Review Archive


Mappa Mundi

Justina Robson


UK Trade Paperback Original

ISBN 0-333-75438-7

465 pages ; £9.99 ($23.50)

Publication Date: 10-11-2002

Date Reviewed: 01-15-2002

Copyright © Rick Kleffel 2002


Mappa Mundi

Justina Robson


US Trade Paperback Reprint

ISBN 1-59102-491-7

514 pages ; $15

Publication Date: 09-05-2006

Date Reviewed: 01-15-2002

Copyright © Rick Kleffel 2006

Index:Science Fiction References:02-14-02, 02-28-02, 02-25-03, 05-08-03

One of the hardest things for an SF author to do is to go from the present to their 'invented' future. In Mappa Mundi, Justina Robson effectively blurs the former into the latter, creating a scenario that grows out of the present -- and most importantly -- out of the characters. Her endpoint near-future is a mere blur of today, especially in a world where biotechnology is trying to replace information technology as the next market-blooming wonder. It's an imperfect world but nonetheless detailed and fascinating.

In her first novel, 'Silver Screen', Robson dealt with artifical intelligence, and mind control via nanotechnology is a logical next step. The novel starts out in the present, setting up her six characters with sketches from their childhood in the present day. The bulk of the novel is set in the near future as FBI agents (Amerian Indian) Jude Westhorpe and his partner Mary Delaney pusue a chameleonic criminal who is importing illegal biotechnology into the USA. In England, punkish Natalie Armstrong is a brilliant but troubled scientist working on a nanotech solution to mental illness. Robson does a great job creating a convincing murky future that isn't all that much different from the present. Her characters are complicated and their dialogue rings true. When Jude's sister, a rebellious woman who still lives on the Indian reservation is nearly killed, her escape leads Jude to Natalie and her work. And Jude leads Natalie back to the USA.

Robson's prose is strong and evocative, but at times she's a bit too murky and hard to follow. She's great at the Suggestion game, mentioning the outer edges of the changed society of the near future (the Perfectionists and Anti-Perfectionists). But she gets into problems when she starts talking about American Party Politics (which happily is not that often). She does some rather nice extrapolation about the fluidity of identity, an idea at the core of the novel, and gives the right amount of technical details -- enough to carry the story and concepts, but not so much as to start sounding like a lecture. For those who like a thick word stew of conspiracy, technology and character, 'Mappa Mundi' is a choice to be heartily recommended.


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