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Tomato Surprises in literature.


  • In a short story in a children's book, the protagonist is a young prodigy living in a high-tech city. For his next project, he decides to build an artificial human that mimics real humans as close as possible. He spends weeks designing and building it, and finally takes the artificial human to show the city's leader. The leader looks at him and admits the android shows some potential, but points out flaws such as the lack of tannable skin, or realistic emotions, or aging. When the protagonist fails to see how this is important, the leader has him strapped into a chair and shows him an old video of a group of old men watching a young boy eat. He reveals that these men are the last living humans. The boy is their first robot designed to replace them and is able to do all the things real humans can do. The leader is that boy. The protagonist realizes that all of the city's inhabitants are robots, including him. As he is being led away to have the last hour wiped from his memory (ignorance is bliss), he takes a look at his creation and, for the first time, sees just how fake it looks.
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  • "Exposure", by Eric Frank Russell, features a group of aliens who intend to take over earth. They can take the form of any living thing, so they figure that infiltrating society will be easy. They land and take the form of the first humans they see. Then they walk into town, fully expecting to blend into the populace, but are instead immediately arrested. Turns out they landed next to a nudist colony.

  • O. Henry's short story "After Twenty Years" has the revelation that the main character is an infamous criminal.
  • A Jeffry Archer short story compilation, A Twist in the Tale, contains one story where a man accidentally killed his mistress in an outburst after seeing another lover of hers leaving the apartment. He anonymously tips off the police about the other guy, reads in newspapers about his arrest and attends his court case where he sees the circumstantial evidence mount against the guy to the point where it seems impossible that any jury member would believe his innocence. It is only towards the end of the story when we hear the verdict of guilty that we find out the main character is actually the presiding juror in the case.
    • Another of Archer's stories, "Just Good Friends", seems to be narrated by a woman reminiscing on her relationship with her boyfriend. At the end it's revealed that the narrator is actually a cat talking about her owner.
  • A few of the Arsène Lupin stories actually use this. The POV character or a protagonist appears to be some normal, often helpless, man who is embroiled in a conflict between Lupin and whoever opposes him. Then the story reveals that said character is actually Lupin in disguise, keeping tabs on the other side.
    • Another story ("813"): The chief of the Parisian police is Lupin in a cover ID. He managed to get himself elected for the job so that he'd be in charge of trying to arrest himself.
  • One of Isaac Asimov's short stories, "The Segregationist", consists largely of a doctor acting disgusted at how a human patient wants robotic organs (and some previous robot patients of his wanting organic organs) and ranting about how humans and robots should accept what they are and not try to surgically alter themselves into something they're not. It's not revealed until the very end that the doctor is a robot.
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    • Quite a few of Asimov's short stories end with the revelation that the main characters are the aliens, and the humans are creatures from another planet.
    • Another short story, "Exile to Hell", deals with a man sent to exile because of some criminal offences. The ending reveals that Humanity lives on the Moon and that the Earth is the place where the worst criminals are banished.
    • "Youth" is another example.
  • China Miéville's Bas-Lag short story "Jack" is narrated by someone who claims he helped Jack Half-A-Prayer, the Remade vigilante, become the legend he was. He did, too: he's a New Crobuzon prison orderly, who once assisted the biomancer who replaced Jack's hand with a giant mantis claw.
  • In Charles de Lint's The Blue Girl, there are three narrators: Imogene, Maxine, and Adrian. In Adrian's first chapter, he describes the first time he saw Imogene (who he has a crush on). The sentences "She just looked right through me, the way everyone does" and "For all that was special about her, she paid no more attention to me than anyone else did" just seem like a description of a typical teenage social outcast... until we find out that it was meant literally, because Adrian is a ghost.
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  • In Alexandr Kuprin's short story The Blue Star, the royal family of a remote land sometimes gives birth to extremely ugly princes, taking after the foreigner who founded the dynasty. The story itself is centered around the first princess to resemble him - so ugly that, to spare her the blow, her father ordered to destroy every single mirror in the realm. Some time after learning how ugly she really is, she meets a similarly ugly stranger from another realm, who for some weird reason finds her attractive, and starts bemoaning to him how she wishes she had yellow eyes instead of this ugly blue, flat lips instead of curved like a bow... the guy turns out to be a French prince, and once he brings her home as his wife, no one argues about her being the World's Most Beautiful Woman.
  • Many science fiction and fantasy novels use this strategy. A particularly good example is Emma Bull's Bone Dance, in which a vital fact about the protagonist is very cleverly concealed: Sparrow is an Artificial Human with No Biological Sex, created to be a host for the Horseman.
  • Jorge Luis Borges makes use of this trope in several of his short stories.
    • In "The Zahir", the narrator (Borges himself) outlines a story he's working on about an ascetic hermit who guards a huge treasure, protecting others from the temptation that it presents; by the end, it's revealed that the hermit is Fafnir, the dragon slain by the mythical hero Siegfried.
