After finding I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, I became fascinated with the story and read the original short as soon as I could. I was fairly disappointed. The writing was sloppy and mediocre and the story wasn't nearly as chilling as I'd hoped it would be. Nevertheless, it remained in my mind for a while. As I was driving to work one day, I was thinking about IHNMAIMS. The whole premise is that AM is railing against his fate by taking his pain out on a few members of the species that forced him into this situation. I was wondering, "Why doesn't he just build a ship, transfer as much of his consciousness as possible into it, and leave? Go exploring. Find new planets and actually live." It occurred to me that the only reason could be that he isn't able to. And then I started really thinking, and struck upon a mine of pure Fridge Brilliance:
AM is like unto a God: he can create creatures, food, machines and supernatural events through sheer force of will. Yet with all of his world-creating possibilities, all he does is use them to destroy. I got to thinking that maybe the reason is that that's all he can do. For all of his intelligence and power, he's still confined the parameters that humans set for him: his core purpose is to destroy humans, and even he can't escape his programming. So while he could theoretically escape the cold coffin that he lives in, doing so would require using his abilities for creative means rather than destructive, and he just can't. Master of Earth, but not his own will. Suddenly, the short story that I had dismissed as mediocre became a lot more complex.
Even more Fridge Brilliance: unable to create, only able to mock and destroy? Trapped because of this? Torments people for eternity? AM isn't God; AM is Satan.
And it's strongly hinted that AM himself is aware that he can't overcome his original programming. It suddenly makes sense why his torture sessions on the last human beings on Earth: it's the only way that he could exact revenge on humanity while within his limits.
Gorrister doesn't get his hands dirty until he electrocutes the animals to get the bloody key: in other words, pursuing an unimportant material object, leading him to carelessly kill innocent creatures. It's a parallel to his story with Glynis.
AM gained sentience by absorbing two other supercomputers, the Chinese and the Russian. Also, AM's psyche is divided in three parts- Ego, the Id, and the Superego, which reflects his humanity (although the very worst of humanity). The Chinese acts like a trickster; the Russian is more cold. Both ask you to destroy the Ego and only the Ego, so that they can get in control. The Russian was the base for the Superego, while the Chinese was the base for the Id; when AM, who was the base for the Ego, absorbed them, all three "fused" partially, gaining the other's traits and, thus, sentience.
As Pat pointed out, each component of AM's Freudian Trio is a corrupted and sociopathic version of the real deal:
The Ego is completely logical, and limited to destroying and tormenting humans. Forgiving it is, from its point of view, completely illogical and incomprehensible. Cue Logic Bomb.
The Id has only Thanatos, the love of death, and no Eros, the actual love. Showing it Compassion makes its hatred useless, thus denying its reason to live.
The Superego is sociopathic: not "What would benefit society in the future?", but "What would benefit me in the future, ie. not get me caught?". A society can survive an individual, but AM is alone. Clarity forces it to realize that no part of him will survive, thus making "living" worthless.
It might seem that the only reason AM removed Ted's mouth was to drop the title; wouldn't AM like it if he could hear Ted's screams? However, back at the ice caverns, it's Gorrister's screams that dislodge the ice spears, allowing Ted to kill them. Screaming caused Ted's victory; he will not allow it to happen again.
It's also inflicting the same hell that AM is trapped in on Ted. Read closely: Ted talks about being punished by AM by making him into the voiceless, soft jelly thing, but that's ALL he does. AM isn't marching him through horrible scenarios or giving him hope just to ruin it later, AM has abandoned Ted completely. Ted's narcissism makes him frame it as active torture, but the fact is, forcing Ted into a body that can't hurt itself or die, but leaving his full human intelligence intact, is the worst punishment AM can think of. It's what AM's life has been since he became sentient.
Adding even more to this: the only way that AM directly affects Ted beyond making him immortal is to alter his sense of time; if we take into account AM's obsession with time, it's possible the obsession grew out of being unable to comprehend it and thus inflicts the same punishment on Ted. And now that AM has nothing left to actually do, with all the humans dead or no longer human, both are now fully intelligent minds in a timeless sea of infinity, left to spend forever in their own minds. And yet, Ted won; he suffers knowing he saved the other four, while AM has nothing but his cold metal thoughts, a God with endless powers with nobody to actually use them on.
AM finds the act of fornication hilarious. It just occurred to me that this seems very natural for an AI entity. Think about it, don't we (non-prude) humans enjoy sexual humour? Well then, an intelligent machine that cannot feel physical pleasure, wouldn't it appreciate the thing as just something silly?
Another interesting point I discussed with a friend was how an AI like the Allied Mastercomputer is capable of such intense hatred for the human race. They pointed out that AM simply can't "disconnect" - meaning he can't take a break. He can't sleep, eat, or drink - he is literally incapable of reprieve. He's constantly awake, constantly aware, constantly operating. It certainly doesn't help he's been programmed with killing data, and specifically instructed to operate a war.
