The English-language edition of sci-fi novel “Walking Practice,” by Korean author Dolki Min, is scheduled to get a worldwide release on March 14 by HarperVia, an international fiction imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
The Korean edition hit local shelves in February 2022, while the English translation was in progress.
Though "Walking Practice" seems to have followed a typical route -- a local release followed by overseas release of the translated edition -- rights to the book were first secured by a New York-based literary agent who decided to release it in both English and Korean.
“It was so unreal that I first thought it was a scam. … I heard this is a very rare case: An author who has only published independently signing a contract with a huge publisher like HarperCollins,” Min said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
Dolki Min is the author's pen name. He also only appears masked for public and media appearances.
In September 2017, Min independently published the first edition of “Walking Practice.” Translator Victoria Caudle, who received the book as a Christmas present from an acquaintance, contacted Min in the summer of 2018.
“She told me she would like to send a sample translation to an English publisher. I had nothing to lose. Later I heard she had sent the copy to Barbara J. Zitwer Agency,” Min said.
Barbara J. Zitwer Agency has been responsible for exporting big-name Korean writers such as Han Kang, Shin Kyung-sook and Kim Young-ha to the English-language market.
“He is completely brilliant with a singular vision that is rare and new,” said Zitwer in an email interview with The Korea Herald.
“It was the most sensational writing I had read in a decade. … It is incredibly rare and the first time that I sold a Korean book in English before I sold it in Korea,” she said.
Zitwer added that the novel expresses “a universal story and theme about anyone who has felt like an outsider in their life and their struggle.”
The right way to walk
The story is told through the voice of an alien who has been on Earth for 15 years. After years of hunger, the alien finds a way to survive: Transforming itself into a “flawless” human body, meeting sex partners using dating apps and post-coitally preying on the victims.
But its transformation does not happen smoothly. The four-legged alien needs to squeeze its body into human form -- a very painful process -- and constant vigilance is required to maintain its form. Walking normally takes practice as well. It strains to appear like a man or a woman, taking extra care to stride accordingly.
“When I was young, I was scolded and teased for walking like a girl. And it led me to think about what it means to walk right,” Min said. “(The alien) is constantly conscious of its walk so as to blend into the society. I thought of walking as practicing at becoming human.”
Following the story's events from the alien’s point of view, the novel explores societal norms and the demands and burden of gender expectations.
“I was drawn to stories of alien creatures. I loved the ‘Alien’ series and one of my favorite movies is ‘Under the Skin,’ which is about an otherworldly creature who hunts humans to survive,” said Min, explaining why his story is centered on an alien character. “I wanted to create a character who is eccentric and unpredictable.”
In the previous independently published editions, there were 19 illustrations of the shapeshifting alien that Min drew himself. Its seventh drawing was featured as the cover of the Korean edition published last year by EunHaengNaMu Publishing.
“The alien has a fluid body that keeps changing. So I drew imagining the changes in shape according to the state it is in or the emotions it feels,” Min said, adding that the cover is the image of the alien recovering its natural body after returning home from the hunt.
All 19 illustrations are included in the upcoming English edition.
Alien craving love
Min writes in the author’s note that he was coping with depression when he began weaving together the story five years ago. The author says he was "boiling with passion, anger … thirsty for praise and lonely."
“I’ve met a few people on dating apps and I was afraid that the person I meet would be a murderer,” Min said. “You are alone by yourself, meeting an anonymous someone. So the idea of a lone alien searching for a partner (or prey) gave me the storyline.”
Min explained that the reason the alien sometimes lingers in its hunt is that the alien has a different purpose for engaging in sexual intercourse.
“Sometimes you need to ease hunger and sometimes you need to relieve loneliness because you see yourself alone on Earth. It feels sometimes that its body is useful to others,” he said.
Despite the alien’s lethal nature, the humanity behind the sci-fi horror novel makes the story unique.
“I am thinking about another story -- an imaginary animal being exploited. I’ve been interested in animal rights and veganism. It is still in the planning stage,” Min said about his plans for this year.
He said he hopes to write stories that give readers something fresh and new to ponder.
“I don’t think I am much interested in writing a ‘healing’ story. Rather, I would like to write something powerful that once readers fall in they can’t get out easily -- a story that is maybe a bit muddy, I guess.”