Djuna, South Korea’s Enigmatic Sci-Fi Legend, Opens Up About Their New Book

Have your feelings about Le Guin changed at all over time?

The Left Hand of Darkness is also difficult to read as is. When I first read it I thought, “Incredible how it’s possible to write a book like this in this genre,” and on my second read I thought, “Wow, this author is really white and really straight, and when she was writing this, she had no deep thoughts about her existence as a woman.” In this book, there’s a scene where an ambisexual alien with nursing breasts and a womb speaks in fascination to a Black Earthling man about the large breasts of Earthling women depicted in a photograph, and reading this part made me laugh until I almost lost my mind.

Is there any antidote for this?

The Left Hand of Darkness is a work that finds its meaning through criticism and dialog. Joanna Russ’ When It Changed, published a few years after that book, is an answer to it in a way. And there are many books coming out now that are answers to Le Guin. “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” is Le Guin’s own answer. A very slow and careful and (unintentionally) hilarious answer. The Left Hand of Darkness must be read with the short story “Coming of Age in Karhide,” which tries to correct the world depicted in the novel as much as possible. It’s not perfect, of course. 

Are there any science fiction tropes you never want to see again?

All tropes have their value. It’s not a matter of which tropes one uses but how they are used. But there are tropes I deliberately avoid. Muscular, metallic, cool-masculine images. I can’t take them seriously and always end up smashing them somehow.

I’m personally glad that we are past the era where square-jawed white male characters dominated this genre. I find it fascinating how people don’t think it strange that such people stick themselves into every corner of the universe and expect everyone to just accept it. The Guardians of the Galaxy series is like that for me. Sometimes I wonder what having such unbridled confidence must feel like, but I don’t go out of my way to find out.

This seems wise.

I also want to mention an opposite experience. In Korea in 1978, there was a children’s drama titled X Squad. It was about a boy who would do the Wakanda salute to bring about his superpowers and fight bad guys. There were aliens from a planet called Ala in the show, acted by Korean male actors wearing wigs. I thought back then, “That’s so weird. Western actors ought to be used for that.” Seeing Will Poulter in golden body paint in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy made me think of that.

We are in a moment where people are speculating wildly about how generative AI will change the world, including how it will change writing. How do you think it will impact the way we live, and our creative lives?

Generative AI will provide us with the kind of luxury the Medici family were privy to in the past. We will each have a writer and translator tailored to our needs. I was especially impressed with ChatGPT and Bard’s translation abilities. The only translation programs that passed what I call “The Darkling Thrush” test were these two. 

To pass this test, the AI has to translate the “thrush” in this Thomas Hardy story as the bird and not the disease when translating it into Korean. ChatGPT translated “thrush” as “sparrow,” Bard as “kingfisher.” I also ordered ChatGPT to write a mystery short story with Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert as a pair of detectives, and about three of them turned out to be rather all right.

Have all of your experiments with AI been successful?

Even with advancements in this technology, the bigger likelihood is that the work will end up as mediocre porn. The reason for this is the same as why the internet, our greatest invention that contains all the knowledge of our species, also produces lizard-people conspiracists and flat-Earthers. The things that satisfy our desires are mostly boring and horrible, and unlike the great and proud artists employed by the Medici family, AI will agree to satisfy every base desire and produce the most horrendous trash. This is what I fear more than losing my job to an AI.


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