The Night Sessions is my first foray into the novels of award winning Scottish SF author Ken MacLeod's body of work and now used to his writing style I can say it won't be the last. I can say that with confidence since I received not only this great short novel but also The Restoration Game review copies from PYR press. The Nigh Sessions fits well among the stable of Scottish crime and police procedural stories if you overlook the hard science fictional elements like the space elevators, the smarter then now smart devices like the iThink and the existence of both self aware and non self aware machines. His world is one I can well see happening technology aside looking at the tense political and theological situations of today's newspapers and tele. Again like his thriller and mystery writer stars Ken creates characters that breath and make you want to like them, they are beings with flaws and beliefs the first that make them human and the second that in almost all cases for the viewpoint character are tested and are found wanting in many cases. I'll say this a second time about his setting to me the situations Ken presents are well too plausible given the polarized situations I see in the world today.
I have read a few UK police procedurals, I'll mention the novels of Mark Billingham for example, and love me some good old BBC dramas like Inspector Lewis and the ever dark and wonderful Luthor so when I encountered DI Adam Ferguson and his leki (read robot partner) Skulk I was looking forward to something gritty and familiar with a spice of hard sci fi. Ken MacLeod did not disappoint I must say; his handling a half dozen plus viewpoint characters in a spare dare I say quick 264 pages reminds me novels of old and could well make an excellent BBC tv drama of three to five parts with the possibility of more (oh yes please sir). The situation he presents grows out of today's headlines; the was of today fuled by oil money influence peddling and the auspice of faith boil out to encompass the world. The debate oh his world over climate change went on well too long and there have been both sea and temperature rises to deal with; there has been a second enlightenment the advent of self aware computer systems, humanoid robots and the construction of space elevators satellite environs and small extra Terran stations. None of these things have altered mans ability to maintain his hatred for his fellow man and the creations of his hands. With all the change that is in the backdrop of the setting humanity is still at war with itself religion is finally out of politics but it is if anything more of a PC subject then it is today.
With slightly over half a dozen points of view the Ken manages to tell a complete story that does not feel crowded once it's all said and done; as a matter of fact I have some trouble thinking about how many characters actually had section to themselves since some were so well written from their fellows point of view. The majority of the action is seen from the eyes of Adam the Detective Inspector who starts as the lead on a case where a priest is killed by a package he receives. His squad get nerves when it becomes obvious it's a case involving religion; the separation of church and politics was not at all a bloodless struggle and it's scarred society as much as terrorism and economic struggles along with religious extremism is scarring us now. Adam is the older gritty inspector his partner is and ex soldier artificial intoxicants relegated to a new and less dangerous body they are backed by a anti terrorism squad including many none white English characters which are as colorful in personality as they are in name. Ken treats characters equal wether they be flesh or machine, or at least the one machine we get the viewpoint from and though there are some stereotypes in the tale there are sadly sterotypical people in real life too if you only see a little of them.
The strengths of this story beyond the well written and plotted police mystery story are the philosophical questions it raises. The Night Sessions calls into question the effects and the problems that beliefs cause for everyone not just the believer and the people who hold conflicting convictions. Our world is polarized and seems to be getting more so and his setting as I said seems all to possible from the current state of things. I do not want to give away any of the neat little twists and turns he foresees since they are all too interesting to discover as the story goes on. I will say that if social, hard science fiction or detective fiction is your thing especially if you enjoy stories that will challenge you to think a bit outside your comfort zones thus is worth a read. And if this wets your appetite reading the short story iThink from the third Solaris Science Fiction is recommended since it plays a characterful part in one small scene. I like Adam Ferguson and Skully and hope this is not our last glimpse of their version of our future.
A last thought I'm right there in this mix of today's polarized society mess and I'm also convinced I'm right just as much as the right wind fundamentalist bleeptards. My attitude us sadly just as bad as theirs and reading a novel like this was a great and enjoyable reality check since like I said I choose a side and think I'm in the right. Novels like The Night Sessions are thoughtful challenging and thought provoking; I think the author has a side but he portrays both viewpoints with respect and though there is a message dark as it is it is a very good read. It won't be my last.... Where is that copy of Cosmonout Keep...