyes—raged the equally dazzling, incandescent gazes of the solar photosphere.
In the end my vote goes to this story of inhabitants of the Sun, and other stars, exploring the universe in their own terms, in complete ignorance of planets, let alone Earth, never mind humanity - making for utter mutual incomprehension when they do encounter one of us. The writing is a little clunkier than some of the others, but I'm giving it top marks for ideas.

That's got me off to a reasonably good start.

2018 Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Related Work | Graphic Story | Dramatic Long | Dramatic Short | Professional Artist & Fan Artist | Series | Young Adult | Campbell Award
1943 Retro Hugos: Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | Dramatic Short | Fan Artist

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