What happens when society rejects religion outright in politics, and mentioning anyone’s religion is a very tender subject? What happens when a person of a religion is regarded with skepticism, mistrust and sometimes even fear?
That is the question originally posed by Ken MacLeod in his new novel, The Night Sessions, where wars in the Middle East and rising sea levels have forced society into a futuristic second Reformation. Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson is tasked with investigating an explosion which decimates a home. After making inquiries, he is startled to discover that the victim of the explosion was a Roman Catholic priest. A terrorist event has taken place, and Ferguson must find out why the Roman Catholic priest was targeted.
Meanwhile, the robot scene in The Night Sessions is one of acceptance (mostly) and use. Robots are very common throughout the city of London, from assisting the police in their investigations to being bouncers at a goth nightclub. However, there is a sense of mistrust from most civilians regarding robots, though this is not quite delved into early on in the novel.
While Ferguson is investigating the murder of the priest, he stumbles upon a new group of people called the Covenantors, who are going on about the third coming and a new Faith War. His investigation takes a turn for the worse when evidence points that the murders are being committed by an overzealous robot who is eager to start the next religious war.
I would normally say “…and this is where the book gets weird” at this point except that the book starts off weird. The author makes no qualms about it being weird, and once you can wrap your head around just how weird this book is, it’s a fascinating look into a question posed over forty years ago by author Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?: if a robot feels something or has self-awareness, what is the barrier between humanity and robotics? Here, MacLeod asks an even bigger question (albeit subtly): if robots believe in God, how does that affect the belief and faith structure of humanity?
The question isn’t outright asked, merely implied, but it’s enough of a theme to take a middling book and make it interesting. The pacing is a tad slow, the scene shifts aren’t very smooth or polished and the POV shifts are rather at random, as though the authors paused and thought “Well, I have nothing else I can think of for the moment… scene shift!” It’s disappointing, because as I mentioned before, the theme and question in the background about robots, faith and humanity is a question that should have been explored in much greater detail.
A decent enough effort that was literally one breath away from being very, very good.
—Reviewed by Jason