Best Gutpunches in Science Fiction and Fantasy

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Let's try to do this as spoiler-free as possible.

A gutpunch is pretty much the opposite of a cliffhanger. It's a one-liner or short action in a story that turns the entire thing on its head. Many science fiction shorts are built on gutpunches - Arthur C. Clarke's classic two pager "Reunion" being one where the final line turns everything we know on its head.

Some gutpunches can be humorous. There's a classic Isaac Asimov short story where you never see the ending pun coming - until too late, and it's all too obvious in retrospect, as even the title becomes an obvious warning ("Shah Guido G", or 'shaggy dog.') Arthur C. Clarke did another two pager where the ending is a truly atrocious pun in British English ("Neutron Tide").

The very best gutpunches, however, are straight drama that reframe everything. Poul Anderson's "The Gods Laughed" may be my very favorite, as it turns everything about the story and our background assumptions completely upside down. The ending of "Dune Messiah" by Frank Herbert is a comparatively mild gutpunch, as the Emperor of the Known Universe walks off saying, "Now I am free."

The climax of "The Empire Strikes Back", where Darth Vader utters his most famous line, is probably one of the best media gutpunches.

Sudden betrayals, new information, failed plans and failed plots, all of these are the stuff of which gutpunches are made.

I've been having some issues with comments here, but I'll put a link to another post on my FB author page for those who have difficulty So what are the best gutpunches you've encountered?

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 31, 2019 7:54 PM.

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