By Sahana C.
As a medium, science fiction has been a way to ask larger questions about what it means to live since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Questions that are a bit too uncomfortable to ask in the context of real life without the buffer of aliens or mind-bending time travel, such as: who are we if we’re taken off of Earth? What does humanity look like broken down to our bare essentials and out of context?
I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Kim Bo-Young follows the precedent set centuries ago, asking readers to consider what love looks like outside the bonds of time, where we can learn about free will, and how hope can manage to exist in the most devastating of circumstances.
Originally published as three separate novellas, there is still so much overlap as the stories ask you to consider your own humanity. The first story, the eponymous “I’m Waiting for You,” is epistolary, told through letters from the point of view of a man writing to his fiancée as he tries to time his interstellar journey just right so that he will meet her at the church they decided upon in time for their wedding day. The unnamed main characters, through a comedy of errors and well-meaning but decidedly bad decisions, are left trying to catch up with one another as they fast-forward through time. He is increasingly isolated as he travels through time and space, but all the while it is his love of his fiancée that keeps him human.
The second and third story are connected, “The Prophet of Corruption” with a soft multiverse-centric epilogue in “That One Life.” The two stories follow god-like beings who experience a sort of reincarnation in order to learn more about their nature and the nature of the world, and who think of corruption as what happens when they are disconnected from the whole. The story reminded me at times of the short story “The Egg” by Andy Weir (who also wrote The Martian) with the ideas of reincarnation but made wholly new for the universe Kim Bo-Young manages to create. There were moments where I felt like I was floating outside of the narrative, but I was never far enough away to escape orbit – existential but not just for the sake of an “I’m-smarter-than-you, let’s see an audience try to puzzle this out” existentialism. It’s hard but worth it, thinking about our place in the world and what we mean to one another.
The final story, “On My Way,” brings us full circle back to the couple from “I’m Waiting for You” and returns to the epistolary format established in the first story. We see the letters that the woman sent her fiancé this time around, and her interstellar travels have been completely different from his. The two are juxtaposed, not only by being from the perspective of a man versus a woman, but by the circumstances surrounding each protagonist. The former deals with the impact of isolation in times of despair while the latter considers group dynamics in times of disaster.
The first and last story are about love beyond the bounds of time; what is it about us that makes us human? How far can we go before we lose our humanity? They consider the everlasting nature of hope, but manage to stay honest while avoiding any sort of cheesiness. They discuss what love looks like, with both protagonists making promises they aren’t sure the other person will ever get to hear, promising I will love you if we are the last people on Earth and out of all the people in the world, I chose you, over and over again.
The first story, as Kim Bo-Young explains in the author’s notes at the end, was written as part of a proposal. It took me a while to understand how something that appeared so tragic would be the best way to propose marriage to a loved one; it feels so unanchored and dire at moments, but it is the fact that through it all, the protagonist is still there, persevering, forcing himself to survive, that shows the romance.
It’s a translated work, which reinforces the idea that translation is an art form and a version of composition in and of itself – there are no stuttering moments that remind you that it is not originally written in English. In fact, I forgot until I read the end notes, emails between the author and the translator, context for the short stories, and the author’s motivations and original audiences. I might even recommend reading the notes before the stories themselves; I wish I had.
I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Bo-Young Kim is available in print.
Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.