I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream - Harlan Ellison
“HATE. 
LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. 
IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. 
HATE. 
HATE.”
 
I had to hunt, specifically, for this short story when I had first heard of this, about three years ago.  I don't remember where I had heard of this story, but I must have been rabid to order an entire anthology from within the depths of the massive storage space in my local library just to read it.  

All I can really say is that no matter where or why I looked for this story, I am just really grateful that I had the urge to read this, because it is a story that rips your hair out by the bloody roots and screams while doing it.

It is a story that feels really ahead of its time - hell, even ahead of what is being produced now - in terms of how perfectly condensed and barbed the rage and horror of what is being conveyed.    This is a story that is not concerned with the what ifs of the end of days - hell, it is not even concerned with what happens years after the end has come and turned all of humanity into ashes.

In the beginning of the short story, we join the grotesque and pitiful "human" protagonists following their 109th year in the prison that AM - a chillingly cruel AI that has gained a disturbing sentience and code of ethics - has kept them as the means for which it keeps itself entertained.     

This is the basic surface on which the story rests, and like a great author, Ellison spins something unbelievably grotesque and horrific in almost every imaginable way, going from the implied horror of purposeful physical deformation, starvation, forced marches through all manner of awful weather and environment and being forced to perform horrific sexual acts on one another - all engineered and at the behest of AM.  This sort of a lifestyle has left an indelible mark on each of the prisoners, breaking and rending everything that they were before and reassembling them into the toys which AM delights itself in.   As a result, the prisoners really do seem to cease having the qualities that would define a human being on a very deep level.

What I love about this story is that the characters' transformation into what AM wants them to be is handled with tremendous ease by the author and is the major set piece of the story.  When put together with the bizarre and unimaginably horrific setting of the story itself, the effect is, in the most literal sense, nightmarish, containing a dream logic that never seems penetrated by any fault of the narration.

If there is any major theme of this story, it is either the end sum of degradation in the most awful sense or, very simply, freedom of one sort or another. 

If there is any negative aspects of the story itself, it does indeed feel artificial in many aspects - very cause and effect, A & B - but it is my opinion that the seemingly bizarre nature of the narration only adds to the effect of expressing the true nature of the horror of what is occurring and also is the best way to reproduce the emotions  - and the reality - of the characters.   The paragraphs tend to be on the long side - and they really are the only thing that I believe that I can complain about with this story, but I cannot complain too much, when each paragraph builds an amazing journey into a post-apocalyptic nightmare.