Wed
Oct 20 2010 12:51pm

Classic Science Fiction Tearjerkers

Classic science fiction tearjerkersIn my post on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I mentioned that Mike’s death made me cry—that’s me, weeping for the death of an imaginary computer. I mist up very easily and at all sorts of things. Jerry Pournelle has brought tears to my eyes more than once. H. Beam Piper, too. If a book is well written and emotionally involving and something sad happens, the page will swim before me. Really well written moving things will make me cry even in public—there are a number of times I’ve been reading on trains and buses and had to pretend to have got something in my eye.

Early conditioning makes this hard to admit—I feel as if you’re all going to point at me and jeer “crybaby.” I feel as if I have to defuse by making fun of myself in advance. It isn’t a safe vulnerability to own up to. Still, as I’ve grown older I’ve stopped feeling so embarrassed about it, mostly.

In comments to that post, Nancy Lebovitz said:

Heinlein’s skill at tear-jerking is probably worth a post in itself. I can’t think of any other sf author who even tries to do tear-jerking. There was some in Steel Beach, but that was a Heinlein homage.

To which HelenS replied:

What? Even assuming you’re thinking mainly of Golden Age guys, I’d have thought there were lots. Asimov’s The Ugly Little Boy comes to mind, and various bits of Clarke’s Childhood’s End. And Flowers for Algernon—could there BE anything more tear-jerking than Flowers for Algernon?

Nancy responded:

Good points about “The Ugly Little Boy” and “Flowers for Algernon”, and, arguably, “The Last Question”. I didn’t get that effect from Childhood’s End, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re not the only one.
I still think Heinlein did much more of it than most authors, but I’ll be curious to see if there’s more that I’m missing.
And, of course, “Eyes Do More than See”, but I’m not sure it actually made me cry.
On the other hand, I reliably mist up if I think about “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants”.

to which HelenS pointed out:

I think there are also a lot of unsuccessful attempts at tear-jerking in classic sf — e.g., “Helen O’Loy.”

“Helen O’Loy” leaves me cold too. And for that matter so does “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants” which also seems to me to be trying too hard. But I’d never thought about this in these terms before. Was Heinlein trying to produce tears? Was Daniel Keyes? I admit I’ve never seen the the last page of Flowers for Algernon clearly, and just thinking about the line about the blue book with the torn cover can make me need to bite my lip sternly and take deep breaths. (If I had one of those diseases where you have to make your eyes water I could read just that and be fine.) Was this a deliberate effect, rather than a side effect? And are moving bits rare in classic science fiction? Was Heinlein especially good at this? I am clearly not the person to ask. Asimov has made me cry. 

So this is the question. Is Nancy right that this is a rare thing in classic science fiction? Or is Helen right that there are plenty of examples, and plenty of examples of doing it wrong? Do you cry easily, or are you one of those people who laughs at the death of Little Nell? What are the best and worst examples of tearjerkers?

Also, a thought. When you are a writer and people say to you “Your book made me cry,” “Oh good!” is not the appropriate response. Neither is “I’m sorry!” I’m still working on this one. I’ve never deliberately written anything while cackling and rubbing my hands together saying “Aha! This will make them cry!” Leaving aside how hard it is to type while rubbing your hands together, do people actually do this?

Photo of sidewalk stencil by Flickr user Sean Y used under Creative Commons license


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She has a ninth novel coming out in January, Among Others. If you like these posts you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

101 comments
Tim Nolan
1. Dr_Fidelius
The first one I thought of was Flowers for Algernon. The short story didn't quite do it but the novel wrecked me for the afternoon.
Scot Taylor
2. flapdragon
Ted Sturgeon. "Slow Sculpture," "The Man Who Lost the Sea," a half-dozen others whose titles escape me.

I don't know how far forward you want to take "classic" SF and/or you want to include fantasy but Connie Willis's Doomsday Book always brings me to tears, as does John Crowley's Little, Big.
james loyd
3. gaijin
The only book I can remember making me cry is Love You Forever by Munsch so while I still think it's a good book I pass along a warning with any recommendation and I hope to avoid ever reading it again myself.

I've never found crying to be particularly cathartic and even if it were it is still physically unpleasant, almost identical to a bad bout of hay fever. Therefore I try to avoid it when possible, just like I try to avoid physical pain when possible. The fact that people willingly subject themselves to stimuli they KNOW will make them cry baffles me. It's like intentionally giving yourself a paper cut.
Jeff LeBlanc
4. Jeff_LeBlanc
"Flowers for Algernon" is the big one for me, definitely. Several pieces by Connie Willis, including Doomsday Book and "Last of the Winnebagos". What about "Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy? Or Mike Resnick's "For I Have Touched the Sky"? "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang... I'm sure this will end up being quite a long list in the comment threads.
Bill Siegel
5. ubxs113
I mostly agree with Nancy, that it’s a rare thing in classic sci-fi but Helen has a point too. There are great examples out there of the good and bad, it's just such an intensely personal thing as to what may or may not hit that nerve.

Some books and authors are better at getting to it than others, but it could happen anytime depending on the person reading it. There may be people out there who really identify with Doc Smith's Lensmen and get a bit teary eyed at the end of Triplanetary.

For me, George R. Stewart's Earth Abides may not be Golden Age but it's certainly a classic and I was pretty choked up at the end of it.

And while all the other books in Orson Scott Card's Ender universe have left me a bit cold I still cry like a baby at the end of Ender's Game every time I read it.

And I was pretty unhinged at the end of Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s Canticle for Leibowitz too.

And like several others here, Connie Willis' Doomsday Book did the trick for me too.

Are they intentionally trying to create a tearjerker? Or are they attempting to explore the human condition and touch on some universal theme that most of us can’t help but recognize and empathize with?

I think that best sci-fi explores the depths of the big questions: what is man, what is life, why are we here, etc. And in that exploration it causes us to question and acknowledge our own thoughts and feelings. That inevitably leads into exposing our selves to our own raw emotions that cannot and should not be held back, and sometimes that means we cry. I mean what else can one do, we’re not robots, yet.
David Levinson
6. DemetriosX
I don't know if you can say that Heinlein or Keyes were necessarily trying to produce tears, but I'm sure they were looking to generate an emotional response. It just so happened that they succeeded very well (especially Keyes).

