The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2009, 368p

With The Night Sessions Ken MacLeod strides firmly onto SF detective territory and adds his own unique twist. Following on from The Execution Channel (to which it is not a sequel) it is the second of Ken Macleod’s forays into near (well, nearish) future thrillerdom and features acts of terrorism and the police efforts to solve them. It could also be firmly described as Scottish SF as it is set almost wholly in Scotland.

[Aside: Even since before I started this blog I have been pondering writing a piece about Scottish SF. With this book as a spur I may inflict it on you soon.]

There are excursions into New Zealand, though, while solettas – which reduce global warming by directly screening the sun – and a couple of space elevators provide Science Fictional colouring. Another important element is the inclusion of robots/AIs. The police have robot assistants called lekis which, while large, seem to be spider-like, or tentacular at any rate, as well as a collection of smaller bug-like machinery which can infiltrate small places and provide points of view linked in to the police communications system. Other robots are revealed to be useful in construction in space.

The events of the book take part in a world where wars over oil (aka the Faith Wars) have defeated the forces of organised religion – at Armageddon/Megiddo no less – and made these organisations marginal at best, if not quite underground operations. The first terrorist victim is a Catholic priest, the second, in an echo of Covenanting times, an Episcopalian Bishop of St Andrews.

The plot concerns the getting of religion by a group of robots, given the word by a Presbyterian in New Zealand whose sermons – a neat play on the word sessions by MacLeod here – are relayed in real time to members of a sect (of the Third Covenant) in Linlithgow.

As is to be expected given the subject matter, MacLeod’s knowledge of biblical texts is to the fore. There are also some SF in-jokes which the casual reader (if there is such a beast) may miss.

The Night Sessions is a fine blend of the SF and thriller genres. The writing flows, the clues are placed where they are needed and (spoiler alert?) the denouement depends on one of the SF elements. MacLeod could obviously handle a straight detective novel with no difficulty but doing so would perhaps not have allowed him to explore the theme of religion in quite the same way.

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