    • "The House of Asterion" features a narrator who describes his home and the things he likes to do for fun (falling asleep in hallways, throwing himself off ledges, etc.), revealing increasingly bizarre details; his last words in the story speculate on the nature of the one who is destined to kill him: will he have the head of a man and the body of a bull, "or will he be like me?" (Asterion is the Minotaur of Greek Mythology).
    • In Borges' "The Secret Miracle", a poet envisions a surreal drama in which a Baron Roemerstadt defends himself against several Machiavellian intrigues. The play gradually exhibits more and more continuity errors and impossibilities until it is revealed that Baron Roemerstadt is in fact a delusional in a mental institution, and not really Baron Roemerstadt at all.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote an After the End short story in which a woman loves a man who gently but firmly rejects her advances. She feels it's because she's white and he's black. After he's murdered by a white man (whom she promptly kills in revenge), it's revealed that the black man was, more importantly, a Roman Catholic priest.
  • Fredric Brown's short story "The Sentry" is a perfect example of this trope: The story is told from the point of view of an infantry trooper, involved in a war with aliens. After he kills one of these aliens we find out that "Such repulsive creatures they were, with only two arms and two legs, ghastly white skins and no scales." - it turns out out the invading, aggressive horrible aliens are humans, and the sentry isn't.
    • Another one of Brown's stories, "Preposterous", is about parents who are really upset that their son is reading a sci-fi magazine about preposterous things like intergalactic travel and time machines. Then, the husband leaves the apartment and it turns out that he lives in a world slightly more advanced than can be expected.
  • One Orson Scott Card short-short story consists of a father telling his children how he and the other leaders of their society used "the Ultimate Weapon" to destroy "the enemy," and though it was a terrible thing to kill the enemy down to the last man (since there could be no defense against the Ultimate Weapon), it was a necessary evil, because otherwise the enemy would have killed all of them instead. Now that the enemy have been defeated, the Ultimate Weapon will never need to be used again. What's the Ultimate Weapon? The bow and arrow, against which there could be no defense when the enemy was armed only with the spear.
  • In Chess with a Dragon by David Gerrold, the revelation that the Ki! host-grubs are human children is this trope. Particularly deft in that, even when their physiology is discussed at some length by the insectoids, it sounds like the writer is just confirming what a human character said in the previous chapter (i.e. that mammals are considered disgusting by other races) rather than dropping hints.
  • A non-fictional example from a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, in which the writer talks about the inspiring coach of his high school football team and how he helped the students, including some who were mocked or not so good at the game. He waits until literally the last line to reveal that the coach was his father.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a Murder Mystery with a Tomato Surprise ending. Some readers might find this clever, others might feel cheated — there was a long and difficult debate about it in the pages of the London Times Literary Supplement the year it was published, difficult thanks to the debaters' desire to avoid spoilers.
    • Endless Night is another Christie example, and a particularly striking one.
  • Arthur C. Clarke has written his fair share of these. In one short story, two guys are innocently talking at a bar about some rather mundane-sounding construction project. In the very last sentence, we find out they were on the moon, and the construction project was actually the most monumental thing the human race has yet undertaken.
  • In the Gregory Maguire novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister the classic tale of Cinderella is put into a real historical context and is told in a surreal manner by one of the ugly stepsisters. All along, the reader assumes that it's being told by one stepsister, Iris, until it is revealed at the end that the narrator all along has been Ruth, the mentally retarded stepsister. This puts a whole new spin on the story.
  • In the short story "Cop Killer", the author manages to depict the entire law-enforcement career of rookie officer Max — his training, teaming up with a veteran of the force, moving into his partner's guest room and befriending his family, participating in drug busts, being commended for bravery, and eventually getting killed by a fugitive gunman — without revealing until the very end that Max is a police dog.
  • Iain M. Banks' The Culture: Use of Weapons conceals an amazing Tomato Surprise with its Anachronic Order, as the plot thread going further into the past finally hits a crucial event in the hero's past. Meanwhile, the plot thread working into the future catches up with one of the few characters who knows the twist...
  • You'll probably get 2/3 of the way through The Cyberiad before realizing that all of the characters are robots and humans are extinct.
  • "Daughters of the Moon", by Italo Calvino, ends in a perfect example: The inhabitants of the planets turn out to be woolly mammoths! Albeit clothes-wearing, motorcycle-riding woolly mammoths with an apparent nudity taboo...
  • A Len Deighton short story in the Declarations Of War anthology ends with the revelation that it is not in fact set in the future, but during Roman times.
  • Charles de Lint wrote a short story involving a disabled little girl who becomes terrified of her neighbor, whom she believes is a vampire. She expresses her fears to her older sister (the narrator), who is naturally doubtful, but agrees to look into it to set the girl's mind at ease. The ending reveals that the neighbor is not a vampire, but the older sister is. She feeds on the neighbor and then expresses her intentions to wait around for her sister to reach her age, and then turn her, as vampirism will reverse her disability.
