Why So Little Translated Korean SF: Speculation and Some Fiction

Gord Sellar and I have been, sort of parallel, talking to and past each other about Korean Science fiction.

What Korean SF Might Look Like

Gord noted that, “By the way, one reason you haven’t gotten into any Korean SF in translation is because almost nothing has been translated so far “

That got me wondering if SF ever got off the ground in Korea as a genre.

Alternately, perhaps it did, and the people in charge of translation believe it is unimportant as literature.

Either way, this suggests it is a deprecated genre. It’s a deprecated genre everywhere, but this might be more extreme.

In the interest of starting a conversation with Gord totally making stuff up, I’ve frankensteined together the following list, which contains some of the reasons I would put forward to explain the lack of Korean Science Fiction (which  makes this post plenty meta – it’s speculation about speculative fiction, based on the speculation that it is a week genre in the country. My head hurts), either in reality or translation.

Forthwith… six reason SF should not have much impact in Korea (I await Gord’s corrections) and would naturally have been ignored:

1) Korean life HAS BEEN Science Fiction in the past 50 years. There was no need for Korea to imagine exploring new and exciting realities as it was right in the middle of creating them. In a way, Korea lived in Science Fiction. Think of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and you have to think of Seoul, which was being constructed at the time.

59 Times The Pain

2) Several accidents of history stifled SF by creating Pundan Munhak. So much social, economic, political, and human capital was spent during the occupation, war, and aftermath that it colored everything that came after. ALL of Korean literature focused on the very real trials that Korea had undergone. As this experience had a specific time and location, it did not lend itself to SF and its hegemony meant that SF could attain no purchase.

3) Neo-Confucianism means that speculative fiction is unlikely in general. In a world ordered by age, gender and the social construction of homogeneity, speculation of any “different” reality was socially dangerous and at best probably inspired scorn or laughter.

4) Neo-Confucianism means that the individual hero is specifically unlikely. With its focus on the kibun of the group, the kind of “Dan Dare, Space-Hero,” science fiction that emerged in the West was unlikely in Korea. Further, neo-Confucianism looks suspiciously on non-traditional activities, and Science Fiction is premised entirely upon them.

5) Hermit Kingdomness. Related to Confucianism and a history of unpleasant interactions with other nations, Korea has long been a country uninterested in the “outside” world. Exploration, in general, is not a valuable construct. Science fiction requires exploration in at least two ways. First, the author must explore new conceptual territory. Second, the speculative nature of Science Fiction determines that it is often about “boldy going where no man has gone before.”

6) The fight with communism meant the utopian futures, to the extent they are communal, were unlikely to seem attractive. This is perhaps the weakest of my guesses, but it just feels right.

Gord… straighten me out!

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