Archive for SF
- The Earth of Yunhe (podcast!)—Eric Gregory
- The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up—Jacques Barcia
- Overhead—Jason Stoddard
- Summer Ice—Holly Phillips
- Sustainable Development—Paula R. Stiles
- The Church of Accelerated Redemption—Gareth L. Powell & Aliette de Bodard
- The Solnet Ascendancy—Lavie Tidhar
- Twittering the Stars—Mari Ness
- Seeds—Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- At Budokan—Alastair Reynolds
- Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic—Gord Sellar
- Scheherazade Caught in Starlight—Jason Andrew
- Russian Roulette 2020—Eva Maria Chapman
- Castoff World—Kay Kenyon
- Paul Kishosha’s Children—Kenn Edgett
- Ishin—Madeline Ashby
UPDATE: here are some review quotes:
That’s why Shine is such a significant — dare I say, historic — anthology. And with a rich diversity of settings and thematic speculation, this is a collection most science fiction fans will undoubtedly embrace.
Overall, Shine is utterly worth reading.
But it would be difficult — some might say doubly impossible — for every entry in an anthology as ambitious as Shine to appeal to every reader. It is to de Vries’ credit that all but the most hard-hearted of sci-fi readers should find their own brand of optimism represented somewhere among Shine’s array of bright futures.
But if we are to have some some influence over how that change unfolds, isn’t it important that our stories, whether they be in the news, on television screens or in the pages of science fiction novels, fully explore the optimistic possibilities that technology represents?
To round off this very long review I’m happy to report that Shine was a truly fascinating and enjoyable read. I’m not the biggest SF fan in the world, but I’ll happily promote this to others who, like me, feel the same way. Here are authors with stories and characters I could relate to. But then, I suspect hardened SF readers out there will devour this with gusto. Jetse de Vries has done a truly remarkable job putting Shine together and I’d like to be signed up to read any follow-up anthology because this one has genuinely broken down some preconceived ideas I’ve had about the genre.
For an anthology with a very tight remit — optimistic near-future science fiction — there is a huge variety in the stories themselves. It occurs to me that this book is the perfect introduction to SF for readers who wouldn’t normally venture into the genre.
For now: HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Finally, also an interactive Google Map of story locations from the SHINE anthology:
There’s been a lot of musing about the fate of science fiction, lately. To be clear, I’ll be discussing *written SF* here (predominantly), not SF in movies, comics, video games or other media. To summarise (and this is far from complete, but I hope it touches upon the main points):
- According to Ashok Banker, SF is morally and ethically bankrupt (to put it mildly: his interview at the World SF News Blog has been deleted on his request, because some idiot stalker is now threatening not only him, but his family and friends, as well);
- According to Lavie Tidhar, SF — and fantasy, as well — is suffering from monolithic anglophone syndrome;
- According to Mark Newton, SF is commercially dead, and fantasy is the (bestselling) future;
- According to Athena Andreadis on the Huffington Post, SF has ditched science and has become, in effect, fantasy. Geoff Ryman (who recently edited When It Changed) and Ken MacLeod (who is involved with The Human Genre Project) seem to agree;
My viewpoint is that SF is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and that lack of relevance can be attributed to developments and trends already mentioned in the points above, and SF’s unwillingness to really engage with the here-and-now. That doesn’t mean that SF needs to die (actually, a slow marginalisation into an increasingly neglected and despised niche-cum-ghetto is probably a fate worse than death), but it does mean that SF needs to change, and that it needs to become much more inclusive of the alien (and I mean alien in ‘humans-can-be-aliens-to-each-other’ sense) and proactive, meaning it should not just shout ‘FIRE! FIRE!’ (and do almost nothing but), but both man the fire trucks *and* think of ways to prevent more fires.
That’s the short version: allow me to expand on it below the cut. Read the rest of this entry »
Christian Dunn (Solaris Books‘ acquisition editor) broke the news to me (and many others) yesterday. The press release has gone out this morning, and I’ve already seen the first mention on the Falcata Times blog.
This is fantastic news: when it was announced — earlier this year — that the Games Workshop were putting Solaris Books up for sale, I was far from happy. While I was assures that, with regards to the Shine anthology, things were ‘business as usual’, it would also have meant that Shine would be one of the very last releases of Solaris if they didn’t find a buyer.
