Speaking of Global SF…

  • Here’s a piece on Indian SF, via, er, I’ve lost the source among my millions of windows. (Sorry!) Apparently, it’s a much bigger market in various regional languages, but some SF authors also see developing an English-language readership as a key to a bigger audience.
  • And here’s a recent piece on SF in China. Interestingly, SF entered China in 1902 in the same form it did South Korea (or, well, the Korean language, at least) in 1907 — that is, in the form of a translation of a novel by Verne. (In China, the respected literati Lu Xun translated Verne’s Journey to the Moon; five years later, according to Park Sang Joon (in a piece he published in a recent edition of Beyond, the in-flight magazine of Korean Air — November ’08, if you’re curious — of all things, which I picked up by chance) a group of Koreans studying in Tokyo published a translation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in their scientific journal Taeguk Hakbo.)

    Why China now has the biggest SF-reading population on the planet, while the genre is still so marginal here, is of course what I’ve been looking into for a while now. (A search I document in this ongoing series.)

  • And on that note, I’ll have a few more things to say about SF in Korea, and hopefully some upcoming writing on the subject and other projects… I’ll say more in a while. So there!

4 thoughts on “Speaking of Global SF…

  1. If you talk with Koreans living in the US (1st, 1.5th or 2nd generations), and if they do not have much contact with the Korean community (especially community of 1st or 1.5 generation Koreans), quite a few of them become Trekkers or SF readers. However, Koreans who remain in close Korean communities keep thinking of SF as silly. So the reason SF doesn’t catch on in Korea is probably social and cultural. I mentionned this question to you before, but I wonder what it is about Korean culture that discourages interest in SF (or realistic speculation about the future in general)?

  2. Yup, I agree.

    Well, I think part of it is that all the way back to Lu Xun, SF was seen by at least some as a means of social and educational reform. Lu actually literally thought of translating Western SF to Chinese as part of the project of modernization. I haven’t discovered whether anything like that existed in Korea, but I suspect it didn’t, at least not until more recently.

    That also means that by the time of the Cultural Revolution, the subversive potential of SF was understood well enough for the government to crack down on it.

    Meanwhile, I think you’re right that in Korea, it’s more generally seen as silly. I think at least some of it ties, again, to the form of modernization embraced early on in the post-colonial period, with a strong focus on history and the past, and a backwards-extending bloodline, plus of course the unpublishability of radical visions of or ideas about the future during many years of dictatorship. (I imagine any non-dictatorship future sketched out [by a Korean] in fictional form would have brought accusations of Communist propaganda at the height of the Park and Chun eras. Hell, the editor I know told me that for him, Jack London’s Iron Heel was inspirational during his student protest days.)

    I also suspect that differences in educational systems probably play a role in how many people embrace the genre, and how strongly they do so. I definitely think that that plays a role in the impediment of realistic speculation about the future, given how doctrine-shelled the study and teaching of history is here.

    I think there are other elements in culture at work, too, though it’s harder to put my finger on them. As I commented recently, though, perhaps it is just as true for my own research that looking at other cultures where SF has not become popular (yet) may be more fruitful than comparing Korea to the US, Canada, China, Japan, and Britain. Maybe I can find commonalities that France and Italy and Korea and other places share that have impeded the growth of SF as a genre.

  3. You may be interested in a book which came out last year “The SFWA European Hall of Fame” edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow. I have only read one or two stories so far, but all the stories are from non-English speaking European countries.

    When I spent a summer in France, (again twenty years ago), and checked out their SF section, it surprised me how little “hard” SF was translated. (Though there were few – I remember Greg Bear’s Blood Music specifically). Most stuff there were seemed to be similar to 1960s New Wave “fantastic fiction” type of stuff.

    Somewhat off the topic, but I always felt that the Western culture closest to Korean (or the Western culture that Korea *really* wants to emulate) is the French; not American or British. Maybe that’s a commonality right there.

  4. Junsok,

    Woah, thanks for the recommendation. I didn’t know about that book! IT’s on my list now.

    Yeah, hard SF isn’t big in France, apparently. I ran across a discussion among fans of Greg Egan who were complaining that his work won’t be translated anymore… editors love him, but the public isn’t into hard SF there. Shame… But I’m not surprised they’re into New Wave. *shrug*

    I’ve never been to France, but from the start, Korea has reminded me of Quebec, and Seoul specifically of Montreal. I think you’re right about a commonality between French culture and Korean. (Which is funny: a lot of people I know would insist Italy’s a better analogue. But to me, French always fit better.)

    Lots to think about there…

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