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The Human Front

Ken Macleod

PS Publishing Novella

UK Hardcover First (signed)

ISBN 1-902-880-31-5

75 Pages; £25

Date Reviewed: 05-07-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



Science Fiction

01-25-02, 02-11-02, 02-14-02, 12-13-02, 02-25-03, 07-12-03

Science fiction is most often thought of as fiction based around technological speculation, where the technology is of a biological, chemical, or mechanical nature. Come to think of it, maybe that's why it's often seen as lifeless. In 'The Human Front', Ken Macleod writes science fiction where the technology being speculated about is of a purely political nature. This is not alternate history, though it has a superficial resemblance to that sub-genre. This is purely political science fiction. 'The Human Front' is Macleod's most approachable effort to date. It's a complete knock out -- very funny, ingenious, and so densely political it might give you a headache.

As 'The Human Front' begins, it's 1963, but not the 1963 we know. "Like most people of my generation, I remember exactly where I was on March 17, 1963, the day Stalin died." The world has been at World War III since 1949, and communist troops are fighting American conscripts in a variety of theaters. This is a world where the chant is "JFK, how many kids did you kill today?" John Matheson is the son of a left-leaning doctor, who goes to war for is country against communism, and returns to fight for communism from within. Macleod's political mix-up is as usual, almost impenetrably dense. The factions and fighting and schemes and rebels and soldiers and schisms are as dense and confusing as, as reality. His writing has the guerilla feel of authentic humanity. The actions and feelings he gives his characters are those we see around us, wrapped around different lynchpins. It's gritty and has the ring of truth. About the point where you think you have a handle on things, Macleod drops his bomb, the flying saucer illustrated on the cover of the book.

As Macleod's plan unfolds, the brevity of the novella format really helps him. His ability to move from the utterly hands-on-a-shovel real to the deeply speculative is a sentence is formidable. 'The Human Front' offers us a more playful side of Macleod as well, and he's playing with some very interesting ideas. While political speculation is the main arena that 'The Human Front' operates in, it's not the only arena. Letting Macleod loose in the technological realm yields some fascinating results. It helps to remember that he spent many years as a Systems Analyst.

Science fiction also likes stories that end with a bang, and Macleod's does have one of the neatest to come down the pike in quite some time. But 'The Human Front' is no 'one-liner' novella. Actually, this novella has more ideas and better characters than most novels. It's elegant, eloquent and laugh-out-loud funny. And that last quality by itself makes it worth the very weird trip.