Now, however, the future for Solaris Books looks assured (at least for the foreseeable future), the distribution deal with Simon & Schuster remains intact (good distribution is of immense importancy), meaning things look up for the Shine anthology, as well.
So many congratulations to all the Solaris people!
Here’s the official press release:
REBELLION ACQUIRES SOLARIS IMPRINT FROM GAMES WORKSHOP
This week, Rebellion, Europe’s leading independent games developer and owner of the iconic comic 2000 AD and sci-fi and fantasy imprint Abaddon Books, completed the acquisition of the Solaris book publishing imprint from Games Workshop for an undisclosed sum.
This well-known and highly successful brand offers a mixture of new and traditional science fiction, fantasy and horror books and has many bestselling titles from both upcoming and established names such as Brian Lumley, Gail Z. Martin, Eric Brown and Simon R. Green, amongst others.
Solaris will sit alongside, and be run in parallel with, Rebellion’s own Abaddon Books.
Jason Kingsley, CEO of Rebellion said, “We’ve been aware of the Solaris imprint for some years now and have admired its success with fantastic stories and great writers. Acquiring Solaris will allow us to continue to push our publishing trajectory upwards and expand the quantity, whilst maintaining the quality, of all our titles.”
George Mann, Games Workshop’s Head of Publishing said, “We’re delighted that Solaris has found a new home with Rebellion. After a period of fantastic growth with our Games Workshop related titles, we decided the time was right for us to focus all of our attention on our Black Library imprint. We’re sure Rebellion will now take Solaris forward to even greater heights.”
Rebellion has also entered into a sales and distribution agreement with Simon and Schuster. Under the agreement, Simon & Schuster will continue to handle sales, distribution and fulfilment of all Solaris titles for all new and backlist titles to trade and specialty accounts. The agreement is effective August 31st, 2009.
Simon & Schuster, a part of CBS Corporation, is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic, and audio formats. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster Digital, and international companies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
For more information, visit our website www.simonandschuster.com
Distribution for Solaris will continue to be represented by Simon and Schuster.
I’ve been waiting for this news ever since the sale of Solaris was announced. More news on the Shine anthology itself over the weekend, as I am still extremely busy.
It’s either running or standing still with the observation of kindred spirits: for weeks I notice nothing, then I see three (UPDATE: nay, five) in a single day.
Here’s what caught my eye:
- Bruce Sterling, in Beyond the Beyond, names 18 challenges for contemporary literature. I’ll highlight number 10 (which IMHO links to my previous musings on relevant SF):
10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.
- Expanded Horizons: a webzine that has the inclusion of non-western, and non WASP-male viewpoints as it’s mission;
- The website of Haikasoru, the new Japanese SF line of VIZ media, has some very interesting observations by Nick Mamatas, to quote:
I will now give a definitive answer despite my lack of expertise (yay Internet!)—Japanese SF is fresher and more enthusiastic than American SF.
Japanese SF, especially the near-future material, is somewhat more interested in expressing hopes for international cooperation than is American SF.
- Dresden Codak: a webcomic (infrequently updated) by Aaron Diaz stuffed to the brim with nerdy goodness like physics, philosophy, robot girls, impending singularities and more. Hard to resist a heroine (Kimiko) who is — in a game called Dungeons and Discourse — an ’8th level positivist’ who casts ‘techno-utopianism’ — and whose mother — in part 21 of Hob — tells her the following:
(Mother) “Are you excited about going to America?”
(Young Kimiko) “No. Why do we have to leave?”
(Mother) “Oh, I think we just scared the wrong kind of people.”
(Young Kimiko) “Who?”
(Mother) “People who lack vision. They only see the obvious. They see the sun go down, but they don’t see it rise.”
- The Don’t Look Back comic of Dicebox aside. Patrick Farley‘s on a (rock’n’)roll here with a dizzying crossover of 70s psychedelica & SF, space guitars with nothing but captains, freaks & uptights, prog & Prague, the green sun & choiciest choices. As infrequently updated as Dresden Codak, unfortunately, but at least as much fun. Unlike Hob, it hasn’t reached the end yet, and I’m eagerly awaiting more from this Apocalyptic Utopian.
Well, not sure if there will be a part 2, but just in case.
Anyway, over the past couple of days I’ve been writing responses to the first one hundred (102 to be precise) unsollicited submissions I’ve received so far. I’ve now responded to all submissions up until May 28, except for a single one of which I haven’t made up my mind.