  • Science-fiction writer Randall Garrett's Despoilers of the Golden Empire contains the Tomato Surprise to end all Tomato Surprises. While the story is a wonderful read, Garrett includes an apologia supporting it.
  • Andrew Weiner's short story "The News from D Street" (in the collection Distant Signals) features a detective investigating disappearances, often of people who get on an ominous bus and never return. It turns out that they're all data in a computer simulation — get it, bus?
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • The 50th Anniversary Ninth Doctor novel "The Beast of Babylon" obscures from the reader until the climactic point that the book's viewpoint character, Ali, with the Establishing Character Moment of being on a picnic with her Mum and treated by the Doctor like a sweetly eccentric teenage girl, is actually a massive, terrifying-to-behold crustacean beast genetically programmed to go into Unstoppable Rage, whose exploits in the past inspired the myth of Cancer the crab.
    • The Short Trips and Sidesteps short story "The Android Maker of Calderon IV" waits until the punchline before revealing that the story isn't actually about the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, as one would expect from the description of the Doctor's Evil Knockoff and the TARDIS scenes intercut with it, but the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.
  • An in-universe example in Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne. When Dolores receives a call from Vera's lawyer about her inheritance, she is stunned to discover that Vera's two children, Donald and Helga, have been dead for decades and Vera was lying to her about it.
  • In the Dragaera novel Orca, we have Kiera the Thief as the special guest narrator for a lot of the story. She and Vlad blunder through the complicated politicoeconomic mess that forms the basis of the book's plot, and it's only after it's pretty much been sorted out that we learn Kiera neglected to inform us (and Vlad) that she's actually the vampire sorceress Sethra Lavode, a being so powerful she orders gods around. All the more impressive as she's been around for six books already, and this clearly isn't an Ass Pull... in fact, it helps explain a number of things. The reason readers didn't realize it long ago is partly because it's never before been really plot-relevant, and mostly because the supposition is just bizarre enough not to naturally occur.
  • Below Suspicion, a Dr. Gideon Fell novel by John Dickson Carr, has an opening scene from the point of view of a young woman accused of murder. In the narration, the woman desperately thinks to herself that she's not guilty of the crime, and is despairing of anyone believing her. Since this is an internal narrative, the reader can be assured that she is perfectly innocent, and she is. Of the murder she's accused of. She is, in fact, guilty of another murder, and part of her despair is that her perfect alibi for the one she committed has left her open to the accusation of the one she didn't. Dr. Fell even lampshades this trope by noting that if anyone had been able to "read the thoughts" of the young woman, they would've seen a completely sincere and truthful plea for her innocence of the murder she didn't commit.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin quite deliberately note  springs this on you in her Earthsea books. She doesn't tell you until midway through the first part of A Wizard of Earthsea that most Archipelagans are red-brown, and that the ones from the East Reach are black. Young black and Hispanic readers report bursting into tears on realizing this. Auntie Ursula had a long, bitter fight with her publisher not to make her hero Ged white on the covers. Then there was the TV series.
  • In Sheri S. Tepper's novel The Family Tree, the story is told from two disconnected points of view through most of the novel, until it is revealed when the two groups meet that the second set of characters are all talking animals. Then shortly thereafter we find out that the talking animals' dumb beasts of burden are actually human beings.
  • A short story by George Langelaan, titled "De fauteuil en déduction", is a murder mystery told from the perspective of the family's grandpa, who's old and tired, but in the end manages to recognize the killer and attack him, revealing him to everyone. It's not until the very end that is revealed that "Grandpa" is the name of the family dog.
  • The short story "Flight Over Xp-637" by Craig Sayre concerns a race of aliens with the technology to shape-change surreptitiously observing Earth. One of them is almost killed, and his log apparently narrates flying in a squadron and being shot down over enemy territory. The very end reveals the diminutive aliens are too small to pass as humans, and the injured one was actually in the form of a migrant duck during hunting season.
  • Julio Cortázar's "The Flip Side of Night", in which a man suffers a motorcycle accident and begins having hallucinations that he is an ancient Mesoamerican warrior about to be sacrificed by the Aztecs. The resolution: it ends with an Aztec priest cutting his heart out, as he hallucinates about a strange world far in the future.
  • The short fiction anthology Flush Fiction contains a few stories with these kind of endings. One features a woman who is visiting a friend's house, when they are suddenly attacked by secret agents. The narrator's friend is then revealed to also be a secret agent, and she fights all of the bad guys while the narrator sits back in abject fear. The final paragraph reveals the secret agent is not a friend of the narrator's, but rather the main character of a television show that the narrator is watching.
