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General Topics > Happy endings in science fiction

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Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments I could further generalize it to include other categories of literature but I think the focus on science fiction is important as it is mostly dealing with the future and our overall optimism/pessimism for what is yet to come. So, the question is: what is your preference for the science fiction book endings?


Andrew Weaver (goodreadscomAndrew_Weaver) | 8 comments Open-ended every time, such as in Blade Runner (Okay I know its the film I am refering to!), but its an ending that makes you...think...


Paul Vincent (Astronomicon) | 41 comments I prefer successful endings (although those are not always fully happy) or open endings with an optimistic slant. Personally I don't usually like the Disney style happily-ever-after type endings.

Having said all that, each story has to be taken on its own merit. Some happy endings work better than others and I can appreciate a clever happy ending.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Andrew wrote: "Open-ended every time, such as in Blade Runner (Okay I know its the film I am refering to!), but its an ending that makes you...think..."

What did you think of the ending of Inception movie?


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Paul wrote: "I prefer successful endings (although those are not always fully happy) or open endings with an optimistic slant. Personally I don't usually like the Disney style happily-ever-after type endings.

..."


Yeah, I can relate to what you are saying in terms of an optimistic but not all-out happy ending. I mean the very concept of Happy End is kind of contradictory as no end is ever happy, end is an end and what you can have, the most you can strive for is a successful completion of this or that stage that leave you in a better condition than the one you started out with (or at least leave you alive:))


Jim | 356 comments The problem is that as most books feature conflict, an ending that is happy for one party will tend to be unhappy for the other.
I tend to feel, like Andrew, that open ended endings which ask questions can be as good as any.

But unless the book is part of a series, the ending should somehow achieve 'closure' as well. Ending with a question is not the same as leaving a lot of loose endings flapping about that should have been tied down :-)


message 7: by Vardan (last edited Jul 26, 2013 03:31AM) (new)

Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Jim wrote: "The problem is that as most books feature conflict, an ending that is happy for one party will tend to be unhappy for the other.
I tend to feel, like Andrew, that open ended endings which ask quest..."


Well, Jim, if it is the protagonist's party that prevails in the conflict then it is a happy ending for the reader will be rooting for that party to overcome the difficulties. I do not think that many readers commiserated with Sauron when he got defeated in the Lord of the Rings.

I agree with you concerning the series as indeed each book in a series has to bring some kind of closure and constitute an adequate story arc.


Jim | 356 comments The problem is that you are seeing 'The Lord of the Rings' entirely though the eyes of one party to the conflict.
But take another classic story, The Wind in the Willows where we are encouraged to see the situation through the eyes of Rat, Mole and Toad.

Yet Jan Needle wrote Wild Wood which is a retelling of the tale as seen through the eyes of the stoats and weasels. To quote the wiki, "which re-tells the story of The Wind in the Willows from the view of the working class characters in the wood, for whom money is short and employment is hard to find. The carefree actions of the upper-class Toad and friends heavily affect the poor characters of the wood, such as Toad's chauffeur, who loses his job"

It would be comparatively easy to rewrite the Lord of the Rings as a tale of how a wealthy rural squirearchy and their hirelings gather together to crush for ever an industrial revolution which will give the toiling masses of orcs and goblins the economic power to achieve the independence they have long sought.
For all we know this might be every bit as true to the underlying reality as Lord of the Rings was :-)


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Jim wrote: "The problem is that you are seeing 'The Lord of the Rings' entirely though the eyes of one party to the conflict.
But take another classic story, The Wind in the Willows where we are encouraged to..."


Well, the conflict in the Lord of the Rings was inspired by the events of World War II where the adversary was not fully defeated and so a much bloodier follow up conflict ensued. I am sure that not many people would like to read a re-telling of the tale from the opposite side considering the context of the work.

You can always find examples of multiple POV stories where one side interchanges with the other but the majority of tales (hero's journeys) are representatives of one side of the conflict - subjective? Perhaps. But all life is subjective. Not straying from the topic, what would you name as your favorite ending in a science fiction novel?


Charles (NogDog) For anything other than throw-away escapism, the only ending that makes sense is the ending that best conveys the thematic elements the author is trying to communicate. If an author starts from the outset thinking, "I want to write a book with a [fill-in-the-blank] ending, because that's what most readers want," I'd have serious doubts about it being a great book -- unless it just so happens that that type of ending is ultimately what works best for whatever it is the author truly has to say from his/her heart.

