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The Human Front
Ken Macleod
Gollancz, 90 pages

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: Newton's Wake
SF Site Review: The Human Front
SF Site Review: Cosmonaut Keep
Ken MacLeod Tribute Site
Ken MacLeod Novel Synopses
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A review by Nathan Brazil


"Come on, Matheson, ye know fine well whit the issue is. It isnae where they came frae. It's where they go, and whit they dae to folk."
The Human Front is a feather-weight book, which packs a heavyweight punch. In terms of size, it's a novella, but it includes more entertainment than many books that are four times its length. The theme is alternate history, with specific reference to AHABs, an acronym meaning Advanced High Altitude Bomber. AHABs are better known as flying saucers, and in this timeline, they are the ultimate weapon.

John Matheson, a young man from the Scottish island of Lewis, lives in a world where the second World War has never ended. Not even when an American flying saucer was used to drop an atom bomb on Moscow. Where other alternate history works might use such facts as the main premise, The Human Front tosses it in a back story. The central theme is the secret of the AHAB flying saucers, which boils down to two questions; who really invented them and are they piloted by human beings? In keeping with UFO lore, the AHAB squadrons can outperform all known aircraft, and not a single one has ever been downed over enemy territory. Yet, as Matheson finds when he tries to conduct some furtive research, no AHAB technology has filtered down to any other products, be they civilian or military. What sparked his fascination with the subject was a childhood encounter with an AHAB, which led to him being one of the very few civilians ever to have seen what is inside a flying saucer.

In keeping with Ken Macleod's other works, The Human Front encompasses a strong left-wing political thread, although this is very much presented from the character's point of view, rather than proffered by the author. Matheson's experiences, as he lives and learns, alter his perspective quite dramatically, and send the message that thinking for ourselves is always preferable to accepting official doctrine. The story is laced with wry humour, an example of which occurs when Matheson joins a political pressure group known as the Human Front. Among their activities is spray painting slogans such as "Forget King Billy And The Pope. Uncle Joe's Our Only Hope." We also get delicious glimpses of what's going on across the Atlantic, where anti-war sympathisers protesting in the totalitarian, Fourth Reich United States, chant 'Hey! Hey! JFK! How many kids did you kill today?' Much fun is had via sly references to key political figures from our own WWII and Cold War eras, in addition to popular misconceptions from early UFO lore. Happily, the story never drops into cliché, and in some ways has a similar feel to classic 50s SF. Albeit written with hindsight. Sadly, this book was a one-off, but the author explores the saucer theme to a much greater extent in his other works, most notably the Engines Of Light series.

In summary, The Human Front is a little firecracker of a book, which is well worth tracking down. It was first available as a limited edition run of 400 hardbacks and 500 paperbacks, which quickly sold out. Its next publication was as part of the four-author hardback, Infinities, published by Gollancz Books in 2002. The review version is a Binary 5 imprint, published by Gollancz Books in 2003. Binary 5 imprints get their name because such titles feature two authors, and two front covers. In this edition, Macleod's story is teamed with A Writer's Life by Eric Brown. Until a US publisher picks up the work, readers living outside the UK may have to import it.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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