To celebrate the second issue of LONTAR, we have two things: we added mobi formats of both issues, and we have an exclusive interview by Jason Lundberg with E. C. Myers, whose novelette, “The Tiger in the Forest Between Two Worlds” is the lead-off story. Myers is the Andre Norton Award-winning author of the novels Fair Coin and Quantum Coin and he has published short fiction in a variety of print and online magazines and anthologies.
This is a case where the story was shaped a lot by my research and ended up far richer than I first imagined. I wanted to do a contemporary version of the Korean folk tale “The Tiger-Girl,” so I started reading up on Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers. It was rather depressing, because there are very few of them remaining in the wild, and particularly in the wilds of Korea. They can be found in the mountains of the north, but they’re absent from the southern peninsula—a shame because the tiger is such an important part of Korean culture.
The more I read about the DMZ, the more fascinated I became, and I decided that if a tiger could still exist in Korea, it would be there; because that territory is largely off-limits to humans, it essentially functions as a gigantic nature preserve. Many references in the story to the DMZ and the cameraman Lim Sun Nam are real, albeit a few years out of date. There’s a free film you can watch online called Tiger Spirit that documents Lim’s quest to find tigers in the DMZ.
Q. One of the fantastical tropes in the story is that of the weretiger, although here it’s inverted, in that the tiger takes on human form. How prevalent is this creature in Korean mythology?
When I was a kid, I loved the mascot for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea: a cartoonish tiger named Hodori. At the time, I had no idea he had a deeper meaning, as a representation of the Korean people. The culture is steeped in legends and folklore about tigers, which are considered protective spirits, so they pop up in all sorts of roles. There’s also a lot of shapeshifting! Korean mythology is incredibly interesting and hasn’t received much exposure in the Western world, so I hope to play with these stories more in the future.
Q. A theme you employ is that of interstitialism; existing between two different worlds, yet not comfortably in either one alone. Chon-ji herself is split between the human and animal realms, as well as between North Korea (Choson) and South Korea (Hanguk). To what extent do you see this type of interstitial existence in other parts of current Korean society?
As a half-Korean living in America, I still have an outsider’s view of current society in South Korea, but I think there’s a real struggle there to hold onto tradition in a contemporary world. The gaeryong hanbok that Chon-ji wears is one example of that, as a modernized version of the more elaborate traditional clothing, which some (mostly older) people do still wear daily. I also think there’s a conflict between traditional expectations from parents and the personal desires of their children, as with Bong-hwa trying to fulfill the role of a dutiful son. That’s something I can relate to even in the U.S., and many others of my generation have probably had some of the same issues—but these are universal problems no matter the place or period, aren’t they? And there’s always difficulty in balancing a national identity against a global one, especially with the immediacy and influence of the internet.
Q. Where can readers go to find other examples of Korean fantastic fiction?
I am really out of touch with any contemporary fiction being published in Korea now, particularly in translation. Some films and comics are imported, either officially or online, and there’s a growing following for Korean comedies and dramas. But fantastic fiction? The University of Hawaii Press is publishing a journal called Azalea which is much like LONTAR. Their May 2013 issue was devoted to science fiction.
If you’re looking to read some Korean fables in translation, the book I read for research is Folk Tales from Korea by In-Sob Zong. Appropriately, it has a tiger on the cover! One I haven’t read yet is Korean Myths and Folk Legends by Pae-Gang Hwang, translated by Young-Hie Han.
Q. Shameless self-promotion time: what is next on the publication horizon for E.C. Myers?
I have a book coming out in the fall of 2014 about teenage hackers, currently titled The Silence of Six, to be published by Adaptive. I also have a couple of forthcoming short stories: “Lost in Natalie,” co-written with Mercurio D. Rivera, in the summer issue of Space & Time magazine; and “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” in Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, published by Twelfth Planet Press and coming later this year.