Jacqui's Reviews > I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
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May 08, 2011

it was ok
Read from May 08 to 12, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

EDIT: 11/29/2015: Hi. It's been almost five years since I wrote this review and I've learned a lot about feminism and misogyny and what constitutes GOOD writing to me. So I decided I should come back to this and append this review with a disclaimer: I wrote this before A: coming out as trans and B: realizing that I don't have to defend a writer for the things they do well when their writing is overshadowed by disgusting and horribly backwards views regarding marginalized groups. So while I'm gonna leave this review as I wrote it, (It's seriously weird to me that this throwaway review I wrote years ago still gets likes and is apparently the highest rated review of this collection. Whaaaaat?) I am going to reduce the rating I gave it from three to two stars and put this big red disclaimer on here: Don't read this. I don't care if it's considered a classic of scifi. I don't care if you really liked the game. I don't care about how meaningful the social commentary in it is. The title story shames it's lone female character for being raped and victimized by the other protagonists and another story focuses around the idea that a woman is pathetic because she "lets" one of her shipmates rape her. And the rest of the stories just treat women like utter shit.

Seriously. It's gross.

You don't need to read this. There are plenty of other scifi novels and collections that are just as if not more well regarded that do not have such heinous opinions about women in them. Hell, there are plenty of works that DO have terrible social views that are still far more redeemable than this dreck. Just because IHNMAIMS has name brand recognition does not mean you need to read it or you Fail At Liking Sci Fi.

So yeah okay, now that I've gotten the new and updated review out of the way, here's the original one that has somehow managed to hang on and be the most well received review here. Enjoy!

*****

Harlan Ellison is an asshole.

No really. He is a sexist, condescending, cocky, arrogant prick. His sense of superiority oozes out of every one of the stories' introductions in this collection. Wherever there is a female character, she is portrayed as weak, whorish or manipulative. In the intro to "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" he casually refers to the woman that inspired the story as someone who he wanted to lay, but didn't get an opportunity to. He constantly talks about his writing as if it was God's gift to science fiction.

Harlan Ellison is an asshole.

But he is an excellent writer! I had long given up on science fiction due to how much garbage there is in the genre, so when I picked up "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" on a friend's recommendation I didn't expect much. I was pleasantly surprised. Ellison's writing has a natural flow to it, very rarely feeling stilted or forced. His story telling is hallucinogenic in quality; each story in this collection reads like an acid trip. Plots swirl and contort. Characters pass through realities both familiar and foreign like they were just walking to the store, unquestioning, accepting of the alien nature of the worlds around them. Everything about this collection has a dreamlike feel to it, always just real enough to fool the senses into not recognizing the facade around them. The title story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream starts the collection off with a bang as it tells the story of a cruel, hateful AI that eternally torments the last five humans left alive. It perfectly embodies that hallucinatory quality that I mentioned before; AM manipulates the five poor peoples' DNA, grants them immortality just so it can torture them indefinitely, sets them against giant beasts of legend, all while displaying control over matter and reality that is Godlike in nature. Lonelyache is the story of a man who's depression and regret over the failure of his marriage drives him to adultery, until his sins come together to quite literally haunt him. Delusion For a Dragon Slayer is easily the trippiest of the tales as it weaves through a parable about the afterlife and the horrid beast that hides in the heart of all men.

This is not to say that this collection is perfect. There is a reason why I rated it three stars and not four or five. Not all the stories are worth a second read; Big Sam Was My Friend plods along, and while it makes a poignant point at the end about selfishness and selflessness, it's not quite enough to save it from its boring, plodding pace. Eyes of Dust is a similar situation. Again, it hits home with its commentary on vanity, but the ending is convoluted at best, leaving the metaphor mixed and confusing. And the rampant sexism is very hard to ignore, especially in World of the Myth where Ellison comes just short of justifying rape because a woman flirts or teases a man with no other way to release himself sexually. Seriously I cannot express just how anti-woman this book is, you just have to read it to see what I mean. And his inflated sense of self in the introductions is very off putting. I understand that it's okay to feel good about you work, but Ellison's conceit is obnoxious at best and almost comes to overshadow the stories themselves, particularly when they deal with the dangers of being arrogant and selfish.

