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The Dervish House
Ian McDonald
Gollancz / Pyr, 472 / 359 pages

The Dervish House The Dervish House
Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester and moved to Northern Ireland in 1965. At present, he lives in Belfast with his wife, Patricia. His debut was the short story, The Island of the Dead, in the British magazine, Extro. His work has won the Philip K. Dick Award for best original SF paperback, the Locus poll for best first novel, and several nominations for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cyberabad Days
SF Site Review: Cyberabad Days
SF Site Review: Brasyl
SF Site Review: Ares Express
SF Site Review: Sacrifice of Fools
SF Site Reading List: Ian McDonald

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

With the tight, cinematic precision of a Hitchcock thriller, Ian McDonald's The Dervish House introduces us to a near-future Istanbul and to the lives of the characters who work and live in one of the oldest buildings in the city. Over the course of five heat-wave infested days, the characters lives are drawn together in ways that none of them could have anticipated.

Those characters range from a dealer in religious antiquities and her high-stakes financial trading husband, an eleven-year-old boy with a congenital heart condition that requires he be shielded from loud noises, and a retired economics professor who still dabbles in work at the edges of his profession. Their lives, and that of others, already tied together by boundaries of work and residence, are all affected when a terrorist bomber commits suicide on the local train.

It's that technique of following the threads of different lives brought together by a seemingly random act, plus the grand setting of Istanbul itself that gives The Dervish House much of its cinematic quality. McDonald fleshes out his characters' lives with details of their past, their families, their ambitions and hopes, all of which become elements in the pattern that brings the story to a dramatic, satisfying conclusion.

With The Dervish House, Ian McDonald has presented us with his third fully-realized near-future setting in as many novels. Compared to Brasyl and River of Gods, The Dervish House is less flashy and exotic and more intimate and focused. The time is less than two decades from now, and it's easy to see how the world of The Dervish House, with its reliance on natural gas, continuing struggles between the old world and the new, and emerging nanotechnology, flows from our own time.

The near future has been a popular place lately for science fiction writers, and there's been a definitely dystopian, cautionary aspect to much of it. Especially when compared to works like The Wind-Up Girl or Julian Comstock, The Dervish House is a much friendlier view of what might be coming our way. This is a future in which you can imagine people living happily and enjoying their lives. That McDonald can achieve that feeling while at the same time telling a story that is filled with intrigue, suspense, and danger is a tribute to his skills as a story-teller. That makes The Dervish House another major achievement by a writer at the top of his form.

Copyright © 2010 by Greg L. Johnson

After reading The Dervish House, reviewer Greg L Johnson has been entertaining friends and relatives with tales of The Mellified Man. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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