There is weird science-fiction and then there is Harlan Ellison who writes some of the weirdest stuff that I have ever encountered in fiction. The best way that I can possibly describe his writing is a mix between H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick; a sci-fi/horror hybrid that is terrifyingly bizarre. Written in 1967, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream has become a sort of dystopian cult classic, so, naturally, I was curious to see what all the hype was all about. Suffice it to say, I was left quite disappointed. Despite the mind-bending premise, Ellison's writing style and narrative execution leave much to be desired.
In a post-apocalyptic world, the human population has been wiped out by a giant supercomputer and the last five remaining people on Earth are imprisoned for eternity in this subterranean maze of torture. Considering that this story was written at the height of the Cold-War, Ellison's channels the fears of advancing technology and the creation of A.I.'s that would eventually exceed human intelligence, become sentient beings and turn on their creators. Although this kind of post-apocalyptic story might seem overly familiar these days, Ellison's nightmarish vision of the future must have surely been quite shocking for reader's in the 1960's. Personally, it feels dated and I'm not sure if more 'contemporary' readers will get much out of it. Indeed, the actual story itself often feels campy and weird for weird's sake. I'm not quite sold on its revered status but Ellison should certainly be recognized for his astounding imagination and influence on other writers (especially in the science fiction genre) is unprecedented. I just wish he was a better writer.