Occasionally, I ask some of the best book bloggers in sf/f/h a question about their reading choices, favorites, desires, or any old thing about the genre. I then collect the answers and post them here. This time I asked our participant bloggers:
What are the best endings in science fiction/fantasy novels?
And we got some great and varied answers. And by all means, feel free to include your suggestions in the comments.
James @ Dazed Rambling:
Even as I scan over my collection, I know it is a futile gesture. There is only one book I can think of for this: Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. I read it a few years back and it struck me then as one of the best endings I had ever read and even now, no book has managed to take its place. Unfortunately, to go any further than this would lead to major spoilers and we cannot have that. Obviously the book leans towards horror, but it also has a strong element of science throughout, not only as an explanation towards the Vampirisim, but also towards looking for a cure.
Adam @ The Weirdside:
Going over the various awesome endings I’ve come across could take an eon or two, but one of the best endings I’ve read recently is the ending to Nick Harkaway’s dystopian epic The Gone Away World. Throughout the uber-dense novel, he kept dropping subtle hints that entered your subconscious and started amalgamating. Eventually, the bolus of hints reached a critical mass at the exact moment of the novel’s final battle (which includes mimes and ninjas). The ending was well foreshadowed, but still surprising and was definitely satisfying.
Steve Davidson @ The Crotchety Old Fan:
In short, I think the best endings are those that remain open for future possibilities, but let the reader accept (barely) that the story is actually over.
I know that sounds like having cake and eating it too (what’s the point of cake if you can’t do both?) but that is really my answer.
To elaborate further:
When I get to the end of a well-liked novel, I want some resolution of whatever trials and tribulations befell our plucky adventurers; Biff gets the girl (even if he did lose an eye and a hand in the process), the girl actually likes Biff (though they may have to discuss the details of their relationship at some future date), the EVIL Dr. Overlord has been banished to the unwholesomest pits of hell (from which it will take him quite some time to escape), and Hometown USA, the United States. the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy or the entire Universe) (or Universes, depending upon scale and scope) are once again a safe and happy place – at least for now.
This chapter has closed. We know full well that someday the EVIL Dr. Overlord may escape – not all of his henchmen are accounted for; the GIRL may have a falling out with Biff (after all, he does have to wear an eye-patch) and lord knows that Hometown USA, etc., etc., etc. is only ever temporarily safe and happy.
If circumstances prevent the author from ever writing another BIff and the GIRL Versus the EVIL Dr. Overlord adventure (working title – Biff Gets A Paisley Eyepatch), I’ll still be happy with the adventure I’ve already read. If I should be lucky enough to stumble upon Dr. Overlord’s Vacation in Hell (he hangs out with Larry and Jerry – pretty boring stuff) I’ll be equally satisfied with the circumstance, and happy to read on.
What I’m really saying is that I like a novel that ends in a manner that allows me enough room to speculate on what other things may have been going on in that particular universe, but able to put it down without saying “That’s it?!”. The story ends on a Tuesday, everything neatly wrapped up and tied in a bow. Time to go to bed. Great. Now, what happens on Wednesday morning?
I guess in the long run, the best novel endings are those that close out good novels. Like the cake I mentioned earlier, if you can’t have good novel and good ending too, what’s the point?
TJ @ Book Love Affair:
The best fantasy and science fiction endings are those that have the “Oh” factor. What I mean is those books that tie strings of plot and detail together into that perfectly foreshadowed ending that was hiding all the same. The best example of this sort of ending is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, in which the individual threads–Kelsier’s ego, the quest for understanding religions, everything–suddenly snaps into focus, resulting in a dawning realization: “Ohhhhh.” It’s simultaneously like a kick in the gut and a lightbulb. “Oh-Endings” are rare, but when they can be found, they’re true gems.
TK42ONE @ Library Dad:
The most memorable ending in fantasy that I remember is R. A. Salvatore’s Streams of Silver. When I read it the first time (and several times after) I was completely convinced that Bruenor had died after falling to the bottom of the chasm on the back of a flaming dragon. After, how could you survive that? So when I read that the rocks shifted at the bottom, I got goosebumps and couldn’t wait to read more. I just had to find out if he survived.
Rose Fox @ Genreville:
This is a great question, because so many books have awful endings! My favorite recent ending was the conclusion to Daniel Abraham’s An Autumn War. I had read a reviewer’s comments and knew how the book ended. The setting sounded so interesting that I got the first two books and read all three straight through. Despite being “spoiled” for me, the ending of the book was still an emotional punch in the gut of the worst and best kind. When the fourth book came out this year, I read the first three again before going on to the fourth, and the end of An Autumn War hit me just as hard. I love a book that can beat me up and make me like it.
