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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Venomous Lumpsucker

Ned Beauman

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To purchase Venomous Lumpsucker

Title: Venomous Lumpsucker
Author: Ned Beauman
Genre: Novel
Written: 2022
Length: 327 pages
Availability: Venomous Lumpsucker - US
Venomous Lumpsucker - UK
Venomous Lumpsucker - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining little slice of dark times ahead

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 8/7/2022 Alex Preston
The Guardian A 14/7/2022 Kevin Power
Literary Review . 7/2022 J.S.Barnes
London Rev. of Books . 2/2/2023 Ben Walker
The Observer . 17/7/2022 Anthony Cummins
Publishers Weekly . 21/4/2022 .
The Spectator A 6/8/2022 Stuart Kelly
The Telegraph . 4/7/2022 Nikhil Krishnan
The Times . 9/7/2022 Simon Ings
TLS . 15/7/2022 David Annand

  From the Reviews:
  • "What’s remarkable about it, though, is that Beauman seems to have rediscovered the magic of his earliest work: this is a novel that is both funny and profound, full of extraordinary ideas and brilliant set pieces, but also generous and poignant. (...) Beauman has never been short of ideas and he’s brilliant here on the complex moral landscape of extinction in his ghastly near-future. What works so well in this novel, though, is that the human story of Halyard and Resaint feels like it has equal billing with the high-concept geopolitical scene-setting. It’s a book that has lost none of the postmodern verve of its predecessors, but there’s so much more here to love." - Alex Preston, Financial Times

  • "Outwardly, Venomous Lumpsucker is a jaunty, cerebral eco-thriller, set a couple of decades hence, about the hunt for the last surviving colony of a fictional fish, Cyclopterus venenatus, the venomous lumpsucker. Inwardly, however, it’s a novel about grief, specifically the grief we feel for animals, and for ourselves, as we live through the Holocene extinction (.....) The structure may be simple but the plot is ferociously complicated. (...) It’s Beauman’s best book yet -- and that’s saying something. " - Kevin Power, The Guardian

  • "These combined premises -- the final absorption of nature into the market and indifference in the face of mass extinction -- underpin Beauman’s speculative world. Although there are several pages of exposition, he keeps things tight by reworking the definition of natural assets for narrative ease. (...) The richness of Beauman’s world-building provides access to the institutional machinery that fills the gap between the market and reality. This is a dystopian office novel played out in the field." - Ben Walker, London Review of Books

  • "The novel buzzes with gizmos of various kinds, and crucially we see how they affect daily life: witness the nicely excruciating sex scene involving a variety of wearables, including one enabling simultaneous translation, that allow Resaint to hook up with a Turkish naturalist. The book’s internationalism is part of its allure, too, heady with the sense that Beauman knows his stuff, whether he’s telling us about a biotech firm in Japan, Resaint’s field work in eastern Ukraine, or “the vanishing Pacific kingdom of Tonga”." - Anthony Cummins, The Observer

  • "It can be exhausting to keep up with the wild geopolitical worldbuilding, but the author lays out a blisteringly scathing indictment of capitalism and climate change, and by the end, the implications about the future of AI boggle the mind. Beauman has an impressive intellectual bandwidth, though the ideas carry a bit more weight than the story." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Venomous Lumpsucker does not pause for breath, yet simultaneously induces a weary, melancholy exhalation. (...) It is an example of why novels, being inherently polyphonic, are far better than propaganda. That it is done with a great deal of black humour and downright sarcasm makes it even more of a tonic to earnest tirades. (...) (I)t could not be more timely. Yet every page has a turn of phrase, a witticism, a wry observation or smart simile that beguiles the reader into taking the serious material seriously." - Stuart Kelly, The Spectator

  • "(T)he high jinks conceal the book’s real mood, which is one of melancholy. (...) As in all of Beauman’s novels -- this is his fifth -- there is cleverness enough to entertain, and too-clever-by-halfness enough to annoy. He has not found a good solution to the perennial challenge of science fiction set in the future: how to get through the necessary exposition without having the characters helpfully tell each other things they all ought to know. His characters debate paradoxes and administer thought experiments to each other that are trussed up versions of ideas familiar to most undergraduate philosophers. But the ideas themselves are powerful, and earn their keep within the fictional frame." - Nikhil Krishnan, The Telegraph

  • "Beauman is a perceptive critic of carbon credits and other market solutions to the climate crisis, but this book is really about our relationship with animals and how we might grapple with the enormity of what we’re doing to them. The author manages to balance a lack of sentimentality about the inevitability of extinction in any entropic system with a controlled rage at the carelessness with which humanity is currently dispatching unique lifeforms. And, rather than dividing its characters into cartoonish deniers and right-minded environmentalists, he lets no one off the hook." - David Annand, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There's a brief Author's Note at the beginning of Venomous Lumpsucker that explains:

