cover image The Mountain in the Sea

The Mountain in the Sea

Ray Nayler. MCD, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-0-374-60595-7

Nayler’s masterful debut combines fascinating science and well-wrought characters to deliver a deep dive into the nature of intelligent life. Marine biologist Ha Nguyen gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s invited to study a recently discovered society of intelligent octopuses in Vietnam’s Con Dao archipelago. Aiding her are Evrim, the world’s first android, and Altantsetseg, a human expert drone operator, both of whom add nuance to Nayler’s thematic exploration of consciousness through their vivid personalities and backstories: Evrim’s programming gradually breaks down, leaving them contemplating the nature of self, meanwhile drones enhance Altantsetseg’s natural awareness as she uses them to both observe the octopuses in their natural habitat and defend the archipelago from rivals eager to capitalize on Nguyen’s research. Throughout, Nayler provides a tightly focused framework for the challenges Nguyen faces as she attempts to decipher octopus language and culture, which will especially please science-minded readers. Subplots featuring genius hacker Rustem and Eiko, a man trafficked into slavery aboard a fishing vessel, expertly weave into the narrative while also offering readers a broader understanding of the political and technological state of this near-future world. As entertaining as it is intellectually rigorous, this taut exploration of human—and inhuman—consciousness is a knockout. (Oct.)