To that end, I don't generally care to read much SF that is relentlessly pessimistic, and perhaps therefore more prone to an unhappy ending. This is perhaps in part due to the fact that so much SF seems to be dystopian these days, and I've had my fill of it?

Anyway, the important thing to me is that the ending make sense based on what has led up to it, and is satisfying in its resolution and emotional impact, regardless of where it lands within the bounds of happy and unhappy.


J.M.J. Williamson (JMJWilliamson) | 2 comments Charles wrote: "For anything other than throw-away escapism, the only ending that makes sense is the ending that best conveys the thematic elements the author is trying to communicate. If an author starts from the..."

I couldn't agree more. A good story should convey a moral theme, if the ending is not consistent with that theme then the reader is let down. It doesn't necessary all ways mean a happy ending: the hero might die to reach his goal. It's all about what the story says about the human spirit.


message 12: by Jim (last edited Jul 26, 2013 10:19AM) (new)

Jim | 356 comments Vardan wrote: "Well, the conflict in the Lord of the Rings was inspired by the events of World War II where the adversary was not fully defeated and so a much bloodier follow up conflict ensued. I am sure that not many people would like to read a re-telling of the tale from the opposite side considering the context of the work.
..."


It is interesting that Tolkien never favoured that interpretation, indeed he specifically rejected it in the foreword of the second edition. If I remember correctly (and I'm quoting from memory here) he said that if it had been about the Second world war "The dark tower would have been occupied rather than cast down."

"Not straying from the topic, what would you name as your favorite ending in a science fiction novel?"

Now that is a really good question and an awfully large one. I will, as they say, have to think about that one :-)


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Charles wrote: "For anything other than throw-away escapism, the only ending that makes sense is the ending that best conveys the thematic elements the author is trying to communicate. If an author starts from the..."

Good response, Charles. What is your opinion on surprise endings where there is a twist that derails the expected outcome of the story?


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Jim wrote: "Vardan wrote: "Well, the conflict in the Lord of the Rings was inspired by the events of World War II where the adversary was not fully defeated and so a much bloodier follow up conflict ensued. I ..."

He could agree or disagree about a lot of things but the basic truth about the story is the fact that it closely parallels the events of World War II, which is natural considering the kind of total destruction it wrecked and the introduction of the nuclear weapons which had the potential to bring a swift end to humanity. The seminal writers of the era are all, in one way or the other influenced by the Great War and the science fiction writers even more so.


Jim | 356 comments Vardan wrote: "He could agree or disagree about a lot of things but the basic truth about the story is the fact that it closely parallels the events of World War II, which is natural considering the kind of total destruction it wrecked and the introduction of the nuclear weapons which had the potential to bring a swift end to humanity. The seminal writers of the era are all, in one way or the other influenced by the Great War and the science fiction writers even more so.
..."


Personally I'd tend to believe him, but certainly his attitudes seem more in tune with the Great War, where he fought in the Trenches, than the Second War which he spent in Oxford.


Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 123 comments Um, you are aware that Tolkien explicitly denied any link to nuclear matters and LOTR. In fact from the text it is pretty clear that he was influenced by World War ONE, in which he fought as a young soldier. (All that stuff about the muddy and awful Dead Marshes is very trench warfare.)

From the writer point of view I will say that some writers know the end of the book when the start, and some don't. Some know but change their minds along the way. I always start out writing towards a fixed ending. It is "...and then everybody dies." I never get there; the book always ends before the demise of all the characters.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Brenda wrote: "Um, you are aware that Tolkien explicitly denied any link to nuclear matters and LOTR. In fact from the text it is pretty clear that he was influenced by World War ONE, in which he fought as a youn..."

So it is implied that all the characters are going to die?


message 18: by Charles (last edited Jul 26, 2013 01:18PM) (new)

Charles (NogDog) Vardan wrote: "...What is your opinion on surprise endings where there is a twist that derails the expected outcome of the story?"

If it smacks of deus ex machina in order to create a contrived surprise, then I'll probably be disappointed (or even angry, depending on how drastic?). However, a surprise ending can be effective and even fun if, in 20/20 hindsight, you can see how it makes sense (e.g. the movie "The Sixth Sense").

