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Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman

We are in the near future. The euro has, for reasons of simplicity, the same value it had in 2022, but everything else is exactly as it is going to be. At least that is what author Ned Beauman promises us in his acknowledgements. He needn’t have said that. Most of his scorching novel feels terrifyingly realistic. The story is set in Europe ravaged by the next stage of unbridled capitalism, the weather is often unbearably hot, food lost its taste, tens of thousands of species are going extinct every year. And on the back of that a whole new industry has grown and come to dominate the markets: the extinction industry utilises global rules and regulations to stop or slow the mass extinction to make huge profits. Archives of DNA are stored in biobanks so that, one day, extinct species might be resurrected. Until the just disappear. A cyber-attack wipes all biobanks around the world, and just like that millions of species have disappeared for good.

We meet two people especially impacted by this attack. Karin Resaint is an animal cognition scientist, employed by grisly corporations of certify (or rather un-certify) species as intelligent. Mark Halyard is an executive working in the extinction industry, for the company currently employing Resaint. While the scientist grieves the irreversible damage humans are doing to nature, Halyard is complicit in the operations destroying endangered species’ habitats. Now they find themselves as unlikely allies in the hunt for one critically endangered fish: the venomous lumpsucker. Their mission takes them on a journey from a nature reserve full of waste through a devastating labour camp to a city on the ocean and into a closed-off, totalitarian state. Along the way their differences make for hilarious back-and-forth, challenging moral quandaries, and an underlying will-they-won’t-they tension. Halyard and Resaint’s adventure through dystopian Europe is sprinkled with subplots and anecdotes about that future reality. The isolationist UK has completely sealed itself off form the rest of the global community and is only referred to as Hermit Kingdom. That still seems to be better than whatever happened in America, though. At the mention of the US everyone averts their face in embarrassment.

Ned Beauman’s novel is a wild ride of a book. Simultaneously hilarious and truly frightening, it gets you to ponder the way we are headed towards climate disaster without being preachy or too dry. Venomous Lumpsucker presents many big ideas but never at the cost of the plot, which is fast-paced and highly entertaining. Beauman’s characters are a delicious mix of clever, infuriating, endearing and pathetic. You get to dissect their complex – and more often than not questionable – morals and laugh at their socially awkward behaviour but even their futuristic high-tech world, they never lose their humanity. Venomous Lumpsucker is a spectacularly inventive and truly thought-provoking eco-thriller, mixed with a good dose of psychological exploration of the grief and the fears many of us feel in face of the looming climate catastrophe.

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