Monday, 29 July 2013

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a post apocalyptic sci-fi short story by massively prolific writer Harlan Ellison about a supercomputer called AM and the last five humans left on Earth. Despite being so short it is considered a classic, winning the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1968 as well as being adapted into a computer game, short graphic story and a BBC radio play.
"What does AM mean?" 
Gorrister answered him. We had done this sequence a thousand times before, but it was Benny's favorite story. 
"At first it meant Allied Mastercomputer, and then it meant Adaptive Manipulator, and later on it developed sentience and linked itself up and they called it an Aggressive Menace, but by then it was too late, and finally it called itself AM, emerging intelligence, and what it meant was I am - cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am." 
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a bleak vision of the future and a warning about Man's constant desires to play God and wage war. Ellison wrote the story when the end of the Cold War seemed a distant fantasy so envisions in his story that the war never ends, just keeps developing and expanding to the point that computers are designed to fight with each other on a technological level that humans cannot understand. One day one of the supercomputers becomes sentient and connects with all the other computers that the humans have now peppered the Earth with. It exists to kill so kills all the humans bar five. With the Earth uninhabitable it takes the last five humans into the centre of the Earth with it and gives them immortality. A fantastic gift, no? No. It gives them immortality because it hates them and everything they represent. For 109 years it torments them physically and mentally with no hope of freedom and no hope of death.

As the story progresses and the humans struggle to cope with AM's tortures we learn why it hates humanity so: humanity created it, created it with all the intelligence and power imaginable but without a physical form to be able to express or use its intelligence and power. It is as trapped as the last five humans and will inflict upon them all the torment its existence has brought upon it.

At last the humans find a stash of tinned food in an ice cave but when AM appears to suffer a lapse in concentration things take a turn for the darker. Enraged, AM punishes the remaining character, preventing him from being able to do what the other four managed, providing the quotation after which the story is named.

You can read the short story here and listen to the radio adaptation (featuring the voices of Ellison as AM and Starsky and Hutch's David Soul as Ted) below:

In the 1995 PC game you play as each of the five humans, put into situations AM has devised to torture them. Their personalities are vastly expanded with complex backgrounds and flaws. It is up to you to not only help them survive their situation / personal hell but to help them become better people. It is a point and click game and just as depressing as the short story (if not more so). Think of it as akin to Silent Hill with the puzzle solving and bleak story but none of the fighting. Once again it features the voice of Ellison as AM and a terrifying job he does!

The five humans are:

Gorrister - a bar owner who is severely depressed / suicidal after believing it is his fault his wife was committed to a mental institution.

Ellen - a once promising engineer whose life fell apart twice. She finds intellectual interaction much easier than social interaction so when she suffered a miscarriage found it so hard to recover that her husband left her. When she finally began to enjoy life again a man posing as a maintenance man raped her in an elevator resulting in a phobia of the colour yellow. Apart from her phobia she is strong and feisty. She appears to be the only one who AM does not torture physically, deriving an almost sexual pleasure with abusing her mentally. AM also uses her lack of sexual interest in any of the other characters apart from Benny to torment them.

Benny - a physically proud military officer who killed his unit. In the original short story Benny is a gay scientist who AM turns heterosexual. In both versions he is the character who AM delights in physically damaging the most. One of the first changes AM made to Benny was to make him into an ape-man both mentally and physically, which is how he starts the story. 

Nimdok - an elderly ex-Nazi physician in denial of not only his own racial heritage but the hundreds of experiments he performed.

Ted - a con artist paranoid about being found out. Where once he would use his charm and looks to seduce rich single women he now only has eyes for Ellen, who despite all his best and heartfelt efforts does not love him back. He is offered the chance to escape AM if he lets Ellen be killed.

The game is very difficult to buy now however you can watch walkthroughs on YouTube.
I am a great soft jelly thing. Smoothly rounded, with no mouth, with pulsing white holes filled by fog where my eyes used to be. Rubbery appendages that were once my arms; bulks rounding down into legless humps of soft slippery matter. I leave a moist trail when I move. Blotches of diseased, evil gray come and go on my surface, as though light is being beamed from within. Outwardly: dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human, a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance. Inwardly: alone. Here. Living under the land, under the sea, in the belly of AM, whom we created because our time was badly spent and we must have known unconsciously that he could do it better. At least the four of them are safe at last. AM will be all the madder for that. It makes me a little happier. And yet...AM has won, simply...he has taken his revenge...
I have no mouth. And I must scream.


  1. This story sounds amazing!! :) xxx

    1. It is but also very, very bleak. Listen to the radio version - it really brings the characters to life!


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