(2010) Ian McDonald, Gollancz, £12.99, pbk, 576pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08053-9
British born and award winning author Ian McDonald is a well-known novelist in the field of Science Fiction. His first book Desolation Road (1988) won the Locus Award for 'first novel' (1989) and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1990. He has since won the British Science Fiction Association Award for 'Best Novel' in 2004 for River of Gods and in 2007 for Brasyl amongst other awards and nominations. Ian McDonald sets many of his novels and series, such as Chaga Saga (1995-00) and The Dervish House mainly in the future of non-Western societies and uses references to advanced technology such as nanotechnology. Not only just a novelist he has worked in television, as a consultant and has contributed scripts to children TV series Sesame Tree (Northern Irish Sesame Workshop).
When the novel begins it is morning in Istanbul, Turkey. As people are waking up in the city and travelling to work, there is an explosion on tram 157 in Necatibey Cadessi and, although no one but the bomber is killed, it sets off an important series of events that affect the lives of the people in the city. This novel focuses specifically on the lives of the people who live and work in The Dervish House in the aftermath of this tram bomb. People such as Necdet Hasgular who witnesses the explosion, his brother Ismet and Can Durakan a child who watches the aftermath. Also Leyla Gultasli another Dervish House resident who is on her way to an interview at this point in time and Georgios Ferentinou having tea in Aden Dede Square as Asye Erkoc is striking a deal at her antiquities shop. These are the main characters in the novel.
However a week in their lives in 2025 Turkey is anything but simple and mundane. Ian McDonald’s future Turkey is a rich tapestry of political, economic and religious conflict of European, Asian and Middle-eastern cultures in the age of nanotechnology. On the lower level: personal rivalries and conspiracies are theorised; friendships and unlikely alliances are developed as well as broken. On a higher level: deals are brokered; big companies fall; and lost legends are found. All this is against the backdrop of modern Istanbul with its market places, squares and hidden places. To further complicate matters, the novel places us in the middle of a bad heat wave and a Champions League Football match quarter-final between Arsenal and the home favourites Galatasaray.
The building of the Dervish House itself (as opposed to its family) is an old Middle-eastern style house (its design is a square with a courtyard garden including a fountain in the middle), beautifully decorated with tulip designs and situated between Aden Dede Square, Vermilion-Maker-Lane and Stolen Chicken Lane. Overlooked, on the cheap side of Istanbul and split up into small apartments, but with its own rich history like Istanbul, Queen of Cities.
Ian McDonald’s novel is striking (in a positive way) and very focused. His description of European and especially Middle-eastern cultures are both well written and researched with nice touches and I can also say it is appreciated from the point of view of a reader from a Middle-eastern background. His style is very clear and easy to understand especially when he is describing politics and technology. He certainly understands his readers and does not overload them with information or patronise them thus inviting wider readership.
The characters of the Dervish House are brought to life because again of the authors’ clear descriptive style, how he links them up well and makes the reader care very much for them. Although the plot is made up of many stories again they are clearly explained, well co-ordinated and vastly interesting (there is never a dull moment in this book which is very positive). The pace is constant and, in fact, this is a book that a reader would find very difficult to put down (again another positive). As a warning to those of a sensitive nature, there is swearing and scenes of adult behaviour.
This novel will enjoyed by Science Fiction fans because its sophisticated technological feel. Further, it is a highly intelligently written book and would appeal across the genre boundaries to those into thriller, crime and fantasy genres, as well as those interested in Economics Politics and Religion. .
Elsewhere we have Ian Hunter's review of The Dervish House.
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