“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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