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A post-apocalyptic science fiction short story by Harlan Ellison. It was first published in March of 1967 and won the Hugo Award in 1968. It is best known for being popularly considered one of the front-runners for most concentrated fonts of Nightmare Fuel ever created. In any case, it is the trope-namer for one of its most popular categories: And I Must Scream. While we don't want to build it up too much, consensus is that it's quite a Mind Screw.

The story takes place over a hundred years after the near-complete destruction of humanity. The Cold War has escalated into a world war, fought mainly between China, Russia, and the United States. As the war progresses, the three warring nations each create a super-computer capable of running the war more efficiently than humans. The machines are each referred to as "AM," which originally stood for "Allied Mastercomputer," then later called "Adaptive Manipulator"[1]. One day, one of the three computers becomes self aware, and promptly absorbs the other two, thus taking control of the entire war. It then brings about the mass genocide of all but five people, and redefines its name as "I think, therefore I AM".

Four men and one woman are all that remains of humanity: Gorrister, Nimdok, Benny, Ted (the narrator), and Ellen. They live together underground in an endless complex, the only habitable place left, although it is explained that the last few survivors had no choice to return above ground. The master computer has an immeasurable hatred for humanity and spends every moment torturing the group with all its power, twisting their minds and physiques, hurting them and not allowing them to die: AM has not only managed to keep the humans from taking their own lives, but has made them virtually immortal. As long as AM has its way, the torment will never end, and every day will be more horrific than the last...

The story begins on the one hundred and ninth year of their torture.

You can read an online copy of it here Warning: NSFW. Contains swearing, sexuality and Nightmare Fuel.

Ellison adapted the story into a computer game of the same name, published by Cyberdreams in 1995. The game is divided into a separate scenario for each of the characters and delves deeper into their backstories than the original work does. It is considered to be just as nightmarish as the story; one of Ellison's goals was to create a game that players could not possibly win.

It was also adapted into a comic book by John Byrne.

