Friday, April 1, 2011
A bolt of lightening is set to rattle the literary horror community and world politics simultaneously from an unlikely source: North Korea. It seems the reclusive "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il, is due to release a weird fiction collection entitled, Midnight in Pyongyang and Other Trodden Stories. Details are sketchy, but a Workers' Party of Korea source tells me it will be a book of eight stories with one novella length piece. Here's the contents:
- Starving Demons Beneath Juche Tower
- Imaginary Murals in the Metro
- King Tongmyong's Howling Resurrection
- Binding the Tentacle: An Unpublished Fragment from the Great Leader's Personal Diary
- A Shadow Engulfed Mount Paektu
- Midnight in Pyongyang
- The Sweeping Roar of Decay
- The Final Re-Education of a Wayward Marionette
Midnight in Pyongyang hopes to communicate the "legendary terrors and triumphs which test the Juche idea." Judging by the brief summaries provided, one also wonders if the inner fears and secrets of the evasive head of state will leak, coiling up from the pages like the enormous Ryugyong Hotel. For instance, "Imaginary Murals in the Metro," offers a look at what happens when emaciated, hellish paintings begin inexplicably appearing next to the well known Socialist realist art in Pyongyang's metro. "The Sweeping Roar of Decay" chronicles the fevered dreams of a soldier who lives in two DPRKs: one filled with unimagined affluence, marvelous technologies, and golden tributes to the Party towering into the sky. The other is a broken place consumed with tears, deserted buildings, shabby denizens, and moldering monuments to Juche accomplishments everyone seems to have forgotten.
"Binding the Tentacle," which purports to be an unseen page from Kim Il Sung's diary, takes readers back to the elder Kim's days as a guerrilla leader during World War II. His warrior band aims to destroy a mysterious book bringing unspeakable terror to Koreans occupied by forces under a Japanese general with the "Innsmouth Look." This is clearly a Lovecraftian horror tale. "Midnight in Pyongyang" is the book's longest tale, and begins when a nameless successor to the Kim dynasty awakens in a pitch black capital to sounds of war. Thinking the "imperialists" have attacked, the Juche Prince rushes outside with his staff, but finds an impenetrable haze blanketing Pyongyang and a curious Buddhist temple no one has ever seen before.
The book's exact purpose and where it will appear are unknowns at this point. Is it a product of Kim's obsessions, ready to pour onto a Korean society that may struggle with strange concepts they have never before encountered? It's hard to see Midnight in Pyongyang gaining a large Western distribution either. Despite fascination with the introverted DPRK regime, Kim Jong Il is reviled by Westerners, by far the largest weird fiction audience. Still, the collection should gain serious interest when it does appear, barring a change of heart by the ailing Kim or his successors, if only due to its bizarre origins.