This Quora answer to the question:

Is it possible for an entire book to be written so that at the very last phrase, the meaning of the rest of the novel changes entirely?

replies with a story identification question:

Oh, yes. There was this one book I read (can’t remember what it was called, sorry) that was about a crew of people who lived on a space station at the very edge of a vast galactic empire, who were sent to investigate an unknown spaceship that appeared in their radars from outside the empire. Throughout the book, the crew slowly realise that the spaceship was built by aliens, suffered some kind of catastrophe, and, upon discovering the dead body of the ship’s gardener, conclude that he sacrificed himself so that the rest of the crew could escape. An important sticking point is that, when the crew first come upon the alien’s workstations, they are amazed by the sheer number of buttons on the consoles, and wonder how anyone could possibly push all of those buttons. But when they find the gardener, they discover that he and his species have arms that end in a myriad of digits, far more than the crew’s, and this is what enables them to press all of those buttons.

The last paragraph of the book, in which the crew returns to their base to send a report to their superiors, states that the main character “rested his tentacle on the window”, and his love interest “put her tentacle on top of his”.

This one moment brings the reader to the staggering realisation that these characters, which they have always imagined as being humans, are actually aliens, and forces them to re-evaluate the whole book and realise that the ‘alien ship’ is actually a human spacecraft. The ‘myriad of digits’ is actually just human fingers. When I first read it, I was so surprised I actually went back through the whole book to check that they’d never been referred to as humans or made mention of fingers. And they hadn’t. The author played off the expectations of the audience while simultaneously subverting them. It was a masterstroke.

Can anyone figure out which book it refers to?

  • 3
    The gardener's arms end in 10,000 digits? That's how we know he's human?
    – user14111
    Dec 25, 2017 at 6:32
  • 2
    No, because we have 10 fingers as humans, we would find it easier to use the many buttons on a console. This indicates that the narrator has much fewer than 10 fingers, i.e not human Dec 25, 2017 at 7:27
  • 1
    user14111, I dont think so. Most answers talk about Youth by Isaac Asimov, or Agatha Christie, or R.L Stine. Maybe you'd like to add that on the thread? Dec 25, 2017 at 7:28
  • 6
    @user14111, while a myriad can mean "a unit of ten thousand" it usually just means "a great number". Ten fingers might not seem like a great number to us, but that's where the alien perspective comes in. Dec 25, 2017 at 12:13
  • 1
    Came here to ask the same question after seeing that answer in my feed. +1, I hope someone can find it.
    – Dacio
    Jan 17, 2018 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


This question has popped up a couple of times in posts in the TOMT subreddit, and a user there called Maldevinine provided the answer Outpost by Allan Baillie.

I don't have / haven't read the book myself, but they said: "I went and reread the copy on my shelf to check, but that ending definitely sticks with you." I can provide the link to the post if needed; it's pointing to the same Quora post to which this post points.

A Goodreads review also mentions the same 'hook' at the end.


The short story "Youth" by Asimov has exactly the same twist at the end, the story is told from the point of view of (children) "tentacled" characters, but we learn that only at the very last sentence, and the "aliens" they capture are really humans. But if the final twist is the same, the story is entirely different. Nobody dies. And it is very short, definitely not a "book".

  • 1
    Even if it's not "the one", partial matches are helpful as well :) Still don't hesitate to edit your post to include further info, such as quotes, which might help future readers to locate a story.
    – Jenayah
    Apr 28, 2019 at 18:08

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