Fiction about people failing and then succeeding?
June 13, 2016 2:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm going through a rough time in my life, and I'd love to consume some FICTION (especially sci fi / fantasy) where the characters have some kind of big important failure, and then recover. (Doesn't necessarily have to end with them succeeding at the same thing they originally failed. Them finding a different goal would be just as interesting.) Books, movies, TV, anime, webcomics, etc. all welcome. Please don't suggest nonfiction.
posted by Alioth to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
William Gibson's "Neuromancer" features a hacker who has hit rock bottom after a failed job. He's hired by someone else, steps up his game, and ultimately succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. If you like Sci-Fi/ Cyberpunk stuff, and you haven't previously read it, you need to.
posted by cosmicbandito at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

The first thing that came to mind for me was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I find his books in general to be very good reads when going through Big Life Changes, and particularly the depression/grief that sometimes accompanies them. YMMV.

Disclaimer: You'll have to be on board with a storyline featuring elements that are deeply weird/fantastical.
posted by Temeraria at 2:26 PM on June 13, 2016

This is basically how I would describe several of the major character arcs in "Avatar: The Last Airbender," if by some chance you haven't seen it already.

The movie "Contact" has long been incredibly cathartic to me in part because it features this sort of arc.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:28 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also: I can't speak for the manga as I'm not as familiar with it, but the anime adaptation of Planetes might be up your alley, too. (Which is delightful, despite the one "space ninjas" episode.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:32 PM on June 13, 2016

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a great anime that starts with two brothers failing catastrophically at something very important, then working back up to success in a different way.

It's a YA novel, but The Hero and the Crown involves a precocious young woman who gets through a lot of early failures to some moderate success, then a big failure, and comes back from it in a big way.

I'm guessing you've already watched Firefly, right? If not, you should totally do that. Like, right now. Even if you have watched it, now may be a good time for a rewatch. Like, right now.
posted by ourobouros at 2:49 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Maybe Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold (a middle-ish book in the Vorkosigan series; I don't think you need to have read the earlier ones).
posted by jeather at 3:26 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

My goto book for when I'm in that mood is Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The main character suffers a self-inflicted failure that threatens his entire identity, then has to decide who and what he is.

Starting with Memory would be jumping in in the middle of a universe (Vorkosigan Saga), which should be OK since the books are written to be standalone. (And the author often mentions on her blog that she loves to hear comments from people who jump in mid-series.)

The Warrior's Apprentice (another book in the Vorkosigan Saga) also opens with the main character failing then finding another way to achieve his goals. It is less angsty than Memory (more space opera, while Memory is more political/mystery), and is one of the two canonical entry points to the series.
posted by Metasyntactic at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Or, more tersely, I could just second jeather =)
posted by Metasyntactic at 3:33 PM on June 13, 2016

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Lucky Jim. I always find the end inspiring.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:35 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Hudsucker Proxy, by the Coen Brothers.
posted by ejs at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Barakamon and Nodame Cantabile have this, in different ways.

I enthusiastically second the rec for The Hero and the Crown, one of my favorite books. The heroine's plot is about 20% "stabbing evil with swords," 80% "dropping things, social awkwardness, struggling through chronic illness and injury, accidentally setting herself on fire, frustrated swearing, grimly pressing forward out of sheer stubbornness, and occasional reading a book under a tree in the horse paddock." I adore Aerin.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:18 PM on June 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea is an absolute classic of this form. Even if you read it as a kid, read it again. I just did, and there are depths to it I didn't understand yet. I sort of think you can't really read this book properly until you've failed at something.
posted by escabeche at 5:20 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Little Miss Sunshine isn't exactly about subsequent success, but it's very cathartic. The main character is living at home after attempting suicide after his boyfriend left him for his professional rival; his relatives are ... interesting. The film is hilarious enough to render you physically incapacitated. Heartwarming ending. I watched it knowing nothing except the beginning premise, and loved it. So I don't want to spoil it for you.

From Wikipedia: 'Prior to writing the script, Arndt read in a newspaper about Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking to a group of high school students and saying "If there's one thing in this world I hate, it's losers. I despise them." As a result, Arndt developed his script lampooning the thought process: "And I thought there's something so wrong with that attitude ... I wanted to ... attack that idea that in life you're going up or you're going down ... ." Co-director Jonathan Dayton also commented ... "It's about being out of place, it's about not knowing where you're going to end up."

Seconding (or thirding): Neuromancer, Haruki Murakami (my favorites are A Wild Sheep Chase or Dance Dance Dance), Firefly, Memory, The Warrior's Apprentice.

It's disconcerting to find so many of my favorites make it onto a Recovering From Failure list.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2016

Seanan McGuire's October Daye series starts like this- the main character has a huge failure that destroys her life, and she spends much of the rest of the series dealing with the long reaching consequences of that in various ways.
posted by Adridne at 5:35 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Martian, both the movie and the book, features the theme of recovery from failure over and over again.
posted by jeoc at 5:36 PM on June 13, 2016

I almost hesitate to suggest it, but: This is a major recurring structure in Homestuck.
posted by baf at 6:14 PM on June 13, 2016

Poor Hiro Protagonist in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash". Loses his job as a pizza delivery man (which in the future is a big deal) and needs to reinvent himself big time. Just a thought.
posted by forthright at 6:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dresden Files (books at least, I haven't seen the TV show) has failure as a constant recurring theme. I mean at one point hover over for spoiler. Be warned though there are currently 15 books with a couple more to be written before the overhead arc is concluded.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 PM on June 13, 2016

Friday Night Lights is full of this kind of thing. And the failures feel very real -- they are heartbreaking. The characters eventually get through/around them and heal. It's such a human show, and a must-watch. However, because the failures feel so real, it can be a little tough if you're in a down spot.

(Also, there are difficult life situations aplenty, including difficult relatives who require caretaking and things like that. Like I said, it's very real.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:56 PM on June 13, 2016

The Will Ferrell movie Everything Must Go has recovering from failure as a theme.
posted by cnc at 9:32 AM on June 14, 2016

Seconding Neuromancer but having re-read it (for the upteenth billionth time) recently it's aged less than gracefully.

Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon [PKD 2003 Best Novel], Broken Angels, Woken Fury) is fun stuff (but declines after the first book).

Kovacs was an Envoy - elite super soldier - leaves, gets sucked back into shadey business, gets imprisoned, and his body is destroyed.

That's kind of a pretty big failure.

Then the story starts.
posted by porpoise at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2016

Another Richard K. Morgan trilogy A Land Fit for Heroes also starts out with a failure; Ringil Eskiath is a disgraced one-time war hero from a celebrated noble family and now a washed up mercenary who's discriminated against because he's homosexual.
posted by porpoise at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2016

Rocky I and II.

And "comeback stories" are a pretty common trope for sports movies in general, so you probably wouldn't go wrong if you look for sports movies that are generally described as "uplifting"
posted by sparklemotion at 3:07 PM on June 14, 2016

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