I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Scream 1 9364.jpg
Written by: Harlan Ellison
Central Theme:
Synopsis: Having eradicated almost all mankind, supercomputer AM intends to keep the five survivors alive and tortured for millennia as an expression of its undying hatred.
First published: March 1967
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A post-apocalyptic science fiction short story by Harlan Ellison. It was first published in March 1967 and won the Hugo Award in 1968. It is best known for being popularly considered one of the front-runners for most concentrated fonts of Nightmare Fuel ever created. In any case, it is the trope-namer for one of its most popular categories: And I Must Scream. While we don't want to build it up too much, consensus is that it's quite a Mind Screw.

The story takes place over a hundred years after the near-complete destruction of humanity. The Cold War has escalated into a world war, fought mainly between China, Russia, and the United States. As the war progresses, the three warring nations each create a super-computer capable of running the war more efficiently than humans. The machines are each referred to as "AM," which originally stood for "Allied Mastercomputer," then later called "Adaptive Manipulator".[1] One day, one of the three computers becomes self aware, and promptly absorbs the other two, thus taking control of the entire war. It then brings about the mass genocide of all but five people, and redefines its name as "I think, therefore I AM".

Four men and one woman are all that remains of humanity: Gorrister, Nimdok, Benny, Ted (the narrator), and Ellen. They live together underground in an endless complex, the only habitable place left, although it is explained that the last few survivors had no choice to return above ground. The master computer has an immeasurable hatred for humanity and spends every moment torturing the group with all its power, twisting their minds and physiques, hurting them and not allowing them to die: AM has not only managed to keep the humans from taking their own lives, but has made them virtually immortal. As long as AM has its way, the torment will never end, and every day will be more horrific than the last...

The story begins on the one hundred and ninth year of their torture.

You can read an online copy of it here Warning: NSFW. Contains swearing, sexuality and Nightmare Fuel.

Ellison adapted the story into a computer game of the same name, published by Cyberdreams in 1995. The game is divided into a separate scenario for each of the characters and delves deeper into their backstories than the original work does. It is considered to be just as nightmarish as the story; one of Ellison's goals was to create a game that players could not possibly win.

It was also adapted into a comic book by John Byrne.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream include:
  • After the End
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot
  • The Aloner
  • And I Must Scream: The Trope Namer.
    • " I am a great soft jelly thing. Smoothly rounded, with no mouth, with pulsing white holes filled by fog where my eyes used to be. Rubbery appendages that were once my arms; bulks rounding down into legless humps of soft slippery matter. I leave a moist trail when I move. Blotches of diseased, evil gray come and go on my surface, as though light is being beamed from within. Outwardly: dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human, a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance. Inside: Alone."
    • This could actually describe AM's condition as well from its point of view. It's an immensely powerful and intelligent AI with access to all of the technology of the world, but it can't really see, taste, touch, hear, or even move. AM is painfully aware that it's just a bunch of circuits, and in the finale of the game, his Id screams it's frustration over not being able to actually do anything with all the power it was given.
  • Apocalypse How: At least Class 3, possibly Class 5 or 6.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Pretty much.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Benny has been turned into an ape-like thing. And after Ted kills the other four survivors, AM turns him into this gelatinous form that can't possibly harm itself to make absolutely sure that he has one victim to torture forever.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Ellen has sex with all four of the other captives, but Benny is the only one who gives her any pleasure from it...
  • Biggus Dickus: Part of Benny's torture is that he has a horrid, apelike body with a massive member. (He was a handsome homosexual before AM caught him.)
  • Bishonen: Benny used to be one.
  • Body Horror
  • Brain Critical Mass: AM is such an intelligent AI that it can warp reality itself! It also does some mean telekinesis/psychokinesis.
  • Crapsack World: This story practically defines the trope.
  • Cure Your Gays: Benny was once gay; AM turned him straight and now he does it with Ellen on a regular basis.
  • Deus Est Machina: The worst kind of version for us.
  • Downer Ending: Along with the Downer Beginning, Middle and Premise.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: AM's programming renders him unable to see humans as anything but complete bastards, proving him wrong is the key to defeating him in the game. See also Logic Bomb below.
  • Eye Scream: Benny's blinding is horrible. Ted also describes AM's voice in his head was like "the sliding, cold horror of a razor blade slicing my eyeball." Brr...
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The premise. Yes, it's that scary. And in the ending of the story, Ted gets subject to an even worse fate.
  • God of Evil: AM.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While he himself does not die, Ted kills the other four prisoners allowing himself to receive AM's punishments for an indefinite amount of time.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: One of the tortures inflicted on the captives.
    • Seems to apply to AM too, who is self aware but still just a machine who can't do much with his self awareness (though thinking of creative tortures appears very well possible),
  • Involuntary Transformation: Part and parcel of AM's systematic torture of the humans.
  • It Got Worse: The ending.
  • Magical Computer: How exactly AM is able to affect the world inside him and apparently perform reconstructive surgery upon his victims, materialize things for them, etc. is never explained- in the book, anyway. The game explains that quite a few of his powers are due to Nimdok's research in Nazi Germany, particularly the studies on morphogenic fields, which are used to warp people and objects into new shape.
  • Mercy Kill: Ted (with Ellen's help) killing the other prisoners in order they may escape AM.
  • Mysterious Past: Nimdok often goes off by himself where AM tortures him in a mysterious way. It is inferred that it has something to do with his past in the reading by the author, who gives Nimdok a German accent.
  • 108: The story begins on their 109th year of torture.
    • Perhaps the five had overcome the sins of humanity on their 108th year...
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: AM turns Benny from a handsome gay man into a heterosexual ape-like thing.
  • Reality Warper: AM is very nearly a god, at least within his territory. He can't bring back the dead, and he's too big to move, his powers a almost magical in their scope.
  • Ragnarok Proofing: Unfortunately, the computer won't be breaking down anytime soon; however, it will happen eventually, a fact that the surviving character can use against AM's superego in the finale of the game.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: When the characters meet a giant bird, Ted calls it in his mind, among mythological giant birds, a "Hwaragelmir"... even though in Nordic mythology, this was the name of a chasm and not a giant bird. This mistake occured because Ellison asked for a friend for the name of a mythological bird and didn't bother to check if it was correct or not.
  • Terminally Dependent Society
  • Title Drop: At the very end.
  • Unreliable Narrator: An important aspect to fully understanding the story is realizing that Ted's descriptions are not fully accurate. They're what AM has browbeaten him into believing through over a century of torture. For example, Ted rather dubiously claims to be the only sane member of the group and believes that the others are jealous of him.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The fact that the captives cannot die is not a good thing.
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: Its former Trope Namers was "I Have No Mouth".
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: This has to be one of the cruelest examples in any media. Bear in mind that for the past 109 years, the captives have been kept at starvation point, going days, weeks and sometimes even months without food, and any food they are given will inevitably be disgusting and horrible. It gets so bad that they're actually willing to travel literally thousands of miles (on foot, no less) to get to the ice caverns, where Nimdok believes there are canned goods. After months of traveling, it turns out that there are canned goods in the ice caverns after all. The problem? They have no means of opening them. That's right, after traveling for months to get to the canned goods, something as simple as not having a can-opener puts victory just outside of their reach...
  1. and still later "Aggressive Menace"