Two breakdowns, one by suitablility and one by setting (and keep in mind that both breakdowns add up to *more* than 102 as for some stories more than one [un]suitability factor applies or as some have more than one setting):
By Suitability; number of stories that are:
1) Not Suitable (in general): 41
2) Dystopia Lite: 14
3) Technofix: 9
4) Flight Forward: 16
5) Alien Saviours: 15
6) Superheroes Save the Day: 8
7) Hold/Rewrite Request (held over for a second read, rewrite or serious consideration): 8
(A small clarification: Dystopia Lite = First the world goes to the dogs, but in the end there is a small light at the end of the tunnel [and I'm deliberately using the American (mis)spelling here as this is also basically soothes the effect of a problem rather than addressing the cause]; Technofix = A lone genius invents cold fusion/universal nanotech/immortality/whatever and all our problems are solved (this is a variation of the old deus ex machina); Flight Forward = We go into space, without solving the problems we have on Earth [note that the latter is true for all examples 2 up to 5]; Alien Saviours = Alien intervention will solve/has caused our problems. )
Then there are stories that have the right intention, but use a flawed or clichéd execution, like:
–How people from the future (or an alternate reality) show the protagonist how the world will go down the drains unless she/he mends her/his ways (already old since the days of Charles Dickens);
–A future where outer appearances have changed (people have become animal hybrids, androids, half-robots or uploaded avatars) while internally they’re still the (bickering) same;
–How machines (robots, AIs, car accessories, household appliances, sexual aids) learn to really understand the human condition (where the underlying moral unvariably teaches how superior humans are: I strongly suspect, however, that an artificial intelligence that’s truly more intelligent than humans would either be very sad or laugh itself silly);
–How humanity will be accepted by enlightened aliens if they just pass this test;
–And even *several* stories that combine future medical developments with basebal;
By Setting; number of stories that are set in:
–Rest of Europe: 4
–Latin America: 4
–Imaginary Setting: 2
Now a few tips on how to increase your chances of acceptance (apart from the bleedingly obvious, that is: write a superb story):
- Try to come up with a story where things actually change for the better with respect as to how they are now. A story that implements a solution for one of the great problems of our time, or that dies trying. And no: starting with an apocalypse and then showing a little light at the end of the tunnel (see point 2 above: ‘dystopia lite’) does not count: that world is, in general, much worse off than we are today;
- Try to come up with a story where humanity itself (partly) changes; that is: where humans change their behaviour, voluntarily, in order to address a huge problem (or several huge problems). As noted above, in the majority of stories I’ve seen so far either no big problems are addressed at all (Dystopia Lite, Flight Forward), or something else (Technofix) or someone else (Alien Saviours) does it for us, so we don’t change and haven’t learned a thing. In my viewpoint, SF is the literature of *change*, ideally of unexpected, deep-seated, paradimg-shifting change, both internally *and* externally;
- Be ambitious: most stories only change a minor thing for the better, as if the author was too afraid to tackle the really big subjects. If the antho would be an accurate reflection of the slushpile, then it would be full of nice little stories where good things happen to decent people. That might be very plausible, but is also boring as hell. I highly prefer to get a story that’s incredibly audacious, reaches for the sky, and spectacularly fails rather than all the competent ones that barely take any risk at all. Dare to be gloriously wrong!
- A setting that’s not in the western world. As is clear from the above count, less than 6% of the stories I get are set in the developing world, while I would very much like to see such settings represented in Shine;
- Similarly, while I do get about 40% of the stories seen from a female point of view, I would dearly love to see more stories from the viewpoint (or with main characters) of people of colour (I received only four of those, so far, of which two are held over) and from a GLBT standpoint (I received two of those, and am considering both seriously);
- Finally, I’ve only seen five humourous stories, so far. While most of the Shine anthology will be serious (although a light tone or funny moment won’t hurt), I do intend to add a few humourous stories for both variety and light relief.
As I hope is very clear now: I would like to see variety, as much variety as possible within the remit of the anthology. So not just optimistic, near future SF stories set in North America or Europe, but also those set in the other continents. Not just white males solving (or trying to solve) our problems, but females, PoC and GLBT characters fighting the good fight, as well.
