My interest in North Korea began some years ago when I had an idea for a story. The plot followed a suspense structure and involved nuclear weapons. After researching the potential settings, Iran, Iraq, etc., it was clear that North Korea was by far the most interesting. That novel was ultimately published as The Silla Project and tells the story of a nuclear scientist abducted by North Koreans for obvious reasons.
In my mind, the novel was a Clancy-style suspense thriller but that isn't the way it came out. Not at all. Like most Americans I viewed North Korea as a land of lunatics who mindlessly worship Kim Which-ever. I mean, how else could such a tyrannical regime survive for so long if the people didn't support it? And I've seen them on TV, going nuts over some pudgy guy in coke-bottle glasses and wearing a leisure suit. I mean, why else would the population turn out in the millions for Kim Il-sung's birthday today, as if nothing was wrong at all? Such nuttiness was a perfect setting for my hero to plunge into darkness then return with guns blazing, bent on a Chuck Norris-level body count. They deserve it. How wrong I was, and it is the collective misperception of the West that allows the Kim Dynasty to continue.
It is sad that fewer and fewer of us now remember the Soviet Union. Kids today don't even know what CCCP means. If you grew up in the shadow of the Communists we all "just knew" that ending the Bolshevik scourge was going to take World War III. But I remember how it fell, and it was pretty much without a shot being fired. We like to think it was the flow of information across the Iron Curtain that brought down the Soviets but in truth, that didn't happen until the West began to understand the truth. Like with North Korea, the typical westerner, and especially the typical American, viewed Soviet citizens as fanatical nut cases, not worth saving. Why else would they have all those parades when their country was crumbling around them? That was until a series of books and movies finally began to portray them as human beings and the West decided those under the Eastern Bloc weren't willing participants as much as hostages. Chief among these might have been Tom Clancy's Hunt For Red October, primarily the movie version. The same thing needs to happen with North Korea and it is my hope that The Silla Project and other works might help bring it about.
If you like a good, strong, non-fiction account of things, I'd suggest Ms. Kirkpatrick's book. If you lean more towards political espionage you would probably prefer The Orphan Master's Son, though the names can get confusing. And if you like a science fiction romance set on an alien planet, I'm going to plug my own book, The Silla Project, to fill that hole. Yes, North Korea is an alien planet and yes, my nuclear thriller is in fact a romance, though approaches it from the more traditional, less 50-Shades direction. And since the story is told primarily through the eyes of an American, the names are a lot less confusing. Let's face it, Korean names can be pretty confusing to Western readers. Any of these books will do a good job of changing the way you look at Korea, though only one of them is up for an award given specifically to the book that most redirects thought or changes the way you see things. :-)
Fortunately, Kim Jong-un is shining a light on his own travesty at the moment giving books like mine more attention than they usually get. I was actually interviewed on Columbus Ohio's NBC affiliate on Sunday as a rocket scientist, author, and North Korea expert. As I told Colleen Marshall in the interview, North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons aren't the fear. The fear is two armies facing each other with their guns loaded and tanks fueled. Wars have started in situations like this when someone other than a leader does something stupid. Like when Gavros Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and kicked off World War I. And the more the sabers get rattled, the more likely it is that this will happen.
Until next time,
John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance that is a finalist for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Awards, Montaigne Medal. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website, JohnCBrewer.com