Tuesday, 23 September 2008

‘The Night Sessions’ – Ken Macleod (Orbit Books)


Ken Macleod’s ‘The Execution Channel’ was the third book that I reviewed for the blog. As you can see from my review, it was an entertaining read but I wasn’t too keen on the way that too much was jammed into a little space with hardly any room left for the payoff. It was this impression that stopped me picking up ‘The Night Sessions’, when it came through the door, but there was enough that was good in ‘The Execution Channel’ to persuade me to pick it up and give Macleod another go. I also fancied a break from what I’ve been reading just recently (mostly fantasy and sci-fi) and trying something different for a change, ‘The Night Sessions’ seemed to be just what I was after.
Well, having finished ‘The Night Sessions’ I can certainly say that it’s a marked change from what I have been reading and (for the most part) it makes for an entertaining read. It’s a shame then that ‘The Night Sessions’ has the same detracting issues that ‘The Execution Channel’ had...

It is the near future and the time of the Second Enlightenment, not only has religion been separated from the state but it’s also no longer a part of the political system either. Millions still practice their faith but in the eyes of the law their faith does not exist, until the day a priest is killed in Edinburgh...
Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson is the man who has to solve this crime and things are going to get worse before they get better. It’s not just the faithful who are targets; everyone is at risk from something that has risen from the ashes of Armageddon itself...

I found it hard to figure out whether ‘The Night Sessions’ was science fiction or a police procedural thriller that had robots in it. The police procedural element certainly outweighed the sci-fi with plenty of time given to detective work and its ramifications. While I found the pace to be slow in this area (and the subject matter a little dry), it still made for interesting reading with clues and plot twists doled out in equal measure. It certainly kept me going until the end of the book (trying to figure out just exactly what was going on)! Fair play to Macleod for tying everything together by the end of the book, there was a sudden change of heart (in a particular character) that I wasn’t sure of but at least there were no loose ends.

That’s not to say that the sci-fi elements aren’t well represented though. There is plenty of robot gadgetry in evidence and although you’ve probably seen it all before it still looks pretty cool when put into action. The Atlantic and Pacific Space Elevators also provide a stunning backdrop that leaves the reader in no doubt that they’re reading about the future. They’re an obvious target for a terrorist attack, maybe a little too obvious given the sterling work that Macleod does in other areas...
Macleod devotes time to the theme of robot consciousness, how this could be affected by religious philosophy and the ramifications of this in a world where organised religion has been shunted to the sidelines. There’s some really thoughtful stuff surrounding this that I would have liked to have seen at the forefront rather than driving the main plot. How much was Hardcastle his own person and how much was he influencing/being influenced by the Third Covenanters? How were the robot refugees reacting to Campbell’s discourses? Maybe ‘The Night Sessions’ could have benefitted by being a few pages longer in order to fit all this in...

In the same way that ‘The Execution Channel’ suffered from a rushed ending, ‘The Night Sessions’ tries to cram a lot into it’s final pages and falls strangely flat as a result. Everything is tied up satisfactorily but I was left looking for a sense of drama that never seemed to arrive. The showdown, between two robots, almost seemed ‘throwaway’ given how easy it was to create more robots (‘good’ and ‘bad’) to carry on the fight. There was no ‘mood’ to it either as both robots’ conversation was one of logic rather than anything else. Having said that though, the final lines of the book hint at a more downbeat future as a result of what has happened. It’s a shame that this couldn’t have been worked into a sense of urgency much earlier in the book.

‘The Night Sessions’ certainly makes for an interesting read but I was left with the feeling that it could have been so much more if the sci-fi elements had been given more room to breathe. A couple of hundred pages extra, for development of certain themes, wouldn’t have done any harm either...

Six and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

gav (nextread.co.uk) said...

I'm going for, "a police procedural thriller that had robots in it".

And I don't think he does a bad job if you look at it like that in fact I found it rather refreshing.

It did have a rather strange ending as if the climatic events weren't really what it was all about and I don't think it was but it did lack the level of emotional reaction that I'd probably have under the circumstances.

Good review even if I do see it from a different angle :D