In his debut science fiction novel, The Mountain in the Sea, Ray Nayler tells 3 intertwined stories that explore the potential ramifications of technological advances on emotional, social, political and ecological scales.
In the main plot, we follow Dr. Ha Nguyen, an expert in octopus biology and psychology, who is sent to a remote Vietnamese archipelago with an android and a security guard to study a new species of cephalopods that is suspected to be both deadly and extremely intelligent. The second story focuses on Eiko, a Japanese engineer who has been captured by human traffickers and enslaved on a fishing boat controlled by artificial intelligence. The final story is that of Rustem, a hacker charged by an anonymous employer with breaking into a highly complex computer system.
Ray Nayler has done extensive scientific research in preparation for the book and has himself worked internationally on science and ecology. Through his characters, he interrogates complex concepts playing out in a world dominated by personal and global greed. They include loneliness in a time of ultra-developed artificial intelligence, humans’ capacity for self-restraint in the name of the greater good when so much happens in legally grey areas, and the protection of the environment when there is barely anything left to protect and when even benevolent actions could make things worse. The book is also just about what makes us human and how we know and remember who we are.
Despite this grim vision of the future, there is still hope, stemming from the characters’ realisation that we are all interconnected and that the solution to all these global and personal dilemmas is empathy, for others as well as for ourselves.
This book gave me so much to think about. I finished it and immediately had to write down all my thoughts after having underlined entire passages from it. I highly recommend it to sci-fi and philosophy lovers, and everyone else!