One of science fiction’s most antiestablishment authors rails against the accepted order while questioning blind obedience to the state in this unique pairing of short story and essay.
“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is set in a dystopian future society in which time is regulated by a heavy bureaucratic hand known as the Ticktockman. The rebellious Everett C. Marm flouts convention, masquerading as the anarchic Harlequin, disrupting the precise schedule with bullhorns and jellybeans in a world where being late is nothing short of a crime. But when his love, Pretty Alice, betrays Everett out of a desire to return to the punctuality to which she is programmed, he is forced to face the Ticktockman and his gauntlet of consequences.
The bonus essay included in this volume, “Stealing Tomorrow,” is a hard-to-find Harlan Ellison masterwork, an exploration of the rebellious nature of the writer’s soul. Waxing poetic on humankind’s intellectual capabilities versus its emotional shortcomings, the author depicts an inner self that guides his words against the established bureaucracies, assuring us that the intent of his soul is to “come lumbering into town on a pink-and-yellow elephant, fast as Pegasus, and throw down on the established order.”
Winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” has become one of the most reprinted short stories in the English language. Fans of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World will delight in this antiestablishment vision of a Big Brother society and the rebel determined to take it down. The perfect complement, “Stealing Tomorrow” is a hidden gem that reinforces Ellison’s belief in humankind’s inner nobility and the necessity to buck totalitarian forces that hamper our steady evolution.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:May 27, 1934
Date of Death:June 28, 2018
Place of Birth:Cleveland, OH
Place of Death:Los Angeles, CA
Read an Excerpt
"Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman
By Harlan Ellison
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 The Kilimanjaro Corporation
All rights reserved.
My soul would be an outlaw. I can do nothing with it.
The coward body my soul inhabits has pleaded with the renegade, has cried for pity, has implored the pistolero, my soul, to live safely, to observe quietly, to live in peace, with a degree of contentment.
My soul curses like the guttersnipe it is, and hurls another molotov cocktail at my complacency. So I am doomed. My soul will be an outlaw. It will be Zorro, dressed in black, carving its initials in the sane and the rational. It will be Jean Lafitte, stalking through the Louisiana swamp of my days and nights, prepared to defend my cringing, cowardly self from the invaders called compromise. It will be a coocoo Charlie Chaplin, hurling a pie at whatever it takes to live quietly, sensibly, safely.
And here am I, trapped in the body with this dangerous, unpredictable outlaw, who seems determined to alienate, to upset, to annoy, to harass and chivvy and unsettle me.
I lust for the day when soul transplants come to be.
For my soul, the masked bandido, is a dreamer. He is engaged in the biggest caper of them all. I take this moment while the soul is out on one of its forays against the decent and proper folk of the world, to set down and relate its plans. To apprise you that the outlaw Attila Genghis Khan John Brown marauder is planning the greatest theft of all time.
My mad soul would steal tomorrow.
He would wrest tomorrow from the jaws of today and turn it topsy-turvy. He would come lumbering into town on a pink-and- yellow elephant, fast as Pegasus, and throw down on the established order. At gunpoint, the depraved and lunatic soul would order that tomorrow be handed over, and then, wheeling, gallop off, back to his lair in the Rainbow Plaid Mountains, where he would hold tomorrow hostage, raping and pillaging her, till her brains turned to cotton candy.
I hasten to assure you, I am no party to this depravity. I am a quiet country boy merely trying to make a peaceful way in the world. It is this outlaw soul of mine who is the troublemaker.
And I can only repeat what he says about his motivations, in hopes someone can arrive in time to thwart his nefarious plans.
What my soul says is this:
Anthropologists tell us that from what they have ben able to ascertain, from skulls found in the caves at Baden, Germany, that the "reasoning" section of man's brain, the cerebellum of modern man is many times larger than that of the primates. But the area that contains the emotions, the medulla, is precisely the same size. We have become creatures capable of sending rockets to the Moon, capable of probing the bottom of the oceans, capable of computing and assaying and estimating and dreaming. But we are still naked apes when our emotions are excited.
