Science Fiction

Prometheus Award Nominees for Best Libertarian Science Fiction Announced

Harlan Ellison to get Hall of Fame award for classic short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman."

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The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced this year's nominees for their Prometheus Award, honoring science fiction with libertarian themes.

Libertarian Futurist Society

The nominees for this year's novel award are:

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (TOR Books)
Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett (Knopf Doubleday)
A Better World, by Marcus Sakey (Amazon, Thomas & Mercer)
Influx, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton Adult)

I'm pleased to see the Hall of Fame award this year going to Harlan Ellison for his story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," which first appeared in Galaxy magazine in 1965.

Ellison was for many years in my pre- and early teens my very favorite writer. I never saw him, and am sure he never saw himself, as libertarian in the movement sense. If you must pigeonhole him politically, he's more a cranky New Deal liberal with civil rights movement radical cred.

But he delighted in sticking up, in fiction and life, for those squashed by societal repression. He saw himself as a rebel conscience for his community and culture. He once said his preferred self image was a cross between Jiminy Cricket and Zorro. It was interesting to me to see that libertarian-ish thread that likely resonated with my young mind honored by the Libertarian Futurist Society this year.

The story "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman," begins with a great quote from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" about how those who serve the state with their consciences are "commonly treated as enemies by it." (I'd prefer the locution, serve their community by their consciences, but Thoreau is Thoreau.) 

The story is allegorical, slaloming off of one of Ellison's own bugaboos, an inability to be punctual. It's about a world of tyranny via the enforcement of complete punctuality and full accounting for every second of one's time to the state, in the person of the tyrant timekeeper the Ticktockman who can literally revoke moments of your life via your "cardioplate."

No one now literally fears that tyranny is going to come through harshly enforced time management. But readers will still delight to the little rebel Harlequin who upsets the constrictions of his time-mad culture with madcap antics like dumping heaps of jelly beans on the "expresstrip." (Ellison amusingly grants within the story itself that this seems wildly improbable, playing with the conventions of mimetic realism in science fiction. "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.")

I happened to have re-read "Harlequin" myself a month or so ago. It still maintains its energy, comedy, and charm, and despite not having likely read or re-read it since my mid-teens, certain sentences in their lunatic outpourings of rhythm still rang with a memory unfaded by time, sentences that as soon as I started reading them I realized I still remembered them, nearly word for word. "He was not purring smoothly. Timewise, it was jangle." "foof! air-boat indeed! swizzleskid is what it was, with a tow-rack jerry-rigged." "…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…"

Ellison's story is still fun, still passionate, and beyond the specifics of time management still has an inspirational message of individual senses' of life, purpose, and fun defeating grim, crabbed forces of central control acting for an alleged "social good."

All the Prometheus Award winners of bygone days.

Past Reason discussion of the Promethus awards.

Hat tip: Rawillumination.net, a website dedicated to Robert Anton Wilson, the favorite writer of the rest of my teens and some of my adulthood.