The Mountain in the Sea

Hardcover, 646 pages

English language

Published Jan. 31, 2023 by W&N.

ISBN:
978-1-3996-0046-0
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ISFDB ID:
3073671

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4 stars (37 reviews)

There are creatures in the water of Con Dao. To the locals, they're monsters. To the corporate owners of the island, an opportunity. To the team of three sent to study them, a revelation.

Their minds are unlike ours. Their bodies are malleable, transformable, shifting. They can communicate. And they want us to leave.

When pioneering marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen is offered the chance to travel to the remote Con Dao Archipelago to investigate a highly intelligent, dangerous octopus species, she doesn't pause long enough to look at the fine print. DIANIMA- a transnational tech corporation best known for its groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence - has purchased the islands, evacuated their population and sealed the archipelago off from the world so that Nguyen can focus on her research. But the stakes are high: the octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extrahuman intelligence and there are vast …

5 editions

On trying to communicate with other sentient beings.

3 stars

An interesting near-future thriller mainly set on the Con Dao archipelago in Vietnam, where a species of intelligent, communicative octopus have been discovered. To try to communicate with them, a specialist in octopus has been called in, and she will have to work alongside an android, which may be the first sentient AI created, and a security officer who is deadly serious in protecting the area from all intruders.

The attempts at communication with the octopus is the main basis for the story. But layered upon it are philosophical discussions over the nature of the octopus itself, how they may see the world and how you approach and communicate with sentient beings that don't share the same senses or even a brain network with us: octopus limbs can operate independently of the brain, and they send messages by changing the patterns on their skin.

Subplots in the story focus on …

The Mountain in the Sea

5 stars

On the surface, this is a future sf book about discovering sentient octopuses and trying to communicate with them. But, this is no Children of Ruin or even a Feed Them Silence; it hinges less on plot and characters, and feels more about worldbuilding in service to philosophy.

I quite enjoyed this book, and the strongest part was just how tightly the book's themes and ideas intertwined through the book's different point of views and the worldbuilding. It's a not-so-far future book with sentient octopuses, overfished waters, AI boats that drive themselves in search of profit, drones driven by humans in tanks, and the first android (but one reviled by humanity). It's a book about language and communication, memory and forgetting, what it means to be human and exist in community, and about fear of others.

Nice ideas, not so nice execution

2 stars

There are some nice ideas in this sci-fi book. However, the narrative is quite clunky, characterisation of the protagonists tends to be uninteresting and/or cliché-filled, there is quite a lot of exposition of context that feels unnatural and clearly reader-directed rather than being organic to the plot.

Mind-bending, thoughtful spec-fic thriller about non-human intelligence

5 stars

Absolutely adored this book. A lonely scientist is tasked with deciphering possible signals from an apparently advanced species of octopuses on an island in the near-ish future. That's the basic plot, but the author digs into linguistics, AI, non-human intelligence, and communication generally in a gentle and well-paced thriller. Super fun read.

Asks many interesting questions, has the sense not to try to give pat answers

5 stars

So much to love about this book, how it weaves together unanswerable questions about consciousness and computation, together with a much more didactic message about humans' consumptive relationships with, well, everything including each other, and enough of a mystery story to keep the plot moving along. Also some great evocations of places (ahhh, multiple key scenes on Istanbul ferries), and of the ways peoples' reputations misrepresent their selves.

It's not a strongly character driven book - every character that is fleshed out seems to be a variant of "loner who wishes for connection" and largely a vehicle for the author's ideas - but there's enough depth to the characters to keep me reading. My one real criticism is that the ending felt a bit rushed. Not in the sort of too convenient, story-undermining way, but not quite satisfying either. It doesn't feel like a set up for a sequel, but …

many intelligences

4 stars

Impressed by how many types of intelligence and consciousness are woven together in this book. I count at least 9; some characters embody multiple kinds in ways that become clear.

One thread seemed less necessary, and another one was very grim, but worth the payoff. And this is the only cyberpunk cryptid first contact SF I can think of.

Thematically driven

3 stars

This is less about the characters or the plot, and more about the philosophies and science. My favorite parts were actually the fictional book excerpts between chapters, and I may need to read the books he acknowledges as helping him shape the ideas presented in the book. This strikes me as a political thriller (without the thrill part) focused on connection, communication, and choice. Which, I suppose is a way of saying the book is about consciousness. Despite how dry that might sound, I actually enjoyed the book. I finished it fairly quickly; it reads smoothly and compellingly despite (or maybe because of?) the too-even tone, in my opinion. Pacing occasionally felt bogged down by setting, and there were some spots where the dialogues were clearly an info dump vehicle, but I found the info interesting so I didn't mind too much. The plot resolution was sudden and felt abrupt, …

Amazing

5 stars

This is one of my favorite books from 2022. It investigates how difficult communications will be when the two parties have almost no common reference. It takes a swipe (perhaps not intentionally) at the books and movies where alien communication moves rapidly from no commonality to complete sentences conveying complex abstract topics. Along with language, the book also explores consciousness and what makes a person a person.

The environmental message never feels heavy handed, and while it often paints a disturbing picture, it also offers a hopeful outlook.

As I neared the end I worried that it would take a sloppy shortcut to wrap up so much, but the ending was quite satisfying, although perhaps not in the ways I was expecting.

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