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VAO
Geoff Ryman
PS Publishing paperback £8

review by Debbie Moon

Victim Activated Ordnance. It's the only way to keep safe. The moment some ruffian sets foot on your nice green lawn or sneaks into your secure car park, it blasts them with microwaves or sound waves, torturing them into submission. And it's their fault for being there...
   Well, the rich have always victimised the poor. But in a world where everyone lives longer, more and more of the poor are old - pensionless, abandoned by over-burdened children, or lost to Alzheimer's. Former security software designer Brewster is one of the lucky ones: he's hacking other people's bank accounts to pay for a place in a home. But those who can't pay are on the street. And now they're joining up with Silhouette - part highwayman, part terrorist - who's found a way to turn VAO against its owners. Age Rage, the papers call it - and Brewster suddenly finds himself the prime suspect. His only hope is to mobilise his fellow patients to help him find Silhouette...
   As you might expect from Geoff Ryman, this is a sharp, smart observation of what will happen when our hip, hedonistic, computer literate generation finds their bodies can no longer keep up with them. His geriatric detectives are an engaging bunch; druggy, embittered, and resolutely antiestablishment. The petty inconveniences of the home's regime, with its sullen, underpaid staff, grasping managers, and irritating automata monitoring the residents' every move, are also well captured.
   The problem is, there just isn't enough of it. This is too big an idea for a novella; with the action compressed into a couple of days, and Silhouette's actions reduced to newscasts, we barely glimpse the social upheaval that Age Rage threatens to unleash, and the mystery is unravelled with unseemly speed. Coupled with the right story, the novella form can be immensely powerful, but this feels more like a synopsis than a complete tale.
   An amusing, thought-provoking idea that's definitely worth a look - and, if you're out there, Mr Ryman, maybe a longer sequel?
VAO by Geoff Ryman
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