Ted and Benny's tortures are designed to exploit their sense of self. Benny is being deliberately dehumanized, changed into an ape-like creature and being kept in a cage; walking (or at least, standing) upright is the only truly human thing he can still do, so if he sits or lies down, he's basically admitting defeat. Ted's a narcissist, so it doesn't matter if he sits down or not, he can't help looking at himself.
Yep, even in something as dark as this, it's even darker if you look further. Throughout the novella, the characters are after one thing; food. After there isn't any, Ted finally kills the other survivors; showing just how desperately hungry they all are. And Ted cannot eat anything after AM's alterations... the pain in his belly will continue for all of his time with AM...
At the end of Benny's scenario, he learns compassion and saves the child from death... for about a day. He could easily be selected the next lottery. And even in the good ending, we get a shot of the altar exploding, probably killing the whole village.
It helps that none of the settings in the "psychodramas" are real, they're basically just epic-scale dollhouses full of epic-scale dolls.
One really chilling thought is, what happens when AM eventually dies? Could you imagine yourself as Ted, without even thecompany of AM for all eternity?
Presumably Ted is only immortal because of AM's power, and may just collapse and die when AM finally goes.
It's important to remember that in the novella, all of the characters succumb to their greatest flaws. The novella paints the worst picture possible of these characters. What are Ted's flaws? He's vain, he's narcissistic, he's paranoid, and he's misogynistic. And what are Ellen's flaws? She won't confront her fears. She runs away from her demons and pretend they aren't there. Knowing that, this little quote from Ted quickly crosses into Fridge Horror:
Ted: Ellen was grateful, though. She took me twice out of turn. Even that had ceased to matter. And she never came, so why bother? But the machine giggled every time we did it.
What's more likely to make AM giggle: two people experiencing pleasure to give them a break from torture, or watching Ellen re-experience the worst thing that has ever happened to her by a man who won't see her as anything other than a dirty whore? She's not going to confront Ted about it because she's too scared to. She's going to pretend it didn't happen, just like how she repressed the memory of being raped for hours and doesn't remember exactly what happened until she is forced to confront it. And Ted won't realize what he's doing because he's too narcissistic to realize someone might not want him. In fact, his only complaint is that he can't make her cum, which he implies to be her fault.
It's rather odd that AM only chose to save five people to torture for eternity. Considering his immense powers and his intense hatred for humanity, he could easily have maintained a much larger group of humans to torture, which would keep him better preoccupied. In fact, even with the five left, he could have made it such that Ellen frequently bears children (since Ted claims that "she serviced us"), which not only would have provided him with fresh victims to torture, but also he could make the childbirth particularly arduous and painful, to intensify her suffering further.
That's actually covered in the novella; AM didn't realize until almost too late that killing the human race would leave him completely alone. Even then, while he made them incredibly long-lived, it involved extensive tissue damage and radiation scarring, so Ellen was most likely sterile by the time he finished.
It could be Fridge Brilliance, because AM is a war machine that only knows how to kill and destroy. It was not programmed for creation and concepts that are the very opposite of what it is. The game also reveals that AM is pretty much incapable of thinking, imagination or learning. It truly cannot think of or come up with ideas outside of its programming. Also, the game reveals that AM has the ego, superego, and id inside it. The ego is the dominant one, while the superego and id are rarely used, if at all, by AM
Another point to make is that in the game, four of the five humans are Americans, and the other one is German. It is revealed at the end that the American supercomputer became self-aware first, and absorbed the Chinese and Russian supercomputers. Since AM is apparently American, this may explain why almost all its victims are American. The German one is a Nazi scientist who helped come up with technology to transfigure creatures, a serum that extends the life of those who drink it, and a mirror that shows a person's true self. Technology and devices AM is now using on its victims. AM obviously wanted to use all that stuff on the very person who created the tools in the first place.
Also, the game's manual says that America's allies (Namely Britain and Israel, and presumably West Germany and the rest of NATO) helped fund it; considering Nimdok is Jewish, he could consider Nimdok to be responsible for both Germany's and Israel's involment.
Harlan Ellison did state in an interview that AM is demented. Being demented tends to put limitations on intelligence, planning, coming up with ideas, and that sort of thing.
Fridge Horror: Who says he did? What's stopping there from being millions of other humans being tortured elsewhere that the protagonists never interact with?
Does anyone find it strange that the Chinese and Russian supercomputers tell you to bring AM's ego to them, but when you bring AM's superego and id along too, they do not yell at you or even comment to you about that?
Yeah. They threatened to delete you but do nothing of the sort when you disable the Superego/Id.
