This book consists of two pairs of stories by a South Korean author known for her speculative fiction. Both deal with a sort of time-is-relative theory, though in very different ways.
The first and last stories are from the perspective of an engaged couple. One is traveling back from Alpha Centauri, so rather than wait the few years for her to return, the other decides to board a spaceship that’ll accelerate up to light speed – meaning that it’ll only be a few months for him. But even when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to, he continues to hope that she’ll wait for him. The story is told through fifteen letters to his fiancé and is a powerhouse of emotion: hope, despair, resiliency. Despite the circumstances keeping them apart, he keeps doing his best to get back to her, eagerly waiting for and anticipating the day he’ll see her again, even while it feels like he’s the only human left in the universe.
The middle set of stories were a little more opaque. Earth is a training ground created by a set of beings who divide themselves and send themselves there to learn. The stories are told from the point of view of Naban, a Teacher whose numerous experiences have led them towards asceticism. Their views, however, are in conflict with some of the other more popular Teachers, who instead prefer to spend their Earth lives accruing power and money. This story was harder to get in to and was more overtly philosophical in nature. The second of the stories in the set is a direct continuation of the first, but was more traditional in structure and much less abstract. I didn’t enjoy these as much as the other pair of stories, even though in some ways they’re exploring some of the same sort of ideas, and I’m probably going to blame that on pandemic brain.
The last story is the bookend to the collection, a matching set of fifteen letters from the fiancée’s point of view. While much of what the first narrator has to overcome is his complete isolation from other people, for the woman, hell is other people. She goes through the same set of emotions as him, though, and perseveres through it all with the hope of seeing her fiancé again. I almost liked this one better than the first, as it was intriguing seeing the same events through her eyes, and I loved HUN the AI.
There’s also a series of author’s notes and translators’ notes at the end that explain a little more in depth about the creation of these stories and how they were translated, and it was definitely especially helpful for understanding more about the middle set of stories.
Overall, I’d give the collection as a whole around 3.5 stars, and I’ll definitely be looking for more work from this author in translation!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.