June 22 2011

The Dervish House

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald was a truly interesting read. It is set in Istanbul in the near future and constitutes the events that happen over seven days to the inhabitants of an old Dervish House (or Tekke) in Istanbul that has been split into apartments and shops. The various story thread are (at first) linked only by their confluence within the Dervish house but gradually become linked together by external factors. Two threads were particularly interesting to me. Ayşe Erkoç owns an antiquities shop in the Dervish house and is approached by a somewhat suspicious character to find a “mellified man.” This quest thread gives us a nice historical mystery thread and explores pieces of Istanbul.
The second thread is the quest of Can Durukan to uncover the mystery of a nearby tram explosion. Can is a nine year old boy with a heart condition such that he can not be exposed to loud noises. Thus, he is mostly confined to his apartment rooms and explores the world through his bitbot robot. The bitbot is a programmable swarm of modular nanobots that can take on the shapes of a rat, bird, or snake. Everyone thinks of it as Can’s toy, although it seems incredibly useful to me and I’d like one now, please.
Through Can’s thread, we gradually work our way into a terrorist plot and also link with Georgios Ferentinou, a retired (somewhat forcibly) economics professor who is a member of the Greek minority within Istanbul. Through Georgios we also see some of the unfortunate treatment of minorities within Turkey. The terrorist thread also links us to Necdet Hasgüler. Necdet lives in the Dervish house with his brother Ismet and was witness to the explosion on the tram. Soon after the explosion, he begins having visions of Jinn.
Through these threads, we get a look at a future Istanbul and Turkey. Turkey has recently entered the EU and nanotechnology and natural gas promise both future riches and troubles. I enjoyed the way McDonald wove the various threads together into a very interesting whole. All in all, a very good contender for the Hugo.
I was also very interested in the workings and culture of Istanbul. I’ve read quite a bit on the Byzantine empire, but not much on the goings on past the Ottoman sacking of Constantinople. So, it was interesting to see future/modern Istanbul.

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Posted June 22, 2011 by user in category "Book review

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