Book Review: The Dervish House, Ian McDonald

21 Sep

I’ve always been a quick reader, content to let words just wash over me, and let myself reread for comprehension and picking out threads and patterns later. The Dervish House would not let me do that. I was engulfed in the setting immediately … and the language of the setting. The writing style here is immense, not in longevity but in magnitude. It’s lush, and the pacing doesn’t just have you follow action from point to point, you are just set down into it and expected to run. It’s breathless and in the moment. You are thrown into this world that isn’t foreign to the modern reader, just different enough to be a bit jarring. A little more mercenary, less US-focused, but you can follow the path from now to 2027 fairly easily.

Lately, I’m reading books in hours, even long ones, thanks to my kindle. This book took me days. I’d be reading and realize that I was so caught up, that like the characters, I wasn’t sure what just happened. The book takes place over a short time frame, just a period of few days, so I tried to read it in day long chunks.  I’m quickly becoming a sucker for religious/spiritual infused sci-fi, which The Dervish House might as well define.

So the plot: Turkey, 2027 is a central part of the EU, and a center for nanotechnology. There is a suicide bomber on the tram, and while only the bomber is killed, it sets into motion the rest of the book. We follow a man who has come to his brother’s Dervish house after a life of being a continual fuck up, who has begun to see djinn, having a religious epiphany; a start-up nano technology firm that promises to be able to store information not just in the body, but accessible by it; an antiquities dealer who accepts an offer to find the Mellified Man (and the prose here, pardon the pun, is sweet and rich); a young boy who due to a heart condition, lives in a mostly silent world and resents it; members of the Greek Orthodox community; intellectual elites and lowlife are both present.

And there are some concepts in the book that are just chilling; you can buy or sell anything on the stock market, including Terror Futures. Laying down odds of a terrorist attack, the hows, when’s, and with whats plays no small part. The ambiguity of nanotech and technological changes to the body. But also, whimsical toys for kids, and depictions of a mystic so known to me, that I understand him completely.

So, you know, go read the book. Well worth your time, particular if you also like your sci-fi to wrestle with politics, the ethics of humanity, and economics. And if anyone has recs for more science fiction with religious and spiritual themes, please rec them!

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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Uncategorized



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