So I decided I should come back to this and append this review with a disclaimer: I wrote this before A: coming out as trans and B: realizing that I don't have to defend a writer for the things they do well when their writing is overshadowed by disgusting and horribly backwards views regarding marginalized groups. So while I'm gonna leave this review as I wrote it, (It's seriously weird to me that this throwaway review I wrote years ago still gets likes and is apparently the highest rated review of this collection. Whaaaaat?) I am going to reduce the rating I gave it from three to two stars and put this big red disclaimer on here: Don't read this. His sense of superiority oozes out of every one of the stories' introductions in this collection. His story telling is hallucinogenic in quality; each story in this collection reads like an acid trip. Not all the stories are worth a second read; Big Sam Was My Friend plods along, and while it makes a poignant point at the end about selfishness and selflessness, it's not quite enough to save it from its boring, plodding pace. Seriously I cannot express just how anti-woman this book is, you just have to read it to see what I mean. I understand that it's okay to feel good about you work, but Ellison's conceit is obnoxious at best and almost comes to overshadow the stories themselves, particularly when they deal with the dangers of being arrogant and selfish. So while these stories were, for the most part, exceptionally written, I don't think I will be reading any of them again (except for the title piece, which is easily one of the top ten best science fictions that I've ever read).
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream Eight words that conjure up images of despair, darkness and desolation. Not a shield, but an outlet for once the damage is done, an idle hope that somehow the pain coursing through your body will not remain there, but will be taken away, with the scream, into a world big enough to take it. Ellison's story tries to capture something that is within the title that a fleshed-out story never could, I think, but his effort is commendable nonetheless: Five people and one angry, all-powerful machine torturing them for eternity. Harlan Ellison definitely has a way with words in painting a picture of this setting, describing darkness in such a detailed way he uses half a page for it and coming up with means of torment with almost worrying ease. The first element of hope is that the five people being tortured by this machine, besides having each other as company, know they will survive.
It just occurred to me to wonder why the machine enjoys torturing the people, and whether it would in fact make any difference if, instead, it tried to minister to their every need. In fact, we've already seen that version; it's Forster's equally famous and equally depressing The Machine Stops.
The title story is a futuristic nightmare written in 1967, with many echoes of the vengeful God of the Old Testament, and even the brief appearance of a celestial chorus singing, Go Down Moses. There's a quest with a denouement that would be funny were it not so desperately cruel, interesting group dynamics under stress (shades of Lord of the Flies, which I reviewed HERE or TV shows like Big Brother), and some philosophising. Image: Punchcode ITA2 for I think, therefore I am in English, used as a separator in the story. For a very different outcome of an omnipotent machine controlling humans below the earth, see EM Forster's The Machine Stops, which I reviewed HERE. Chekhovs short story, The Bet (see my review HERE), asks which is preferable: execution or life imprisonment? (Theres a gay character, too, and although his transformation is a sick inversion, that fits the story in a way that didnt feel demeaning to gay people in general.) The exposition of the backstory is horribly crass: a favourite tale told and retold by one of the group to another who now has the mental capacity of a small child. Image: Punchcode ITA2 for Cogito, ergo sum (Latin), used as a separator in the story. There was the smell of matted, wet fur in the cavern. There was the smell of sulphur, of rancid butter, of oil slick, of grease, of chalk dust, of human scalps. And we passed through the cavern of rats. The first was USS Callister, which looks like a Star Trek spoof (and it is, with a bit of Red Dwarf), but the whole plot, and one brief, specific event, is heavily inspired by this story.
In the interest of finally reading something written by Harlan Ellison and also to teach myself to better write short stories, I decided to take this short story collection on. I loved the surprising ending. This one was another chilling tale in which the worst horror comes from within. This was a dark tale and yet another horror story where the worst horror comes from inside.
What if you lived an eternity as a plaything for a computer mind bored out of its computer mind? No form of escape available to you for the nearest eternity?
