The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod (2008) 368 p.

The Night Sessions, by Scottish author Ken Macleod, is a police procedural set in near-future Scotland and New Zealand after a series of catastrophic “Faith Wars” have resulted in most Western countries adopting a hardline approach to separation of church and state. The state has an official policy of “non-cognisance,” meaning people’s religious beliefs are kept entirely private and not recognised by the state; the actual situation appears to be more social than official, with religious belief having dwindled to a select few anyway. The novel begins with Edinburgh Detective Adam Ferguson responding to an explosion which turns out to be a letter-bomb mailed to a Catholic priest, leading on to the usual deep layers of conspiracy and epic plots foiled etc.

The Night Sessions begins on shaky ground, with a prologue in which a New Zealand priest flying to Scotland has a conversation with a fellow plane passenger about faith which is the very definition of hammy; later he meets some subculture youth at a nightclub who are also oddly happy to discuss the finer points of theology, spouting Sorkinesque zingers complete with ludicrously specific Bible passages. (Why would people keep that information tucked away in their head for debating purposes, in a world where you’d be highly unlikely to ever meet a believer?) Macleod is on firmer ground as The Night Sessions gets properly underway, couched in the familiar language of a crime novel: police lingo, helpful crime investigation exposition, and undersketched characters referred to by surname. But as this wears on it fits oddly with Macleod’s ostensibly grand preoccupation with questions of faith and artificial intelligence, and I felt the novel’s philosophical reach outstretched its grasp. The Night Sessions is readable enough, but never amounts to much.

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