When a Conclusion Works

Last week I talked about an example of a weak ending of a science fiction novel that left me wondering what the author was thinking and why I had even read the book. Upon reflection, I still don’t feel like I had completely wasted my time as I enjoyed the read up until things started to wrap up, but I can’t help but to speculate how much of a better book it could have been had the author taken a different direction. If that had been the case I would be on board for future installments.

Let’s look at two conclusions to science fiction novels that did work. These left me with thoughts and feelings about the world and characters after the books were closed.

Some spoilers ahead.

Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian end-of-civilization trilogy starts with the best of the three books, even though all are worth reading and make up a complete story. We’re introduced to an uncomfortable era of out-of-control genetic engineering and drug manufacturing. Corporations rule, and Earth’s citizens are either cogs in the corporate structure or part of the unwashed masses shunted to the near anarchy of the world outside the corporate-controlled compounds. The story is told in flashbacks from the point of view of Jimmy, who may be the last man on Earth.

There’s a sadness to the tale that is built in from the start, as we know Jimmy will wind up alone but for the Crakers, a bioengineered race of childlike demi-humans created by Jimmy’s best friend to survive the passing of humanity.

Several elements make the conclusion so compelling. Atwood’s support characters, namely the two from the title, become quite alive as they are the only people who elevate Jimmy from his drab existence. As his fate becomes entwined with theirs, his love and loyalty is divided between these two and his own survival. The tragic end is heart-rending, leaving the reader wondering if there was anything Jimmy could have done to steer events a different direction. This does lay the groundwork for the next two books as some of the key events are revisited by other characters.

The conclusion also makes the reader fear the possibility of Atwood’s world becoming a reality. Although the story subscribes to the slippery slope argument where the trends in the biotech field continue in a linear path towards a genetic doomsday, this is explored in such a plausible manner that after the last page is turned, the possibilities of it all must be pondered. This isn’t a happy world Atwood has built, and you might be watching the news more carefully for clues of something like it on the horizon.

oryx-and-crake-22

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic is another dystopian novel that is one of the must-reads in the sci-fi genre. Of its themes, censorship is one of the most interesting as books in this future are outlawed and burned.

What makes Fahrenheit 451′s conclusion so intriguing is answering the question which books to save? The exiles hoping to outlast the oppressive government and survive the nuclear war that breaks out at the end commit books to memory. Which books will make it? Which book would you choose? Such a fragile system is the only hope for the endurance of mankind’s knowledge. When someone dies, their book dies with them. Would your choice reflect the needs of future man or would you choose a book that has special meaning to you?

It’s these questions that makes Fahernheit 451 a book that will have you mentally revisiting its dark world. There’s a reason it’s still read and re-read so long after its publication.

faherheit 451

These two examples demonstrate that a good book and a great conclusion can leave plenty of loose ends, don’t solely rely on character growth, and definitely don’t have to be happy. Now that I’m in a funk, it’s time to go memorize The Complete Works of Calvin and Hobbes.

calvin writing
Calvin by Bill Watterson

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