It’s why I’m doing a series of “Optimism in Literature around the World, and SF in particular“, and inviting people from all over the world to contribute. It’s why I’m mentioning places like Chili, the Pacific, Africa and the Islam world in my “Crazy Story Ideas” series. It’s why I’m doing the @outshine Twitterzine: to demonstrate in miniature what I have in mind.
Finally, a few remarks about the dystopias I see in the Shine slushpile (one would expect that an anthology that clearly proclaims that it’s looking for near future, *optimistic* SF would not get dystopias. Well, see point X above: you’d be quite wrong) and dystopias versus utopias in general.
The lovers of doom, gloom & apocalypse never tire to mention that utopias, in general, are naïve at best and extremely implausible at worst. Yet those same critical minds accept, without a second thought, that everybody in that dystopian setting (and I don’t care what caused the apocalypse: nuclear war, huge asteroid impact, massive volcano eruption, floods, catastrophic climate change, whatever) is armed to the teeth.
Think about it for a minute: the whole modern infrastructure has come down, people are starving and have almost (or already partly) turned to cannibalism, hardly have any decent clothes or housing to speak of, yet there is no shortage of guns. Rather the contrary: in your average dystopia, both the heroes and the villains have more weapons, and often highly sophisticated futuristic weaponry like plasma guns, fragmentation bombs and even rocket launchers in abundance. Your average street gang would drool at the weaponry those dystopian people have at their disposal.
And nobody runs out of ammunition, ever. Somehow, as the modern industrial complex has come crashing down, weapon factories keep running at top production. And no ragnarok aficionado ever calls that naïve or extremely implausible.
You can quote me for saying that the average dystopia is at least as implausible as your average utopia. Both are extreme extrapolations that will never happen in reality. Yet the verisimilitude of the former is never questioned, while the credibility of the latter is always called into doubt.
SF in South Korea Today, an article by Gord Sellar.
Before the article, a caveat: I am not yet much of an expert on Korean SF. In order to write this article, I have relied upon the knowledge of others, most particularly Ms. Jeong So-Yeon, an award-winning translator and author whom I interviewed one evening in February. Most of the information here is courtesy of Ms. Jeong, and other members of the Korean SF community, especially Mr. Park Sang Joon. Any errors, misconceptions, or exaggerations herein ought to be blamed on me, however.
Science fiction has existed in Korean translation since 1907, when a group of Korean science students living in Japan and publishing an academic journal titled Taeguk Hakbo translated and adapted Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which they published as a serial titled A Strange Story About Traveling Under the Sea.[i] This was about the same time, and in vaguely similar circumstances, to the first translation of Western SF into Chinese, by Lu Xun — who also translated Jules Verne. But while SF has amassed an enormous following in China — this fact created quite a stir in the SF-blogosphere last year — the SF scene in Korea is relatively modest.
The reasons for this seem to be relatively complex, so much so that I’m devoting most of my academic study to this area, but probably boil down to historical circumstances, culture, and the particular political situation that South Korea endured during the 20th century, a set of circumstances that have also profoundly shaped literature in general in South Korea.
The fact is that 20th century Korean fiction was, very often, gloomy stuff. Older Korean literature ranged from bizarre and fantastical mythology (such as certain tales found among Korea’s various Three Kingdoms narratives) to bawdy ribaldry (as in texts like the Garoojigi, a folk narrative recently ), and from literary eclecticism (such as the fascinating genre of literary miscellanies — collections of mini-essays, translations, reminiscences, and translations from Chinese literature like — that grew popular during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)) to religious and moral narratives (like or the Buddhist pilgrimage narrative ). In stark contrast, a great deal of celebrated twentieth-century Korean literature focused often on issues of identity, of cultural integrity, of loss and pain and suffering related to modern Korean history, especially the experience of being a Japanese colony from 1905-1945, and of the Korean War and the resulting split of the two Koreas, a split which divided families and which remains a national preoccupation today.
When I first arrived in South Korea, I clearly remember reading an article in a local English newspaper highlighting the tensions between younger writers, who were dealing with subject matter familiar to them from daily life — romantic relationships, work, contemporary politics, and recent history — and older authors who sternly criticized them for failing to write about what seemed to become the default (and almost the only) suitable topic for literary work in the South: the trauma of the Korean war and the division between North and South Korea. To anyone who has even casually read South Korean mainstream fiction, the standard metaphors quickly become familiar: stories feature loss of memory, broken families whose final reunion symbolizes the reunification of Korea, returns to ancestral villages, and mysterious disappearances within families, workplaces, or communities. A lot of it is gloomy, grim stuff.
