It's more than a little deplorable that such a quality and thought-provoking read took so many years to become available on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, Ken MacLeod's The Night Sessions originally came out in 2008 in the UK. I'm aware that science fiction doesn't quite sell the way it used to. But considering the amount of genre crap on the market today, one would think that a novel as good as this one would get an American publisher more rapidly.
I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the more devout American Christians are portrayed in a negative light. . .
Here's the blurb:
A bishop is dead. As Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson picks through the rubble of the tiny church, he discovers that it was deliberately bombed. That it’s a terrorist act is soon beyond doubt. It’s been a long time since anyone saw anything like this. Terrorism is history.
After the Middle East wars and the rising sea levels, after Armageddon and the Flood, came the Great Rejection. The first Enlightenment separated church from state. The Second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution, but the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority. Now someone is killing them.
At first, suspicion falls on atheists more militant than the secular authorities. But when the target list expands to include the godless, it becomes evident that something very old has risen from the ashes. Old and very, very dangerous. . .
I found the premise of the work to be fascinating. In a future in which the Faith Wars resolved the Middle East problem and rid the world of the fundamentalist islamic issue, if at a terrible price, and which led to the First and Second Enlightenment that separated religion from everything else, I feel that Ken MacLeod created a very believable post-war world. The worldbuilding is intelligent, thoughtful, and daring. Add to that a storyline in which self-aware robots find God and you end up with a book that's impossible to put down!
There are no lies in religion. There are apparent facts that are illusions. There are words to be taken figuratively. There are ideas that are symbols of deeper truths. There are no lies. The people who sent me to the Middle East told us we would destroy an evil empire. They didn't lie, either.
For the most part, the characterization is pretty solid. Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson and his robot partner Skulk are at the heart of this investigation, yet the supporting cast of disparate characters gives this work many more layers. One thing that I found off-putting, however, is the author's habit to jump from one POV to the next without any apparent break in the narrative. Still, the plot captures you in such a way that the POV shifts don't take anything away from the overall reading experience.
The pace is great and there is never a dull moment from beginning to end. The Night Sessions is as smart as it is entertaining. MacLeod challenges readers with thought-provoking ideas and never takes the path of least resistance. My only complaint would be that we don't learn enough about the Faith Wars and their aftermath. And yet, that would probably have required a number of info-dumps that would have killed the rhythm of the novel. As things stand, this book is a page-turner.
Considering the social, political, and religious issues the West is currently dealing with, Ken MacLeod offers a look at a potential near future in which mankind realized how different belief systems can corrupt societies.
The final verdict: 8.25/10
For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe