Sometimes They Don’t Win At All: An Interview with Saad Z. Hossain

As you might have noticed, I’m a big fan of Hossain’s work here. So with Kundo Wakes Up recently out, I decided to see if he’d be up for a chat and to see what a little behind the creation of such great books. He kindly said yes so here it is

PL: Hi Saad. Kundo Wakes Up has come out recently and has made a bunch of people happy with its blend of djinn and cyberpunk that we’ve come to associate with you. What is it about that combination that appeals to you?

SH: It seems like a natural combination for me: djinn are long lived, irascible, bored, what can be more entertaining than to watch them stumble into the future?

Fantasy and science fiction as genres are locked into certain dynamics, and if we want to make new stories then we have to dismantle these forms into requisite parts, and then shuffle the parts. You like spells? No problem. But the spells don’t have to come with an old white bearded mage accompanied by an over muscled swordsman.

PL: Well I agree it’s vastly entertaining. Have you deliberately been seeking to dismantle, shuffle, and reform the idea between books as well? It feels like Kundo Wakes Up has a different vibe to it than Gurkha & Lord of Tuesday and Cyber Mage.

SH: It’s not deliberate it’s just that I don’t want to follow a straight genre story. I like different elements if sci fi and fantasy so I just pick those up. Kundo is different true. I wanted to write something differently paced, a smaller story, something more self contained. I was interested in the losers of the future, the people who don’t gain from the technological leaps.

PL: Personally I found the more contained nature of Kundo really let me connect with the characters that bit closer. Did you find you could explore them more in the book, or is this pure reader perception? And do you have a favourite character among them, or did you enjoy playing god with them equally?

SH: Yeah exactly a smaller story let’s you explore the characters a bit better. I liked the old gangster with Alzheimer’s, I enjoyed writing him I wanted more time with him in fact but in the end he got to go out on his own terms so I can live with that. I don’t plot out anything so once I make characters they tend to go their own way, and sometimes they don’t win at all.

PL: He was glorious alright. What you reminds me of something you said in a self-interview – “Somehow just dying well has to sum up the entirety of your victory” – was that where he was at? Also, where do you get the inspiration for your characters from?

SH: Most come from real life bits and pieces. Just because the stories are fantasy does not mean they don’t reflect reality. In many ways it’s easier to reflect the real world through fantasy and sci fi because you can get to the heart of certain issues without getting bogged down in real world facts and figures. For example what happens to sick people in a futuristic society? Everyone can’t be space explorers or alien killers. Where are the misfits, the defeated, the broken?

In terms of dying well, that’s almost the best kind of victory. I am not one to hoard my characters, and resurrect them with deux ex machina. When someone dies they die forever. How else can it have a real impact on the reader or the other characters?

PL: Guess it’s the only victory we get at some point. Speaking of reflecting reality – a lot of your work is set close to home for you. Are there any parts of the Bangladeshi set books where you like you’ve really captured something of the world around you? And does it feel any different writing about Dhaka vs writing about Kathmandu and Baghdad?

SH: The first idea was to offer settings and cultures away from the mainstream genre locations offered in English SFF. In that sense I’m happy I’ve been able to create a cohesive ‘Asian’ world of djinn where I feel I could use any city really. You don’t have to have NewYork or London or Tokyo to write urban sci-fi. Dhaka Ofc is my home town so I’d like to make it the Center of the universe, and I also have a responsibility to capture the essence of the people living there, and do a plausible job. Even then, many ppl in Dhaka might dispute my right to represent the city any which way I see fit.

PL: Have you had much feedback from people in Dhaka? I ask in complete ignorance of what the SFF scene and level of availability is like there and in Bangladesh in general.

SH: They seem to like it. Mostly I think it’s relief to get some SFF that’s relatable. As a kid I would have been thrilled to read something set in my city. It’s important to have heroes that resemble you, that reflect you. I think there’s a lot of people reading SFF, who love all the classics, like me, yet who are not of that culture, and it’s nice to think that you can get English sff not set in the west.

PL: What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the way to becoming a published author?

SH: A lot of everything is luck. It’s no use getting hung up about trying to find an agent or a big 5 publisher or a movie deal. I think write your stories, have fun, hope for the best. Is it possible to get ahead with hustle? Yeah. But I’m not sure you’ll enjoy the ride.

PL: And the next question – What part of the writing process is most fun to you?

SH: I like starting

When you start, there’s like infinite possibilities. The character could do anything! As you get towards the middle you’re forced to start curving things back towards a conclusion, and then it feels more like a puzzle you have to solve.

PL: And speaking of conclusions, time to wrap this interview up. Thank you for your time Saad, and two final questions. The first is is there anything you can tell us about what projects you’re working on right now? And the second is if you could wish any one computer game into existence, or just into being as good as you’d hoped it would, which game would it be?

SH: I’m taking a break will start writing again soon.

I think I’d like a Terry pratchett game that somehow captures the balance of the world, the absurdity, but also the competitive fantasy elements which give it the legs to stand up as a legit fantasy story.

Oh and a Malazan game.

Thanks once again to Saad Z. Hossain. If you’re interested in his work, Kundo Wakes Up, the second of his tordotcom novellas, is out now, and he has three novels out from Unnamed Press – all highly recommended!

ARTWORK by chic2view from

5 thoughts on “Sometimes They Don’t Win At All: An Interview with Saad Z. Hossain

  1. Pingback: Quest Log the Last

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s