The Dervish House; The Pothunters

No column last week as I was swamped with school, although I suppose I could have posted a profile of the coelacanth or my diagnosis and treatment plan for a man presenting with high fever, headache, confusion and nuchal rigidity. I wrecked my shoulder, wrist and hand so typing is (very) painful and difficult, so columns may continue to be short.

I zipped through a few books over the last couple of weeks. One of them was a bit of a slog but the others (mostly anthologies) were fast and fun. The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is set in a near future Istanbul and begins with a bang, literally. A suicide bomber on a tram brings chaos and blood to the morning commute, setting off a complex series of events. We follow an interestingly diverse set of people, ranging from a young man with a violent past to a woman who is on a quest for a legendary object to a young boy with a heart condition. There are almost too many characters and intertwined plots to keep them all straight. Luckily for me I read it as an ebook so I could easily look back when I got confused and figure out who was who and what their motivation might be.

I had some serious problems with some of the plot points, such as a nine year old boy's long QT syndrome, a condition that affects the rhythms of the heart. In the novel the boy is supposed to be so sensitive to noise that he is artificially deafened and sent to deaf school. Supposedly any loud noise will kill him. Of course people with LQTS are at risk from anything that startles, excites or upsets them but this kid is constantly super excited and that seems to be fine. You can read more about LQTS here:

Istanbul runs on nanotech, at the forefront of research and new products. It is so prevalent that it invades every aspect of life. Ridiculously someone is given a phone number via a nano vial that must be inhaled. That is one of the clunkiest ways to hand off info that I can think of. If the tech is so advanced why is there no better treatment for Can, the boy in question?

Things I did like includes the obvious love the author has for the historic, complex city with building built upon building. (The title refers to the place where most of the characters live, an ancient building that has been extensively changed many times over the years.)I liked the passion the characters have for their work, interests and each other. I liked the ambition and drive. I especially liked the deep mysteries such as the sudden appearance of otherworldly creatures. Overall I enjoyed the book but it was very difficult to keep my disbelief suspended.

You can read an excerpt here: The very beginning is a bit stilted but as you can see the style changes right away and becomes more intimate.

The Pothunters by PG Wodehouse was an odd duck. It was very different from anything else of his I have read, making me wonder if it was an early effort. Set in a boy's school it follows the travails of several of the students who are in trouble for various things like trespassing, being out after curfew and maybe stealing some trophies. (These are the pots referred to in the title.)

There is an awful lot of sport in the book, which was a bit of a surprise. Usually Mr. Wodehouse's characters get all their exercise narrowly escaping bad engagements, although there are quite a few golf stories. The Pothunters begins with a boxing match and features two days of field sports, including a cross country race across obstacles like a freshly plowed field. There are a ton of characters in this novel also, again making it hard to keep them all straight. There's also a lot of obsolete slang, which I kind of like, but I couldn't find definitions for some of the terms and am still a little puzzled over some points. I did learn about a thing called a jellygraph, which is pretty interesting, if tedious to actually operate. If you're interested you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is They Might Be Giants' cover of the Four Lads' Istanbul (Not Constantinople). The video is a short from Tiny Toons Adventures. (I don't know why I often think of this city as Constantinople as they officially changed their name more than eighty years ago. One of my many failings I guess.)