Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Dervish House The Dervish House
by Ian McDonald

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten

The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald, is a finalist for the 2011 Hugo awards (undecided at time of review) and a winner of the British Science Fiction Awards. I last read Ian McDonald in short fiction (Cyberabad Days, which also contained the Hugo nominated novella "Vishnu and the Cat Circus") and was mightily impressed.

The Dervish House was not an easy story to get into and the reader must exercise some patience before being rewarded. The action unfolds over five days, is set in a near-ish future Istanbul and oscillates between six viewpoint characters, who initially have little in common except for the old dervish house that is home or workplace to most of them. Turkey has acceded to the European Union and Istanbul is booming, but still with the ever present danger of urban terrorism. Of the principal characters: Necdet, a listless clerk from the provinces, witnesses a minor act of terrorism (only the suicide bomber dies on the crowded tram); Can, a school boy with health problems, who via remote controlled robot witnesses Necdet leaving the scene of the bombing; Georgios, an elderly Istanbuli Greek, is called in to an experimental think tank on urban terrorism; Leyla, a marketing graduate, is embroiled in helping get venture capital for a cousin’s business start-up; Asla, a trader in antiquities, is called upon to find a mellified man; and Adnan, a commodities trader and husband of Asla, is hoping to sell some embargoed gas.

After reading the first two days I was near ready to put the book aside, but once day three started the characters developed beyond the initial sketches used to set the first two days’ scenes, the various plot lines started to interconnect and a seventh less obvious character came into play – the city of Istanbul, queen of cities. About the middle of day three the book became a must read as the interweaving between the storylines became tighter and tighter and the characters started tripping over each other. Appropriately, the plot that unfolds is Byzantine in its conception (as befits a story told from six points of view) and delivery with the story reaching a succession of pleasing endings.

I can understand why this book is simultaneously a Hugo finalist and the sort of book where the reader can abandon it from sheer boredom. I am very glad I stuck with it. Ian McDonald has written a very interesting book set in city not usually associated with science fiction and has pulled it off very well. But now for an apple tea and a slice of baklava.

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