|Clarkesworld publisher Neil Clarke / Courtesy of neil-clarke.com|
By Jon Stein
2019 has been a good year for Korean science fiction writing. Thanks to funding from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea), Clarkesworld Magazine, an award-winning online science fiction magazine based in the U.S., has been steadily translating and publishing several short science fiction stories by South Korean authors, bringing their work to a wider international audience.
Clarkesworld editor Neil Clarke is no stranger to the joys and challenges of publishing science fiction in translation. The magazine, which published its first issue in 2006, has long been a home for writers from beyond the English-speaking world. To date, Clarkesworld has published over 40 works in translation, including stories from Germany, Italy, China and Korea.
This policy, Clarke explained during an interview with The Korea Times, came about more or less organically. "(Chinese-American author) Ken Liu knew that I had an interest in publishing translated work, and so he sent me a translation he'd done of a story by a Chinese SF author, Chen Qiufan. I read it, bought it pretty much as soon as I finished it, and asked for more," he said with a laugh. "That's really what got the ball rolling, because once people started seeing that we were publishing translations they started coming to us a little more regularly."
This led eventually to a partnership with Storycom, a Chinese startup dedicated to promoting the work of science fiction authors from China. With Storycom's assistance, Clarkesworld began publishing Chinese science fiction on a monthly basis.
Now, Clarkesworld has embarked on a similar initiative with LTI Korea, which has awarded the magazine a grant for the translation and publication of nine Korean science fiction stories over the course of 2019. Clarkesworld has published Korean SF before; their first Korean story, "An Evolutionary Myth" by Kim Bo-Young, came out back in 2015, courtesy of a translation by Gord Sellar and Park Jihyun.
|2019-08-12Clarkesworld issue 155 features Korean sci-fi writer Djuna. / Courtesy of Clarkesworld|
The partnership with LTI Korea, however, seeks to dramatically expand on the magazine's repertoire of Korean stories, seeking to replicate the success of Clarkesworld's arrangement with Storycom. Four of the nine short stories have already been translated and published, in both text and audio forms: "The Flowering" by Jeong Soyeon, "The Peppers of GreenScallion" by Bae Myung-Hoon, "Flowers on My Face" by Bok Geo-Il and "The Second Nanny" by Djuna.
The remaining five stories are slated to appear over the remainder of 2019, though as Clarke is at pains to point out, Clarkesworld is more concerned with the quality of the work they put out than they are with sticking slavishly to a schedule. "If a translation isn't ready, we're not going to force the issue," he said. "We're not going to run something we're not happy with."
The hope is that publication in Clarkesworld ― which has a monthly readership of about 50,000 ― will help bring these authors to the attention of the English-speaking science fiction world. "Something we didn't quite realize when we started doing translations," said Clarke, "is that the English language is kind of placed up on a pedestal, and it's a big deal to be published in an English language market. We've discovered that a lot of the stories we've published here have been picked up in other languages, because they were seen in Clarkesworld. So what we ended up doing, unconsciously, is raising the profile of the works we're publishing just by publishing them ― which is a little annoying, because they're awesome stories and that should be the reason they're getting the recognition!"
Of course, this initiative isn't just for the Korean authors' benefit; Clarkesworld hopes to expand the horizons of its readership, as well. "We don't really have a culture of translation in the way that other countries do," Clarke said. "American science fiction readers are arguably the most provincial in the world! That's part of what we're trying to foster here, a sense that translated work is worth reading, that international authors are worth reading. After all ― if we can accept a story about an alien world, we ought to be able to accept a story published on the other side of the world."
All of Clarkesworld's stories, including the stories published as part of the Korean science fiction initiative, can be read free of charge at clarkesworldmagazine.com.
Jon Stein is a contributing writer to The Korea Times. He writes about the sounds and scenes of Seoul at seoultronic.blog.