The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2010. 472p.

After Africa (Chaga – aka Evolution‒s Shore -, Kirinya and Tendeleo’s Story,) India (River Of Gods, Cyberabad Days) and Brazil (Brasyl), in The Dervish House McDonald now turns his attention to Turkey: specifically Istanbul.

The novel is set several years after Turkey has finally gained EU membership and joined the Euro (perhaps a somewhat more remote possibility now than when McDonald was writing) in an era when children can control real, mobile, self assembling/disassembling transformers and adults routinely use nanotech to heighten awareness/response in much the way they do chemical drugs at present. The fruit of what may have been a prodigious quantity of geographical and historical research is injected more or less stealthily into the text.

The main plot is concerned with a terrorists group’€™s plans to distribute nano behaviour changing agents designed to engender a consciousness of mysticism, if not of the reality of God/Allah. The resultant, what would otherwise be magic realist visions of djinni and karin, is thereby given an SF rationale.

In the interlinked narratives of those who live in and around an old Dervish House in Adam Dede Square, and covering events occurring over only four days, there are subplots about contraband Iranian natural gas, corrupt financial institutions and insider dealings, the circumscription of non-Turkish minorities, tales of youthful betrayal and frustrated love, not to mention the discovery of an ancient mummy embalmed in honey, which last gives the author the opportunity to deploy a nice pun on the phrase honey trap. The usual eclectic McDonald conjunction of disparate ingredients, then, and somehow amid all this he manages to finagle football into the mix as early as page two. Fair enough, though; Turkey’s fans are notoriously passionate about the game.

While not quite reaching the heights of Brasyl or River Of Gods, The Dervish House still has more than enough to keep anyone turning the pages.

One typographical quibble: the formula for carbon dioxide ought to be rendered as CO2 rather than CO2, though. To a Chemist like me there is a world of difference between the two.

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