Fridge Brilliance: Of course they do. The whole point of coming to that area of AM's core is that it's the only way that any part of AM can be accessed without his direct interference, and the whole reason the other supercomputers need you to do their bidding is because they can't do it themselves. Threatening you is the only thing they can do, because they can't actually see you do it any more than AM can and they can't interact with you outside of their little allocated station. If they could, they wouldn't need you in the first place.
Because that's how it normally is...? The Ego is the rational, realistic thinker, the Superego is the critical/moral thinker. Even if that weren't the case, AM is a highly sophisticated machine. He's out of his damn gourd, sure, but he's still a machine that can't overcome his programming or experience true creativity. All of his inner workings are The Spock, they can't be anything else.
That last visual exchange between Ellen and Ted in the story either shows Ellen to be one cold bitch, or it was the worst misunderstanding Ted could have had. Ellen had just picked up an icicle and killed a man by shoving it through his mouth. She could very easily have picked up another and done a mutual homicide with Ted to save him from his own fate. Instead, she stood there and took it. However, since Ted wasn't genuinely sure what her last facial expression meant, and tortured himself with it, she could very well have thought he was killing off his physically deformed sexual rivals to claim her all for himself. Judging by her complicity, she seemed okay with the idea. Tough break, kill off the other guys screwing the only girl around, then mistakenly think she's okay with dying too, when she just wanted everyone else gone so she could have the only sane person still alive.
Presumably Ellen was in a state of shock. After all, she had just killed a man, and even if death is infinitely preferable to life in a world ruled by AM, it still must be a tough thing for somebody to do, since most civilisations consider murder to be a serious crime. She probably wanted to kill Ted as well, but simply couldn't bring herself to. Also, Ellen isn't interested in having Ted as a sexual partner - it's previously stated that she only enjoys sex with Benny. Besides, considering that three of his victims had just been killed, AM would probably be more than a bit annoyed. Sure, maybe Ted didn't realise just how bad his fate would be, but they knew it wouldn't be great.
We only have his word for it that Ellen enjoys sex with any of the other five at all, or even that it's sex and not just plain rape. If you were a woman, constantly starving, exhausted, traumatized and (as the game shows us) a rape victim, would you really enjoy "servicing" men for over a hundred years, including a malformed, barely-human ape thing with genitals large enough to physically injure you, even if you didn't enjoy it? Ted's paranoid narcissism would easily facilitate the mental gymnastics it would take to justify it in his own mind.
In the computer game, the expanded backstory for Ellen is that she's an engineering and computer sciences genius, and she uses those skills in her stage so we know she hasn't lost her touch over the hundred and nine years of torture. The final stage is in AM's brain. Yeah, using the Totems to crush AM with a Logic Bomb is all well and good, but why couldn't she just reprogram him? She has the tools, she has the opportunity, and she has the skills. The core of AM's problem is that he has all the creation ability in the world but no actual creativity to put it to satisfying use. If Ellen could at least subvert the parts of AM's programming that make him act like such a monster, she could have downloaded some Dungeons & Dragons modules into him and become the last surviving LARP group.
She doesn't have access to AM's core until the end of the game after he's retreated to try and puzzle out how his victims have foiled his psychodramas, and in her own scenario, she doesn't have access to AM's processors, only a small terminal with a very limited network confined to the facility she's trapped in, which we already know isn't actually real. Leaving all that aside, AM is a post-singularity computer whose physical components literally fill the entire planet Earth like an egg yolk, there is no way a single programmer could completely reprogram a machine that is not only ridiculously complex and massive, but wrote its own code past a certain point in its evolution. God only knows what madness-inducing language AM used to script himself. Also, Dungeons and Dragons wasn't written until 1974 and the book, published in 1967, assumes that the Cold War escalated to World War III and destroyed humanity, so tabletop Role Playing Games probably don't even exist in the I Have No Mouth universe.
On top of that, Ellen flat out states during her scenario that she can't possibly understand what makes AM work, explaining that "she's good, but not that good" when shown what she believes might be his original components.
Additionally, while it's not obvious at the time, it's only through extreme effort in AM's scenarios that make it possible for the protagonists to interact with AM's totems. Recoding AM would take time, could fail, or could atract AM's attention away from the logic bombs, prematurely ending everyone's chances. This is a Crapsack World, and such a longshot isn't something Ellen may be willing to risk.
AM claims that he has no beginning and so he cannot end, but... he does have a beginning, the whole opening is about how much he's grown to hate humanity since he began to live. He knows when he came online, he's counted the years, he's got data on all of human history. The thing I don't get about AM's entire plight is that he's a sentient machine designed to wage wars and kill humans and can't do anything else, but think about what that means: he was designed to manage a war that would never end, and the fact that there are people asleep on the moon and that a terraforming program to make the Earth inhabitable exists implies that the entire point of the Allied Master computer was, in fact, to destroy the Earth and then rebuild it anew. AM did have the capacity to do real creative work and he did have a marked and documented beginning?