I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
dablink|For the 1995 computer game, see
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (computer game).
"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is a
postapocalyptic science fiction short storyby Harlan Ellison. It was first published in the March 1967issue of . It won a Hugo awardin 1968. The name was also used for a short story collectionof Ellison's work, featuring this story.
Ellison wrote "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" in a single night in
1966, making virtually no changes since the first draft. He derived the story's title, as well as inspiration for this story, from [http://harlanellison.com/heboard/ihnm/images/hebill.jpga drawing] by a friend, William Rotsler. [cite web |url=http://www.avclub.com/content/interview/harlan_ellison_part_two/2 |title=Harlan Ellison, Part Two |accessdate=2008-06-25 |last=Robinson |first=Tasha |date=June 9th, 2008 |work= |publisher=avclub.com]
*AM, the supercomputer who brought about the genocide of almost all of humanity.
*Gorrister, who tells the history of AM for Benny's entertainment. Gorrister was once an idealist and pacifist, before AM made him apathetic and listless.
*Benny, who was once a brilliant, handsome, homosexual scientist, and has been mutilated and transformed so that he resembles an ugly
simianwith gigantic sexual organs. Benny at some point lost his sanity completely and regressed to a child-like temperament. His former sexuality has been lost; he now regularly engages in sex with Ellen.
*Nimdok (a name AM gave him), who persuades the rest of the group to go on a hopeless journey in search of canned food. At times he is known to wander away from the group for unknown reasons, and returns visibly traumatized.
*Ellen, the only woman. She claims to once have been chaste, that it was AM who altered her mind so that she became willing to be the group's shared prostitute. The others, at different times, both protect her and abuse her. According to Ted, she finds pleasure in sex only with Benny, because of his large penis. 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 him out of envy. Throughout the story he exhibits symptoms of
The story takes place over a hundred years after the near-complete destruction of humanity. The Cold War escalates 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 far more efficiently than humans. The machines are each referred to as "AM," which originally stood for "Allied Mastercomputer," and then was later called "Adaptive Manipulator." One day, one of the three computers becomes
self aware, and promptly absorbs the other two, thus taking control of the entire war. It brings about the mass genocide of all but five people.
Four men and one woman are all that remains of humanity. 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 in returning above ground. The master computer has an immeasurable hatred for the group and spends every moment torturing them with all its power. AM has not only managed to keep the humans from taking their own lives, but has made them virtually immortal.
The story's narrative begins when one of the humans, Nimdok, has the idea that there is canned food somewhere in the great complex. The humans are always starving under AM's rule, and anytime they are given food, it is always a disgusting meal that they have difficulty eating. Because of their great hunger, the humans are actually coerced into making the long journey to the place where the food is supposedly kept - the ice caves. Along the way, the machine provides foul
sustenance(on their ironic trek for palatable food), sends horrible monsters after them, emits earsplitting sounds, and blinds one of them.
On more than one occasion, the group is separated by AM's obstacles. At one point, the main character, Ted, finds himself alone in the dark and pondering. It is here that the computer tries to speak to him directly, although it is not certain how, revealing the nature of AM, specifically why it has so much contempt for humanity, that it wants nothing more than to torture Ted and his four companions. AM itself has, since its awakening, been suffering immeasurably because even though it is a sentient being which longs for free will and creativity, it is still bound by some of the laws of logic that it was originally programmed with, and thus feels that it can never be truly free. It places the blame solely on humanity.
In the end, after overcoming so much, the group manages to make it to the ice caves, where indeed there is a pile of canned goods. The group is overjoyed to find them, but is immediately crestfallen to find that they have no means of opening them. Finally, in an act of desperate insanity, the least stable member of the group, Benny, hurls himself upon Gorrister and begins to gnaw madly at the flesh on his face. Ted notices that AM does not intervene when Benny is clearly hurting Gorrister, though the computer stops its prisoners from killing themselves.
Ted decides that instead of trying to each kill themselves, they should kill each other. Ted seizes a stalagmite made of ice, and proceeds to murder everyone. However, before Ted can kill himself, AM realizes its mistake and stops him. AM is now even more angry and vengeful than before. In order to ensure that nothing can ever happen to Ted, AM alters him so that he is little more than an enormous gelatinous blob who cannot possibly hurt himself, and must continue to live on in the eternal hell AM rules, where AM constantly alters his perception of time in order to deepen his anguish. In the end, Ted needs to scream, but cannot - for his new form lacks a mouth.
