Book Review: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison 

Book Review: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison 

Photo Credit: Leo and Diane Dillon 

A 1967 short story that has long to become obsolete 

Lyana Shaharizan, Senior Staff Writer 

Have you ever tried using artificial intelligence (AI) technology and then promptly pondered its ethical implications and capability both to enhance and to destroy humanity? Harlan Ellison, an American writer widely known for his astounding works in science fiction, brought the world an answer with the worst-case scenario for this burning question. Ellison engages these dark, eerie, and uncanny ideas in a short story titled “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” which causes his readers either to feel nauseous or to get goosebumps as they move through the pages.  

Harlan Ellison was born on May 27, 1934, and died on June 28, 2018. Throughout his career, he won multiple awards for his work, including 12 Hugo Awards, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. 

  Published in 1967, this short story remains as relevant and impactful as ever. It begins with the narrator explaining the current state of his post-apocalyptic world, where the only living beings are him, his four colleagues, and a superintelligent and malevolent computer named AM.  

The five survivors endure excruciating pain and torture that surpasses our imagination. The omnipotent computer subjects them to nonsensical, grotesque alterations, incorporating nauseating appendages into their bodies as part of its perfectly curated torment. The narrator explains how the situation came down to this while walking readers through his thoughts and the daily life of his nightmarish existence. All the while, he’s trying to one-up the ingenious man-made AI. 

Ellison’s ability to craft a fully realized protagonist, whose mind wrestles with moral dilemmas and existential crises, compels readers to flip through the pages without pause. The side characters are also meticulously designed with complex features and roles in the story. He manages to describe the characters’ torments vividly while providing an unflinching portrayal of human suffering, creating a sense of dread that lingers in readers’ minds long after finishing the story. 

Despite being dark and twisted overall, the rest of the collection of Ellison’s stories is infused with moments of profound insight and occasional humour to lighten up the atmosphere. Ellison’s writing is both evocative and concise, delivering waves of intense emotion within the confines of just a few short pages. 

To conclude, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” is a phenomenal work that discusses the consequences of our relationship with AI technology and captivates readers with its repulsive yet intriguing imagery, multifaceted characters, and brilliant storytelling. Harlan Ellison reminds us of the darkest aspects of human nature and the potential impact of unchecked power. The larger collection of Ellison’s works is highly recommended for those who are currently in a reading slump and trying to find something that explores the depths of the human psyche and churns the stomach in just a few pages. You will probably think twice before using AI technology after reading it!