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10:28:34 AM Dec 2nd 2013
I once read an old short story from the forties or fifties which has one of the cruelest twist endings I have ever read in any work of fiction, but sadly, I have forgotten the title. Thus, I am posting a plot summary here, in case anybody else has read the story and knows the title.

The two heroes build a time machine, but, much to their surprise, not only do they wind up much farther in the future than they expect, but the time travel only works in one direction, so they’re stranded in the future. Even worse, they learn that civilization has collapsed, and the remaining humans all live in fear of a godlike being. So of course, being the enlightened secularists that they are, the heroes take it upon themselves to expose this “god” for what he really is and free the humans. They succeed in defeating him, and it is revealed that he is actually a neurologist from Twenty Minutes into the Future (from the heroes’ perspective, at least) who used his knowledge of the workings of the human brain to Take Over the World with Psychic Powers. Once it is proven that he is not a god, the enslaved humans cheer for the heroes with jubilation, at how they were liberated, and one of them asks the heroes to help them rebuild civilization, including showing them how to create “synthetic food”. The heroes blow this request off, however, and travel farther into the future in their time machine. Here comes the cruel twist ending: when the heroes arrive in the future, they see a barren wasteland, with only a monument to them erected to explain what happened: whatever catastrophe befell the Earth when the Big Bad took over left the planet so resource poor that, with the Big Bad gone, humans couldn’t even subsist as hunter-gatherers, and so, because the heroes did not teach them how to make synthetic food and just left them to their fate, everybody on Earth starved to death. The worst part is that the heroes now know that they are solely responsible for the extinction of the human species, and since their time machine is only one way, they cannot go back to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.

05:49:48 PM Mar 13th 2013
Does it count as a cruel twist ending if the twist is well planned for and pulled off well?
10:26:47 AM Dec 2nd 2013
I would say so. Not all twist endings have to be Shocking Swerves.
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