Ned Beauman, Venomous Lumpsucker, 2022, Sceptre.
Venomous Lumpsucker is the winner of the 2023 Clarke Award. This scifi novel will make you both laugh and scream in rage as it paints the painfully hilarious reality of mass extinctions driven by capitalism.
Karin Resaint is a scientist. As she releases into the wild a dozen of endangered venomous lumpsuckers, a species of fish, little does she know that she sends them to their death. A mining drone has, by error, destroyed their habitat.
Mark Halyard wouldn't give a care about the venomous lumpsucker. In fact, he's in the business of making money thanks to extinction credits--like carbon credits, but for when a species disappears. But when he realises that the extinction of the venomous lumpsucker would lose his company a lot of money all by his own fault, he needs to reach Resaint so that he and she can find survivors.
The novel alternates two points of view: Karin Resaint and Mark Halyard.
At first, it's hard not to empathise with Resaint. She's a driven character, determined to save a species in the maelström of the extinction events, and she doesn't take shit, particularly not from someone like Halyard. Halyard, on the other hand, you hate from the start. He's self centred, egotistical, only focused on money and gustatory pleasure, and he doesn't care at all about dying animals.
Yet, as the novel progresses, Resaint reveals how intense a character she is. Maybe too intense? On the other hand, Halyard seems almost refreshing. After all, isn't he exactly like we all are? The only difference is that he states clearly his egoism. And he has moments of saving grace, moments when you think that this character is going to learn, is going to become a better person.
They both travel around the Baltic Sea, encountering a gallery of characters who seem always more improbable and yet entirely believable. This mad dash has something of an absurdist comedy in it.
Venomous Lumpsucker relies heavily on gallows humour, and it works. We are in the near future, and a near future that seems extremely close as days go by. The extinction credits system Beauman invents had me both screaming in rage and laughing hard because it is absolutely realistic. (We already have carbon credits, don't we?) Beauman paints a future Earth humans are consciously killing for more money, to the delight of consumers and shareholders. (Oh wait, no. We're already doing that.) Having no background in economy or conservation, I can't comment on how probable Venomous Lumpsucker's world is but in any case, this very much feels like the next stage.
The novel though isn't so much a mad dash across the Baltic Sea than an exploration of characters in a world dominated by capitalism. Resaint lives in guilt but has to work for the enemy to survive; Halyard is only interested in ingratiating himself, and that means money. Resaint looks for a very particular type of atonement; Halyard wants to save his arse. Both characters are human beings broken by a system they cannot not be a part of, and you can't help but feel that the planet is screwed because we all are like Resaint and/or Halyard.
Beauman's novel is deeply nihilistic, but it's a joyous ride into the darkest nihilism. I, for one, am very thankful to Sceptre for publishing this novel that so goes against the current trends.
The pace is lively and Venomous Lumpsucker takes you to different places. Humour is born from all those different situations, all those characters that Resaint and Halyard meet. From the crypto-libertarian city in the sea, to the camp of British--sorry, Hermit Kingdom citizens--refugees, to say nothing of expensive restaurants, the satire is ferocious. The prose is as lively as the pace in Halyard's chapters, exposing unflinchingly his faults and the state of the wold. Resaint's chapters are more quiet, just like the character, and we share her mordant thoughts.
If you want a Disney story or thrive on so-called hopepunk, this isn't a novel for you. If you want to bury your head in the sand, or if you live in a georgraphically privileged place where you don't have to face climate change and its consequences daily, it's not a novel for you.
On the other hand, if you need to laugh in the face of everything that's happening around us because there's laughter in despair too, then Venomous Lumpsucker is for you.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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