Kim Bo-Young is a respected SF author in her native South Korea. I’m Waiting For You marks the first time her work has appeared in English, collecting two pairs of connected short stories exploring love, sacrifice and identity.
I’m Waiting For You is the first story in the collection, a one-sided epistolary tale comprising a groom’s letters to his bride on his way to their wedding. The SFnal catch? She’s travelling from Alpha Centauri, and he’s effectively killing time until she arrives. The desire to skip to the next screen has become common enough that companies offer Orbit of Waiting cruises: a slingshot around the sun that – in this case – will allow our groom to wait a subjective two months instead of grinding out the full four and a half years it will take his bride to reach Korea.
It’s a neat conceit that dwells on the advantages of travelling through time as well as distance (your pension might mature; a medical procedure may have become possible), but it’s not without risk. A distress call delays the bride’s ship; the distraught groom decides to change ships for a slower route home rather than sit on Earth alone for a couple of months. You can hear the dominoes topple long before he starts fretting about unintended consequences.
It’s hard to feel sorry for our letter-writing groom to begin with: he makes a series of terrible decisions, because he never pauses to consider risks or consequences. Everything is a surprise to him, his life a cascade of avoidable dramas. But his naïveté is endearing, after a fashion, as is his dogged determination to make it home for his wedding. As the years stack up you’d have to be awfully hard-hearted not to find some sympathy for him.
The collection closes with On My Way To You, giving us the bride’s letters and tribulations to round out the tale. If anything, I liked this even more; she’s a sweetheart whose abusive family haven’t managed to stifle her sense of humour or capacity for love. Her account introduces an AI with whom she debates how to prioritise conflicting instructions and a dystopian generation ship (ish) where class and status are rapidly weaponised (both elements reflecting themes explored in the second pair of stories in the collection). While she doesn’t always believe her lover will wait for her, she is comforted by memories of him, keeping her going through the darkest days.
The result is a charming love story in two acts that can only have gained resonance for being read after a year of life more or less on hold, and one I liked all the more for its theme of enduring hope.
I think this collection is worth buying on the strength of these two stories alone, although I was rather less enamoured of the second pair of stories. The Prophet of Corruption explores a universe split into a Lower Realm (Earth) and Dark Realm (the afterlife), where the Prophets divide themselves to create children and then incarnate them in the Lower Realm to learn. The eldest Prophet Naban is attempting to address the ‘corruption’ of their first child, who has come to believe that each life is a universe – rather than all lives being aspects of a single universe – and to prize the individual over the collective.
The themes are intellectually fascinating, but I found the execution rather dry, with various spirits having extended philosophical conversations or Naban dwelling on their own increasing corruption. It probably didn’t help that I came to it full of my own unexamined biases; there were certainly points where I reacted strongly against the arguments before taking myself in hand to see how they were developed. There were also points that simply made my skin crawl: Naban has a habit of ‘forcing their molecules’ into others, typically to squash dissent. It’s deliberately invasive and always unwelcome, making it hard to read as anything other than a form of assault.
All that said, having embarked on the journey it was one I’m glad I stuck with to the end, where the narrative eventually reaches conclusions I could wholeheartedly agree with. This is a short story tackling big ideas, and I admire it for provoking such strong reactions even if I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
I didn’t know what to expect from this collection, and it’s an intriguing glimpse into Korean SF: thoughtful, and with a compassionate core that will bring me back for more.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.