Monday, November 10, 2008

Reader's Diary #413- Harlan Ellison: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Short Story Monday


I haven't plugged Sporcle enough lately, but I'm just as hooked as ever. One of their more recent games was "Can you name the Science Fiction author?" Now I'm not much of a sci-fi nut, but I was surprised at how many I knew (how many I've read is another question). One of the ones I missed was Harlan Ellison, most famous for his short story, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream." Thanks to the Internet, I was quickly able to close that gap.

In the month of October, I read a lot of horror stories in anticipation of Halloween. "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" easily belongs in that category as well. Of all the dystopian fiction I've encountered, I'd say this one comes closest to describing hell. It is the story of the last five humans on Earth, kept alive in the belly of a supercomputer that takes pleasure in torturing them in creative new ways. The computer, AM, makes HAL from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey look like an amateur at best.

What I like best about this story is the perverseness of it all. Behind AM, I sensed Ellison himself, the real god behind these cruel and unusual punishments. Like Bob Saget in the Aristocrats, I could picture the author at his typewriting giggling each time he topped his last demented line...
There was the smell of matted, wet fur in the cavern. There was the smell of charred wood. There was the smell of dusty velvet. There was the smell of rotting orchids. There was the smell of sour milk. There was the smell of sulphur, of rancid butter, of oil slick, of grease, of chalk dust, of human scalps.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi John! Your cousin here! Raed LOTS of Sci Fi in my younger years (hardly touch the stuff anymore LOL!!). Harlan Ellison wrote the Hugo award winning classic Star Trek episode; "The City of the Edge of Forever" ... easily one of the series' best shows!
As for omnipotent super-computers in the sci fi genre ... a couple of excellent novels in this vein are David Gerrold's "When HARLIE Was One" and Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"
Cheers!
Perry

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh yeah! Looking forward to reading this one! Thanks, you.

raidergirl3 said...

sporcle and The Aristocrats in the same post? It's too much:)

I am trying to master Countries of the World these days. The 4 of a Kind was a good one recently.

John Mutford said...

Perry: Hey, great to see family dropping by-- especially if it's family I like ;)

I read that he'd written some episodes for Star Trek. I've watched some ST, but never remember them by episode name so I don't know if I saw that one or not.

Barbara: Come back and let me know your thoughts.

Raidergirl: Maybe Sporcle could do a "How many Aristocrats comedians can you name?" Saget, Silverman, Conway, Dick, Penn and Teller, Gottfried...