, introduction by
(PS Publishing, £8, 65 pages, paperback, November 2002, ISBN:
190288048X; hardback also available, £25.)
VAO is a smart, funny tale about old age, Alzheimer's disease,
and crime in the near future.
Ryman's protagonist is Alistair Brewster, though he is referred to
throughout most of the text as Mr Brewster, as befits an 80-year-old
resident of the Happy Farm home. His friend Jazza has Alzheimer's, and
Brewster thinks that he himself might be showing the first signs of
it. The two met in college, and Brewster's brotherly affection for his
old friend contrasts sharply with his contempt for his corrupt Medical
Supervisor, Dr Curtis.
Not that Brewster himself is exactly a law-abiding citizen. Far from
it. Mr Brewster can't afford to stay at the Happy Farm--retirement care
doesn't come cheap in the not-too-distant future. And yet somehow the
bills do get paid. Mr Brewster's crimes are high-tech but low-key, siphoning
money from here to there, unlikely to draw too much attention even though
the sums involved are considerable.
But in the world outside, beyond the walls of the Happy Farm, an altogether
different kind of crime is loading into the news-pages. A gang of the
old-timers, led by the mysterious figure known only as Silhouette, are
promoting Age Rage, attacking the young, healthy and wealthy. They demand
fair treatment for the old and poor. It would be comical were it not
for the viciousness of their methods.
VAO stands for Victim Activated Ordnance. This is technology designed
to protect people: sound guns, microwave blasts and the like. Defence
systems that will fry any intruders who might trespass on your land.
But Silhouette has taken control of it and turned it against you.
When a close relative of Brewster becomes a casualty in the conflict,
he decides that Silhouette must be stopped. Though he has sympathy with
the Age Rage campaign, he cannot allow it to continue; not least because
even small-fry criminals such as himself are coming under increasing
suspicion and scrutiny.
This is a wonderfully engaging little book, filled with entirely plausible
ideas for the direction in which society and technology are heading.
Ryman even has some interesting ideas on the way technology might aid
people with Alzheimer's, if only in its very earliest stages. The book
is also filled with many brilliant descriptions, such as: "Jazza looks
like a cricket that somebody's stained brown with tea." I couldn't help
but warm to a character so described.
Ryman's residents of the Happy Farm are a charming bunch of rogues.
None of us wants to look forward to the time when our physical and mental
health become distant memories, eventually belonging to a past we can
no longer even remember; a time when our life's savings will be stripped
away by an uncaring government or a cynical institution. One way or
another, it's just no fun getting old. Despite this, Ryman suggests,
and I hope it's true, that the next generation of old people might just
be cool enough, smart enough, and goddamn ornery enough to create havoc
and have the last laugh.
PS Publishing continues to amaze with the quality of story they are
finding and publishing. This is one of their best offerings yet, with
an excellent cover painting and one of the best overall cover designs
I've seen in some time. There are, however, far too many typos in the
interior. It's hard to imagine the production process that allowed this.
Surely a 65 page book selling for £8 should have been read through
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see VAO reprinted in a Best
Of 2002 anthology. It's that good and so I'm very glad to have this
signed, limited edition on my bookshelf. But if you're the kind of person
who gets annoyed by typos in an otherwise superior piece of work, then
you might want to bide your time and wait for a reprint. I expect one
will be along soon enough.
Review by Chris Butler.