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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson

Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson. Amherst, NY: Pyr, 2006. ISBN: 978-1-59102-491-0

I was a little taken aback when I looked on the title page verso to find the ISBN number for the bibliographic information I typed in above, and saw that the Library of Congress “Cataloging-in-Publication Data” included the subject heading Brainwashing—Fiction. I don't believe the word brainwashing is ever used in the book, although I couldn't swear to that. And it just hadn't occurred to me that brainwashing is what the book is about.

I can't deny the applicability of the term, however. What the book really seems to be about is the mapping of the human mind, to the point that one can replace the existing brain map with one generated via a computer program. Replacing “wetware” with software, so to speak.

The term “mappa mundi” is normally used to refer to Medieval European maps of the entire world, maps which were not intended as literal geographical representations of reality, but were designed rather to illustrate and preserve what was believed to be known about the physical world at the time, a kind of “minor encyclopedia of Medieval knowledge,” according to the article on the subject in that most modern of encyclopedias, the Wikipedia.

It is an intriguing concept that is explored in this book, the exploration and mapping of the human mind, combined with the ability to alter that map at will. Any such knowledge and ability, no matter how altruistically intended by those who develop it, is automatically subject to manipulation and exploitation for military, political or even more sinister ends. And that's what happens, of course, with not unexpectedly horrific results.

My primary complaint relates to the sometimes, often even, oblique approach to telling the story that the author employs. We often seem to get to the point sideways, if indeed, we ever actually get there, to the point, that is. The author's narrative style is fashionably convoluted, but not conducive to reading quickly, just for the story. When I got to the end, I felt like I should read it again, to make absolutely certain I understood all of the ramifications, and even to be sure I'd really figured out what was supposed to be going on. But the book wasn't THAT good.

My secondary complaint is with the plot itself, and the scientific aspects of it. I thought the end result, the science of the mind developed in the book, was a little too much for the relatively brief distance into the future in which the book seems to be set. The kind of mind mapping that they accomplish seems more likely not to be reached for at least another century or two, by which time society would be considerably more changed than what is depicted here. Nevertheless, decommended for science fiction fans, but with my score a mere 6 or maybe a 7 out of 10.

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