Reading rec: Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967)

I’m back with another reading recommendation for all you voracious readers out there. This time it is another short story entitled “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.

Published in 1967, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is a classic of science-fiction horror. The story focuses on five humans who are held captive by a supercomputer, AM. The rest of the human race is gone, destroyed by AM decades ago. AM puts the five humans through various tortures as the story progresses, just as AM has tortured them continually for the last 109 years. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is grotesquely dark and fascinating, portraying a living hell from which there is only one escape: death. But when one is made immortal by a supercomputer, is the escape guaranteed by death even possible?

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1996)“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” has been on my mind because I picked up the video game adaptation on sale a few months ago, and I just sat down to try it out last night. So far, I’ve only played Ted’s storyline, but I’m looking forward to playing through as all four characters. The game is a bit old at this point, but I have seen many people still swear by its atmosphere and emotional impact.

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” was adapted into a computer game in 1996. It is a point-and-click adventure game, a logic puzzle with many possible outcomes. One of the reasons the game is so memorable is Harlan Ellison was deeply involved with the game’s development, writing much of the new dialogue, and providing the voice for AM. Due to his influence, and true to the original story’s atmosphere, you cannot really “win” the game. Harlan Ellison stated, “I created it so you could not win it. The only way in which you could “win” was to play it nobly. The more nobly you played it, the closer to succeeding you would come, but you could not actually beat it. And that annoyed the hell out of people.”

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” can be found online here. A copy of the story is also provided with the Steam version of the game. If you enjoyed the story and want to read more of Ellison’s work, try this collection, which includes “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” as well as six other stories.