Although he gained recognition as a writer of science fiction, Ellison’s work has never been described adequately by the label. The weakest stories in the book—“Big Sam Was My Friend,” “Eyes of Dust,” and “World of the Myth”—are from the first decade of his professional career. Although they contain themes that are important in his work, they are more conventional in subject, drawing on standard science-fiction tropes of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. They combine Ellison’s typically expressive style with passages of self-conscious writing. In the mid-1960’s, Ellison perfected his voice, and from that point his work, though often drawing on science fiction and fantasy, is a unique juxtaposition of emotional expression, wild imagination, and stylistic experimentation. Many critics saw such experimentation as part of science fictions New Wave in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but no one associated with the label—many of them contributors to the anthology Dangerous Visions (1967), which Ellison edited—wrote like Ellison wrote, and even he rarely repeated himself.
Although “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” employs a science-fiction concept, the story uses narrative and typographical techniques seldom seen in earlier science fiction. The story also makes free use of mythical elements and literary allusion. “Delusion for a Dragon Slayer” combines sword-and-sorcery elements with psychedelic imagery, all framed by a mundane experience in a modern city. The protagonist of “Lonelyache” is haunted by a beast in his living room, and “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” mixes the life stories of a prostitute and a drifter with highly experimental passages describing her death and the storys fantastic premise.
Critical response to Ellisons work has always been mixed, with some readers finding fault with his personal tone and hyperbolic style as others praise him for his imagination and the emotional power of his writing. Frequently anthologized and the winner of the 1967 Hugo Award for best story, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is one of Ellisons best-known works. A corrected version of the story collection was published in 1983.