Part of this is a result of the way the postcolonial dictatorships (and the intellectuals they employed in rebuilding the education system after the Japanese left in 1945) went about building national identity. Han, a supposedly untranslatable word describing a mixture of unbearable burden which cannot be cast aside, a sense of resignation, and the pain of terrible suffering, has been elevated in a profound sense to the level of a keyword in Korean identity now.
I have been assured more than once that this is new to Korean literature, which was, pre-1900, much more diverse. (And even prior to World War II, authors such as — a penname appropriately homophonic to the Korean word for “strange” or “weird” — also experimented a great deal, not feeling bound to discuss only the colonial experience and nothing else.) In the postwar era, Korean literature focused on the past, probably as much out of the urgent sense of a need to build a national identity in the face of grinding poverty, a postcolonial social complex, the near-complete leveling of their monuments and cities, and probably as a way of avoiding the dire repercussions for any criticism of the dictatorships that ran South Korea from after the war until near the end of the 1980s.
In this literary environment, SF remained marginal for many years, in a sense understandably because Korea was, after all, pretty much a medieval society into which little of the outside world had penetrated prior to the Japanese occupation, and which remained mostly agrarian until modernization campaigns throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. There were attempts to use SF as bait for interesting children in science and technology, and such titles as I, Robot, The Day of the Triffids, and The Time Machine (as well as a smattering of Star Trek novelizations) were translated into Korea for kids to read. (For a more complete list of titles, check out , where many works are available, probably illegally, in PDF format.) The books included texts added by (if I recall correctly — the PDFs don’t display on my PC so I cannot check for sure) the Ministry of Science and Technology highlighting the importance of science and technology in Korea’s development, and suggesting the connection between this concern and SF as an enticement to study science.
But while this probably did hook some young readers during their Golden Age (that is, the age of 12 years old) it also helped to build a sense among Koreans, persistent even in the present, that SF was really “kid stuff” or “junk” in terms of its literary merit. While certain authors (notably Bok Geo-il, though he certainly was not the only one) experimented with SFnal themes and tropes, they (importantly, according to award-winning translator/author Jeong So Yeon) did not consider themselves as SF writers. According to Ms. Jeong, the phenomenon of “SF authors” in Korea is relatively new, dating back to the late 90s at the earliest. Even today, mainstream literature is called soon moonhak (literally “pure literature”), a field from which SF is excluded on the basis of its relative “impurity.”[ii]
All of this goes some way to explaining why people I talked to about the theme of optimism in SF tended to talk more regarding optimism about the growth of SF as a literary field in the Korean market — the hope that the genre could grow in popularity, that fandom could build up in size and in its scope, and the desire to increase the translation of foreign SF into Korean for eager readers.
Ms. Jeong had very interesting things to say also about the specifically Korean sense of a notion like “optimism,” related to the different social construction of optimism and the specifically Korean understanding of what problems make literary sense. For example, she noted that in Korean SF, it’s much more common for the narrative problem to focus on something domestic, something specifically Korean, such as the education system. (Contrary to what President Obama thinks, pretty much everyone in Korea sees the public school system here as rife with problems that both dire are difficult repair. Perhaps the best book on the subject in English is .)
Jeong pointed out — and it resonates well with my experience in the classroom and in social situations — that Koreans tend to be primarily interested in problems of national concern: South Korea’s broken education system is, socially, a much higher priority than global warming, and the result according to Jeong is that characters who are concerned with globally pressing problems come across to Korean readers as unbelievable or unrealistic. Thus, the themes that predominate Korean SF — even in stories of alien invasion, like a locally well-known novella[iii] by a South Korean cyberpunk writer going by the penname Djuna — seem to resonate mostly with local, national issues of concern, and not the “big problems” that an anthology like Shine or the Mundane SF movement urges SF authors to tackle.
Moreover, according to Jeong there’s a certain sort of sensibility that is particularly Korean, in which characters are likely to try solve a problem but end up finding it insoluble. The solution may arise, but more as a matter of chance or luck, or of some change in the system beyond the schemings of would be problem-solvers. (One case Jeong cited was, I think, from her own writing, about how a crippled astronomer finally got a chance to become an astronaut, but only because the government realized that physically handicapped people made for lighter payloads on space missions. In another story by another author, she described how teacher found a way to free the children from the shackles of the schoolroom and of alien mind — an apt metaphor for Korean educational problems — but only by sending his students into outer space.) The sense of people surrendering and throwing their hands up in resignation in the face of intractable problems is a very Korean aesthetic, probably a result of historical circumstances and one may suppose a habit learned under long dictatorships; this is optimism in a society without a truly utopian social tradition, and a society only now beginning its third decade of ostensible democracy.
