the stranger in our time, recognition is impossible.”
--- Arthur Rimbaud
Street & Smith
#79 Seventh Avenue
Edward R. Morris
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
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.
John W. Campbell, Jr.
January 9, 1940