Derek Austin Johnson
2 min readSep 26, 2022


A number of writers have shaped no only my aesthetic taste but also my own desire to write fiction, but few have had the impact of Harlan Ellison.

It’s hard to look at any genre and not see Ellison’s footprint: from mystery to science fiction, he has written masterpieces of the form. We could talk about half a dozen horror stories alone Ellison penned, but for this series, I have to point to “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” as one of the finest.

Walking the tightrope between science fiction and horror, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” tells the story of a computer that has gained both sentience and consciousness. It wipes out all of humanity save for six individuals, and begins subjecting these survivors to de Sadean tortures in a technologically Dantesque landscape. It’s a harrowing read that refuses almost any point of redemption.

The Wachowskis used elements of this classic story in developing The Matrix, yet none of their visuals equals the dread or nightmare found in Ellison’s work.

Do you have a favorite computer-as-monster story? Let me know in the ​comments.