Other than the examples we came up with last time, I can't really think of any classic SF that can make me mist up. I'm sure there are examples and maybe somebody will jog my memory here. If you want to cast the net a little wider, the very last line of Lord of the Rings gets me every time and the song '39 by Queen (hey, it's very SFnal and written by a man who is now an astrophysicist!) can get to me about 2/3 of the time.
PhoenixFalls
7. PhoenixFalls
Several of those books already mentioned make me cry too -- Flowers for Algernon and Doomsday Book being the biggies. One not yet mentioned is just about anything but James Tiptree, Jr. I started reading her collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever in the bookstore and had to pretend there was something in my eye at the end of the first four stories!

But that experience has been rarer for me in science fiction than it is in fantasy; probably one of the reasons that a lot more of my absolute favorite novels are fantasy novels than science fiction. I don't particularly like crying (as gaijin #3 pointed out it's rather unpleasant) but I do look to be moved by the fiction I read (and crying is a signal that the book has done that) so any book that kills off a major character (and this happens fairly frequently) that DOESN'T make me cry has done something wrong in my book.
PhoenixFalls
8. lupa
I always cry at the end of Flowers for Algernon and I also cried at the end of Zelazny's A Rose For Ecclesiastes the first time I read it. As far as seriously classic short stories, Mimsy Were the Borogroves was a surprise sniffler, and Poul Anderson's Kyrie got a good bawl out of me. For novels, LeGuin's The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest had me sobbing, and something about Mieville tends to tearjerk me at the oddest, creepiest times in his stories... like the moment in Perdido Street Station when (generically phrased to keep from spoiling the moment) the demons are scared.

While I think as a genre sci-fi attracts writers who are more interested in making their audience think rather than feel for their characters (Stephenson is a good example) there have been plenty of examples out there from both ends. So I'm in Helen's camp here.

For me, I've frequently had people tell me my writing made them cry or otherwise have an intense reaction. One classmate once said "it made me have nightmares, but I mean that in a good way." I eventually settled on "thank you for caring about it" as the best way to respond. Because really, what is a better compliment than having someone care that much about your brainchildren?
Clifton Royston
9. CliftonR
The final chapter of The Iron Dragon's Daughter gets me every time. (And the slightly earlier chapter when she is finally able to question the Goddess seems to me one of the most genuinely spiritually profound in fantasy.)
Chris Hawks
10. SaltManZ
I always tear up at the very end of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.
PhoenixFalls
11. Dr. Thanatos
For me it's:

Flowers for Algernon
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Childhood's End
The City and The Stars/Against the Fall of Night
Rob Munnelly
12. RobMRobM
Flowers for Algernon (absolutely yes) and Bujold's Memory (during the Miles-Simon scene - incredibly emotional) and the novella Mountains of Mourning (during Miles' post-sentence discussion with Hanna). Also re novellas, the end of Shiras' In Hiding (where Timmy finally reveals his secret, to the psychatrist's wonder).

Good topic.

Rob
PhoenixFalls
13. Neville Park
Doomsday Book for sure. Also, if comics count, Raymond Briggs's When the Wind Blows. And, near the end of Mary Gentle's Ash, "I have had love."

What "classic" sf I've read generally tends to purely intellectual admiration or "it's full of stars"-type awe. Will have to look up the titles everyone's mentioning!
Jo Walton
14. bluejo
There are some books where bits make me laugh and other bits make me cry, but something I read recently made me laugh and cry at the same time. I wish I could remember what it was.
j p
15. sps49
I always get watery eyes when the Millenium Falcon shoots Vader's wingman and comes out of the sun to save Luke and the Rebellion.

I cried again after The Phantom Menace.

There are passages in the Eddings' books that do it, too. I can get immersed and emotional, too; don't sweat it, Jo!
Drew Holton
16. Dholton
I don't cry per se, (nor hold anything against those that do), but I do on occasion get choked up. I'll have to think further on what books caused that for me.

But on the subject itself, whenever I have reason to think on the subject of crying, the classic Heinlein phrase from Stranger in a Strange Land always pops into my head: "a catharsis of schmaltz". Which is just a great line, and often (not always by any means) an excellent description of what's happening.

But given the original question of whether Heinlein deliberately set out to get tearful reactions, one might look to the scene that line is from for a clue. In it, Jubal Harshaw is dictating a story to one of his "Front!" girls, with the deliberate intention of trying to draw tears from both her and himself. Heinlien speaking through Jubal? You decide!
PhoenixFalls
17. erinlb
Dunno if you're counting fantasy, but if you are:

Emma Bull's Finder, no question. I tend to be fairly quick to tear up myself (I have a list of songs on my ipod that I'm not allowed to play if I don't want to cry on the Metro), but that's one of the only books that's ever made me sob so hard I couldn't see the paper.
David Levinson
18. DemetriosX
Jo, I meant to ask where Jerry Pournelle has made you choke up. I enjoy his work, but that isn't really a quality I would associate with any of it.
Soon Lee
19. SoonLee
Jo @14:

Was in from Bujold's "A Civil Campaign"?
Bob Bruhin
20. bruhinb
The first thing I thought reading this post (other than "hi, Nancy") was of Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations. That and the already-mentioned A Rose For Ecclesiastes are probably the earliest examples of SF tearjerkers that I know about. I remember reading both of them over and over when I was in high school. I always thought
The Cold Equations would make an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone. (Apparently it eventually was made into one, but not until years later.)
Bob Bruhin
21. bruhinb
Oh, and we're supposed to be happy at the end of Childhood's End. It's all about The Singularity, after all. Happy Singularity!!
Leigh Butler
22. leighdb
I think it kind of depends on what your particular triggers are. I mean, for me personally all you have to do is kill off an animal and I'm a basket case. Do not even get me started about Old Yeller, for instance, or worse, The Red Pony. God.

I think that's related to a wider field, though: when innocents suffer (animals certainly falling in that category in my opinion), I respond vehemently. To Kill a Mockingbird left me almost incoherent for precisely that reason, as did The Crucible, and even money on whether those tears were more sorrow, or just helpless rage at the injustices portrayed.