My soul says, tomorrow cannot be trusted to naked apes. My soul seems to think he is Robin Hood, stealing from the ill-equipped to give to the as-yet-unborn. I cannot argue with my soul, it will hear no counter-suggestion. And what can I do? I'm trapped in here with the lunatic.
My soul says he has received "the call." That he has been touched by the Maker. (And I fear to ask him which Maker, or what Maker, for fear he will tell me ... and I don't want to know, not really!)
My soul, in his more rational moments, tells me that he will cease raiding when, and only when, men come to realize that all other men are noble. He tells me he will lay back and let the world handle itself only when color and creed and race and religion cease being interfaces between other men. He says he has had "the call" and his mission is to keep the posse out looking for him, because that will keep them aware of the fact that not everyone can be sold into slavery quite so easily.
You can see my situation. My problem is one of helplessness. I mean no ill, I mean no offense. It is this carnivorous soul, this Mr. Hyde in my eminently sane and rational Dr. Jekyll body.
If you want my opinion, my soul is crazy. I don't think charmingly crazy, like one of the Marx Brothers, I mean stoned righteously crazy, with a lack of humility, without a vestige of reverence, without a response in him that would keep him in line and safe and following along the way others would follow. I think he ought to be locked up. I hope to God the posse catches him. That's what I hope.
But he's cunning, you see. He comes equipped with dreams, and they are weapons of frightful potency. He uses them shamefully, if you ask me. He rails against the most sensible directives from the world, he curses those who set the rules, he refuses to listen or accept even the most rational reasons for the most sensible acts.
Let me give you a for instance.
My soul is never on time.
If my soul tells you he'll be there at seven o'clock, look for him next Thursday. He flaunts the rigors and rules of punctuality, and when I insist that he is once again shaking up the natural order of things, he uses on of his dreams on me.
Let me tell you about that dream ...
Because my soul says Thoreau was right when he said: "He serves the State best who opposes the State most." (If you want my opinion, Thoreau's soul was an outlaw, too.) So here is the dream my soul tells:CHAPTER 2
"REPENT, HARLEQUIN!" SAID THE TICKTOCKMAN
There are always those who ask, what is it all about? For those who need to ask, for those who need points sharply made, who need to know "where it's at," this:
"The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others — as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and officeholders — serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it."
Henry David Thoreau, CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
That is the heart of it. Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself.
But because it was the very world it was, the very world they had allowed it to become, for months his activities did not come to the alarmed attention of The Ones Who Kept the Machine Functioning Smoothly, the ones who poured the very best butter over the cams and mainsprings of the culture. Not until it had become obvious that somehow, someway, he had become a notoriety, a celebrity, perhaps even a hero for (what Officialdom inescapably tagged) "an emotionally disturbed segment of the populace," did they turn it over to the Ticktockman and his legal machinery. But by then, because it was the very world it was, and they had no way to predict he would happen — possibly a strain of disease long-defunct, now, suddenly, reborn in a system where immunity had been forgotten, had lapsed — he had been allowed to become too real. Now he had form and substance.
He had become a personality, something they had filtered out of the system many decades before. But there it was, and there he was, a very definitely imposing personality. In certain circles — middle-class circles — it was thought disgusting. Vulgar ostentation. Anarchistic. Shameful. In others, there was only sniggering: those strata where thought is subjugated to form and ritual, niceties, proprieties. But down below, ah, down below, where the people always needed their saints and sinners, their bread and circuses, their heroes and villains, he was considered a Bolivar; a Napoleon; a Robin Hood; a Dick Bong (Ace of Aces); a Jesus; a Jomo Kenyatta.
And at the top — where, like socially-attuned Shipwreck Kellys, every tremor and vibration threatens to dislodge the wealthy, powerful, and titled from their flagpoles — he was considered a menace; a heretic; a rebel; a disgrace; a peril. He was known down the line, to the very heart-meat core, but the important reactions were high above and far below. At the very top, at the very bottom.
So his file was turned over, along with his time-card and his cardioplate, to the office of Ticktockman.
The Ticktockman: very much over six feet tall, often silent, a soft purring man when things went timewise. The Ticktockman.
