Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review: The Tusks of Extinction, by Ray Nayler

Review: The Tusks of Extinction, by Ray Nayler

by Rich Horton

First -- an apology to Ray Nayler. I read an advance copy of this way back in October -- and I dithered about writing up a review because I didn't want to post it until the book came out, in January. Then January came, and I couldn't find the print copy, and I got too lazy to look through the electronic copy I had (flipping back and forth is much harder on a Kindle than a physical book.) And now it's May -- but, hey, I did just do a major cleanup of my "office" and guess what? I found the physical copy! So here's a review -- later than optimal, but I hope it will push a few more people to read the book.

Ray Nayler's first novel, The Mountain in the Sea, has been extravagantly -- and deservedly -- praised. His short fiction to date has also been remarkable. Now comes a novella, from Tor.com, The Tusks of Extinction. It's also a powerful book, and very much worth reading, if not, to me, quite as science fictionally scintillating as the novel.

The Tusks of Extinction opens with Damira tracking a blood trail to find a dead ammother -- and then goes back in her memory years to when she was working for a group trying to stop elephant poachers, and she had come on the remains of several murdered elephants. And, we are told, not long after, Damira was murdered herself by poachers. And quickly the other shoe drops -- Damira's mind, by some process, has been uploaded into a mammoth, as part of a project to restore mammoth populations using recovered DNA, and help from experts (such as Damira) inhabiting a mammoth body to teach them mammoth ways of life, or the best guess at that.

That's the big science fictional hook -- the familiar idea of "resurrecting" mammoths using DNA from frozen remains, enhanced by the concept of uploading human minds to some mammoths. The book follows three tracks -- Damira's experience, both her human life and her time as a mammoth, and that of a young Russian man dragooned into mammoth poaching, and then that of a man whose boyfriend bought a trip to see the mammoths on the newly established mammoth preserve -- and to hunt them. All three threads are interesting, and in sum truly wrenching. There is desperate violence, and human betrayal, and maybe a tiny thread of hope.

This is a first rate novella, and like much SF it is not really about its extrapolation, but about the present. And in that sense it is a powerful cry against our human predation of elephants (and by moral extension, many animals.) It shares with The Mountain in the Sea an interest in the minds of non-humans, and also a concern with the violence and environmental destruction caused by humans. 

No comments:

Post a Comment