Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald (novel)

I bought Ian McDonald's Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone because of the cover. Usually this results in disaster; this time was a happy exception. I picked it up in paperback in 1994, and that's the cover you see below. The story has been sticking in my head for years, and after the clunker that was my previous read, something quick and tasty was called for. This was a good choice.

Scissors is a very short novel, only 136 pages.  Loosely, its the story of a man on a pilgrimage to a variety of sites in Japan, with looks back at why he is making the pilgrimage and how those events still follow him.

In someone elses hands this might have been an action-story brick of a book. Instead McDonald pares the past events to their bare essentials and focuses on their meanings. It's a pretty chilling backstory, and reading it in linear order would have made for an entirely different book.

The good parts? There are interesting characters, well-done parallels and non-parallels between past and present events, and some wonderful prose. The story carries you along quite nicely, with enough foreshadowing to keep you digging for the next nugget and with rewarding reveals when you do.

On the other hand, parts of this story have not aged well. The resolution was as plausible as the premise in '94. In 2013 the premise is a bit harder to swallow, and some of the more important parts of the resolution simply wouldn't work. If this had been my first exposure, those plot issues might have overshadowed the books virtues. But if McDonald were writing this today, he'd probably have chosen different mechanisms to reach the same resolution. I am glad to have re-read it, and still appreciate it as quality prose and construction. If those qualities are high on your list, you should forgive what time has done to the plot and enjoy it as what it is.

Helluva cover, too.

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