Unreliable narrator...but what about unreliable REALITY in fiction?

We’ve all read the classic “unreliable narrator” stories - Pale Fire, and so on, and they’re great. But what are some books or stories where the entire reality or universe is usurped by the end and revealed to be a construction or to be other than that you thought it was all along?

I mean something along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan’s the Village, in which it turns out that the whole thing has been happening in the present day rather than in the 1800’s as the viewer has been led to believe all along. Or maybe something like Dark City, where it turns out that this strange Art Deco noir city is actually floating in the middle of outer space.

What else pulls whole “setting” reveals like this? Novels, short stories, or films. What’s a medieval novel that reveals that the whole thing is happening in a forest outside present day London? What’s a traditional fantasy quest where it turns out that the whole fantasy kingdom is actually in a bubble on the moon? Etc. etc. etc.

Now that I think of it, if it’s a REALLY awesome reveal, feel free to put it in spoiler tags.

The classic TV examples: The last scene in “Newhart” when it’s revealed the entire series is a dream and the quirky New Hampshirites exist only in the Japanese food-addled unconscious of a Chicago psychologist; and “St Elsewhere” in which we learn that vast tracts of the television landscape are part of the imaginings of an autistic child.

Sounds like bad lazy writing. So instead of wraping up all storylines, it turns out that the whole story never happened to the characters?

It’s obviously a spoiler to tell you this, but I wrote a story of this nature :wink:

Somehow I don’t think this is what you were thinking of, but **One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ** (the novel not the movie) is possibly the ultimate example of unreliable reality. It is told from the first person perspective of a schitzophrenic who is never sure if what he sees is real or his sickness.

Cool stuff.

Existenz, which had the equivalent of a matrix in a matrix in a matrix.

It was also quite stupid.

We can start with many, perhaps most., of the works of Philip K. Dick to start with.

Planet of the Apes. Not a different planet after all.

Science fiction has quite a few of those. I recall a David Brin short story that talked about how the people of the future had mostly retreated into self deluding virtual worlds, including the reader, and that the story is an intrusion inserted from the real world outside. In The Reality Matrix, the entire world, people included, is revealed to be a simulation taking place in a device in a smallish room. There’s The Matrix. There was the STNG episode where it turned out a fair amount of it was a holodeck fake designed by Professor Moriarty. In Captive Universe by Harry Harrison it turns out the primitive valley society of the protagonist is actually artificially created and on an interstellar generation ship.

I’ve never played it, but as I understand it the World of Darkness game setting the world as we understand it is a facade imposed by humanity’s collective beliefs over a larger, more chaotic and arbitrary reality.

Also, what was that Jim Carrey movie where he was living in a fake world ?

The Truman Show.

The Truman Show. However, everyone else in the movie (along with the audience) was aware from the beginning it was a fake world.

I just got it from Netflix having never seen it but being a big fan of both Cronenberg and that sort of thing.

I actually thought of my favorite Dick story (ahem) after reading the OP, Man in the High Castle. I won’t give spoilers (the wiki does), but it’s about an alternate history in which the Nazis won WW2, and the main character discovers a banned novel {Grasshopper Lies Heavy} that’s an alternate history in which FDR was never assassinated and Germany lost the war (i.e. our own timeline). A truly great book by a truly brilliant (and schizoaffective) writer whose own problems with real and perceived reality influenced all of his writings. (On an interview program one of Dick’s children was asked about the “tragedy” of her father’s death before he became really huge post Bladerunner and she responded to the effect of “Thank God he died before he was famous- he’d have been more miserable and paranoid than ever before”, and she didn’t mean it bitterly or maliciously.)

It’s been at least 10 years since I read it, but in Pet Semetary, isn’t there a whole chapter that turns out to be a dream at the end?

Andrew Weiner’s “The News from D Street.” (1986) The news is not good. The news is not good at all.

Even further back, there’s Alfred Bester’s classic story “Adam and No Eve.” (1941) Possibly the only science fiction story John Updike has ever admitted reading.

The reader gets the impression it is set in the future (rocket ships in 1941), but the twist at the end is that it’s set in the very distant past

There’s also “Men Without Bones” by Gerald Kersh, which does things in a unique way.

Not sure if this is the same thing, but George Romero leaves it unresolved whether Martin is actually a vampire, or just a crazy person who believes he’s a vampire.

Well, if you like that sort of thing, you may like it. I felt jerked around as a viewer, and a lot of very strange things happen, and it just didn’t do it for me. Let me know what you think (I’m assuming you haven’t watched it yet).

And the very similar The Thirteenth Floor which came out almost at the same time.

I’d also suggest The Game and (in a very different way) Jacob’s Ladder.

Nitpick: The Grasshopper lies heavy isn’t set in our timeline, it’s a completely different third timeline, where the Axis loses and England and the U.S. become rival superpowers.