So while these stories were, for the most part, exceptionally written, I don't think I will be reading any of them again (except for the title piece, which is easily one of the top ten best science fictions that I've ever read). Ellison's fables, while arguably insightful and thought provoking, suffer greatly from the offensively blatant misogyny and Ellison's own ego. It was worth a read, but borrow it from a library before you decide to buy it.
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Reading Progress

05/09/2011 "Read three of the stories in the book and so far only the titular story has really popped."
05/11/2011
80.0% "While I was initially unimpressed with the two stories following I Have No Mouth and I Must scream, the book has turned around and the next few tales have been quite wonderful. I still have the final story in this collection to read, however, and I am hoping this collection ends with the same kind of bang it began with."
02/08/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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message 1: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Quaiatto Though I have only yet read his most famous short story: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and I can say that in the story she is portrayed as weak, in the game (which Harlan wrote), she is a very strong character and, if I am correct (SPOILERS) the only one who can get the good ending and save the Lunar Colony. I have a feeling he doesn't necessarily hate her, though Ted's description of her is very sexist I would agree.


message 2: by Bailey (new)

Bailey Crawly In regard to your opinion on Harlan's attitude, watch his documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth before you judge. I used to say the same thing, but then I saw the documentary and my opinion has been completely changed.


message 3: by Kevin (last edited Jul 15, 2014 03:12AM) (new)

Kevin You know, I have to say that I'm not a big fan of the judgmental douches on here stating their distaste for Harlan Ellison. Most of the complaints have arisen from what is viewed as a weak woman in "I have no mouth but I must scream", and while I haven't read a lot of his other material, who are we really to judge a human condition that none of us have been exposed to. What is so weak about a woman having sexual needs and finding a way to fulfill them being the only woman available. It's quick to jump on a bandwagon and call her a whore, but in a dystopian future with very few survivors, as unfortunate as it seems, it would be more likely that we would survive as a species by procreating with 16 men to 1 woman and vice versa to minimize the possibility of inbreeding too much and very potentially creating major problems for us.

I'm sure from the male perspective, she may seem weak to you, but what is the more misogynistic view point? I'm sure if it was a guy "whoring around" as you so put it, he would just be viewed as somewhat immoral despite the grave circumstances, but judging a woman trying to fulfill her needs and hope for some sort of continuation of her species no matter how bleak those odds are just seems arrogant and misguided.

Does this make me immoral, weak, and whorish being that I've been with close to 300 women in my short 37 years on this planet, or does it make me a human with needs that was hurt enough by exclusive relationships to not bother with them until I found the perfect and most understanding woman who I felt was the right woman for me, or does this make the greater majority of humans fulls for marrying the first piece of ass male or female that comes there way for some shallow viewpoint that society deems you should tough out shitty relationships in hopes of finding a better one some day.

I've found that the greater majority of people that do this have not explored their own wants and desires enough to know what they're looking for in a life partner if that is what they're looking for. It's easy to name call and point out the shortcomings in others, while you're in debt up to your eyeballs trying to buy new cars you can't afford without saving up and buying them in cash, ruining your credit, buying homes you can't afford to pay for in cash, and then toil away for the rest of your life to make ends meet all in the name of doing what "is right" by the standards of some messed up ideology that society deems acceptable and politically correct?

To the few who have lucked out and found happiness by sacrificing their own individuality in the name of political correctness, or does this really make you a sheep that is incapable of not caring what other people think, living your own life which is short enough as it is, just so you can point out the "wrongdoings" in others by measuring sticks you yourselves don't follow.

Sorry, if you're not a fan of blunt honesty, but really I think the greater majority are full of sh*t and no better than the bible thumpers that are happy to tell you how you should lead your life, while being complete and utter hypocrites themselves.

Going to confession and Church once a week doesn't mkae you less of an asshole. In fact, it makes you more of an asshole, because not only do you use your own self-righteousness to condemn the actions of others which is a very anti-Christian philosophy, but then to put the icing on the cake, you pray to Mary, Saints, statues, and Jesus instead of God. So, it's great that your morality is contrived from religion so you can dictate the morality that you don't practice while leaving confessions to pedophiles that rape our children.

Tell me a church that isn't full of shit and cares more about the teachings of Jesus than the teachings of Moses, that practices hatred of Money since you cannot serve two masters, tell me a pagan religion that practices what they preach, or how about an atheist "religion" that loves cramming their ideals down the throats of these so-called Christians who read judge not lest ye be judged while judging by the very measuring sticks that have countless sins and empty apologies to old perverse men who have done nothing to help our planet other than further destroy the Word of God for their own self-serving purposes.

