“Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone” by Ian McDonald

[amtap book:isbn=0553561162]

As a brilliant graphic arts student, Ethan Ring stumbled on a secret so awesome that its existence could not remain hidden. The computer-generated images he helped create contained infinite powers: the power to heal, erase memories, bring ecstasy. kill savagely. Locked into a devil’s bargain with the monolithic European government, Ethan now sees his one change to escape the dark forces of destruction that have enslaved his soul. He will brave the treacherous terrain, the lawless bands of akira, and the power-armored security forces to undertake a thousand-mile pilgrimage. But the danger Ethan fears most comes from within. It is the seductive lure of his own gift, a power whose cost may be his own damnation.

Primal mandalas, pried loose from the deepest parts of the brain, capable of affecting anyone who sees them. One causes religious ecstasy. One engenders healing. One causes mental blind spots and another mental blankness. One erases memories.

One causes obedience in whoever sees it.

And one kills.

Description: It was just a thought experiment turned real and dangerous: an investigation into a primal images that affect the brain in deeper ways than just words or feelings can communicate. The perfect advertising medium, the perfect means of control: fonts that cause obedience to whatever is written with them, images that command emotions. It all started with a computerized compilation of the world’s religious images and icons, boiled down and mashed together to produces the perfect icon/image, one that generates feelings of religious ecstasy in whomever sees it. Based on that, the experimenter sets out to create a number of similar mandalas, which he names “fracters”, until at last he creates that last, fatal mandala and falls to it.

Ethan Ring becomes the holder of the fracters, a power he is forced to use by the European security forces until he at last rebels and flees to the fringes of Japanese society, undertaking a historic grueling pilgrimage tour of 88 shrines by bicycle, accompanied by his friend Masahiko, on a journey of self-discovery and penitence, chased by the security forces he fled and who want the secret of the fracters for themselves.

As protection, Ethan has the two most useful fracters tattooed to the palms of his hands by a blind tattoo artist: on one hand is the power to command, on the other the power to kill. Because of that, he is cursed to regularly cover the fracters, else he or someone else might fall prey to them.

Commentary: Its a cyberpunk world, albeit one seen from the shadows and fringes of its society, one not seen in the usual genre works. Nor is the protagonist a typical cyberpunk protagonist, merely an artist who fell into a vast power by virtue of being in the right place at the right time when his friend succumbed to the final fracter. As such, its a different look at an SF genre that isn’t often found, as Ethan bicycles through a Japan undergoing seismic changes in its culture, where cycles gangs called akiras (from the manga series and movie) prowl the streets as latter-day samurai battling government and private security forces side-by-side areas reverting to feudal existence.

Recommendation: Ian McDonald is a writer with a number of significant award nominations and awards and this book, while not the subject of any of those nominations, is a worthy addition to his overall written works. Definitely recommended.

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