|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
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
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.