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A Writer's Life
      The Human Front
Eric Brown
      Ken MacLeod
Gollancz, 190 pages
      Gollancz, 190 pages

A Writer's Life / The Human Front
Ken MacLeod
Ken MacLeod was born in Stornoway, on Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1954. Since graduating zoology at the University of Glasgow, he worked as a computer programmer and has found time to complete a Masters thesis in biomechanics. He's been married to his wife Carol since 1981, and has two children, Sharon and Michael.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cosmonaut Keep
Ken MacLeod Tribute Site
Ken MacLeod Novel Synopses
More Reviews

Eric Brown
Eric Brown lives in Haworth in West Yorkshire. His books include the novels Penumbra, Meridian Days, Engineman, Untouchable, and Walkabout (the latter two for young adults), and the collections The Time-Lapsed Man and Blue Shifting. He is a regular and popular contributor to Interzone magazine.

Eric Brown Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: New York Blues
SF Site Review: Parallax View
SF Site Review: New York Nights

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

There are basically two ways to approach the publishing of these two-in-one paperbacks, you can pick stories that are similar in style and content, hoping they will each appeal to the same readers, or you can present a contrast, pair up two stories that are quite dissimilar in content, written by two writers with different styles, and give readers familiar with one the opportunity to discover someone new. With this latest pairing of stories by Ken Macleod and Eric Brown, Gollancz has chosen the latter strategy.

The Human Front brings us into a world where the socialist revolution is an on-going struggle. John Matheson's memories of childhood contain two stand-out moments, the day Stalin died and the time he and his father, a doctor, were at the local NATO base and Dr. Matheson treated a mysterious, injured pilot. The story follows John's life as he grows into a young man and is converted to the revolutionary cause. MacLeod is well-known as one of the more political science fiction writers, in The Human Front he shows that he is willing to poke a little fun at his own reputation, as the story eventually becomes connected with one of the great conspiracy theories of the 20th century, ending on a note of dialectically-correct hope. The Human Front is not a deep, complicated story, but it is entertaining and the author is evidently having a lot of fun mixing his politics with some classic science fiction twists. Readers should enjoy it too.

The tone of Eric Brown's A Writer's Life could scarcely be more different. Daniel Ellis is a successful, mid-level writer who is wondering what his next novel is going to be. Browsing through an encyclopedia, he comes across a reference to a writer he had never heard of before, Vaughan Edwards. Intrigued, he begins to hunt down rare editions of Edwards' work, developing a mild compulsion in the process.

At the same time he is investigating the life of Vaughan Edwards, he is involved in a new relationship with Mina Pratt. Daniel is falling in love with her, and worries that her own emotions are limited by her past experiences. The story plays between Daniels' concerns with the ever-increasing mystery of Vaughan Edwards and his worries about Mina.

Brown is striving for an atmosphere where small elements combine to form a backdrop of suspicion and anxiety. For the most part, he succeeds, especially with the Vaughan Edwards story, which turns out fittingly creepy and mysterious. The second story doesn't fare quite as well. At the same time that Daniel is confronting his obsession with Edwards, Mina goes through two quick emotional swings. The first has been set up by the story, but the second seems forced, coming not so much from the character as from the length of the story, and a need to wrap everything up at once. It's a flaw which, coming as it does at the end of the story, leaves some dissatisfaction with a story that overall is stylishly written, and an intriguing look at a character whose life is suddenly pulled in two directions at once.

Copyright © 2003 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson reads and lives to write about it in Minneapolis. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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