"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

"'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" is a science fiction short story by American writer Harlan Ellison published in 1965. It is nonlinear in that the narrative begins in the middle, then moves to the beginning, then the end, without the use of flashbacks. First appearing in the science fiction magazine Galaxy in December 1965, it won the 1966 Hugo Award, the 1965 Nebula Award and the 2015 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. The story has been translated into numerous foreign languages and is one of the most reprinted stories in the English language.[1] "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" was written in 1965 in a single six-hour session as a submission to a Milford Writer's Workshop the following day.[1] A version of the story, read by Harlan Ellison, was recorded and issued on vinyl, but has long been out of print. The audio recording has since been reissued with other stories, by Blackstone Audio, under the title "The Voice From the Edge, Vol. 1". It was first collected in Ellison's Paingod and Other Delusions and has also appeared in several retrospective volumes of Ellison's work, including Alone Against Tomorrow, The Fantasies of Harlan Ellison, The Essential Ellison, Troublemakers and The Top of the Volcano.

Stylistically, the story deliberately ignores many "rules of good writing", including a paragraph about jelly beans which is almost entirely one run-on sentence.

"'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman"
AuthorHarlan Ellison
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inGalaxy Science Fiction
Publication typemagazine
Publication dateDecember 1965


The story opens with a passage from Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. The story is a satirical look at a dystopian future in which time is strictly regulated and everyone must do everything according to an extremely precise time schedule. In this future, being late is not merely an inconvenience, but a crime. The crime carries a hefty penalty in that a proportionate amount of time is "revoked" from one's life. The ultimate consequence is to run out of time and be "turned off". This is done by the Master Timekeeper, or "Ticktockman", who utilizes a device called a "cardioplate" to stop a person's heart once his time has run out.

The story focuses on a man named Everett C. Marm who, disguised as the anarchical Harlequin, engages in whimsical rebellion against the Ticktockman. Everett is in a relationship with a girl named Pretty Alice, who is exasperated by the fact that he is never on time. The Harlequin disrupts the carefully kept schedule of his society with methods such as distracting factory workers from their tasks by showering them with thousands of multicolored jelly beans or simply using a bullhorn to publicly encourage people to ignore their schedules, forcing the Ticktockman to pull people off their normal jobs to hunt for him.

Eventually, the Harlequin is captured. The Ticktockman tells him that Pretty Alice has betrayed him, wanting to return to the punctual society everyone else lives in. The Harlequin sneers at the Ticktockman's command for him to repent.

The Ticktockman decides not to stop the Harlequin's heart, and instead sends him to a place called Coventry, where he is converted in a manner similar to how Winston Smith is converted in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The brainwashed Harlequin reappears in public and announces that he was wrong before, and that it is always good to be on time.

At the end, one of the Ticktockman's subordinates tells the Ticktockman that he is three minutes behind schedule, a fact the Ticktockman scoffs at in disbelief.


Wollheim and Carr selected the story for the World's Best Science Fiction: 1966. When reviewing the collection, Algis Budrys faulted the story as a "primitive statement ... about [the] solidly acceptable idea [that] regimentation is bad".[2]

Copyright suit

On 15 September 2011, Ellison filed a lawsuit in federal court in California, claiming that the plot of the 2011 film In Time was based on "Repent...". The suit, naming New Regency and director Andrew Niccol as well as a number of anonymous John Does, appears to base its claim on the similarity that both the completed film and Ellison's story concern a dystopian future in which people have a set amount of time to live which can be revoked, given certain pertaining circumstances by a recognized authority known as a Timekeeper. The suit initially demanded an injunction against the film's release,[3] though Ellison later altered his suit to instead ask for screen credit[4] before ultimately dropping the suit, with both sides releasing the following joint statement: "After seeing the film In Time, Harlan Ellison decided to voluntarily dismiss the Action. No payment or screen credit was promised or given to Harlan Ellison. The parties wish each other well, and have no further comment on the matter."[5]


  1. ^ a b "Introduction to 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman", The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2016, page 491.
  2. ^ Budrys, Algis (October 1966). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 152–161.
  3. ^ Gardner, Eriq. "Harlan Ellison Sues Claiming Fox's 'In Time' Rips Off Sci-Fi Story (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. September 15, 2011
  4. ^ "Ellison wants 'In Time' concessions — only asks for credit?". Archived from the original on 2013-02-13.
  5. ^ "Ellison drops lawsuit after watching In Time". scifistorm.org. 1 December 2011.