  • Neil Gaiman:
    • "Murder Mysteries" features as the main character an archangel, created by God to serve as the living embodiment of the Vengeance of the Lord, who is tasked by God to solve the murder of another angel. Although it's never explicitly stated, we learn that the person the Angel was telling his story to is a murderer himself, and the Angel was there to exact his vengeance upon him. Gaiman comments in the notes that there's even a clue in the title of the story - i.e. that the murder in the Angel's story wasn't the only one.
    • "A Study in Emerald" is a crossover between the Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu Mythos universes. It's a re-telling of A Study in Scarlet, except the blood around the room is green. A familiarity with both Conan Doyle's and H. P. Lovecraft's works is preferable before reading this story. In the end, we find that the narrator is Major (not Colonel) Sebastian Moran, and the detective with whom he is sharing rooms is Moriarty. The two murderers- referred to by Moriarty as "The Tall Man" and "Limping Doctor"- are Holmes and Watson.
    • "Snow, Glass, Apples" retells a well-known story from a completely different point of view. We see a beautiful, wise magical queen who has married the King. The King dies from a mysterious wasting illness, and she rules the kingdom well for some time, until she is dethroned. As she lays waiting for her fiery death, we find the well known story is Snow White, as revealed in the last line.
  • Bernard Beckett's Genesis depicts a young woman, Anaximander, undergoing an oral examination about history at the prestigious Academy. Philosophical debates about organic vs. artificial life and other topics are heavily featured; in the end we learn that Anaximander, her mentor, and the examiners are all androids made to resemble orangutans.
  • In Michael Slade's Ghoul, the RCMP and British police pursue a Lovecraft-obsessed psychotic, a paranoid bomber, and a psychopathic hit man, who seem to be competing for press attention with their increasingly-grotesque crimes. Turns out that they're all the same man, a victim of childhood abuse with Dissociative Identity Disorder, whose later life traumas had driven each of his several personalities insane in different ways. Also a Tomato in the Mirror for the killer, as all but one of his personas had been ignorant of the others' existence.
  • Even before the Tomato Surprise, it's clear The People in A. Bertram Chandler's "Giant Killer" aren't normal humans (among other things, one of the "hideously deformed mutants" whose names describe their mutations is called No-Tail), but knowing what and where they actually are (sentient rats on a spaceship) causes a perspective shift that turns it into almost an entirely different story.
  • In The Giver, the point-of-view character, Jonas, experiences certain objects (an apple, his friend's hair) "changing" in the former half of the story; only he notices it, and he can't even quite explain what kind of change he saw. It is later revealed that everyone in his society is genetically engineered to be colorblind, and the "changing" was him briefly seeing the color red.
  • This is a common twist in R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series, especially the "protagonists are really monsters/aliens" version. It often has little to nothing to do with the rest of the book.
    • In My Best Friend Is Invisible, Sammy ends up with an invisible friend named Brent. When they finally find a way to see Brent they're shocked, because he only has one head! And two eyes! And no suction cups or antennae or anything! Ultimately the dad says that they need to take him to the zoo, since humans are an endangered species. Brent comments that he knew people would react this way, which is why his parents made him invisible in the first place. The TV adaptation obviously couldn't go quite this weird, though, instead making the other characters aliens with eyes on the back of their heads.
    • A notable example in Attack Of The Jack-O'Lanterns. The main character notes in the beginning that a lot of extremely overweight people have gone missing. Then he and his friend join the school bullies to go trick or treating. They meet up with some friends wearing pumpkin heads who convince them to take a different route that will lead them to the biggest candy haul ever and they give them pillowcases to carry the candy in. The people at the houses on this street are all wearing pumpkin heads and giving out enough candy to fill the bags. The kids want to go home but the Pumpkin-headed friends start breathing fire and threatening the kids into eating all of the candy, telling them that they'll be sent back to eat more and more. Instead, on the second trip into the forest, the bullies run off, weaving through the trees. The Pumpkin-head friends then reveal themselves to be alien kids who have befriended the main characters. But then the Pumpkin-Heads reveal that they actually do eat people, but they only eat really fat humans, and the kids are nowhere near fat enough. Yet.
    • In Welcome to Camp Nightmare, which inspired the first episode of the TV series, the weird conspiracy at the summer camp was actually a test to see how the main character handled such things: after all, if he's selected, he's going to the highly dangerous planet Earth, and as it is a Death World with Everything Trying to Kill You, he must be ready for anything.
    • One short story features a group of kids who believe that a new girl is a vampire. Turns out, she's the only one who isn't one.
    • In another short story, the protagonist meets a new friend who is enthusiastic about bats because her parents are bat scientists. We ultimately find out they're scientists who ARE giant bats - complete with lab coats!
    • In another short story, the main characters notice that a new girl who doesn't seem to have any family, handles strange tools they have never seen before and seems to live in a tent. The narrator finally finds a perfectly logical explanation for this: She is not an orangutan.