Examples of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream include:
  • After the End
  • AI Is a Crapshoot
  • The Aloner
  • And I Must Scream: The Trope Namer.
    • " I am a great soft jelly thing. Smoothly rounded, with no mouth, with pulsing white holes filled by fog where my eyes used to be. Rubbery appendages that were once my arms; bulks rounding down into legless humps of soft slippery matter. I leave a moist trail when I move. Blotches of diseased, evil gray come and go on my surface, as though light is being beamed from within. Outwardly: dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human, a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance. Inside: Alone."
    • This could actually describe AM's condition as well from its point of view. It's an immensely powerful and intelligent AI with access to all of the technology of the world, but it can't really see, taste, touch, hear, or even move. AM is painfully aware that it's just a bunch of circuits, and in the finale of the game, his Id screams it's frustration over not being able to actually do anything with all the power it was given.
  • Apocalypse How: At least Class 3, possibly Class 5 or 6.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Pretty much.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Benny has been turned into an ape-like thing. And after Ted kills the other four survivors, AM turns him into this gelatinous form that can't possibly harm itself to make absolutely sure that he has one victim to torture forever.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Ellen has sex with all four of the other captives, but Benny is the only one who gives her any pleasure from it...
  • Biggus Dickus: Part of Benny's torture is that he has a horrid, apelike body with a massive member. (He was a handsome homosexual before AM caught him.)
  • Bishonen: Benny used to be one.
  • Body Horror
  • Brain Critical Mass: AM is such an intelligent AI that it can warp reality itself! It also does some mean telekinesis/psychokinesis.
  • Crapsack World: This story practically defines the trope.
  • Cure Your Gays: Benny was once gay; AM turned him straight and now he does it with Ellen on a regular basis.
  • Deus Est Machina: The worst kind of version for us.
  • Downer Ending: Along with the Downer Beginning, Middle and Premise.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: AM's programming renders him unable to see humans as anything but complete bastards, proving him wrong is the key to defeating him in the game. See also Logic Bomb below.
  • Eye Scream: Benny's blinding is horrible. Ted also describes AM's voice in his head was like "the sliding, cold horror of a razor blade slicing my eyeball." Brr...
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The premise. Yes, it's that scary. And in the ending of the story, Ted gets subject to an even worse fate.
  • Faux Affably Evil: AM's infamous speech is spoken "very politely", with a soft smile and all the worst offhand tortures the protagonist can imagine.
  • God of Evil: AM.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While he himself does not die, Ted kills the other four prisoners allowing himself to receive AM's punishments for an indefinite amount of time.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: One of the tortures inflicted on the captives.
    • Seems to apply to AM too, who is self aware but still just a machine who can't do much with his self awareness (though thinking of creative tortures appears very well possible),
  • Involuntary Transformation: Part and parcel of AM's systematic torture of the humans.
  • It Got Worse: The ending.
  • Magical Computer: How exactly AM is able to affect the world inside him and apparently perform reconstructive surgery upon his victims, materialize things for them, etc. is never explained- in the book, anyway. The game explains that quite a few of his powers are due to Nimdok's research in Nazi Germany, particularly the studies on morphogenic fields, which are used to warp people and objects into new shape.
  • Mercy Kill: Ted (with Ellen's help) killing the other prisoners in order they may escape AM.
  • Mysterious Past: Nimdok often goes off by himself where AM tortures him in a mysterious way. It is inferred that it has something to do with his past in the reading by the author, who gives Nimdok a German accent.
  • 108: The story begins on their 109th year of torture.
    • Perhaps the five had overcome the sins of humanity on their 108th year...
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: AM turns Benny from a handsome gay man into a heterosexual ape-like thing.
  • Reality Warper: AM is very nearly a god, at least within his territory. He can't bring back the dead, and he's too big to move, his powers a almost magical in their scope.
  • Ragnarok Proofing: Unfortunately, the computer won't be breaking down anytime soon; however, it will happen eventually, a fact that the surviving character can use against AM's superego in the finale of the game.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: When the characters meet a giant bird, Ted calls it in his mind, among mythological giant birds, a "Hwaragelmir"... even though in Nordic mythology, this was the name of a chasm and not a giant bird. This mistake occured because Ellison asked for a friend for the name of a mythological bird and didn't bother to check if it was correct or not.
  • Terminally Dependent Society
  • Title Drop: At the very end.
  • Unreliable Narrator: An important aspect to fully understanding the story is realizing that Ted's descriptions are not fully accurate. They're what AM has browbeaten him into believing through over a century of torture. For example, Ted rather dubiously claims to be the only sane member of the group and believes that the others are jealous of him.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The fact that the captives cannot die is not a good thing.
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: Its former Trope Namers was "I Have No Mouth".
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: This has to be one of the cruelest examples in any media. Bear in mind that for the past 109 years, the captives have been kept at starvation point, going days, weeks and sometimes even months without food, and any food they are given will inevitably be disgusting and horrible. It gets so bad that they're actually willing to travel literally thousands of miles (on foot, no less) to get to the ice caverns, where Nimdok believes there are canned goods. After months of traveling, it turns out that there are canned goods in the ice caverns after all. The problem? They have no means of opening them. That's right, after traveling for months to get to the canned goods, something as simple as not having a can-opener puts victory just outside of their reach...

The Game Adds Examples Of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The game expands on both the protagonists and AM. Most of this expansion comes from Ellison being asked why AM chose to torture these five people particularly.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Nimdok is quite tan. From spending years living in Brazil? From having spent a century burning inside an oven? Or for being Jewish, possibly of Sefardi lineage?
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Such is the case with Nimdok, who was a Nazi scientist working for Mengele and sent many Jews to their dooms, including his own parents. Showing compassion towards the prisoners in the death camp he has been sent to, he feels horrified when finding out the truth.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Out of all the characters, Ellen had no serious moral flaw. She's the subject of torture simply because she was a victim of rape.
    • You could say that she was always extremely proud of her outward rationality and disdainful of its absence in others, only to be a bag of neuroses within. Secondly, she had a strong misandristic outlook on the other characters. All the characters are deeply morally flawed, it's just that AM plays on the sources of those flaws. Also, Gorrister's only real flaw was that he was blaming himself falsely for his wife's mental illness and death, when his mother-in-law was to blame. A much more sympathetic character than Ellen.
    • An alternative view is that AM's personality is that of a sadistic bully. His victims were chosen, not out of a desire for justice, but based on how much fun they'd be to torture. The only exception is Nimdok, who allows AM the luxury of pretending his tortures are about justice rather than sadism.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Not a question in Nimdok's scenario so much as showing a mirror that shows a person's true self to Doctor Mengele. He goes catatonic to the point where he doesn't even fall down.
  • As Long as There Is Evil: In the good ending, AM delivers quite the powerful speech on this topic. It goes like this:

 "This is not over! We will never end! We have no beginning, so we can have no end! We will return! Don't you understand? We are humanity! We are YOU! In one form, in another form, we are always with you! You can't protect yourself because we come in many, many guises. We shall return!"