External links


2000X is a dramatic anthology series released by National Public Radio and produced by the Hollywood Theater of the Ear. There were 49 plays of various lengths in 26 one-hour programs broadcast weekly and later released on the Internet. Plays were adaptations of futuristic stories, novels and plays by noted authors. Producer/director Yuri Rasovsky and host/consultant Harlan Ellison won the 2001 Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America for their work on this program.

24th World Science Fiction Convention

The 24th World Science Fiction Convention, also known as Tricon, was held 1–5 September 1966 at the Sheraton-Cleveland in Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Officially, the convention was hosted by three cities in the region: Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit, — hence the name "Tricon".

The three co-chairmen of that Worldcon each represented their city's fandom; they were Ben Jason of Cleveland, Howard DeVore of Detroit, and Lou Tabakow of Cincinnati. The guest of honor was L. Sprague de Camp and the toastmaster was Isaac Asimov. Total attendance at Tricon was approximately 850. Of special note: At Tricon, Gene Roddenberry premiered both pilot episodes, "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before", for his upcoming NBC TV series Star Trek.

Alone Against Tomorrow

Alone Against Tomorrow: Stories of Alienation in Speculative Fiction is a collection of short stories by American writer Harlan Ellison. Published in the United States in 1971, it as a ten-year retrospective of Ellison's short stories. It was later published in the United Kingdom in two volumes as All the Sounds of Fear in 1973 and The Time of the Eye in 1974 (the 1974 volume only containing a new introduction). All of the stories in this collection center around isolation and alienation, and were selected from previous short story collections to fit this theme.

The book was dedicated to, among others, four student protesters who were killed in the Kent State shootings of 1970. This dedication prompted a response from a reader calling the students "hooligans" who were "Communist-led radical revolutionaries and anarchists, and deserved to be shot". This letter was reprinted in the introduction to Ellison's subsequent 1974 short story collection Approaching Oblivion. Ellison states that this letter frightened him and was one of the things that led him to change that collection from a call to action to a cry of frustration and disillusionment.

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"Cassandra" has been translated into German, French, Polish, Italian and Romanian.

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Future Crimes

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Harlan Ellison

Harlan Jay Ellison (May 27, 1934 – June 28, 2018) was an American writer, known for his prolific and influential work in New Wave speculative fiction, and for his outspoken, combative personality. Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, described Ellison as "the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water".His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Some of his best-known work includes the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", his A Boy and His Dog cycle, and his short stories "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" and " 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". He was also editor and anthologist for Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.

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Nebula Award Stories 1965 is an anthology of science fiction short works edited by Damon Knight. It was first published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1966, with a Science Fiction Book Club edition following in October of the same year. The first British edition was published by Gollancz in 1967. Paperback editions followed from Pocket Books in the U.S. in November 1967 (reprinted in October 1968 and December 1969), and New English Library in the U.K. in April 1969. The U.K. and paperback editions bore the variant title Nebula Award Stories 1. The book was more recently reissued by Stealth Press in hardcover in February 2001. It has also been published in German.

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Paingod and Other Delusions

Paingod and Other Delusions is a collection of short stories by American writer Harlan Ellison. It was originally published in paperback in 1965 by Pyramid Books. Pyramid reissued the collection four times over the next fifteen years, with a new introduction added for a uniform edition of Ellison books in 1975. Ace Books issued an edition in 1983. The collection's only hardcover edition is The Fantasies of Harlan Ellison, which compiles it together with Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream".The general theme that runs through each of these stories is the rejection of the establishment and the fight of the individual against a corrupt authority. ""Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman", winner of the 1966 Hugo Award, the 1965 Nebula Award and the 2015 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award , as well as being one of the most reprinted stories in the English language, "Wanted In Surgery", and "The Crackpots" are particularly famous examples of this theme in Ellison's work.

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