In conversation with Saad Z Hossain
Saad Z Hossain is author of Escape from Baghdad!, a war satire, and Djinn City, an urban fantasy set in Dhaka, full of djinns, magic and crime. His stories have appeared in Apex book of World SF and the anthology The Djinns Fall in Love, among other places. His new book is forthcoming from Tor Books. Both his books have been included in year-end lists of various media such as Scroll.in and Financial Times.
Your novel The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday is forthcoming from Tor. Would you tell us a little about it?
GLT is a novella, so about thirty thousand words. It's set in the future, same universe as the Djinn novel and Escape!, that is, our own universe with a twist of the djinn in it. This one is about a djinn king who wakes up after a long nap and finds that the world has gone peculiarly to shit. It's set in a futuristic Kathmandu, which is run very efficiently by a machine named Karma.
Was the process of writing Gurkha any different from Escape from Baghdad! and Djinn City?
The writing process itself was the same. I'm largely self-taught as a creative writer, so I suppose I don't know any other way of doing things. Often I just wait for the urge to come and then keep at it until the urge goes away. A lot of the time when I'm not actually writing, I feel that my subconscious is gnawing away at the plot, trying to solve all the holes and blind alleys I've dragged the story into. What was different, really was my mental state. I was much more concerned about the quality of the writing, because this was almost a commissioned work for TOR.com, and of course they are a gigantic, famous publisher for fantasy. I wasn't as relaxed, I suppose, because I really wanted to measure up to the highest standards in my genre.
Gurkha is set in the same universe as Djinn City, albeit in a dystopian future. Do you plan to construct a single fantasy universe (such as Cosmere) to set and connect all your future adventures in?
Absolutely. The Djinn universe is largely the real universe, with a small few fantasy twists. I'm trying to be broadly consistent, so that you can read everything together and it makes sense and little threads connect all of the stories. For example the crone in Escape! is called Mother Davala, and she is the same person as the Elder Djinn Davala in Djinn City, and at one point she even brandishes an urn and threatens to blast everyone down with it. Inside the urn? It's Kinza, of course. This is one of the pleasures of writing fantasy.
Where does world-building fit in your writing process? Do you take the Tolkien route or develop it as you go along?
Tolkien is the master world builder of course. I feel that he really just wanted to build the world, and the story he wrote was almost an afterthought, a vehicle for carrying all the cool details he had nailed down. I prefer to create it as I go along, mainly because it's much more dynamic, much more interesting that way. For me, having fun while writing is important. If it ever becomes a chore, I'm sure I'll stop doing it. However, I have developed a history, a culture, laws, the physics of the magic beforehand, because some bare minimum of background work is necessary to ensure things remain consistent.
What do you think of the local Sci-fi and fantasy writing?
I'm going to answer this for the local English SFF writing, and I think it's really just getting started. SFF itself has become much more mainstream all over the world, and I think we will get younger writers choosing to write in the genre without a second thought, no doubts or fears about being considered a hack.
Tor, home ton Wheel of Time, Malazan, and Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive among others, is perhaps the most popular publisher of epic fantasy. You’ve yourself talked highly of The Belgariad. Do you ever see yourself writing epic fantasy?
I have written almost 300,000 plus words in an epic fantasy monster, which is terrible and floating around my hard drive. That was kind of my early passion project, and I probably learned to write working on that. I don't think I'm going to ever turn fully to epic fantasy, however, because I'm not that interested in creating a brand new universe. I enjoy writing about the real world because it allows me to say things about the human condition.
Over the last few years we’ve seen writers such as NK Jemison, Sofia Samatar, and even Marlon James with his upcoming Dark Star trilogy, set out to write fantasy that’s not just trapped in Eurocentric traditions and myths, but have influences incorporated from diverse parts of the world. How do you see this relative change affecting, if at all, the genre overall?
This is the best thing that has happened to a genre which, most people would agree, had been getting a bit stale. The problem with fantasy is that often the reader has to invest a lot of time and memory in a fictitious universe, sometimes one with completely unfamiliar geography, history, science, physics, etc. This requires a lot of commitment, especially if you're waiting a year or so for each new book to drop. Having to do this over and over again with worlds which are vaguely similar approximations of medieval Europe with Norse flavors gets tedious after a while.
That being said, good writing is good writing, and I appreciate any kind of fantasy or Sci-fi that is well written.