The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The seven stories in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, originally published in science-fiction and mens magazines between 1958 and 1967, include both science fiction and fantasy. They are united by Harlan Ellisons introductions for each of the stories, in which he discusses their personal significance to him, as well as by their focus on powerful emotions. In each story, people are confronted with their deepest fears or desires.

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is narrated by Ted, one of five people trapped below the surface of the earth in a sentient computer called AM. The computer has taken over the world and killed everyone except these five people. Programmed to wage war, the nearly omnipotent AM has kept these five alive and tortured them for 109 years. Ted relates their brutal sufferings, revealing in the process his extreme paranoia. He is capable of love for Ellen, the only woman in the group, and of self-sacrifice. When the group arrives at an ice cavern in search of food, he seizes a moment of confusion to initiate a mercy killing of the others. In rage, the computer reduces Ted to a hideous blob, able to be tortured for eternity and to think but not to act. In his reflections, Ted hopes he did the right thing.

The narrator of “Big Sam Was My Friend” is also tested but falls short. A member of an intergalactic circus, Johnny Lee befriends a teleporter named Sam, who believes that heaven is in space and is looking for a dead girl he loved on...

(The entire section is 612 words.)