There is a story that I read decades ago, in which a long line of people stretches from horizon to horizon. There are small communities which form amongst the people who are in the line. Eventually the protagonist makes it to the end of the line: a desk or some such in the middle of nowhere, gets a stamp or other form of official acknowledgment for having stood in line, but that is it, no reward or benefit.

I believe the denouement is that he does not know anything else to do other than go back to the end of the line and do it over again. His whole life had been spent in line.

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    Did he get his driving licence renewed at the end of the story?
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 22:02
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! Do you recall where you might have read it? A particular magazine, an anthology...
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 22:32
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    Not what your asking for, but similar idea in a web comic: schlockmercenary.com/2000-12-11
    – jmoreno
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 1:21
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    reminds me of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy where, at some point, they enter a plane where everyone died waiting, for several hundred years, for the automated system to take-off, while receiving every so often the message "We are currently awaiting the loading of our compliment of small, lemon-soaked paper napkins for your comfort, refreshment, and hygiene during the flight" ... Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 7:29
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    @OlivierDulac if I recall, the passengers were not dead, but placed into stasis, awoken by the robotic flight attendants for a few minutes every year to enjoy some periodic refreshments as the flight crew waits for a new civilization to form, and begin manufacturing lemon-soaked paper napkins.
    – Phoenix
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 17:43

3 Answers 3


Probably "In the Queue" by Keith Laumer.

It ends:

"You In Line, or what?" the boy asked.

Hestler looked again at the bleak horizon. He came over and stood behind the youth.

"Certainly," he said.

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    The quote seems exactly right i am immediately impressed by this website. No I will try to find it And reread it. One of the funny comments that was posted about the driving license is exactly why the story came to mind I think I’m waiting in line for all kinds of things have not received my stimulus check yet still waiting on unemployment but my income has been zero since March. If you’re waiting for largesse they have complete and total control over you
    – don eagle
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 11:45
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    @doneagle Welcome to the site! If & when you manage to confirm that one of the answers is correct, you can indicate it by clicking on the gray checkmark. Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 12:10
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    @doneagle It can be legally read for free here. This was part of a freely distributable Baen Books CD. Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 13:29

Another possibility (theme matches, but not all the details) is 'Jumping the line' by Grania Davis.

The protagonist (Bi) has been in the line for all of his life, as part of a family group. He joins with another young adult and they start skipping the line to the end. There's a kind of circus, but when he left his family he didn't take the token he needs to get in. He's then directed to queue the other way.

“In the Other Line. You ever see that other line, way off thataway? That’s the line where folks get their tokens. You gotta go to the end of the Other Line and wait your turn.

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    This is the story that immediately came to my mind when I read this question's title. Good find.
    – Zab Zonk
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 10:36
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    – Charles
    Commented Sep 26, 2022 at 16:43

I doubt this is the right answer, but a similar scenario appears in a subplot, labelled "Bureaucracy Bountiful", of the webcomic "Schlock Mercenary" from 2000:

The protagonists resolve this situation, but naturally create still worse problems in the process.

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