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The Dervish House

The Dervish House

4.0 11
by Ian McDonald

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Seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core—the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself—that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama, and a ticking clock of a thriller.


Seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core—the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself—that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama, and a ticking clock of a thriller.

Editorial Reviews

Sara Sklaroff
Written with care and intelligence, The Dervish House whirls along at a heady pace but still manages to give a deep sense of another place that would be great to visit—so long as you didn't have to live there.
—The Washington Post
Jeff VanderMeer
The Dervish House is an audacious look at the shift in the power centers of the world and an intense vision of one possible future.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"McDonald creates a magnificent knot of intrigue, thrills, and daring adventures, with the flair for character and setting that makes his tales so satisfying to indulge in." 

"An audacious look at the shift in the power centers of the world and an intense vision of one possible future." 
-New York Times Book Review

"This twisting, turning, part futuristic fantasy, part intuitive prediction satisfies without divulging all its secrets, just like the city." 
-Time Out Istanbul

"As close to perfection as a book can get. . . . If you only have money to buy a single sci-fi novel this year, this has to be it. Impossible to put down." 
-Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

“The complex plot and its unique characters make for an intriguing read. McDonald weaves several plotlines together with a whirling dervish house, a character in its own right, as the common denominator.”
-RT Book Reviews, 4 stars  

“In the end, spending some time with these six characters in the fascinating city of Istanbul was pure enjoyment. Look for The Dervish House on the shortlists of the major SF&F awards next year. Highly recommended. 41/2 out of 5 stars”
-Fantasy Literature 

The Dervish House cements Ian McDonald’s status as a first class talent, and one of my all-time favorite authors. He continues to depict the future of non-western cultures with creativity, depth, and verve. His prose is a delight to read, his characters are lively and authentic, and he can pull you in to a near-future setting like no one else I know. I’d recommend this book to pretty much everyone.”
-SF Revu 

“A rich, accomplished portrait of near-future Istanbul that may be is the best thing McDonald has written—and that’s saying something. It is the product of a writer at the top of his game: beautifully styled, complexly characterized and plotted without ever feeling heavy or dull...half a dozen storylines are coiled together as neatly as DNA, each of them compelling and readable. McDonald manages to avoid the traps of condescension, or Orientalism, that lie in wait for the white Westerner writing about places that are neither of those things. A dervishly good book.”
- Locus 

“First, let's get one thing out of the way. Every book I’ve read in the last several months has been completely overshadowed — perhaps unfairly — by Ian McDonald’sThe Dervish House. He’s the kind of writer who has the power to alter your whole vision of what science fiction can be and do. Last year’s Cyberabad Days was among the most ferociously intelligent novels I’ve read in years, in any genre. And The Dervish House is even better. After reading a book like that, it’s hard to get excited about merely good sf novels. Or even genuinely excellent ones...This is what science fiction should be... McDonald has done the seemingly impossible. He has written a compelling, action-packed sf novel about the future of AI-based quantitative trading... But it’s no fantasy: it’s the reality that’s breathing down the backs of our necks every workday. And McDonald extrapolates from it with dizzying virtuosity...More than any other sf writer I can think of, McDonald has a complex, nuanced, fundamentally real vision of the way power works in the world.”
-Fantasy & Science Fiction

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dervish House


Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2010 Ian McDonald
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-204-9

Chapter One


The white bird climbs above the city of Istanbul: a stork, riding the rising air in a spiral of black-tipped wings. A flare of the feathers; it wheels on the exhalations of twenty million people, one among ten thousand that have followed the invisible terrain of thermals from Africa to Europe, gliding one to the next, rising up from Lake Victoria and the Rift Valley, following the silver line of the Nile, across the Sinai and the Lebanon to the great quadrilateral of Asia Minor. There the migration splits. Some head north to the shores of the Black Sea, some east to Lake Van and the foothills of Ararat; but the greatest part flies west, across Anatolia to the glitter of the Bosphorus and beyond it, the breeding grounds of the Balkans and Central Europe. In the autumn the stork will return to the wintering grounds in Africa, a round-trip of twenty thousand kilometres. There has been a city on this strait for twenty-seven centuries, but the storks have been crossing twice a year for time only held by the memory of God.

