A term initially used by Kim Stanley Robinson when attempting to describe the typical ending of a Gene Wolfe tale. The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983 4vols), There Are Doors (1988) and Exodus from the Long Sun (1996) all close as their protagonists begin to move towards a goal which has been anticipated from the beginning. But they move out of frame, out of the end of the book, and the story closes as though before its proper ending. But, though unexpecting readers might feel that the effect is of truncation, of not being told what should be told for proper completion, a true slingshot ending should persuade its readers that the conclusion of the story has indeed been indicated – that all they need do is tell themselves the final outcome.
If the slingshot is not simply to be the concluding huis clos trap of a conte cruel or Horror in general (as in certain novels by Brian Evenson), it is almost certainly necessary that the ending envisaged by the reader be a happy one, with some sense of that ending being voluntary, or bestowed. Thus the device – though never common – is more often found in the literature of Fantasy, where a happy endings tend to be built in, than elsewhere. The reasons for its infrequency are plain: such an ending must be told in a fashion which surprises the reader but also compels ultimate assent, not an easy task; and it is a daring device, one that commercial publishers may resist. Late twentieth-century examples of use include Ursula K Le Guin's "In the Drought" (in Xanadu 2, anth 1994, ed Jane Yolen) and "The Rio Brain" (February 1996 Interzone) by M John Harrison and Simon Ings, the latter tale being rejected – because of its "abrupt" ending – several times before eventual publication. The slingshot ending is more common, therefore, in the early, relatively uncommercial years of fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], when narrative risks could more easily be taken.
The last lines of Paradise Lost (1667; rev 1674) by John Milton (1608-1674) offer an early example:
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831) concludes with what can easily be read as a dark slingshot ending, since the Frankenstein Monster's announced plan to destroy himself is not seen fulfilled, may perhaps not be carried out. Of the several unmistakable slingshot endings in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, the most extraordinary is almost certainly that which closes The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) when – with only a few obscure hints preparing the reader for what is to come – Pym finds himself in a canoe hurtling towards the South Pole:
The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by the glare of the water thrown back from the white curtain before us. . . . And now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.
Through this "sublime" portal, the narrator, we are to assume, is about to enter the Hollow Earth; it is a moment of Transcendence that the form of the slingshot ending inherently enables.
An early twentieth-century example of the ending appears in G K Chesterton's The Man who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908) at whose close the protagonist walks through glowing, suburban Saffron Park and catches sight of his friend's sister, whom (we guess, only after we have read the last sentence of the book) he will soon wed; that last sentence describes her (the repetition of the word "girl" pointing up his suddenly heightened attention) as "the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl".
Clearly, as throughout The Book of the New Sun and its successors, the device can be used to provide a compelling transition into a further book; but the primary use of the slingshot ending, as in Wolfe, is to close the telling in a rush of wonder. Perhaps the most famous sf example of a slingshot used to convey the Sense of Wonder is A E van Vogt's The Weapon Makers (February-April 1943 Astounding; dated 1947 but 1946; rev 1952; vt One Against Eternity 1955 dos), which closes with a line that introduces a brand-new thought and a term not previously encountered in the book: "Here is the race that shall rule the sevagram." Other effective closing slingshots, each signalling a perspective shift, appear in Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama (1973) – "The Ramans do everything in threes." – and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (August 1977 Analog; much exp 1985): "He looked a long time." More recently, Iain M Banks's Feersum Endjinn (1994) ends by conveying (in a very few words from its dyslexic narrator) how the never-seen titular device is now operating on a grand scale to rescue not just Earth but the entire solar system from inevitable doom: ". . . thi stars ½ moovd." [JC/DRL]
see also: Geoffrey Household; Eric Koch; Kate Wilhelm.
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