SF/Fantasy books with a 'big reveal'?
April 18, 2014 12:30 PM   Subscribe

RecoFilter: I'm looking for recommendations of books, preferably in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, that have a 'big reveal' somewhere in there that changes the whole perspective of the book or protagonist. Examples would be The Inverted World, The Prestige, or Ender's Game, for example, or the first Star Trek film, or some Lovecraft stories — the whole thing, and all events narrated, appear in a different light after, you know?

Other examples I've enjoyed: Spin, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Nausicaa, Earth X, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Bioshock, etc. More of a world-level reveal than a straight up twist, though - less "oh she was working for the enemy all along" and more "oh the planet is inside out" or "she's the last human being on earth." No limit on book age. Thanks in advance!

p.s. no China Mieville, please, I thought The City & The City was awful
posted by BlackLeotardFront to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
James Alan Gardner's League of Peoples books have a lot of this sort of thing (including at least once that I recall in the first 50 pages).
posted by Etrigan at 12:35 PM on April 18, 2014

You'd probably like The Sparrow. The book is written like:

Mysterious thing happened!
Here's what was happening before The Thing!
He's some stuff happening after The Thing!
Here's more of what was happening before The Thing!
He's some more stuff happening after The Thing!
Repeat x10

I personally didn't like it for that exact reason (good lord just tell me what the thing was!), but it sounds perfect for you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:36 PM on April 18, 2014

The short story 'A Study in Emerald' by Neil Gaiman would fit your description nicely.
posted by Gneisskate at 12:41 PM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I almost stopped reading Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone before the big reveal, but I am so glad I didn't.
posted by soelo at 12:44 PM on April 18, 2014

I thought that Chuck Palahniuk did a great job in Rant with occasionally offering up insights into everything you-the-reader had read before, shifting the perspective upside down or inside out, or finally helping everything click.

Unfortunately, since it's Palahniuk that means parts of the book are written to be disgusting, and effectively so.

Anyway, since you took away my Christopher Priest examples that's all I have to offer at the moment. Well, I guess I'd still kick in his novel The Affirmation even though it revels in ambiguity in parts.
posted by komara at 12:47 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wish there was some other way for you to ask this question, since you're basically asking for spoilers!

Anyhow, give Use of Weapons a try, and while you're at it, all the Culture books are worth reading.
posted by sainttoad at 12:48 PM on April 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

Nearly every Philip K. Dick book runs along these lines. The issue is that, very often, the big reveal is either incoherent, incomprehensible or both. But give one of his novels a shot: Man in the High Castle, UBIK, Time Out Of Joint all have something of a twist.
posted by griphus at 12:50 PM on April 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

You mentioned Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Most of his pre-Spin books follow a similar pattern: something weird appears/happens and then explore what that does to characters/society. My favorites: The Chronoliths, Blind Lake, The Harvest. They're not really "big reveal" books, because the reveal happens pretty much right from the start, but they are still very good.

Others: Anathem by Neal Stephenson has a very good reveal (the purpose of the "Maths") but you have to commit to 1000 pages to get there. Worth it IMO, but YMMV.

Lastly, Larry Niven's Ringworld has several points: the purpose of the ring, certain character origins.
posted by mikewebkist at 12:51 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so far, yeah, I know I'm kind of asking for spoilers, but I tend to seek out this type of book anyway one way or another - a mysterious plot that threatens the earth, all will be revealed and so on. But you know in any given mystery book that there's going to be a reveal towards the end and it doesn't spoil the puzzle while you're reading, right? I know interpretation of the question and structures of books will vary too so I'm not too worried about it. But if you're wary, I won't blame you if you decide to let me surprise myself sometime later...
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2014

Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga (Pandora's Star, Judas Unchained) sort of does this, except that the reveal comes before the very end. But it does put some things in perspective for the characters.

EDIT: Come to think of it, there's a pretty darn good reveal at the end of his Void trilogy, too, which takes place about a thousand years after the Commonwealth saga.
posted by Thistledown at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2014

More of a 'gradual reveal', but perhaps you would like Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.
posted by mustard seeds at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2014

"I wish there was some other way for you to ask this question, since you're basically asking for spoilers! Anyhow, give Use of Weapons a try, and while you're at it, all the Culture books are worth reading."

I wanted to recommend this exact same book with the exact same caveat, so consider this my 'me too'.

"But you know in any given mystery book that there's going to be a reveal towards the end and it doesn't spoil the puzzle while you're reading, right?"

In a book labeled a mystery book, sure. Most of the books in this thread that I have read were not mystery books, per se, and I greatly enjoyed being blindsided by the twists when they happened because I wasn't expecting them. Use of Weapons was a great example. Had no idea there even needed to be anything coming.

