The Alternative

The alternative to Delphic Optimalism is, in my view, eventual devolution to the dystopian vision of Harlan Ellison in his short story "Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktock Man.

A short story of nonlinear science fiction. 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 for best short story, and the 1965 Nebula Award.

The story is one of the most reprinted short stories in the English language (not just in science fiction) and has been translated into numerous foreign languages. "Repent..." was written in 1965 in a single six-hour session as a submission to a Milford Writer's Workshop the following day. The printed version is almost exactly the same as that first draft. A version of the story, read by Harlan Ellison, was recorded and issued on vinyl, but has long been out of print.

The story is a satirical look at a dystopian future where time is strictly regulated. 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". The story focuses on a man who, as the anarchical Harlequin, engages in whimsical rebellion against the schedule kept by the Master Timekeeper, or "ticktockman".

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