To All SF Geeks in Korea With [Patient or Interested] Korean Other Halves

This entry is part 5 of 72 in the series SF in South Korea

Lime posts here about, “His Books, My Books.” For the relatively Korean impaired — for whom that page will be less than useful — here’s the image from the post: Korean Sf and history books

You can see I got her some Debussy, because Debussy rocks, and you can’t have too much Debussy in your life. This is the guy who was asked, once, by which theoretical principles he organized his music, and, I was told by one of my professors, he replied, “My taste, of course.” Make it sound good. And make it new, I’m sure Pound would add — and make it new Debussy did. Boulez said it was the beginning of modern music. I think so too. Here’s the score, for those so inclined. Listen to this thing.(There’s a free recording here, if you want it, courtesy of the nice people of Columbia University Orchestra.)

Anyway, besides the piano music, I also happened upon a shop with a decent SF section — the Bandi and Luni’s in the Pastel City building at Sadang Station exit #12, I think, leads right there — but if you look for the Pastel City sign, and follow it, you’ll find the bookstore on the basement level, right off the subway station. The books I got for her, in that pile and in order, are:

  • Volume 2 of 2 from The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (must order volume 1, they didn’t have it in).
  • A single-volume hardback edition of Consider Phlebas by Iain M.Banks.
  • A four-volume set translation of Neil Stephenson’s Crypronomicon. (They also had the more recent series by him, and Snow Crash, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her, even if she really liked The Diamond Age.)
  • Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.
  • Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad.

Missing from the photo, I’m not sure why, is a Korean translation of Lovecraft — something I’d bitched about the (apparent) nonexistence of to a friend earlier that day (because there are a bunch of Japanese Cthulhu-Mythos stories that have been collected in a series of anthologies by Kurodahan — four so far, of which I have two; here’s the publisher’s page for the first one… I haven’t had a chance to read ’em, but it’s weirdness and tentacles, so I figure the Japanese authors should be able to do it some justice, but I’ve never met a Korean who even knew about Lovecraft, let alone one who has written a Cthulhu mythos tale). On seeing this book, I was thus was obliged to buy it. Heck, I’d even been saying to Lime, “Ah, there are these jokes in SF, like people who use the monsters from the stories by this guy named Lovecraft. If you don’t know Lovecract, you won’t get the joke!”

The volume I got Lime used the Korean title of the novel At the Mountains of Madness as the anthology title, but also included several other stories such as “Herbert West: Reanimator,” and “The Dunwich Horror.” It turns out there are plenty of translations of Lovecraft out there, though who knows about the quality!

Also missing from the photo is a Korean translation of Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig that I got for her a few days later (not SF, but of interest to SFnal folks), and a translation of Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio which, after a few pages, she said seemed to have been translated in such as way as to make it harder to read. (This is an unfortunate class of translations in Korea — like when I got her a copy of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, which she really interested after hearing me praise it for its simplicity and clarity, even if it’s narrowminded, and the fun to be had reading it. When I bought it, I found it was only a few hundred pages (as opposed to my 600 or 700-page abridged English translation. She tried to read it and finally said it just made no sense, that there was no narrative like I’d described in the original version, and that she was giving up on it.)

Anyway, this recent cache of books expands Lime’s SF book collection rather dramatically. (She already has, in Korean translation, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (she enjoyed the latter much more than the former, apparently since the talky humor of the former didn’t translate well); The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson (which she loved); Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling (also enjoyed a lot); a collection of Korean translations of recent SF short stories titled 오늘의 SF (which she had only dipped into a little, not being so interested in short stories, unfortunately); Greg Egan’s Quarantine (which is apparently confusingly-translated); Towing Jehovah by James Morrow (not yet read); Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (which she loved); and Christopher Priest’s The Prestige (I can’t remember what she thought of it).

To me, the most exciting (I daren’t say significant) find was the Iain M. Banks. I think the peppy, upbeat, yet grittily existentiality of Banks’ Culture series of space operas is something that could speak to Korean readers, who after all are now awash in a tide of consumerism and culture change and odd concerns about economy and leadership, and often finding themselves left wondering what the hell is the point of it all.It’s somewhat reminiscent of what I imagine was the situation in Britain was like around the time Banks started publishing these books.

Which brings me to a small comment about this excellent SF section in this particular bookstore. There’s a reason I bought a ton of books at one time. I haven’t seen a dedicated SF section in many Korean bookstores — often, the stuff is just piled in with other fiction — but I’ve seen two SF sections this month. One was at the aforementioned Bandi & Luni’s in Sadang, and the other was in the Kyobo bookstore above the Emart in Bucheon station.

Alternative Dream (Korean SF anthology)

The vast majority of the books in both SF sections were English-language SF translated into Korean, followed by Japanese SF translated into Korean, and then random other languages. In the Kyobo shop, there was a lot of other stuff that wasn’t SF filling the lower shelves of the SF section — mystery, for example, or fantasy. However, the SF texts were mostly grouped together. And finally, I found only one book of original Korean SF, an anthology of short stories titled Alternative Dream (얼터너티브 드림) published by 황금가지, containing stories originally published in the Crossroads webzine SF archive that I linked recently in another post.

Addendum: I meant to add this, but forgot: Lime, when thumbing through Alternative Dream, suddenly declared it was quite comfortable for her to read and imagine all thee crazy SFnal things happening, since the settings were often Korean. I don’t know what exactly to make of that, except perhaps that Korean fiction has much less of a tradition of setting stories in exotic, faraway places (the opening of Darwin’s Radio, in the Alps somewhere, turned her off as too remote, while a Western reader would just accept it and follow on). Maybe what Korea needs is a mass torrent of adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs-styled cheese-SF set in places familiar enough not to alienate readers? The depths of the Chinese countryside, or Tokyo, for starters, and only later, the jungles of alternate Mars or some underground city on the moon?

Anyway, I’m saying that Alternative Dream might be an effective gateway drug, if you’re thinking of finding such a thing for your Korean other half. It may just be that book that’ll engender a craving for that “sensawunda.”

And it doesn’t hurt that the opening story is set in Bucheon, where we’re living now.

Series Navigation<< K-Raelians plus <i>The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World</i> by Thomas M. Disch, and <i>The Men Who Stare At Goats</i> by Jon RonsonPiFan Book Fair: SF/Fantasy/Horror/Thriller novels and Magazines… in Korean! >>

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