Jared @ Pornokitsch:
Joe Abercrombie’s The Last Argument of Kings. Some critics have moaned about the ambiguity of the ending, and many find it depressing. I think they’re missing the point – the entire series is steeped in ambiguity, and the ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments’ (all quotes intentional!) meted out at the end of The Last Argument of Kings are all perfectly just – and possibly even poetic. Abercrombie’s willingness to defy convention only adds to his growing reputation as one of today’s finest fantasy authors.
JD @ businessofthefuture:
In my opinion a good ending makes or breaks a novel. Too many times I’ve devoured page after page of a suspenseful, intriguing book only to be let down by a lackluster climax. For some time now very few sci-fi novels have stood alone, now so many of them are part of a larger (and often superfluous) series, such that it seems that truly excellent endings to a novel are becoming more and more rare.
So it’s really no great effort for me to quickly arrive at Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End as the single best ending of a science-fiction novel. Everything in the novel leads up to that point – wherein the descendants of mankind transcend their physical form to merge with an over-consciousness, obliterating the Earth in the process. It stands alone as an absolutely singular and epic conclusion to one of the genre’s best works.
2nd place would be the ending of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga, in the last pages of Stormbringer. Again the theme is apocalypse. After Elric blows the horn of fate to sweep away the remnants of his world and usher in the new one, the saga ends the only way it could as the demon sword Stormbringer turns on Elric and slays him.
John DeNardo @ SF Signal:
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – As if steampunk zombies wasn’t enough to satisfy any science fiction reader, Priest’s ending makes your draw drop.
- Genesis by Bernard Beckett – A book I described as “deceptively simple and surprisingly complex”, the surprise ending is simply icing on an already tasty cake.
- Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon – This is another book that plays the sisn’t-know-what-you-were-reading-until-you-were-done card (like The Sixth Sense), but it does it so so wonderfully, you don’t care.
- Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds was a wonderful standalone novel in his Inhibitor universe whose ending I should have seen coming, but didn’t. It made it that much more fun.
- The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis was an outstanding character portrayal whose conclusion was so perfect, so well done, that it still resonates.
Lise A. @ Ommadawn.dk:
One ending that pops at me is the end of I Am Legend, Richard Matheson. After hunting vampires all through the book, the ending questions whether the hero was right to do that, and reveals why the book is titled the way it is. Good stuff!
Terry Weyna @ Reading the Leaves:
One ending that will make me cry every time I read it is the ending to Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. It’s so terribly sad to read of a man losing his intelligence, and has so many unhappy parallels to Alzheimer’s Disease — and therefore seems so possible — that I cannot help but sob my heart out. I guess it also hits on one of my deepest fears in that way, too; if I lost the ability to read and think about great books, I don’t think I’d want to live any longer. Yet Charly doesn’t even really totally comprehend what he has lost. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than not knowing. Why does such a sad ending get picked by me as a best ending? Because endings are very hard to write, and to get right. Keyes does it perfectly.
Jeff @ Fantasy Book News (www.fantasybooknews.com):
The best endings in fantasy novels are those that tie together multiple treads, perhaps in an unexpected fashion, to create a sum greater than the individual parts. There are generally a few strong themes and subtle sub-plots running throughout any novel, but the best are those that take elements of ideas touched upon throughout and spin a truly unique yarn. I don’t have a singular example that stands out, but Tigana, Mistborn and The Last Unicorn come to mind as very worthy candidates.
Tia Nevitt @ Debuts & Reviews:
I like endings that end.
Don’t get me wrong; I love series. But I do like to have some idea when the current storyline will end. Three books? Fine. Five books? Okay. Seven books? You’re pushing it. Open-ended as long as the author can milk out the story? You’ll lose me. Cliffhanger endings? Not okay. When we buy a book, we are buying a complete story. It’s okay if there’s an over-arching story, but I do expect a major plotline to be resolved by the ending of a book. Not by the end of the first chapter of the next book in the series. That’s cheating the reader.
But perhaps John just hit on a new pet peeve and this isn’t the type of answer he is looking for. Therefore I will try to recall the best actual ending to a science fiction or a fantasy story. I have a few candidates, with spoilers:
Lord of the Rings. The One Ring storyline was resolved when Gollum essentially self-destructed, taking the Ring with him, and saving Frodo from himself. However, it wasn’t entirely satisfying because Frodo caved. Thank God Sam never wavered; he was the true hero of the story.
