Arc 1.2’s Seoul searching reveals a glimpse of the future

21 May

Simon Ings writes:

South Korea has gone from impoverished feudal backwater to liberal economic superpower in a generation – yet its people don’t talk about the future much.

So Arc commissioned Canadian science fiction writer Gord Sellar to find out whether the South Koreans know something the rest of us don’t.

“Newcomers to Seoul still see in the city’s skyline what I first saw, a decade ago,” Gord writes. “Gazing out down neon-infested streets through the window of my airport shuttle bus, I felt like I’d landed in the middle of Blade Runner. South Korea looks “futuristic” in other ways, too, if you squint a little. As the liberality of Western democracies continues to be disassembled in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Korea’s illiberal democracy increasingly resembles the kind of dystopian authoritarian future looming on our collective, global horizon.”

Born in Malawi to a British-Malawian father and a French-Canadian mother; Gord grew up in various parts of Canada, but mostly in Saskatchewan. At the very end of 2001 he left Canada and has been living in Bucheon, a suburb of Seoul, ever since. He has a well-tuned horror of “ex-pat journalism”: “Though I live in South Korea, and sometimes write a lot about the country, I don’t consider myself a ‘Korea-blogger,’ Gord says, “but that doesn’t prevent others from considering me one.” Writing for Arc, he was able steer clear of “foreigner abroad” cliches, and explore South Korea’s fourth dimension: the curious timeframe of a country ripped apart by one of the hottest flare-ups of the Cold War

“The best way to understand what followed,” he writes, “is to imagine that someone somewhere read some Asimov (Pebble in the Sky, perhaps) and decided that this economic basket case -poorer at the time than almost anyplace else on Earth – ought to be transformed into a spacefaring empire as rapidly as possible. Somewhere along the way the stuff about spacefaring empires got forgotten, and Korea just went on ramping up the transforming-as-quickly-as-possible part. In less time than it took Americans to go from the first muscle cars to the Prius and the Humvee, Koreans went from ox and plough to bullet train, from mountaintop signal fires to cell phones and free webmail.”

Nonetheless, Gord believes that “William Gibson told only half the story.” And in The Mudang’s Dance, his feature for Arc 1.2, he explains how, “like the future, the past is also here in the present, and just as unevenly distributed…”

Gord Sellar’s extraordinary exploration continues in Arc 1.2, available on tablets, phones, e-readers and screens of all dimensions (and as a collectible print edition) on 28 May.  Visit for further details.

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