2024 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Adult third place

Title:Love, Loneliness, and Space Travel in Kim Bo-Young’s “I’m Waiting For You”

In Kim Bo-Young's moving science fiction story, "I'm Waiting For You," the narrator is trapped in space, lost in a world that no longer belongs to him, and wading through time to be reunited with his fiance. About a year into his voyages, he finds himself recollecting a visit to his fiance's abandoned childhood home. He describes the burst pipes and the mold lingering in the shadows, almost as if "the house had been aged to a rotting crust by loneliness." (22). This image expertly embodies the central conflict of the story: how can anyone or anything survive without care and human connection? To answer this question, Kim Bo-young utilizes established PSG (pseudoscientific garbage) and science fiction tropes such as time travel and light speed to move the story forward, all while poignantly sparking reflection on climate change and the endurance and dissolution of human connection.

Loneliness is a central mechanism that constantly pushes the story's narrator forward. By structuring the short story as an epistolary, the reader feels immediately close to the plight of the groom; we are privy to the same details, desperation, and hope that he feels towards his fiance. As the page turns and his reunion with his fiance becomes more and more unrealistic, we feel the claustrophobic weight of the narrator's loneliness. Bo-young not only manipulates established genre conventions of light speed and time travel to add dramatic distance between the narrator and his fiance but also to highlight the reality of climate change. On one of the narrators' pit stops on Earth, one hundred and forty-five years have passed, and the groom returns to a planet of ice. While not equal to the kind of climate change human intervention is responsible for causing, the groom's constant awareness of the changing nature of the Earth reflects the reality of our present world. Climate change is predicted to displace millions of people, warp the Earth we stand on, and raise our oceans. Like his fiance's aged house, if we continue to forsake the planet, our world will decay. The individual loneliness that the narrator experiences is mirrored by the loneliness of an entire planet that has been abandoned by the people who call it home.

By the end of the story, the groom is writing to his fiance but also writing to himself. From cave paintings on the wall to blog posts and tweets, we have always needed writing and stories to make sense of our own place in the world. Sci-fi as a genre is reckoning with how we can maintain our humanity as the world continues to shift rapidly. The narrator describes how, while his father never physically left the town that he was born in, by the end of his life, it was as if his father had "traveled the entire world." (8) As the groom realizes, when enough time passes, the world you inhabit can completely transform. What endures when nothing stays the same are the relationships and invisible bonds you build with other people. Even when the story pushes the narrator's isolation to the furthest reach, the groom is able to survive because of the possibility of a reunion with his fiance. Even in the depths of his despair he pictures a tender moment; she is stroking his hair, and he is able to hold strong.

However, while the story is undoubtedly a love story, Bo-young also emphasizes the importance of the larger interconnected world we have built. After three months of drifting through space, the groom realizes that even when he had completely isolated himself in his room, he was never truly alone; "someone cleared away the trash [he] left out for collection and emptied out the septic tank." The groom realizes that "[he] had never lived alone, not once." (22). In conjunction with our responsibility to care for the planet, we also have a responsibility to care for each other. The groom realizes how each of these invisible acts of service supported him even in his isolation. Through absence, Bo-young dexterously forces the reader to consider their own interconnected web of care.

"I'm Waiting for You" ends with the Korean border all but washed away, and the groom finds himself finally at the destination he had spent years waiting to reach. In the church, he discovers pictures and notes left by old friends in case he ever returned. Finally, the title of the story is splayed out before his eyes: I'm Waiting For You. After so many years of isolation, eating tasteless regurgitated food and watching his world transform, the groom's fiance has spent that same time nurturing her end of their promise. Kim Bo-young's expertly crafted sci-fi odyssey forces us to grapple with our responsibility towards others and the planet while assuring that love holds true.