But hey, you're asking, not me, and it's clearly something that doesn't bother you. I myself might have to unsubscribe from this thread since I'm torn between finding new recommendations for my personal reading and having them pre-spoiled so that I'm thinking, "Yeah, yeah, but what does it all really mean?" while I'm reading.
posted by komara at 12:58 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Iam M Banks - Consider Phlebas

It is amazing.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:59 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

China Mieville's novel The Scar has, like, two big upending plot reveals plus an amazing set piece of an Epic Geologic Thing that upends your expectations even though not the characters'.
posted by Frowner at 12:59 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Gone Away World
posted by Erasmouse at 1:00 PM on April 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

The entire structure of Megan Whalen Turner's novel The Thief is like this.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:04 PM on April 18, 2014

Response by poster: I appreciate the caution - I'm really not looking for anything more than "something inexplicable happened/happens/is happening" and "it ceases to be inexplicable at some point," which I think is the structure for enough books that it may as well be called (along with everything else) a subgenre.

I did enjoy Anathem (more the beginning than the end) and Gone Away World (ditto) and Book of the New Sun, so consider that validation of this line of recommendation!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:08 PM on April 18, 2014

The short story "Window" by Bob Leman is an amazing sci-fi/horror tale, with some nice touches of Lovecraftian horror, and a completely unexpected twist. It is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 1:28 PM on April 18, 2014

Reading A Deepness in the Sky after the first time is a rather different experience.

I want to recommend Ted Chiang (and not just because his stuff is amazing) but I can't think of a specific twist revelation to recommend.
posted by hattifattener at 1:39 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Iain M Banks is good for this. Use Of Weapons, Walking On Glass, Player of Games, and (arguably) Excession all have reveals close to the end that cast the story into a completely new light.
posted by metaBugs at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2014

Oh, and The Magus (John Fowles) follows a character through a disorienting and inexplicable series of events/interactions, which finally make sense at the end of the book. Fantastic book, IMO, it does a wonderful job of dragging you into the protagonist's confusion.
posted by metaBugs at 1:54 PM on April 18, 2014

Something happens midwayish through Sheri S. Tepper's The Family Tree that made me close the book and stare off into space for a few minutes, going "Whoa… that's— whoa… Wow." Then I had to return to the beginning and reread a bit to see how she'd managed it before I could continue.
posted by Lexica at 1:58 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was going to repeat the recommendations for Anathem and Use of Weapons. If you already liked Anathem "(more the beginning than the end)" then you should certainly try some of his other books - Cryptonomicon brings several disparate threads together rather nicely, and The Diamond Age is great for slowly revealing the contours of a changed world.

Also, along with Use of Weapons (the obvious rec, absolutely read this), many other Iain M. Banks books have ongoing/slow reveals. Transition is bit off his usual track, but quite good. Also, if you can deal with the language, Feersum Endjinn is very good...
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:05 PM on April 18, 2014

Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series. The summaries all have spoilers! So maybe don't read the summaries if you want to go in completely unspoiled. They're fantasy books that take place in fantasy Mediterranean nations, and are heavy on character interactions and political machinations. But the first one The Thief is fun middle-grade fiction with a reveal that completely changes your view of the protagonist. The later books are considerably more adult, and the twists are less pronounced and mostly focused on revealing things about the characters, but still there. I've reread them, and the books are definitely different on reread once you know what's happening with the characters.

Also try More Than This by Patrick Ness, which has both a world-level reveal and a character reveal. This is more on the science fiction end, won't say more for fear of spoiling.
posted by yasaman at 2:07 PM on April 18, 2014

"Oh, and The Magus (John Fowles) follows a character through a disorienting and inexplicable series of events/interactions, which finally make sense at the end of the book. Fantastic book, IMO, it does a wonderful job of dragging you into the protagonist's confusion."

Aaaaah, see, I knew I should have unsubscribed. I am literally in the middle of reading The Magus right now. I've honestly been wondering if it's worth my time putting up with the (to me) insufferable protagonist. Guess I'll stick it out.
posted by komara at 2:14 PM on April 18, 2014

The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher (of Dresden Files fame) made me feel this way several times. There are six books and as you read them, you learn new things about the world and the characters that make you go "I should have seen that coming!!!" Then if you go back and read the series again you get the joy of seeing how everything fit together.

It's not earth-shattering stuff, but it is fulfilling intellectually, even for a pulpy fantasy series.
posted by tacodave at 3:02 PM on April 18, 2014

Pavane by Keith Roberts is a fine example of a big world-level reveal, though I'm kind of sad to tell you this, because when I read it I had no idea the reveal was coming, and it just bowled me over.

