- The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. (c) Ian McDonald 2010, pub Gollancz 2010, ISBN 978-0-5750-8904-4. I bought this as a full-price ebook fairly soon after it was published, because at his best Ian McDonald is one of my favourite authors. And then I didn't actually read it for five years because I was deeply disappointed with Brasyl. I started tDH back last autumn, and enjoyed it a lot while I was reading but felt unmotivated to pick it up again after I'd put it down. I think that's probably as much me as the book, though others report a similar reaction to McDonald.
I read the last third, which I'd basically abandoned for months, while I was travelling to Amsterdam this week, and had a lot of time in transit. Mainly because our Sunday night ferry got cancelled and we had to switch onto the daytime sailing, which meant about 7 hours of being on the ferry in addition to several hours of trains between the ports and our ultimate destinations. Still better than flying, but not quite what I'd hoped for, which was a night crossing giving me a full day in Amsterdam after the end of the conference. It was nice to have some time with jack but even we two don't chat continuously for sixteen hours, so that was at least good reading time.
Anyway, in spite of the long hiatus in the middle, I definitely enjoyed The Dervish House. It's exciting and original and thought-provoking and does a very nice take on the structure of half dozen disparate characters who happen to be thrown together for slightly contrived plot reasons.
It isn't quite the genre described as 'slipstream', but it does have a lot more literary elements than really genre-typical SF. The structure of exploring various ordinary people's lives illustrates character really well, in addition to illustrating the near future Turkey setting. And the language is rich and at times poetic. I liked the setting a lot, much more than Brasyl it felt as if Turkey itself was an important character, not merely an exotic location. I mean, there are moments when it feels like McDonald is showing off how much research he's done, and he's wrong in minor details about the Jewish elements so I assume he's probably wrong about Turkish Islam and Greek Orthodox Christianity too, but there's enough depth and detail there to make a good story if not a factual guide to those cultures. But generally I really like the idea that the future doesn't all happen in urban America and anglophone / western cultures, and this feels like a good example of considering the impact of imagined technologies on a non-default culture.
The thing with the six people all living in the same cluster of apartments in the converted Dervish House of the title felt a little contrived, and the ending seemed somehow too pat, too happily-ever-after while conveniently joining everything together. And perhaps that's why I didn't get fully immersed in the book, even when it's done well I often don't like switching between multiple viewpoints of characters who barely interact until the final dénouement. But all six characters are well drawn and I cared about all of their individual adventures and ambitions even aside from everything coincidentally turning out to be related to the central plot. I was a bit fed up with Adnan, who seems like a nerd parody of machismo, and the relationship between him and Ayşe feels a bit male-gazey, the reader is clearly expected to imagine himself as Adnan making millions on a semi-legal stock market gamble and enjoying the attentions of a wife who we are constantly reminded is incredibly sexy, whereas in Ayşe's viewpoint there's very little description of what she finds attractive about her husband.
"Nanotech" is basically magic in tDH, but one of the things McDonald writes well is magic. I really enjoyed the exploration of how different people and different elements of society might react to the transition to post-scarcity and infinite data capacity. I was less keen on the actual expositions of how this is supposed to work, from the biology to the economics it felt infodumpy and not very credible. But happily there's not too much of that, much more letting the plot unfold to illustrate rather than trying to explain the tech. So generally tDH shows many of McDonald's strengths, and is well worth reading.
- A deeper season by lightgetsin and sahiya (Vorkosigan fanfic). Pub 2010.
I had intended to take the opportunity of travelling to read long fics, but it turns out that I didn't have The world that you need in an organized format for my e-reader, so I went with an older fic instead. And I had forgotten, since I downloaded it ages ago, that A deeper season is Miles / Gregor, a pairing I don't really buy; in my mind they're basically brothers. But if you're prepared to ignore the incesty vibe, aDS portrays a very plausible and well-drawn relationship. Also, immediately after the end of Memory is a really good branch-point for an AU from my perspective, because I don't really like the direction the series takes after that. Bujold always claims that she plots by thinking of the worst thing she could possibly do to Miles, which makes me think she just doesn't have a very cruel imagination (though Memory itself is pretty dark, admittedly); clearly a love declaration from Gregor would be far worse for Miles than rescuing a woman who just happens to be his perfect partner in every way.
The relationship very much follows fanfic tropes for m/m, Gregor as the strictly gay man whose society has no acceptance of homosexuality and Miles as the basically straight man who is willing to make an exception for True Love. I mean, all kinds of relationships exist, and I'm sure it would be possible to find a relationship like that somewhere IRL, but it seems much more frequent in fanfic than I would expect to be realistic. That said, I did like the way that there are real serious barriers to their relationship, not only that Barrayar is homophobic but that Gregor is the Emperor, so any romantic relationship he has is massively fraught with political and personal danger. And Gregor as Emperor has absolute authority over Miles, it's more than just a power imbalance. There is never a problem caused by the protagonists failing to talk to eachother when they obviously should.
lightgetsin and sahiya do a pretty good imitation of Bujold's style and voice. I almost never felt jarred, and almost always like I was enjoyably spending more time in the Vorkosiverse. Gregor is very good, I think partly because he doesn't get much characterization in canon, he's always seen from others' POV. And Miles, who is very difficult to get right, acts enough like canon!Miles for the fic to work really well. I wasn't sure about Ivan, but Ivan is a very difficult character (and for that matter I'm reluctant to read the Ivan book, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance as I hear that it's more transphobic than I really want to deal with.) And fanon!Cordelia is of course everybody's ideal mother; I personally have never wished my mother were more like her, and a lot of Bujold fanworks make me miss the way that in the book she is a lot more a person in her own right and not just the perfect non-judgemental support for Miles.
I read the fic expecting lots of angsty star-crossed romance, and certainly there is plenty of that. I'm in just the kind of soppy phase presently to appreciate that; obviously my problems are on an incomparably smaller scale than Gregor's, but I really related to the coming out scenes and the emotional pull to stop trying to be cautious and make being with one's beloved an absolute priority. And in spite of my general feeling about the pairing I could really buy Miles' and Gregor's relationship here. There isn't very much explicit sex; the bedroom scenes fade to black, but plenty of emotional intensity without going into the mechanical detail of body connections.
What I didn't expect was how well this fic absolutely nails Bujold's approach to political intrigue. The plot is much more than just a frame for the angsty gay romance, the plot is gripping and really feels like classic Bujold. And I liked the way that it brings in characters from earlier in the series, the Duronas, haut Pel, Dr Weddell, as well as Miles' exes, and does so in a way that doesn't seem contrived. But I appreciated far more than I expected going in the intrigue between Cetagandan factions, Athos (!) and Barrayar.
I read some of the shorts in the same setting as well, because I was just enjoying spending time with the characters and in the world. I shall probably take a break before I pick up the second novel-length section, What passing bells.
Currently reading: Nothing, still deciding.
Up next: I'm up to
A book at the bottom of your "to be read" pilein the long-running Bringing up Burns challenge. Perhaps it's time to pick up Ghost spin by Chris Moriarty, having enjoyed the first two in the trilogy that this completes, though some time ago now. And I bought this in Montréal in 2013, so.
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