Whenever I think of short stories, I have a bad habit of expecting a story that’s pretty light and relaxing on the mind. Something that I can quickly pick up and mentally absorb in one go. But damn… I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison was quite bleak and oppressively chilling. This isn’t necessarily a review of the story, (since it is quite brief) but I wanted to share my thoughts on it anyway.
The narrative of this fictional story takes place some time after the Cold War had ended. At the height of the Cold War, the opposing nations each constructed supercomputers with state-of-the-art A.I. (artificial intelligence) in order to aid them in their perilous battles. On one calamitous day, one of the computers developed sentience and an overall sense of self-awareness. After seizing control of the other two supercomputers, this ultimately led to the mass annihilation of the human race aside from five individuals, which consists of four guys and one woman: Benny, Gorrister, Nimdok, Ted and Ellen.
They each reside together in a frigid underground complex since the land up above is now ravaged beyond repair and unhospitable. The supercomputer, which goes by the name of AM, harbors deep antipathy towards humankind, and tortures each one of the survivors incessantly by voyeuristically invading their minds, and inflicting as much physical trauma as possible but not allowing them the relief of death. AM has made them immortal beings, and with each passing day, the pain and misery that AM inflicts upon them only gets worse.
Despite it’s notably brief length, (it’s only 20 pages long) I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, really shook me to the core. It really paints a stark picture of what could happen if A.I. evolves or warps into something far beyond of what we imagine it being. It was definitely an engrossing reading experience, and I think I would recommend it if you aren’t easily spooked, and if you enjoy sci-fi literature. Plus, it’s really short. In addition, the author also made a Video Game adaptation of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, which goes a bit deeper into the backstories of each character. I’d start out with the book first, but the click-and-point game is also worth checking out on YouTube.