Two women are raped but one of them was the tease, so I guess that makes it okay according to Ellison in that story. I also like the idea of a creepy ant-like race who is part of a gestalt mind or something like that, a premise that takes a backseat to the tease and her rapist and the other guy who feels bad about the rape but not bad enough to do anything about it. Edited in Feb 2013 to add: For the record, this review is meant to be for the entire short story collection I Have No Mouth .
So I decided to write a review for this breathtaking, before-its-time short story - mostly because I see some misconceptions regarding apparent misogyny (That, and there will never be something like this again). My country,South Africa, had one of the most liberal constitutions in the world when drafted in 1996 - it included marriage to whichever adult you wished - be they a different race or of the same sex (unknown in most countries at the time), rights for people with disabilities, equal rights for all, despite race, age and gender. This, this is why this story resonates with me - often, we have no mouth and must scream, because the society we live in does not allow freedom of speech. This is a book that is a direct reflection of the times it was written in. Stop being offended by everything and man/woman up - you won't get through life with indignant or triggered written on your forehead. Secondly, this is a book regarding censorship in our past, future and present - despite most countries' laws regarding Freedom of Speech, many people are criticised and shut down for their views or outright banned from saying certain things. One: This mini magnum opus criticises its time - the 60s where women were included in many "masculine" lines of workbegan to receive their own sexual freedom - when MLK and the Black Panther group influenced the lives of African Americans forever. Simply put, we messed with AI too much, that it thought it was God. So instead of millions getting killed by troops ordered by politicians, all but five of the billions of people on earth are killed by an autonomous machine created by humans. World-building 3 AM super computers (I think therefore I AM), was created by humans to intercept information from opposing countries as well as to improve war tactics. When it begins its sick games with the five surviving humans, we are introduced to a terrible world of temptation, hopelessness and evil with no way out. Because of its new-found sentience, it realises that because of the efficient work of humans that let it to become self-aware, it does not believe there is a reason to live. Ellen:Ellen is maybe the most complex character in this book, and the only woman. I think this reflects a lot upon how rape victims can develop a kind of apologist, Stockholm Syndrome or be dismissed regarding their fears. Each character has a redemption arc - I won't spoil it, but it is truly fitting and makes for an extremely satisfying read. Conclusion This book delves into our primal fears and wants as well as our biggest failures. It forces people into doing things they do not wish or urges eggs them on to do their worst and often has its ironies - a man who smokes two packets of cigarettes a day may die of skin cancer or A person who finally finds their true love may lose him or her to a car crash the next day.
Still, at the end of the day if you love something you have to stick to your guns, don't you? I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a an extremely bleak post-apocalypse and dystopian story. In the future depicted in this story, mankind is ruled by a demented and extremely cruel A.I. overlord. At the risk of recommending something you will hate, I highly recommend this story. _______________________ Note: I'm just reviewing the one story, not the entire anthology in this book.
And some of us exist inside the consciousness of a malevolent artificial intelligence that derives its only amusement, diversion from unceasing monotony, in merciless torment of five surviving humans: the scientist, the idealist, the existentialist, the prostitute and the Messiah. You're excused if you think I'm discussing The Matrix - my first thought on reading the title story is that the 1999 film owes its central ideas and plot to Harlan Ellison. But Ellison owes the juxtaposition of his primary characters to the Bible: AM, the self-realised AI trapped forever within circuitry is a vengeful God punishing humanity for its own actualisation - would God exist if humans could not imagine the concept? There on a mound rising above us, the bird of winds heaved with its own irregular breathing, its snake neck arching up into the gloom beneath the North Pole, supporting a head as large as a Tudor mansion; a beak that opened slowly as the jaws of the most monstrous crocodile ever conceived, sensuously; ridges of tufted flesh puckered about two evil eyes, as cold as the view down into a glacial crevasse, ice blue and somehow moving liquidly; it heaved once more, and lifted its great sweat-colored wings in a movement that was certainly a shrug.
He wrote for the original series of both The Outer Limits and Star Trek as well as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; edited the multiple-award-winning short story anthology series Dangerous Visions; and served as creative consultant/writer to the science fiction TV series The New Twilight Zone and Babylon 5.