When I think about surprise endings, I usually think about short stories. I’m willing to put up with ten or twenty pages of writing just to be delighted with a silly twist or surprise at the end. Novels with twist endings are a lot harder to pull off, for several reasons. First of all, few readers would put up with 200 pages just to get a clever ending. The beginning and middle have to be clever too. At the same time, the twist ending can’t contradict anything that happens earlier in the story, nor can it be a radical departure from the style and tone of the beginning and middle sections. Few authors can accomplish so much.
Philip K. Dick is one author who could, and The Game Players of Titan is one novel in which he does. The surprise ending is that…well, obviously I’m not going to tell you that, am I? I can at least tell you the set-up for the ending. It goes like this.
The Game Players of Titan is set on a future earth that’s been devastated by war and conquered by malicious aliens known as Vugs. The Vugs have the ability to shape-shift, read minds, and tell the future. At their command, earth is split into zones of property owned by a handful of human beings, who must compete for property and status in a game of Bluff. (The game itself is quite hilarious and would be mroe than enough to fill a much larger novel by a less talented author.) Mysterious goings-on are afoot, whilethe Vugs have an unknown agenda of their own. In the grand finale, the fate of the entire world rests on a single game of Bluff between the Vugs and humans. Now Bluff, as you would guess, is all about bluffing, so it might seem difficult for the humans to win when, as already mentioned, the Vugs can read minds and tell the future. But, wonder of wonders, the humans do manage to compete, and it’s all done in a logical manner that’s entirely consistent with everything we’ve seen in this science fiction world. And with that, I can say no more.