Review: The Mountain in the Sea

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

By PhilRM: As a long-time admirer of Ray Nayler’s short fiction (much of which has appeared in Asimov’s), I was very much looking forward to this, his first novel.

In the not too distant future of an Earth ravaged by climate change, marine biologist Ha Nguyen, who has spent her life studying cephalopods, is hired by the massive transnational DIANIMA corporation to undertake a research project in the isolated Con Dao archipelago, whose inhabitants have been forcibly evacuated by DIANIMA in the wake of rumours of a new and dangerous species of intelligent octopus. There she finds herself partnered with the android Evrim, the world’s first and only allegedly conscious artificial intelligence, the creation of the reclusive Arnkatla Minervudottir-Chan, founder and driving force behind DIANIMA.

In the Republic of Astrakhan, Rustem, a Russian hacker with a matchless gift for finding his way into systems of artificial intelligence, is hired by a mysterious and ruthless organization to break into the most complex system he has ever seen. And a young Japanese college graduate named Eiko, kidnapped from the Ho Chi Minh Autonomous Trade Zone, toils away on the automated fishing vessel Sea Wolf as it scours the depleted waters of the Pacific Ocean.

This multi-stranded novel may wear the guise of a thriller, but it is a classic SF novel of ideas, though written with a very 21st century sensibility. Characters engage in passionate arguments about language, about communication, about consciousness, about responsibility. (It is a measure of Nayler’s accomplishment that I would very much like to read the fictional book by Ha Nguyen, How Oceans Think, excerpts from which preface many of the chapters.)

Nayler’s years of residence outside of the United States show in the novel’s lightly sketched but convincing locales. The substantially altered political backdrop – such as the Tibetan Buddhist Republic, represented by Altantsetseg, a former soldier who serves as Ha and Evrim’s bodyguard, equal parts menacing and hilarious – is only glimpsed as needed. In the end, all of the characters, burdened by their flaws and histories, will have to make choices that may mean the difference between life and death. And it is not the humans alone who must choose.

Highly recommended.

Filers Destroy Lyrics

While you’re waiting for Santa, appertain yourself a hot chocolate (or stiff belt), settle back, and enjoy this collection of some parody verses and holiday filks that Filers have been leaving in comments the past few months.

Camestros Felapton

Did you get my vote, Chuck Tingle?
I can’t remember another Hugo vote like this
You were on their slate Chuck Tingle
But you were parodying yourself and softly pounding something new
I could see the cheesy artwork
And sounds of raptor calls were coming from the blue

There was something on the slate that starred
The buckaroos were hard, Chuck Tingle
They were pounding there for you and me
For liberty, Chuck Tingle
Though I hope that No Award will win
There’s no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Chuck Tingle

Kip W

Don’t put your pixel in the scroll, Missus Woofington,
Don’t put your pixel in the scroll.
For the publishing field is vicious, and the going’s dog eat dog
The editing scene is angry and mean,
It’s right there in my blog.
It’s a quick read, though not substantial, I may say,
And written in a cloying way
And that’s enough of that.
No Award, Missus Woofington,
FNORD, Missus Woofington!
Don’t put your pixel in the scroll!

Camestros Felapton

Pokestops abound in San Jose
But I’ve been away so long, I might go wrong and catch a Magikarp
Pokestops are great in San Jose
I’m going back to find an electric kind in San Jose

Stoic Cynic

With profuse apologies to Porgy, Bess, George Gershwin, and 33,000 cover versions
(really, 33,000! Wikipedia says so):

Hugo Time And the votin’s not easy
Pups are slatin’
And the rotten is high

Your reading’s done
And No Award’s good lookin’
So hush little voter
Don’t you cry

One of these WorldCons
Pups’re going to give up trolling
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll fly to the sky

But till that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With EPH & 3SV standing by

One of these WorldCons
Pups’re going to give up trolling
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll fly to the sky

But till that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With EPH & 3SV standing by


Pacific Rim, Or A Vision on A Screen

For robinareid, because it’s all her fault.** **Not actually her fault. I took laudanum a few liberties with meter, but then, so did Coleridge.

