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Reviews of The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

The Mountain in the Sea

A Novel

by Ray Nayler

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler X
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 464 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
David Bahia
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About this Book

Book Summary

Humankind discovers intelligent life in an octopus species with its own language and culture, and sets off a high-stakes global competition to dominate the future.

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.

The transnational tech corporation DIANIMA has sealed the remote Con Dao Archipelago, where the octopuses were discovered, off from the world. Dr. Nguyen joins DIANIMA's team on the islands: a battle-scarred security agent and the world's first android.

The octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extrahuman intelligence. The stakes are high: there are vast fortunes to be made by whoever can take advantage of the octopuses' advancements, and as Dr. Nguyen struggles to communicate with the newly discovered species, forces larger than DIANIMA close in to seize the octopuses for themselves.

But no one has yet asked the octopuses what they think. And what they might do about it.

A near-future thriller about the nature of consciousness, Ray Nayler's The Mountain in the Sea is a dazzling literary debut and a mind-blowing dive into the treasure and wreckage of humankind's legacy.

There is no silence in the living nervous system. An electrical symphony of communication streams through our neurons every moment we exist. We are built for communication.

Only death brings silence.

—Dr. Ha Nguyen, How Oceans Think

1

NIGHT. DISTRICT THREE of the Ho Chi Minh Autonomous Trade Zone.

The plastic awning of the café streamed with rain. Under its shelter, wreathed in kitchen steam and human chatter, waiters wove between tables with steaming bowls of soup, glasses of iced coffee, and bottles of beer.

Beyond the wall of rain, electric motorbikes swept past like luminescent fish.

Better not to think of fish.

Lawrence concentrated his attention instead on the woman across the table, wiping her chopsticks with a wedge of lime. The color-swarm of the abglanz identity shield masking her face shifted and wavered.

Like something underwater …

Lawrence dug his nails into his palm. "I'm sorry—does that thing have another setting?"

The woman made an adjustment. The ...

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Reviews

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On the whole, Nayler's strength as a writer lies in the tangible realism of the physical environments he describes and the inner monologues of his characters. With each storyline he starts off small and gradually expands, using strategic clues and events to push the plot forward. While a bit monotonous in areas involving jargon-heavy dialogue, Nayler still effectively balances real-world science with engaging characters and a multifaceted plot that steadily builds and accelerates until many readers will likely find it hard to put the book down...continued

Full Review (841 words)

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(Reviewed by David Bahia).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
As entertaining as it is intellectually rigorous, this taut exploration of human—and inhuman—consciousness is a knockout.

Kirkus Reviews
A prolific writer of SF stories making his debut as a novelist, Nayler maintains a cool, cerebral tone that matches up with the story's eerie underpinnings. Less an SF adventure than a meditation on consciousness and self-awareness, the limitations of human language, and the reasons for those limitations, the novel teaches as it engages. An intriguing unlocking of underwater secrets, with the occasional thrill.

Library Journal
Drawing on decades of experience in overseas service (including time with the United States Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), Nayler infuses his debut novel with fantastic elements grounded in real contemporary topics and tackles moral issues related to artificial and animal intelligence without sacrificing plot or pacing. This is a classic sci-fi thriller that's easy to read and will have broad appeal for fans of speculative fiction.

Author Blurb David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
I loved this novel's brain and heart, its hidden traps, sheer propulsion, ingenious world-building and the purity of its commitment to luminous ideas.

Author Blurb Jeff VanderMeer, author of Annihilation
The Mountain in the Sea is a first-rate speculative thriller, by turns fascinating, brutal, powerful, and redemptive. The book poses profound questions about artificial and nonhuman intelligence, and its answers are tantalizing and provocative.

Author Blurb Kawai Strong Washburn, author of Sharks in the Time of Saviors
With a thriller heart and a sci-fi head, The Mountain in the Sea delivers a spooky smart read. Artificial intelligence, nascent animal sentience, murderous flying drones: like the best of Gibson or Atwood, it brings all of the plot without forgetting the bigger questions of consciousness, ecocide, and scientific progress. Truly a one-of-a-kind story.

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Beyond the Book

The Intelligent Octopus

Octopus on the ocean floorIn Ray Nayler's The Mountain in the Sea, the characters Ha Nguyen and Evrim discuss at length the extraordinary neurological traits of octopuses and how they are likely the key to unlocking a model of consciousness completely alien to humans. Ha mentions, for one, that two-thirds of an octopus's neurons are not even in its brain but spread out across all of its eight limbs; the tentacles each do their own thinking and receive commands from the central brain only some of the time. To loosely borrow a human phrase, we might be led to believe, based on this information, that the octopus's left hand might not know what the right hand is thinking, or the next right hand, or the next…

In neurobiology, this uniquely decentralized nervous ...

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