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Various people have raved to me about Justina Robson's first novel Silver Screen. However, her second Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlisted book, Mappa Mundi was the first of her books to find its way into my to-be-read bookcase. With a transatlantic flight looming, a hefty book was what was needed, and Mappa Mundi became my reading for a flight from London to San Francisco.

Natalie Armstrong is a scientist working on the mapping of human conciousness, the eponymous Mappa Mundi. It's been a long and complex process, but the end of the road is in sight. Computer models and experiments have put the international effort to the brink of success - but now it's time to start to deal with some of the possible outcomes of the work. It's not the ability to heal that worries Natalie, it's the side effect of control: the power to change the way someone thinks without them knowing. And someone has already started to experiment with these technologies...

In the USA, FBI agent Jude Westhope's sister has survivied a test of an early version of these technologies, a test that left her burnt at the hands of her next door neighbour. Jude is now in the UK, looking for Natalie, who might just be able to help him unravel the mystery. It's an unravelling that is going to change the world, as Mappa Mundi technologies begin to leave the lab, and the motivations of the politicians and scientists involved with the project are slowly revealed. Conspiracy and science twist around each other, as the prospect of ultimate power corrupts absolutely.

Is the key to solving the dilemma Natalie's forbidden Selfware project?

Robson's second novel is a gripping and compelling read. While it's possible to pick holes in the politics (I'm still unsure how one of the secondary characters could have risen to his position of power, given his multiple histories), she has given us a deep and inquisitive tale that tries to imagine the effects of a complete - and tested - theory of conciousness on the structures that hold society together. Robson's story is all the more relevant as today's memetic tools in the shape of the various broacast and print media attempt to mold and shape society into the shapes dictated by media moguls and political parties.

A cautionary tale in the shape of a scientific thriller, Mappa Mundi asks important questions, and sets us back on the road to the biotechnology future, armed with the tools we need to find more of the answers we're looking for.

It's also an excellent plane journey's worth of reading...