The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
Published by Orbit (
(Review copy received)
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Anyone who read Ken’s last novel (The Execution Channel, which I reviewed HERE) will know that Ken is getting a lot of positive praise, both within and without the genre, at the moment. The good news here is that this novel is as good as I had hoped for after The Execution Channel.
The pitch is this: written as an ingenious combination of CSI meets Taggart meets Minority Report, The Night Sessions is set in the near future with an intriguing premise: what if the world secularized religion, if the world decided that there was to be a total severance of religion from state and politics, with religion prevented from interfering with state affairs and from controlling government or exercising political power? Not just one religion, but all religions? Furthermore, what if religions were tolerated, yet separate, and seen (on the whole) as an untrustworthy minority?
Any book that starts with a statement thus:
‘The Government of the
Such a premise could be handled bluntly in the hands of a less-skilled writer; and yet, with Ken it is subtle and logical. After the Faith/Oil Wars, and the resultant nuclear war in the Middle East at Moggadon, hence seen as Armageddon) , and with global warming rising sea levels (an event seen by some as a new Flood), the world turned its back on religion. Global warming has been slowed with the use of huge sunshine shields (solettas) passing their shadow on the Earth. Two Space Elevators (the Pacific and
To this, then, in a relatively tolerant society, we have a murder. In
There are, as is often the case with Ken, a few nice sf-nal touches that readers will either get or not get. There is, for example, a character named George Orr, which is similar to the name of a character in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven (a character that could change reality through his dreams.) Similarly it can’t be coincidence that a character is named John (Richard) Campbell, which may be a passing nod to John W. Campbell, legendary writer, editor and publisher who effectively dismissed religion (other than Dianetics of course) in SF (or Analog at least,) who is made here to be an innocent, yet active, zealot. To quote the real
And we have here those Ken’s trademark suspicion of things robotic, though interestingly there is a great deal of robotics here.
There’s also little humorous jibes often throughout Ken’s work. There’s a great deal of humour to be had with the idea of a
Once again, this is a book that makes its points whilst telling an entertaining tale. The characterisation is good, the processes realistic and the plot suitably complex, though never enough to confuse. Ken leads his audience through a number of set pieces to a satisfying ending. I must admit that, despite not being a religious person myself, I did have my doubts that such an extreme situation could come about in reality, though if you are able to suspend your disbelief (as I did) there’s a lot to get your teeth into here.
In summary then, as good as I had hoped after The Execution Channel. Intelligent, entertaining and knowledgeable, this is everything you might expect or hope for from a Ken MacLeod SF novel. Perhaps slightly more SF than The Execution Channel, though not that much more, it does make an interesting counterpoint with Charles Stross’ Halting State, which has similar elements in a near-future setting (and who, coincidentally, is acknowledged at the beginning of the book.) Of the two, although I liked
Mark Yon / Hobbit, July 2008