Atheists, Christians, and Muslims are so full of shit, yet feel the need to cram their bullshit down everybody else's throat. Find God your own way, lose God your own way, but for the love of whatever God may be, I think you should be more focused on your own idolatry, love of money, covetous desires, and despicable actions before making empty apologies to justify your future actions. As far as the atheists go, quit preaching your faith like it's a damn religion. If you truly don't believe, you're a bigger idiot than the Christians that don't practice what they preach, because you yourselves are guilty of cramming the same B.S. ideals down people's throats that these so called Christians are. Find your own morality, because you have no right to judge mine. I'm a free man as is everyone on this planet, and your way is not the right way. It's just your way like my way is my way.

If my views of women, humans, etc are contrary to yours, I have news for you. Too bad. Live your own life and quit acting like those that disagree need help from your sorry blind asses.

You may not like my opinion, but I have a wonderful woman in my life, and I'm quite happy that I've waited until I was in my late 30s to consider marriage unlike a lot of the fools who are "doing the right thing in their own damn opinions, while leaving behind their own children for making ignorant life choices before they were ready. People look at me and my girlfriend like we're a new couple in our honey moon phase and assume that we'll get over it soon. The fact of the matter is, when you've found the right person, there is no "honey moon phase". Every day is wonderful and even major fights lead to worthwhile compromises.

So if you aren't this happy in your life, and your children make you smile like your wife never can, then who has made the better choices despite your possible distaste for my morality? So you may bash this author all you want, but not everyone has to share your perspective on what is right and wrong.

The only thing I'll say is that I'll never have to worry about divorce because I wasn't the dumb jackass in life that did what society thought I should do. The benefit of not being a sheep and retaining your own individuality far exceeds social scrutiny. It's nice to have a life that I can be happy with. Can the sheep say the same? There are leaders, there are followers, and there are people who just want to be. Leaders lead followers to a place where they lose even more of their individuality and freedom.

So there may be books, video games, movies, TV shows, and every other form of entertainment, but the real winner here is the one that wins in life by living more than wasting away on entertainment and appeasing the whims and b.s. of those who you cater to. Not to mention, the most dishonest people on this planet are those who follow and impress people with their falsehoods. At least I can be me, be honest, and not give a shit what others think about it. If you cared more about your own life, family, friends, etc, maybe you'd care more about the person you once were that you sold out for pedophile teachers of faith, and social acceptance. The more you care about the thoughts of others, the further you are from yourself and the more worthless you truly are.


message 4: by Beth (new)

Beth Amy Thank you so much for speaking up about the misogyny in the stories. I've read the titular story and the way the narrator talks about Ellen expresses so much repressed violence and abusive rage that I lost all respect for the author right away. While people can make arguments about literary this and expression of the human condition that, what comes out on the paper comes out of the soul of the author. And that dude has some nasty attitudes towards women if he'll publish that filth. So anyway, thank you for standing up for women.


message 5: by Tas (new)

Tas Great review! And Kevin^^ honestly shut the fuck up dude. Convoluted tangent much?


message 6: by Illuminati (new)

Illuminati Kämpfer Thanks for saying that you're a feminist trans at the beginning of the review. Saved me the trouble of actually taking the reviews seriously and reading it.


message 7: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey Illuminati wrote: "Thanks for saying that you're a feminist trans at the beginning of the review. Saved me the trouble of actually taking the reviews seriously and reading it."

Are you a fascist with murder fantasies? You smell like one. I hope your 'friends' and family members treat you with the right amount of suspicion.


message 8: by Illuminati (new)

Illuminati Kämpfer Illuminati wrote: "Thanks for saying that you're a feminist trans at the beginning of the review. Saved me the trouble of actually taking the reviews seriously and reading it."


No, but I review books objectively, like they are a piece of are, for what they are, and not cry about it because a fictional story hurts a character that I relate to.

Also, yea, I'm grateful that no one caught up yet that I'm a hardcore fan of Jack the Ripper.


Petra I couldn't disagree more with your review. You have no power to distinguish the difference between an author and his created world. Your rejection of context is actually delusional.

Sorry honey, women are degraded in the real world, and this story portrays a world which has gone more to shit than any other country on Earth. It would be stupid if the characters treated the women well. And Ellen is very much a broken woman. That's who she is. She's not representative of women everywhere, only of herself, and only in this (well) written world.

Yes what happens to her is not ideal, yes it's offensive, and yes it's awful, but it's realistic given the context. If anything, it gives awareness how awful some men (and some godly super-computers) can be.

By the way, for some extra context, this comment is from a transwoman whose struggled with dysphoria their entire life.


