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Mappa Mundi, Justina Robson

29 Mar

Cover of Mappa Mundi

Mappa Mundi
Justina Robson
Macmillan, 2001
ISBN 0-333-75438-7

Review by Paul Kincaid

To chart a way through this novel we must begin with the title: Mappa Mundi, the map of the world. The Mappa Mundi is a thirteenth-century map on display at Hereford Cathedral in which Jerusalem is seen to be the centre of the world. It is also a term that seems to have become suddenly fashionable. John Clute used it in Appleseed; now it is Justina Robson’s title and principal McGuffin, and despite the fact that the two novels are set eons and light years apart, both authors are using the term in essentially the same way: the egocentric world view, the world is what we perceive it to be.

Before we move away from base camp, note also that the publisher has chosen to decorate the cover with only one puff, from Zadie Smith, current new young literary darling and co-winner with Robson of a recent writing grant. Smith is not known for writing science fiction, or even, for all we might be aware, for reading it. We can read into this the suggestion that the book is aimed less at the hardened science fiction audience than at the hip mainstream. Should this alter the route we might choose to take through the work?

So, clutching our world map but perhaps uncertain as to our destination, we begin the journey. (On the right you will see the “Thanks”: “I have taken some liberties and made some imaginative leaps with the facts in order to make the scientific element of this story fit the drama”. To our left we are passing the epigraph from Charles Darwin: “Free will is an illusion caused by our inability to analyse our own motives.”) We come first to the Legends, and pause because here, surely, is the key we will need to read the rest of the map.

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Heliotrope by Justina Robson

22 Feb

Heliotrope front cover

Justina Robson
Ticonderoga Publications, 2011
ISBN 0-9807813-3-7

Review by Ian Sales

UK sf author Justina Robson managed a remarkable achievement at the beginning of her career: her first two novels were both shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. Unfortunately, she has yet to be nominated again – though both Natural History (2003) and Living Next-Door to the God of Love (2005) deserved to be. Robson has also been shortlisted three times for the BSFA Award, twice for the John W Campbell Memorial Award, and three times for the Philip K Dick Award. And yet, the only collection of her short fiction available was published in Australia.

Heliotrope was published to celebrate Robson’s appearance as international guest of honour at Swancon 36 in Perth, Australia, in 2011. It contains sixteen short stories, including the title story which is original to the collection. An introduction is provided by Adam Roberts. The stories stretch from Robson’s first in 1994, ‘TrĂ©sor’, to ‘Cracklegrackle’, which appeared in 2009’s The New Space Opera 2 anthology. This inclusiveness is both a strength and a weakness. Each story has both an introduction and an afterword by Robson herself.

By any metric, Heliotrope is a respectable collection, showcasing a breadth of genres and subgenres and themes – from the earthy fantasy of the title story to the hard science fiction of ‘Cracklegrackle’ (set in the same universe as Natural History and Living Next-Door to the God of Love). ‘Body of Evidence’ is near-future sf, based on the effects on people and society of a single small device – but it’s a resolutely personal look at those effects. ‘The Adventurers’ League’ is another story set in the Natural History‘s universe, but this one has a more steampunk-ish flavour as the Forged all present identities that harken back to late nineteenth century scientific romances.

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