This is a dialogue with Prof. Ji-Yong Lee from South Korea about the SciFi and Fantasy in Korea.
Please present yourself to our readers.
I’m Ji-Yong Lee, and I am a science fiction researcher and cultural critic in Korea. I am currently studying at a university in Korea and have a Ph.D in „A Study on Storytelling in Korean Science Fiction.” Since 2017, I have served as a judge and steering committee member of the Korea Science Fiction Awards, and have judged competitions such as the Korea Science and Literature Awards (4th) and the Dong-A Science Story Con.
Published extensively on Korean science fiction, including his monograph The Formation of the Korean Science Fiction Genre (2016). He has also contributed numerous book chapters to edited volumes, such as Non-Mainstream Declaration (2019), When AI Meets Society (2020), SF Prism (2023), and Ethics in the Anthropocene (2023).
Please try to make a brief introduction on the Korean SF history.
This question is answered in the article below. Science fiction in Korea has a long history, beginning in 1907.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzins (printed and online) in Korea?
There have been print magazines published in Korea, but they were not sustainable. This is also a realistic problem of the Korean publishing market.
Recently, magazines such as <Today’s SF> and <The Earthian Tales> have been published, but they were published for only one or two years and are currently on hiatus. In the 2000s, the SF and fantasy magazine <Pantastic> and the SF specialty magazine <Happy SF> were published, but they are now closed and only exist in archive form.
However, South Korean SF fandom and magazines have centered online. In the 1990s, when PC communications(Computerized Bulletin Board System(CBBS)) became available in Korea, various science fiction and fantasy clubs began to operate, where they shared information about works, as well as their own reading experiences and creative activities.
These forms migrated to the Internet in the 2000s and transformed into webzines. The most famous is the webzine <Mirror> (http://mirrorzine.kr/), which has been published since 2003. Many of Korea’s science fiction and fantasy writers are active here.
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regulare meetings?
In Korea, there were SF writers’ clubs in the 1960s, and a few in the 1990s. After the 2000s, activities continued to be centered on the members of the former clubs, and around 2018, the Korea Science Fiction Association (KSFA) was formed to organize activities for SF fans and to plan and hold conventions. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the organization was unable to hold meetings and is currently in a state of reorganization.
However, writers’ organizations such as the Science Fiction Writers Union of the Republic of Korea (SFWUK) are still active and continue to expand with the growth of Korean SF since 2015.
Which are the most important local and national SF&F associations?
I’ll let the above answers do the trick.
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
In Korea, Arzak is a publisher that specializes in SF, and other publishers like Arte, Changbi, Goldenbough, Gufic, Editorial, Jamo Book, and Alma Books have been publishing SF-related books for a while.
In the 2020s, newer houses are aggressively publishing SF. Giant Books, Levitt Hall, and others are publishing new authors.
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Korea? What are their main attractions?
Conventions as a way to engage with fans have been on hiatus since 2019, as mentioned above. However, the Korea Science Fiction Awards are often held in conjunction with science events at the Gwacheon National Science Museum, so just like the Worldcon, the awards ceremony is often held in conjunction with science events and work introductions and lectures.
Who are the main author names in today’s Korean SF&F?
Major South Korean authors include Djuna, Kim Bo-young, Bora Chung, and Kim Cho-yeop. Djuna is arguably South Korea’s most prominent SF author, having been writing since the 1990s. Her recent English translation of Counterweight (2023) has garnered some attention. For interviews and more information about her work, check out (https://www.wired.com/story/.)
Kim Bo-young is perhaps the author who best embodies Korean science fiction, and her works have been translated overseas. On the Origin of Species and Other Stories (2021) and I’m Waiting for You: And Other Stories (2021) are some of her most popular works that have been translated into English.
Bora Chung is The International Booker Prize shortlist since the beginning. She is equally adept at writing fantasy and horror as well as science fiction, and is the current president of the Science Fiction Writers Union of the Republic of Korea (SFWUK).
Kim is a favorite of young Korean readers today. She made her debut by winning the Korea Science Fiction and Literature Award, and has been actively working to become one of the most representative writers of Korean science fiction.
In addition, writers such as Kim Chang-kyu and Bae Myung-hoon are writing unique works that point out the social and structural contradictions in Korea.
Give us some names of SF&F Korean graphic artists.
I’m not aware of many artists working on SF&F graphics in Korea, but one artist who does impressive work is An Ga Young. Her work with sci-fi imagination and computer graphics creates worlds that are both bizarre and mesmerizing. You can see more of her work on her personal webpage at http://www.angayoung.com/.
Also, if Korean graphic art can include webtoons, Korean comics, there are a number of webtoonists creating SF comics.
What makes Korean SF original?
Korean SF is characterized by the fact that the everydayization of technology is at the forefront, so rather than a sense of wonder or fantasy about the future, it embodies stories about the social and everyday realm. It’s different from the way traditional SF has been told in the West, and it’s different from the way the West has looked at the East and otherized it. Korean science fiction is contemporary, near-future, and thought experiments with various possibilities based on it.
And all of this is created and consumed through a variety of mediums, centered on the internet. It is characterized by close interconnectedness and feedback between readers and writers. This environmental characteristic is also linked to the fact that Korean SF (especially in novels) is often seen to respond to contemporary themes such as feminism, posthumanism, climate crisis, and the Anthropocene.