In 1988, Kim Jong-Il gave a speech exhorting North Koreans to write SF

And that's just one fascinating fact about North Korean science fiction contained in a brilliant overview, over at SinonK.com. Also: North Korean science fiction never features aliens — or, perhaps not surprisingly, dystopian settings.

In fact, North Korean science fiction sounds as though it's closer to "mundane" science fiction than most of what we produce in the West. No aliens, no space opera, no far-flung future settings. Just new technologies and scientific developments, and speculations as to their impact on society.

As Benoit Berthelier writes:

Science fiction first appeared in North Korea in the mid-1950s with two volumes of translations of short stories by writers from the Soviet Union. Drawing upon these models as well as European authors of early science-fiction such as H.G. Wells and Jules Vernes, North Korean writers started to produce their own sci-fi works in the mid 1960s. Sci-fi stories continued to appear infrequently in youth magazines throughout the next twenty years, but it is really only at the end of the 1980s that the genre took off.

After a speech delivered by Kim Jong-Il in October 1988 called for the development of science fiction on a larger scale, the number of sci-fi works grew significantly. From space travel to immortality or underwater exploration, sci-fi stories cover a wide range of subjects within settings that usually exceed the national boundaries of North Korea. If the country remains the central point of most plots, foreign characters–both positive and negative–are much more common than in traditional fiction.

Robots are another ubiquitous element, and often benevolently so; witness the disease-curing nanobots of Lee Geum-cheol's Mysterious Medicine. Sometimes robots take on more disturbing profiles, as in Lee Cheol Man's Explosive Report where a robot is involved in the murder of a scientist in a space lab. On the other hand, aliens are, unlike in Soviet or Western sci-fi, conspicuously absent, a fact justified by sci-fi author and theorist Hwang Jeong-sang by "the lack of scientific proof of a developed extra-terrestrial life."

The whole thing is well worth checking out. [SinonK via Korean Literature in Translation]