In SF specifically, Flowers for Algernon goes without saying (Good Lord, I was a MESS after finishing that), and I can't imagine I didn't cry at least a couple of times while reading The Handmaid's Tale. When I was younger Mercedes Lackey always had the ability to make me tear up, especially with her Vanyel books in the Valdemar series.

Robin McKinley got me too, with Deerskin (there may be a theme here), and I know there's been a few points where I choked up reading Bujold's Vorkosigan series. Oh, and when Diarmuid fought the urgach in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar books; if you've read it you probably know why. I cried at several points during the final Harry Potter book, too.

And, er. There are probably more. Possibly I cry too easily?
Jo Walton
23. bluejo
DemetriosX: It's in the legion one, and the legion have been defeated and nearly killed, and Falkenberg (wounded) asks who has survived, and on being told the sergeant has he says "Then the legion lives!" because all they need to rebuild the legion is the commander and the sergeant. I'm not saying I put the book down and sobbed, but it definitely brought tears to my eyes. Masculine sentimentality, gets me every time. I don't know why it does. I mean I'm a girl and I don't have a military background. It may be too much Heinlein at an impressionable age. The bit where the wounded officer says "I answer for him" at the end of Space Cadet made me tear up on the bus, and I've read it a million times.
Matt Wright
24. matty42
I love it when I read a book that evokes so much emotion.

The last time it happened for me in a "sci-fi" book was The Time Traveler's Wife.
Drew Holton
25. Dholton
Ok, having given it further thought, here are some that have choked me up: The tale of the death of the Giants of Seareach in Stephen Donaldson's The Illearth War, the Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, the tale of Lazarus Long and the life and death of his one true love inTime Enough For Love. Also Cryptonomicon while funny, I found quite moving in parts during the World War II sections.
j p
26. sps49
bruhinbe @21- Bah. Childhood's End and Evangelion had endings that mde me want to cry- cry out in rage! Losing individuality to become part of a hivemind or yellow glop is not an advance or benefit, to me.

leighdb @22- I knew someone would bring up Old Yeller :)
David Levinson
27. DemetriosX
Jo@23: Fair enough. I'm susceptible to that myself. It's been a while since I've read any of his solo stuff, so nothing really stood out in my memory.

Dholton@25: Actually, what gets to me, now that you mention it, is more when Covenant stages the mass caamora for the ghosts of Seareach at the end of The Wounded Land. But for me that's more deeply moving than really being a tear-jerker.
Steve Downey
28. sdowney
Zelazny's This Mortal Mountain always makes me cry at the end.
"I remember the first time that I saw Purgatory, Linda," I told
her. "I looked at it and I was sick. I wondered, where did it
lead...?"
(Stars.
Oh let there be.
This once to end with.
Please.)
"Stars?"
Milton Pope
29. MiltonPope
After reading a classic anthology, I realized that three stories in particular had moved me to tears. They were:

- "Light of Other Days," by Bob Shaw
- "The Darfsteller," by Walter M. Miller, Jr
- "Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes.

I asked myself what it was they had in common. The answer was easy: loneliness. Well, I certainly don't consider myself a lonely person, but there it is.

--Milton
Claire de Trafford
30. ClairedeT
Ditto to Connie Willis' Domesday but also Lincoln Dreams, and also the end of the Time Traveller's Wife.

I also blub at the end of Dan Simmons' Rise of Endymion and Sherri Tepper's Sideshow (actually I cry quite a bit as I know what's coming).

I save these books for when I need a cathartic read.
Rikka Cordin
31. Rikka
Ender's Game made me cry (and still does) but that's OSC for ya, always torturing the protagonists.

Make fun of me for these perhaps but The Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb ALWAYS makes me cry ( Fool's Fate, gods above, I bawl like a squawly baby) and the Farseer Trilogy does maybe 2 out of 3 times (especially the beginning of Assassin's Quest). I start up a reread every time I need to cry.
Winchell Chung
32. Nyrath
The bit where the wounded officer says "I answer for him" at the end of Space Cadet...

That gets me a bit as well, but with only a fraction of the tears I get with the prequel to that bit of Space Cadet history: Heinlein's The Long Watch.
However, I cannot quite explain why I tear up at that one line in Diane Duane's Star Trek novel THE WOUNDED SKY: To not realize that one was poor, and now to be so rich...
Ken Walton
33. carandol
Just *thinking* about Arthur C. Clarke's "If I Forget Thee, O Earth" can make me feel a bit fragile...
Christopher Key
34. Artanian
It's definitely a fine line to straddle - for example, in Charles Stross's Saturn's Children at a spot not very far into it, there's a not very bright robot who's essentially a one-use spacecraft, who 'dies' as part of normal use. I found this so incredibly depressing and sad that I couldn't finish the book. I literally had no desire to read another page in that universe, sat it down, and took it back to the library. Not that it was sad, as such, but that such sadness and evil seemed to be incidental.
john mullen
35. johntheirishmongol
Maybe its me, but I can't think of any of those books that has made me tear up. Truthfully, Flowers for Algernon left me cold. It was sad but I never related to the character. Maybe because I saw the movie first. I do admit to tearing up to a number of movies, Old Yeller and Bambi obviously big on that list, but I don't find sad books often worthwhile reading.

Some of the stuff thats designed to make you cry just makes me laugh out loud, like the death scene in Titanic. It is too obviously manipulation.
A. L.
36. Rymenhild
Ray Bradbury, "All Summer in a Day." I must have been about eight when I read it, the geeky girl at the bottom of the school social hierarchy, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

Perhaps I didn't read it first. Perhaps I saw the 1982 TV version before I read the story. I'm pretty sure some elementary school teacher showed us the video and brought the story to us. Perhaps I saw the video twice. Perhaps I was seven, or nine. My memories of that time are blurred. But I know for days I could only think of that girl shut up in a closet by her cruel classmates, on the only day in seven years she could possibly see the sun.
Ambar Diaz
37. ambar
Cryoburn made me cry, and it takes a lot.
Andrew Barton
38. MadLogician
HAL's dying scene in 2001, as his mind goes,
gets to me. Again, 'the death of an imaginary computer'.
PhoenixFalls
39. RobinM
I cry at the end of the moon is a harsh mistress too. I also cry at the end of All the Wyeres of Pern when Master Robinton dies. Avias not so much, speaking of imaginary computers. Old Yeller, the Red Pony and Bambi make everyone cry or tear up.
Brit Mandelo
40. BritMandelo
It's not a book, but I reliably bawl at the ending of Cowboy Bebop, every time, and I've seen it more than twenty in my lifetime, I think. It's just so perfect and wrenching. (A male friend once poked fun at me for this, so I made him watch the series in its entirity, and he also cried at the end. Cried like I did, hah.)

