In the not-too-distant future, a marine biologist specializing in cephalopod intelligence discovers a species of octopus with astonishing language skills—research that a giant corporation wants to monetize.
Dr. Ha Nguyen is so amazed by her findings that she's willing to submit herself to the odious tactics of the big tech company, which controls the Vietnamese island where the octopuses dwell. Having "resettled" the population of the Con Dao Archipelago, the company not only will kill any outsiders who attempt to set foot there, but also has ordered Ha's death should she attempt to leave. Not that she has any inclination to do so. Once exposed to the octopuses, she is determined to uncover the great mysteries of extrahuman intelligence. In spite of their hostile reputation, these are creatures of transcendent beauty, communicating through glowing visual symbols that move on their skin in complex patterns and sequences. In a world of robot-operated slave ships, bee-size drones, and AI automonks with three-fingered hands and light receptors for pupils, her main ally is Evrim, the world's first and possibly last true android, which not only thinks like a human being, but also believes it is conscious. Ha's benefactor and adversary is Dr. Arnkatla Mínervudóttir-Chan, the Icelandic brains of the corporation, whose ultimate goal is to create a mind "wiped clean of its limitations." A prolific writer of SF stories making his debut as a novelist, Nayler maintains a cool, cerebral tone that matches up with the story's eerie underpinnings. Less an SF adventure than a meditation on consciousness and self-awareness, the limitations of human language, and the reasons for those limitations, the novel teaches as it engages.
An intriguing unlocking of underwater secrets, with the occasional thrill.