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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Launch Something !

by
Bae Myung-hoon


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Launch Something !



Title: Launch Something !
Author: Bae Myung-hoon
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 363 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: Launch Something ! - US
Launch Something ! - UK
Launch Something ! - Canada
directly from: Honford Star
  • Korean title: 빙글빙글 우주군
  • Translated by Stella Kim

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing and intriguing ideas, but the mix doesn't really come together

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Launch Something ! is set in a near-future where life on Earth is much like today but Mars has been quite extensively settled. The action is set in motion by the appearance of what looks almost like a second sun appearing in the sky -- a large round shape, though with a slice missing, making it look like Pac-Man (or, for those unfamiliar with the video game, a pizza pie with one slice missing). Because this huge round sail reflects some of the sun's rays, it contributes to raising the temperature on the ground and is an obvious threat.
       Of unknown origin, the consensus is clear: it has to be done away with. Playing a small role in this is the Republic of Korea Spacer Force, a small and generally neglected division of the South Korean military that gets little respect even (or especially) domestically -- "the government doesn't take the Space Force seriously as part of the armed forces".
       Part of the problem is that the Space Force functions as part of -- and answers to -- the international Allied Space Force, rather than being a national institution; as such they are more like United Nations peacekeeping forces for outer space than a national military body. So also the force faces criticism from nationalists who want to know why South Korean interests aren't the priority (or even the sole purpose) of this taxpayer-funded entity.
       Launch Something ! focuses on the doings of the Space Force, with a range of characters that include a variety of space enthusiasts, a weather specialist, and a member of a K-Pop boyband ('B Density') doing his mandatory military service here.
       One long timer sums up that: "every day's like an episode of a sitcom" here, and Bae does present the humorous side of this military force with few responsibilities (or possibilities) reasonably amusingly. And, for all the near-pointlessness of what they do, those there do care: it's a place where there are:

     Brilliant people in a stupid system. But people who are trying to overhaul that stupid system in order to do something great. You know, people who come here have absurd dreams. I mean, outer space ? Come on.
       Oddly, Bae doesn't make all that much of the mysterious second sun in the sky -- though it is eventually (and fairly easily) dealt with. He also doesn't focus much on Mars and how the settlements there have developed, something he admits in his Author's Note at the end of the novel: "should be examined in depth", but which he chose not to here -- "a slightly un-science-fictiony choice", he acknowledges (to say the least). Mars, and what is going on there, do eventually play a significant role, however, as there was a rebellion on the distant planet, and a clash between civilizations -- the old, on earth, and the new, on Mars -- threatens.
       Ultimately, the Space Force comes to play a pivotal role. As the Chief of Staff rouses the troops:
     Everyone, let's pull ourselves together and do our best. We are now the frontlines of humanity.
       Among the things Bae plays with in the novel is the time-lag between Mars and Earth, complicating communication: even when the planets are close, communication is nowhere near immediate. A similar, if much smaller, time lag also affects human control over some of the satellites they use -- fighting satellites which are, of course, hampered if they are always a fraction of a second behind in their reactions. The science fiction here is a bit iffy -- as Bae to some extent acknowledges, with one flailing satellite-operator realizing:
I'm screwed. Completely screwed. I trained so hard to pilot that satellite. In a few years, AI programs will catch up and surpass me.
       In fact, it's hard to imagine they wouldn't have long switched from human to AI control for this kind of role (as the time lag involved in relying on a distant human controller would be fatal in most space-combat (even if the human here can still save the day)). In a time when technological advances have already allowed for the settlement of Mars it's hard to think that the kind of activity described here would still rely to anywhere near this extent on human operators.
       Launch Something ! is, in fact, a bit of an odd mix of science fiction and contemporary-domestic comedy, the activities on the terrestrial base hardly involving anything very advanced, technologically speaking, even as there is travel to and from Mars and an already fairly advanced society numbering tens of thousands living on the planet. Bae focuses more on the individuals involved -- an amusing, varied cast of characters interacting in various ways (not least the choices of who to share living quarters with) -- and that does make for some entertainment. But the crises facing Earth (and Mars) feel underdeveloped and under-utilized -- almost secondary, for much of the novel. Bae's targets obviously include the South Korean military services themselves, and the Space Force is certainly amusingly enough presented, but the highest-stakes drama isn't ideally fitted into the story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 October 2022

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Links:

Launch Something !: Reviews: Other books by Bae Myung-hoon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South Korean author Bae Myung-hoon (배명훈) was born in 1978.

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© 2022 the complete review

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