I recently read the Quantum Thief.

This book had the idea of the time you live as something that can be used to pay for things. When you run out of "money" you die.

I was wondering is this the original source for this idea? Or does anyone know of an earlier book with the same idea?

  • There's the Lost in Space Episode The Time Merchant, but that was 1968 which is a little after the accepted answer – Often Right Sep 13 '15 at 1:04

The earliest I know of is "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison (Written in 1965). Attorneys representing the author are actually suing the creators of the movie "In Time" because of its similarities to the short story.

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It's not quite an answer, but Momo, by Michael Ende, has the concept of Time being something that can be stolen by thieves.

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    As we're searching for the earliest, let's add a date. Published in 1973 I think. – b_jonas Sep 29 '13 at 10:59

Not the same thing, I guess, but here is the editorial blurb for Wallace West's story "The Time-Lockers" in Science Fiction Quarterly, August 1956 (available at the Internet Archive):

You've heard about time-saving devices, but suppose there were some sort of dingus through which you could actually save up time, like money. Well, that's how it was here; people snipped off time ordinarily spent in commuting, etc., until they had a month or so on deposit, then went off for a vacation on a parallel world where the time-rates were different. Their month was only equal to a day or so, here, you see. But what was the meaning of the dreams they had at night in vacation-land?

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The idea that time is money (namely, a resource with inherent worth), is a very old one.

The first mention I found by a historic figure was Benjamin Franklin, though I'm fairly certain that the philosophical idea, if not the precise wording, pre-dates him.

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I remember seeing a short film on television where infants were implanted with a crystal or gadget that interacted with a handheld device to facilitate commerce using one's remaining lifespan as currency. The main character is an enterprising youth who accumulates a sizable retirement and then gives it away to his parent or mentor before wandering out into the world.

It aired around 1990, I think. And it was paired with another short about two kids who put insects on golfballs and launched them into the heavens to escape the mundane existence of the trailerpark.

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Camus discusses this topic in A Happy Death, which was composed between 1936 and 1938, although it wasn't published until 1971. In it, the character Zagreus states:

"Only it takes time to be happy. A lot of time. Happiness, too, is a long patience. And in almost every case, we use up our lives making money, when we should be using our money to gain time."

A full English translation of the book can be found here.

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  • This is an answer, but would be better as a comment, as answers need some evidence, just like Myth.SE. – bleh Oct 31 '16 at 21:46

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