An amusing, interesting and thought-provoking sci-fi novella
When the djinn king Melek Ahmar wakes up after millennia of imprisoned slumber, he finds a world vastly different from what he remembers. Arrogant and bombastic, he comes down the mountain expecting an easy conquest: the wealthy, spectacular city state of Kathmandu, ruled by the all-knowing, all-seeing tyrant AI Karma. To his surprise, he finds that Kathmandu is a cut-price paradise, where citizens want for nothing and even the dregs of society are distinctly unwilling to revolt.
Everyone seems happy, except for the old Gurkha soldier Bhan Gurung. Knife saint, recidivist, and mass murderer, he is an exile from Kathmandu, pursuing a forty-year-old vendetta that leads to the very heart of Karma. Pushed and prodded by Gurung, Melek Ahmer finds himself in ever deeper conflicts, until they finally face off against Karma and her forces. In the upheaval that follows, old crimes will come to light and the city itself will be forced to change.
This novella was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t read anything by Hossain before, but The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday turned out to be amusing, engaging, and also thought-provoking. I very much enjoyed it.
To begin with, I wasn’t sure what sort of novella this was going to be: the whimsy and humour is pretty stacked in the opening pages. However, this quickly balanced out as we become more familiar with the setting and characters. The novella is populated by with a fascinating, fun, colourful and varied cast of characters.
Whether following Kathmandu’s “sheriff” (it’s a title with little power or respect), or Gurung and Ahmer, we learn more about how this society works (and doesn’t). How did the world get to where it is, how did Karma come to control and run the city? What is Gurung hiding, and who is he really? Will Ahmer ever be satisfied? What is Gurung’s agenda in pushing Ahmer to grant the citizens’ worst wishes? These questions and more are answered in this novella.
“No one ever wishes for anything good…”
“I guess Karma gives them all the good stuff,” ReGi said. “You’re kind of the antithesis. Melek Ahmar, the darkness in their souls, made incarnate.”
The author injects his characters’ romp through future Kathmandu with both subtle and overt commentary on the growth of technology and social media’s place in our world and daily lives — it’s by no means preachy, but it is sharply observed. People who live in Kathmandu each has an “Echo” — a device that monitors and maintains their health, as well as a kind of implanted communication device complete with a media feed, social media, and so forth. There were a couple of times when Gurung or another character is forced to disconnect from what they are seeing through their Echo, and one can’t help but think of acquaintances who struggle to disconnect from their cellphones.
“Gurung was well known here. He ambled from table to table with his bowlegged swagger, slapping people on the back, swooping down to kiss a couple of ladies on the cheek, and conversations started up; people jolted awake, remembering that he had no Echo, they broke out their dusty, unused voices, and he left a small trail of noise and laughter, of life, behind him.”
One more thing that I thought was amusing. In the bars, the drinks are delivered as cubes. It is drunk by “eating the cube like a watermelon, even as it dissolved into dark rum.” Couldn’t help but think of the Glenfiddich’s capsules (announced after this novel was written).
Ultimately, this is an entertaining and engaging read. The novella builds to a great final confrontation, with an interesting and satisfying ending. Solid characters, very good writing, and well-paced.
Saad Z. Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday is out now, published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK.
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Review copy received from the publisher