Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Mystery of Korea’s Most Enigmatic Sci-Fi Writer Djuna

November 6, 2023

Dissolve Into Nothing

Science fiction has long been a popular genre in South Korea. In the early 1900s, translations of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne proliferated. By the second half of the 20th century, Korean writers of short stories, novels, and films had embraced the genre as their own. In “the 1990s, Korean science fiction blew up,” E. Tammy Kim notes in a new essay for this week’s Books & the Arts. Soon it had “matured into a distinct form, powered by the early Internet, zine culture, and networks of fan clubs.” Among the most popular writers from this boom was Djuna, “a mononymous, pseudonymous, and officially anonymous novelist and film critic who emerged in the mid-1990s as an active poster on the chat server Hi-Tel.” Over the past decade, a few of Djuna’s stories and interviews have made their way into English, but this year a novel, Counterweight, has finally arrived in an English translation. “It tells the story of LK, a futuristic Korean chaebol that’s only slightly more evil than the conglomerates of today. LK colonizes a fictional Southeast Asian island called Patusan in order to build the world’s first elevator into space,” Kim writes. This high-tech thriller, an “anti-colonial eco-noir set in a rapacious Korean corporation,” “assembles [a] fictional near-future from bits of the nonfictional present.” Read “The Enigmatic Science Fiction of Djuna”


Unhappy Together

Annie Baker’s new play, Infinite Life, is about pain. Or, more precisely, it is about how we experience pain, communicate pain, and live with pain. The play follows patients at a clinic in Northern California that specializes in chronic pain management. Our putative narrator is Sofi, the youngest member of the cast, and the most inexperienced patient. Most of the play’s action happens poolside, as the patients lounge on chaise longues, passing the time with intermittent conversation, but they suffer alone in their rooms at night. The deceptively simple conceit sets up a deeper question, Vikram Murthi writes in his review. “Infinite Life asks: How do you reach out to others when everyone ultimately suffers alone?” The answer that “emerges in Infinite Life” is one “about finding meaning in suffering.” As Murthi writes, “Most of the patients at the clinic have integrated their condition into their identity. But Sofi recoils at that idea, blaming herself for her pain.” But when she does find connection at the clinic, a community she can trust, she learns something crucial: “a greater spiritual meaning about how everyone suffers alone together.” Read “The Small Gestures and Big Questions of Annie Baker’s Plays”

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