Seoul Survivors

Naomi Foyle
Seoul Survivors Cover

Seoul Survivors


I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the more "out there" books I'll read this year. As usual, Jo Fletcher Books continues to push the envelope and explore beyond the boundaries of traditional adult speculative fiction with novels like Seoul Survivor.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first read the description. With the impending destruction of earth by a meteor called Lucifer's Hammer providing the backdrop for the story, I wouldn't have been surprised to find something along the lines of an apocalyptic science fiction thriller. What I actually got, however, was something all together different. Strange, too — but in a good way.

The book follows the lives of four characters: Sydney Travers, a former escort from Canada who hopes to start over with a modeling career in a new country; her boyfriend Johnny Sandman, a vicious, sociopathic and just all around disgusting corporate executive and a sorry excuse of a human being; Damien Meadows, so down on his luck and desperate to leave England that he reluctantly agrees to be a drug mule; and finally Lee Mee Hee, a North Korean peasant woman who is smuggled away from death and famine in the false bottom of a foreign aid truck. Their separate paths all lead them to Seoul, Korea where the brilliant Korean-American scientist Dr. Kim Da Mi is the mastermind behind a plan to redesign humanity with genetic engineering and social experiments, in spite of the killer asteroid hurtling earth's way.

Beyond these basics, the book gets more complex and difficult to describe. At times it falls into seriously outrageous and bizarre territory. It also may not be for everyone, and indeed it's not for the faint of heart; there are parts that made me feel downright queasy while reading, especially some of the scenes that depicted acts of a deviant nature as well as the few instances which involved graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I didn't expect it from its cover or description, but this novel is dark and at times twisted, containing some disturbing themes.

At the same time, I couldn't help but be drawn to the characters, and be enthralled by the way their individual dramas unfolded. Confoundingly, none of them are even all that likeable as people, but for some reason their lives are like a car wreck I can't seem to tear my eyes away from. Take the shallow and insecure Sydney who so easily gets manipulated, for example, or timid Mee Hee with the personality meeker than a lamb. Neither of them possess particularly admirable traits, but all the same, their fears and desires make them feel very human. Even megalomaniac Johnny whom I consider to be more monster than man has his part to play, and then of course there is the geneticist Dr. Kim and her eerie charisma worthy of a cult leader.

The setting itself feels like a world in a not-too-distant future, one that feels familiar but also exotic in part due to some of the advanced technology but also because of the foreign culture. From her author's bio, Naomi Foyle spent many years in Asia and it is clear that she drew upon her experiences in Korea to paint a clear picture of the people and places of Seoul. As a reader, you can easily become completely immersed in this milieu.

I also thought the crisis and spectacle of Lucifer's Hammer would feature more prominently in this novel, but aside from Damien no other character takes the meteor all that seriously, and as such it is always in the background but not discussed to a great extent. I wish there had been more; though nonetheless, the all-pervasive undertones of worldwide tension are so strong they are practically palpable. It's interesting because while I wouldn't technically classify this book as apocalyptic fiction, so few novels actually take this "countdown to doomsday" angle.

To put it simply, Seoul Survivors is a book that defies all expectations. Just sitting back and letting the story be what it is can lead to some pleasant surprises amidst the dark twists and turns. The true nature of it can take a while to unravel, but the never-seen-before ideas and diverse cast of characters make this one an intriguing read. It touched me, and it also shook me to my core.