Seoul 2008 SF&F Festival Report
I promised a report on the micro-con I mentioned here and attended last weekend, but it’s taken me a little time to get the photos I wanted to post along with it. (This text was written on Monday, but I didn’t get through the photos until today.) The set I’ve uploaded to Flickr can be seen here.
I had a good time at this festival, which was organized by the JoySF fanclub. There were a number of events, including screenings, lectures, and hanging around in the dealer’s room. The Festival was held at the Seoul Animation Center, in Myeong-dong, in two rooms on the main floor. One room was the dealer’s room:
… which as you can see was full of figurines, tons of books (by major publishers and small presses alike) a few zines, game demonstration/trial spots, posters, and more. Oh, and the same giant monster movie fanclub that was present at the KOFA retrospective I blogged about here showed up with figurines in tow:
I picked up a few different books for Lime, along with a copy HAPPY SF Vol. 1, — which you can see the cover of just a few pictures up, and for which I’ve been searching for a while now — along with a copy of the two JOY SF zines that were available, a couple of seemingly easy-to-read Korean translations of Japanese SF manga (standalone type books), and two small-press collections by mirror.pe.kr: one with stories about vampires, the other one alien-themed. (My hopes aren’t too high — small press, after all, can sometimes be disappointing — but then again, there’s so little big press here that maybe this is where some of the good stuff ends up?)
There were screenings of a number of movies:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- 지구를 지켜라 (Save the Green Planet)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Star Trek: First Contact
- チャイナさんの憂鬱 (Spirit of Wonder — a very odd, and short, little anime film)
- The Twililght Zone (the episode “The Star” from the 80s color version of the TV series)
Those that are bolded were the ones I saw. (I missed the others because I’d seen them before, was tired, and ended up going home early on the Friday — too bad, as that was the night everyone went out together! — and missed the morning screening on the second day.)
The opening ceremony was brief, and somehow, in a way that mystified me, morphed into a demonstration of the Nintendo Wii. I’m not much for game demos, but I must say that the one game I stayed to see a bit of was interesting: some kind of zombie hunting thing. I would play that. Probably, I would play it too much.
There were also four seminars. Now, I’ve only been to one SF con before, and it was a big one: WorldCon ’07 in Yokohama. I haven’t been to a smaller con, let alone something as small and close-knit as this one, so take this as caveated. I was surprised because there were seminars instead of panel discussions. Mostly, it was fans who took the helm, and as far as I could tell, local authors were not present or at least were not prominent in the proceedings, outside of hawking their goods in the dealer’s room, and except for a seminar by a prominent publisher/critic/editor. The con was very much a fan-led, fan-consumed thing. (Which leads me to wonder what the first few WorldCons were like. Was it comparable? I guess that’s a research topic for me, now. One imagines it might have been less so: a lot of fan interest here seems to be concentrated on foreign SF and SF in various non-literary media, so that it would be harder to have those creators come here.)
In any case, the seminars were as follows:
Kim Sun Wook gave a lecture on Ultraman, the Japanese SF spaceman/superhero character, tracing his history and explaining various aspects of the character and what I understood to be his cohort. People seemed quite amused at points. I was completely lost, unfortunately.
Park Sang Joon, an important critic, translator, editor and publisher of SF in Korea (who is in charge of the newish 오멜라스 (“Omelas,” yes, apparently named after the Ursula K. Le Guin story) publishing line that has been putting out the gorgeous editions of Lem that have popped up recently — here’s an interview with him about it, but it’s in Korean), discussed the Omelas and his interests and plans for the future.
His seminar was definitely the most crowded one of the weekend, as you can see in the picture below. I wish I could report exactly what he talked about, but the best I can do is sort of wave at it, as I didn’;t quite follow everything. From what I picked up, he was discussion how he wants to expand the horizons of SF in translation here beyond just American SF, to reflect the wider diversity that exists in the genre. For example, in addition to the Len translations he’s got on the market now, he mentioned Canadian Robert Sawyer’s End of an Era, an interest in British SF (including J.G. Ballard), Japanese — and I think, briefly Chinese –SF, and more. He discussed the SF Hall of Fame and other awards (Hugo and Nebula) and their relative merits in terms of the quality or importance of a book, at least I think that was what he was talking about. (I can’t say much beyond that I think he seemed to come down on the side of Hall of Fam as the most useful standard.) He talked about Heinlein’s future history and I think this was in terms of putting out a pocket paperback line of SF novels. (Most SF translations in Korea these days are in hardback or trade paper.) Other diversification being considered is a line of YA SF. He discussed the history of SF in Japan briefly, and noted that a long-ish tradition of SF existed there.
