Saturday, 12 July 2008

What the ??!!?”*&* just happened there?

You know what I’m talking about, those moments in film or literature where you think you know exactly what’s going to happen right up until the moment when the director/author throws you a wicked curveball and all of a sudden you see everything in a brand new light.

The first time this happened to me was when my Dad took me to see a ‘Star Wars’/’Empire Strikes Back’ double bill at the cinema. I was about six at the time and after having seen Darth Vader keep trying to kill off Luke Skywalker for several hours I couldn’t believe it when Vader turns round (right at the end of ‘Empire Strikes Back’) and says… well, you know what he says! Part of me still wonders how the film would have turned out if Vader had told Luke much earlier on instead of just after Luke having had his hand chopped off…

Luke: “But why didn’t you just tell me to start off with? I’d have been cool with it and I’d still have both my hands! Nice one Dad!”

Vader: “Well, you were using my lightsaber and I certainly don’t remember giving you permission. You won’t be doing that again in a hurry, have we learnt our lesson?”

Luke: “Yes Dad…”

The unexpected twist that really got me though came years later (around nineteen eighty eight) when I was reading Tad Williams’ ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ for the first time. Now bear in mind that I’d been reading a lot of David Eddings around that time as well as a lot of generic sword and sorcery where the good guys always win no matter what… If you haven’t read the ‘The Dragonbone Chair’ (and are planning to) then you may want to skip the next paragraph)

So I’m happily reading away safe in the knowledge that even though things are looking grim it’s all going to turn out ok. Prince Josua and his subjects are holed up in the castle of Naglimund, under siege from the mad Prince Elias.
It’s going to be all right though. Look, there’s Duke Leobardis and his army, marching to crush Elias and raise the siege. Wait a moment, why is the Duke’s son drawing his sword? He’s not going to… he did! Benigaris has just killed his father, taken control of the army and retreated (he then goes on to ally himself with Elias). But, but… what’s going to happen now?

Not only was this a twist in the plot where I least expected it but it completely blew my expectations, of fantasy literature, right out of the water. The story wasn’t meant to go like this… but it did and all of a sudden a whole load of new possibilities opened themselves up to me. These days I almost expect at least three wicked twists in any story but back then it was brand new to me and had me thinking that maybe the genre wasn’t running off just the one plot after all…

So, it’s over to you now. What’s your ‘WTF?’ moment (sci-fi, fantasy or horror) that sprung to mind while you’ve been reading this? It can be something that you never saw coming or something that made you realise the potential of the genre all over again.
You know where to leave your comments :o)

12 comments:

Anrake said...

GRRM's Game of Thrones and what happens to Eddard Stark. It was the first fantasy book I read with such a twist, and now everything is different. I grew up. Then GRRM does it again in a later book with the red wedding. Perhaps the biggest shock I ever had though was when I picked up the Malazan series right after ASOIAF. The ending of the Chain of Dogs still gives me chills.

Michael Natale said...

I'm with anrake...GRRM's Song of Ice & Fire series has TONS of WTF moments. The great part about Martin is how he manages to put them in there without them being forced.

I consider myself a pretty savvy reader, and I didn't see many of his WTF moments coming.

I still recall throwing Storm of Swords across the room after the Red Wedding. I just couldn't believe it, I was SO sure that scene was going to go differently.

James said...

The one that springs to mind first is the Red Viper/Mountain duel from Martin's ASOS. I loved the way the balance of the fight suddenly turns, and then the sheer visceral brutality of the scene was a pure WTF moment.

Anrake said...

One of the reasons I think GRRM is so great is that after these WTF moments are over, you understand that it was probably the most realistic course of action for those characters in that situation. Anything else would have been "fantasy".

Will said...

Walter M Miller's A Canticle for Lebowitz springs to mind thinking about twists. If you've not read it, it's well worth picking up. There's a point about half way through that just leaves you going 'Huh? Well... how's there still a story left after that?'

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with both examples from GRRM. The Red Viper/Mountain duel is probably the thing that pisses me off more than anything I've read in fantasy. Then of course, there's Richard Rahl kicking ass by sculpting a really cool statue as the culminating event of a novel. That was WTF in an entirely different way.

Gabe said...

I'd have to say the first time I read Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. The sheer difficulty of deciphering the language of the story, until the moment it "clicked" and I suddenly GOT it... and then the eventual grasp of the enormity of what Hoban had accomplished in the writing. To this day, no other speculative fiction writer has managed to match the sheer brilliance of Hoban's work.

Icarus said...

The moment in Jim Butcher's Cursor's Fury when we finally learn what Tavi's real name is.

I still can't believe that I didn't see that coming for 2.5 books!

mark said...

Even before Martin started playing fast and loose with the lives of his protagonists, Joel Rosenberg's complete slaughter of his main hero, Karl Kulinane in "The Heir Apparent" came out of left field re-wrote fictional reality as we knew it.

Colinhead said...

I am still haunted by the Red Wedding whenever reading ASOIAF. It offends so many of my sensibilities about fantasy... the whole 'hearth' rules that are omnipresent in fantasy are betrayed like they are nothing. I also have to say that the scene with Itkovian in Malazan wasn't so much a surprise as one of the most intense moments of my literary life... enough to warrant calling it a WTF moment. I was thinking to myself, (to quote Boondock Saints) "I can't believe that just f#$ing happened!"

Graeme Flory said...

I had a feeling that the Red Wedding was going to turn out the way it did but never saw the Red Viper/Mountain duel ending the way it did...
Likewise with Erikson's 'Chain of Dogs' storyline, never saw that one coming either! That one still gets me every time...

Will, Gabe, Icarus and Mark - I'm ashamed to say I've never read these books, that will have to change when I get the time...

Anonymous - I've never read Terry Goodkind either but I've heard that he has a different take on WTF ;o)

JT said...

Aside from agreeing with the GRRM and Erikson moments listed, I think the other two big ones for me were Robin Hobb's almost-constant twist with Fitz in the Farseer trilogy, and then near the end of the Tawny Man trilgoy, where it appears Fitz is FINALLY ready to step into his rightful position...and then WTF.
Second is the ending of The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy G. Kay - there is a sudden death that Kay twists brilliantly and it takes a few more pages before you figure out what just happened. Those moments are when I truly love the writing in this genre.