Readymade Bodhisattva, “The Flowering,” Los Angeles/Riverside, and More

This entry is part 67 of 72 in the series SF in South Korea

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to the SF in South Korea series on this blog, but that doesn’t mean that nothing’s happened in the field. It’s just that: 

  • My interests have broadened out from SF to other forms of speculative or “genre” narrative (and, in a big way, to include tabletop RPGs in general), and a lot has happened in many other narrative genres and different media within Korea.  
  • I’ve been a little less involved in the informal Korean SF world since 2013. We were abroad for a while, and then we had a kid and moved to the countryside and ave been busy ever since, and it’s all I can do to get some writing done. 
  • I’ve been, at the same time, more involved in other ways, like in working on translations and doing some support work on a major anthology.

All of of these things have made it harder to post: the first, because a widened scope makes it harder to keep up (especially while trying to continue to do creative work while parenting a toddler); the second, because, I’m less in-the-loop and have no time even when I do have interesting news; and the final point, because I don’t like to sound like I’m tooting my own horn too much. 

That said, I guess it’s time for a little tootin’…

Working backwards chronologically:

Today I got word that an a podcast episode of interest to non-Koreans who want to know more about Korean SF just got published. Soyeon Jeong, Sang Joon Park, Sunyoung Park, and I—as participants of the recent Voices & Visions event in Los Angeles—were interviewed by Dr. Henry Jenkins and Colin MacKay, the hosts of USC’s podcast How Do You Like it So Far? You can listen to Episode 36: Korean Science Fiction: Imagining other worlds, by clicking through or listening below:

Rewinding a little: at the beginning of April, Clarkesworld published its issue 151, which includes my co-translation with Jihyun Park of Soyeon Jeong’s short story “The Flowering”—the first of a series of Korean speculative fiction translations in the magazine. (We’re working on our second contribution to the series at the moment.) If you look over in the sidebar, you can see links for where to subscribe or pledge for Clarkesworld‘s Patreon. 

If you enjoy Jeong’s story, you may also enjoy Jeong’s story titled  “Home,” translated by Sophie Bowman and recently published by Guernica. (Intended or not, it forms a pretty interesting, smart counterpoint with the contrivances in Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”)

Jeong’s work isn’t the first work of Korean SF Bowman’s translated: she’s actually translated of Boyoung Kim’s wonderful short novel of love and marriage preparations, and a couple plagued by the effects of FTL travel (namely, time-dilation), I’m Waiting for You. (I haven’t heard, but I assume the translation is forthcoming with a publisher by now.) You can hear Bowman read from the translation on Soundcloud:

Moving back to late February, Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Press Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction was published by Kaya Press. It contains two short stories that Jihyun Park and I co-translated: Seong Hwan Park’s “Readymade Bodhisattva” and Chang-Gyu Kim’s “Our Banished World.” (We also translated the afterword and I helped copyedit the other translations.) There’s links in my sidebar, under the cover image of the book, for where you can buy a copy in the US and in Korea alike. 

Kaya Press is an L.A. publisher who’s also working on at least one other Korean SF project: a collection of short stories by Boyoung Kim, which will include a reprint of our translation of “An Evolutionary Myth,” which originally appeared in Clarkesworld.

The release of the book occasioned a trip to Los Angeles for an event that is part of USC’s Voices and Visions series, titled Readymade Bodhisattvas: South Korean Sci-Fi and Transnational Technocultures as well as a brief stop in Riverside, California (as well as a side trip to Las Vegas for me) which I’ll say about a little more later on in this post.

Oh, and it was in early February—just a week before I left for Los Angeles, in fact—that Neil Clarke announced the SF translation project! Here’s a link to that announcement. 

Right, that’s the highlights. For those interested in the trip I made to L.A., connected to the launch of Readymade Bodhisattva, and on recent developments in Korean SF and my thoughts on this (not recently updated) blog series, click through and see the rest of this post…

Recent Developments & Challenges for this Blog Series

As for my own generally broadened interests: my fascination with tabletop RPGs has only increased in the past few years, and now I’m interested in the way roleplaying games and roleplaying game culture has adapted to Korea—the prevalence of Call of Cthulhu being a notable part of that, as a student of mine mentioned to me last semester—and how certain crowdfunding projects have been incredibly successful in the RPG world here. That said, a thread of interest can be seen on Twitter (and here’s another over on the new Gauntlet Forums) following Jason Morningstar’s very recent visit to Korea to meet some Korean tabletop RPG creators and fans.