Even in the cubicles of the hierarchy, where fear was generated, seldom suffered, he was called the Ticktockman. But no one called him that to his mask.
You don't call a man a hated name, not when that man, behind his mask, is capable of revoking the minutes, the hours, the days and nights, the years of your life. He was called the Master Timekeeper to his mask. It was safer that way.
"This is what he is," said the Ticktockman with genuine softness, "but not who he is. This time-card I'm holding in my left hand has a name on it, but it is the name of what he is, not who he is. The cardioplate here in my right hand is also named, but not whom named, merely what named. Before I can exercise proper revocation, I have to know who this what is."
To his staff, all the ferrets, all the loggers, all the finks, all the commex, even the mineez, he said, "Who is this Harlequin?"
He was not purring smoothly. Timewise, it was jangle.
However, it was the longest speech they had ever heard him utter at one time, the staff, the ferrets, the loggers, the finks, the commex, but not the mineez, who usually weren't around to know, in any case. But even they scurried to find out.
Who is the Harlequin?
High above the third level of the city, he crouched on the humming aluminum-frame platform of the air-boat (foof! air-boat, indeed! swizzleskid is what it was, with a tow-rack jerry-rigged) and he stared down at the neat Mondrian arrangement of the buildings.
Somewhere nearby, he could hear the metronomic left-right-left of the 2:47 P.M. shift, entering the Timkin roller-bearing plant in their sneakers. A minute later, precisely, he heard the softer right-left-right of the 5:00 A.M. formation, going home.
An elfin grin spread across his tanned features, and his dimples appeared for a moment. Then, scratching at his thatch of auburn hair, he shrugged within his motley, as though girding himself for what came next, and threw the joystick forward, and bent into the wind as the airboat dropped. He skimmed over a slidewalk, purposely dropping a few feet to crease the tassels of the ladies of fashion, and — inserting thumbs in large ears — he stuck out his tongue, rolled his eyes and went wugga-wugga-wugga. It was a minor diversion. One pedestrian skittered and tumbled, sending parcels everywhichway, another wet herself, a third keeled slantwise, and the walk was stopped automatically by the servitors till she could be resuscitated. It was a minor diversion.
Then he swirled away on a vagrant breeze, and was gone. Hi-ho.
As he rounded the cornice of the Time-Motion Study Building, he saw the shift, just boarding the slidewalk. With practiced motion and an absolute conservation of movement, they side-stepped up onto the slow-strip and (in a chorus line reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley film of the antediluvian 1930s) advanced across the strips ostrich-walking till they were lined upon the expresstrip.
Once more, in anticipation, the elfin grin spread, and there was a tooth missing back there on the left side. He dipped, skimmed, and swooped over them; and then, scrunching about on the air-boat, he released the holding pins that fastened shut the ends of the homemade pouring troughs that kept his cargo from dumping prematurely. And as he pulled the trough-pins, the air-boat slid over the factory workers and one hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of jelly beans cascaded down on the expresstrip.
Jelly beans! Millions and billions of purples and yellows and greens and licorice and grape and raspberry and mint and round and smooth and crunchy outside and soft-mealy inside and sugary and bouncing jouncing tumbling clittering clattering skittering fell on the heads and shoulders and hardhats and carapaces of the Timkin workers, tinkling on the slidewalk and bouncing away and rolling about underfoot and filling the sky on their way down with all the colors of joy and childhood and holidays, coming down in a steady rain, a solid wash, a torrent of color and sweetness out of the sky from above, and entering a universe of sanity and metronomic order with quite-mad coocoo newness. Jelly beans!
The shift workers howled and laughed and were pelted, and broke ranks, and the jelly beans managed to work their way into the mechanism of the slidewalks after which there was a hideous scraping as the sound of a million fingernails rasped down a quarter of a million blackboards, followed by a coughing and a sputtering, and then the slidewalks all stopped and everyone was dumped thisawayandthataway in a jackstraw tumble, still laughing and popping little jelly bean eggs of childish color into their mouths. It was a holiday, and a jollity, an absolute insanity, a giggle. But ...
The shift was delayed seven minutes.
