Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

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Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Convincing world-building, complex plot and though-provoking ideas are slightly weakened by extremely shallow characters in this highly recommended Scottish s-f thriller.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841496481

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The world post Faith Wars (or Oil Wars, as the fundamentalists are inclined to call them) is both very different and, at the same time - as it should be in relatively close-future s-f - uncannily similar to ours. It's a world of the Second Enlightenment, where, at least in Europe, religion has been truly separated from politics and became a genuinely private and societaly marginalised activity.

Terrorism is history and the global warming has been halted by techno-fixes. The state is neither terribly benign nor totalitarian, though Scottish police's Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson has a somehow shameful memory of churchgoer-bashing God Squads in the aftermath of the Faith wars.

But it's all about to change when a priest and then a bishop are killed in what hints at a return of fundamentalist violence. But is it really? Soon the godless join the religious on the list of targets and the plot thickens, connecting Scottish clubs, an Australian creationist theme park and outer space, with new Gnostics, cyber-veterans and Christian fundamentalists figuring prominently.

Night Sessions is all that brilliant science-fiction should be: inventive, energetic, fluent, capable of inducing a disbelief suspension in the reader and, most of all, able to project the state of here and now into a vision of the future that speaks about the current topical - often political - subjects but also explores more general aspects of society, history and even that holy of holies of the Proper Mainstream Literature, the human condition. Oh, and on top of it all, it's tremendous fun to read.

The plot is fantastically complex but carried through the whole length of the novel with an accomplished fluency necessary in what is, essentially, a thriller. Frequent changes of the point of view support a sequence of little suspenseful cliffhangers, the intrigue thickens as readers' understanding of it deepens and the resolution for all the subplots is very satisfying. And so is the resolution to the main mystery: even though the 'who?' becomes pretty clear early on, and the 'what?' is guessable earlier than it perhaps should be, the complete list of 'whys?' is left hanging in the air (or, perhaps, floating in space) until the very end and when finally provided, was, at least to this reader, very satisfactory. It is rarely that I read a book, especially a genre book, that provides this shiver of excitement that a genuinely new and illuminating perspective at something can give: but Night Sessions did exactly that.

The world building is convincing and unobtrusive: there is some exposition/explanation, but it's justified by the plot and most of what the reader learns about the world of Night Sessions is what emerges naturally from the turn of the events and characters' activities or genuine and justified thoughts.

I quite liked the world MacLeod created: it was believable, quite fully realised and coherent; and as in all great speculative fiction, this vision of the future world was used as a tool for asking questions relevant now: about religion and politics, terrorism and war, torture and vigilantism, the nature of belief and the nature of humanity.

The writing is competent, transparent and witty, with a few nice allusions to other books thrown in (or maybe it's just me, reading every Edinburgh-set book through the lens with an Inspector Rebus tint). Stylistically, it's not great literature, but then it's neither expected to be nor tries to.

One warning, perhaps expected in a s-f novel, but still worth noting: Night Sessions runs on ideas, settings, world building and a conspiracy plot. Developed characters are conspicuously absent and those who like character-driven novels, or even just novels with realistic characters will find Night Sessions tiresome. They are all rather flat and literally undeveloped, and the most interesting things about them are what they believe in. I didn't mind, but those who like some (even minimal) emotional depth will not find it here.

Despite that, highly recommended to fans and at least suggested to others.

The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!

If this book appeals to you then we're sure that you'll also enjoy The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod.

Booklists.jpg Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

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