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I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Vox Populi

Mr J Hayden —

Welcome to Vox Populi, where Columba College ākonga cast a critical eye over pop culture happenings. This week, we welcome Juliette McDonald (Year 12) to lead us through the dystopian delight that is 'I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream'

First off - sorry to put a bummer on the Vox Populi column…but, a little bit of apocalyptic fiction never hurt anyone, right? PLUS, dystopian worlds like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 are downright utopias in the face of Harlan Ellison's awful magnum opus I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967).

The plot follows the last five people on Earth as they wander the mechanical innards of a gargantuan supercomputer, called AM. This machine somehow gained consciousness, wiped out humanity, and has spent the past 109 years torturing Ted, Benny, Gorrister, Nimdok and Ellen. From exploding their eyes to blowing them away with an enormous bird, nothing and no one is above the wrath of the Allied Mastercomputer.

Harlan Ellison's writing is not for everyone. Each page reeks of his edgy persona, as the text fluctuates from graphic descriptions of the torment endured by the characters into short, vague internal monologues. Ellison decorates his paragraphs with language symbols ( !,?,…) outside of speech, which is unique in modern writing and serves to exemplify the passionate, moody atmosphere in the story as well as the mental exhaustion experienced by everyone within it.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was more than a story - to me at least - and more like an experience. It was an exercise in rage, suffering and hopelessness and made me feel something no other story really has. Bleak, yes, but alive with a feeling and fervour that stuck with me long after the ending. And what an insane ending this story has.