“The Mountain in the Sea” by Ray Naylor – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Rumors begin to spread of a species of hyperintelligent, dangerous octopus that may have developed its own language and culture. Marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen, who has spent her life researching cephalopod intelligence, will do anything for the chance to study them.

Goodreads


This is some heady, classic sci-fi right here! One of the main ideas is that of communicating with another species – but this book tackles it without having to leave Earth or deal with aliens.

There are a few different stories running through the book, but eventually three main ones emerge. The one we probably spend the most time with is that of Ha Nguyen and two others who are sent to the Con Dao archipelago – off the coast of Vietnam – to study the local octopus population. This story takes place at an undetermined time in our future, where AI is more developed than it is now. One of the other characters on the island with Ha is, in fact, a non-gendered, artificially created being called Evrim. The other is in charge of security. There is another character who is often mentioned by these three, but we don’t meet her in person until 60% into the book. She is the world’s leader in developing AI, and is Evrim’s creator.

There is also a story about a hacker, who is tasked with finding a hidden portal into a system that mimics a neurological network. It’s so complicated, he thinks it might actually be a real, living brain. Can one hack those?

The other main story is about an AI-controlled fishing vessel, that utilizes slave labor (kidnapped people) to bring in its catches. One slave on the boat does mention being from Con Dao, but that is initially the only connection we can see to the other stories.

These three stories finally converge, but with only 20% of the book left. One is not exactly in sync – time-wise – with the other two. I was kind of expecting this to happen, as timeline shenanigans are rampant in modern science fiction… but the one that is a little off was not the one I was predicting!

Obviously, communication is a key theme in this one. It kind of reminded me of the movie “Arrival,” in that it really took its time wrestling with the details of how to communicate with a species that you have almost nothing in common with.

The other major theme deals with consciousness, sentience, and what it means to be alive. Are those all the same things, or not? If one is conscious, does that make it sentient? Where does self-awareness come into play? Does a species need to cultivate a culture, or merely communicate, to be taken seriously?

This book comes out today, October 4th. I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley, thanks to the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).


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