This novel is set in the near future. However, to minimize any need for mental arithmetic on the reader's part, sums of money are presented as if the euro had retained its 2022 value with no inflation. This is the sole respect in which the story deviates from how things will actually unfold.
       This near-future world is technologically slightly more advanced than the present-day one -- a few decades perhaps, with advances such as 'spindrifters', large self-navigating vessels, propelled by the wind, that had been engineered in the hopes of keeping the earth from warming further (basically by pumping seawater into the sky, to form clouds). Like so much, the use of spindrifters didn't go quite as planned, but abandoned ones continue to rove the seas.
       Mankind has really done a number on the planet by now, leading to the wholesale extinction of large swathes of animal-life -- species after species. A World Commission on Species Extinction had been founded to address the problem and the free-market solution that had been settled on was a sort of extinction-variation on carbon credits -- extinction credits, which companies and countries could trade in. (This is also where the value of money comes into play, Beauman making it easier for the reader by presenting everything in its 2022-equivalent.) By any measure -- beyond creating a bit more bureaucracy --, it hasn't been a great success, either.
       The two main characters in the novel are Karin Resaint and Mark Halyard. Resaint is responsible for the intelligence certification of species that are threatened with extinction: if an animal is deemed to be intelligent, it is worth (or costs) a lot more in extinction credits. Halyard is the local Environmental Impact Coordinator for a giant multinational, Brahmasamudram Mining.
       Halyard seeks out Resaint because she is working on the certification of cyclopterus venenatus, the venomous lumpsucker (a fictional variation on the common lumpsucker, cyclopterus lumpus), and he has gotten himself into a bit of a mess by shorting some extinction credits -- his company's, not his own -- which, as events unfold, turns out to have been very foolish. A lot depends on what Resaint's report will say -- if she finds the fish intelligent, the amount he is in the hole for is an order of magnitude greater -- and, of course, she has bad news for him: the venomous lumpsucker is surprisingly intelligent.
       As the action starts, it also looks like the local habitat of the venomous lumpsucker has been wiped out -- and the species along with it. Still, Halyard holds out hope that some might still be found elsewhere, and Venomous Lumpsucker is, in no small part, a sort of quest tale, as he and Resaint go in search of the fish.
       The reason extinction credits have suddenly gotten so dear is that the six major biobanks that stored the genetic information of all the species that had gone extinct are attacked, wiping out all information about these species -- a devastating loss of what had thought to be a sort of unassailable backstop but now turns out not to be a viable one. Suddenly, extinction credits are the only game in town -- not a huge market, but one with global reach and ripple-effects -- and their cost shoots up. The mystery of who lies behind the attack -- odd, because: "If you were wielding the most advanced cyberattack systems in the world, why on earth would you target the extinction credits market ?", a tiny one by financial-market standards -- is also one of the things Halyard hopes to get to the bottom of in trying to save himself.
       Beauman also presents a world with some geopolitical differences from the present-day one. Brexit has been taken to extremes, with Great Britain now known as the Hermit Kingdom, and living in North Korean-style isolation from the rest of the world. (The United States, meanwhile seems to have fallen into complete oblivion, it being astonishing to now even find anyone making direct reference to it (avoiding mention of it having become: "a custom adopted in the late 2020s out of sheer embarrassment").)
       There's also a sort of libertarian ideal, anything-goes floating islands -- seasteads --, where cutting-edge science is being done, unencumbered by the laws and regulations of traditional nation-states. Quite a bit of the action takes place on one of these, Surface Wave -- floating in Russian water in the Baltic Sea, but not subject to any Russian laws, save those involving warfare and terrorism. As it turns out, there are some venomous lumpsuckers there -- though these too are soon very much endangered.
       Beauman's world-building is depressingly plausible. A global free-market economy has laid waste to much of the world in a poorly regulated (and ongoing) free-for-all. Technological innovations help -- as in making food that has become tasteless palatable -- but clearly civilization is spiraling slowly towards an ugly end.
       Venomous Lumpsucker veers around some like the spindrifters that already surface early in the novel, moving seemingly randomly but then put into very specific place. Beauman offers up a variety of colorful scenes and episodes in this increasingly off-kilter world, making for a reasonably entertaining ride. Resaint and Halyard make a somewhat odd couple, a relationship that never really feels very resolved; they're interesting protagonists, but neither feels entirely fully developed, and one might have wished for the one or the other to be the more dominant presence in the story.
       Beauman's sense of fatalism -- there's little to be hopeful about here -- is welcome, and the two epilogues, one each for Resaint and Halyard, are a nice closing touch suggesting what the future might offer, with Halyard all in on his carpe diem hedonism, and Resaint all in in something entirely different. Meanwhile, along the way, the venomous lumpsucker is also an interestingly-imagined species -- though the fish doesn't really feature in at the foreground much.
       An entertaining enough novel of our world in its inevitable-seeming catastrophic, nature-destroying decline,, Venomous Lumpsucker has a touch that is comic and light enough to avoid its feeling too darkly weighty. Yet for all the fun it is a grim -- and all too plausible -- (warning) tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 July 2022

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Venomous Lumpsucker: Reviews: Ned Beauman: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Ned Beauman was born in 1985.

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© 2022-2023 the complete review

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