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The concept of a life-clock has been used numerous times in sci-fi.

A recent example is the 2011 film In Time, where everyone has a clock built into their arm that starts to countdown to zero once they reach 25 years old.

The 1987 film, The Price of Life has a similar plot and concept as In Time.

The 1976 film, Logan's Run, which is based on the 1967 novel of the same name, has a similar plot with a life clock in the palm of an individuals hand which counts down to when an individual reaches 30 (in the film) or 21 (in the novel).

Is there any story before 1967 that contains a life clock where an individuals life is counted down?

For this question I would count any story where the life clock counts down automatically and an individual would know how much time they have left by easily checking the clock.

I would not count the following types of "life clock" to fit the scope of this question.

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    In Heinlein's "Life-Line" (1939), there's an invention that can tell an individual how much time remains to them. There's not a countdown per se.
    – user888379
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 20:08
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    As a side comment, it would surprise me if the sci-fi "life clock" idea has not been inspired by the fantasy trope "Death's Hourglass", see tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathsHourglass (the "mythology" section is particularly interesting)
    – J-J-J
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 20:26
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    Well, and the Fates of Greek mythology measuring out and cutting the thread of life.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 20:28
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    Does it need to be a clock or can it be another object that can be used for roughly the same purpose (eg a candle burning down)? Should everyone have such an object? Does it have to be something the person has on their person or have access to? Where does one draw the line for what should be considered sci-fi?
    – Laurel
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 20:29
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    In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West puts out an hourglass where supposedly Dorothy will die when the sand runs out. Not in the book BTW.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 23:41

1 Answer 1

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The Ration Ticket (original title: "La Carte") by Marcel Aymé (1942) is about the government allowing people to live a certain amount of days each month, varying depending on the person's social status and "usefulness". So they give people a certain number of tickets, one ticket representing one day of life. When people run out of tickets, they die –literally disappearing– and then they are brought back to life the next month.

People who are deemed as "useless" get fewer tickets than others (e.g. old people get 6 days of life each month, Jewish people get only half a day – reflecting the context and time of the story publication). As tickets can be exchanged, a black market of time arises, and some people absurdly end up with more days of life than there are days in the month.

It was published as a short story in the newspaper La Gerbe in 1942, and republished in 1943 in the anthology Le Passe-Muraille.

As others mentioned in comments, a closely related concept is the "Death's Hourglass", also related to the thread of life in ancient mythology.

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