Cyberpunk/downer endings [open spoilers]

A trope I have noticed off and on. The hero doesn’t save the day. Maybe he or she made no difference at all. His or her dreams remain unfulfilled, or even shattered. Maybe there are not any heroes to be found at all.

For example (there are so many), consider Alex de Campi’s Ashes. The protagonist is a cold assassin who has nothing to live for and does not much care about anything anyway. At the very end, he and perhaps his only friend (loosely speaking) end up dead and maybe uploaded into cyberspace. One of his final murders was of some guy who not only was retired by then, but whom he was explicitly told there was no point killing even when the guy was active, because there would always be someone to take his place. Civilization is still a dystopia run by cabals and falling apart at the seams, and the one cabal we are told was acting as a moderating influence and preventing nuclear Armageddon has been wiped out.

So, what are your favourite, or particularly distinguished or exemplary, examples of this trope?

Walter Jon Williams wrote Hardwired. A bunch of plucky hover-craft driving smugglers take on the ultra-rich orbital colonies for Reasons That Elude me (it’s been a long while since I read it) and win an open, pitched battle against them.

The novel ends with everybody implied-nuked from orbit. They won the battle, but they most certainly lost the war in a scant few seconds.

It’s the most overt case of, “This is the futility of taking on The Man,” I can think of.

It’s been more than thirty years since I’ve read Hardwired and the only thing I can remember is that there was a smuggler, hover tanks, and the orbitals controlled everything. Even Wikipedia’s entry on the book doesn’t contain a plot summary.

I also read it, I even have it here, but don’t remember the details of the ending. Weren’t there a couple of sequels of sorts?

Other examples… in Metrophage, Los Angeles ends up devastated by plague and armed conflict. Jonny survives, but he is an aimless refugee and everyone he knew is dead.

When Gravity Fails: he solves the murders, but ends up alienated from all his friends and the person he loves, and ends up under the thumb of the local crime boss and forced to get all sorts of cybernetic implants, both of which things he was trying to avoid.

It doesn’t have to be cyberpunk, by the way. Anything you think is notably bleak.

I don’t think you’ll top “1984” for bleakness. I don’t think I could go back to it. If you’re the sort to get het up about spoilers, I’ve spoilered my explanation.

I know people like to focus on the government espionage and the complete lack of privacy angles, but that book contained such a thorough dystopia where history, perhaps even reality itself, was a manufactured commodity reimagined to suit the ruling party on a daily basis.

The protagonist has himself a quiet, two-person rebellion mostly so he can experience love. It’s casually crushed and after prolonged psychological and physical torture he rejects everything (including her), and comes to realize even his sort of rebellion was arranged to lure out people such as himself so they could be apprehended more readily. It’s so utterly, soul-crushingly bleak.

From what I recall about the ending of Hardwired, the pilots are all celebrating their victory after their battle. The protagonist has a feeling of summer’s day warmth on the back of his neck. And then his next sentence is cut off midway through. I interepreted it as them all getting nuked. It’s vague enough there’s any number of explanations.

The sequels, I think, were from the point of view of clones or other people altogether. Again, I think.

On less serious note the TV show Dinosaurs ended with the sentient dinosaurs triggering an ice age which is implied will doom them to extinction.

In tribute to John le Carré, his books are full of this kind of thing. For example, at the end of Our Kind of Traitor the plane mysteriously explodes after takeoff.