Despite the fact that SF tropes are well-enough known to have become part of the popular political discourse in South Korea (see ), SF remains relatively marginal here. As a result, the lines between professionals and fans are extremely blurry, and the cross-pollinating influences are still quite profound, something I find really refreshing and invigorating. Make no mistake: economics does enter into the picture, but passions are also a powerful driver for the way Korea’s native form of SF is taking shape. There are, for example, currently two major fan clubs I’ve come across: and .
I don’t wish to draw too-broad lines between the two, since overlap exists. However, to put it simply, JoySF is dominated by male fans and has a stronger focus on military SF or space opera, while Mirror has a larger number of female fans and tends to focus on SF with a social component, as well as fantasy. (I’m much less familiar with Mirror than with JoySF, in part because I’ve had a chance to attend a festival run by JoySF but not one by Mirror.) These two groups aren’t necessarily inimical to one another: Mirror set up a table and sold books at the JoySF festival I attended, and members of both groups gathered at the recent launch of a fan-stocked SF lending library in Seoul last month. The fact that more female fans are involved in Mirror also means a greater interest in fantasy, which is (it must be said) a genre that has far more successfully been popularized in Korea; and like everywhere, the dominant buyers of books are young women, who are rather more likely to be interested in fantasy or social SF than young Korean men. Both groups publish small-print material, zines and otherwise, in addition to more elaborate productions. But even points of overlap, they are somewhat separate organizations, with their own websites and social networks.
Still, fan energy has been harnessed to achieve some amazing things in the recent past. For example, the establishment of the Seoul Science Fiction & Fantasy Library started out when one fan decided to find a place where he could offer his personal library — including many books that have gone out of print and are not really available anymore, even in libraries — for public lending. A real lending library including several hundred texts (not just fantasy and SF novels but also science books, books on RPG gaming, and more) and many hundreds of comic books, as well as other resources, was established basically using this one fan’s collection, supplemented by astounding numbers of book donations and/or purchases made with money donations. The library opened for business in March 2009, with a ceremony that, instead of featuring the traditional lucky pig’s severed head, had a talking Darth Vader helmet as the donations table centerpiece.
Likewise, the strong sense of identity within fandom is giving rise to other interesting projects, such as one academic association which is being formed at present to work in the area of the translation, study, and publication of Korean SF in English, of which I am lucky enough to have been invited to be a part. (The organization is so new that it hasn’t got a name or a website yet, but at the first meeting, the others I met there were simply bursting with interest in the project, and with spreading the word about an SF naissance going on in Korea.) One important dynamo of activity is Park Sang Jun, the publisher of the book imprint that specializes in SF, and has recently produced stunningly packaged Korean translations of novels by authors like Lem and Stapledon; he is so actively involved in the SF scene here that he seems to be in ten places at once, from organizing film screening series and workshops to launching the aforementioned new academic association and speaking at science fiction events; his tireless efforts have contributed to almost every SF-related event I have attended in Korea.
Fandom also plays a massively important role in the building of the SF canon in Korea, both in terms of foreign works in Korean translation, and in terms of the development of domestic Korean SF. As stated earlier, the line between pros and fans is very blurry: many people I have been introduced to as fans also turned out to be aspiring translators or authors, and several well-regarded authors are also translators and ardent fans themselves. The reputation-economics that determines the success of foreign SF in translation is a topic I’m researching right now, specifically looking at how authors like Ted Chiang, Roger Zelazny, and Ursula K. Le Guin have achieved popularity here; each of these authors seems (to me) to occupy a slightly different position within the Korean SF canon than in his or her own language — a position interestingly contextualized not by other major SF authors that surround them in English, but by other factors such as the reputations of those who have translated their work, and the care and attention that their texts have been given by dedicated translators who work so energetically in part because of their own ardent fandom of that particular author’s work. Likewise, fandom supports younger authors by publishing their work in zines and allowing them to build a reputation that will springboard them into the world professional publication.
