• The Good: Themes of what is means to be human; biology, consciousness, and communication
  • The Bad: All exposition; limited character development
  • The Literary: Excerpts from the novels of the POV characters

Marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen begins study on a species of hyper-intelligent octopi that seem able to communicate through a written language. To do so, she joins the tech corporation DIANIMA, which has sealed off the archipelago where the octopi were discovered. Together with a battle-scarred security agent and the world’s first android, Dr. Nguyen must find a way to communicate with the octopi before larges forces close in.

Octopi are smart creatures, so it’s great to see a scifi book about what their written language might look like. In that sense, this story takes much from Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang or its film adaptation Arrival. It’s clear Naylor has read plenty of modern research on octopuses. If you haven’t seen octopus videos online, do yourself a favor and watch them figure out how to twist open jars, move across rooms to access different aquariums, and change colors while dreaming.

I also love the exploration of the nature of consciousness, which is pretty much mandatory with the android character. With the tech corporation and others looming over their work, you might expect some action or a tense thriller, but this is quite a bit slower. The themes primarily focus on loneliness and connection.

Based on my synopsis above, I should love this book. But the characters are flat and only used as vehicles for plot or for delivering octopus facts. The entire novel is almost all exposition. The philosophical musings are aren’t tied to anything tangible in a character’s life, so there aren’t any stakes. The multiple disparate POVs dilute the impact. But most, of all I’m left with a feeling of doom and gloom, because humans suck.

Recommended for fans of contemplative, slow, and philosophical scifi.