Saturday, March 8, 2008


I originally resisted--"abhorred" might be a more accurate way to put it--the term scifaiku.

When was first becoming a die-hard science fiction fan in the late '70s and early '80s, I read almost as much about science fiction as actual science fiction. I learned pretty early on that in the serious SF community--that is, those concerned primarily with novels and short stories, rather than movies and TV shows--the term "sci-fi" was considered by most (except for Forrest J. Ackerman, God love him) to be a degrading term; in fact, I have heard (but have no primary knowledge of this, so perhaps it is apocryphal) that Harlan Ellison once likened the term "sci-fi" to the N-word. The preferred term was, and in some circles still is, SF.

So, scifaiku first struck my ears as vulgar.

The little science fiction poems the term describes, however, did not. I loved them from the start, and for basically the same reasons I love haiku: if haiku is very compact nature writing, then scifaiku is very compact science fiction. Both, when well done, can say a great deal in those seventeen or fewer syllables. Both invite the reader to participate in a way that longer forms do not, and if the story I weave around a haiku or a scifaiku is different than the story that same haiku or scifaiku evokes in you, all the better.

I have realized over time that "science fiction haiku" isn't an accurate way to describe scifaiku, for they aren't really haiku. If a haiku is, as the Haiku Society of America describes it, "a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition," then a scifaiku is "a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of something science-fictionish intuitively linked to the human condition." A haiku might be about a frog leaping into a pond, or a heron building a nest, or a full moon appearing from behind the clouds, while a scifaiku might be about a robot saving a child, or a spaceship missing its destination, or time travel being used to avert cataclysm.

So I have come to accept the term, even warmed to it. I still refuse to say "sci-fi" and have trouble taking seriously those who do (even though no less a venerated figure than Orson Scott Card uses it), but I can now say "scifaiku" without blanching.

So, I present here three of my scifaiku:

My alien host
offers the traditional feast:
broiled slice of himself.

Two-headed mutant--
one head flinging insults
at the other.

Spaceship crash imminent:
the robot pilot
is the first to bail.

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