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Etiquette with Your Robot Wife and Thirty More SF/F/H Lists

by Bruce Boston

illustrated by Marge Simon

(Talisman, 2005. $4.95 chapbook, 44 pages.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

cover scanI'm a fan of unusual poetic forms. This chapbook collects Bruce Boston's best "list poems." A list poem is exactly what it sounds like: a list of related points. Most in this collection focus on etiquette or clues about surrealistic situations.

At least one, "Things Not To Say When You Meet a Famous SF Writer," is entirely aboveboard. I have personally heard most of these uttered by other people ("Can you sign this crate of books now?" is almost inevitable) in signing lines. Several have been said to me ("Where do you get all those crazy ideas?") even though I am not yet a famous SF writer. However, "I've never read anything by you. But I hear it's pretty good" can work as an opening, if followed by, "So which of your two dozen books should I start with?" This poem makes the collection a fun gift for any writers you know.

Boston includes savvy observations on the nature of life and other hilarious tidbits, like: "War! Pestilence! Earthquakes! Hurricanes! Maybe you should cut down on the caffeine." (from "Things Not to Say When You Meet the Master of the Universe") "Forces Congress to sit bolt upright." (from "Our Robot President: The First Hundred Days") "Decide which of the seven remaining species besides humans I like the best and make a sincere effort to help save it." (from "New Year's Resolutions, 2223) "The holocaust of history leaving its brand on the portraits you have left to paint." (from "Things You Can't Avoid as an Immortal")

Two of the poems I found more tacky than entertaining. "Reasons the Druids Did Not Survive" and "Things Not To Say at a Witch Burning" are disrespectful of religions (there are practicing Druids and Witches today). Unlike most others, they deal with historical situations rather than purely surrealistic ones. Satire of real incidents is harder to do without offense; I've seen it done better.

The vivid imagery transcends individual poems; Bruce Boston offers many memorable turns of phrase. Some of my favorites include:

Your rage and frustration
wound into a tight bundle
at the core of your being
and ready to explode.
-- "What To Take and Not To the Enchanted Forest"

None of those annoying episodes
when I felt impossibly horny
and sometimes could satisfy it
and sometimes not.
-- "Why I Chose a Robot Body and Have Never Regretted It"

Of course, the titles themselves stand out; they're among of the best writing in this collection. Some writers have a hard time coming up with zippy titles -- Boston isn't among them.

Etiquette with Your Robot Wife is a fine collection of speculative poetry, spanning several subgenres. Both poetry and science fiction fans will like it. For extra fun, try reading one of these poems in class or at an open mike night.

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