In Pacific Rim did del Toro
A desp’rate Shatterdome decree;
The last defense ‘gainst humans’ foe,
By airlift mighty Jaegers go
Down to a Kaiju sea.

So twice ten miles of city ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
A bulwark to end the toll of Kaiju-kills.
But here is where I must beg to disagree
With those enthralled by Kaiju-punching thrills:
This movie really didn’t work for me.

Because oh! To me it doesn’t make any sense:
Why must they rely on giant robot fists?
We have missiles and nukes – mighty armaments!
Why don’t you zip it? replies the audience.
Can’t you see we’re all really enjoying this?
So: from the portal, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in CGI were breathing,
Two mighty Kaiju sinuously emerge.
Humanity’s end now looms on the verge:
While critical Kaiju-lore has been acquired,
A scientist’s bold risk that must be admired
Has tragically caused a new scale of trouble:
The Kaiju assault has literally doubled.
The Kaiju-pair’s most cruel and murderous attack
On crews Russian, Chinese and Australian –
Impossibly fierce – through no human failing
Leaves the noble Jaegers scattered like sea-wrack.
To face the next peril from Kaiju-hell:
Two half-teams, and two battered Jaeger shells.

To seal the breach is the only throw:
Chance so slight it’s all but lost.
A hopeless trip to depths below?
“No!” cries Stacker Pentecost:
“I don’t care if it’s Kaiju five or six;
“We are cancelling the apocalypse!”

Once child-wounded Mako Mori
As warrior does arise;
And enter into brave company,
To share the Drift with staunch Raleigh
New-found friend and best ally.
Chuck and Stacker clear the way
By noble sacrifice;
Gypsy Danger will the Kaiju slay,
With thermonuclear device.
Passage secured by Kaiju-skin,
They face the peril of the breach;
The Kaiju-masters wait within.
Will dauntless heroes really win?
Wait! They have a safety margin:
Rescue by escape pod (one each).
Compelled I’ll credit them with this:
The story ends without a kiss.
Mako Mori Test for the win.

Simon Bisson

"Santa Mike" by Lynn Maudlin

“Santa Mike” by Lynn Maudlin

Twas the night before Worldcon, when all through the blog
Not a godstalk was stirring, not even a fan
The pixels were scrolled by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Mike Glyer soon would be there.

The commenters were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Hugo Awards danced in their heads.
And mamma in her lettercol, and I in my Chrome,
Had just settled our laptops for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the web there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the keyboard to see what was the matter.
Away to the Windows went Adobe Flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature pixel and eight tiny scrolls.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be our Mike
More rapid than eagles his bloggers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Kyra! now, Camestros! now, Kurt and Paul!
On, Meredith On, Hampus! on, Red and Wombat!
To the top of the page! to the top of the Google!
Now scroll away! Scroll away! Scroll away all!”

As dry scrolls that before the wild pixels fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the bloggers they flew,
With the sleigh full of books and Mike Glyer too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The scrolling and pixeling of each little post
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Mike Glyer came with a bound.

He was dressed all in badges from his head to his foot,
And his pixels were all tarnished with ashes and scroll.
A bundle of Hugos he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a faned, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they pixeled, his dimples how scrolled!
His cheeks were like gravatars, his nose like an emojii!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a scroll,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pixel he held tight in his teeth,
And the scroll it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his pixel and a twist of his scroll,
Soon gave me to know I had a huge to-be-read.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the scrollings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the pixel he rose!

He sprang to his posts, to his scrolls gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a pixel,
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Worldcon to all, and to all a good-fan!”

Kurt Busiek

“Pixels and scrolls, pixels and scrolls
Mean so much more when I see
Pixeled and scrolled declarations
On File Seven Seven, um, Tee”

Jack Lint

The file and the pixel,
When they are on a roll,
Of all sites that are on the web,
The file bears the scroll.

Rob Thornton

On a Sunday morning slidewalk,
I’m wishing, Lord, that I was scrolled.
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a pixel feel alone….


Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did scroll
Two pixels were approaching
And the wind began to howl

Rev. Bob

This is the theme to Pixel Scrolls
The off-meter theme to Pixel Scrolls
Filers looked me up and asked if I would filk a theme song

It’s almost halfway finished
No, I didn’t say it was Finnish
How do you like this ode to Pixel Scrolls?