Willow. Ok, so it’s a movie. But it had a great ending. The evil Bavmorda destroyed by Willow’s vanishing pig trick? The kind of ending where the villain does himself in as a result of the hero doing something clever is always my favorite type of ending. But it does have to be VERY clever.
Hmm. As I contemplate these and other novels on my keeper shelf, I keep running into the same types of endings: big magical battles, big army battles or big space battles. They sort of blend together in my mind. Here are a few memorable ones that broke the mold:
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon dealt with finding the cure to Autism. And the ending addressed one of the quandaries those of us who love someone with Autism face when contemplating a cure. Does the cure change the person’s personality? Are they the same person without the Autism? Would a person with Autism even want a cure?
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. This highly cerebral novel is the first science fiction novel I ever read. Although it takes place in space (within this solar system) and the protagonist must defeat a destructive force (HAL), it is not space opera by any stretch.
The Barbed Coil by J. V. Jones. It was a magical battle alright, but one wielded by pen. As a calligraphic artist, I especially enjoyed this very different novel.
Different endings are always the most memorable kind.
Bill Ward @ billwardwriter.com:
In reading John’s question, one ending came immediately to mind and seemed to me to be the perfect answer. To be sure, there were a lot of other powerful or clever endings that occurred to me afterward — the image of the soul-eating black sword impaling Elric at the end of Stormbringer, the gut-punch twist in Matheson’s I Am Legend that lent new and ironic meaning to the title (and which Hollywood has ignored in two out of three adaptations), or the realization that the wargame ‘simulation’ was something a whole lot more serious in Ender’s Game. But the ending that came to me first was that of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic Childhood’s End.
Childhood’s End is the story of the human race coming of age and, perhaps like the maturation of the individual, it is not a comforting experience. Each successive section of the book, which tells the story of a humanity under the tutelage of a race of alien overlords, grows stranger, until we are presented with an entire generation of children that are the next stage in human evolution. They are unknowable, alien, and powerful. They are not human as we understand human to be — they have become a higher order of being.
And it’s a difficult outcome to accept. It is often said that science fiction is the literature of change, and Childhood’s End perfectly demonstrates this. First humankind is stripped of its free will, then it is denied the stars themselves and, finally, we are left with a depopulated Earth and a humanity that has stopped striving for anything. With humanity’s final generation we are presented with something unrecognizable — a collective consciousness primed for an ascension into the immaterial realm of an Overmind. This new, alien, generation’s last act is to harness the power of the destruction of the Earth itself to finalize their transformation into the next state of being.
What might have been presented as a horror story in a different novel, is framed as a matter of galactic necessity — almost fate — in Childhood’s End. For such a slender book it tells a big story, and gives us a conclusion of tremendous consequence that has quite rightly cemented its reputation as a classic of the genre.
logankstewart @ Rememorandom:
I have to say that I really like the ending of The Lord of the Rings. After everything the Hobbits have been through, they finally get to go back to the Shire, only to find that the Saruman has the Shire in his grips. The damage is catastrophic to the Shire, but fitting. I also really liked Wormtongue finally turning on his master and murdering him.
Yes, the end of The Lord of the Rings is grand and epic. It is filled with joy and sadness, but the trip was amazing.
Johne Cook @ Ray Gun Revival magazine:
But don’t take my word for it. You can read it here!
The four men of the Ares were silent—even the sardonic Harrison. At last little Leroy broke the stillness.
“I should like to see,” he murmured.
“Yeah,” said Harrison. “And the wart-cure. Too bad you missed that; it might be the cancer cure they’ve been hunting for a century and a half.”
“Oh, that!” muttered Jarvis gloomily. “That’s what started the fight!” He drew a glistening object from his pocket.
“Here it is.”
“A Martian Odyssey” is a science fiction short story by Stanley G. Weinbaum originally published in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. It was Weinbaum’s first published story, and remains his best known.
gav @ NextRead:
That’s a tough one. It’s got to depend on the nature of the novel.
Ideally a writer is going to leave you thinking that the world and the lives of the characters carry on after the end of the book. Not in happy-ever-after sense but more in the fact that the writer has created characters and worlds that are alive enough that they don’t collapse after the story ends.
But then there are lots of novels that are self-contained that can only exist because of the events they tell and they fall in on themselves in the end as the creation collapses when it no longer has the tale to support it.
Though if you’re talking about ongoing series they have to leave you feeling satisfied with the story being told but then pull out something in the closing paragraphs needs to grab you and push you into wanting to read the next one.
What does this well?
Gary Gibson on between Stealing Light and Nova War managed to leave off on a high and pick that high straight up where he left it.
Jim Butcher is good at keeping momentum in The Dresden Files and he’s managed 12 books.