Petra Also, anyone who think Harlan Ellison "hates" women should watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOQ0W...


message 11: by Ethan (new)

Ethan "I review books objectively"
ahahahah are you kidding me? Objectively? Art is, by its very nature, subjective. It's impossible to review any piece of fiction "objectively." A reader's connection to the characters in a piece of literature is hardly trivial, and if Ellison is a raging misogynist whose views on women bleed onto the page, why should this reviewer not mention it? Creating a fiction world doesn't make it some bastion from real-world criticism. Grow up.


message 12: by Serhat (new)

Serhat Karakuş Simply you are wrong, no needs to talk too much


message 13: by Siobhan (new) - added it

Siobhan H Isn't the point of horror to show the bad side of the world? The scary and horrifying parts?
Do you not understand the difference between fantasy and reality?
This is like calling Stephen King a murderer or a racist because some of his characters are.
Grow up.


message 14: by Nymphet (new)

Nymphet Oh my fucking god where do I start with you. This is probably the most ridiculous review of a novel I've read in my entire life. Tumblrinas are fucking children. Relax. Why the hell was this review upvoted/liked so highly? Jesus christ, I'm sick of listening to her just after the disclaimer.


message 15: by Nymphet (new)

Nymphet Oh sorry he. Came out as trans.


The Dude Why do you think authors need to agree with their characters?


message 17: by Ryan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan Corr Its a fucking book about people getting bullied by AI chill on the feminism if you don't like it don't vent about how it is morally wrong.


message 18: by Ultin (new) - added it

Ultin Christ, you say "don't read this" because it has some offensive material? Offensive material is supposed to be read and thought about, so it can be talked about. You need to grow up, seriously. I bet you are the type to censor something because you don't agree with it and that's what stories like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 warn us about. Would you burn this story? If your answer is a yes, than you are a prick.


message 19: by Jo (last edited May 12, 2016 07:08PM) (new)

Jo Do the weak and cruel male characters bother you? Or are they accurate depictions of all males everywhere? You don't have to answer that.
None of it is sexist. Writers have obsessive themes, deal with that.
If this is the new way literary merit is to be decided I'm signing the fuck out of the human race.


Jacqui Look at all these male tears in my comments.


Squid Luckily authors dont have to abide by your femisist bullshit, and are free to write whatever they want.


message 22: by Stephen (new)

Stephen yikes


message 23: by Will (new) - rated it 4 stars

Will Dockery Some primo Ellison... Harsh maybe but art is not always pretty.


Victoria I found the rape apologetics in World of the Myth reprehensible as well.


Meghan Look, I'm a woman, a feminist, and while I believe every work by any author should be up to criticism, and even IF he was a misogynist and that system of belief seeps into his work, I don't think that makes it inherently bad. It may be something to keep in mind while you read his works and it may mean his works are not for everyone, but, it's fiction. It's okay if you don't like it because of how it portrays women but that does not mean there is nothing to like about it or that no one should like it. Personally I love this story. I love the concept and how it was written. I don't believe I have to personally agree with everything in a story to enjoy it. But in general, I tend to gravitate to things that are controversial, because I think they often have really important things to say and it's not always what it appears to be saying on a surface level. It's also important to remember and author is not their writing and they can write stories/characters they do not personally agree with.


AsimoV42 This reviewer is an opponent of free thought and should be mocked for his weak and sycophantic mind.


message 27: by Chris (new)

Chris Sargeantson Clearly, the Handmaid's Tale is a disgusting book that hates women also, and Margaret Atwood must be an evil satanist woman-hater.


Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜ I thought Ellen was treated the way she was because the story was about how five individuals have to revert to their primitively state in order to survive against a supercomputer. Unfortunately, you don't think much on morality when you're trying to survive. I find your review utterly ridiculous, and this is coming from a woman.


message 29: by Ton (new)

Ton There really is no escape from this sick sjw bullshit is there? I can't even read a review about a decades old scifi-horror story without someone bringing up feminism.

I bet if you do an inkblot test, the first answers would be 'mysoginy and patriarchy'.


message 30: by Zak (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zak Ferguson Art is distinctly different from agenda. Get off your high horse and lay blame to your own insecurities some place else.


message 31: by Ray (new) - added it

Ray Lux This is a story... Nobody that reads this story is going to go out and be sexist because of it. Well... maybe if they are ever captured by a torturous super computer.


message 32: by Michael (new)

Michael Dipietro Thank you for this review, Jacqui.


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