No doubt, Korean SF is still growing, and growing pains are inevitable, especially at the present time; the economic situation here is, if less profound than in the USA at the moment, nonetheless having pronounced effects on the publishing industry. For example, the (beautiful colorful, 300-page-thick) monthly SF magazine — which launched in 2007 and offered regular translations of foreign SF and fantasy as well as new work by Korean authors, reviews, historical overviews, current-events columns with an SFnal twist, and more — has recently shifted from monthly to quarterly publication.
Likewise, book-publishing is hurting everywhere in the world, and translators with whom I’ve spoken have expressed anxiety about their recent translations of new-to-Korea authors, because if the first book by a “new” author fails to garner enough sales, later translation proposals are unlikely to be accepted. (A disappointing example of this is Greg Egan’s work: despite ardent admiration of his writing among a small minority of Korean SF fans, the Korean-language translation of Quarantine unfortunately seemed to garner too little general interest to warrant further translations of Egan’s oeuvre, as one Egan-fan complained to me.) Besides, Korean SF authors are struggling to adapt SF — a genre that is, if not about science, at least deeply informed by science, to a society that I have heard (and read) Korean SF translators complain is not so interested in science as it is in the tangible trappings of modernity. Korea is, after all, a society whose scientists and engineers are, it is often said, less respected and valued than are its doctors, lawyers, and even its celebrities. (There are exceptions, of course, but there is a pronounced lack of interest in science, and parental encouragement into other areas — including government bureaucratic work — is only one reason.)
But thanks to the efforts of fans, publishers, authors, and translators — and a dedicated core of people playing several of those roles simultaneously — SF in Korea is definitely on the move, growing and developing, adapting to this new environment just as any immigrant must do in order to thrive in an unfamiliar new land. The various people I’ve met who are involved in the scene are so energetic, devoted, and active that I have little doubt that the literature of the future has a bright future here.
For more on other aspects of Korean SF — such as cinematic SF in Korea, festival/con reports, SF-related Korean rock music, the success of the Raelian UFO cult in Korea, and more — readers might want to check out the series on the subject at my blog, which begins .
(NB: edited April 14 with the replacement of a manga (Japanese) picture with “Alternate Dreams” picture, the addition of two movie posters (“The Host” and “Natural City”), and the correct romanisation of Mr. Park Song Joon’s name.)
[i]According to columnist, archivist, and SF publisher Park Sang Jun in his article “Science Comes to Life For All” (Beyond: Korean Air, November 2008).
[ii]Indeed, readership of books in general in Korea seems to be shaped by older prejudices against fiction and towards “useful” nonfiction: a visit to any Korean bookstore will surprise Westerners, who will find a much larger proportion of nonfiction to fiction than in conventional Western bookstores. In the Preface to his translation of A Korean Storyteller’s Miscellany (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1989), Peter H. Lee explains:
In [pre-modern] Korea, the traditional prose narrative, whether fictional or not, was deemed unofficial because it created a world other than that sanctioned by the court and offered an alternative view of reality. This social and cultural ordering of the Confucian society is mirrored in the spatial taxonomy. The East Asian term for the fictional narrative, sosŏl (hsiao-hsun in China and shōsetsu in Japan), literally “small talk,” stems from this prejudice against any writing that was viewed as unofficial by the custodians and censors of the dominant culture. (x)
Sosŏl is the term that is still used for both novels and short stories in contemporary Korean literature.
[iii]“Proxy War” was expanded into a novel of the same name, but the novel has not yet been translated to English. Indeed, as far as I have been able to discover, no Korean SF novel has yet been translated to English. The narrative focuses on how an alien sex-tour industry based in a satellite city of Seoul goes badly wrong, along the lines of an alien invasion and outbreak of war, but the story, at least in the novella, plays this trope out in uniquely Korean ways, and to highly comical effect.
