Review: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
by Harlan Ellison

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a collection of seven short stories by Harlan Ellison. This book was originally published in 1967. The 1983 edition is available as a Kindle book free to Amazon Prime Members (which is the edition I read).

Ellison, who died in 2018, won eight Hugo Awards, and three Nebula Awards for short stories (and another for a novella), among many other distinctions. He preferred to call his work "speculative fiction", but it is often classified as Sci Fi / Fantasy or Horror (depending on the work). He wrote novels and novellas, short stories, screen plays, comic book scripts and critiques/opinions. The short story from which the title of this collection is taken was turned into a videogame which he co-designed. Later in life he reworked and adapted several of his short stories in graphic form, and they were published by Dark Horse Comics as Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor in two volumes almost 10 years apart.

Beyond his writing Ellison was also known for his "difficult" personality, a reputation he alludes to in the introduction to one of the stories in this collection. He was married five times, his final marriage lasting 32 years until his death.

This set of stories date from the late 1950's through the mid-1960s. Four of the stories first appeared in "Knight" magazine, a softcore men's magazine, and the others appeared in Sci Fi magazines. Given the era, and the original place of publication of these stories, it's not surprising how male-centric and dismissive of women (to the point of misogyny) they are. In these seven short stories, two women are raped, and many more are shallowly written, interchangeable bed partners.

Another thing that may be off-putting to modern readers is the "experimental", "New Wave" style of writing Ellison employs in many of these stories. The overall style in these stories is as if Ellison were trying to write like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler but instead ends up more like A.A. Fair (an early pseudonym for Erle Stanley Gardner) if Fair had ingested psychedelics and was trying to impress the horny teenage boys of the 1960s.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of gems here. For my money "Big Sam Was My Friend" and "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" were really good stories. Surprisingly, Moneyeyes is one of the stories that appeared originally in "Knight", but it has the strongest female character of all the stories in this collection. And it reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone (for which Ellison served as creative consultant of the 1980's reboot).

The title story, though one of Ellison's Hugo winners, was too dated, too "experimental" and too dark for me. In fact, there is a dark streak that runs through most of these stories, thus the appeal to fans of Horror.

I rate this book 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐ - I liked this book. If you are a fan of Horror or late 50s / early 60s Sci Fi, you might like it too.

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