Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Hugo Award–winning, post apocalyptic short story by Harlan Ellison.

My take: 3 looks

13 pages of WEIRD.


Here are the characters:
  • AM, the supercomputer which brought about the near-extinction of humanity.
  • Gorrister, once an idealist and pacifist, before AM made him apathetic and listless.
  • Benny, once a brilliant, handsome scientist, and has been mutilated and transformed so that he resembles a grotesque simian, as well as having lost his sanity completely and regressed to a childlike temperament.
  • Nimdok (not his real name), an older man who persuades the rest of the group to go on a hopeless journey in search of canned food. In the audiobook read by Ellison, he is given a German accent.
  • Ellen, the only woman. She claims to once have been chaste ("twice removed"), but AM altered her mind so that she became desperate for sexual intercourse. Described by Ted as having ebony skin, she is the only member of the group whose ethnicity or racial identity is explicitly mentioned.
  • Ted, the narrator and youngest of the group. He claims to be totally unaltered, mentally or physically, by AM, and thinks the other four hate and envy him.

  • Basically, there is a world war. The US, China and Russia build supercomputers to run the war for efficiently for them. One of the computers becomes sentient, absorbs the other two and annihilates all people on earth, save these five. Because the computer is so angry, it tortures the humans day and night, after being able to extend their lives into an almost immortal state. The story takes place 109 years after their capture.

    There are references here to God and Jesus and that got me thinking that this may be an allegory for Christianity. Each character represents a deadly sin:
    Lust - Ellen has become a whore
    Gluttony - Benny reverts to cannibalism
    Greed - Nimdok - leads them on an extended search for canned goods
    Sloth - Gorrister - lazy and uncaring
    Wrath - AM embodies anger
    Envy - Benny's large penis is a point of contention
    Pride - Ted is quite sure that he is the only one completely unaffected

    With that foundation, AM is God. He creates, destroys, and knows all things. He can get into their minds and manipulate their feelings. In the end, Ted could represent Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice to give the others freedom.

    I have no idea if this is what Ellison intended, or if I am full of hooey. After all, sometimes a soft jelly thing with rubbery appendages is just that: a soft jelly think with rubbery appendages.

    Recommended for the weirdness factor alone.

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