Elizabeth Bear has a tendency to get tears from me with character deaths and really awful, wrenching, gut-punch emotional trauma.

I cried uncontrollably watching Voices of a Distant Star. Also, the end of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

I'm always looking for an impact when I read or watch things--I would rather feel like someone has just hit me in the face than feel nothing about a book. I like to be upset (in a good way) by books, to be dragged through the mess of emotions with the characters. I like it when there's not a happy ending, because it's so rare.
Angus McIntyre
41. angusm
My personal entries in this category would be (spoiler warning) the death of the wind in Brian Stableford's "Swan Song", and the closing chapter of Poul Anderson's "A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows", when Flandry bombards Cheiron. The latter is ironic, because it's the point in the Flandry stories when you finally get the full measure of the absolute amorality hidden by Aycharych's urbane and cultured airs - yet his destruction, along with everything he tried to preserve, is still tragic.

The closing lines of Cordwainer Smith's short story "Down to a Sunless Sea" also hit fairly hard.
PhoenixFalls
42. JUAN D GOMEZ
I have recently read "All Summer in a Day" and my reaction to it was more of anger at those mischievous little kids rather than tears in my eyes. Another of Bradbury's stories was the one that really brought tears (of emotion) to my eyes, many years ago. That was "I Sing the Body Electric", specially at the end, when the grandmother comes back to take care of the aged siblings.
Alison Sinclair
43. alixsin
Since other people have mentioned film and TV - the last episode of Babylon 5, "Sleeping in Light". I came in after a night on surgery rotation, turned on the VCR, started crying at "Goodnight my love," and sat there with tears dripping off the tip of my nose until the final scene. Only other time I've cried myself into a comparable puddle was seeing Spartacus at age 14.

I didn't cry at Doomsday book, but years later I remember the cold, still feeling I got inside at one particular heartbreaking and exquisitely understated point.
PhoenixFalls
44. hapax
I'm a dreadful weeper -- I sob at coffee commercials, fer cryin' out loud -- and most of those mentioned get me. (Especially Sturgeon's short stories -- "Silken-Swift", "The Loverbirds", oh, "Saucer of Loneliness", oh, now I'm a wreck again...

But I can't believe I'm the first to mention Tanith Lee's SILVER METAL LOVER. Making teenage girls sob their hearts out for thirty years now...
John Adams
45. JohnArkansawyer
I can open For Whom The Bell Tolls pretty much at random and start crying within a page or two.

The SF book that reliably gets me is Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain, in two places: The end of the first section, and the spot near the end marked by "it's a philosophical argument". Right there, those words, for that I cry.

There's also a spot in John Barnes' The Armies of Memory that does it, when a minor character meets a terrible, undeserved end.
john mullen
46. johntheirishmongol
@43 I am assuming that is the episode where Marcus saves Ivanova. I agree that's a pretty good tearjerker.

The saddest scene in any movie I think I ever saw was in Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett goes to the hospital and soldiers are laying on and around the railroad tracks and the camera pans up to the tattered conderate flag. It is one of the great shots of all time.
PhoenixFalls
47. Sitka
Ditto - Cryoburn made me cry buckets. Actually a lot of Bujold's do, gosh she is always a catharic read for me.

Name of the Wind (okay that is fantasy, but wow - the entire chapter where Kvothe is in the woods playing music slayed me), Flowers for Algernon, The Time Traveler's Wife, Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn (and the Samaria Series isn't my favourite by her either), Deerskin and many more. Hmm perhaps I am an overly-emotional reader . . .
PhoenixFalls
48. TOSinWA
One that gets me every time that I haven't seen mentioned is another Heinlein - "Requiem".

But "Flowers for Algernon" devastates me. I can't even read the title without a chin quiver.
PhoenixFalls
49. HelenS
Thanks for the shout-out, Jo! I think this does make a good topic. One of the bits of _Childhood's End_ that gets me (or used to) is the part about "We are the midwives, but we ourselves are barren." Again, it's the loneliness of it.
PhoenixFalls
50. critter42
While not traditional "literature", the first thing that came to mind was the death of Floyd the Robot in Infocom's classic SF game Planetfall.
PhoenixFalls
51. PeeterSR
Keith Roberts' short story "The Lordly Ones" (http://is.gd/gaSXa Google Books). Loneliness, again. Also, as per previous mentions, Flowers for Algernon, Silver Metal Lover (although I've never been a teenage girl) and Planetfall (#50). Also the introduction to Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy (http://is.gd/gaTj3), though it's not SF per se. I choked up again, just now, looking it up in Google books.
PhoenixFalls
52. Elana
I was forced to read Flowers for Algernon in the seventh grade, which probably killed any chance of real emotional impact for me. The only genre book I've read that has made me honestly cry (as opposed to just choke up) is one I haven't seen mentioned specifically here, the end of Bujold's The Warrior's Apprentice.
Gary Gibson
53. garygibson
Being of a hard heart and lacking of a soul (I'm a man, dammit), there's little if anything in a book that's going to make me cry. However, I'm shocked - shocked! - to see no mention of Michael Coney's 'Hello Summer, Goodbye' (published in the US, I believe, as I Remember Pallahaxi. I prefer the original title). The UK writer Eric Brown is enormously influenced by that book. Definitely a bit of a tearjerker. Or would be, if I had a soul. It's got it all: teenage romance, long lost love, bitter regrets, end of the world, etc etc.
PhoenixFalls
54. Innbranna
Second Bradbury's "All summer in a day", which I've never read, but vividly remember happening to watch on TV as a child. The imagery haunted me for years afterwards. All in all I cry far more easily over movies than over books. I don't particularly like Boromir's character in the books, but I break down every time I watch him die in the movie.  Also, I can be trusted to cry during the "Marseillaise"-scene in Casablanca. I often wonder to what extent writers or movie makers are able to predict these reactions in their audiences.
S Cooper
55. SPC
The biggest weepers I've read recently have been The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Those absolutely broke my heart.