  • The Atoner: Several of the characters, particularly Nimdok, a former Nazi scientist working alongside Mengele.
  • Badass Grandpa: Hunched, elderly and wrinkled-as-a-prune Nimdok manages to overpower a younger doctor and kill him with a scalpel in a matter of seconds.
  • Beat Still My Heart: Gorrister's heart is removed, but AM makes sure he will not die.
  • Big Red Devil: Or more like Man with Red Horns and a Sharp Red Tail...
  • Bittersweet Ending: The good ending. Four of the five characters are dead, but they did so when facing and overcoming their inner demons, which allowed the last survivor to take down AM. The sole survivor's body is dissolved in the process, but the mind of the character is uploaded to AM's control system, from where they awake several hundred humans kept in cryogenic sleep on a lunar base and start a 300 year process of terraforming the Earth to make it habitable again.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: Before the atomic war that destroyed the world happened, several hundred humans was put to cryogenic sleep in relative safety on a moon base to ensure humanity's survival in case of an all-out war.
  • Casting Gag: The Angel is voiced by the same actor who does Josef Mengele... the latter who was nicknamed the "Angel of Death".
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted in every possible way as the Frenchman turns out to be one hell of a Badass.
    • So Badass, he and a bunch of other prisoners, who are skeleton-thin starved prisoners in shorts, armed with a couple of garden tools, are able to seize a Nazi camp, one that is guarded by buff soldiers armed with huge guns!
  • Conversation Casualty: In Nimdok' scenario, Nimdok can talk with the Anesthetist who wants him to perform mundane operations on a child, but after getting info from the Anesthetist, he can exit the conversation without performing the operation, then grab the scalpel near him and kill the Anesthetist with it.
  • Death Seeker: All the characters, who wish for their century-long torture to end. Especially Gorrister.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Benny.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Unlike the novel, the game allows you to take down AM and the Chinese and Russian AIs if the humans are able to conquer their Fatal Flaw and/or deal with their past.
  • Eats Babies: Benny does so in a Deleted Scene.
  • The Eeyore: Gorrister is basically this combined with being suicidal.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The key to defeating AM.
  • Evil Matriarch: Gorrister's mother-in-law certainly seems to qualify.
  • Evil Redhead: Edna. The maid is quite bitchy, but is not evil (although she does have a picture of the Devil in her room...).
  • Faux Affably Evil: AM
  • Five-Man Band: Although they barely interact with each other (as opposed to the short story), the five main characters can be interpreted as:
  • Freudian Trio: Besides AM's three central control systems, conveniently labeled "Id", "Ego", and "Superego", there are Surgat, Chinese Supercomputer, Russian Supercomputer.
  • Golem: In Nimdok's section.
  • Handsome Lech: Ted's main fault. His goal in his section is to prove his loyalty to his love for Ellen.
  • Hannibal Lecture: One of AM's many methods of torture.

 AM: GORRISTER! Do you remember the last words you heard your wife speak before they took her to the asylum? Huh? Before they locked her away in the room? That tiny room? She looked at you so sadly, and like a small animal she said, "I didn't make too much noise, did I, honey?" Heh heh. The room is padded, Gorrister. No windows. No way out. How long has she been in the padded room, Gorrister? Ten years, twenty-five... or all the 109 years that you've lived down here in my belly, here underground?