High above Üsküdar, storks peel off from the top of the thermal, wingtips spread wide, feeling the air. In twos and threes they glide down towards the quays and mosques of Sultanahmet and Beyoglu. There is a mathematics to the wheeling flock, a complex beauty spun out of simple impulses and algorithms. As the stork spills out from the top of the gyre its sense for heat tells it there is something different this migration, an added strength to the uplift of warm air. Beneath its wings the city stifles under an unseasonable heat wave.

It is after the hour of prayer but not yet the hour of money. Istanbul, Queen of Cities, wakes with a shout. There is a brassy top note to the early traffic, the shrill of gas engines. Midnotes from taxis and dolmuses, the trams on their lines and tunnels, the trains in their deeper diggings through the fault zones beneath the Bosphorus. From the strait comes the bass thrum of heavy shipping: bulk carriers piled high with containers edge past Russian liquid gas carriers like floating mosques, pressure domes fully charged from the terminals at Odessa and Supsa. The throb of marine engines is the heartbeat of Istanbul. Between them scurry the opportunistic ferries. Sirens and horns, call and response; motors reversing and burbling as they warp into Eminönü's quays. Gulls' cries; always gulls. Dirty, conniving gulls. No one builds platforms on their chimneys for gulls to nest. Gulls are never blessings. The clatter of roller shutters, the bang of van doors. Morning radio, pop and talk. Much talk, of football. Champions' League quarterfinal. Galatasaray/London Arsenal. The pundits are in full flow from a hundred thousand balconies and rooftop terraces. Pop, football and heat. This is the tenth day of the heat wave. Thirty-three degrees in April, at seven in the morning. Unthinkable. The climate-pundits speculate on whether it could be another Big Heat of '22 when eight thousand people died in Istanbul alone. That was insane heat. Now some witty phone-in caller is fusing the two punditries together and speculating that if it flattens those pale English footballers, can that be such a bad thing?

Over all, through all, the chorus of air conditioners. A box in a window, a vent on a wall, an array of fans on a rooftop-one by one they spin up, stirring the heat into ever-greater gyres of warm air. The city exhales a subtle breath of spirals within spirals, updrafts and microthermals.

The stork's pinfeathers feel out the rising airscape. The city's waste heat may save it those few wingbeats it needs to carry it to the next thermal or away from the stooping eagle. Its life is an unconscious algebra, balancing equations between energy opportunity and energy expenditure. Black feather tips flutter as it slides down across the rooftops.

The explosion goes almost unnoticed in the greater roar of the waking city. A flat crack. Then silence. The first voices are the pigeons and gulls, bursting upwards in clattering wings and shrieks. Then come the voices of the machines: car alarms, security alarms, personal alarms, the hip-hop of call tones. Last come the human shrieks and cries.

The tram has come to a halt in the centre of Necatibey Cadessi a few metres away from the halt. The bomb detonated at the rear; the blue roof is bellied up, the windows and doors blown out. A little smoke leaks from the back end of the second car. The passengers have made their own escapes onto the street and now mill around uncertain about what to do. Some sit on the ground, knees pulled up, deep in shock. Pedestrians have come to help. Some offer coats or jackets; some are making cell calls, hands trying to describe the scene; more stand around feeling the need to offer help but uncertain what to do. Most stand back, watching and feeling guilty for watching. A few without guilt shoot video on their cepteps. The news channels pay money for citizen journalism.

The tram driver goes from group to group asking, Is everyone there? Is anyone missing? Are they all right? And they are all right. She doesn't know what to do either. No one knows. Now come the sirens. Here are people who will know what to do. Lights flash beyond the press of bodies; the crowd parts. It's hard to tell victims from helpers; the blood is smeared everywhere. Necatibey Cadessi is a street of global banks and insurance combines, but the ripples from the blast have spread out along the lines of the light rail system. Station by station, street by street, tram by stalled tram, Beyoglu seizes up. Everyone knows about the bombing now.

