I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream • 1967 • SF Horror short story by Harlan Ellison

★★★★

Synopsis:  Human civilization has been destructed a century ago by a world war between China, Russia, and the United States. Super computers have been created to run the war more efficiently, leading to one dominating antagonist, the sentient A.I. called „AM“, which eliminated all humans except four men and one woman. They live in a complex steered by the A.I. which keeps them immortal mainly to torture them endlessly. Their current quest is to get canned food, because they are always starving.

Review: Again, Ellison presents a huge spoiler with the given title: The protagonist sacrifices himself to rescue the others from torture. He is the only remaining human that the computer can act his hatred upon. His closing thoughts is the title. The story builds tension, develops the character of the main protagonist, and builds a terrific setting – all in Ellison’s graphic style. Nowadays, the humans would probably be set in a virtual reality, enabling more control and even more terror controlled by AM. But the story works also in the given setting.

Meta: isfdb. This short story appeared March 1967 in If, edited by Frederik Pohl. I’ve read it in German in his collection Ich muss schreien und habe keinen Mund, but it has been reprinted in a multitude of anthologies. It won the 1968 Hugo awards and is voted on place 4 of the best SF short stories in the 20th century by Locus readers.

 

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