But… that feels a little outside of the purview of this series, right? Or… is it? For me, it isn’t—geek culture is geek culture, and intercultural reception and retooling of comparable types seem to be going on in the RPG world here—but I think for some it might be a bridge or two too far, and in any case I certainly lack the time, access, and energy to cover it anywhere approaching an adequate level of knowledge or information. 

Meanwhile, webtoons have more than exploded here. They’re a viable business for many, and they feature a lot more fantasy and SF tropes than one ever saw in older mainstream Korean media. I’ve tried to read some, but honestly I just cannot keep up with them, much less in a way that would allow me to highlight the series that are of sufficient interest and quality for me to feel right recommending them. And yet I feel like not addressing them is seriously remiss, since this is the medium through which a lot of people get their SF here.    

Meanwhile, though only a few major Korean SF movies have been made since this series went on hiatus, there’s been many SF-themed TV series on Korean TV… and the introduction of Netflix into the South Korean media ecology has opened things up in some ways, making possible interesting projects like Bong Joon Ho’s Okja:

… and the widely-discussed Korean historical zombie-pocalypse series Kingdom:

As my own literary and media interests have broadened out beyond science fiction in recent years, I’ve grown more interested in the whole range of speculative fiction—including stuff like horror and zombies and fantasy genre, and their expression in Korean fiction, film, comics, and other media—but I wasn’t sure whether to include it within the rubric of this series… and, besides, I haven’t really been able to scrounge together the time to do so, either. (Having a kid eliminates a certain amount of one’s free time, and I prioritize my fiction writing over blogging.)

There’s been other developments worth noting in Korean SF, too:

  • Soyeon Jeong (the same author whose work I linked above) has launched the Science Fiction Writers Union of the Republic of Korea. (You can read more about her reasons for launching it by clicking through to the site: it’s an English-language page.) 
  • May 2018 saw the founding of an organization for promoting Korean SF abroad, the Korea SF Association. (Here’s a piece about the organization that appeared on the Amazing Stories website.) It was launched on the basis of a perceived need for a centralized clearing house for connecting with overseas publishers and organizations. (I’m all for more connections, even if I personally favor developing multiple organizations to a single, centrally-organized one.) In any case, this organization has been quite active, and is also participating in the Clarkesworld translation project. 
  • Many authors have had major new works come out, awards have been handed out, and there was even a mini-controversy about some comments regarding politics. But all that’s far more detail than I can get into right now… 

A lot has gone on, as you can see, and honestly, I’ve had trouble keeping up, so updates on this series have effectively stopped. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do more than an annual roundup from here on in, but I will try to at least do that. 

So, anyway, I guess that explains most of the radio silence in this series. But I have one more thing to write about: my recent trip to L.A. and Riverside, California for a pair of events related to Korean SF.

Los Angeles/Riverside, February 2019

Since I’ve mentioned Readymade Bodhisattva, I thought I’d mention the trip that I made in February, which was connected to the book’s launch. I was lucky enough to be invited to travel to Los Angeles and Riverside, California, for a couple of events at USC Dornsife and UC Riverside, related to the book’s launch.

I flew out few days early and dropped by Las Vegas, where I spent a few days with my friend Joe Milan and his wife Jumi. Joe was kind enough to not only take me clothes shopping (something I needed desperately), but also book shopping, and it’s thanks to him that I was able to return to Korea with a nice stack of pulp novels I’d been wanting to get my hands on, and some unexpected treasures as well. Most generous of all, Joe and Jumi took me to go see the Grand Canyon. I have to say, “grand” is kind of an understatement. I returned to Los Angeles on the 19th of February, and rested up for the big day ahead: 

Joe and Jumi are expecting a baby very soon, so it was especially nice to be able to visit them during their last weeks of relative freedom. I look forward to good news very soon. 

On the morning of 20 February, writer/translator Soyeon Jeong, scholar/publisher/editor Sangjoon Park, scholar and editor Sunyoung Park, and I joined Dr. Henry Jenkins and Colin MacKay, hosts of the How Do You Like It So Far? podcast, for a roundtable general discussion of Korean SF that was recorded for a planned podcast episode. I’ve linked the episode above, but here it is again.

