Short Story #12: “Count the Clock That Tells the Time” — Harlan Ellison (1979)
It would be a dull world indeed without Harlan Ellison. The guy who wrote a thousand or more short stories, angry screeds and TV scripts, including the basis for the most famous Star Trek episode of all, “City on the Edge of Forever,” was an unstoppable voice in 20th century science fiction. Which is not to say he couldn’t be, and still often is, a complete asshole — an anti-Asimov if you will. That appears, however, along with talent, drive and volume, to be an inseparable part of his L’enfant terrible package.
Which makes this next story all the more amazing.
“Count the Clock That Tells the Time,” which first appeared in Omni magaine (the beautifully designed, very serious bid for respectability by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione), quietly plumbs the depths of human loneliness and despair. It is quite possibly the best exploration of depression I’ve ever read: it’s protagonist, a lost everyman who drifts through life without purpose, wasting away the hours that make up a dull day (sorry, couldn’t resist), discovers the universe has a Law of Conservation of Time as well as one of Energy. One day he is pulled into a dimension where all wasted time goes to be recycled. And it is there, in limbo, after it is all too late, he meets a girl and falls in love.
It is sad and sweet and poignant, and it somehow came from the angry typewriter of Harlan Ellison.
[Clock image via dharmaworks]