If you would call the ending of Moorcock's Stormbringer a surprise ending, then I think that's an example of one that worked for me. (I will not even say if it's happy or sad, so as not to spoil it for anyone who has not read it.)


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Also the World War I was of course a descriptive influence on Tolkien but the political setting in LOTR is more akin to the II World War.


message 20: by Jim (last edited Jul 26, 2013 02:18PM) (new)

Jim | 356 comments Brenda wrote: "From the writer point of view I will say that some writers know the end of the book when the start, and some don't. Some know but change their minds along the way. I always start out writing towards a fixed ending. It is "...and then everybody dies." I never get there; the book always ends before the demise of all the characters. .."

I have written a book where I had two main characters. In the book we follow them separately although they do meet up and their histories are more intertwined than ever they guess. Indeed when they meet they do sort of like each other. But from the moment I started writing I knew which one of them was going to die and how. Part of writing the book was to find out exactly why :-)
The Greeks would have appreciated his death, Nemesis had claimed her justified victim, and in a rough and ready sort of way, justice is sort of done, even if the characters don't realise and the reader might not see all the ins and outs :-)


Jim | 356 comments Vardan wrote: "Also the World War I was of course a descriptive influence on Tolkien but the political setting in LOTR is more akin to the II World War."

This is a tricky one Vardan. I'm aware that the two world wars are seen very differently in different parts of the world.
To give you a few figures to try and set the scene, for the UK, in WW2 we suffered 388,000 dead, in WW1 658,700
But for the Americans they lost only (Only he says) 58,480 in WWI and 500,000 in WW2. So for the British WWI looms larger than it does in the USA.
But to get things in comparison, Countries like Greece lost 520,000 in WW2, that's more than the Americans. Remember that when you read about Greeks demonstrating in Athens at the moment. The Poles lost 6,123,000 in WW2, six million of them civilians, over 17% of their population.


So In England, for Tolkien's generation, WW1 was still 'The big one.' For a further sense of proportion, the USA lost 58,282 men in the Vietnam war, a truly shocking experience for them. Yet on the first of July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, the British Army suffered about 60,000 casualties,

Yet seen from an American, or a Greek or Polish perspective, WW2 easily eclipses WW1


message 22: by Kenneth (last edited Jul 26, 2013 05:11PM) (new)

Kenneth (kanthr) | 139 comments Vardan wrote:

What did you think of the ending of Inception?"


I think this is an attempt at an open ending that just achieved a simulacrum of its intent.

For me, the happy ending is a failed ending. It presumes to end all discord and provide the reader omniscient knowledge of the fate of each character. This jarringly destroys realism.

Character faithfulness would demand that we don't get to know how everything turns out for everyone and we don't see everybody getting their wishes come true. Even in fairy tales, before revised editions started popping up, the endings were not sugar coated dreams but warnings against misbehavior.

I favor open endings.


message 23: by Keith (last edited Jul 26, 2013 07:18PM) (new)

Keith Owens | 1 comments I couldn't agree more that open endings, at least in general, are the best way to go. And this doesn't necessarily apply just to science fiction I don't think. But the Disneyland compulsion to wrap everything up in a pretty little bow is the enemy of good literature and good science fiction, and it's why so many viewers of science fiction on TV and the movies - but who have never read a science fiction book - don't really know what good sci fi is all about.


Paul Vincent (Astronomicon) | 41 comments Keith wrote: "I couldn't agree more that open endings, at least in general, are the best way to go. And this doesn't necessarily apply just to science fiction I don't think. But the Disneyland compulsion to wrap..."
I totally agree about the "Disney compulsion".


message 25: by Greg (last edited Jul 27, 2013 11:16AM) (new)

Greg (Geemont) | 429 comments Andrew wrote: "Open-ended every time, such as in Blade Runner (Okay I know its the film I am refering to!), but its an ending that makes you...think..."

I saw Blade Runner on opening night in 1982 and it had probably one of the worst artificially happy ending ever forced upon a film. If it makes you think, you think about how sappy it was.

I'm not a fan of forced happy endings. The Disney "happy compulsion" writers should be tied up with duct tape, placed in a box, and shipped off to Iran with rude remarks about the Prophet penned on their foreheads. (Where they'll be unpacked by their new found soul mate, sing a love duet or two, and adopt orphans.)

