February 5, 2024

Review: The Tusks of Extinction

The Tusks of Extinction The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This slender novella (112 pages) is full of ideas. Cloning mammoths (also woolly rhinos and other Ice Age animals); trying to re-create an extinct ecosystem in Siberia; mapping and downloading a person's consciousness and memories and uploading the record to an organic brain; widespread use of drones as pack animals/little spy machines; and even a mechanical device that straps to a sender's and receiver's temples that is basically a artificial telepathic/thought projector.

It's a lot. This book, while absorbing, feels overstuffed. I don't say this often, but this story and ideas could have benefitted from expansion to a full length novel, to give the plot and characters some time to breathe. The ideas are certainly fascinating enough to support a book.

The main theme of the story is the author's anger over the exploitation of the natural world, in this case the future extinction of elephants in the wild due to the ivory trade. There's no year given in the story, but it has to be several decades from now, perhaps as much as a century. One of the main characters, the elephant biologist Damira Khismatullina, is killed trying to defend her elephants; a year previously she had left a copy of her memories at the Mind Bank. Fifty years after her death, as cloned mammoths are struggling to survive in their Siberian preserve and wild elephants are extinct, she is resurrected and downloaded into a mammoth's body to serve as their matriarch and teach them to survive.

There are two other main characters: Svyatoslav, a young boy participating in the killing of the mammoths with a group of poachers; and Vladimir, the husband of a "great white hunter" who has paid out an ungodly sum to hunt a male mammoth. This was deemed necessary by the preserve's director to support Moscow's "return on investment" (!) so the preserve and cloning of future inhabitants can continue. But Damira has other ideas about the whole thing, and when the poachers and hunters start shooting her mammoths, she leads them on a bloody revenge spree that ends up killing nearly all of the hunters.

That's what I mean when I say this should have been a book. There's so much here, and by necessity we're focused on the tale of the mammoths in their preserve and those hunting them. There is no room for any wider look at this future world, the technology, politics, progression of climate change, etc. Even the characters, while fleshed out as much as the 112 pages allow, could have benefited from a longer story. The author's debut novel, The Mountain in the Sea, was a fascinating look at the discovery of intelligent octopuses and their culture, and this could have been equally interesting, delving into the culture of the mammoths and the ramifications of a former human leading them.

That's not to say this book isn't worth reading, although the climax is a little rushed, and the ending is abrupt. But the future the author lays out here, and the ideas and concepts explored, are more than interesting enough to carry it.

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