Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Science Fiction, Nationalism and Post-Colonial Developmentalism in North Korea

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Willow, First Floor

This paper explores the influence of North Korea’s nationalist development policies on the country’s scientific imagery and imaginary through readings of science-fiction novels. From 1945 on, science has always been seen by the North Korean state as key to the country’s economic growth and political sovereignty. As such, the definition of what science is and what it should be constantly shifted as the country sought to overcome issues of resource shortage, wartime biopolitics or widespread famine. Tasked with inspiring its readers to embrace science, sci-fi largely reflected these changes, from the translations of Soviet sci-fi and Sputnik inspired stories published in popular science magazines in the 1940’s and 50’s to the celebration of national scientific achievements such as Vynalon and the Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellite in contemporary fiction. The genre, however, can’t be reduced to a simple illustration of state-mandated themes and its strong politicization has not excluded tensions and ambiguities, innovation and change, external influences and curiosity towards the other. While early stories engaged with alterity through extraterrestrial encounters and tales of collaboration with Soviet scientists, recent novels have seen the introduction of unseen plot devices and affects with their international or interplanetary settings. 

Highlighting how the political stakes of scientific progress have influenced the themes and narrative structures of science-fiction since 1945, this paper thus examines how Hollywood blockbuster tropes met North Korea’s nationalist rhetoric, how tales of space travel fused with socialist realist production novels and how juche literary theory assessed the legacy of Wells, Orwell or Van Vogt.

Benoit Berthelier

University of California, San Diego, United States


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2 - Science Fiction, Nationalism and Post-Colonial Developmentalism in North Korea

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