I prefer open ended or ambiguous endings, but it has to flow naturally from the story. A bleak ending doesn't bug me as much as happy one, but it should still be a natural out coming of the story. An artificially bleak ending is still bad writing.


message 26: by Kenneth (last edited Jul 27, 2013 11:25AM) (new)

Kenneth (kanthr) | 139 comments The best kind of ending is, for me, something like number9dream.

(view spoiler)


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments What about an open ending that does not finish the story's arc and basically closes in mid-air? I am not talking about series and artificial cliffhangers but about a finished book that is, well, unfinished in that way?


Jim | 356 comments Vardan wrote: "What about an open ending that does not finish the story's arc and basically closes in mid-air? I am not talking about series and artificial cliffhangers but about a finished book that is, well, un..."

It depends on how it's done. I could imagine a book that is written by a first person narrator who suddenly dies and of course the book then ends abruptly. I think that would be very powerful, because the reader would suddenly realise that there is no way they will ever know the full story


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments and that wouldn't frustrate you?


Paul Vincent (Astronomicon) | 41 comments Again depends how it is done, but I think it would annoy me.


Jim | 356 comments It would depend on the point in the story where it happened. You could draw some threads together before the final scene, you could set it up for the classic SF 'open ending'.
But I don't think I'm good enough to do it properly yet ;-)


Greg (Geemont) | 429 comments I can think of a few first person science fiction novels were the narrator ends the story by saying he is leaving behind this manuscript for others to find and going to (x) and, live or die, doesn't think he'll be back this way again. Very effective, at least in a famous book that comes to mind.

But I wouldn't mind a book in first person the ends with an incomplete sentence, signifying the death of the character.

I guess I'm fine without closer in the right circumstances. It's better than inputing a happily ever after.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Greg wrote: "I can think of a few first person science fiction novels were the narrator ends the story by saying he is leaving behind this manuscript for others to find and going to (x) and, live or die, doesn'..."

In both of my novels, I have used an open ending avoiding the happily ever after trap but definitely ending on a positive note and completing the story arc with an adequate third act. I have done that because, as a reader, I appreciate these kind of structures and think that mid-sentence break or a sudden and unexpected stop is a bit too gimmicky for me. After all, we are storytellers and our job is to tell the story that is trying to break free out of our imagination.At the same time, I enjoy unexpected twists and turns that keep the plot unpredictable and the ending - a pleasant surprise. For example the final chapter of my debut novel The After/Life is two sentences long and in I, the Provocateur, there is (yet another) twist after the story ends :)


Kenneth (kanthr) | 139 comments Vardan wrote: "and that wouldn't frustrate you?"

No. Some of the best books I've read ended this way.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Kenneth wrote: "Vardan wrote: "and that wouldn't frustrate you?"

No. Some of the best books I've read ended this way."


Could you bring an example?


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Kenneth wrote: "number9dream
Soldier of Sidon
The Scar"


These sound interesting especially The Scar. I read a couple of the reviews of the ones you mentioned and there were more than a few disgruntled references to cliffhanger and blank page endings that turned people off. I guess it is a matter of taste and willingness to fill in the blanks to your liking for I am sure that everyone wants some kind of a closure and the people who like more open endings are actually better in making up their own endings and reaching their own conclusions based on the clues provided in the story


Kenneth (kanthr) | 139 comments If open endings perturb you, number9dream is definitely the most jarring. It was perfect for someone like me, but definitely a polarizing decision by the author. Many people will consider it just unfinished. Given the story's context, that is exactly what it is, and intentionally so. It is the ending that best fits what precedes it.

Soldier of Sidon is the 3rd in a series (and currently the last of them, more were tentatively planned but interest dropped). It isn't just a product of an unfinished series. Previous novels, Soldier of Arete and Soldier of the Mist, also left much unsaid. For a story about a protagonist who has recurring amnesia, it is appropriate and for a framed story in which partial scrolls were recovered, it is also appropriate.

The Scar is perhaps your true, time-honored "open ending" type. It is the author's deliberate choice to leave the characters at a junction and not travel with them further to each conclusion. This one's truly the traveler's tale wherein the journey is more important than the destination. It is very, very loosely a sequel in that it takes place in the same universe as Perdido Street Station & Iron Council. Neither of those are required in order to enjoy it though they are good on their own.


