From Aficionado to Expert in Science Fiction
Park Sang-joon (Earth & Marine Sciences, ’90)
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Wouldn’t it be amazing to turn your favorite hobby into a career? There usually exists disparities between hobbies and the realistic livelihood- but it isn't impossible. Park Sang-joon (Earth & Marine Sciences, ’90) made himself a novel example of someone who has succeeded in this. Park, who loved reading science fiction (SF) novels as a kid, became a renowned SF expert in Korea as an adult.
An eye-opening experience
“It was when I was very young that I started to read SFs summarized and edited for kids. Then when I was about 14, I got the chance to read whole, thicker versions of SF novels written for adults in my cousin’s house who majored in astronomy,” said Park. Childhood’s End (1953), written by Arthur Clarke the SF writer and futurist, shook his world to the core. The book was nothing like he ever knew or imagined. Unlike the books for children that got Park imagining monsters or space heroes, this new encounter enlightened him. It incited Park to ponder about the future of humans and the meaning of their existence in the universe in a wider perspective.
Following that, Park became more attracted to SF novels and started to research for more. However, it was hard to find that many books, since at that time, SF wasn’t widely known in Korea yet. “After getting tired of repeatedly reading the same novels, I chose to read the original editions of SFs which were written in English,” reminisced Park. Although all he had was a thick English dictionary, his love for science fiction motivated him to master English on his own.
Upon entering Hanyang University, Park's dream was to become a scientist, which was a goal highly influenced by his SF readings. His love for science fiction was the same but there came a change in approach- from perceiving it as science, to literature. “The Korean society during my college years was more oppressed than it is now, with less freedom and protected rights. Such circumstances led me to think of the importance of social science studies.” Park was able to link his new interest of study with science fiction. He realized how some SFs like George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) dealt with problems of a futuristic society. “I thought such novels could give people a heads-up to learn from them and prepare for possible conflict or despotism. Later, I believed it could also allow people to better promote peace. It was a new charming point of science fiction,” said Park.
Organizing and maintaining Korean SF history
“I thought it was necessary to assemble and classify SF materials before it is forgotten and lost forever,” said Park. It was 1997, when Park officially opened the Seoul SF Archive, to collect and organize data related to Korea’s science fiction and its history. Currently, in a space large enough for an individual office, materials of different forms such as books, films, papers and comics are fully stocked. Park’s collection is ever getting larger as Park searches for SFs in second-hand bookstores online or auction sites that sell old out-of-print books. “I hope my collection helps people researching or writing papers within the field of science fiction,” said Park.
According to Park, one of the oldest science fiction novels in Korean is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) by Jules Verne. “It was translated by Korean exchange students in Tokyo for a magazine called Taegeuk School Newspaper in 1907. I confirm that it is the oldest SF in Korean,” asserted Park. With accumulated materials, Park opened an exhibition in 2007 that featured 100 years of Korean SF history.
Father of Korean SF
From book translation, science lectures to news columns, Park is actively giving advice, translating, and sharing insight in science fiction. There are around 30 books Park translated, directed, and wrote with other writers. A work most special to Park is the first book of the Following Robinson Crusoe series (2007). Written for kids, the series show how the main character, Robinson, survives on a deserted island by utilizing scientific knowledge. Park worked on parts where scientific knowledge was needed. The book Robinson Crusoe was a hit domestically. It was translated into English as well.Park also writes columns every two weeks for the Hankyoreh newspaper, mainly dealing with Korea’s science and technology of the past.
“If we compare two ordinary scenes from the 20th and 21st century respectively, the biggest difference would be found in what people are holding- smartphones. Science fiction visualizes worlds that are to come, which are vouched for by a lot of books and films showing us the IT-oriented world in an approachable and realistic way,” added Park.
Park advised HYU students to vary their choices of books. He especially hopes for more attention on science fiction novels. “Books always give people something to learn from. In terms of science fiction, as it readily embodies the future, near and far, it can give students clues as to how to formulate their dreams and develop careers.”
Yun Ji-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kim Yoon-soo
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