I recently remembered a short story I had read a while ago in a sci-fi compilation. I tried to identify it, but my Google-fu is not up to the task. Google, however, directed me here. So, I hope someone will be able to help me by identifying the title and author.

The premise of the story is that the future human society modified the legal system to allow you to pay for your crimes in advance. In order to be allowed to commit a murder – I think his target had to do with business/scientific betrayal – the protagonist spends a number of years on a hellish planet with an incredibly hostile environment.

He survives his "punishment" and gets back to Earth with the "license" is his pocket. Most of the story deals with how his interactions with the people he knew are – surprising for him – heavily affected by the fact that he is able to commit a murder without additional repercussions.

Can anyone point to the author/title? I think the author was English/American, possibly one of the more famous authors.

  • 3
    Roughly speaking, how long ago was "a while ago"?
    – phantom42
    Dec 4, 2014 at 13:38
  • 1
    Some years ago, 5-6? The compilation was much older than me, seeing as story is apparently quite old (according to the answer given).
    – Michael
    Dec 4, 2014 at 14:11
  • 1
    Seems like I remember a non-scifi story similar where the Double Jeopardy rule comes into play for a man who gets out of jail for homicide and kills the man he was framed for killing. Not sure based in reality but in the story he couldn't be tried again for the same crime.
    – Zan Lynx
    Dec 5, 2014 at 1:30
  • 1
    @ZanLynx - for what it's worth, double jeopardy doesn't work the way that story summary indicates (and wasn't there a movie a couple of years ago with that same notion?). Killing someone in 2014 is not the same crime as killing that same person in 2015; those are two separate actions, so two distinct crimes. Dec 5, 2014 at 21:14
  • 1
    @PeteBecker: While legally that's true, there's a PR aspect whereby it may be hard to prosecute after the police/prosecutor have already harassed a suspect and turned out to be wrong, especially if no body is found. There's a great Columbo (Columbo Cries Wolf) featuring such a scenario. Dec 6, 2014 at 6:56

1 Answer 1


The story is "Time in Advance" by William Tenn.

"Here we are, ladies and gentlemen of the television audience," the announcer exuded in a lavish voice. "We are on board the convict ship Jean Valjean, which has just landed at the New York Spaceport. We are here to meet two men — two of the rare men who have managed to serve all of a voluntary sentence for murder and thus are legally entitled to commit one murder apiece.

"In just a few moments, they will be discharged after having served out seven full years on the convict planets — and they will be free to kill any man or woman in the Solar System with absolutely no fear of any kind of retribution. Take a good look at them, ladies and gentlemen of the television audience — it might be you they are after!"

  • 5
    Why is there a Les Misérables reference? Dec 4, 2014 at 18:28
  • 7
    @ArturoTorresSánchez scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/ask ;-) I'd guess it's a reference to someone being in prison for a crime they have not (yet) committed...
    – Zommuter
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:44
  • 5
    @Zommuter But Jean Valjean did commit a crime: he stole some bread. The injustice was not that he was punished for something he didn't do, but that he was punished excessively for something he did out of necessity.
    – KSmarts
    Dec 4, 2014 at 22:44
  • 8
    @KSmarts: Though most of the time he served was not due to his original crime but due to various escape attempts. If anything the injustice was in the way ex-convicts are treated as second class citizens, shunned by society and paid less for the same work as a citizen without a yellow passport. It could be argued that the reference is related to the fact that Les Miserables is in part about the way society reacts to those returning to society from prison.
    – Chris
    Dec 5, 2014 at 11:56
  • 4
    Imagine the press if one of the men stepped off the ship and immediately took the announcer out. I might have to read this story.
    – Ellesedil
    Dec 5, 2014 at 19:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.