Mappa Mundi - Justina Robson

Natalie Armstrong sees the world, and the mind, differently.  She's on the cutting edge of innovation using technology to repair and bridge neural pathways.  But what can heal can also hurt, and her technology is leaked to the less scrupulous and less patient.  So starts a game of cat and mouse with ethics, identity, and humanity and its center.

Mappa Mundi is a brilliant science fiction novel that asks questions about mind and matter as we know it.  It was the May pick for the Virtual Speculation bookclub and a book I highly recommend reading.

Discussion Fodder:

  • How do our fears and insecurities shape our beliefs as children?  Do the stories and beliefs we tell each other to keep terror at bay count as a type of magic?  How do we use non-belief in handling our fears?
  • "To put it another way, the development of Mappa Mundi, as all such developments, was a necessary result of our own nature, as irresistible as evolution itself.  What we can change, we shall change.  What comes to hand, we shall use.  What we see we presume to understand.  When the basic needs are satisfied, the restless mind turns itself towards improvement."  Do you think this is an accurate evaluation of humanity?
  • Is "perfection" the goal of technology?
  • Is Natalie insane?  Was she ever?  Does she process the world differently than those around her?  What is the nature of sanity and identity in Mappa Mundi (hunting with George, Guskov's history, Mary and Natalie)?  "But neither of them would have seen this if Ivanov had not been Hilel and all those men after."
  • What do you make of Guskov?  Is he either a hero or villain?  An idealist, something else altogether?  Does his history effect how you feel about him?
  • Is Bobby X "alive"?  Are he and Natalie still human?  If not, at what point did they stop being human?
  • What do you think of Bobby X's statement that "Matter [...] is energy plus information." 
  • Mary says that "religion is already a contagion," in reference to security procedures and the Mappaware leak.  Do you think there is truth to that description in how religion spreads and changes?
  • How does reprogramming a brain mechanically compare to conditioning and brainwashing?
  • What do you think about the inclusion of technology (pads) that has become everyday that did not exist at the time of publication (original publication date 2001, close to a decade before we started seeing tablets)?