Working also on a book review for Kyoto Journal (of a book on North Korea) and on reviews of several other books I’ve read for this here blog. Next review will be on Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald, which was wonderful but which is proving thorny in terms of writing a fair, critical, and incisive review. Reading? Um… yeah, I’m working on it. And fiction-writing? Oh, I really wish… but I’ll try tonight.
Well, I guess it serves me right! Y’see, I’m back in Bucheon, after a long summer of many adventures. Which, it seems, are not yet over — I’m currently in pseudo-quarantine in my apartment, awaiting the test results for the H5N1 flu. I’m pretty sure that’s not what is causing my sore throat — I credit dehydration, exhaustion, and air conditioning having left me susceptible to the strep throat I always seem to catch when I am worn down — and I have not yet developed a fever, I’m not showing any of the other big symptoms (save for a big of violent shivering last night, which I often used to get with strep throat too) so there really is no cause for alarm. Still, I’m following doctors’ advice and (a) dutifully taking my Tamiflu and (b) staying at home as much as possible.
How possible that will continue to be depends on whether I can get Windows Internet Explorer on my backup laptop working well… it seems the Emart website has been updated in such a way that it constantly crashes whenever I try to do any shopping there, and I really need some food. By tomorrow, the canned stuff I left on my shelves will run out, and I really could use some ginger for making ginger tea.
No classes this week, also part of the pseudo-quarantine: ah, my lucky, lucky students!
Anyway, I know it’s been ages since I’ve updated this site, but if anyone is still reading, I will be posting about my summer adventures chunk by chunk over the next week, while getting lots of bed rest and fluids, slowly sorting out the shambles my apartment ended up becoming before I left (furniture and stuff from friends who departed has come in, but not yet been arranged), and catching up on some other work like class prep and sorting through the neglected pile of email in my inbox.
So, until my next update, not to worry — I’m fine, really. I have learned a lesson, though: the moral of this story is that unless you’re staying in (relatively) one place for the whole time, two months’ worth of traveling is NOT a good idea.
- Over the last eighteen months or so, I’ve become pretty good friends with my co-worker Gwen and her husband Mike. Well, they’ve just had their first baby, a little boy! (I’ve yet to visit, for various reasons including a niggling cold I wouldn’t want to pass on — though don’t babies have a strong immune system? Er, I dunno. I’ll call and ask Gwen.) Anyway, congratulations to them! And suddenly, the balance of weight has shifted back to me being the one who looks more pregnant.
- This afternoon I’ll be heading across campus to sign my contract for my current promotion. I’ll comment more on that when the ink is dry.
- I’ve been watching what I eat, hitting the gym pretty regularly. I occasionally miss a day or two, especially when the effects of the previous day’s workout linger, but on a day like today, when I just have sniffles and a general feeling of ick — as well as the vaguest of inclinations to throw up, I don’t know why — I make sure not to miss my workout. To get into the gym, one must retrieve the key from the security guard, and I suspect he was quite surprised to see me show up on the evening of Seollal to work out.
- Lime made ddeok mandu guk (rice-cake & dumpling soup) for Seollal for the first time. And it was good.
- I’ve all but finished my work on the story “Ten Spikes and a Hammer” — I’m just waiting for some Japanese translations of a few phrases to get back to me from the friend of Gwen’s, who specializes in literary translation of Japanese fiction from the era the story is set it. Nothing like verisimiltude, huh? I’m already (slowly, and haltingly) at work on another story, surreal expat-horror set in Japan, tentatively titled “Moe” (mo-ay). The word is Japanese, and I encountered it in the essay “Otaku Sexuality” by Saitō Tamaki, translated by Christopher Bolton (and collected in and literally means “budding”, but it’s used by Japanese otaku to somewhat self-deprecatingly describe their fascination with a specific manga or anime character. (“I’m Asuka moe,” means, “I have a thing for Asuka,” as is explained in the essay.)
- More news coming in a few days, including a story publication, so check back soon!
- For those of you in the UK, the December 2008 issue of InterZone, containing my story “Country of the Young,” is now on shelves in the UK. It’s the first in a projected series of tales set in a future North Korea. The best future North Korea I can imagine, in fact. This one’s a train wreck of love, ideology, immigration, and biotech. It’s not available online, but it’s mentioned very positively in this review at The Fix.
