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The Best Endings in Science Fiction

Along with several more coherent folks, I was asked by John Ottinger III of Grasping for the Wind for my favorite SF endings. Go over there and tell me if I sound like a blathering idiot or just your normal garden-variety idiot. Don’t worry, I can handle it. It’s nothing hours of psychotherapy can’t cure. And I have a frequent crier card, so there.

(See also: MIND MELD: Which SF/F Books Have The Best and Worst Endings?)

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on The Best Endings in Science Fiction

  1. John Wright // November 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm //

    My favorite endings in books come from a list a little different from what the people over at Grasping for the Wind listed. This could be due to age, or taste, or some other factor. Maybe they do not like suprise endings.

    At the risk of seeming spoileriffic, allow me to list

    1. WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER by A.E. Van Vogt: “This is the race that will rule the Sevagram.”

    2. THE WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. Van Vogt: “The face was his own.”

    3. DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH by H.P. Lovecraft: “Randolph Carter leaped shoutingly awake within his Boston room. Birds sang in hidden gardens and the perfume of trellised vines came wistful from arbours his grandfather had reared. Beauty and light glowed from classic mantel and carven cornice and walls grotesquely figured, while a sleek black cat rose yawning from hearthside sleep that his master’s start and shriek had disturbed.

    “And vast infinities away, past the Gate of Deeper Slumber and the enchanted wood and the garden lands and the Cerenarian Sea and the twilight reaches of Inquanok, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep strode brooding into the onyx castle atop unknown Kadath in the cold waste, and taunted insolently the mild gods of earth whom he had snatched abruptly from their scented revels in the marvellous sunset city.”

    4. DINOSAUR BEACH by Keith Laumer: “And now it was time for that act of will by the over-intellect which would dissolve it back into the primordial energy quanta from which it had sprung. But first, an instant before, a final human gesture—to the future that would be and the past that would not. To the infinite emptiness I/we sent out one last pulse: ‘Goodby.’

    5. LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkein: “And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.”

    6. THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle: “Unicorns are in the world again. No sorrow will live in me as long as that joy – save one, and I thank you for that part too. Farewell, good magician. I will try to go home.”

    7. VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay: ” “Yes,” said Nightspore in a slow voice, without surprise. “But what is your name on Earth?”– “It is pain.”–“That, too, I must have known.”– He was silent for a few minutes; then he stepped quietly onto the raft. Krag pushed off, and they proceeded into the darkness.”

    8. HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL by Robert Heinlein: “I threw it in his face.”

    9. RETURN TO THE WHORL by Gene Wolfe: “The faint, blinking star that old people call the Whorl is fainter than ever. I went outside to look at it a moment ago, and although I could make it out with a telescope, it is no longer visible to my naked eyes.

    “They are in it, I hope, he and his eerie young woman Nettle, the old sybil, and their bird, on course upon a greater sea to strange new islands. Good fishing! Good fishing! Good fishing! Good fishing!


  2. Probably the single most blindingly good ending I’ve encountered in an SF book has to be that of John Crowley’s “Engine Summer.” Although it’s clear from the beginning of the novel that the protagonist is narrating his story to an offstage interlocutor, only in the last two pages do we learn the circumstances of the narration, that the speaker isn’t who we thought it was, and that, metaphorically at least, the speaker is “us.” I can’t say more without giving too much away. It’s mind-blowing and moving. When I first read it it took the top of my head off. Check it out.

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