“Mappa Mundi” by Justina Robson

Macmillan, 2001

Mappa Mundi cover

Another doorstopper, 465 pages this time. Just as well I was on holiday.

I’m not quite sure about this book. The characters are not so distinctive as they were in Robson‘s earlier novel Silver Screen. This may be because the plot is rattling along, a factor which unfortunately involves a lot of info dumping, and Robson may have invested more of her efforts in those directions. Also back stories are filled in on occasion, a habit which I dislike, but, hey, she’s up there with Mailer on that one.

The science-fictional element is two-fold; a kind of nanotech virus software (MappaWare) which can affect the brain (“stir its contents with a spoon” – effectively resetting people, then) and a 100% replication delivery system. The possibilities for bad uses of such a technology are obvious but some of the characters see also the good which could result.

Premature testing of all this stuff is the engine which sets the plot off but there are no fewer than seven “false starts” – establishing motivation for some of the characters – where earlier incidents in their lives are recounted, before we get down to the nitty-gritty.

There is plenty of spy story type skullduggery and betrayal (is this a Robson trait? – see my infinity plus review of Keeping It Real) an obligatory bit of sex but, surprisingly, not much violence; in the course of all of which two of the characters transcend humanity in a way which stretches credulity a touch.

It’s not an easy read, the ideas are too dense for that – but they are nevertheless followable. However, the major flaw, in a novel where questions of identity are central, is that the two characters most changed by MappaWare did not behave/read much differently after the change than they did before it.

Still, if you like near future techno-thriller type stuff with reasonable characterisation you won’t be disappointed.

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