- StarShipSofa put out a great podcast my story “Dhuluma No More.” (Forthcoming: an interview, and a podcast of “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues.” Both of these stories first appeared in Asimov’s SF.) If you’d like to read them, Fictionwise carries copies of both July ’08 issue (for “Lester Young…”) and the Oct/Nov ’08 issue (for “Dhuluma”), plus tons of other great fiction by people to whom I would bow deeply if I met them in person.
- My most recent publication, “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang,” is now available as part of the annual Canadian speculative fiction anthology Tesseracts Twelve. It’s a story of the personal and professional travails of the Korean leader of an international team of superheroes working in South Korea. It was included in Rich Horton’s recommended reading in the November issue of Locus, and highlighted in his review of the book.
- I published an article over at Clarkesworld on the role of SF memes and tropes in the Korean beef protests of summer 2008, titled, “How Candle Girl and V Took on 2MB.”
- My fall installment of my column XY appeared in Cahoots magazine, asking, “Why are Women More Religious?” (Yeah, yeah, on average, not every woman, I know!) Follow the link for some sociobiology-informed musings, nothing more.
- I presented this paper on culture, politics, and aesthetics of Korean SF cinema at the 4th International Congress of Korean Studies in September.
That’s a busy two months, really! Sadly, I have very little forthcoming after this, so it’s time to get back to writing, I guess!
- Lime got a job today! Short term (till mid-September), but she wanted that, while she studies for the Neverending Huge Giant Evil Big-Boss (for you arcade game fans out there) Exam. For two months she’ll be working part-time in a hospital near our home.
- We’re going to Hong Kong next week. Just for a few days, because Lime won’t be able to travel the rest of the summer. I’m bringing my computer and writing on the plane, and for at least an hour a day. But travel is still travel, right? Theere’s a Korean expression I ran across in some book that goes, “I went to Hong Kong,” where a Westerner might say, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” or “I was happier than a pig in shit.” So I guess going to Hong Kong use to be a very good thing. I hope it still is, anyway.
- I met a kid today who plays like a young, not quite McCoy Tyner, and I was like, “God, let’s jam!” He was playing piano in one of the big lecture halls equipped with a piano, just playing by memory along with his iPod, some Michel Petrucciani solo, but the touch was more Tyneresque. Maybe I can actually have some duet jamming going on next semester. Maybe even a gig if we sound good together. Somewhere. Sometime.
- I am totally finished grading, which makes me happy happy happy.Not that I get to relax so much this summer: I’m still doing several story-collaborations for the Clarion West write-a-thon (top of the sidebar, link! Sponsor me! Please?), working on a couple of articles that are generally about SF in Korea, exercising as much as I can, co-writing a textbook, perhaps (hopefully) co-translating one of those Korean SF-stories, and, if there’s actually time, busting out my saxophone. Why? Because I would indeed like to jam with that guy I met.
- I came very close to requesting Campus Security to escort a student out who would not take no for an answer when asking me to change his grade from F to D, despite his having not decent excuse for not doing crucial parts of homework that lost him enough marks to fail my class. And then the other guy in the same situation turned up and said, “But I didn’t know I had to do homework in my classes!”I ask you…
- One of my best students asked me to recommend some books that would be of interest to her and help her find new ways to talk about the Korean political issues she discussed in an essay this semester — basically, the relationship between the notion of minjok and the cruddy policies that exist for dealing with foreign laborers and mail order brides in Korea. I decided to recommend books that are totally about politics in other societies, and came up with these two off the top of my head:
- The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. I’m discomfited by some of his ideas, but at the same time, when I explained the basic idea to my student — “he figures that societies that fail to violently expel colonial occupiers kind of end up emasculated and unable to psychologically decolonize; they are continuously semi-colonial and are crippled by their inferiority complex for a long time. Though I made it clear he was talking about cases in Africa, my student’s jaw dropped and she said, “That’s us!” So that sounds like a good recommendation, especially since the library has it in translation.
- Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century, by John Ralston Saul, not the whole thing, just the parts where he discusses the idea of “negative nationalism” and its political uses in another postcolonial society, that of Québec.
Anyone else have a book to recommend that is not “about Korea,” but is nonetheless useful in understanding Korea better? I’m thinking of compiling a list, and I have a few more in mind, but I’m curious what readers will recommend.
- Word is Saturday night will be a big night down in Gwanghwamun. I’ll be making an effort to be there and see what’s going on with the protests.
