Study Guide

The Dervish House

by Ian McDonald

The Dervish House Summary

Extended Summary

Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House is a science fiction novel set in near-future Istanbul. Nanotechnology is about to change the world as completely for this generation as information technology did for the previous one. Already, people regularly take nano to improve their focus. The novel follows six protagonists, all of whom live in the “Dervish House” in Adem Dede Square, which is in Eskiköy. The action of the novel begins with the suicide bombing of a public tram.

Necdet Hasgüler witnesses the bombing and soon after begins to see religious visions including djinn and Hizir, the Green Saint. Up to this point, Necdet has been so emotionally empty that he may have disaffective disorder. Once, he set his sister on fire. His brother, Ismet, is attempting to bring Islamic street law to Adem Dede Square. Ismet and his tarikat decide that Necdet’s visions are not hallucinatory. There are even reports that Necdet is not the only person who has suddenly discovered the ability to see djinn and peri. However, Necdet’s visions turn out to be secular in origin after all. Necdet is abducted by a terror cell, and they explain that the suicide bomber’s goal was to spread nanotechnology into a public space. The nano would reconfigure people’s minds so that they will have religious visions. Necdet and the others who see these visions were test subjects. Now, Necdet is being studied by the cell and he worries that they will kill him when they are ready to move on to the next stage of their plan.

Can Durukan is a nine-year-old boy with Long QT syndrome. A sudden noise could stop Can’s heart, so he wears special earpieces that mute the sounds of the world. His mother communicates with Can through sign language, though he can also read lips. Can is very bright, but his condition forces him to spend much of his time in his room. From there, he explores the world around him by using a BitBot. Can’s robot is made up of many smaller pieces that can change their shape from a monkey to a bird to a snake to a rat. Can hears about the suicide bombing and sends Monkey to investigate. However, when he gets there, he discovers another bot recording the incident; the bot begins to chase Monkey. Can is able to escape the predator and tricks his assailant into jumping off a roof; while in midair Can changes Monkey into Bird. The predatory bot drops to the street below and is destroyed. Imagining himself as the “Boy Detective,” Can sends his bot, now configured as Rat and as Snake, to investigate. He is able to retrieve a serial number. He also witnesses the terrorists kidnap Necdet and decides to take action.

Can takes this information to his retired neighbor, Georgios Ferentinou, who forbids Can from getting involved in what is clearly dangerous police business. Georgios is a retired economist and one of the last Greeks in Istanbul. He once specialized in “experimental economics,” but has now “merely extended the free-market principle to terrorism.” He runs a “Terror Market” in his free time, and it is up twenty points after the tram bombing. In spite of the Terror Market and Can’s visits, Georgios is a lonely man. He had once loved Ariana Sinandis as a young man, but when the government took Georgios into custody, he informed on their colleagues. Although he gave up names to save Ariana, their relationship was afterward ruined. Now, she has returned to Istanbul.

A member of the Turkish government offers Georgios a job working for an unorthodox think tank. They have received word that a terror attack related to "gas" is being planned. The think tank is run by Georgios’ longtime enemy: Professor Ogün Saltuk, the man who organized Georgios’ early retirement from academic life. However, the experiment is interesting enough that Georgios decides to participate. He and his new colleagues have been asked to take minimal information about the upcoming attack and attempt to make leaps of intuition to...

(The entire section is 1617 words.)