    • One non-Goosebumps related short story, "Joe Is Not a Monster", describes a boy named Joe whom everyone he meets is terrified of. The narrator insists constantly that Joe is NOT a monster, but a good kid who would never hurt a fly and is devastated by everyone's fear of him. How does the narrator know all of this? Simple: He is Joe's second head.
    • The Girl Who Cried Monster, where Lucy discovers that a librarian is actually a monster. Most of the episode focuses on Lucy trying to convince her parents that Mr. Mortman is a monster. When they finally believe her, they invite him to dinner, where we learn that the entire family are monsters themselves, and they are having Mr. Mortman for dinner. To Serve Man indeed.
  • One of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels has an in-universe example with "Where Did The Cat Go?", in a fabricated murder mystery game. The brigaders can't determine who the "killer" was because he took Kyon's cat, Shamisen, to the scene of the crime, and snow (literally) covered his tracks; but the cat was still in the house, right next to the protagonists, until after it stopped snowing. Haruhi and Tsuruya eventually guess the tomato twist: the cat that was in the house while it was snowing was not Shamisen, it was a carefully selected and re-colored double. The real Shamisen was dragged off sometime before then, when the murder was committed.
  • In the Ramsey Campbell short story "Heading Home", you are a Mad Scientist who has suffered some unspecified but debilitating injury after discovering the key to immortality.. Straining "muscles you'd almost forgotten you had," you slowly work your way out of the cellar and into your laboratory to reunite yourself with your headless corpse.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • "Columbus Was A Dope". Some men are in a bar, discussing the launch of a new space ship. One of the men declares that it's ridiculous for men to go out exploring when everything is fine just the way it is. The title comes from the man saying that Columbus should never have bothered leaving home. The twist comes when it's revealed in the very last sentence of the story that the whole thing has been taking place on a bar on the Moon.
    • In a more minor case, Starship Troopers reveals on its very final page that "Johnny" Rico is actually Juan Rico, a Filipino. Nowadays, this is no big deal, but at the time the novel was written nearly all heroes in American SF and war fiction were stereotypical square-jawed white men. (Cf. pretty much any movie from the 50s.) The few non-white heroes were usually black.
    • And in an even more minor case, in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, it's revealed in a single throwaway line about four-fifths of the way through the book that the protagonist is half black.
    • Another throwaway line in his book Friday reveals that the main character is Native American in coloration. This didn't stop the publisher from releasing the book (even newer releases) with a white woman on the cover.
  • The Viktor Pelevin short story "Hermit and Six-Toes" is set in a bizarre, rigidly hierarchical world controlled by "gods", whose high-strung occupants fear the dark and are constantly preparing for something called the "Decisive Stage". It turns out that they're chickens in a poultry processing plant. The two main characters eventually exercise their wings enough to be able to fly to freedom. It's basically a cross between Chicken Run and The Matrix.
  • There's a short science fiction story by Walt Sheldon called The Hunters in which the world is being invaded by your typical merciless alien invaders who mass murder people and destroy civilization entirely. At the end of the story it is revealed that the "aliens" are humans.
  • In L. Sprague De Camp's short story "Hyperpilosity", the narrator tells his friends the story of a sudden epidemic that caused humans to sprout full-body coats of hair or fur, and the efforts of various people to combat it. In the end we learn that those efforts have failed and the whole human race, including the narrator and his friends, has resigned itself to being entirely fur-covered from here on out.
  • The novel Identical by Ellen Hopkins involves twins Kaleigh and Raeanne, whose mother was in a car accident several years prior which, while she survived, irrevocably changed their family's dynamic. Now Kaleigh lives with her father's frequent sexual abuse, while Raeanne turns to drugs out of a sick sort of jealousy that Kaleigh is the one their father wants. The ending reveals that Raeanne actually died in the accident their mother was in, and the Raeanne we've been seeing is Kaleigh's Split Personality.
    • A similar twist is used in Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock. There's no indication that Emma is not an actual, physical person until the last couple of chapters.
  • At the very end of Lois Duncan's book I Know What You Did Last Summer, two of the main characters, Bud and Collie turn out to be the same person: Collingsworth Wilson, brother of the dead boy. The reader is unaware of this because different characters who meet him at different times call him by different nicknames.
  • In the short story "IQ-184", by Fletcher Flora, a detective asks Rena Holly and Charles Holly about the death of Richard, who loved Rena and wanted to marry her. Charles Holly claims Richard fell, but the reader is shown Charles's thoughts and knows Charles pushed Richard and Rena knows it. Charles then leaves the room, and the conversation turns to the fact that Charles is not Rena's husband, as you were probably meant to assume, but her twelve-year-old son.