From the eye of a white stork riding in from the Bosphorus the paralysis can be seen spreading out from the heart of the outrage. Its eye has no comprehension of these things; the sirens are just another unremarkable note in the clamour of a waking city. City and stork occupy overlapping but discrete universes. Its descent carries it over the bombed-out tram surrounded by flashing blue lights and into the heel of the next thermal. Then the rising heat plumes of Istanbul spiral the stork up in a wheel of white bodies and black wings, up above the eastern suburbs, up and onwards into Thrace.

* * *

Necdet sees the woman's head explode. He was only trying to avoid more direct, challenging eye contact with the young woman with the good cheekbones and the red-highlighted hair who had caught him looking in her direction three times. He's not staring at her. He's not a creep. Necdet let his eyes unfocus and wander mildly across the passengers, wedged so politely together. This is a new tram at a new time: twenty minutes earlier, but the connections get him into work less than an hour late, thus not upsetting Mustafa, who hates having to act the boss. So: his tram-mates. The boy and girl in their old-fashioned high-button blue school uniforms and white collars that Necdet thought they didn't make kids wear anymore. They carried OhJeeWah Gumi backpacks and played insatiably with their ceptep phones. The gum-chewing man staring out the window, his mastication amplified by his superb moustache. Beside him the smart man of business and fashion scanning the sports news on his ceptep. That purple velvet suit must be that new nanofabric that is cool in summer, warm in winter, and changes from silk to velvet at a touch. The woman with the curl of silver hair straying over her brow from under her headscarf and the look of distant rue on her face. She frees her right hand from the crowd, lifts it to touch the jewel at her throat. And detonates her head.

The sound of an exploding skull is a deep bass boom that sucks every other sound into itself so that for a moment after the blast there is only a very pure silence.

Then the silence shatters into screaming. The tram jerks to a halt; the momentum almost throws Necdet from his feet. To go down in this panic is to die. Necdet can't reach a handrail and steadies himself against the bodies of roaring passengers. The crowd surges against the still-locked doors. Their bodies hold the headless woman upright. The man in the fine velvet suit shrieks in an insane, high-pitched voice. One side of his purple jacket is dark glossy red. Necdet feels wet on his face, but he can't raise a hand to test it or wipe it away. The doors sigh open. The press is so tight Necdet fears his ribs will splinter. Then he spills out onto the street with no sense of direction or purpose, of anything except a need not to be on the tram.

The tram driver moves from group to group asking, Is anyone missing, is anyone hurt? There is nothing really she can do, but she is a representative of IETT so she must do something, and she hands out moist wipes from a pull-tube in her large green handbag. Necdet admires that her tram has been suicide-attacked but she's remembered to bring her bag with her.

The wet wipe smells of lemon. To Necdet the folded cone of white is the purest, most holy thing he has ever seen.

"Please move away from the tram," the driver is saying as Necdet marvels at the little square of cool citrus white. "There may be another explosion." She wears an expensive Hermes headscarf. It links Necdet to that other scarf he saw around the woman's head. In the final moment he had seen the wistful regret on her face resolve as if she had received a revelation into some long-rooted family woe. She had smiled. Then she had touched the jewel at her throat.

Passengers crouch around the schoolchildren, trying to ease their crying with words of comfort, offered hugs. Can't you see the blood on your faces is scaring them all the more? Necdet thinks. He remembers the warm, wet spray into his own face. He looks at the wet wipe balled up in his hand. It isn't red. It wasn't blood.

Everyone looks up at the beat of a helicopter. It slides in over the rooftops, defying talk and phone calls. Now sirens lift above the morning traffic noise. It will be the police before the ambulances. Necdet doesn't want to be near police. They will ask him questions he doesn't want to answer. He has ID; everyone has ID. The police would scan it. They would read the carbon debit Necdet used to buy his ticket that morning and a cash withdrawal the night before and another carbon debit that previous evening at eighteen thirty. They might ask about the cash. It's grey but not yet illegal.

And is this your current address?

No, I'm staying at the old Adem Dede dervish house in Eskiköy. With my brother.

Who is your brother? Here they might find they had more questions.

Ismet had replaced the padlock with the new one he had bought. Bright brass, a golden medal on a chain. The tekke's shuttered wooden balconies overhung the steps; this was a private, shadowed entrance, behind the industrial steel bins of the Fethi Bey tea shop, miasmic and greasy with the ventings from the kitchen extractor fans. The door was of old Ottoman wood, grey and cracked from centuries of summer heat and winter damp, elaborately worked with tulip and rose motifs. A door into mysteries. It opened onto gloom and the acidic reek of pigeon. Necdet stepped gingerly into the enfolding dark. Light fell in slats through the closed and barred window shutters.

