BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Pretty mechanical ...

OK, so if this wasn't at the dollar store, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. As regular readers of this space will recall, I do read humor books from time to time, and even read poetry collections every now and again, but the likelihood of my making a particular effort to pick up a book of humorous haiku is very small indeed. However, there it was, with the promise of it being a fast, amusing, read that was only going to set me back a buck, so it got into my cart and managed to hit the top of my to-be-read pile.

As those with long memories know, I used to write a vast lot of poetry (250 pieces a year), and would occasionally spin off some haiku beyond that. Heck, I've won composition contests in the form, so I'm no stranger to it. I also wasn't expecting Ray Salemi's Robot Haiku: Poems for Humans to Read Until Their Robots Decide It's Kill Time to stay close to the expectations of Classic Haiku composition … and make no mistake about it, I've penned some awful examples myself … but one gets the impression that the genesis of this book was a joke that was taken to an extreme, something that would have been funny for the first handful of extemporized poems, but tiresome from then on. And that's pretty much the deal here.

Robot Haiku is a quick read, of course (with each page containing just one haiku of 17 syllables), so there was a limit to how far the “ha-ha” went, and it's under 200 pages. However, there's not much creativity here, and there certainly isn't any consideration of the traditional thematic “rules” of the format. Pretty much anything that could be envisioned as a robot activity is spit out across a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, but only a handful come close to the sort of expression that one finds in well-written versions.

The book is broken up into five chapters, “Invention”, “Robots at Work”, “Robots in the Home”, “Robots at Play”, and “Destruction of Humanity” (have to get something in there to justify the clever sub-title, I suppose). In most, some human activity or role is re-imaged as being done by a robot, with some twist to make the “otherness” front-and-center. One gets the impression of a bunch of buddies sitting around over some beers and shooting these back and forth, writing them down, editing for syllabic pattern, and having the whole book done in an afternoon. It's also surprising to find that the author has had a 20-year career in the tech industry, with significant writing credits, as the level of the humor here (not to say the writing, constricted as it is), might be more likely coming from an undergraduate.

In any case, here are a few of the haiku that I felt were at least presentable:
Relentless hunter
Fires surface-to-air missiles,
Cat-bot downs robins.

Zen robot eyesight
Sees growth in each blade of grass
Compulsive mowing.

Tic-Tac-Toe battle
Stuck in an infinite loop
This could take a while.

Sun glints off metal
Picture of futility
Robot tries to tan.
Again, these were the best of the bunch, with most of the rest running the gamut from horrible to pointless. This is not to say that Robot Haiku was a chore to read … once the “joke” became clear, everything fell in line with at least a “heh” level reaction. There were pop culture references, from Shatner to Fonzie, to perk things up (the Shatner one almost made it into the above list), and enough “naughty” and scatological bits to provide occasional spiciness.

The book is helped out very much by its visual design. Needless to say, a single haiku per page is not a lot of text, and this is set up with enough various mechanical/scientific backgrounds and graphic elements on each page, along with playful typography, to not have the reading experience run to monotony.

As is often the case with things that show up at the dollar store, Robot Haiku is still in print, and the on-line new/used guys have new copies for as little as a penny (plus the $3.99 shipping, of course). That still doesn't get you down to the $1 price I picked this up for, but it's something to consider if for some reason the activity of robots rendered into the general structure of a haiku sounds like something that would have you breaking up in laughs (some other reviews of the book found it to be hilarious). Frankly, the one buck was just about right for the brevity and less-than-inspiring nature of this to me. I don't regret buying/reading it, but it was a bit like sitting around while a clever, yet irritating, friend took a simple joke way beyond where it was working.

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Tags: book review

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