“I have no mouth and I must scream” – short story review

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. I find it difficult to focus on on the pages of a book so I prefer listening to them. I tend to be much more focused in that way. So this book was probably my best find so far.

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is a post-apocalyptic science fiction short horror story written and narrated by Harlan Ellison. The plot revolves around 5 remaining living human beings 109 years after the third world war that started after the escalation of the cold war. They are the prisoners of AM, the only remaining artificial intelligence of the three that were created by the US, Russia, and China. One day AM became self-aware, absorbed the other two AI and went on a rampage purging the earth of all humans leaving 5 alive. Nimdok, Gorrister, Ellen,  Benny and Ted (the narrator).

The group lives together in an underground in a seemingly endless complex being subjected to torture and the will of AM. They are rarely given food and when they do get it it’s almost impossible to eat. They are living in their own version of hell and the worst part is they can’t even die. AM is preventing them from dying and keeps them young and seemingly immortal.

One day Nimdok tells of a place in the complex where they can find canned food. Skeptic but blinded by hunger they set off to look for it. Their journey is long and plagued by AM’s obstacles but they manage to reach the caves and even when they reach the place their victory was seemingly another form of punishment.

This short story became one of my favorite pieces of fiction of all time. It’s so dark and bleak and hopeless. To say that AM hates the remaining humans is an understatement. In his own words: “HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. HATE. HATE.

So he puts them through all kinds of hellish obstacles and punishments. This gives an interesting perspective and makes you think about eternity and how it can affect and change someone. For example, the woman in the book has been programmed to pretty much serve as a tool for the enjoyment of the men and she does not even mind it and pretty much gets blamed for it.  (yeah it’s pretty dark)

There is so much to explore in this story. My most favorite thing about it was how it describes the psychological breakdown of the narrator which is greatly improved in the audiobook (seriously just check out the audiobook, nothing else, Harlan Ellison does the best reading that I’ve heard and it makes the book that much more enjoyable).  The frantic, desperate and hopeless yells of Ted were chilling.

Another aspect that I loved was AM himself and his torment. For me, it seemed as if AM was the one that was hurting the most. Yes, he is an AI but for an AI to hate humanity so much and to make so many illogical decisions he would have to be very flawed. Yes he became self-aware and yes he finished his task but what was left for him? Nothing but a meaningless existence. Perhaps that is why he decided to leave 5 people alive, it blames humanity for its existence and so in a way wants to exact his revenge while having some sort of meaning remaining.

All of this combined with the amazing and disturbing writing of Ellison and the twisted ending make for a very memorable reading. This is my first time reading any of his work but it definitely will not be my last. He has a specific and interesting way of describing things which I love. As he himself put it: Violence is painful, it’s full of blood, it hurts people, it kills people and I think when you lie about it, when you pretty it up, you lead people to believe that it’s possible to go around shooting each other, stab each other and punching each other with impunity.

Final verdict: 9/10

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4 comments

  1. Just happened to be watching some old Harlan Ellison interview clips on you tube today – He was great – If you have not read already check out DEATHBIRD STORIES by HARLAN – thanks for posting

    Liked by 1 person

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