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The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Orbit paperback £7.99

review by Tony Lee

Although basically SF crime/ mystery, about police detectives with A.I. robot partners conducting investigations of murders in Scotland, this novel tackles many of the social and urgent political issues raised by religious extremists' abuse of cultural freedoms in the west, by extrapolating a fearless new world for which the current war on terrorism escalated into cynical 'Faith Wars' of near-Armageddon resulting in a 'Great Rejection' of any beliefs in God, ushering in a secular enlightenment based on science and reason.

But now, marginalised clergy are being assassinated by parcel-bomb and sniper, a rogue android mingles undetected amongst disfigured/ prostheticised combat survivors, and integrated security forces must confront their growing fears of a monstrous conspiracy, while the secret congregation of an obsessive sect spread their vengeful fundamentalist doctrine. For radical atheists (like me), Ken MacLeod's latest astutely challenging work offers starkly emotive futurism, peopled with fascinating characters - whether likeable or loathsome, yet the ambiguous intentions of US intelligence spooks and/ or misguided innocents abroad, fill in blank spaces with agreeably unflinching humour, whenever the author's clever dissection of relationships between man and intelligent machine falters.

From vivid descriptions of how robotics, virtuality and next-generation info-tech are used by cops and citizens, to absorbing literary sketches with glimpses of worldviews that reveal telling details of SF dreams-come-true, the powerfully intriguing narrative springs from the page into amusingly cinematic life, especially during the apocalyptic climax, which poetically reflects both 11th September and biblical Samson's final act in the Philistines' temple, for this story's interplanetary age. All that, and a witty synopsis for sci-fi action movie, 'Return of the Jihadi', ensures The Night Sessions delivers a perfect blend of thought-provoking speculative fiction and coolly satirical cross-genre entertainment.
Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

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