"We shouldn't be doing this," Necdet whispered. It was an architecture that commanded whispers. "People live here."

"Some old Greek and a married couple at the front. And an office girl on her own. And that shop for blasphemies in the old semahane. We'll sort that eventually. This end's been left to rot for fifty years, just falling apart." Ismet stood proudly in the centre of the floor. It was his already. "That's the crime here. God wants this to be what it was before. This is where we'll bring the brothers. Look at this."

Ismet flung open a matching door across the dusty room. Colour flooded in and more than colour: a growing verdure of clipped box; the perfume of sun-warmed wood; the burble of water and the sudden song of birds. Ismet might have opened a door onto Paradise.

The garden was six paces across, but it contained a universe. A shady cloister walled with floral Iznik tiles ran around the courtyard affording shade or shelter in every season. The fountain was a single piece of sun-warmed marble, releasing water over a lily-lip into a basin. A jewel-bright lizard started from repose in the sun and dashed along the scalloped rim to vanish into the shade beneath. Herbaceous plants grew tall and cool in small box-bordered beds. The soil was dark and rich as chocolate. A green place. House martins dipped and bobbed along the eaves of the wooden gallery directly above the cloister. Their shrills filled the air. A copy of yesterday's Cumhuriyet lay sun-yellowing on a marble bench.

"It's all still here," Ismet said. "The redevelopers never got around to the back. The old cells are being used for storage-we'll clear them out."

"Someone looks after this," Necdet said. He could imagine himself here. He would come in the evening, when the light would fall over that roof onto that bench in a single pane of sun. He could sit and smoke blow. It would be a good place for a smoke.

"We'll be all right here," Ismet said, looking around at the overhanging balconies, the little rectangle of blue sky. "I'll look after you."

Necdet can't let the security police know he has moved into the dervish house that his brother intends to make the home of the secret Islamic order to which he belongs. The police think secret Islamic orders blow up trams. And if they look at his old address, they'll see what he did, back there in Basibüyük, and why Ismet Hasgüler took his brother of the flesh under his care. No, he just wants to go to work quietly and soberly. No, no police thank you.

The air above the still-smoking tram thickens in buzzing, insect motion. Swarmbots. The gnat-sized devices can lock together into different forms for different purposes; above Necatibey Cadessi they coalesce like raindrops into scene-of-crime drones. The sparrow-sized robots flit on humming fans among the milling pigeons, sampling the air for chemical tracers, reading movement logs from vehicles and personal cepteps, imaging the crime scene, seeking out survivors and photographing their blood-smeared, smoke-stained faces.

Necdet drifts to the periphery of the mill of survivors, haphazard enough to elude the darting drones. Two women in green paramed coveralls crouch with the tram driver. She's shaking and crying now. She says something about the head. She saw it wedged up under the roof behind the grab-bars, looking down at her. Necdet has heard that about suicide bombers. The head just goes up into the air. They find them in trees, electric poles, wedged under eaves, caught up in shop signs.

Necdet subtly merges with the circle of onlookers, presses gently through them towards the open street. "Excuse me, excuse me." But there is this one guy, this big guy in a outsize white T-shirt, right in front of him, with his hand up to the ceptep curled over his eye; a gesture that these days means: I am videoing you. Necdet tries to cover his face with his hand, but the big man moves backwards, videoing and videoing and videoing. Maybe he is thinking, This is a couple of hundred euro on the news; maybe, I can post this online. Maybe he just thinks his friends will be impressed. But he is in Necdet's way, and Necdet can hear the thrum of swarmbot engines behind him like soulsucking mosquitoes.

"Out of my way!" He pushes at the big man with his two hands, knocks him backwards, and again. The big man's mouth is open, but when Necdet hears the voice say his name, it is a woman's voice speaking directly behind him.

He turns. The head hovers at his eye level. It's her. The woman who left her head in the roof of the tram. The same scarf, the same wisp of grey hair coiling from beneath it, the same sad, apologetic smile. A cone of light beams from her severed neck, golden light. She opens her mouth to speak again.

