April 2nd, 2003



i read VAO by geoff ryman recently. ryman, if you don't know him, is a writer who slips in and out of science fiction as it suits his purpose, which is admirable. if the genre doesn't aid the story, he moves out of it, such as with Was.

but anyhow, VAO is a science fiction novella put out by PS Publishing, and it is, while slim, a fine read. it follows the eighty year old brewster, whose mind is slowly subcoming to alzheimer's. he's not as bad as his friend jazza, who can't remember anything; it's just names he can't place. he lives in the farm, where retired folks pay a lot of money to be ripped off and somewhat cared for. it reminded me, in a way, of the retirement home that grandpa simpson is in, only with a futuristic bent.

the plot of the novella is simple: brewster's granddaughter is beaten and mugged by a group of old men and women. they've 'age rage'. it brings the cops down on brewster, threatening his little empire, because, due to the nature of the crime, he's the prime suspect. (except for the fact that it involved his granddaughter.) so, brewster, with a bunch of his friends, aim to find the mysterious silhouette, the leader of the old age gang. it's a straight forward, linear, a to b story, and the majority of the twists are simple to pick up before they happen.

the true joy of the novella, however, brewster's first person narration. it's full of slang, and feels youthful--the inside of an old man, perhaps? that is ryman's main concern, after all. that old people aren't portrayed as out of touch, dated,lost people who should be pushed to the side. he achieves it well through brewster's narration, and the reader will have problem identifying brewster as an old man by the ed of the slim book.

due to its size, most of the characters are sketched: the doctor, the cop, the orderly (though they're not known by these titles), and brewster's crew. the only characters who do receive more are brewster himself, and mandy, the ex-stripper. but it's enough, and it suits the pacing--any more chacterisation, and the pace would be convoluted, and the novella uneven.

in the end, though, ryman's concern appears primarily to be that of the portrayal of old men and women. it's not the plot that hooks the reader, but rather the world in which brewster lives, and brewster himself. it's worth the look, if you've got the time and interest.