- I am also totally going to PiFan later this month, but the website is screwed up in a couple of ways. You can’t download the program booklet PDF from the English version of the site, only the Korean pages (how freaking clever is that?), and the navigation is atrocious. (In fact, it seemed to be gunking up our internet connection, and apparently I’m not the only one finding this to be the case.) The ticket reservation system is also mucked up, so I hear anyway. If only web-designers were hired on the basis of being competent. (Hell, if only competency were a bigger consideration when hiring for any position in this society. I mean real competency, not TOEIC score and course grades.) Argh! The damned websites only really work for Windows anyway, so how hard is it to make it actually WORK for Windows?
Worthy Reading Material
- For those not reading comment sections: there’s a big fat cache of original Korean-language SF at a site named Crossroads. Check it out, if you’re so inclined. (And if you arrive at the English language version of the site, click on Korean and you’ll see a SCI-FI link.)
- Nearing the end of Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree, and am even less respectful of C.S. Lewis than I was before, and even more so of Stapledon and Wells. Does anyone know whetherthe updated version, Trillion Year Spree, contains so much that I ought to hunt it down immediately, or what? Mostly, I just wanted to see what Aldiss had to say, and he had a lot of interesting ideas, though disagreements on my part are inevitable. But I do like the overview of the explosion of pulps and it’s helping me think about what I need to look for in the history of SF in Korea (see below), when I finally do get to check out the Seoul SF archive or talk to someone who runs the place.
- I read some Yang Kwi-ja the other night. “A Vagabond Mouse” from A Distant and Beautiful Place. Damned fine. Shall have to dig in more, and hat tip to Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling for recommending it repeatedly till it sunk in.
Sorry to those anticipating them, but my Gin Lane/Soju-ro posts will be waiting till August, I suspect. This month, I’m going to be cutting back and focusing my posts on the stuff I’ll be working into my paper for the Congress this fall (about the general failure of SF (not speculative fiction — fantasy and horror are quite popular here, but I mean science fiction — in Korea, as in, its failure to be adopted into Korean popular culture, be retooled for specifically Korean anxieties or concerns, and attain popularity anything like what we see in the English speaking world, Japan, Europe & the former Soviet Union, and (arguably, but I need to research this more) Taiwan and China. It’ll be some analysis of the use and significance of science-fictional tropes in the following Korean SF movies:
- The Host
- 2009: Lost Memories
- Save the Green Planet
- Wonderful Days
- The Resurrection of the Little Match Girl
- Cyborg She (which will be showing at PiFan later this month)
I suspect I’ll start with The Host, since it’s the one film in that list that was a critical success, and because it was the one that started me in on this inquiry. Plus I have my thinking about that film in order and won’t need to re-watch it again in order to put my post together.
As for soju and gin, I wanna do that subject justice, and to do so, I need to do some more reading and also to get some other stuff out of the way. I may start a series sometime, but for now, if you’re interested, two other bloggers are exploring similar terrain right now: James at The Grand Narrative is looking at the role of military conscription in what I’ve (cleverly?) termed the Ajeoshization of Korean men, and here’s a good place to start with that. Meanwhile, The Joshing Gnome has been laying down some wisdom on the concept of jeong (humane feeling toward other human beings) and the role of this concept in a society that is, on basic operating principles, a society of amoral familialism. Start here, and then catch up: post 4 should be up soon! (And, I’ll be back at those comment threads soon!)
I’ll be referring back to both of those series of posts when I do get to my own Gin & Soju series, so you can tell they’re mining worthwhile ground. In fact, of late I’ve felt kind of excited, as if, despite all this activity being outside the academy, there is a kind of network of people evolving who’re asking related sets of questions about Korea, and building up a kind of view that synthesizes personal experience, academic knowledge, and speculative theories.It’s a cool time to be reading Kore-related blogs. Well, as long as you’re not just reading the nitterings of the Fleas that plague the Marmot’s comment sections. Marmot’s Fleas, they’re experts on everything… except on not pulling random claims out of their own backsides.
(Though I should nicely thank Robert for linking me in his sidebar and from time to time in posts, and his generally nice demeanour toward me personally. I’m criticizing the fleas, at this present moment, not the mammal on whose back they ride.)
PS: Stephanie, I’ll try knock that Lost post out soon, but it’ll be a while yet. Got one article for a magazine pitched and needing to get done before I even think about it.