The sf writer Kim Stanley Robinson (1952- ) used this term when attempting to describe the typical ending of a Gene Wolfe tale. The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983) and There are Doors (1988) both 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 of the SE is of truncation, of not being told what should be told for proper completion, a true SE persuades its readers that the story has indeed been given – simply that they have to tell themselves the final outcome.
If the SE is not simply to be another device of the Conte Cruel or of Horror in general, it is almost certainly necessary that the ending envisaged by the reader be a happy one. Thus the SE – though never common – is more often found in the literature of Fantasy (>>> Story), where the happy ending tends to be built in, than elsewhere. The reasons for its infrequency are plain: an SE 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. Examples of its recent use include Ursula K Le Guin's "In the Drought" (in Xanadu 2 anth 1994 ed Jane Yolen) and "The Rio Brain" (1996 Interzone) by M John Harrison and Simon Ings (1965- ), the latter tale being rejected – because of its "abrupt" ending – several times before eventual publication. The SE is more common, therefore, in the early, relatively uncommercial years of fantasy – when narrative risks could more easily be taken.
The last lines of John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667; rev 1674) are 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." Two early-20th-century examples can be noted. In G K Chesterton's The Man who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908) 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 (repeating the word "girl" in an unstated rendering of his suddenly heightened attention) as "the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl". In Walter de La Mare's The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1910) the eponymous monkeys have been questing, from the beginning, for the land to which their father returned, fabled Assasimon. In their numerous adventures they have had no sight of this land. They are lost in the mountains. Suddenly Nod sees one of his brothers and another. "But not only these. For between them walked on high in a high, hairy cap, with a band of woven scarlet about his loins, and a basket of honeycombs over his shoulder, a Mulgar of a presence and a strangeness, who was without doubt of the Kingdom of Assasimon." The book is over. The Mulgars begin.
Clearly, as in early volumes of The Book of the New Sun, the device can be used as a Portal into a further book, but the primary use of the SE, as in Wolfe, is to close the telling in a rush of wonder.
In sf, the SE can be used to convey the "Sense of Wonder"; the most famous example is from A E van Vogt's The Weapon Makers (fixup 1946), 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." [JC]