Djuna’s 2021’s Counterweight is a near-future science fiction novel. It was originally published in Korean. The 2021 English translation is by Anton Hur.
The once obscure island nation of Patusan has turned out to be an ideal location on which to base a space elevator. It’s a great opportunity for corporate takeover, an opportunity that LK Group has quickly seized. LK is building the elevator base and importing labor to do the job. The indigenous population has been reduced to a powerless minority in their own land. LK would assert that a rising tide lifts all boats. The indigenous boats would not agree.
LK External Affairs chief Mac can attest to local discontent. Managing it is part of Mac’s job. The great corporations and their AIs run the world. Groups like the Patusan Liberation Front are ripe for infiltration and infiltrated they are. Which has posed a minor puzzle for Mac: how did non-entity Choi Gangwu’s name end up on a PLF list and how might LK turn this curious fact to their advantage? While a mundane explanation offers itself — Choi has good reason to be disgruntled with LK — matters soon take a far more bizarre turn.
Choi steals an obscene art object from Damon Chu. Chu isn’t actually a real person. He exists only on paper, as the owner of record for an apartment used as a storage facility. Only two people knew about the apartment: Mac and deceased LK President Han Junghyuk. What could have led Choi to Chu’s home?
While Choi’s father had reason to dislike LK, Choi himself has no interest in pursuing the feud. Choi seems have just three interests: butterflies, his ailing sister, and the space elevator itself. None of these would be served by helping the PLF. His political neutrality could be a ruse, but as far as Mac can tell, it is not.
Nevertheless, Choi appears to be operating on the basis of information he cannot have. The reasonable explanation is that Choi is an unwitting patsy of some better-informed puppeteer. In fact, this is exactly what is going on. The surprise is the identity of the puppeteer: none other than the late Han Junghyuk.
Many people have cognitive augmentation. So-called worms enhance memories and skills. Choi has a worm. What Choi doesn’t know is that his worm came with Han Junghyuk’s memories already installed. Unaware of this, Choi is the dead man’s living puppet.
What was so important to Han Junghyuk that death itself could not stop him? Mac has no idea. As he tries to find out, he is drawn into a tangle of corporate espionage, familial rivalry, unrequited love, and human destiny.
The novel draws its place names from other works. “Patusan,” for example, originates in Conrad’s Lord Jim. “Pala” is a reference to Huxley’s Island. “Taprobana” is likely drawn from Campanella’s The City of the Sun. No doubt there are many other allusions I overlooked. But so far as I could tell, the novel’s setting is a mix of utopian ideals and colonialist realities.
Mac’s world has echoes of Greg Egan’s early fiction. Cognitive augmentation facilitates manipulation. Thus, nobody can be entirely certain that the impulses that drive them originated within their own minds, rather than being decanted into them by artificial means. Loyal employees can be turned into saboteurs with the right software.
The primary coping mechanisms that the characters adopt are a combination of not thinking about such matters and utter hopelessness. Almost everyone who makes the mistake of considering such issues simply accepts that in the long run, AIs will assimilate the world, reshaping individuals to need. The only courses of action open are willing accommodation or quiet screaming.
Djuna crams an impressive amount of plot into Counterweight’s 176 pages. Would-be puppeteer Mac is dragged from one side of the island to the other, then into space itself. He embraces cooperation with ostensible LK rivals and orchestrates daring heists in his quest to uncover the truth and to survive the revelations. The novel seems to stagger a bit at the end but otherwise, Counterweight seems to be the answer to what would have happened had Len Deighton  written a Greg Egan novel. Now all I have to do is track down more translations of the author’s work.
1: I will be very sad if you ask “who?”