Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman, by Harlan Ellison

Second paragraph of third section:
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.
Since I can't comment on any potential Hugo nominees this year, I'm going back to the start, and looking at all the works that have won both Hugo and Nebula, in order. (Many years ago I started a similar project but working through them in alphabetical order. This eventually stalled when too many new winners had early alphabetical names.)

"Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" won both the 1966 Hugo for Best Short Fiction, and the 1965 Nebula for Best Short Story. Fellow Hugo finalists were "Day of the Great Shout", by Philip José Farmer; "Marque and Reprisal", by Poul Anderson; "Stardock", by Fritz Leiber; and "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth", by Roger Zelazny. None of those four is on the long list of 30 stories also nominated for the Nebula. Of the Hugo final ballot, I have read only "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" (which won the Nebula for Best Novella, the categories being not yet set in stone). Dune won the Nebula for Best Novel, and tied with "...And Call Me Conrad" (now better known as Lord of Light) for the Hugo. The Nebulas had a tie for Best Novella: “He Who Shapes”, by Roger Zelazny, and “The Saliva Tree”, by Brian Aldiss. The Hugos also made an award for Best All-Time Series, which was won by Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories. The concept of a Hugo for Best Series then went dormant for half a century, and is now returning this year - though only series which include a volume published in 2016 will be eligible.

It's a very Sixties piece, about a future dystopic society where life is regimented to the last second, the sinister Ticktockman being in charge. One dissident calling himself the Harlequin becomes a chaos agent, playing pranks on both the rulers and the ruled; he is pursued, captured and re-educated a` la Winston Smith (this parallel is explicitly made), but at the end the Ticktockman himself is starting to slack.

The good bit is the writing, which is intense stream-of-consciousness and conveys vivid images. However, the story's classic status cannot disguise the fact that it has not aged all that well; in the end, the Harlequin isn't challenging anything very much, and his means remain somewhat unexplained - where do you get $150,000 worth of jelly beans? Algis Budrys commented when it was first published that it is s "primitive statement ... about [the] solidly acceptable idea [that] regimentation is bad." I was also struck by the sexism of the story. The Harlequin's first reported activity is directed explicitly at women:
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.
Hmm, triggering incontinence and temporary death is a minor diversion? If your victims are female, I suppose. Back to the Marx Brothers, I guess. Note also the not very equal relationship between the Harlequin and his girlfriend Pretty Alice, who also presses him to conform like a good spouse should; the Ticktockman later alleges that she turned him in, and one can see why she might have done.

So, that's the first in the chronological list of joint Hugo and Nebula winners. Next is Dune, by Frank Herbert.

Tags: bookblog 2017, writer: harlan ellison
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