No Happy Nonsense

The Mountain In The Sea / Ray Nayler

January 26th, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

Nayler's debut novel comes out swinging with thoughts on consciousness, how will artificial intelligence be received in the future, why everyone fighting for something has some kind of reason to do so, the brutality of the capitalist world, and protecting what you can however you can.

In short: scientists have discovered that there's a species of octopus that is displaying traits that would mean they have some kind of higher mind consciousness. Ha Nguyen is sent to an archipelago recently purchased by DIANIMA corp to conduct research on the octopi.

She's greeted by Evrim, the first true android, and Antasateleg (i didn't try to look this name up) who is working security. Other storylines alternate between Rustem, who is one of the best hackers in the world who has been assigned a difficult hack by a shadowy group (it's later discovered that he is hacking an old upload of Evrim's brain, to find a way into Evrim's current brain) and Eiko, a man who was kidnapped by slavers and is forced to work on an AI-controlled fishing ship.

Somewhat predictably, although not in an unsatisfying way, the storylines all come together during the climax of the story. The ending is left open enough for more stories, but closed enough that if this is it, there's nothing hanging to annoy me.

The book spends a great deal of time focused on symbols, language, semiotics, and how these things indicate consciousness. The researchers discover the octopi scroll symbols across their bodies as a way of communicating. They then realize that they also create these symbols externally in the world by assembling found materials together. A lot of discussion about what it is that makes a person a person, or makes a being of mind a being of mind. It never felt overly pretentious or high-minded, but it did feel smart enough to pass the "scientist" test that I just made up in my dumb brain.

I really enjoyed this book, I plowed through it in 2 days. There's action, misery, and science. What more can you ask for?

Filed Under: Reviews