The B5 episode I remember crying through was the one with the priest who turned out to be the mind-wiped murderer.
Bob Bruhin
56. bruhinb
sps49@26- When I was 15 reading CE for the first time at 15, I didn't agree with you about individuality. At this time in my life, it's much easier to tell when I'm being sarcastic: if I'm talking abou the singularity, I'm being sarcastic.
Bob Bruhin
57. bruhinb
OMG! I can't believe nobody said Bladerunner!! Not Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so much, but definitely Bladerunner.
Dave Bush
58. davebush
 And at a tangent, the correct response to people say to you “Your book made me cry” is surely something along the lines of "thank you for the compliment".
Winchell Chung
59. Nyrath
Yes, the B5 epsisode "Sleeping In The Light" gets me every time.

However, back in 1983, when the computer game Planetfall came out, the death of Floyd was an "aha" moment. The game suddenly became transformed from a simple puzzle solver into full fledged interactive literature.

Ernest Adams:

"Several years ago there was a debate in the game developers’ round table on GEnie (remember GEnie?) about whether or not a computer game could make you cry. ... The answer the GEnie crowd came up with was, yes, a computer game can make you cry: consider the death of Floyd the robot in Planetfall. ... Eventually, however, Floyd gave up his life for you, and there was no way to avoid it. It was a sad moment."


Risa Wolf
60. lupa
@55 spc: Oh yes and that was the Brad Dourif ep!! I cried at that too.

I find it really fascinating how, no matter what one's stance about crying over books in general, the majority of folks in this thread can easily find many stories that pulled the right emotional strings.
PhoenixFalls
61. a-j
Terry Pratchett's Johnny And The Dead when Tommy Atkins goes back to France.
PhoenixFalls
62. Nickp
"The Scholar's Tale" in Dan Simmon's Hyperion gets me. I haven't had the courage to re-read it since I became a father.
PhoenixFalls
63. Tim Bartik
"The Inner Light" episode of ST:TNG. The last 10 or 15 minutes have a lot of emotion: Picard's simulated character realizing that the planet will die, and telling his daughter to make "Now" be her guide; Picard's simulated character seeing the wife he thought was long-dead and realizing the purpose of the simulation; the moment on the bridge when Picard realized he lived someone else's life in 20 minutes: and the scene at the end where Picard plays the flute
PhoenixFalls
64. Mark R McSherry
Almost anything by Eric Frank Russell will either bring on the tears or a whooping belly laugh. If I could afford it, I'd buy everyone a copy of EFR's short story collection from NESFA, Major Ingredients.
lake sidey
65. lakesidey
Being someone who used to read a lot in the back of college classes, I learnt not to cry (or laugh) even under dire provocation. Still, "The Light of Other Days" and "Flowers for Algernon" and Clarke's "The Star" made my eyes mist over (fortunately unnoticed by my teachers!)

Plenty of other moving stories/novels which at least made my lower lip tremble; offhand I can remember the following:

The Cold Equations
The Silken Swift
Kyrie (?? not sure of the name - a black hole is involved, somewhere)
The Hedge Knight (does fantasy count? 'cos GRRM does a great job of making one feel miserable)

...and novels too:
"A Fire upon the Deep" and "A Deepness in the Sky" both had bits worth shedding a tear over.
Hyperion (the ending of "Scholars Tale" and the last part of "Remembering Siri" especially)
Startide Rising (several moments)
The speaking in "Speaker for the Dead"
The ending of "Ptolemy's Gate"
The ending of "Foundation and Empire" (not sure why, exactly!)
The ending of "Consider Phlebas"

Not remotely science fiction, but I think the story which hurt me the most is probably O Henry's "The Last Leaf" (it helps that I was very young when I first read it, but I suspect I would still have reacted the same way, almost twenty years later)...

~lakesidey
lake sidey
66. lakesidey
Er. I guess that last comment was longer than I realised when typing it :)

And how did I manage to forget "Unaccompanied Sonata"?

~lakesidey
PhoenixFalls
67. reaeverywhereelse
The end of Cherry Wilder's The Summer King has made me cry, on occasion . . .
PhoenixFalls
68. Rachel M Brown
There have been a number of mentions of Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, but several of her short stories are extremely moving too. The ones that get me the most are the two set in the Blitz, "Jack" and especially "Fire Watch." Especially the end of "Fire Watch," with the revelation at the end and the protagonist scribbling "one cat" on a piece of paper.

Lord of the Rings and Smith of Wootton Major make me cry because they're so beautiful more than because they're sad; similarly, George MacDonald's "The Golden Key."

"You must throw yourself in. There is no other way."
Dru O'Higgins
69. bellman
The end of Guy Gavriel Kay's the Darkest Road leaves me weeping.
PhoenixFalls
70. UlrikaO
I'm a veritable one woman waterworks, myself. I cry for "The Little Drummer Boy," fergoshsakes, so I may be a bit of an outlier. But still I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang. Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody (yes, okay, it's fantasy) reliably leaves me a weeping wreck at the end -- I haven't picked it up for 11 years because since I've had dogs of my own I've been pretty sure I couldn't deal with the ending. And while we're in the YA vein, and comparatively recent, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages scored a direct hit for me. Not that any of these is necessarily Classic Science Fiction, per se. What were we talking about again?
PhoenixFalls
71. paintedjaguar
I've always been an easy mark for books and movies, so particular works don't readily spring to mind, but since Heinlein was mentioned... one of my all-time favorites of his is The Door Into Summer. It's a great read, but the kicker is that I tear up at both the end and the beginning of the book.

