From Ars Technica, the strange world of North Korean science fiction…
“Political messages in every North Korean sci-fi can be hardly missed,” historian of science Dong-Won Kim, who taught at Harvard University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, told me.
The genre grew under the wings of the supreme leaders. Late dictator Kim Jong-il referenced science fiction books in his speeches and set guidelines for authors, encouraging them to write about optimistic futures for their country.
Stories often touch on topics like space travel, benevolent robots, disease-curing nanobots, and deep-sea exploration. They lack aliens and beings with superpowers. Instead, the real superheroes are the exceptional North Korean scientists and technologists who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.
…”Science fiction is about anticipation, and this is a big problem,” said Antoine Coppola, a filmmaker who has studied cinema in both North and South Korea. “Society is perfect in North Korea; the hierarchy is perfect, so why dream about the future? How to imagine the future when society is perfect?”
To show the North Koreans how it should be done, an apocalyptic vision from France 24…
Cattle wander between the concrete shells of half-finished mansions in northeastern China, some of the only occupants of a luxury complex whose crumbling verandas and overgrown arches are stark symbols of a housing market crippled by its own excess.
…Interest in the ghost towns is thriving as intrepid urban explorers visit derelict districts and post their findings online.
“This place is great for exploring, so I like to hang around here… and film a few clips,” said a black-clad drone flier as he rested on the marble floor beneath a vast, tarnished chandelier.
Around him, gloomy alcoves stored haphazard stacks of dust-caked furniture in styles that evoked France’s Palace of Versailles.
Speaking of fiction, I’ve flicked through some of Lawrence Osborne’s On Java Road. I shouldn’t comment without reading the whole thing, but it’ll be months before I get around to doing that, so I’ll get it out of the way. One commenter here said…
…there are pockets of real HK experience in there, but overall it’s really prurient old-gweilo fantasy dreck, superimposed on the protests. The central young character is nothing like a real HK protestor, just an old gweilo’s yellow-fevered magic pixie fap-fest.
Slightly harsh? There’s nothing wrong with fiction about ‘expats’ – read The Quiet American and The Honorary Consul. And Osborne’s Macau novel, Ballad of a Small Player, combined an impressively realistic portrayal of the city with a semi-surreal fantasy of a loser who keeps on winning in the casino.
On Java Road suggests that he knows Hong Kong less well (though he’s tried to do his homework). But the characters (seedy Brit journo, rich local buddy, exotic/gutsy lady) seem formulaic rather than funny or bizarre. Graham Green meets Lulu Wang. Seems a wasted opportunity. Maybe, when I finally read it properly, the backdrop of the 2019 protests will redeem things.
Which reminds me – it’s 8-31.
I’ve never read anything of the ‘Hong Kong expat’ genre better than Hong Kong on Air by Muhammad Cohen and The Ghost of Neil Diamond by David Milnes.