By Chung Ah-young
Science fiction (sci-fi) and fantasy novels have had a weak foothold on the Korean literature scene, but recently they have been widening their reach thanks to a slew of rising young authors dedicated to the genres.
The latest publications are drawing attention for their depth of insight into human nature that was believed to be mostly dealt with by pure literature; not to mention creative imagination.
Bae Myung-hoon, a well-known local sci-fi novelist, has released a new collection of short stories, "Hello, Artificial Being" that delve into the question of existence itself. The new book comes one year after his last work "Tower."
Known for his sharp social and humanistic approach, he writes about philosophical questions on life and the existence of human beings through scientific imagination.
The story revolves around a woman who invents a machine that creates "beings" but it doesn't work and she commits suicide. Her former boy friend tries to get the machine to create a "being" but finds no way to make it work. So he sends the machine into space.
However, the emptiness he feels after doing so eats deeply away at his heart. The story indicates that a "being" can be proved only through its absence. Other stories in the book also touch upon the essence of existence.
Bae studied at Seoul National University and debuted with ``Terrorist'' in 2004 after receiving the literary award organized by the university newspaper. The following year, he won the prize with ``Smart D'' in a science technology literary contest. He has written about 50 sci-fi short stories for Webzines and genre magazines.
Rising author Kim Bo-young's new short series collection "Evolving Myth" combines the mythical imagination and paradox of evolution through allegory. The story adopts a unique fantasy style based on historical facts from "Samguksagi" (History of the Three Kingdoms) mixed with the concept of evolution. Set in Goguryeo (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), Makgeun is the son of King Taejo but Taejo's brother seizes the throne and becomes a tyrannical ruler. Makgeun has to avoid him and while wandering around the mountains and rivers finally evolves into a goblin. This story and others, such as "Scripter" and "An Old Man and a Boy" in the same book, extend the horizon of the sci-fi and fantasy genres through diverse themes.
Kim came to the spotlight with "Experience of Touch" in 2002, which earned her recognition for originality of imagination and scientific insights. She has released numerous short stories and essays based on science and fantasy that show a sense of wonder and intense suspense.
Han Cha-hyun's fifth novel "Transformation" addresses the issue of religion and belief. The protagonist, a pastor, travels to space with his wife after accepting an alien's offer to explore the universe outside the earth. He returns alone, leaving his wife who gets caught up by a new religion in the alien world. Due to the bizarre adventure, he faces a crisis that drives him out of his church after being disciplined. While overcoming the crisis, he begins to convert to the new faith. The novel asks whether religious people are going in the right direction and questions the function of religion, specifically within churches.
Also, veteran sci-fi author Lee Do-hyung has published a new work "Mandid" for the first time in 10 years. The three-volume novel is a fantasy dealing with legends and mysteries using various subjects such as a flying saucer, the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis.
Lee gained his popularity on the Chollian and Hitel networks around 2000. The protagonist adventures to save his kidnapped brother and his friend who is turned into a pig by a spell. He meets wizards in the legendary continent, Atlantis and finds out his father is actually a wizard warrior and gets involved in a huge conspiracy.
"Father's Space Travel," a collection of short stories jointly penned by 10 sci-fi writers, predicts the changes possibly brought by the future development of science and technology.
The recent trend of the sci-fi novels by the slew of young novelists shifts the focus from interest-provoking imagination to mature literature elements by exploring human nature and revealing modern societal ills.
The literary industry hails the trend as a good opportunity to widen diversity and elevate the quality of the genres.