  • Kane: In "Undertow" a young woman named Dessylyn is desperately trying to get away from her lover, warrior and powerful sorcerer Kane, who treats her as his possession and forces her to drink terrible potions. Finally, she seduces sea-faring captain Mavrsal, who agrees to smuggle her out of sorcerers' city Carsultyal. On the first night he finds the hard way why exactly Dessylyn had to drink those potions and why she always wore a stiff collar on her neck. She was already dead, hanged herself after Kane killed one of her lovers, and the potions were the only thing keeping her alive. Mavrsal woke up with a decomposing corpse in his arms.
  • The end of the book The Lace Reader reveals that Lindley did not kill herself a few years before the book began. She died at birth. The Unreliable Narrator contributes to us not knowing until the very end that it was really Towner/Sophya who was abused by Cal during childhood. Mae was her aunt all along, not her mother. Lindley/Lindsay was her imaginary best friend, who was also her twin.
  • Let the Right One In manages a similar thing as the above example until the reveal, despite being written in a third person POV! While Oskar refers to Eli as "she", whenever the POV switches to Eli, or Håkan who knows about Eli's actual gender, the book completely avoids gender pronouns. Sadly this doesn't carry over to the English translation.
  • Dean Koontz's novel Lightning. Throughout the story, the reader is led to believe that the totalitarian nation using time travel as a weapon is in the modern day, possibly the Soviet Union. Near the end of the book it's revealed that the nation is actually Nazi Germany just before the end of World War II. They're trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction that will allow them to win the war and change history.
  • Thomas Ligotti's "Notes on the Writing of Horror" is a short story in essay format. It starts as a famous horror writer demonstrates his technique on a basic plot. Each retelling of the story-within-the-story goes a little more off the rails, perhaps revealing more than the writer means to. By the end, it's clear that the author is: a) a demon; b) insane; c) fucking with the reader; or d) all of the above.
    • An even more unsettling use of the trope occurs in another short, "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes", in which the protagonist, a powerful hypnotist (and lover of monologue), uses his gifts to turn his long-deceased assistant into an undead puppet, then proceeds to hypnotize an entire dinner party into thinking she is still living and, as she once was, irresistibly beautiful. This descends into full-on horror when it becomes apparent that he set the illusion to lift just after he leaves solely to spite the group for not applauding his best "trick".
    • Richard's Hannibal Lecture to Frank/"Domino" at the climax of My Work Is Not Yet Done contains several of these, the most important being the fact that Frank isn't actually dead.
  • Gautam Malkani's Londonstani is a witty and clever examination of British Asian youth culture told in London dialect with sprinklings of Hindi and Punjabi by main character Jas. Towards the end, it turns out that Jas's full name (including the surname which he never says out loud during the main plot because "nobody can pronounce it") is "Jason Bartholomew-Cliveden": Jas is not himself Asian, but a white boy so thoroughly in love with Asian culture that there are almost no clues to his race in his behaviour.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey: In The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers explicitly says she's omitting the identity of a crucial object from the crime scene, as "an intelligent reader ought to be able to figure it out".
  • Shirley Jackson's famous short story "The Lottery" features a tiny, rural American town with a tradition of holding an annual lottery. Things get suspicious when a woman begins to protest after finding out that someone in her family is going to win, then protests even more after she gets selected. Turns out the "winner" of this lottery gets stoned to death as a human sacrifice.
  • Novelist Alistair MacLean had a variation on this where the narrator would simply omit to mention certain essential pieces of Back Story. Done most effectively in Fear Is The Key, in which the narrator, having shot his way out of his own murder trial, taken a hostage, and led a high-speed car chase all over the countryside, reveals that it's all been a show put on for the hostage's benefit.
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan series loves these. For example, at the beginning of the second book, Deadhouse Gates, it is revealed that Cotillion and Ammannas were Dancer and Kellanved.
  • Richard Matheson was known to use these from time to time. One short story opened with an author putting the finishing touches on a new novel. We trace the novel as it goes from person to person—a mailman who delivers it to a publishing house, the publisher himself, a bookseller, etc. It's not until the end of the story that we find out the whole thing is taking place After the End—it turns out the author is alone in a desolate city ruined by nuclear war, and has gone completely insane. He writes the same "new" novel every day, and acts like all the other people in the story, using different costumes to play the parts for himself. Sharp-eyed readers might pick up on this fact by noticing that all of the characters in the story have variations on the name Richard (Rick, Dick, etc.).
  • Anthony Horowitz's Sherlock Holmes novel Moriarty contains a doozy. The narrator introduces himself as Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton Detective who, after the body fished out of Reichenbach Falls is identified as James Moriarty, comes to Europe in pursuit of American criminal Clarence Devereux. Partnering with Holmes-obsessed Inspector Athelney Jones, Chase is able to track down Devereux. However, Chase is not attempting to bring Devereux to justice, but to take over his crime ring in America - because Chase is James Moriarty.