The book takes place in an alternate universe in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated. That's not the big reveal — you know that right from the beginning.
posted by litlnemo at 4:32 PM on April 18, 2014

Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman novels (beginning with The Steerswoman, just recently available for Kindle for $6) are all about a big reveal. Or, more precisely, a series of reveals, some of which you might understand before the protagonist does, but not all of them. They're very very good novels, and I wish they were better-known.
posted by suelac at 4:54 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came in to say Shari S. Tepper, got beat by Lexica. The Gate To Women's Country has a big twist and i enjoyed it a lot.

I did find that her books got kind of repetitive after reading 4 or so, so maybe start with our recs so you dont get burnt out before you read the good ones!
posted by holyrood at 6:38 PM on April 18, 2014

"The Demon's Lexicon" by Sarah Rees Brennan. It's a YA novel about two brothers on the run from magicians, and there are at least two reveals that make you re-evaluate everything that came before.
posted by Bill_Roundy at 6:48 PM on April 18, 2014

I came in to recommend the Culture books as well. Use of Weapons has a really powerful reveal, but my favorite was the ending for Player of Games.

Though I kind of worry this is spoiling these books a little. I might have read them differently if I knew there was a "twist" coming.

Also, Hyperion by Dan Simmons and Glasshouse by (Mefi's own) Charles Stross have very good endings.
posted by heathkit at 7:06 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You mentioned two Christopher Priest books already, but really every novel by him I've read could count in some way. From an interview (with more discussion after):
I remember a hair-raising surprise on similar lines to that "third person" discovery, in The Affirmation.

"The Affirmation has several similar scenes. There's one with a particular room painted white, and another with a manuscript that the central character has written. Many people have found these scenes surprising, not to say shocking, because of the visual jolts they contain. But they aren't the same kind of jolt you get from a horror movie, where something leaps out unexpectedly and scares the shit out of you. My shocks are based on a sudden devastating reversal of what the reader knows or believes."

Let's call it the "Priest effect". When did you first consciously do it?

"I think it was when I was coming up to the end of the first draft of The Space Machine. There's a character called 'Mr Wells'. At first, I planned him to be H.G. Wells, the real-life author. He never felt right, though, and the book started to unravel. Then I suddenly realized that it made more sense to think of him as the unnamed first-person narrator of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds ... a fictional character, but with many of the characteristics of the author. This kicked the novel into a completely new arena, and I saw the story in a more subtle light. It made it less 'reliable': it was still a scientific romance in the Wellsian mould, but it was now in quotation marks; it was not just a re-creation or a pastiche, but a contemporary novel set in a metafictional past. This sounds as if I was tarting it up, but in reality it opened up more possibilities for jokes, plot development and character insights, so I think it made the novel more enjoyable.

"After that, things were never quite the same. I can no longer take a plot seriously enough to go with it as bare plot. I'm always thinking: where's the flaw in this, where does the idea leak? Unreliability soon starts creeping in, and I cheer up no end."
posted by rollick at 7:09 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A Maze of Death by Philip K Dick.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:16 PM on April 18, 2014

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.
posted by divabat at 9:50 PM on April 18, 2014

One more vote for Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief" from me. I really enjoyed the reveal. The other books in the series are less "big reveal"-y than the first, but also very good, and the third one ("The King of Attolia") has a fun twist on the reveal in that you, as the reader, know full well it's coming (though not the details of it), but the POV character has no idea.
posted by sailoreagle at 9:51 PM on April 18, 2014

I'll be as vague as possible since GoT is kind of a sensitive subject these days, but in A Song of Ice and Fire is filled with surprise reveals. In particular, there's a reveal near the end of Storm of Swords that changes nearly everything you thought about the inciting/driving events of the first three books.
posted by lovecrafty at 11:59 PM on April 18, 2014

Fluke by Christopher Moore would fit the feeling you're talking about. And woah, the Amazon description I just linked to has spoilers like crazy so maybe avoid reading that.
posted by shelleycat at 1:44 AM on April 19, 2014

'Grass' by Sheri Tepper
posted by Elysum at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2014

Yes, Player of Games.
posted by librarina at 10:11 PM on April 20, 2014

the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
posted by luckymudz at 10:55 PM on April 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I'm gonna close the question because I can't fit any more authors and titles on this little notecard I've started. Looking forward to checking these out!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:23 PM on April 21, 2014

Robert Charles Wilson's Darwinia is another extreme example of this from him.

I remember Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward shifting gears pretty significantly and having a big reveal too, but it's been so long that I couldn't say what it was exactly.

And Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis turns out to be much more ambitious and surprising than it initially seems.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:47 AM on April 24, 2014

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