Looking for the name of a short story I read at least 20 years ago, and was likely older. Never subscribed to the magazines, so would have been in a compilation at some point.

The background is that the (country? World?) became obsessed with time, to the point where there was a revolt and clocks were banned.

The protagonist is a school pupil who repairs a watch, and uses it to predict the end of class buzzer, and gets caught. Not sure if he's exiled or chooses to leave.

He goes to a city and ends up repairing clocks with someone he finds. He eventually goes off on his own and repairs a large clock in a tower – I was reminded of Big Ben but don't think that was explicit.

The clock chimes and he is caught and arrested.

I remember in the end he is in a cell with a clock. At first he's delighted, but it ends with something like "it was three days before he noticed the ticking."

Ring any bells for anyone?


1 Answer 1


I suspect this is "Chronopolis" by J.G. Ballard.

Telling time, and time telling devices, have been outlawed for years. But one youngster just can’t help himself from counting the seconds. It turns violent quick, and its ending is an example of how Science Fiction on the page can be strange and mean. Ballard himself is a huge influence on Science Fiction as a whole, with ties to New Wave, and this story in particular helps demonstrate the shift away from squeaky clean narratives in Science Fiction of which Ballard played a part.

I found a copy on Archive.org which can be borrowed. The final line is:

He was still chuckling over the absurdity of it all two weeks later when for the first time he noticed the clock's insanely irritating tick . . .

Found through a search for science fiction short story "clocks * banned", which mentioned the story by name.

The two magazines I see it listed as being in on ISFDB are New Worlds Science Fiction, #95 June and Urania #321 although it's listed in many story collections.

  • That's the one - last line is spot on. Many thanks - I was getting too many confounding results with my searches.
    – Michael
    Apr 23, 2020 at 14:58
  • 3
    Heh. Yeah, searching for phrases with wildcards helps a lot for me and I often have to add negative bits to the query to block out the incorrect but common matches.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 23, 2020 at 15:15

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