This is a special edition of Short Story Sunday. Harlan Ellison, a prolific science fiction writer, died last week.
One of his short stories had such a huge impact on me both as a reader and a writer, that I wanted to discuss it here today. This is a story I still to this day think about, whether I recall it for its weirdness and horror or just to scare myself, I’m not entirely sure. The fascination with the world this story revealed was and still is very much there.
The story, “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream” is one I encountered in Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology edited by Eric S. Rabkin. I had no idea what I was getting into when I began reading this story a few years ago for a science fiction class I was taking. I don’t want to reveal too much about it because it would really give away the story. However, I’ll tell you there’s a definite Frankenstein theme; the thing which you have created will become your weakness. This is the only work of Ellison’s I have read; not intentionally, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, however it had such a huge impact on me. He’s one of the greats for a reason.
I don’t always like to know too much about the people I admire because it eventually ruins the image of them in my mind. I like to know writers through their work, and only seek out more information if I am genuinely curious. I learned that lesson the hard way with Orson Scott Card, whose work I no longer read. So when I started to see some not great things about Ellison online, I chose to not read any further. He should be remembered for his work and personal life separately. I know that’s a difficult decision especially today, but sometimes you just have to decide whether you want to let it influence your readings of their work or not. In this particular case, I’m willing to let the rest of it slide and take this story for what it is: haunting, compelling, memorable, and a true classic.