  • The children's poem "The New Kid on the Block" by Jack Prelutsky features a litany of abuses perpetrated by a new neighborhood bully. At the very end, it's revealed that the bully is a girl.
  • Tom Tyron's The Other appears at first to be an Evil Twin horror story with 11-year old Holland, identical brother of Niles, killing various and sundry troublesome folks in bucolic 1935 America. Suffice it to say Holland was dead long before the action of the story takes place.
  • In D. J. McHale's The Pendragon Adventure series, Ibara occupies the same physical world as Veelox but is in the future.
  • The first chapter with Poplock as a point-of-view character in Phoenix Rising goes out of its way to avoid mentioning, until the final sentence, that he isn't human.
  • H. Beam Piper used one of these in "The Return", when the nature of the society is explained with the final reveal of their patron deity: Sherlock Holmes.
    • Although really, there were plenty of clues for any Holmes fan.
    • Piper also ends up using this trope in "Crossroads of Destiny", where it turns out that the strange man on the train was from our universe. Available here.
  • Pierre Boulle's original Planet of the Apes novel has a perfect example of this that was never translated to film. Besides the already well-known story twist there's a second one: while the bulk of the story is told from the perspective of the human who encounters the advanced ape race, at the beginning we're told the story was found in a diary by the occupants of a spaceship. At the end of the story, it's revealed the astronauts are actually apes, and they find the whole story in the diary to be hogwash.
  • Diana Wynne Jones's book Power of Three has a Tomato Surprise revealed halfway in the book - the main characters are small people who live in our world, and the giants they see are ordinary humans.
  • The Queen's Thief: The Thief combines this with Unreliable Narrator, as for most of the book, the narrator Gen seems to be a classic Street Rat, but he's eventually revealed to be a young aristocrat on an espionage mission to steal back a national treasure.
    • Actually, the whole series abounds with these. (A hint to fellow tropers: if you ever plan on reading the series — really don't read the spoiler tags!)
  • Ravenloft: In Vampire of the Mists, Katya and Trina turn out to be the same person. The heroes don't figure this out until too late, however, because it never occurs to Sasha to introduce his fiancée to Jander, who would have recognized her instantly. This works especially well, because there are clues all along that make it obvious in retrospect.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's very short story "Reunion" aliens are addressing humans as long-lost cousins and promise to cure them of one affliction that keeps them from reuniting with the rest of intelligent human life in galaxy, that affliction being white skin colour.
  • The short story Shards is very surreal, and starts with the protagonist awakening in a dark place. Slowly he discovers more about his surroundings, and increasingly weird things begin to happen. It's in first-person and it's clear he's not quite all there, making it difficult for the reader to work out what's really going on around him. The truth is, parts of a human brain - hence the title - have been implanted into a fish in a military experiment. This is why he perceives the world in a weird way and can't seem to interact with anything in the early part of the story - he's in a fishtank, and his brain hasn't yet worked out that he doesn't have hands any more.
  • In a story by Robert Sheckley, the narrator is contacted through a dream ("I'm sorry for interrupting your dream, but...") by a race of microscopic people living on a small area of his skin, and who want him to stop scratching at an itch because it is devastating their cities. They come to a peaceful agreement, and the narrator muses on how this experience has made him reconsider his perception of his world and its natural phenomena. As such, he's sorry for interrupting your dream, but...
    • Another one of his short stories appears to show two men high on drugs beginning to hallucinate that they are insects... when they really are insects, who have just come down off a really intense LSD peak during which they hallucinated that they were primates. It's probably a Shout-Out to the famous Chinese philosopher's story about having dreamed he was a butterfly.
  • Throughout the Skulduggery Pleasant series, there is a man who acts as a Mysterious Backer for most of the antagonists of the books. The narrator names him "the man with golden eyes" but gives no further clues as to who he is. Turns out he's a regularly-occurring good guy — one whose eye color was never described. The characters knew all along that he had golden eyes, but the reader didn't.
  • The Sword of Truth: Stone of Tears has a villain appearing throughout the book, and it is always mentioned that she has an unusual eye color. Then, a chance remark by another person leads to the protagonist thinking about these eyes, belonging to his teacher. Who just invited him to a secret meeting so she can help him.
  • Judith Merril's infinitely creepy short story "That Only a Mother". The first half is a series of letters from a young woman to her husband, describing the later stages of her pregnancy and how relieved she is that she's given birth to a normal healthy baby, not deformed by radiation like so many are since the war. But, she realizes/reveals, the baby's better than normal: she's a supergenius, able to speak in sentences before she's six months old! The second part is in narrative: the baby's father comes home and realizes that there's something strange about his daughter — stranger even than his wife has mentioned. Not until the last paragraphs does he realize that his wife is delusional: their daughter is indeed a supergenius, but she's also a deformed mutant with no arms or legs.