J.M.J. Williamson (JMJWilliamson) | 2 comments I hate to disagree with so many of the contributors to this blog, who must know a lot more about science fiction than I do, but I have to confess that I actually like endings that show the triumph of the human spirit in adversity. I suspect I am part of the vast majority of sci fi viewers of science fiction on TV and the movies who don’t really know what good sci fi is all about. But then again perhaps Heinlen, Asimov, Herbert etc were wrong as well. The point I am making is that the genre of sci fi is so wide there is room for all types of ending.


Ken (kenzen) I agree with John. I don't think you can say an entire genre should or should not have happy endings. If the ending fits the book it's a good ending, whether happy or not.


Jim | 356 comments I think that what you've got is a collection of people who've read and perhaps written a lot of SF and are thinking about the books that stand out over the years.
It tends to be the very good and very bad, rather than just the "Yeah, I enjoyed that, what's next?" ;-)


Brenda Clough (BrendaClough) | 123 comments There are examples of first-person narratives in which the narrator dies. The one that comes to mind is HER PRIVATES WE, a WW1 memoir. On the very last page some other person picks up the story and tells us that the narrator was shot dead.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Straying for science fiction, I still remember reading the ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls - with the protagonist wounded and being tracked down by the enemy - pretty powerful stuff. At the same time, I would also like to agree with John in a sense that amid all the doom and gloom I too enjoy an ending that is not outright pessimistic. I do want to see the human spirit triumph. I have said this elsewhere, but one of the reasons I started writing in the first place was the ending of 1984 where instead of fighting on and keeping the spirit the protagonist simply breaks down and is succumbed by the system. All of my own writing has been opposed to that kind of attitude. No matter how dreadful the regime or seemingly insurmountable the challenge there is not one thing tha stand on the person's way should he have the will and the courage to press on no matter what. To all the arguments to the contrary, I can simply ask: where are all the iron-clad forever lasting regimes of the history - The Golden Horde, the Roman Empire, The Assyrian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, Yugoslavian republic, the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Saddam Hussein's regime and Caddafi's etc etc etc - all of those at one time or the other were unbeatable and invulnerable and untouchable and so beyond anything that could be called defeat. Where are they today?


Greg (Geemont) | 429 comments The ending to 1984 may have been bleak, but it was powerful as a mighty blow to the gut. It made you think, not here, not to me, I will not let that happen. It probably strengthens the resolve of the human spirit. Can you think of a happy ending as powerful?


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments The Stars My Destination


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments Fahrenheit 451


Jim | 356 comments It is interesting that the two books you mention are indirectly connected in that George Orwell fought in the Spanish civil war.
A question I would ask, might the two authors have produced pessimistic endings to 'For whom the Bell Tolls' and '1984' to challenge and to provoke the reader. Effectively asking the reader the question, "What are you willing to do?"

I speculate obviously


message 48: by Charles (last edited Jul 29, 2013 03:35PM) (new)

Charles (NogDog) Maybe the adjectives "happy" and "sad" are too simplistic?

Let's take the original "Amber" pentology as an example (spoiler alert!). One could call it a "happy" ending, in that (view spoiler)

So in the broadest sense of a "happy" ending, one could say that overall it is, but it is mixed with sadness, loss, and ambiguity; making it much more than a "they all lived happily ever after" ending.


Kenneth (kanthr) | 139 comments It's not necessary to have a pessimistic ending for a story to conclude in an open-ended way. To some extent I can empathize with readers like John too, and like Ken, I think that what matters is how well the ending fits.

For my personal taste, that usually entails an open, thought-provoking ending. Whether positive or pessimistic.


Vardan Partamyan (VardanPartamyan) | 90 comments I think that definition of optimistic and pessimistic is a better one than happy/unhappy ending. What I really want to see are endings that are honestly the way the authors would like to conclude their stories not endings that were inserted just to satisfy a certain target group or, even worse, to make sure there is a sequel and the one novel will sprout a gazillion sequels and spin-offs. I am sure all of us here can bring examples of such books.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Wind in the Willows (other topics)
Wild Wood (other topics)
Stormbringer (other topics)
number9dream (other topics)
Soldier of Sidon (other topics)
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