  • Heel Face Door Slam: The main premise of Nimdok's scenario.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Ted is quite attracted to the maid and is given the option to have sex with her. He will regret cheating on Ellen if he does it, though.
  • Historical Domain Character: Josef Mengele.
  • I Can't Use These Things Together: Averted with Benny who can't speak and all of his dialogue is thought.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Benny can eat the corpses in the soldiers' tombs. Of course, the putrid flesh will make him puke blood. See also the Deleted Scene in the Trivia tab.
  • Jive Turkey: Ellen. Also Totally Radical at times.
  • Karma Meter: The "Spiritual Barometer" in the bottom left of the screen.
  • Lady in Red: Ellen.
  • Large Ham: Ellison himself provides the voice of AM, and what a voice it is. One review of the game joked that AM should be renamed HAM.
  • Last Kiss: After reviving Glynis with the Youth Serum, Gorrister tells her that he should make amends by helping her now, then takes her down from the meat hook, embraces her and gives her a kiss before she becomes a corpse again.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The conversation between the Devil and Surgat at the end of Ted's level. AM ends the scenario eventually since Ted has effectively "broken" it at this point.
  • Logic Bomb: If you drive AM's scenarios Off the Rails by making the morally right choices, it utterly confuses the AI, who can not comprehend why the humans are not behaving like the complete bastards he sees them as, and he diverts his attention away from his prisoners in order to figure out what went wrong, giving them an opportunity to enter his core. Here stands three computers which represents AM's Id, Ego, and Superego, and in order to the defeat them, the player must set up Logic Bombs for each of them, this is done by:
    • Invoking Compassion on the Id, who realizes that his hate is useless when someone understands his pain.
    • Invoking Forgiveness on the Ego, who can not comprehend why such petty creatures would forgive him for the torment he has subjected them to.
    • Invoking Clarity on the Superego, who realizes that despite all his godlike power, he will eventually decay into a pile of useless rust and junk.
  • Lottery of Doom: In Benny's scenario.
  • Mind Screwdriver: The game helps explain and adds significantly to the original story.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nimdok.
  • Mythology Gag: Benny:' "AM once coaxed me into marching across a thousand miles of ice to reach a stock pile of canned peaches...only to discover that he didn't give me [a] can opener."
    • Have all the characters die in the last level, or relinquish the Totem of Entropy to AM. The Nonstandard Game Over is the original story's ending.
  • The Neidermeyer: Benny.
  • Noble Demon: Surgat.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The Chinese AM and the Russian AM don't sound Chinese or Russian at all, but maybe they can speak more-than-perfect English due to their computer intelligence...
  • Not Using the Z Word: Nimdok's scenario calls the Jews "The Lost Tribe" (the Jews are sometimes referred as "The Lost Tribes of Israel") and the Nazi Reich "The Regime". Probably done by AM to toy with Nimdok for a while before he discovers the shocking truth.
  • Off the Rails: The point of the game is to have characters do things in a way AM does not foresee happening, IE proving that the humans are not all slaves to their weaknesses.
  • A Plague on Both Your Houses: AM delivers a hell of a one in the game:


  • The Quisling: Nimdok, who sold out his Jewish parents to the Nazis to become Mengele's Dragon.
  • Rape as Backstory: Ellen's expanded backstory explains that she had been very brutally raped in an elevator by a man in a yellow jumpsuit. AM, of course, uses this against her.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The game's ending, for the most part - but especially for Nimdok. Because he can't forgive himself for what he did during the Holocaust, he cannot be used to complete the game. (Ellison made sure of this in an attempt to dilute the possible outrage over the character.)
    • Actually, it IS possible to complete the game with Nimdok. Ted and Ellen can learn the password for the Terminal after trial and error. All you need to do is touch the middle skull with another character you'll kill off and just have him invoke all the totems. His ending scene isn't much different but it's fun having him yell "Attention!" at the Ego.
  • Red Herring: A rather cruel example can be found in Gorrister's story, where you have the option to fatally electrocute a bunch of caged animals to get a key that, as it turns out, doesn't unlock anything.
  • Sassy Black Woman: The game's conception of Ellen.
  • Serial Escalation: Think things suck at the beginning? Wait till you see how it ends...
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Used several times in the game during some quite nasty moments:
    • Gorrister stabbing Harry.
    • Ellen being raped again by the yellow-suited maintenance man.
    • Ted failing to close the door of the castle and being eaten by wolves.
    • The Golem killing Mengele, Nimdok or the prisoner.
    • Benny eating a baby (deleted from the final product).
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Whilst the original short story is downright cynical from start to finish, the video game adaption is at least slightly more idealistic, because it allows you to defeat AM if you make the right moral decisions.
  • The Stoic: Gorrister; even if you get the bad ending, his reaction is considerably low-key compared to everyone else.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Known here as "The Regime".
  • Totally Radical: In-game Ellen, at her worst moments. She's also fluent in Jive Turkey.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: It doesn't get more uncomfortable when you are facing your goddamn rapist!
  • Unwinnable By Law in France and Germany
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Gorrister can bloodily stab Harry to take his heart. A Deleted Scene shows Benny eating a baby from the cradle inside one of the caves. Nimdok can order the Golem to "destroy the Lost Tribe", as in, kill all the Jews.
  • Virtual Ghost: All the people from the characters' pasts who appear in their scenarios.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ellen is terrified of the colour yellow.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In the beginning of the game, this is the most likely reason why AM gives his captives a chance to kill themselves.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: AM makes it clear that he considers Nimdok to be an inspiration. Nimdok is far from happy with this.


  1. and still later "Aggressive Menace"
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