After his seminar, we talked a bit, and exchanged cards, so hopefully I’ll be able to find out more if we get a chance to talk again. One interesting tidbit that surprise Canadian SF fans is that while he lived in Toronto, he visited the famous Bakka Books shop, probably Canada’s longest-running and perhaps most-famous SF bookstore.
That was all I was around for on Friday, which by the way was the busier of the two days, probably because Friday was a holiday in Korea. On Saturday, I returned in time to Spirit of Wonder and the Twilight Zone episode screened.
Then, Jang Su Je (aka Hong In Su) gave a seminar on SFnal Imagined Disasters, a very suitable topic since his major is connected to the subject. He mentioned such classics as Hammer of God and Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, Japan Sinks by Komatsu (which I happen to be reading right now!), Blood Music by Greg Bear, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Crystal World by Ballard, and he showed us a clip from a a BBC documentary titled, I think, Super Volcano, about just how bad it would really be if Yellowstone went bang as hard as it could be. (I think this was in context of the discussion of the “comfortable catastrophe” we often see in SF, but I’m not sure that’s what he was getting at. He did present a taxaonomy of sorts for different kids of disasters, though: seemingly differentiating between natural ones, technological ones, and I’m not sure what else as my notes were scribbly in the middle.
Why he was talking about OTL (Original Time Line? a term from Alternate History fiction is the only thing I know of) I’m not sure… I shall have to ask him about it when we end up talking again. For talk we did: he mentioned that he is also a translator, in addition to being a grad student, and that his translation of — oh my God! — this book is on the way. Anyone who can translate that stuff into Korean, I have to respect a great deal. I’m looking forward to seeing him again. (Here’s his write-up on the festival, of course in Korean.)
After that, there was a screening of Star Trek: First Contact, which was fun though I’d seen it before.
Finally, Bae Yoon Ho gave a lecture on the taxonomy of “unknown species” — I’m going to maybe render that as “fantastical” creatures. While I didn’t quite grasp the taxonomic system in detail, it seemed to be based on the relative proximity of the creatures to humanity. (ie. Degrees and types of differences from humans.) He went through a wide variety of species, explaining how and why they fit into this or that category and what they had in common. What stood out most for me during his lecture was something I actually learned earlier on during the con, talking with him one-on-one: that is, that contemporary Korean fandom has a large contingent of gamers and that film versions of SF and video games are, if not interchangeable, then at least on a relatively equal footing — especially compared to in the West, where I’ve rarely heard an SF fan talk about video or computer games as deserving the kind of attention an SF movie deserves.
In addition, I noticed that his taxonomy wasn’t exclusively SFnal: there were elves, dwarves, Zergs, the Alien from the eponymous film series, The Great Old Ones (of Lovecraft’s stories) and many more different creatures from different media — games, films, books, comics, and more — all discussed together. It was more of a taxonomic bestiary of the fantastical, I thin, and I was struck by how friendly Mr. Bae, like Mr. Hong, was. He’d approached me on the first day and we’d spoken a few times, so I knew he was involved in the JoySF club and was a big SF fan. His excitement and friendliness was infectious.
Finally, there was a closing ceremony, where organizers and participants were thanked, and copies of the zines (with what appeared to be an honorarium or contest prize for fanfic appearing in the year’s zine) were give to contributors, plus translations of Japanese SF were handed on gratis to attendees. (I didn’t take one, of course, and when the organizers attempted to give me a copy of their zine, I told them I’d already bought it the day before. I hope they didn’t feel bad — I’m happier supporting the club.)
Anyway, all in all it was a positive experience, I met some cool people,and got a glimpse of what it seems a local fan culture — or at any rate a local Korean fan culture — looks like in its gestative stage. (I think there’s been an SF scene in Korea much longer than the last few years, but I don’t know how much of it has been face-to-face, or how far it has progressed from being enjoyment to “fandom” per se.) In any case, I was quite happy to have attended.
All the photos in this write-up are also on my Flickr feed, so if you want to see them at a larger size, just click the pic and you’ll arrive at the photo’s flickr page. Some of them have additional commentary there… Enjoy!