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Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, Ian McDonald

This is the J.G. Ballard version of Count Zero, or maybe it’s the Ballard condensed Snow Crash, which is to say that McDonald continues in his tradition of writing in the style of another writer while sampling the plot and characters of yet another. His publisher should make more of this: IAN MCDONALD–the best science fiction rapper! In this one, lead character Ethan Ring is a Molly-like (from Neuromancer) freelancer who is on a pilgrimmage to try and recover his lost “soul,” taken from him when he became a tool of the EC. This is latter-day cyberpunk, where the computer revolution has once again become a thing of fear rather than the power of freedom that was implied in the early days of the subgenre. McDonald also takes a page from Sterling by mixing in an incredible post-political world that isn’t all that unbelievable.

What struck me most about the book was the Ballardesque nature of it. McDonald’s always been enamored of style, and as style in SF goes, Ballard is somewhere between the high priest and the holy ghost. McDonald uses the quick flips between scenes, the sentence fragments that contain only the most important nouns and verbs, and paring down the plot so that the book contains only the most important scenes and actions, the in-between bits to be filled in by the reader’s imagination. However, a true Ballard pastiche would have been only 13 pages rather than the 130 here (see Brian Aldiss’ recent Ballardesque “FOAM”). McDonald hasn’t given up totally on the idea that a story is told in length. Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is not bad, but still not the startlingly original novel that I’m expecting one of these days from McDonald.

[Finished 8 May 1994]


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