peteg's blog - noise - books - 2022 12 02 RayNayler TheMountainInTheSea

Ray Nayler: The Mountain in the Sea. (2022)

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Kindle. A bum steer from Nicole Flattery in the New York Times. A murderous, sapient octopus society near a sandy shoreline of Côn Đảo (I haven't been). I usually bitch about novels being overstuffed with research but here it's the other way around; this is a novel of other people's ideas that already have better treatments in the scifi canon. For "humans trying to make sense of exotic consciousness and/or society" see Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and sequels, Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life (filmed as Arrival), etc. For synthetic sapience, see positronic Asimov, etc. For connectionist ("cellular") artificial intelligence, see, well, the venerable field of connectionist AI. For "non-human species with a culture" try the elephants. The moral hand wringing and righteousness can be found anywhere.

There were so many bullshit assertions I felt like throwing my device across the troopy every few pages. (It's unfortunately quite a flabby trip to nowhere new.) Nayler has a character (that sounds like every other character) assert that "silicon based AI is no threat to humans" — as if he hasn't given a moment's thought to Cathy O'Neil-and-co's concerns. The memory palace acts as an index to data in the brain, so destroying an entry in that index is not the same as forgetting the information; you know, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. (In my experience magpies know this but cats do not.) Evrim is ridiculously sub-human: he could be Doctor Manhattan or Rutger Hauer or Arnie or whoever but is instead a purely emoting reactionary, like an extra on a teenage vampire series. (I found the pronouns tiresome.) Most offensive were the assertions (not arguments!) for lethal violence, as if there are no alternatives ever. I'll stop there.

Mystifyingly highly rated at goodreads.

I close with one of my favourite quotes, from Don Marquis: "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you."