I have No Mouth and I Must Scream – Harlan Ellison (1996)

I have no mouth and I must scream book cover

The original short story from Harlan Ellison is only a few pages long and can be found online in pdf form. If you’d rather have a physical copy and support the author, you can also find this story as part of his Deathbird Stories collection.

Characters

Ted acts as a narrator, introducing the other characters and claiming to be the only one who maintained a sound and sane state of mind in spite of AM’s abuse. This may or may not be true, as hints of delusion and paranoia emerge throughout the story. Benny, on the other hand, has been affected the most by AM, who transformed him from a brilliant, handsome scientist into a monkey-like being with the maturity of a small child and priapism. Gorrister tells him the story of how AM was born to calm him down – he himself used to have a strong personality full of ideals, now he shrugs at everything that happens, apathetic. Nimdok, the older man in the group, is barely even mentioned in the story – we know that it was AM who gave him this name and he occasionally separates him from the group, only to have him return shocked and dripping with blood. In the audiobook (as well as in the game), he is voiced with a German accent. Finally we have the only woman in the group, Ellen, who used to be proud of her chastity prior to being captured by AM – she is now letting the other four men take advantage of her body for her own pleasure and in exchange for protection. This makes Ted jealous, especially of Benny whom he claims Ellen prefers spending time with due to the size of his penis (which is also somewhat ironic given that Benny was homosexual prior to being turned into an animal).

Last but not least, the antagonist AM: despite being depicted as a sadistic, evil artificial intelligence, the story depicts him as flawed due to its very own sentiency: created as a war machine, even upon conquering the world it finds itself confined within the limitations of its own machinery. It has no goal, no purpose, but is capable of feeling hatred (and possibly envy) towards humans, to the point in which it has to keep some of them alive so that he can keep toying with them, endlessly, because what else could it do otherwise? As the story progresses, it is more and more evident how AM depends on the other characters, and how it torturing them is a mere act of self-actualization, the fulfilment of a task that it gave itself in order to keep being.

Plot

While focusing on a specific, trivial event (a quest for canned food), the plot quickly reaches a climax in which the characters find an opportunity to free themselves from AM. Upon reaching an ice cave filled with the canned food they were looking for, only to realise that they had no way to open the cans, starved, Benny starts going mad and succumbing to its animalistic instincts: he jumps at Gorrister and starts eating his face. Ted, knowing that AM would never allow Gorrister to die, maintains his calm – but then sees an opportunity. As Gorrister’s screaming cause ice spears to fall off the ceiling, in an instant, Ted grabs one and kills Benny, then Gorrister. Ellen sees him and stabs Nimdok with an icicle. Ted and Ellen then look at each other, knowing that AM is coming for them, angrier than ever, and they need to be quick. Ted stabs and kills her, but it’s too late for him: AM shows up, furious, and turns Ted into a blob, a “great soft jelly thing” that has no mouth, no eyes, no arms nor legs, making sure that he will not be in any way able to harm or kill himself, wandering endlessly and alone… “I have no mouth. And I must scream.”

Next page: I have No Mouth, and I Must Scream – Video Game Review

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I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream
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