What is the earliest case of modern (1840+) published speculative fiction where evil wins?

I mean, not just that the hero dies or some tragedy takes place. I really mean a story in which the evil guy or the evil force (clearly delineated as pure evil, not evil from some point of view but not from others) finally wins against the good ones and no revenge, no redemption, takes place?

  • imdb.com/title/tt0088846
    – Valorum
    Aug 16, 2014 at 22:19
  • Also you might want to look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banewreaker
    – Valorum
    Aug 16, 2014 at 22:22
  • TVTropes's TheBadGuyWins is rather extensive
    – Izkata
    Aug 16, 2014 at 22:39
  • 1
    This question could be salvaged by the usual means, i.e. asking for the earliest instance of such a work. Given the heavy-handed censorship in the early days of cinema, the earliest sf movie where evil wins would make an interesting question. Frankenstein?
    – Kyle Jones
    Aug 17, 2014 at 0:06
  • 2
    2 clarifications are needed: (1) Is straight-out horror in scope? Most instances of this trope would probably be horror - I'm guessing HPL or Poe; and that would make the question boring. (2) Does a single work that's part of the series count if the evil loses in the previously-planned sequels? (e.g. Voldemort won in Goblet of Fire but lost the whole HP series. Gbaba won the prologue of Safehold series). Aug 17, 2014 at 15:50

4 Answers 4


The Angry Planet (1945) by John Keir Cross? From a review by David Drake:

The really strange aspect–for a children’s book–is the theme. The Angry Planet is a clear story of the battle between Good and Evil. Evil wins.

The Terrible Ones attack the Beautiful People’s city. The Beautiful People warriors defend themselves bravely but are overwhelmed. The humans watch as a Terrible One in an act of pointless cruelty breaks in half a young female of the Beautiful People whom they’ve befriended. The spear of the chief of the Beautiful People slashes the leader of the Terrible Ones, a damaging but not fatal blow. The Terrible One leaps high and comes down on the chief, smashing him flat. During the battle a volcano erupts; the lava must inevitably destroy anything the Terrible Ones leave.

The humans escape with the only survivor of the Beautiful People’s community, a youth who’s a friend of the children. He sickens and dies on the voyage back; when the corpse starts to decay, they have to put it out the airlock. It floats outside the spaceship’s window all the way to Earth, where the children are forced to watch it burn up in the atmosphere.


1984 (1949) by George Orwell. Big Brother wins completely, even in the mind of Winston. You could quibble about it being science fiction, but it has many of the elements of science fiction, certainly.


"Run For The Stars" by Harlan Ellison (1957).

This assumes that we're not talking about children's books (in which case "Angry Planet" has priority) or debatably SF ("1984")

"Run For The Stars" has an antihero drug addict/petty criminal (Benno Tallant) on a planet being attacked by an alien species, the Kyben. The Kyben have won, and the remnant defenders are about to retreat to Earth. To buy time, they surgically connect a superbomb to Benno (and no, the process is not voluntary), wired to go off if the Kyben fleet tries to leave or if the carrier is killed. They inform the Kyben, then tell Benno to stay alive as long as he can, and leave him to his fate. Benno takes the offensive, sneaks and murders his way onto the Kyben flagship and kills the commander, losing one arm in the process. He forces a Kyben doctor to become an addict, then has the doctor remove the bomb and graft it to his stump, with the trigger now being voluntary.

As the novel ends, he addresses the Kyben fleet, announcing that he is the new commander. The new target for the fleet: Earth.


Blood Meridian (1985) by Cormac McCarthy. It's about a group of scalp hunters in the American southwest before the start of the Civil War. None of the characters are at all good, and the worst of them are positively demonic. And it's based on a group of real people. At the end, evil has definitely won, although that would have been the case no matter how the book ended.

  • A Clockwork Orange is older and evil wins there, too.
    – aramis
    Aug 19, 2014 at 20:05
  • I wouldn't put Clockwork Orange in that category. In the book, Alex grows older and has his own kids, and his own reflection on things...it's not that simple. Aug 23, 2014 at 5:08
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    Black Easter by James Blish? "In the first book, a wealthy arms manufacturer, Dr. Baines, comes to a black magician, Theron Ware. Initially Baines tests Ware's credentials by asking for two people to be killed, first the Governor of California,Rogan and then a rival physicist.When this is accomplished to Baines' satisfaction, Baines reveals his real reason: he wishes to release all the demons from hell for one night to see what might happen. Black Easter ends with Baphomet announcing to the participants that the demons can not be compelled to return to hell: the War is over, and God is dead."
    – sueelleker
    Aug 23, 2014 at 7:25

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