[Web Exclusive] Interview with Kim Bo-Young

  • onOctober 6, 2021
  • Vol.53 Autumn 2021
  • byKorean Literature Now



You’re the first Korean science fiction writer to be published by HarperCollins. How does that feel like?

I get this question a lot. I had no idea about HarperCollins at the time, so at first I didn’t think much of it. I was just pleased to get paid. But afterwards there was all this press, and so many other writers were happy for me and congratulating me, so I realized it was something big.


You studied psychology and worked as a game developer and designer before publishing your first story, “A Tactile Experience,” in 2004. How do you think your background has influenced your work?

SF writers often come from eclectic backgrounds. I don’t think psychology is very unique. They say that game development is one of the good fields for writers these days to make a living. It’s not such an unusual path.

It was the early days of the industry when I worked there, so there weren’t that many game developers. As for my major, psychology uses scientific analytic methods, so you get a basic education in general science. That helped a lot in writing science fiction. And then you learn counselling and clinical psychology, which helped the most. Writing can take its toll mentally, so it’s helpful to be able to walk myself through that process.

My work in games helped in other ways. The game industry is so huge, literature simply cannot compare to it. It must be bigger than the film industry. There are games I worked on 15 years ago that are still being licensed. So I already had that experience, with so many people who loved what I did, that even if I were to become known as an international writer, I don’t think it could ever top the feedback or love I got when I was writing game stories. I’m already fulfilled that way, so that’s a blessing.


I'm Waiting for You and Other Stories looks at Earth from another planet. How does one change one’s point of view that way?

It’s a technique called defamiliarization that’s used frequently in science fiction. Sometime writers will use aliens or foreign species because they really believe in aliens, but usually they are an outside device for us to look at ourselves in an objective way. That way you can have a point of view that doesn’t currently exist under a certain system, or country, or on Earth.

When we practiced psychodrama in school, one of the basic techniques went like this. The protagonist would tell their story, and then another actor would come on and copy their performance exactly, while the protagonist watched. Just doing that would help them see something in an objective way that they couldn’t in everyday life. I think it works in SF as well.


You have a devoted fan base. What would you say to the fans who have rooted for you over the years?  

It’s always overwhelming, the love. I’m nothing special, I’m just a writer. And yet I get so much love for that. I’ve made a lot of connections over my writing, and some of those have become very dear. That’s what’s great about this profession. I’m always thankful for it, and I always will be.  


Korean science fiction is branching out in the world, is there any advice you have on that? Or advice for hopeful SF writers?

I never consciously set out to write science fiction. I wrote what I wanted to and that was how the readers interpreted it. I do feel if I hadn’t done that, however, but tried to write something mainstream or more popular, I wouldn’t be here today, I may not have made it as a writer at all. I encourage anybody to do the same, it doesn’t have to be SF, just write what you want.


How do you feel about sharing your work with international readers?

I thought that English-speaking readers might have a different take on SF than Koreans readers, but looking at reviews, their reactions are quite similar. They respond to the same parts and have difficulty over the same parts as my Korean readers. If you think about it, Korean readers accept Anglophone works quite readily as well. I realized that I needn’t worry too much, I could carry on writing for Korean readers and international readers would respond similarly.  


What would you say about the potential of Korean literature as part of world literature?

I’d like to believe that quality is what sells a work abroad, but I’m afraid it isn’t. I think that the power of a particular country plays a huge part in its literature expanding over the world. Writing isn’t an art that requires a lot of capital, so good writers are to be found everywhere. We just haven’t heard of them.

If we see more of Korean literature and culture abroad these days, it’s because Korea’s status has increased that much. By status I don’t just mean the economy, but how people comport themselves as citizens of the world, how they respond to issues like human rights, the environment, refugees, and racism. I can only hope that our status will continue to grow in that aspect.