Friday, November 25, 2022

Review of Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman

Ned Beauman's debut novel Boxer, Beetle (2010) is one of those pieces of fiction impossible to sum up in a line and still do the book justice. The book not complex, rather, it's singular to the point of defying easy description. And it's a brilliant read regardless which spectrum(s) of fiction most interest you. Beauman's oeuvre has been worth following since. 2022 sees the release of his fifth novel, the wonderfully titled Venomous Lumpsucker. Where has he come since Boxer, Beetle?

Venomous Lumpsucker kicks off as near-future cli-fi with one tongue in cheek. The world has reached the point where major animal species are dropping off the evolutionary radar at an incredible speed. In an effort to forestall extinctions, global governments agree on the idea of extinction credits—a cost to corporations who exploit environments for resources but in turn eliminate species. This raises the question: which species are worthy of credits? Enter species intelligence analysts, people who evaluate whether or not certain living things cross the sentience threshold, and are this worthy of credits.

Venomous Lumpsucker follows two people caught up in extinction bureaucracy from very different angles. The first is a British corpo named Halyard who spends his days justifying his firm's exploitation of the environment. Halyard has taken one risk too many with his company's extinction credits by betting on the fact no sentient species will be found in a particular corner of the Baltic Sea. The titular species of fish who live there, however, are qualified as sentient, putting Halyard's gamble into a whole other global context, forcing him to try and cover his tracks. His efforts lead him to Karin, a Swiss nature analyst who had recently qualified the lumpsucker as intelligent. With Halyard in tow, the pair set out to find the last remaining school. Problem is, larger, global forces may be at work putting both of their efforts in jeopardy.

Venomous Lumpsucker does not rip with the same lexical energy as Boxer, Beetle. Rather, it finds Beauman in more subtle, mature form. Ironically, this means somewhat closer to the norm of good yet formalized technique. It doesn't, however, prevent Beauman from being satirical. A piss-take of the global, environmental situation, everything falls under the crosshairs, from governments who would seem to want to protect the environment to global high-tec corporations who would want to appear socially responsible. Beauman effortlessly lays bare their true identities. The liberal sector likewise falls under Beauman's gaze. Where they would put their hands up as innocent—humans doing what humans choose to do, Beauman portrays the culpability private platforms, both physical and virtual, have in the activities humans choose.

But I get too political, which is not entirely correct. If anything, Venomous Lumpsucker is a techno-thriller, albeit of the slightly satirical, unconventional type. It's Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling with sharper satire and tighter writing technique. It moves fast, is highly imaginative in the near-future it portrays, and keeps the pages turning toward a bittersweet, mostly human conclusion.

In the end, Venomous Lumpsucker does not defy description to the same degree as Boxer, Beetle. It is something a little—little—bit closer to the mainstream. But Beauman shows he is not a one or two-hit wonder. Able to keep the pages turning with wit, imagination, and story, Venomous Lumpsucker is a book for everyone who feels something for the environment yet at a distance from the relative noise they see in the media. Beauman has got you covered.


  1. It's very good. This and Ray Nayler's THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA -- which has somewhat similar concerns, but is both more SFnal (in a good way) and less sparklingly accomplished literature-wise -- are the two best SF novels I've read this year. And the comparison hadn't occurred to me but, yes, you're not wrong: " It's Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling with sharper satire and tighter writing technique." VENOMOUS LUMPSUCKER did have a similar effect on me as prime Sterling like ISLANDS IN THE NET back in the day.

    1. Mark, thanks for the Nayler recommendation. It's on my list of potential reads this year. I'll give it a shot.