The story's finale gets to me because it's such a happy ending -- everything comes right in the end, against all malice, misfortune, and even Time itself. All of the good guys get their hearts' desires and presumably they all live as happily ever after as any of us do (not least of which, the narrator's brave and feisty cat is rescued from being orphaned and winds up with two humans to love him). Of course it isn't real life, but that's sort of the point... it's an SF fairy tale. And for the Heinlein haters, I've had exactly the same reaction at the end of some of the Jane Austen adaptations of the past couple of decades, and for exactly the same reasons.

As for the beginning of The Door Into Summer, it is simply a thing of beauty, a short piece full of humour, longing and the natures of both humans and cats. If you don't know it, run out now, get the book and read the first couple of pages. It may be the best opening I've ever read, and stands on its own even without the rest of the story.
Sally Mahoney
72. smahoney
Many of what has already been mentioned and also:

Jean Auel - Clan of the Cave Bear

Orson Scott Card - Songmaster
PhoenixFalls
73. Rosemary Kirstein
Oh, McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang, absolutely! 14-year-old Me, who both sang and loved all things that flew -- what could be finer than to sail among the stars, singing for joy, forever?

Oh, crap. I'm crying right now just thinking about it.

And Card's Songmaster.

I'm trying to think, though... what recent book has made me cry. Recent science fiction, not fantasy?

I still think that Darryl Greory's Pandemonium is technically science fiction and not fantasy, and that one definitely got me going toward the end there. I love that book.
Nancy Lebovitz
74. NancyLebovitz
Jo, thank you for picking this up.

IIRC, "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" didn't make me cry until the most recent time I read it.

Ryman's The Child Garden made me sob, somewhere near the end.

"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" by Beagle is another, for much the same reason as "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants".
Rob Munnelly
75. RobMRobM
Alexander's Prydain Chronicles - well loved character bites the dust heroically.

The Sparrow - yes!! (I know Jo hates it but it packs several whallops).

I would include most of the Robin Hobbs' works - your gut gets ripped apart for Fitz many times - but they are fantasy rather than SF.

I'm trying to single out one of many emotional parts in the Gap Series by Donaldson - so much cr@ap happens to Morn it's hard to focus on a single one. Ditto re some of the back home characters.

I always come back to In Hiding by Wilmar Shiras, which gets me every time. (I teared up now thinking of it.) As discussed above, huge issue of a heartbreakingly lonely character.

Rob
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76. JonathonD
I can't believe that "The Bicentennial Man" hasn't been mentioned. Both the book and the novella have me in tears every time I read them.
David Levinson
77. DemetriosX
RobMRobM@75:

Now that you mention it, there are a couple of times in the Chronicles of Prydain that I choke up. I think the toughest for me is when Fflewdur Fflam makes a very big sacrifice in The High King.
PhoenixFalls
78. Shireling
Anybody still reading this? Can't believe no one has mentioned Heinlein's The green hills of Earth.

Also, Clark Ashton Smith's Phoenix.
"I will come back to you in the sunlight."

So -- what SF makes you laugh?
I nominate almost everything by Eric Frank Russell.
Though he could make me cry, too -- as in I am nothing.
Rob Munnelly
79. RobMRobM
@77 - I was thinking of Coll myself, also in The High King.
Winchell Chung
80. Nyrath
Yes, Shireling. Just this morning I suddenly rememberd Eric Frank Russell's I am nothing, but you beat me to it.
brightening glance
81. brightglance
There are plenty of scenes which make me weepy but one I always enjoy being moved by is that scene in Kirstein's The Outskirter's Secret involving (the character whose name we find out afterwards is) Efraim - the one which ends with the recited words, "And Damita was first".
Elizabeth Bear
82. matociquala
If we get fantasy as well as SF, I have to second a bunch above ("The Silken-Swift," Doomsday Book, The Fionavar Tapestry (Lancelot fighting the woods-demon, and "Oh, Guenevere. Oh, my very dear." Brutal) "The Light of Other Days")...

...and add some of my own.

The Last Unicorn is a book I cannot read in public. Because I laugh and cry alternately, and occasionally at the same time, and that's ugly. (The page with the passage ending "He gave himself up for loved." And the very end of the book. And hell, most of it.)

Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas chasing the orcs that have Merry and Pippin.

The dragon fight in Robin McKinley's Hero and the Crown

Robert Charles Wilson's Bios

John Varley's "Blue Champagne"

"Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" and "The Screwfly Solution" (Oh, man, LitP, tPiD is the saddest story ever)

Diane Duane's Door into... books, especially the first one, where Sunspark (spoiler). Even though I know how it comes out, it kills me.

"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"

Beloved. Pretty much the whole damned book. (Do ghost stories count?)
PhoenixFalls
83. OtterB
Flowers for Algernon
The Cold Equations
the end of The Tale of the Adopted Daugher in Time Enough for Love
the end of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
the scene in Memory when Miles loses his ImpSec silver eyes

The only one I haven't seen others mention is the scene in Paladin of Souls with "Your Father calls you to his court..."
PhoenixFalls
84. the_maenad
Someone's already mentioned Walter Miller's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ and the short "The Darfsteller", but for me the Miller which gets me to break down is "Dumb Waiter", specifically (she said, trying not to spoil) the scene in the robot-run hospital. I can't think of much else in SF that rips me up to the extent of tears.
PhoenixFalls
85. LadyGreyand sibber
Neville@13--Briggs' "When the Wind Blows" had me a sobbing, horrified *mess*. To this day, many years later, I can't think about it without shudders.

The end of "Watership Down".

The end of "Shards of Honor".

The end of "The Time-Traveler's Wife", *every time*.

The unexpected bittersweet end of "The Graveyard Book".

Just about any scenes with DEATH in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

Short stories, many of which have already been mentioned--All Summer in a Day, Homecoming (Bradbury could always turn a phrase to set my waterworks off), A Rose for Ecclesiastes, The Ugly Little Boy, The Silken-Swift, A Pail of Air, The Cold Equations. Some of Zenna Henderson's People stories had me sniffling. And there's a story whose title and author I can't remember, about a man cryogenically frozen, woken to a world where he simply no longer fits. So they put him back to sleep, saying sadly that they'll just have to keep trying...

