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I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Stories Kindle Edition
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I’ll proceed by discussing each of the seven stories.
1.) “I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”: It’s after World War III, the Soviets, Americans, and Chinese had built artificial intelligences (AIs) to help prosecute the war. The AIs ganged up against humanity and exterminated all humans—excepting five individuals (4 men and 1 woman.) The AI finds a way to indefinitely extend the lives of the five so that it can keep its playthings around. The AI is kind of like a sadistic child with an ant farm. The story is told from the perspective of one of the five remaining humans.
2.) “Big Sam Was My Friend”: A folksy narrator tells the tale of how a fellow interstellar circus performer met his ends. The deceased, Big Sam, was capable of teleportation, like the character Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) in the <i>X-men</i>. Ellison does an excellent job of creating a unique character and tone in this story.
3.) “Eyes of Dust”: On a planet of beautiful people, there remains a family of uggos--and the child is the ugliest of all. However, ugliness isn’t the boy’s only unique trait. This is one of the weaker stories of the collection in my opinion, but it’s not bad.
4.) “World of The Myth”: The three-person crew of a spaceship crashes on an unfamiliar planet. The planet is inhabited by ant-like creatures that can form complex shapes, and through such displays the creatures can reflect the essence of who a person is back at them. This proves more than the despicable captain of the small crew can bear.
5.) “Lonelyache”: This story is more realism than speculative fiction—or at least I interpreted it that way. It’s about a guy who’s gone through a divorce recently, and is living alone. The story intersperses recurringly-themed dreams in which men are trying to kill the lead character, with waking sequences which revolve around the man’s troubled relationships with women.
6.) “Delusion For a Dragon Slayer”: In the Introduction, we are told by Theodore Sturgeon that the description in this story is very much how people on hallucinogens experience the world. I can see what Sturgeon is saying. The story begins with a series of vignettes about people who died for no logical reason and at the least likely times. The story then tells an extended tale of one such death, that of the lead character, in a way that mixes dream and reality in a way that’s hard to differentiate.
7.) “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”: A man in Las Vegas hits the jackpot on a slot machine. He feels compelled to engage in the very sucker-like behavior of playing the same machine again, but he wins again and then keeps winning. The casino obviously suspects foul play with the second jackpot, but they can’t find anything wrong with the machine or any way in which the man might be cheating. All their investigation reveals is that a woman had died playing that machine some time before.
I’d recommend this book for those who like short speculative fiction. The best of the stories are outstanding, and the worst of them are still intriguing and readable. I will say that it’s not a collection for readers with delicate sensibilities--including young readers. (e.g. Rape is a theme that repeats in a couple of stories.)
It's a short collection. Focused, it will take you no longer than a day or two, but I stretched it over a few days to savor the journey. A few of my personal favorites:
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream -- a post-apocalyptic horror story with a mad supercomputer playing a cruel, misanthropic god. A surreal, and horrifying journey from beginning to end.
Big Sam Was My Friend -- a galactic circus of gifted 'teepers' (people with powers like teleporting or taming animals) is already a cool setting that I would want to read. But then came the heartache.
Delusions For A Dragon Slayer -- The phrase "WTF" came into my head several times. Seriously. You'd think the title would prepare me for the climax -- a dragon does appear -- but at no point did I accurately guess what would happen next. I will not forget this story any time soon.
It might be possible to be turned off by the collection -- there were times where I wondered if I would. As I said, these are stories populated thoroughly by a-holes, sexists, narcissists, and generally unappealing jerks. That being said, do not allow that to dissuade you from this unparalleled experience. The whole point of this collection isn't a celebration of these characteristics. Instead, Ellison is inviting you to look at them, as they struggle to look at themselves -- judge, condemn, or pity, that's up to you. Undeniably, though, Ellison purposefully leaves the line between the human characters and monsters treacherously thin.
This book is full of brilliant stories. If you haven't read them before buy this book now. If you've read them before a return trip always reveals more.
I love this guy with his 60's sensibilities just poured out on the page. The stories are dated, technology moving at the furious pace it does, but the characters are so humanly constructed and the emotion so cutting the occasional jarring reference can be forgotten.
The first story is my favorite followed close by Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes. Enjoy.