The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler is a scientific thriller set in the far future. It’s amazing to see a world transformed so much by technology yet the question still remains of whether there is a sentient life out there to accompany us, humans. The novel here raises the question of whether sentient life was hidden alongside humans this entire time. Rather than always looking up at the sky to await some green alien creature to touchdown, we instead should look down at our ocean floor. And why shouldn’t we? The ocean can be just a foreign world to humans as outer space. There are so much unknown and mysterious discoveries yet to have been made. This is what naturally drew me to this novel as I’ve also been a believer that we need to explore more of our deep ocean if we are to understand and discover sentient life. Oh, and yes, I love octopuses.
“Symbols are forever. Or, at least, for as long as there is a society capable of interpreting them and unleashing their communicative power.” - Dr. Ha Nguyen
The Mountain in the Sea can be what some consider to be a “thinker’s” novel. The subject matter it deals with relates largely to our own and what we consider to be human life. There are many quotes taken from the novel and not because they are funny or witty comments but because they truly make the reader reflect upon their own consciousness. We deal with three different stories and points of view. Each deals with topics such as artificial intelligence and lifeforms in their own way. However, the main focal point is Dr. Ha Nguyen. She is transported to an isolated island purchased by a large conglomerate in hopes of discovering sentience intelligence within cephalopods. Her team soon discovers octopuses hiding within a shipwreck under the ocean’s bottom. When a strange signal/symbol was seen emanating from one of the creatures, Dr. Ha begins the frantic search for its meaning and what it will mean for not only the creatures themselves but for humanity as well.
“What will we be to it? Gods? Monsters? Or nothing that can signify to it at all?” - Dr. Ha Nguyen
“But what could be more illusory than the world we see? After all, in the darkness inside our skulls, nothing reaches us. There is no light, no sound - nothing. The brain dwells there alone, in a blackness as total as any cave’s, receiving only translations from outside, fed to it through its sensory apparatus.” - Dr. Arnkatla Minervudottir Chan
I enjoyed the novel very much and it’s not just due to my love for deep sea creatures and ocean life but also how it made me think beyond. While humans have evolved over thousands of years, the same can be said for octopuses. However, as a species, they have many things going against them for them to truly evolve. The really cool part about the story here is not how the octopuses have evolved to that of human-level intelligence but rather of that compared to our earlier human ancestors. The Mountain in the Sea is a highly recommended read. It might even make you think twice the next time you encounter our octopus friend in the ocean.