Oh, and at least half of everything Peter S Beagle has ever written.
PhoenixFalls
86. Frostfox
Heinlein was a bugger for making me tear up, I only have to think of his extra verse to 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save' to get started.

'All mighty ruler of the all,
Whose power extends to great and small,
Who guides the stars with stead fast law,
Who's least creation fills with awe,
Oh grant Thy mercy and Thy grace
To those who venture into space.'

Andra, by Louise Lawrence, which I read at school and while I'm thinking of juveniles, the end of The Moon of Gomrath (which should surprise no one who knows me). Helen braking the vase in Elidor. A couple of places in The Owl Service.
The Last Unicorn, both book and animation. I cry for Molly Grue's line of the Unicorn coming too late in the film, every time.
Charles de Lint and Terry Pratchett can make me misty eyed too.
Beautiful stuff can move me as well as sad.

Tristam and Isolde on the bed of roses in Camelot 3000, because it was lovely and in a mainstream comic at a time when you didn't see things like that very often.
Jean's suicide on the moon, sadly devalued by all the ret-con's, but powerful at the time.
Couple of times in Omaha, The Cat Dancer, not bad for a comic which first appeared in Bizarre Sex. Sign of good writing, when you can make anthromophic cats sympathetic.
Gilbert Hernandez in Love and Rockets, some of the Palomar stories moved me.
Valerie Page's story in V for Vendetta. Every single time.
Maus.
Where the Wind Blows.
Barefoot Gen.

Grave of the Fireflies.
When Miles and Julian hug in What You Leave Behind.
The end of The King and I, the end of West Side Story, Carousel, Camelot, "Run, boy. Run!"... oops, not SF... I'm a sucker for musicals, and clearly a soft touch to boot.

Interesting topic, Jo, thank you.

FF
PhoenixFalls
87. intertext
I think Connie Willis gets the prize. Sorry if I've missed it somewhere in all the threads, but I'm surprised no one has mentioned Passage. That had me in shreds, as did "The Last of the Winnebagoes" and Lincoln's Dreams.

And seconding Emma Bull's Finder.
David Dyer-Bennet
88. dd-b
I definitely tear up at some kinds of things in books a LOT more easily than I did 30 years ago. It's moderately embarrassing in public; I refuse to let it bother me the rest of the time (with moderate success).

I'm not sure what does it, exactly. Sometimes the most moving things don't, and some of the things that do are not terribly deep or well-executed (David Weber does it now and then!).

In terms of reaction -- if they clearly resent you doing so, you could look smug and apologize :-). And if they seem impressed, you could look smug but apologize and express the wish that it wasn't anywhere too embarrassing.
Cassandra Phillips-Sears
89. cphillips-sears
The end of Watership Down, though I use that book as a touchstone against death or great change, so I always end up crying more about my own feelings than about Hazel.

Chance, by Connie Willis. This hits me so hard and so personally that I can't help but cry.

The end of Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle."
PhoenixFalls
90. OtterB
Forgot another, relatively recent. Near the end of the most recent Dresden Files, Changes. Serious spoiler for the book itself and a shift to how things earlier in the series appear, so ROT13'd

Jura Uneel ernyvmrf ur unf gb fraq uvf qnhtugre njnl sbe ure gb or fnsr, naq unaqf ure bire gb Zhecul.
PhoenixFalls
91. lola raincoat
Sometimes, fanfic makes me weepy when the original text didn't evoke nearly so strong a response. For instance, there's one long Stargate: Atlantis fic about the long, purposeful life led by Major Character A after the death of Major Character B, who was his lover, which just ... man, just typing this sentence is making me sniffle. Whereas the TV show itself inspired in me nothing more than the desire to snigger. Similarly, lots and lots (and lots) of fanfic has made the awful plight of Professor Snape, from the Harry Potter series, real and painful to me in ways that Rowling's books did not, even though she made him up.

I don't know why this should be so. Is it just me? Is it that the fanfic authors have no shame about writing melodramas?
PhoenixFalls
93. Neil in Chicago
So at almost a hundred comments, there isn't much to add . . .

Sturgeon is sui generis.
Bradbury and Connie Willis are repeatedly awesome.

It should have taken a lot less than 85 comments before anyone got to Zenna Henderson. I know in advance I'm going to have a lump in my throat when I run into one of the People stories, and Doovie . . .

But Zelazney, Tiptree, and Cordwainer Smith are a little different. Not everyone will lose it on the same stories, but for each of them, there are several stories that will do it to you (or I'm not sure I want to know you).
PhoenixFalls
94. kiptw
Several already mentioned: Algernon, for sure. "The last inch," from Vendetta. Brain won't tell me any new ones.

But there's an otherwise undistinguished episode of the original "Star Trek" where Spock goes up to his suffering friend and says "Forget." I don't even have to see it for it to work.

Since somebody mentioned Old Yeller, I'll include the ending of Chandler's "Red Wind," the most devastating half page I know.

Laughing and crying at the same time: FEED THE KITTY, directed by Chuck Jones. Even knowing what I know, Marc Antony's grief affects me more powerfully than an animated bulldog might be expected to: it's hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
Michael Burke
95. Ludon
As others have mentioned movies and TV episodes, I'll go ahead and add this. That improvised ending of Fahrenheit 451 (The movie directed by Truffaut) always gets to me. A fine example of the power of storytelling.

Note: Spoiler for Fate Is The Hunter ahead.





Another bit that got to me - though it is not science fiction - was in Ernest K. Gann's book Fate Is The Hunter. The part where the pilot is told that by taking on extra fuel and setting a faster speed in his eagerness to get finished with that last flight before his vacation, he had managed to arrange the only possible combination of power, speed and weight that could have kept his defective airliner from falling out of the sky.
E. M. Epps
96. EMEpps
Someone mentioned Diane Duane's The Wounded Sky. I rarely cry, but the last hundred pages or so of that book inevitably make me tear up and sniffle - not because they're sad, but because they're beautiful. One of my favorite books.

The only other thing that comes to mind that made me a bit teary recently is a chapter in John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale where (no spoilers) a secondary character dies.