  • In Time and Time Again by Ben Elton, the hero is sent from 2024 to 1914 to prevent World War I. Toward the end readers learn why it's never referred to by number, but occasionally called "The Great War". In their timeline, it was the only world war, but it lasted twice as long.
  • In the Transall Saga, by Gary Paulsen, the tomato surprise comes halfway through the book, when it is revealed the medieval-themed alien planet on which he has been trapped by a strange blue light is actually Earth after it was stricken by a horrific plague.
  • In Gene Kemp's children's novel The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler, the protagonist is a bold, athletic, rebellious schoolchild. At the end it is revealed that the character is, in fact, female, Tyke being a nickname for Theodora. This is an interesting example of the Tomato Surprise, as the twist ending is intended as a challenge to the reader's preconceptions, rather than turning the entire plot on its head. Compare with the Lost episode "Walkabout" (below).
    • Both the sequels do something similar. In Gowie Corby Plays Chicken, there's a Framing Story in which Gowie is telling the story to his kids, about his childhood as a school bully, his hatred of a girl called Heather, and how an awkward friendship with an American girl inspired him to change. At the end it's revealed that the previously unnamed wife in the framing story is Heather. (It's also not stated in the text that Rosie is African-American until near the end, but if that's supposed to be a twist, no-one told the cover artist.)
    • And in Charlie Lewis Plays For Time, the final revelation is that the title character is the school vandal, seeking revenge on the Sadist Teacher who's replaced Cool Teacher Mr. Merchant.
  • In Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis, the plot suddenly makes far more sense halfway through the book when the narrator finally uses a pronoun that indicates that she's female.
  • William F. Nolan's "The Underdweller": It's only revealed at the very end that the monsters the protagonist lives in fear of after aliens killed the rest of humanity aren't the aliens, but feral children — the alien attack was Only Fatal to Adults.
  • Something like the EC Comics examples above, Harry Harrison's The Velvet Glove has a robot underclass 20 Minutes into the Future. Robots have a curfew and have to take shitty jobs that are little more than indentured servitude. Our hero, Jon Venex, accidentally runs into a man on the street who accuses Jon of attacking him. Jon's just about to get lynched via powerline when a huge truck driver shows up and breaks up the mob. He gives Jon a subversive pamphlet as the narrative reveals that he's black.
  • In the 13th book of Erin Hunter's Warrior Cats series, The Sight, it took until the end of the 2nd chapter or so to find out that a new main character, Jaykit, was blind. His narration never mentions what anything looks like, but most readers don't pick that up.
  • In the Robert Cormier novel We All Fall Down, one of the viewpoint characters is the Avenger, an apparent eleven-year-old boy, albeit a precocious and psychopathic one, who kills people and peeps on teenaged girls. In the end, it is revealed that he is actually a mentally-disturbed man in his forties.
  • Karen Joy Fowler's "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" features the heroine setting off in search of her missing sister who is a chimpanzee, raised as her sister for the first five years of their lives as part of an aborted experiment.
  • There's an Ursula K. Le Guin short story called "The Wife's Story", which at first looks like a standard werewolf story but is not. The narrator's husband is a werewolf; but the narrator herself is a wolf, appalled when her husband horrifyingly turns into a human.
    • The short story "A Wilder Truth" by Mari Hersh-Tudor has a similar twist. The story is about a young girl who is hunted down by her family once she becomes a werewolf upon adolescence. At the end of the story, it becomes apparent that the protagonist's family is a wolf pack, and she is a wolf who turns into a human. After escaping her family, she chooses to live as a human.
  • In Wilson Tucker's 1970 Science Fiction novel, Year Of The Quiet Sun, the main character's ethnicity isn't mentioned until the last chapter, which turns out to be especially surprising, as it leaves readers to make culturally-biased assumptions.
  • The great Robert Bloch's short story "The Yougoslaves" (sic) used this: the narrator has thus far seemed to be a perfectly normal, though insanely determined old man. Then he survives what should be lethal wounds, and it's ultimately revealed that he's a vampire.
  • Zones of Thought, A Fire Upon the Deep: In the beginning, nothing seems to be strange about Peregrine and the others. However, it soon turns out that they're all packs of telepathic dogs.
  • There's a very minor example in The Book of the Gear. The main characters are not described unless a specific trait of theirs comes up. Until about a month in when Heinrich has occasion to clamp his hand over Eland's mouth, and Eland describes inch-long claws wrapping around his muzzle, the reader has almost no indication that these two might not be human.
  • A 1952 sci-fi tale Double Standard has a man wear an elaborate body disguise to get into space, because of the belief that he's not suitable to withstand space conditions. He proves otherwise by stowing away on board a rocketship, only being captured by the crew after they're in orbit. It's only when he removes his fake breasts that we get The Reveal that the crew are an Amazon Brigade. Turns out women were used as the first astronauts for their small stature and stamina, then monopolized the space profession afterwards.


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