I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Harlan Ellison
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream Cover

I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream


I can't truly appreciate one of my favourite authors, Octavia E. Butler, without having read anything by her friend and mentor, Harlan Ellison, which is why I have included him on my Bucket List Worlds Without End reading challenge.

As you can tell by my four stars, I am not disappointed, but that does not necessarily mean that I enjoyed Ellison's work in its entirety. Similarly, I don't like the context of everything Butler writes, but gods do I love reading what spills from their incredible minds.

In Ted Sturgeon's introduction to this collection of short stories, he comments on the hallucinogenic nature of one particular tale, but notes that Ellison never partook of such stuff. A biochemist friend confirmed to Sturgeon that, due to a blood fraction that is chemically, almost identical to psilocybin (as found in 'magic mushrooms'), some people's brains may well "live out their lives, with a consciousness more aware, more comprehending, more--well, expanded--than the rest of us."

I have always been fascinating by Butler's mind, and her willingness to write things well beyond the typical fare we are used to in the genre of speculative fiction. And I can see how Ellison influenced and encouraged that, in reading his work. The topics and settings are sometimes quite obscure and the characters don't follow any conventions that can easily be discerned. Women are, as seems to be typical of (male) writers of his time, not much more than two-dimensional, and I'm not overly fond of some of the things that happens to them. But there is a depth to the stories and the emotions he evokes. Such expansive and complete universes he builds within just a few thousand words.

And the style of his writing. Sturgeon comments that Harlan has learned and knows the necessary structures of writing, and can contain himself within them, but here, he has become "big enough, good enough--confident enough" to go well beyond. To "write it as it came, let it pour out as his inner needs demanded."

The results are truly spectacular, and something I think any aspiring writer should read. Again, you may not like the content, or even the form, but I would hope you could appreciate the uniqueness of the voice and the mind behind it.