Like evolution, science is iterative, incremental, a process which takes the approach of trial and error towards a blind future in the hope of finding something which functions better than what is already in place and can be reproduced; in a complex world there is no switch which can be flicked to simply give the desired answers or outcome, not even when what is at stake is the ongoing extinction of thousands of species, and anyone leaping to adopt a new technology in hopes they can do so and reap the profit is going to go bust pretty sharp, leaving others to reap the consequences of the unexpected side effects.
Afloat on a vessel in the Baltic Sea, Karin Resaint is evaluating the intelligence or otherwise of the critically endangered fish Cyclopterus venenatus, its habitat believed to be confined to a single reef marked as a potential site for undersea mining and unfortunately prematurely destroyed by an overzealous automated robot, the outcome not only the presumed extinction of the venomous lumpsucker but the financial ruin of environmental impact coordinator Mark Halyard who had used creative accounting to borrow against an unassigned extinction credit whose value has inflated beyond his ability to repay his employers at the Brahmasamudram Mining Company.
The fifth novel from Ned Beauman who looked to the past to chronicle The Teleportation Accident and concluded that Madness is Better than Defeat after a particularly frustrating archaeological expedition to the jungles of South America, Venomous Lumpsucker is set in a future so close as to be disturbingly recognisable, a grim tomorrow where species extinction has been accepted as an inevitable and unavoidable fact by the World Commission on Species Extinction which has built a bureaucracy around financially disincentivising extinction rather than making any effort to actually slow or stop it.
Beauman once again inventive in the indignities he heaps upon vulnerable flesh, though on this occasion initially undying panda rather than human, a vast cancerous cell culture catapulted as a deterrent to remind of a beloved species now extinct in its original form yet still a figurehead for those who protest what big business has done to the natural world, for corporations sufficiently wealthy extinction is something they can pay their way around to continue whatever “progress” appeases their shareholders, a deduction on a balance sheet rather than an obstacle.
The rate of environmental collapse faster than the development of any policy or technology which can ameliorate it, animal cognition expert Resaint and the astonishingly self-absorbed and self-serving Halyard become unlikely and uneasy travelling companions as they search for a potential surviving colony of the venomous lumpsucker for very different reasons, from an ecological reserve whose budget is kept in the black by a diversified income stream which involves storing toxic waste to a bug infested research facility independent of any government or oversight, political or ethical before arriving at the shores of the post-Brexit Hermit Kingdom.
Halyard at one point considering how “you wouldn’t strangle your own baby for crying in a restaurant but you’d strangle someone else’s,” in his desperate plea bargaining over moral equivalences every apparently insane development or behaviour is understandable, rational, even predictable, perhaps indicating how deeply sunk in an unsalvageable situation he is, with no way back and only the road to oblivion ahead, Venomous Lumpsucker simultaneously outrageous and distressing in its relentlessly bleak hilarity yet somehow arriving at a conclusion cautiously optimistic – just not for Homo sapiens.
Venomous Lumpsucker is available now from Sceptre