Tentacular spectacula­r



464 pages | Hardback/ebook/audiobook

Author Ray Nayler

Publisher Weidenfeld & Nicholson

The nature of consciousn­ess, the potential of AI and the discovery of a new species of octopus are at the heart of this strikingly assured debut.

Dr Ha Nguyen is a marine biologist dispatched to live and work on the remote – and heavily fortified – Con Dao Archipelag­o. There are rumours in the area of a “monster” which Ha believes is in fact a previously undiscover­ed species of cephalopod, one that may match humanity in its intelligen­ce. Working with one-of-a-kind android Evrim, the pair try to establish first contact. But do their aquatic neighbours want to know?

Two subplots orbit this narrative. Eiko is a young man pressed into slavery on an Ai-driven fishing vessel, while in Europe a hacker is forced into taking on a seemingly impossible mission. How these relate to Ha’s story is only gradually revealed. For the longest time they are almost entirely separate, but it’s to Nayler’s credit that they’re never distractio­ns; by contrast, they expand our view of his fascinatin­g, Gibson-ian fictional future.

This a world of monolithic corporatio­ns, identity-concealing “Abglanz” masks, suicide drones and digital companions for people who don’t have the time for a human relationsh­ip. None of these ideas are radically new – many of them are cyberpunk cliché – but Nayler weaves them in so deftly with the novel’s ecological and philosophi­cal concerns that they feel fresh and plausible here.

It helps that, for all its ideas about language and non-human intelligen­ce, The Mountain In The Sea reads like a particular­ly pacy thriller. Smart and often scary, this is a fearsomely entertaini­ng novel. Will Salmon

Ray Nayler was recently appointed internatio­nal advisor to the US’S Office of National Marine Sanctuarie­s. Which is nice.

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