Ian McDonald:Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone

I first picked this book up because of its slimness(and its wonderful title). The first few pages were a bit slow going, and I was wondering whether I'd found another Heart of Darkness(a novel of about 99 pages that reads like a much longer work). But once I got over the initial hump, it was just as fast a read as one would expect...and more delightful.

On the back it's called cyberpunk, and I guess whether you agree with that would depend on how loosely you define it. No traipsing about on the Net, although there are computer simulacra of dead people...not to mention that the book takes place in Japan. The style is also vaguely reminiscent...I'd recommend it if you are a cyberpunk fan, but then I'd recommend it regardless.

The story starts with Ethan Ring on a pilgrimage to several shrines in Japan, a pilgrimage which is little traveled anymore. He is accompanied by Masahiko, a friend who has created a popular anime show. Gradually we find out about Ring's past--though a first-person narrator, he feels like a different enough person that he refers to himself in the past in the third person.

The main idea of the book, which doesn't show up right away, is that there are ways to visually stimulate certain responses in such a way that one is not consciously aware of seeing anything at all. But using the images, one can stimulate healing, or obedience, or pleasure, or adoration of God. Or annihilation. One of Ethan's friends first investigated them, and fell afoul of the latter.

Ethan takes the only copies of the images--"fracters" he calls them--but is soon kidnapped by a European league, who are afraid the Arabs will get to him first. (That is the great political polarization at the time of the book.) He uses the fracters(two of which he has tattooed on his palms)to interrogate prisoners and then induce total memory loss, and less pleasant things. Finally he needs to go on the pilgrimage to come to terms with himself and what he is doing.

I liked the fracter concept, although I wasn't quite sure that they should, for instance, work on dogs, even genetically-enhanced ones. Ethan is an interesting protagonist, on the edge of self-loathing throughout, and McDonald hints at the setting with occasional sidelong brushstrokes, without painting it in depth any more than he has to. Since it's a short work, he can get away with it.

I would very much like this book to wind some kind of award next year. I think it is very much deserving.

%A McDonald, Ian
%T Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone
%I Bantam Spectra
%C New York
%D February 1994
%G ISBN 0-553-56116-2
%P 133 pp.
%O Paperback, US$3.99

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com