The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday
“The Gurkha and The Lord of Tuesday achieves immense enjoyability. With well-drawn, amusing characters, a fresh and underrepresented fantasy viewpoint, and snappy dialogue and action scenes, the book will have broad appeal to readers who like well-played humor in their fantasy/sci fi.”
Through an unlikely fusion of Middle Eastern folklore and futuristic, A.I.-powered sci fi, Saad Z. Hussein has created a fantasy-comedy of Pratchett-esque proportions.
The Gurkha and The Lord of Tuesday is a slim volume, but with a storytelling style that gets straight to business and a colorful cast of over-the top characters. It packs a satisfying punch.
The Lord of Tuesday is the imperious djinn king Melek Ahmar, who in a distant age was imprisoned in a magic-warded vault high up in the Himalayas. The Gurkha (a Nepalese soldier) is Bhan Gurung, a 60-something veteran and former convict, idling on the margins of the fabulous 31st century city of Kathmandu. After three thousand years of magical binding wear-and-tear and thawing ice, Melek Ahmar emerges from his crypt. He’s untempered from his containment and singularly focused on laying siege to the nearest kingdom to have sycophants groveling at his feet. He meets Bhan Gurung while making his descent to civilization and takes him on as a sidekick to educate him about the modern world.
And oh, how that world has changed.
Kathmandu is a utopian oasis on a planet that has become largely uninhabitable due to toxic nanotech and the more familiar discontents of global warming. The citizenry has relinquished democracy in favor of living under the absolute authority of a ghost computer called Karma, who manages everything from climate control, a token economy, arbitrating matters of criminal justice, and even keeping each citizen healthy via remotely-controlled medical implants. The result is a society in which everyone’s needs are taken care of. Wealth is earned (and swindled sometimes) by doing good deeds for which Karma awards Karma points. But even “zeroes” like Bhan Gurung live carefree lives in which they can walk into a tavern and binge on unlimited cubes of seaweed-derived liquor for nothing.
Thus, Melek Ahmar discovers his would-be subjects are peace-loving, unmotivated goodniks who cannot be coerced to rebellion nor any kind of satisfying post-insurgency fealty. The comedy portrayal is so good, one actually feels bad for the aggrieved tyrant.
Having run risk probabilities, Karma is unalarmed by the djinn and Gurkha’s movements throughout her city, but her chief Central Admin Hamilcar Pande is restless in his practically superfluous job and does some digging. While the supernatural djinn can’t be recognized by information systems, Pande’s investigation of Bhan Gurung leads him to uncover a dark conspiracy around the time of Karma’s rise to power as digital dictator for life. His detective work also sets up a showdown between Karma and the titular hellbent-on-destruction heroes.
As parody, the story takes a cynical view of human nature, and while not meant to be taken so seriously, one might say a Rand-like skepticism of an egalitarian distributive economy. The Kathmandu-ites have universal access to jobs, food, miraculous medical treatments, and every brand of entertainment, yet they still pursue ways to game the system and hoard more for themselves.
When Melek Ahmar sets up an operation granting wishes to gain power by earning Karma points, he has a steady stream of petitioners wanting to carry out their violent fantasies. It’s smirk-worthy absurdity for sure, but one detects the author has a low regard for the prospect of socialist ideals bringing out our better instincts.
Whether or not one agrees with that worldview, the provocative bit of social commentary is one of many reasons The Gurkha and The Lord of Tuesday achieves immense enjoyability. With well-drawn, amusing characters, a fresh and underrepresented fantasy viewpoint, and snappy dialogue and action scenes, the book will have broad appeal to readers who like well-played humor in their fantasy/sci fi.