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Literature / Rejection Slips

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"Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil — but there is no way around them." — Isaac Asimov, from Isaac Asimovs Science Fiction Magazine (December 1979 issue)

First published in Nine Tomorrows (1950), this is a Poem by Isaac Asimov. The title is taken from part of the culture of writers. Unless an author has been specifically asked to write something, they are trying to market their work to various publishers and agents. Trying to send a manuscript to multiple people at the same time is often cause for automatic rejection, so writers wait for the publishers to return the manuscripts with an answer. They're always afraid the response will be "no".

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"Rejection Slips" is actually a series of three letters, each one written as a poetic Homage to a different publication editor. The first, "Learned", is written in a nine line monorhyme, where the same sound is rhymed without word repetition. This fancy structure is a reflection of the rejection slips he would receive from John W. Campbell. The second, "Gruff", is written in two sets of the six line sestain, using AABCCB. This blunter style of rhyme is a reflection of the rejection slips he would receive from Horace Gold. The third, "Kindly", is written with an irregular rhyming scheme. This rhyming dissonance is partially a reflection of the poem's message, as rejection slips from Anthony Boucher were often unclear as to whether they were accepting or rejecting the submission (thus the postscript at the end).

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This poem has been republished twice; Science Fiction By Asimov (1986), and Isaac Asimov The Complete Stories (1990).


Examples of tropes within this work:

  • Affectionate Nickname: "Gruff", the second letter, addresses Isaac Asimov with the very informal "Ike". This shows the poem to be more 'rough' than the other two, as Dr Asimov was often distressed with people saying/spelling his name wrong.
  • The All-Concealing "I": The only character named is Isaac Asimov, the 'letters' that he receives are unnamed, lacking a signature. While the different styles inform the reader that each letter is from a different editor, it takes a lot of familiarity with the subjects to identify them.
  • Brutal Honesty: "Gruff", the second letter, is a poem that uses short rhyming couplets to declare the submission is terrible, and that anything else can and should be sent instead.
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  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": (Inverted Trope) "Kind", the third letter, spends most of the lines praising how much they enjoyed the manuscript. In the postscript, it finally says the submission was rejected.
  • Epistolary Novel: The poem is actually three letters, each rejecting one of Isaac Asimov's manuscripts. Each letter uses its own style of poetry and personal address as a Homage to his most frequent publication editors.
  • First-Name Basis: "Kind", the third letter, addresses Isaac Asimov as "Isaac". It also calls him "friend" three times in only seven sentences. This shows the poem is trying hard to be very friendly compared to the other two.
  • Homage: Each poem in "Rejection Slips" is a tribute to a different editor that Dr Asimov had grown to know very well (including how they rejected manuscripts!):
  • Last-Name Basis: "Learned", the first letter, addresses Isaac Asimov as "Asimov". This shows the poem is more formal than the other two.
  • Midword Rhyme: "Kind", the third letter, wants to rhyme 'frightfully' with 'delightful', so it sends part of the first word into the same line as the second word.
  • Mood Whiplash: The rejection and rhyming of the first two letters are very clear, then comes the irregular rhyming and effusively complimentary poem, which needs a postscript to actually convey the rejection.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: "Learned", the first letter, is a poem that uses the monorhyme for all nine lines, and using terms like 'Kant's philosophy', 'orthodoxy', and 'eclectic cause', all to say "I'm sorry for not using your submission".
  • Shout-Out: "Learned", the first letter, name-drops Immanuel Kant to explain why the manuscript is terrible.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: (Conversational Troping) One of the compliments from "Kind", the third letter, is that the manuscript left them pleasurably immersed in the story.

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