By Kim Un-su, Translated by Sean Lin Halbert 299 pages, £9.99/$15.99, Nottingham: Angry Robot  (2021)
Secret Files Reveal Altered Human Race
On the fourth floor of a research center in the heart of the city sits a nonde cabinet, Cabinet 13. Within are 375 files on “symptomers” — people who display signs of evolving into a posthuman species. Some subsist on inedible substances such as gasoline, glass, and steel. Others have peculiar growths on their bodies; one man has a gingko tree sprouting from his finger, while one woman has a lizard growing in place of her tongue. Then there are the “time skippers”; they seem to vanish for days, months, and even years. And the “torporers,” who sleep for incredibly long periods of time; some of them edit their memories to make their past seem more glorious, while others spend their night sending lonely radio messages into outer space.
Kong Deok-geun, an administrative worker at the research center, stumbles upon Cabinet 13 one day. Curiosity and boredom compel him to break into it. Little does he know that the cabinet’s caretaker, Professor Kwon, is watching him. But rather than mete out punishment, the professor asks for assistance. He realizes that the symptomers are the future of humanity, the species into which humans will evolve, replacing today’s human configuration. His sole wish is that they not be labeled monsters.
Deok-geun spends his days managing the files and dealing with various symptomers, and, in the process, we learn their stories. But when Professor Kwon falls gravely ill, Deok-geun is ill-equipped to take control, and the research project begins to unravel. He is approached by a shadowy organization known only as “The Syndicate,” which regards the symptomers not as monsters but as opportunities. What exactly does The Syndicate want? Has Professor Kwon been hiding something all this time? And what will Deok-geun do when the time comes to choose a side?
“The Cabinet” can be a difficult book to pin down, flitting as it does between science and magic, humanity and posthumanism. At its heart, though, it is a meditation on what it means to be human — more specifically, what it means to succeed in this modern, urban society. For as outlandish as some of the symptomers might seem, it is strangely easy to see ourselves in them. Who among us has not stopped to wonder where the years have gone? Who hasn’t sent a message out into the vast void of social media, wondering if there really is anyone out there, or if we truly belong to this world after all? One chapter collects brief anecdotes from ordinary people struggling to make their way in the city, all of them wondering if they, too, are symptomers. As we read through these anecdotes, we realize that the difference between symptomers and non-symptomers is not one of kind, it is merely one of degree.
This is just one perspective on the whole, though. Lest we be tempted by an easy answer, Deok-geun reminds us that there is no moral to the story: “We always look for the moral of a story or some nice adage, but morals and adages never changed anyone’s life.” We each connect to the universe in our own unique way.
‘Invisible Land of Love’
By Chonggi Mah, Translated by Cho Young-shil 112 pages, $16.95, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books 
Reshaped by Relocation
The life of Chinggi Mah is not one that would immediately seem to lend itself to poetry. Born in Tokyo in 1939, his adolescent years included Korea’s liberation from Japan and the Korean War. He studied medicine and left Korea in 1966 to be a doctor in America, where he still resided when this book was first published in Korean in 1980. Although his poetry roams far and wide, his life abroad and his life as a doctor heavily influence his works. “Butterfly’s Dream,” for example — a reference to the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou — depicts living in a foreign land as a dream. At other times, it is his memories of Korea, sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter, that fill his dreams, and we can read in his poems the longing for his native land and the restlessness of a wandering soul.
Equally as formative are Dr. Mah’s experiences as a physician, and the poems that reference this side of his life — “Discharge from Hospital”, “Illustration • 6”, and “Lecture Room 3”, among them — are powerful meditations on the intertwining of life and death. In the medical profession, he prolonged and sustained lives, but it is those patients that he lost that affected him most deeply. One might expect Dr. Mah, as a man of science, to be clinical, even cold, but the poet in him is always there to make sense — emotionally, if not rationally — of the world. His poetry reaches across the years to touch us still today.
‘East Asia Institute’
Explaining Regional Challenges
The east asia institute is a leading Korean think tank that delves into various political challenges facing the region. Relations between North and South Korea, relations between Korea and Japan, and how the current strategic competition between the U.S. and China will affect the other nations in the region are among the many issues they address. This is done through seminars and forums that bring together regional experts; journals that provide an outlet for important research (such as the web journal “Global NK Zoom & Connect”); scholarly monographs; cooperative projects with other nations; and educational programs that seek to train and support the next generation of public policy experts. In addition to its main website, which contains annual reports detailing its activities, the institute also maintains a presence on social media, uploading online seminars, conferences and lectures to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/c/EAIkorea) as well as posting on Instagram.