“Unevenly Distributed: The Mudang’s Dance” in Arc 1.02

UPDATE (31 May 2012): There’s a preview for my piece available here, for those who would like a sneak peek.

ORIGINAL POST: The new SF/Science magazine Arc, put out by the makers of New Scientist, has just published its second issue, Arc 1.02, with the theme of “Post Human Conditions.”

Among the contents is an article by yours truly, included as an installment of the magazine’s “Unevenly Distributed” column. My piece, titled “The Mudang’s Dance,” is about South Korea’s particular relationship with futurity, memory, modernity, and change — assessed in the light of William Gibson’s famous comment “The future is already here,  it’s just unevenly distributed.” As mentioned in the official Tumblr post on the issue:

… science fiction writer Gord Sellar wonders why the South Koreans — arguably the most forward-looking nation on earth — show no interest whatsoever in futurology. Do they know something the rest of us don’t[?]

Well, that’s close enough to what I’m saying that I won’t nitpick… though it depends on what you call “forward-looking” and of course some Koreans are interested in futurology. (It just hasn’t penetrated into the culture in the way I find it has in most of the Western world.)

One interesting detail I didn’t get around to mentioning, which people outside Korea might find surprising, was that former President Kim Daejung actually hired futurist Alvin Toffler as an advisor, back around the time he was catapulting Korea into the Internet Age (ie. around the turn of the century. One assumes he felt Toffler was the man for the job not just because he was a famous futurist, but because he didn’t have a creditable counterpart in South Korea.

Anyway, I’ve never shared a TOC with Frederick Pohl before, but it’s an honor. Also, Nick Harkaway, Jeff Vandermeer, Paul McAuley, and PD Smith stick out in the contributors list.

Print issues are still in transit, but those who’re interested in reading it electronically, check out the list of places you can get it here. If you like the magazine, make sure to subscribe!

2 thoughts on ““Unevenly Distributed: The Mudang’s Dance” in Arc 1.02

  1. Well, IMO Kim DJ chose Toffler mostly because he was famous. Since the Kim DJ administration, the Korean government insists on having at least one large international government-sponsored seminar with at least one Nobel laureate, who would praise Korea’s development. (When I was working at a government-sponsored economic research institute, institutes would dread getting selected as a primary sponsor for that year’s seminar, because then we would be stuck with all the administrative and backup work, and be reponsible for getting that year’s Nobel laureate guest (usually in economics).
    While I do think “Future Shock” was a neat idea, as a friend reminded me, all of his technical and scientific predictions turned out to be wrong; and I wasn’t that impressed with his later books like “The Third Wave.”
    Anyhow, sharing TOC with Fredrik Pohl and Paul McAuley – that’s impressive. (Harkaway and Vandermeer ain’t that bad either; though I haven’t read Harkaway’s book yet)

  2. Junsok,

    Your explanation makes a lot of sense: the cachet and mystique of the foreign expert is indeed a big sell. And note, KDJ feeling Toffler didn’t have a suitable counterpart doesn’t mean he really didn’t (though I suspect there are fewer trained, professional futurists from Korean than from say the US, Canada, or Britain).

    As for Toffler, oh yes. I think Future Shock was basically the Ur-Text of cyberpunk, in a lot of ways, and as soon as I read it I suddenly recognized stuff from a dozen or two books I’d read that year (this was in 1998 or so). Anytime he made specific predictions, they didn’t came true, but he did kind of get some of the general shape of things vaguely right — increased social tribalization, for example, or increasing mobility of people (which isn’t “increasing” but there is has been the emergence of a highly-mobile class of people). Things like that. I also wasn’t crazy about later books (I read all of Third Wave, and some of War and Anti-War, and neither really convinced me of much — they felt more like necessary follow-ups to a franchise. And I started out wanting to like both.)

    I’d say Toffler’s main contribution to society was the inauguration of a literary genre that has since exploded — the speculative nonfiction book. Part popular science, part crackpot pseudo-SF, part social issues manifesto, these books have become more and more popular as the years have gone by. Most of them are of questionable value as predictions go, but many are great springboards for SF and for public debates about science and technology. (Imagine SF without Drexler’s Engines of Creation or Toffler’s Future Shock or even Kurzweil’s many (mostly laughable, though sometimes vaguely interesting, but increasingly useless) singularity-focused books.

    And yeah, the TOC is pretty flattering. :)

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