For those interested in South Korean SF, but unable to read it themselves (like me) you will be interested in the little treasure trove of articles I’ve just run across on the subject. They were published as part of the Summer 2013 issue of the magazine _List, which appears to be published by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
There are four articles in all:
- “Chronicling Korean Science Fiction” by Cho Sung-myeon, which discusses the history of Korean SF. This is a great piece with a lot more history than I ever found available anywhere else. Plenty of figures in Korean SF history are mentioned that I’ve never heard of even once!
- “Postcoloniality and Imagining the Post-human: Bok Koh-ill’s In Search of an Epitaph and Djuna’s The Pacific Continental Express“
by Kim Dongshik, which discusses two major works by long-established authors in the field of SF. I’ve discussed Bok’s In Search of an Epitaph before here, in the context of it being the obvious inspiration for the film 2009: Lost Memories, and have mentioned Djuna before as well. The discussion of Bok’s novel is especially worth a look.
- “Descartes’s Descendants: The Novels of Bae Myung-hoon and Kim Bo-young” by Bok Dohoon discusses two of the younger generation of SF authors in Korea in a more general way. They both great writers and very nice people. In fact, Mrs. Jiwaku and I are currently working on translating Kim’s story “An Evolutionary Myth” to English. The essay’s attempt to link their work with Cartesian philosophy… well, sure, okay. But it’s worth a look for its discussion of these two authors.
- “Children’s Science Fiction” by Kim Ji-eun discusses SF for kids, both historical and contemporary. It’s an area I know almost nothing about, beyond occasionally running across an old ratty book here and there, so it was quite enlightening.
Of course, there’s plenty of context that’s missing here, but that’s not surprising: LTI Korea’s agenda/mandate is to promote Korean literature to the world, and it doesn’t serve that end to discuss the contemporary translation scene much, for example.
Specifically, I mean, the ongoing canon-building going within Korean SF in terms of foreign works translated to Korean. For example, Kim Boyoung is discussed here primarily as an author, which is fine, as she deserves attention for her own unique creative works. However, she is not only an author, but also a translator, and like a number of other SF translators, she has played an important role in the development of Korean SF not only by direct influence through her own work, but also through the choices she has made as a translator.
These articles present this part of SF mainly as historical and foundational, rather than as the ongoing, expanding process it really is right now. As a result, plenty of the figures (especially translators, but also publishers) who play a crucial role in the Korean SF scene don’t get mentioned, because they’re working in the area of inbound literary globalization. To understand the development of SF in any society, one must acknowledge the interplay between foreign influences and local innovations, and how it is usually ongoing and constant, especially outside the English-speaking world. Not to privilege the foreign stuff, but to understand the transmission of a literary genre from one culture to another, and how that process continues and mutates over time.
Still, these four articles open a lot of doors and shed a lot of light. They’re definitely worth a look!