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry is one of those books that is supported by it’s story and collapses brilliantly at the end.
I guess in the end though a good ending is one that makes you sad it’s stopped rather than thinking WTF was that!
Patrick @ Stomping on Yeti:
Ender’s Game hands down. The implications of the ending are just incredible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes the book because the rest of it is so good but the ending really completes Ender’s character and takes his internal conflict to a new level. I don’t want to get into specifics but if you haven’t read it, you need to.
Other SF stories with great endings…I am Legend, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Dune Not a whole lot come to mind. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl had a great ending but I’m just in love with that book in general. A lot of Science Fiction is about the ideas and the set-up. I find myself a little let down more often than not.
In terms of Fantasy, there are so many unfinished series or series where quality has dropped off that it’s hard to really think of a solid ending. Joe Abercrombie’s Last Argument of Kings has one of the most memorable Fantasy endings I’ve read in the past few years. It’s memorable because it takes the standard Fantasy cliche endings and slits their throat with a rusty dagger. A lot of people have mixed feelings on the ending because it was so atypical but that’s what I found so refreshing. Not to mention the fact that the whole worldview the reader sees suddenly explodes into something entirely different. Paradoxically, I found it that it left me both extremely satisfied and hungry for more.
Mark @ My Favourite Books:
Here we’ve got a series populated by incredibly interesting characters, coming down after an earth shattering rollercaster of a storyline. They’ve tangled with angels, hunted down God, killed their way through an army of religious fanatics, faced down the ultimate killer, shot a disfigured teenager to stardom, fallen out with each other, confronted the ghosts of their past, fallen in love… and Book 9 ties it all up.
Of everything I’ve read, Preacher has to have the most satisfying ending, building towards it with an exquisitely painful pace and maintaining a sense of uncertainty almost to the very end. But, damn it, the pay-off is worth it. At the end of everything, it’s the relationship between Cassidy, Jesse and Tulip that lies at the core of Preacher, and it’s this that delivers the final payload, leaving you with a fat grin and a sense that all is well. It’s a complete feel good ending, the perfect cap on an awesome series that, up until now, has taken no prisoners.
Matt @ Robots and Vamps:
I like endings that are completely unexpected but once the is story finished, it makes complete sense. With that being said, my all time favorite ending to a novel has to be I am Legend by Richard Matheson.
[Spoiler Alert] Richard Neville spends the entire story hunting and killing the vampire zombies as he believes that he is the last man on Earth. This is a pretty typical story of survival and the readers viewpoint matches the main character’s. Essentially, there is not a pang of remorse for all of the killing that Richard has done. At the end, we learn that Richard is actually feared and reviled in this new vampire zombie society in the much same way a serial killer is. Absolute brilliant. The first time I read this novel it blew my mind as the ending caught me totally by surprise. What made it a great ending is that it totally fits within the context of story, it was completely unexpected and gives the reader something to think about afterwords. These type of endings are few and far between.
Mark Lord @ Praeter Naturam:
“. . . he had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother” from 1984 by George Orwell. The protagonist, Winston Smith, finally capitulates and in a complete reversal accepts the party’s totalitarian faith. I think Orwell has a knack with good endings, he manages to write excellent last sentences that sum up the meaning of the novel and stick in one’s memory. For instance in Animal Farm: “The creatures looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
If we were looking at science fiction outside the novel format, then I would also have to include the last scene of Planet of the Apes, where the protagonist Taylor (played Charlton Heston) on seeing the statue of liberty buried in the shoreline shouts out: “We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you. God damn you all to hell.”
Janicu @ Janicu’s Book Blog:
I’m going to try to be vague about the best endings without actually giving away the ending, but people may infer things anyway. You have been warned. Here’s a few of my favorites:
1) The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (fantasy) – Not technically one book, this is the first set of trilogies in this world, which follows Fitz, the illegitimate son of royalty as he learns how to be a spy and assassin. The ending had it all, love, death, victory, and redemption. It’s one of those endings that make you sigh out loud as you close the book. It felt like a “you can never look back” ending, but I still hoped we hadn’t seen the last of Fitz. I’m so glad Hobb came back to the his character, years later, in her Tawny Man trilogy.
2) Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy) – This is the third, and I have to say not my favorite of the Mercy Thompson series, which is about a shape-shifting mechanic living in the Tri-Cities, but the way this book ended had a lot of people talking. It didn’t take the safe route; the heroine suffers, and how she will keep going keeps me reading. Although I really didn’t like this ending because it broke my heart, it forces me think about things I normally wouldn’t want to think about, so I think it deserves a spot for that.
