As I dive deeper and deeper into science fiction as a genre, I’ve felt a much more intense need to read short stories. Much like the novella, there is so much more room to be sharper, snappier, and fulfill a theme in novel ways. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to review short stories. Collections help sometimes, allowing you to dig into the ones you particularly enjoyed, but I always feel weird about leaving out some of the ones I liked, but didn’t hit as hard. Luckily, Kim Bo-young’s collection I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories is not a large compilation, but a small grouping of four stories. Better yet, the stories are paired off, making the sinews of the book much stronger and more interesting than most collections. It helps that it is wonderfully translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu.
The stories that really stood out to me were the first and fourth, which are interconnected in a big way. They tell the tale of two nameless people whose love is literally star-crossed. In I’m Waiting For You, the groom embarks on a short two month trip as he awaits his fiancée. Unfortunately, she is in another star system, and he takes a relativistic trip so that he will arrive on Earth the same time his bride will, in four years time. The story is told through a series of letters he sends her about the trip, and the troubles he runs into. Time goes awry, and he continues to write his letters and broadcast them to space as years, decades, and even millenia pass by. Its companion story, On My Way is from the bride’s perspective as she encounters her own problems getting to Earth, causing her groom to continually update his plans until they lose touch.
For me, these two stories are the selling point of the book. Time dilation and relativity are such interesting subjects, and rarely are they used to such a grand effect. Kim does an excellent job of playing with the trope, and making it such an incredibly personal tale. Each letter feels heavier, as if they are continuously harder to write. Kim’s portrayal of the groom’s story is powerful, with a sharp focus on his increasing isolation and detachment from time. The only thing he really is holding on to is the insane hope that he may meet his bride, no matter how improbable it is. On the other hand, the bride’s story is less grim, focusing instead on how she tries to build a life while making her way to him. Unfortunately, she realizes she can’t commit to a world she has no stake in, opting to leave the group she’s been with in order to find her groom. They are both incredible stories that fit nicely together, with an incredible amount of depth between them. Just writing about them makes me want to pick it up and reread them.
The other two stories are a little different and definitely harder to explain. The Prophet of Corruption and That One Life take place outside of human existence. Instead, they are told from the perspective of godlike creatures who have total control over the lives of people on Earth. These Gods are also spawn of each other, split off like cells as new ideas are formed by their “prophets.” Wayward “children” are consumed and reappropriated to the whole, while larger accumulations hold more sway of what is deemed correct and what is corrupt.
Where I’m Waiting for You is sweet, Corruption is intense. Kim dives deep in these two stories playing around with ideas of destruction, creation and free will, to say the least. They are drawn out discussions on the nature of corruption, who gets to decide what is right and wrong. Sometimes these discussions are then played out in thought experiments. Prophets send their pupils to live amongst humanity, within a human body in order to learn life’s lessons. Occasionally, they live a quiet painless life, but more often they are sent to inhabit grueling circumstances that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. It’s an interesting story, one I wish to reread to gain a fuller broader understanding of. Kim very cleverly builds a reality that is tough to conceptualize, but easy to relate to. She utilizes the short story format to its fullest extent here, exploring complex topics in a concentrated and tight narrative that solidifies her themes. It is definitely worth picking up alongside the others, but I recommend taking your time and really soaking in it.
Rating: I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories – 8.5/10