Optimism in Literature around the World, and SF in particular, part 2: “Finding Hope in Philippine SF”
In the nick of time Charles A. Tan sent me his contribution for this ongoing series. It’s titled:
Finding Hope in Philippine Science Fiction
When I was invited to contribute an essay on optimistic science fiction, I was struck with panic. While the Philippines is known as one of the “happiest” countries in the world, we’re actually a third-world country that’s fallen from grace. In Asia, we were once second only to Japan. Currently, we’re behind many developing countries such as Singapore. As for the state of the country, we’re plagued by crime, corruption, and pollution. If anything, the Philippine condition feels like a cyberpunk setting gone awry: pirated software and movies are being sold at readily-available kiosks, a good chunk of the population can’t afford computers yet we have an abundance of programmers whose skills are capable of creating programs like the ILOVEYOU virus, and there’s the ever-prevalent diaspora, whether it’s nurses and maids working abroad to fresh graduates being hired as call center agents for foreign companies. Our literature isn’t any help either as many modern works haven’t really strayed from the formula of one of our first novels, Noli Me Tangere, penned by our national hero Jose Rizal. Social relevance is the thrust of many of the established writers and the academe, and genres like science fiction is viewed as escapist at best.
Lately there’s been a movement to promote Philippine speculative fiction but unfortunately, science fiction gets the short-end of the stick. Pulp horror was quite the money-maker a few years ago while fantasy is probably the most popular genre as far as writing is concerned (especially since under its umbrella is magic-realism and even surrealism). For the past three volumes of Philippine Speculative Fiction, an annual anthology edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar, science fiction tends to be the exception rather than the norm. That’s not to say science fiction doesn’t have any presence. Filipino writer/poet/editor/critic Roberto Anonuevo has an essay (my translation here) on one of the earlier Philippine science fiction texts which appeared as early as the 1940s. But for the most part, there hasn’t really been much foray into the said genre, especially if we’re talking about hard science fiction.
In the current decade though, there was motivation to write a form of science fiction as one of the most popular literary awards in the country, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, created a “Futuristic Fiction” category. (Unfortunately, the said category was recently abolished.) The Futuristic Fiction label however has some complications (in addition to the fact that just because one wins an award doesn’t necessarily mean that the winning work will be published). For example, a limitation is that the text must take place in the future, and honestly this restriction doesn’t limit the story to science fiction. For example, “Espiritu Santos” by Pearlsha Abubakar skirts the borders of fantasy. The premise is that Filipinos are able to see ghosts thanks to overexposure to the frequencies emitted by cellphones. Then there’s the recently-established Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards which partially exists due to the sponsorship of Neil Gaiman. At least during the first year of the competition, there were some science fiction stories that won including “The God Equation” by Michael A. R. Co (again, same dilemma as “Espiritu Santos”) or the fun and very pulpish “The Great Philippine Space Mission” by Philbert Ortiz Dy (in which a rocket is powered by gossip).
Still, this is the Shine blog after all and instead of feeling sorry for the state of science fiction in the country, I want to talk about optimism–or in the case of the Philippines, hope. Perhaps what isn’t surprising is that we don’t have much utopian science fiction, at least well-written ones or the type that’s believable. Instead, we have apocalyptic or dystopian texts but there’s a caveat. While there are certainly stories in the mold of 1984 (“Kaming Mga Seroks” by David Hontiveros comes to mind), what might appeal to Shine readers are narratives that look towards the future such as Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver.
“Subterrania” (First Prize for Futuristic Fiction in the 2000 Palanca Awards) by Luis Joaquin Katigbak and “Keeping Time” (First Prize in the Short Story category of the Free Press Literary Awards 2008) by FH Batacan are good examples. In the former, it’s a bleak society that’s slowly mutating. In the latter, the end of the world is happening as a biological agent is slowly decimating the population. In both stories however, the focus are the characters and by the end of each piece, there comes the realization that the humanity of the protagonists can’t be torn away from them. There’s an attitude of perseverance and love, enduring despite all the burdens.
Another story I’d like to focus on is “A Monumental Race” (Third Prize for Futuristic Fiction in the 2006 Palanca Awards) by Arturo Ilano which easily fits the mundane science fiction movement of Geoff Ryman. The characters are seeking a monument that best represents the country and while they don’t quite succeed in finding one to their particular tastes, there’s still an aftertase of victory at the end.
Returning to the topic of science fiction in the Philippines, again, there’s been a recent resurgence of Philippine speculative fiction, especially with more and more works getting published internationally and online (here and here) and hopefully this means more science fiction in the future. We have yet to reach the peak but we’re not at rock bottom either. Whereas once the Philippines’s only claim to fame was having a Filipino protagonist in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Manila being featured in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, we now have Filipino writers actually writing science fiction.
Charles A. Tan is the co-editor of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler and his fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Comics Village. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, where he posts book reviews, interviews, and essays.