Of course, now I'm curious to read Flowers for Algernon. I own a copy which shamefully I have never read. Might have to give it a go soon just to see how it affects me....
Cathy Mullican
97. nolly
I don't cry over fiction easily. I can't recall ever crying over a book. It's just not how I work. Get me really scared, on the other hand -- not ghost-story scared, but "how will I pay the mortgage?" scared, and the waterworks turn on far too easily.

That said, I wept through the end of Serenity. I haven't been able to face re-watching it since. Someday, in good company, but not alone.
PhoenixFalls
98. Dr. Thanatos
Re: The Door Into Summer

As someone who has lost a few cats along the way , the discussion of Pete preparing to take the Longest Sleep does affect me.

Re: Foundation and Empire

I had also forgottent the Mule. There is something about the Mule's admission that despite being able to control minds and conquer the Galaxy, he could leave nothing behind him, and the way he said it that hit me hard. If I might dare to speak for those of us who have had to deal with fertility issues, the Mule is our poster boy; for those of us who have found it difficult to talk about these issues not make it easy] his "coming out" here always leaves me incoherent for a few moments.
PhoenixFalls
99. Jim Henry III
Several things by Connie Willis have made me cry, most especially and recently Passage -- I'm fixing to re-read "Fire Watch", Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog before reading Blackout/All Clear, and shouldn't be surprised if the former two have the same effect, though they don't always.

Several episodes of Neil Gaiman's Sandman affect me that way -- the chapter near the end of Preludes and Nocturnes where Death first appears, and a couple of similar scenes in Brief Lives
and The Kindly Ones.

Jo mentioned The Old Curiosity Shop; I didn't laugh at the death of Little Nell, but it wasn't particularly affecting to me, either. Dickens does that sort of thing better in Dombey and Son, David Copperfield and Bleak House.

But more than anything else I've read in recent years, Susan Palwick's The Necessary Beggar and Shelter -- especially the endings, but also several other parts, I think.
lake sidey
100. lakesidey
EMEpps@96 : Do read the short story. Not sure if the novel is as powerful, but bitter experience (Nightfall, in particular) has convinced me that a short story converted to a novel does not always retain the power of the original story.

RobMRobM@75 and DemetriosX@77 : Agreed on the Prydain Chronicles. Several points (at least once in each book I guess) which leave a lump in the throat....In the final book alone, I can offhand remember at least three deaths (and the moment of decision at the end, also) which *hurt*

P.S. Whee, 100th comment ;)
Tomas Gerst
101. IamnotSpam
The death of Rod Gallowglass and Fess. Even before that the death of Gwen Gallowglass. Magnus coming home. Is the most recent story to pull salt from my eyes. The first was Ole Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. In between were many already mentioned. Hienlein, Zelanzy, Hal dying, Silent Running (more robots), McCaffery(esp. some of her short stories)Star Trek, Babylon 5, some Buffy and the ending of Angel / death(?) of
Wesley and earlier Fred, "why cant I stay?" and they almost had me when Wes thought he had just killed his father the first time I watched it. Then of course last part of Armegeddon (Bruce baby dont do it, let Ben take the hit). I guess death scenes are the ones that get me most. Then there was that one time when I watched some Aulstrailan man who use to be cool doing Hamlet while I drank a six pack. I think the alcohol explains everything. Then you also have anything that resembles the Alamo in anyway shape or form will choke me up cause I am a Texan and its in our dna.
PhoenixFalls
102. Davey
A little late to this party, but I thought I'd add my couple of cents...

I think it's pretty much established that Heinlein was deliberately aiming to write a tear-jerker in "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants"; Spider Robinson (I think) records a conversation to that effect. I've just re-read it (which is why I'm here, as I was googling one of the characters), and it reduced me to tears as reliably as it always does. I agree with other commenters who've teared up at "Requiem", "The Door Into Summer", "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter", "Space Cadet" ("I answer for him" gets me every time), and (of course) "The Long Watch". The story of Rhysling in "The Green Hills of Earth" is a lip-wobbler. The ending of "Podkayne of Mars" (ending as originally published, not as originally written) is also a bit of a tear-jerker, because it hints at redemption without actually forcing the issue.

Interestingly, Heinlein owes a strong debt to Kipling, who is also good at the unexpected tear-jerk - "M'Andrew's Hymn", perhaps, and (for me definitely) "The Last Chantey".

Some of the "People" stories by Zenna Henderson made me cry a bit - she's very good at domestic sadness and happiness, which I think is a great skill. Bradbury is somewhat similar. I think that both write with great tenderness of a sort of America of the mind, the imagined heartland. But then, I think of Iowa as more myth than reality!

The famous "forget" scene in Star Trek is a well-known tear-jerker, of course, though my preference is for the end of "Amok Time", when Spock realises that Kirk is alive after all. The most heart-breaking scene in TV science fiction, though, is in Doctor Who: the end of Donna's travels in the Tardis (in "Journey's End"). I watched the last five minutes of that episode weeping continuously.

Interestingly, "The Cold Equations" did nothing for me, and nor does anything by Asimov. "Childhood's End" made me think, when I was a susceptible teenager, but didn't make me cry; now I find it rather trite - I've lost my uncritical acceptance of telepathy and precognitive dreaming, thank goodness! Similarly, I could tell what Mary Doria Russell was trying to do in "The Sparrow", but I just found it irritating: reading it was like being hit repeatedly by the large mallet of her (in my view rather uninteresting) philosophy. For me, "The Sparrow" is a fine example of why you shouldn't write didactic fiction.

(Spoilers for "The King of Elfland's Daughter" and "The City and the City". Read the books first!)

The last couple of sentences of "The King of Elfland's Daughter" by Lord Dunsany are, I think, the best ending of any novel in the world, and reliably make me mist up. More recently, the very end of "The City and the City" by China Mieville made me blub like nobody's business. In a way the two endings are very similar: characters embrace change and ambiguity, and their old lives are lost forever.

Of course, if you really want to read something that will break your heart, there are always the "Lamentations of Jeremiah" ("I am a man that hath borne affliction...").

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