Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Night Sessions The Night Sessions
by Ken Macleod

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

The novel starts with a prologue in which we meet a Christian fundamentalist who is travelling from New Zealand to Scotland in order to make contact with another Christian group. We gather that Christianity is somewhat frowned upon these days, as indeed are all organised religions. Something called the Faith Wars (or, depending on your point of view, the Oil Wars) have effectively removed the social and politcal power of organised religions; and driven their remnants underground. Much of the Middle East and the West coast of America is a nuclear wasteland.

The novel proper begins in Edinburgh. Someone sets off a bomb that kills a priest. Detective Inspector Ferguson is put in charge of the case.

And so it introduces itself as a science fictional whodunit. The SF ideas are cleverly integrated into the social and political world that Macleod has imagined. For example, robots originally developed as battle mechs have become self-aware. After the Faith Wars, these kinetic intelligences (KIs) find suitable roles in society, as police officers, space workers etc. Along with the KIs, there are also artificial intelligences (AIs) and one of these is a police computer commonly referred to as Paranoia! Macleod has a lot of fun with this. He also cleverly integrates these notions into the standard police-procedural format.

Ferguson finds himself dealing with an uneasy mix of the remnants of Dominionists, Dispensationalists, Covenantists and other religious extremists. In other words, given the history of this world, he has a political hot potato in his hands.

Novels by Ken Macleod tend to be heavy on the polemic and light on characterisation and insight. He's getting better though. The Night Sessions has rather more depth to it than many of his previous works, but nevertheless it does remain a bit preachy. The plot is comprehensible, and it makes sense (observations which are by no means true for a lot of his books); however the book as a whole is murky. Macleod knows far more about the history and organisation of his imagined world than he ever shares with the reader and sometimes both dialogue and motivation remain obscure.

Macleod's target in this book is the world of Christian fundamentalism. It's a sitting duck, of course. Religious fanatics make easy targets because they are so weirdly insane. Unfortunately they have a lot of political power in our world (particularly in America) and that makes them dangerous as well. Macleod has a legitimate target on which to focus his anger.

I find it hard to understand how this change has come about within a generation. Most of my youthful contemporaries were at best agnostic (at worse atheist). There were two devout Christians that I knew at university and both were constantly mocked and reviled for their silliness. Religion simply wasn't part of our world view; it had (and has) no importance to us. But today the reverse is true and religion is again a significant power in the world. And, as always, death and destruction follow in its wake. Not only are religious fanatics terminally weird in the way that they view the world, they are also very dangerous. The Night Sessions should be a warning to us all.

This is one of Macleod's more important and interesting books. It helps that it's a pretty good murder mystery as well.

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