Necdet's shoulder charge sends the big man reeling. "Hey!" he shouts. The surveillance drones rise up, fizzing at the edges as they prepare to dissolve and re-form into a new configuration. Then they firm back into their surveillance modes and swoop around the flashing blue lights that have only now made it through the citywide traffic jam rippling out from the destruction of Tram 157.


Excerpted from The Dervish House by IAN McDONALD Copyright © 2010 by Ian McDonald. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian McDonald has written 13 science fiction novels and has lost count of the number of stories. He's been nominated for every major science fiction award, and even won some. He lives in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast, and loves to travel.

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The Dervish House 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 2027 in Istanbul, Turkey Necdet rides the jammed tram to work, but though he is not a creep he cannot stop staring at the young woman with the red highlights and silver curls. Thus he sees first hand when she touches a jewel at her throat and detonates her head. The exploding skull panics everybody. The nanotechnological Swarmbots gizmos investigate what seems like a loner suicide bomber. Necdet knows he must elude the Swarmbots because they have ways of knowing everything; he must not reveal that he is moving into the Dervish House for fear he will destroy his brother's plan to use the home as a sanctuary for an underground Islamic group. The timing for the move is bad especially as the country celebrates its fifth decade as a member of the EU, which means terrorists will blow themselves and others up for some obscure inane cause in God's name and law enforcement will sweep anyone regardless of criminality. This is a complicated gloomy science fiction novel that extrapolates current trends in politics, economics, religion, science, technology and social terrorism into a strong enthralling thriller. The cast is solid starting with Necdet and the Swarmbots while the story line is fast-paced and extremely dark. Readers will appreciate Ian McDonald's ominous near future as 1984 comes to full throttle in his vision of 2027. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SvenNomadsson More than 1 year ago
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is one of those rare books where I am in agreement with critics and consider it worthy of the many rewards it received. Often times I find myself at a loss to understand why everyone was raving about these books – think of The De Vinci Code or Life of Pi or even the latest Haruki Murakami book 1Q84 which I am struggling through. But in this case I tore through it and only took so long to read because of other commitments. Set in Istanbul, not Constantinople, Turkey in 2027 The Dervish House is the epitome of speculative fiction – combining sci-fi elements with a look at the future of humanity and society in particular. All of which takes place around the building that gives the novel its name. The dervish house in question links not just people, but history, families, society and religion into a complex but realistic world where the most expressive element of McDonald’s story is in fact the humanity he explores. McDonald focuses not on one character but many, each with their own skills, trials, tribulations, drives and needs. At various times they will overlap and ultimately tie together which in some ways feels like deus ex machina and others comes across as a forced happy ending. The ride along the way is what matters though, and given that this book is meant to be a one-off, a standalone novel those transgressions are forgivable as it takes you through a rich and varied journey of Istanbul. Like good speculative fiction and sci-fi The Dervish House deals with a question, and one could even argue a couple of questions – namely can one create a religious experience and belief. The other possible question posed, by one of the more interesting characters – the professor (his name escapes me), is about the amount of information that is needed to make a leap to a logical conclusion. Which itself is part in parcel of the debate on religion in the book, when does one have enough information. Ian McDonald brings to Istanbul and The Dervish House a wonderfully lyrical and literary language which helps to add to those little elements that makes the novel so good, much in the way much of Turkish and Islamic architecture is about the inclusion of the mosaic. Some passages can be a bit flowery, and when he follows a bird in its flight over the “Queen of Cities” one wishes that there were photos on offer instead. Many have complained of the difficulty in the names of the characters which was an area I did not struggle with. Anyone with any experience of the Turkic cultures knows that there are some very common names or elements that make up names and soon follows along easily. McDonald’s attention to detail in that respect I felt made the story all the more immersive and true to Turkish culture. The Dervish House is an excellent story of a culture and a city foreign to most that is accessible to anyone. And everyone should read it if they’re looking for sci-fi or speculative fiction, foreign cultures, history, religion, family drama or boy detectives. It really does have something for everyone and is an excellent introduction to Ian McDonald’s work.
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