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Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Rosemary
All is Lost (not the TV show)

All is lost!

This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me:

My fleet hath yielded to the foe, and yonder

They cast their caps up and carouse together

Like friends long lost.

–Antony and Cleopatra, Act IV, Scene 12

This post was inspired by a post on io9, one of my favorite SF/F blogs. Helps keep me up to date on all the latest Geektastic stuff. The post? 20 great “All Seems Lost” moments from Science Fiction and Fantasy. (I appreciate that they included some print as well as TV and movies.)

How to improve on such a great list that includes the “All Is Lost and the Hero’s Deception Has Been Found Out! scene from Avatar.  The “Worst Has Just Happened” cliffhanger of ST: The Next Generation when we’re left at the end of the season with Captain Picard having been assimilated into the Borg. The “All Is Lost AND There’s Slow-Mo!” moment in Serenity. (Which precipitates–as the All Is Lost moment should–ass-kicking of much awesomeness.)

The All is Lost moment is exactly what it sounds like. It’s that moment when everything goes to @#$^ for the heros, and neither they, nor the reader, is sure how they’re going to get out of this alive. Very often someone dies, or almost dies, or seems dead, or contemplates ending it all because Things Are That Bad.  Sometimes it seems to be the death of the central relationship… or all of the above.

My list of personal All Is Lost moments is, unsurprisingly, rather SF/F heavy.

Aliens, when Knute has been taken by the aliens to be embryo-food. Ripley’s freak out there lays it all on the line. (Seeming inevitable death)

Gladiator… There are actually two. One early, when Maximus discovers the murder of his family, and at the end, when The Plan Goes To Hell and They Are All F’ed. (Lots and lots of death.)

Mulan, when the secret of her gender is discovered and Mulan has no choice to go home in disgrace. (Death of the main character’s goal)

Beauty, by Robin McKinley… and just about every good adaption of the fairy tale… when Beauty rushes back to the Beast’s castle to find him dying. (Almost death)

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis is an obvious but classic example, when Aslan is killed by the White Queen. (Temporarily death)

Sometimes the All Is Lost moment comes at the midpoint of the story–it’s not the climax, but the crisis point… often the thing that transforms the hero into what she needs to be to accomplish the end goal.

I tend to shy away at the All is Lost point. Sometimes I hesitate to make everything really most sincerely lost. I really admire people who push this point to it’s limit. I want to protect my characters! I love them!  But it’s another case of go big or go home.  You’ve got to take them all the way down, to make the climb back ultimately satisfying.

What makes your list of awesome All Is Lost moments?  (I get the best book recommendations from the comments!)