“For the stranger in our time, recognition is impossible.”
--- Arthur Rimbaud

Street & Smith Publications
#79 Seventh Avenue

Edward R. Morris Jr.
c/o Room #327, Chelsea Hotel
#222 West Twenty-Third Street

My Dear Mr. Morris,

First off, are you the same Edward Morris who published Rebellion on Venus a little while back, in ‘36, I believe? That was decent work, sir. To be quite frank, I’m wondering what the hell happened to you since then, and if you’re quite all right.

I don’t normally write a personal response to every single submission that makes it over the transom and across my desk, but that question was foremost among many, so I thought I’d take the time to put out a few feelers, as it were. Some things about your recent submission ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ kind of stuck in my craw.

This story is a marked departure from the tight, economic (almost hard-boiled at parts, I dare say) prose you employed to such great effect in your novel. Your over-reliance on passive tense in this one, overuse of ellipsis and concatenation, and stream-of-consciousness interludes (or were they supposed to be blank verse?) lend this one more of a Dadaist or Surrealist feel. There is structure here, of a sort, and you have considerable talent, but leave Surrealism to the Europeans. We’re looking for story.

Those are mere English-teacher issues, though, Morris. You and I could lock horns about such things all afternoon while bending the elbow and mixing a metaphor or two, I have no doubt.

What I wanted to tell you is that your vision of the future is captivating in the sense that Hank Mencken was captivating when he said that one day the American people will get their will and we’ll all be ruled by a complete moron.

But Hank didn’t mean it literally! The “Dis-topia” you describe is well-wrought, but fundamentally flawed, and hinges on a number of scientific impossibilities.

My foremost complaint about “Stranger Than Fiction” is that there is no way that any computing machine could ever be made small enough and powerful enough to perform the functions which you describe, let alone telephonically! (Not in our lifetime, anyway.)

The elements just aren’t there. You toss off the use of ‘silicon’, but all such experiments with silicates have just generated too damn much heat. I am attaching some materials from Popular Science on the subject which you may find useful for any possible redraft. It’s going to have to be vacuum tubes, and these critters are going to have to be big for a long, long while.

Your ‘compact disks’ are interesting in theory, but, again, the fixatives and disk media just aren’t there. Or at least you need to explain it better. Just between you, me and the lamp-post, I’ve always wondered about the possibilities for developing those wire cylinders Niko Tesla had such a bug about before he lost his mind. (Poor old chap. Just saw him in the park the other day feeding the birds.) Now there’s your ‘miniaturization!’

And don’t even get me started about your so-called ‘lithium batteries’ and ‘optical fibers.’ Sorry. I have to make the call and I’m calling that HOKUM. Most of this stuff is, Morris: The failure of the picturephone (although your imaginary ‘American Telephone and Telegraph’ company who tried to make them was quite clever); the suppression of non-gasoline engines and compact personal aircraft (again, though, with a bitter real-world corollary in that idiot Al Sloan at General Motors trying to shut down the streetcar lines across this nation)…

I could go on, but you get the idea. Do you know any scientists? You might want to sit down and palaver with them a little before you try again.

The spirit and heart are all there in your work, but…honestly, Ed, some of this made me cringe. Oh, this story irked me, though, and got under my skin, although I was hesitant about admitting it.

Could any future really be that desolate? Could Mankind really give away almost all his political power to this ‘military-industrial complex’ you speak of, in exchange for a few toys and some bread and circuses? You’re right about Tele-Vision having the potential as a mass medium, but the rest of this is just so much of a stretch.

To even think that entire wars could be mandated by a Tele-Vision news network! Or that…well, I’ll go along with you that politics have always been for sale, but the degradation of our electoral process and the subversion of our democracy you describe border on incorporated treason! You are a Cynic, Morris, but unlike Diogenes Laertius you don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor!

In short, sir, while you’re quite a captivating storyteller who knows how to stir up the emotions, the future you describe could not happen. I was brief and merciful, here surprisingly, but there are just more problems in this story than I care to name.

I am wondering if the nasty knock on the head your ‘Edgar Mortis’ narrator took, which sent that worthy spinning back in time sixty-seven years (to collapse at the editor “Mr. Wood’s” feet and breathlessly tell his tale like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner) may have had some real-world corollary.

If so (and even if not, to be honest) I’d suggest taking a few days off the writing. I see you’re at the Chelsea. It might be worth it to get out of town and go visit the Adirondacks for a while. The mountain air would do you some good this time of year.

At the very least, if you’re ill in any way resembling your narrator I’d recommend a good stiff belt, two nurses and please send some more material to us when you’re up and about. The boys and I would welcome further submissions.

Cordially Yours,

John W. Campbell, Jr.
Astounding Science-Fiction

January 9, 1940


# # #

Rejection Letter by Edward Morris
originally published August 4, 2010



Edward Morris was a 2005 British Science Fiction Association Award nominee whose work has appeared in print on four continents, in three languages, and at such diverse publications as Murky Depths, Nowa Fantastyka, Helix SF, Aeon SF and twice in Interzone. In 2008, he was a guest author at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

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