They did not get home for seven minutes.
The master schedule was thrown off by seven minutes.
Quotas were delayed by inoperative slidewalks for seven minutes.
He had tapped the first domino in the line, and one after another, like chik chik chik, the others had fallen.
The System had been seven minutes worth of disrupted. It was a tiny matter, one hardly worthy of note, but in a society where the single driving force was order and unity and equality and promptness and clocklike precision and attention to the clock, reverence of the gods of the passage of time, it was a disaster of major importance.
So he was ordered to appear before the Ticktockman. It was broadcast across every channel of the communications web. He was ordered to be there at 7:00 dammit on time. And they waited, and they waited, but he didn't show up till almost ten-thirty, at which time he merely sang a little song about moonlight in a place no one had ever heard of, called Vermont, and vanished again. But they had all been waiting since seven, and it wrecked hell with their schedules. So the question remained: Who is the Harlequin?
But the unasked question (more important of the two) was: how did we get into this position, where a laughing, irresponsible japer of jabberwocky and jive could disrupt our entire economic and cultural life with a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of jelly beans ...
Jelly for God's sake beans! This is madness! Where did he get the money to buy a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of jelly beans? (They knew it would have cost that much, because they had a team of Situation Analysts pulled off another assignment and rushed to the slidewalk scene to sweep up and count the candies, and produce findings, which disrupted their schedules and threw their entire branch at least a day behind.) Jelly beans! Jelly ... beans? Now wait a second — a second accounted for — no one has manufactured jelly beans for over a hundred years. Where did he get jelly beans?
That's another good question. More than likely it will never be answered to your complete satisfaction. But then, how many questions ever are?
The middle you know. Here is the beginning. How it starts:
A desk pad. Day for day, and turn each day. 9:00 — open the mail. 9:45 — appointment with planning commission board. 10:30 — discuss installation progress charts with J.L. 11:45 — pray for rain. 12:00 — lunch. And so it goes.
"I'm sorry, Miss Grant, but the time for interviews was set at 2:30, and it's almost five now. I'm sorry you're late, but those are the rules. You'll have to wait till next year to submit application for this college again." And so it goes.
The 10:10 local stops at Cresthaven, Galesville, Tonawanda Junction, Selby, and Farnhurst, but not at Indiana City, Lucasville, and Colton, except on Sunday. The 10:35 express stops at Galesville, Selby, and Indiana City, except on Sundays & Holidays, at which time it stops at ... and so it goes.
"I couldn't wait, Fred. I had to be at Pierre Cartain's by 3:00, and you said you'd meet me under the clock in the terminal at 2:45, and you weren't there, so I had to go on. You're always late, Fred. If you'd been there, we could have sewed it up together, but as it was, well, I took the order alone ..." And so it goes.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Atterley: in reference to your son Gerold's constant tardiness, I am afraid we will have to suspend him from school unless some more reliable method can be instituted guaranteeing he will arrive at his classes on time. Granted he is an exemplary student, and his marks are high, his constant flouting of the schedules of this school makes it impractical to maintain him in a system where the other children seem capable of getting where they are supposed to be on time and so it goes.
YOU CANNOT VOTE UNLESS YOU APPEAR AT 8:45 A.M.
"I don't care if the script is good, I need it Thursday!"
CHECK-OUT TIME IS 2:00 P.M.
"You got here late. The job's taken. Sorry."
YOUR SALARY HAS BEEN DOCKED FOR TWENTY MINUTES TIME LOST.
"God, what time is it, I've gotta run!"
And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule, worshippers of the sun's passing; bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don't keep the schedule tight.
Until it becomes more than a minor inconvenience to be late. It becomes a sin. Then a crime. Then a crime punishable by this:
EFFECTIVE 15 JULY 2389 12:00:00 midnight, the office of the Master Timekeeper will require all citizens to submit their time-cards and cardioplates for processing. In accordance with Statute 555-7-SGH-999 governing the revocation of time per capita, all cardioplates will be keyed to the individual holder and —
Excerpted from "Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1993 The Kilimanjaro Corporation. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman,
About the Autho,