A hole in the Gatwick main runway, transport chaos across Europe due to unseasonal storms, a cross-continental epidemic of terrorist attacks, including the assassination of Jo Cox, the flames of Syria still raging unabated while the UK news is all of Brexit, British political convulsions, and the Clinton-Trump mud-flinging match: it’s been a pretty tempestuous summer so far, and if I’ve been quiet about it all that’s because I’ve been dealing with a crisis closer to home – more of which anon, in a later post. Today I just want to celebrate an event I’ve been dreaming of for many years, and only recently discovered would actually happen: the North American release of my first novel, Seoul Survivors.
How this day came about is a tale entwined with the fortunes of the global publishing industry, which you may or may not be interested in, but if the latter, hopefully the inherent human drama of a dream deferred will carry you through this next paragraph! For there is a huge disappointment behind today: my publisher, Jo Fletcher Books, had originally scheduled the novel to be released in the US and Canada in 2014, but the sale of JFB’s parent company, Quercus put these plans on hold. Quercus had experienced a sharp downturn in sales, including suprisingly in ebooks (it was as if everyone’s Kindle was full), and the founders of this highly successful independent publisher decided it was time to cash in their chips and – I expect – have some fun spending the profits from the Steig Larsson books. The sale to Hodder took a year, after which the new American division pushed my second novel Astra to the front of the queue. I was simultaneously a little sad and relieved to be part of a huge conglomerate: I prefer to shop with indy businesses for most things myself, but at the same time it was reassuring to know JFB, itself a small imprint, was secure. I was also thrilled to set Astra on her transatlantic journey, and loved launching her in Montreal and Toronto at Concordia University, the Ad Astra SFF Con and Bakka Phoenix Books earlier this year. I assumed, though, she would be followed by Rook Song, the second volume in The Gaia Chronicles, and couldn’t help feeling wistful about Seoul Survivors.
Then came the surprise announcement from Quercus USA that Seoul Survivors would be up next! I could have now fretted about Rook Song, but in fact I was delighted. It’s not easy to grow a readership in a country you don’t live in – especially when your books, like The Gaia Chronicles, are set in yet another continent – and I had always thought that Seoul Survivors could be a breakthrough novel for me in North America, helping to establish my name and build curiosity about the rest of my work. A cyberchiller set in Seoul, where I lived for three years in the late nineties, Seoul Survivors is on one level my response to the impact of Western culture on the traditional values and lifestyles of South Korea. The main characters are a Canadian fashion model, a British drifter, a North Korean refugee, a Korean-American bioengineer and a good old-fashioned American sociopath, and high among my literary influences at the time were William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, Kathy Acker, and the Korean-American novelist Mia Yun, who very kindly provided me with a endorsement for the novel. With all these resonances at play, I have always had a secret feeling (okay, grandiose fantasy) that Seoul Survivors could strike a chord with North American readers, not only of SF, but also transgressive fiction and world literature.
There’s one more reason I’m very happy today too: after errors first on my part and then in the editing process, this edition of the book will be the first to include a proper acknowledgement of Mama Gold, the ex-pat band whose songs I shamelessly lifted/paid immortal homage to in the book. Thanks again Josh Schwartzentruber, Toby Benstead, Michael David Yantzi and Geoffrey Viljama for your patience – I hope back catalogue sales sky-rocket! Today I’ve celebrated this milestone, and all those memories of wild nights in Seoul’s underground scene, with a Seoul Survivors fusion brunch: salad, kim chi and a fried egg in my Korean bibimbap bowl, chopsticks from my O’Kim’s beer mug (there’s a map of Ireland on the other side), green tea in my tiny Korean teapot, set out with the first UK edition and my Canadian passport – on which I travelled to Seoul – and listening, in honour of my Yankee psychopath Johnny Sandman, to the spooky thumps and tremours of David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time. Thanks for being part of the party, and if you’re interested in more weird electronica and tales of South Korea, for the full Seoul Survivors soundtrack, and more about its making, click here . . .