In these short stories the planet has suffered a major disaster or that threat is impending. Humanity is hurting or trying to avoid their imminent doom.
The stories that run a bit on the long side are identified as novellas.
Stories About an Apocalypse, the End of the World, or a Post-Apocalyptic Society
There Will Come Soft Rains | Ray Bradbury
At 7 AM an automated house rings the alarm clock and prepares breakfast. It gives some practical reminders and says it’s time to go to school and work. Otherwise, the house is strangely silent.
Second Variety | Philip K. Dick
During a nuclear war between the Soviets and the United Nations, the U.N. authorities are forced to relocate to a moon base, leaving the troops behind. U.N. developers build “claws”, a basic robot with churning blades that seeks out warm bodies. U.N. troops are protected by a special radiation-emitting wrist device. After the robots turn the tide of the conflict, the Soviets want to talk to a high ranking officer to discuss a new threat.
Read “Second Variety” (Novella)
To Serve the Master | Philip K. Dick
Applequist is making deliveries when he comes across a damaged robot in a ravine. When he returns to the Company defense ring, he asks the director about the war and why the robots were destroyed. He is told that information is off-limits. He decides to sneak away to look for the robot and get some answers.
Read “To Serve the Master” (About 1/3 of the way down)
Finis | Frank Lillie Pollock
Scientists have predicted the appearance of a new star. Four people are waiting for it at an observatory. Many other people are staying up to see it as well. It is winter, but as midnight approaches everyone realizes it is getting warmer.
The Machine Stops | E. M. Forster
Most humans live below the surface of the Earth, communicating with each other through video screens and rarely going anywhere. A machine takes care of everything for them. Vashti and Kuno, mother and son, live apart and have different views of their society – she is content while he is dissatisfied. He once visited the surface without permission. Soon, some new rules are instituted.
Read “The Machine Stops” (Novella)
Not with a Bang | Damon Knight
After a war has decimated earth, Rolf and Louise are the only two people left alive. There are having a meal at a cafe talking about their future. Despite their situation, Louise maintains her moral view and is concerned about the propriety of their union. There are no ministers to marry them. Rolf tries to convince her that they need to hurry up and start repopulating the earth.
The Answer | H. Beam Piper
Years after a nuclear war devastated half the earth, two nuclear scientists work together to create an antimatter bomb and test it.
Dear Devil | Eric Frank Russell
A Martian vessel lands on earth. The Martian crew has tentacles and communicates with signs and telepathic touch. Earth has been devastated by some kind of disaster. One of the crew, a poet, finds a statue of a woman. The captain is preparing to leave when the poet says he wants to stay. The captain allows it.
Read “Dear Devil” (Novella)
By the Waters of Babylon | Stephen Vincent Benet
The narrator, a young man, is the son of a priest, and will one day be a priest himself. The people are forbidden to go east to the Dead Places, or to cross the river to the Place of the Gods, except for a priest. There is another more primitive group called the Forest People. He sets out to the east on a journey.
Embroidery | Ray Bradbury
Three women sit embroidering on a porch. The women are waiting for five o’clock, when the result of an experiment will become obvious.
The City | Ray Bradbury
A ship from earth lands on an unknown planet. The crew explores the surface. The city has sensors that gather information about the men. One of the men, Smith, gets nervous and wants to turn back.
Read “The City” (PDF Pg 156)
The Last Night: A Story | Norman Mailer
Earth is contaminated with radiation. Humanity has less than twenty years left, with three quarters of the population only lasting five years. A plan is developed to send up to a million people to Mars.
Third from the Sun | Richard Matheson
With the impending threat of a major war, a family and their neighbors decide to sneak away to safety on a spaceship. The father will use his position as chief test pilot to gain access to the vessel.