This is the theme to Pixel Scrolls
The crudely-filked theme to Pixel Scrolls
This is the tune that’s guaranteed to shoo off all the Barflies
We’re almost to the part
Where I run out of lyrics
Now let’s read the latest Pixel Scroll!

Charon D.

What pixel is this who scrolled to rest
From Glyer’s laptop of wonders
Where scrollers revel in riotous puns
And appertain when they find blunders

This, this is pixel scroll!
Where fifths flow freely and so do trolls
Tick, tick, the follow-up box
Or you might miss some epic filking

Tom Becker

It’s beginning to look a lot like pixels
Everywhere you go
Take a look in the seven and seventy glistening once again
With rocket pins and silver scrolls aglow

What Can We Say to One Another? A Review of Arrival

By PhilRM: NB: Since a film must stand on its own, I make no comparisons to Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” which was the basis for the screenplay. Also, this review contains no spoilers (I hope) beyond material that appears in the trailers or the first few minutes of the film.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that a large swath of cinematic science fiction is a gross insult to the literary genre from which it supposedly derives. Ideas and intelligence are jettisoned in favor of special effects, which become ends in themselves; aliens arrive only to ravish our planet, or to exterminate us, and if they communicate at all, the only thing they wish to tell us is “Die.”

Now we have Arrival, a film by Denis Villeneuve based on an acclaimed short story by the equally acclaimed science fiction writer Ted Chiang. In presenting an almost literal embodiment of Margaret Atwood’s contemptuous dismissal of science fiction as “talking squids in outer space,” Arrival shows just how shallow and uninformed that judgement was.

Arrival opens with a voice-over narration by Amy Adams (as linguist Louise Banks) over a wrenching montage of her daughter Hannah growing up only to die (apparently of cancer) as an adolescent. When next we see Banks, she is beginning a lecture to a nearly empty room – empty because twelve alien spaceships have just parked themselves at various locations around the Earth. As an expert linguist, Banks is called in by the US government and transported to Montana, where the alien ship hovers eerily above the landscape. Every eighteen hours, the ship opens to admit humans for a two-hour period; it is during these brief windows that Banks must try to decipher the alien (they have seven limbs) language, with the aid of physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).

Arrival is visually stunning, as is apparent from Banks’ first view of the encampment adjacent to the alien ship. The on-board space in which the humans and aliens face one another is intentionally theatrical, the humans on a stage, the aliens behind a glass wall like a gigantic movie screen, with both groups enacting rituals of communication in an attempt to breach that barrier. But Arrival has an intelligence to match its visual splendor: this is a movie that is not hesitant about having a character lecture the rest of the cast (and the audience) as to how much underlies even an apparently simple sentence, such as “What are your intentions?” The alien language is radically different from terrestrial languages, and a central underpinning of the movie is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the idea that the language in which you think affects both how your brain works and the concepts that you are capable of understanding. (No linguists or neuroscientists actually subscribe to anything resembling this strong form of the S-W hypothesis any longer, as far as I know). There is a brilliant throwaway bit about how different communications modalities might lead the aliens to completely different conceptions of humanity. In an immensely refreshing change from the usual idiotic Hollywood treatment of science, in which “scientist” is a catch-all category and the norm is to be an archaeologist/neuroscientist/underwear model, Banks is a linguist and Donnelly is a physicist, with completely different skills, strengths, and weaknesses.

With twelve diverse nations all attempting desperately to determine why the aliens are here, in an atmosphere of growing fear and paranoia concerning the aliens’ intent, there is a pointed contrast between the efforts of the stressed, exhausted Banks/Donnelly team to communicate with the aliens and the growing suspicion of any international communication among the scientists as tantamount to betrayal. While the accelerating and increasingly fractured narrative stretches the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (and the laws of physics) somewhat beyond the bounds of plausibility, it does so in the service of an emotional climax that totally reorients the structure of the film, and the realization that the question that it wants to answer is completely different from what you thought it was.

The whole cast is first-rate (it’s too bad there wasn’t room for more Forest Whitaker), but credit above all has to go to Amy Adams, who is simply fantastic in the central role.

Rating: Seven limbs up.