„Repent, Harlequin!“ Said the Ticktockman • 1965 • Dystopian short story by Harlan Ellison

★★★★★

Synopsis:  In a future world humans have sacrificed personal liberty for order and timeliness: Everything is scheduled tightly, everybody is exactly on time, ruled by the harsh requiment of the de-anthropomorphised clockwork called the Ticktockman. Enter the harlequin, who’s motto is best described as Civil disobience, mostly by being late and disrupting factory schedules by throwing in multitudes of jellybeans. The Ticktockman needs the Harlequin’s real name, so that he can use a device called the cardioplate which measures punctuality and can stop a human’s heart when they literally run out of time.

Review: What a title! That alone would deserve 5 stars – it covers the whole story with the result of the conflict between the main protagonists. This non linear but flashbackless story begins in the middle, continues with the start and finishes with the end. The story demonstrates how an author can violate writing rules without loosing excellence. It questions the balance between individualism and conformity, how much personal liberty you would like to give up for adhering to the rules of society and thus become a part of it. As in any dystopia, it shows us such a society in the extremes of a mechanical tyranny but with a more humorous and dark tone than Brave New World or 1984. In summary, it is a fable with a very easy morale.

Don’t miss the excellent literary analysis by Thomson Gale.

Meta: isfdb. This dystopian short story appeared December 1965 in Galaxy Magazine. I’ve read it in German in his collection Ich muss schreien und habe keinen Mund, but it has been reprinted in a more than 100 anthologies. It won the 1966 Hugo and Nebula awards.

 

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