Following a mysterious murder on an island off the coast of Vietnam, a research team convenes to study an octopus community that seems to be developing its own language and culture. Humans, AIs, and animals are swept up in the machinations of governments and corporations in this near-future thriller about the nature of intelligence.
... has been described as an eco-dystopian thriller, but it’s something slower and more meditative ... Nayler’s poignant, mind-expanding debut is full of artificial intelligences, with various levels of mindfulness, alongside the mysterious octopus community. The juxtaposition of these nonhuman minds raises big questions about the nature of consciousness.
Orbiting [the] central story are two suspenseful subplots whose connection to Ha’s storyline are only slowly revealed ... A novel that wears its themes on its sleeve, but the ideas it tangles with...are so intriguing that this hardly matters ... Has some talky patches, especially the parts where Ha and Evrim hash out the meaning of the team’s work. But Rustem’s and Eiko’s parallel storylines inject action into the novel while sustaining Nayler’s point that humanity needs to get its own house in order before it starts looking for company in the universe ... It’s unsurprising that the novel does briefly tip into didacticism about how people ought to care more about one another and the environment. Still, the imaginative stretches the novel calls for—the consideration of what shapes minds might take in bodies radically different from ours—make up for the occasional finger wagging. His octopuses are so much more than teacherly dispensers of life lessons, and fortunately, this wondrous novel is, too.
Exceedingly ambitious ... The dystopia Nayler captures is resolutely believable ... The problems that afflict The Mountain in the Sea are a consequence not of its premise, but of its scope and magnitude: information dumping, the occasional explanatory monologue, story lines that are only tangentially connected to the main arc, and lack the same level of interest ... Regardless, Nayler’s charm lies in his belief in the very human qualities of attentiveness and self-doubt. The result is a novel that is alert, intelligent, open. At a time when we are oversaturated with dystopian narratives, Nayler’s distinguishes itself by being almost devoid of cynicism.