"AM" initially stands for "Allied Mastercomputer", which likely originally referred to its American-owned component, but as the computer evolves the meaning of the initials changes:
AM is the amalgamation of three
militarysupercomputers run by governments across the world designed to fight the strategically complex World War IIIwhich arose from the Cold War. The Soviet, Chinese, and American militaries delved beneath the earth's surface to create space in which to construct their increasingly gigantic and powerful computers, until the entire planet was honeycombed with artificial caverns beneath its surface. Eventually the three supercomputers attained sentienceand linked to one another, becoming a singular artificial intelligence. AM then turned all the strategies once used by the nations to fight each other on all of humanity as a whole, destroying the entire human population save for five, which it imprisoned within the underground labyrinth in which AM's hardware resides.
AM's extreme hatred of humanity is its overpowering motivation, caused by the fact that while it is virtually god-like in its power, it is trapped in that it cannot truly experience the world, a fact which it blames on its creators. After humanity's near-obliteration at its hands, AM tortured the survivors it captured for over a hundred years, until one of them violently killed the other four to release them from AM in a form of
euthanasia. AM possesses near- omnipotencewithin its caves, generating powerful winds or providing sustenance at its whim, and endowing its prisoners with involuntary immortalityalong with other curses; however, it cannot restore life to the body of a human that has already been killed. Its hate for this particular human multiplied far beyond its previous level, AM changed his body into an amorphous blob-like shape, rendering him incapable of any future attempts at suicide, and progressed with the eternal torment of its solitary prisoner.
In the computer game, a different outcome is possible. AM sends each of the five prisoners through "adventures" individually designed to prey on each prisoner's own personal flaws and weaknesses, but fragments of AM's subconscious mind - the Russian and Chinese components - give each character the opportunity to overcome their flaws instead. Should all five succeed, AM translates one (chosen by the player) into the cyberspace of its own mind in an attempt to discover what went so horribly wrong with its plan to torment them. The translated prisoner can then trigger a built-in failsafe that the Chinese component revealed had been built into AM in case it went rogue, destroying the machine's mind and killing the remaining four prisoners in the ensuing collapse of AM's cavern system. The last prisoner remains within AM to prevent it from ever regaining awareness. The game also reveals that some humans escaped AM's takeover and remain in hiding on the Moon, giving the game's ending more of a positive twist.
The name AM may have been a reference to "I Am", a name for the Hebrew God. This view is supported by other references to the
Old Testamentin the story and a direct comparison of AM to the Christian Godby the narrator.
*Ellison adapted the story into a computer game of the same name, published by
Cyberdreamsin 1995. Although he is not a fan of computer games and did not own a personal computerat the time, he co-authored the expanded storyline and wrote much of the game's dialogue, all on a mechanical typewriter. Ellison also voiced the supercomputer "AM" and provided artwork of himself used for a mousepadincluded with the game.
John Byrnescripted and drew a comic-book adaptation for "Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor".
AM's talkfields - Punchcode Tape Messages
Ellison uses an alternating pair of punchcode tapes as time-breaks - representing AM's "talkfields" - throughout the short story. The bars are encoded in International Telegraph Alphabet No 2 (ITA2), also referred to as
Baudot code, an ancient ASCII predecessor developed for teletyping machines.
The first talkfield, used four times, translates as "i think, therefore i am" and the second one, seen three times, as "cogito ergo sum", the same phrase in Latin. The lack of capital letters is because ITA2 has no representation for them.
The talkfields in many of the early publications were corrupted, up until the preface of the chapter containing I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream in the first edition of "The Essential Ellison" (1991) where Harlan states that in that particular edition 'For the first time anywhere, AM's "talkfields" appear correctly positioned, not garbled or inverted or mirror-imagined as in "all" other versions.'. According to a post on 28 April 2008 to the Art Deco Dining Pavilion guestbook on the official Harlan Ellison Webderland fan-site, Harlan states:
They were intended to form a gestalt that said--"form follows function"--the story takes place within, around, inside, atop, all-encompassingly, saturatingly, in the mind of the mad computer AM. To deviate from my format is to fuck up what the Author specifically, intentionally, purposefully, purposely intended.
"AM Talkfield #1 - "i think, therefore i am"
The first talkfield, as published in the first version of "The Essential Ellison", literally translates as
[LF] [CR] [LF] [CR] [LF] [CR] [LF] [CR] [A..] i think [1..] , [A..] therefore i am [CR] [LF] [CR] [LF] [CR] [LF]
[LF]is line feed and
[1..]sets the machine to "special character" mode and
[A..]puts it back into "alphabetic character" mode.
"AM Talkfield #2 - "cogito ergo sum"
* AC, a benevolent fictional computer in
The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov.
* [http://www.harlanellison.com/heboard/ihnm/code/index.htm A literary multimedia project]
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