I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream – Harlan Ellison

One should always admit to their biases. If I don’t like something, I should make it clear before hand.

Similarly,  I think I am predisposed to liking Harlan Ellison. That is, I like the personality he constructed around himself and his career. I find him humors, and I think we would have had the same bleak, entertained-by-the-pessimism outlook on life. My untrustworthy gut feeling is that we would have gotten along well had we ever met.

I think this compensates for my other bias. I tend not to like short stories. I tend to avoid reading them fairly often, and when I do force myself to do it, I don’t find the experience to be great.

This was something of an exception.

Harlan Ellison wrote a unique style of short story, so much so that if someone referred to a story as being Harlan-esque I would immediately know what to expect.  Black Mirror owes a lot to the Harlan Ellison style, though the two are absolutely distinct enough. The stories are quick, cleaver, graphic, unafraid and hopelessly bleak. That last one might keep some people away, but there is something to say about how that should be read. For me it never feels like the author is saying ‘this is how it is’ as much as he is saying ‘this is how it could be’. I find myself oddly uplifted by these stories, though I can not imagine this attitude towards them is the most common one.

I didn’t find any of the short stories in this collection to be terribly dated. Sure, no one is browsing social media in these stories, but they otherwise all feel like they could occur now, or near to now. That is something that is pretty incredible in Science-Fiction. Even some of the best of it starts to feel pretty dated, sometimes so much so as to be all but unreadable now. It isn’t just references to the now long since ended cold war that dates science-fiction, but the every day behavior of ordinary people. They typical nuclear family had changed immensely in its structures and norms over the past fifty years. But a down on his luck loser putting his last coin into a slot-machine in a seedy casino is going to look the same even in a hundred years. That kind of keeps these stories fresh.

But most importantly, the stories felt complete. I mentioned that I often do not like short stories, and there is a reason for this. Sometimes, they feel incomplete – something happens to a character, there is some cryptic discussion of it while people look at some flowrrs and then I am left wondering why I should in any way shape or form care. The very bleakness of the stories might be what is compensating for that emptiness. With these stories I know why I am being told this stories.

Because they are the worst thing that could ever happen.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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