The first collaboration between Pyun and translator Kim-Russell, The Hole, introduced one of Korea’s most lauded writers to Anglophone readers. Kim-Russell’s ability to replicate Pyun’s stifling terror repeats here as he presents a nameless antihero, known only as 'the man.' ... A slap-in-the-face parable of the perils of society’s failures, Pyun’s suffocating tale reveals a future all too possible and real.
I enjoy books that live between categories, the platypuses of the bookstore, and City of Ash and Red is that type of book. Classified as a thriller, it could also appeal to literary readers or speculative fiction fans. Whatever shelf you want to put it on, it's an anxious nightmare of a novel ... Much will be made by critics about the themes of immigration, alienation and communication inherent in the book — but in simple terms imagine if, after a Duolingo course, you ended up in Mad Max's hood and there's rats and you lost your passport. It's a bad situation, and at first you'll feel sorry for the protagonist. But the more you get to know him, the more you'll hate him ... It's a good book and it's a nasty one. Due to its platypus status, though, it might be easy for potential audiences to miss, with speculative readers thinking it's too smarty-pants because literature in translation always has that aura of caviar, and literary readers imagining that dystopian books are trashy. But whether you want to believe this is a grim look at the human condition or an exciting bit of weird fiction, it's worth a read.
The extent to which award-winning Korean novelist Hye-Young Pyun’s City of Ash and Red is science fictional is entirely debatable. You can read it as science fiction, perhaps. But it’s a very literary sort of science fiction ... I disliked it intensely ... The reason I didn’t realise this at the beginning was because I was reading it through the lens of speculative fiction: I was waiting for the SFnal reveal, or the extra-human layer of horror. Neither of which ever came, and I gradually came to understand it never would. Instead, this is a novel in which we slowly discover that the main character—who initially comes across as hapless, victimised, lost and out of his element—is, in fact, a really shitty human. That’s… pretty much it. An examination of human anomie and the banality of evil, really. I don’t find the banality of evil all that exciting.