2024 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior second place


In Kim Bo-young’s SF short story “I’m Waiting For You,” we explore the relationship between time and love as a soon-to-be husband’s journey around space tests the very meaning of soon. While the story is told in the form of letters which makes for a unique reading experience, the fictional world and concepts feel rather familiar. It seems to have taken inspiration from popular Western SF films, namely Passengers and Interstellar.

Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawerence, is similar to Kim Bo-young’s short story in that it puts good people into the impossible circumstances of intergalactic travel. The film is about a passenger who is awakened from hibernation due to a pod malfunction 90 years too early, and the ethically questionable relationship between him and another passenger he intentionally wakes up as well. Here, the biggest enemy is also time. In the face of terminal loneliness, we see the characters go through denial, loss, and recovery of the will to live, and love; this progression is very similar to that of the short story, except the groom’s journey is done alone. By telling the story through internal monologues within letters sent to a recipient who never replies, Kim Bo-young effectively conveys the void of loneliness in his solitary journey.

Ethical deterioration is another key theme in Passengers as the main character contemplates and eventually wakes up a fellow passenger after falling in love with her from reading her files. “I’m Waiting For You” also explores this phenomenon through the irrational behaviors and choices made by the groom, other travelers, and society itself. We find ourselves questioning what we would tolerate and justify when put in these circumstances as well. More significant, however, is the relationship between loneliness and love. In Passengers, the woman falls in love with the man but eventually realizes that he intentionally woke her up and practically ended her life. Despite this revelation, she later finds that her feelings towards the man are genuine and decides to stay awake even when presented with the option to go back into hibernation. In the short story, the love between the groom and bride is already established and strong from the beginning. This makes it easier to relate to the main character and intensifies the emotions because we automatically imagine ourselves and our loved ones in the same situation. In both stories, loneliness has the powerful effect of creating, challenging, and amplifying love, but we are also urged to question whether these results meet our own definition of true love.

Another clear inspiration comes from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The spectacle features an intense portrayal of time dilation where the main characters come back to a crewmate who has aged decades due to just minutes accidentally spent on a different planet. This is a nerve-racking concept also depicted in the short story, especially with the time stamps at the top of each letter. Moreover, the familial love between separated father and daughter enables them to accomplish the impossible both on Earth and in space, ultimately leading to an emotional reunion. The groom and bride’s miracle-like journey and hopeful ending do resemble this, but notably different in that it is less of an adventure blockbuster and more survival characterized by desperation and resignation.

Building on these inspirations, “I’m Waiting For You” distinguishes itself from the Western narratives with its concept of longing. In this fictional world, people use space technology to travel to the future where their current-world problems are no longer. The “Orbit of Waiting” (4) is a direct expression of longing for someone or something that they do not have in the present. As much as it seems convenient, the story soon reveals the horrific consequences of succumbing to this shortcut. In this way, Kim Bo-young’s story seems to be a metaphor for how we tend to go about our lives. Just like how the groom’s excitement to see his wife quickly turns into terror and grief, anticipation can be a double-edged sword. Anticipation can motivate, but it can also torture us by leaving us feeling stuck in the present. In other words, when we fixate ourselves on what we do not have yet, we voluntarily enter a reality of dissatisfaction. This is especially significant through the lens of South Korea since societal trends like extreme academic rigor towards success, income polarity, and lookism all contribute to a sense of longing. Our focus is often on what we don’t have yet or what we’ll never have. Hence, the planetary catastrophe in the short story can be seen as a metaphor for the consequences of this lifestyle such as high depression rates. The ending of “I’m Waiting for You” may also be suggesting that once you accept what’s not here is not here, only then can you return to the present which, as we know from the time-space relationship, is home. There, we can find what we truly seek: happiness in the present.