Book: The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

Irregular Apocalypse

The other Red Ken has a new book out. The Night Sessions is set in a future where the USA and UK have pretty much abandoned religion as a bad job. In the book’s alternate history, the War on Terror became the Faith Wars, which culminated in tactical nuclear exchanges as part of a tank battle in the Valley of Megiddo (ya, rly). The US/UK won a Pyrrhic victory, and the people of those countries decided that it wasn’t just the neo-cons who were to blame, but religion. Thus began what the churches referred to as the Great Rejection. Christians were persecuted, Muslims sent to filtration camps. The book opens in 2037. In the independent republic of Scotland, religion is now ignored as part of a policy of official “non-cognisance”. Then a Roman Catholic priest is murdered by a bomb, and the Edinburgh police (some of whom were in the “God Squads” which put down protests by Christians about the closing of churches and church schools) have to investigate.

No More Mr Nice Guy

MacLeod’s future Edinburgh seemed a bit like Iain M. Banks’s Culture, writ small. The religious people are the ones who have, prior to the opening of the book, learned the hard way that you “don’t fuck with the Culture”. The coppers are aided by sarcastic demilitarised combat robots, who attained consciousness on the battlefield as the result of getting better and better at modelling other combatants’ minds. There are the polybdsmfurrygoths in their silent nightclub (which used to be a church, naturally). The Great Rejection seems like unrealistic atheist wish-fulfilment.

God Told Me To Do It

Still, MacLeod has fun with his setting. The American fundies have buggered off to New Zealand and set up a creationist theme park, where one of the protagonists, John Campbell works. In the prologue, we meet him on a flight to Edinburgh, where he introduces a fellow passenger to the delights of presuppositionalism. If you doubt that people like Campbell exist in real life, check out what this guy thinks of people who allow evidence to modify their beliefs: I don’t know MacLeod’s own religious experiences, but he’s done his research. There are jokes you probably need some acquaintance with Christianity to get.

MacLeod isn’t silly enough to portray the religious characters unsympathetically. Campbell turns out to be a sensitive soul, rejected by one sect after another for increasingly hilarious reasons, who can’t quite understand why people find his theology hard to get on with. Grace Mazvabo, an Christian academic who studies the history of her religion, is well drawn.

The first part of the story is a sort of police procedural with lots of satisfying SF stuff about the kit the coppers have access to. Other reviewers say that MacLeod deliberately avoided making DI Adam Ferguson a hard-drinking future-Rebus, which is fair enough, but he and the other police seem a bit thin, somehow (the one exception being the, ahem, undercover agent who spends a lot of time around the polybdsmfurrygoths).

In fact, my main criticism of the book is that everything’s too thin. I wanted to know more about the world, and more about the characters. Maybe I’ve read too much Neal Stephenson, but I found the book too short. Still, it’s a mark of how much fun I had with it that I wanted more. Worth a read.

2 thoughts on “Book: The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

  1. You say “Red Ken” and I think of a totally other Ken…

    I’ve been reading too much Robert Jordan, everyone else writes too short now 🙂

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