The Mountain in the Sea
By Ray Nayler
- The Mountain in the Sea
Author: Ray Nayler
- ISBN: 9781399600491
- Published: January 2023
- Pages: 367
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 22/01/2024
- Language: English
One of the biggest problems to overcome when writing science fiction is how do humans communicate with an alien race? They may speak a different language or may not even have mouths in which to make noises. The Universal Translator is a popular cheat, or fundamental maths that should be universal, but the truth is that communication will be hard. Looking closer to Earth, we do not even know how to communicate well with other species on our own planet. In Ray Naylor’s The Mountain in the Sea the author explores how near future humans could communicate with intelligent Octopus in our own Oceans.
Dr Ha Nguyen wrote a seminal paper on communicating with Octopus which blended science with psychology. Her work caught the attention of DIANIMA, a giant tech firm, and they whisked her away to a set of islands to help investigate their own Octopus problem. Before the locals were moved out, they talked of a creature that came from the sea to attack. Dr Nguyen soon discovers that it is the humans that you should be more wary of.
There are all levels of science fiction from the easy to read and pick up, to the hard science fiction that takes a degree to get the most out of it. The truth is that there should be no distinction between the two, the best of the genre can sell high concept and tricky ideas in an easy-to-follow way. Naylor meets this to perfection in Mountain, a novel that is full of brain bending ideas, but told in a way that you can understand. Thrown in is a proper thriller storyline and a group of characters that you care about.
The main protagonist is Dr Nguyen, and she acts as a good focal point for the story, an academic whose theories are suddenly moved into the practical. Naylor uses Dr Nguyen’s displacement to the strange, abandoned island complex to introduce the reader to his near future vision and other characters. I love a book that does not reel of paragraphs of exposition and instead explores the world in the characters and the story. This book does just that. We learn about a dystopian future of corruption, corporations, and a fear of AI.
Alongside Dr Nguyen we follow other characters. A man forced to work on a slave ship, a programmer tasked with cracking an unknown file, and the first and only AI to be fully sentient. Each of these characters has their own story arc, develops as the book progresses and has their own thrilling moments. Whilst musing on high concept science, Naylor never forgets to ground the story in character and thrills.
As a fan of the genre there was enough to love about this book with just intelligent octopus. Naylor goes deeper than this, the alien is already here, how do you communicate with something so different than us? But the octopus are not the only alien form of communication that is in the book. How does the mind of an AI work, how do you communicate with something that is human, expect cannot forget anything? Large corporations are like an octopus, with tentacles that work on their own without the centre knowing. How do you communicate with a corporation that does not even know the extent of itself? So many wonderful ideas that will tickle any genre reader than likes to have a ponder after they have finished a book.
2023 saw Mountain shortlisted and win some prestigious fiction prizes. I have to say that in the past I have not always agreed completely with these awards as I am fan of pacier genre fiction with thrills, not cerebral musings. Mountain achieves both things, an incredibly readable book, but also full of bright ideas. I would recommend this book to any reader as they will find something they enjoy about it with the pages.
Written on 22nd January 2024 by Sam Tyler .