There is a machine. It evolved itself, and behold! - it knits. It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time, space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions - and nothing matters. Ill admit however that to look at the remorseless process is sometimes amusing.
- Joseph Conrad to R.B. Cunninghame Graham
When it first appeared in the March 1967 issue of Frederick Pohls If: Worlds of Science Fiction, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" stood as a cautionary tale, depicting the woes of a world that had allowed a global network to think for its programmers. Almost a quarter of a century before the word Internet was to be a part of everyday speech, Harlan Ellisons idea of the world-spanning AM computer galvanized the attention of the speculative fiction community. Along with "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman", "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" has become one Ellisons most cited and quoted stories. The changing face of literature has recently allowed for an inclusion of new texts. In disturbing this canon, the explosion of literary texts has also allowed for an exploration of literary forms. While "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" began as a short story, it has since gone through a series of functional transformations.
Imaginative fundamentalizing, or rethinking the fundamental structures of reality, is frequently found in science fiction novels and short stories. It seems that the what if nature of the genre readily lends itself to a reappraisal of traditionally accepted images of reality. The cross-cultural reexaminations of the 1960s relaxed such restrictions [especially in the areas of sex and religion], however, and no vision became too dangerous for intrepid and iconoclastic authors to approach. (Frisch, 13)
Ellison has reworked his vision into two additional fields from which to consider the original short story. The first of the two incarnations occurred within the pages of Harlan Ellisons Dream Corridor as the story ran simultaneously with an adaptation into a graphic novel format, spanning a four-issue serialization during 1995. In January of 1996, a CD-ROM version of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream was released as a text of interactive computer literature, allowing the user to explore within the frames of Ellison's story by using the very medium which he is critiquing.
These three forms, when taken together, comprise an intriguing series of adaptations across different forms of media; "[t]he voice speaking to us seems almost intent on physical contact, on abolishing the indifference between the printed page that normally separates reader from writer" (Slusser, 5). Umberto Eco has suggested that in addition to authorial intention and reader intention, there exists the possibility of textual intention, "or intentio operis, as opposed to - or interacting with - the intentio auctoris and the intentio lectoris" (Eco, 25). The various interpretations invested into the act of writing and reading also point toward the text itself as an entity for consideration; in some ways, to rely upon an old convention, the story comes alive. In attempting to ascertain an operational strategy that will function across three versions of the text, this paper will also appear in a hyperlinked format; the creation of a hypertext helps to reframe the analyses of the texts self-reflexively. While visual and auditory art have been written about for centuries using the format of a linear, paper-based essay, presenting the discursive media with theoretical underpinnings in a computer-based hypertextual environment will prove more effective for purposes of idea association and reader navigation. By creating an interconnecting system of links, our reading across these three forms of text can produce a series of shortcircuits among texts, resulting in the production of a more richly interwoven meta-text; "a web of literary resonances surrounds the action" (Slusser, 6).
This papers theoretical support comes from the work of Roland Barthes on textual definition and the role of the author in relation to text; it is supplemented with ideas from Umberto Eco and Samuel R. Delany, speculative fiction writers as well as theorists . In utilizing two of his more prominent essays, "From Work to Text" and "Theory of the Text," Barthes elaborates on the idea of compositional "textasy" and the different types of pleasure that may be derived from various ways of reading. The canonical entity known as the Author undergoes a transformation of identity within a reconfiguration of the text. This also provides an interesting choice, given Ellisons notorious reputation for authorial control. Barthes views are particularly relevant as a text moves from one principal author, like the original short story, to a group of collective authors, like the various artists and programmers assigned to the graphic novel and electronic game formats. The work of the noted artist John Byrne on the comic adaptation of the story tends to privilege certain action elements of the plot while circumventing the inner monologue of the narrator. The Cyberdreams company that produced the CD-ROM adventure (with Ellisons close guidance and approval) added a substantial amount of character development and subplot threads as well as reworking the storys bleak ending into something more hopeful. All of these various elements create a series of metamorphoses for "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream".