Some of you may know Harlan Ellison, some of you may not. Some of you might know him from the big Penny Arcade debacle, where he and Gabe (Mike Krahulik) had a kerfuffle about who was the rudest person. Some you may know him as the dude who had a kerfuffle about the ‘Star Trek’ episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and successfully sued for damages against CBS in 2009 (kerfuffle is probably underplaying it) . Or maybe you know him as the man who groped Science Fiction author, Connie Willis, because that’s apparently what friends do (though there is some debate about whether this was blown out of proportion).
I knew Harlan Ellison because he wrote a disturbing story that my friend handed to me saying, “This is some seriously f*cked up sh*t, man”. And yeah.. she was right.
I don’t think we write enough about the really messed up predecessors of the science fiction today, so Harlan Ellison’s short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is the subject of today’s Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great and influential science fiction of the past.
A lot of people will ask me how to describe Ellison’s work, and what I usually do is describe this short story. Nothing truly captures his pure pessimism the way this one does.
The story takes place after the US and the Soviets have developed super computers in the Cold War. One, called AM, gains sentience, absorbs the other supercomputers, and then proceeds to wipe out all of humanity, save for five people.
These five people become AM’s favorite toys, as he starves them, feeds them disgusting mush, and tortures them within an inch of their life but always keeping them alive…. forever… and AM’s also very good at making sure they don’t kill themselves. Essentially, life sucks for them.
When one of the humans think there might be canned food in the complex they are housed, they go on an epic journey to find it while AM continues to torture them. Sadly, when they find the canned food, they realize they can’t open it. The understatement is for this is that tensions were high. So high, that they begin killing each other gnawing on faces and taking people out with icicles. Only one person survives, and AM is so angry about this, he transforms the poor man into an giant amorphous blob that is incapable of taking his own life. Then AM proceeds to torture him forever. You can guess where the title comes in.
Is it a light, fluffy, happy story? No. Never ever expect that with Ellison. But it’s influential, even winning a Hugo Award.
So if you’re tired of the post-apocalyptic stuff because it’s just not dark enough, come on over to an even darker side, and try what Harlan Ellison has to offer.