Unless otherwise marked, the photos from events L.A. are by Dongjin Lee (Soyeon Jeong’s partner, who joined her for the trip). 

Late that afternoon, there was a group reading and another discussion of SF (Korean and otherwise). We were joined by Ted Chiang (who read from “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”); Soyeon read in Korean from her story “Cosmic Go” (in Korean!). For my part, I read from the opening of our translation of the book’s title story.


(Click the brochure page to see a PDF of the event program.)

(Photo by Iman Fattah. Click the image to see his full photo set.)

The next morning, we all met for breakfast and then split up for the day. After a brief tour led by Massimo Grassia (Sunyoung Park’s partner), I headed north to meet a friend who works at one of the big studios in the city. We had lunch and then he graciously showed me around the lot—and I almost walked straight into Nathan Fillion at one point (or, I’m told, almost walked into the guy who was with him). It was one of those surreal moments people talk about, though I’m also told I handled it like a pro.  

(Photo by Jared Stone.)

That afternoon, I managed to visit a few sites in downtown Los Angeles—including The Last Bookstore, a popular market, and the Bradbury Building (recognizable to Blade Runner fans):

(I took this photo.)

… and in the evening Sunyoung Park and Massimo Grassia hosted us for a lovely celebratory dinner before sharing with us their spectacular rooftop view of the city.  

On Friday, Feb. 22, we set out eastward, for another event awaited us at UC Riverside. This event was slightly more academic, and more focused on Korean SF specifically. We had  little time to drop by the Eaton Collection—one of the world’s biggest SF collections—where we saw a display celebrating its 50th anniversry, before proceeding to a panel discussion hosted by UC Riverside’s Department of English (and organized by SF scholar Dr. Sherryl Vint, who teaches there). The discussion was moderated by Sang Keun Yoo, a South Korean graduate student specializing in SF. 1

(Photo by Sang Keun Yoo.)

Issues discussed in the various panels and roundtables (beyond some of those mentioned earlier in this series) included unique or specifically Korean qualities of Korean SF, the unusual role of translator as curator in the process of translation and canon-formation in Korean SF (and thus the role that the values of individual translators has played in the formation of a canon-in-Korean-translation of Korean SF), why peripherality, empire, dictatorship, and relative geopolitical power differentials all matter in the shape that Korean SF has taken, as well as the development of Korean SF within a broader world SF movement beyond the English-speaking world’s borders (especially with reference to the recent Chinese blockbuster Wandering Earth). 

Personally, I found the discussion of translator-as-curator fascinating; the odd process by which Korea has acquired its canon of foreign SF works—as well as what it includes and excludes—is one area I’ve long felt would be ripe for academic research into Korean SF that would also interest Anglophone SF academics, and while I was already aware of the fact translators were in part also content curators, it was interesting to hear details about it. Perhaps I get back around to it at some point, even, though for now I’m a bit busy with other things. 

I also managed to meet up with an old friend, Jim Trombetta (a classmate of mine from Clarion West) and his wife just before leaving Los Angeles. I still owe him some comments on a story he passed me that evening: sorry Jim, they’re coming soon! It was great to see them both again, and a great way to end the trip.

(Photo by me, if you couldn’t guess.)

While the journey wasn’t without its mishaps, it was nonetheless a great, refreshing trip, and I got back to Korea with my batteries recharged. 

Then I learned that—surprise!—our son’s daycare was closed for the following week, as he’d “graduated” the Thursday previous, while I’d been abroad. (Yes, regardless of what all those accounts of “tiger moms” claim, they do indeed hold “graduation ceremonies” for day care kids in South Korea.)

(Photo by Jihyun Park.)

Nobody had thought to notify us about this closure, but luckily I had a week left before the spring semester started. That said, my batteries definitely didn’t stay fully recharged for long… but he’s a sweet kid, and I’d missed him, so it was good to have some time with him, while his mom slogged it out in the trenches at work. 

I mean, look at this cutie:

(Photo by me, if you couldn’t guess.)

Anyway, that’s my little travelogue. I hope my indulgence (including the personal side of it) will be forgiven, since it would be difficult to disentangle them from the more Korean SF-focused portions.

And with that, I guess I’ll end this post here. 

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  1. And, I was surprised, he is quite well-acquainted with my own work!

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