3) 1984 by George Orwell (science fiction) – I’m counting this as science fiction, although it’s on the literary side. If you just look at all the symbolism in just the WHOLE last chapter, it blows the mind! You know things aren’t going to end well for Winston Smith, and although I had to slog through certain parts of this book (newspeak, ug), it was all worth it for the ending which delighted me with it’s negativity. I just loved it.
4) Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti (romantic steampunk) – Realizing that I’m including a lot of bittersweet endings, here’s a plain ol’ sweet one. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, and while Clockwork Heart has a fantastic, steampunk-inspired city mixed with intrigue and a heroine who flies with lighter-than-air metal wings, my favorite part of this book is the slowly growing relationship between the heroine, and a beta hero. The ending of this one encapsulated the awkward but sincere romance.
Neth @ Neth Space:
Hmmm….the BEST endings in SFF novels. That’s a tall order and certainly open to wide-ranging interpretation. Sometimes there can be a great ending to an otherwise mediocre novel, or likewise, a terrible ending to a great novel. So, I’ll choose 3 to discuss.
One that immediately comes to mind is the ending to Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. This ending is thoroughly unsatisfying and leaves a terrible, disgruntled taste in my mouth – and it’s absolutely perfect for what Abercrombie is trying to do with the series. It’s the exclamation point (or three) to his yelling FU at a couple of generations worth of epic fantasy.
Another ending that I find brilliant and fitting is the ultimate ending to Steven King’s Dark Tower series. Of course this ending is somewhat soured by much of the last few books in the series and events just prior to the final ending are really quite awful. But, that ultimate conclusion fits the series and the tragic hero of Roland perfectly. It’s one of those rare reading moments that brought me shivers as I read it.
But the ending that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the BEST endings in SFF is the conclusion of what I considered to be an otherwise mediocre novel (though truly it’s something of a mosaic novel). The ending I speak of is for The Candle in the Wind – the fourth part of T.H. White’s classic telling of King Arthur, The Once and Future King. Few moments in books bring tears to my eyes, but this conclusion is one of those.
ediFanoB @ Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy:
That is a question which you either can answer with two words = good ones or with a sentence = they all lived happily ever after or with a novel = …. No, no, don’t be afraid.I will keep it shorter.
I must admit I like different type of endings. It all depends on emotion. I don’t mind whether the “good” ones win or loose. The more emotions the better the ending is for me.
Let me give two examples.
I will never forget on of the saddest moments in my reading history. Grey Havens, Frodo says farewell to his friends. Even it is so sad, it is still one of the best endings in fantasy for me. In Summer 2009 I read Flood by Stephen Baxter. I never have been so hopeless after finishing a book.
PeterWilliam @ Ubiquitous Absence:
I’m going to risk the “boring/predictable” label and say The Lord of the Rings, has my favorite ending. I say this because it seems to me to be the most natural ending to its story. The ending is neither “happy”, anti-climactic or apocalyptic. In its own way, the ending to LotR is the final slide of a knife that leaves an indelible mark upon the reader.
Harry Markov @ Temple Library Reviews:
Oh boy, I wish I had a higher number of books read to be able to assess and answer with more gravity to my argumentation and I would have liked a stronger memory to spill the details properly, but alas both are not available, so let’s see what I can gather from the scraps. I like the Happy Ever After variety of endings, which commence after the great battle has passed, the villain has been slain and a lot of enemy corpses have been shredded and the magical figure has returned stronger than ever. Typical example here is Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has all these elements and right now Chris Evans is on my radar, when he ended both his novels with quite a magical bang and victory for the good guys. It’s cliche, but there is something that tickles my moral compass, when events run for the good guys.
Tinkoo Valia @ Variety SF:
I’m not sure about “the best”, but one that has remained with me for months is from Hal Clement’s Half-Life. It’s ending is not only ambiguous but uncharacteristically less than rigorous for a Clement story – but may be that was what made it memorable: a possible clue, in an old human tradition, as to why more kinds of sicknesses are appearing faster than cures can be found for them not only among humans but in all kinds of life interesting to people; that’s the fictional problem the story sets out to solve. An ending designed to make you think every time you pick up certain everyday use articles!!
Steven Klotz @ MentatJack:
The Crooked Letter There are books I’ve enjoyed more overall, but as for endings, this one really latched it’s claws into my brain. The majority of the book involved a fantasy apocalypse tearing the reality you and I would recognize to shreds, but the ending wrapped it all up nicely and created the reality where other of Williams’ fantasies are set. Many endings try to be subtle about doing something similar. There is NOTHING subtle about how The Crooked Letter ends.