The Term “SCI-FI”

When I was a kid, growing up in the Amazon in South America, I was far away from Hollywood, USA , where great superhero and space adventures were chronicled in film and other media. I must say that as much as I missed the developed comforts that the U.S. can offer, I liked the weather and the people down there. The only thing that made me stand out in general conversation topics was that instead of talking the usual futbol , or politica , I tried to start the conversation with superheroes and space heroes. The usual reaction I got from the locals after tolerating my monologue for an hour is “mucha fantasia!” or “too much fantasy!” The mindset there is reality-oriented. I’m sure they love reality TV.

One of the movie magazines I brought with me to South America had articles with the termSci-Fi . As a little kid, it’s amazing how a little term boggled my elementary school attempts for pronunciation. “Skee-Fee?” “Sky-Fy?” Boy, lots of gray brain matter at work there. A helpful parenthesis in the article related the term sci-fi to science fiction. Oh! That’s what it was! Duh! I’m a true genius!

I began collecting more sci-fi magazines, books and comic books. Before long I had a sizable collection and was amassing a fair knowledge of sci-fi and superhero stories. I even had a few issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Back to that later.

Years afterward, and back in the good ol’ USA , I was working for a publishing company in New York City. One of their publications was a general science fiction magazine. Their science fiction editor always had a fit when we said “sci-fi.” We used to listened to his tantrums. The same one from last Tuesday LOL. A mental list of anger-management classes crossed my mind during his rants. He argued that it was incorrect to say “sci-fi” (surrounded by piles and piles of magazines paperbacks, statuettes and toys of that favorite genre of his — the sci-fi genre, thank you very much.) He said that was a term coined by Forrest Ackerman, but it’s not a real term. (Try telling that to the ‘not-a-real-term’ Channel; that was before it started to drift away from its roots and changed its name to Syfy). As much as we liked this fellow, he just needed to lighten up a bit! All joking aside, I have much respect for this editor friend of mine, and I wish him well.

Almost ten years later, I had moved to Los Angeles. I found out that Forrest Ackerman (who first coined the term sci-fi) , publisher of the cult favorite Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, was living here in L.A. I spoke to him by phone and he invited me to his Museum of Sci-Fi in Hollywood. He was in his late 80’s, but he was gracious to give me a tour of his museum for me.

We spoke about some of my genre-related projects.  I told him they were my own attempt at capturing the essence of sci-fi, which for me was a way to telling stories related to current events and the social commentary of our time, fueled by wild imagination. It’s too much fantasy indeed, but I like it!

After giving me a tour of his best collections (my favorite was the Metroplis robot Maria) we sat down to listen to his great career. He actually told me how he came up with the term  sci-fi. “In 1954” he explained, “that word was first heard in this world. I was riding around in my car with the radio on and some mention was made of ‘hi-fi.’ Since ‘science fiction’ had been on the tip of my tongue since Hugo Gernsback introduced it in 1929 (in his science fiction mag Science Wonder Stories), I looked in the rearview mirror, stuck out my tongue and there, tattooed on the end of it was . . . SCI-FI!”

What a great anecdote to cap off a pleasant visit; he was such a nice guy. Sadly, Forrest Ackerman passed away in December 2008, but I feel honored to have met him and we should all thank him for coming up with that wonderful term. So that’s how my sci-fi term comes full circle. Hope you enjoyed it. Too much fantasy, man!


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One comment on “The Term “SCI-FI”

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