By Ned Beauman
It’s the little things that often set the best SF novels apart from the rest of the field. A big part of world-building, the term used for the creation of believable futuristic or alien worlds, is filling in the details. This is something Ned Beauman does a great job of in Venomous Lumpsucker, a near-future novel that takes its title from an endangered, and possibly extinct, species of fish.
The plot has an awkward pair investigating the suspected demise of the lumpsucker. Karin is a concerned environmental avenger and Mark a sell-out to a big mining corporation that’s dredging the lumpsucker’s native habitat. Together they embark on a darkly comic adventure that brilliantly sketches an all-too plausible extinction economy, one which has some unexpected winners and losers.
Beauman is a lively writer with a knack for sharp descriptive language: nervous bowels beginning to simmer or someone with a voice that’s like a hug going on too long. But it’s the passing observations on what may be coming down the pipe that futurists will really enjoy, like drugs to kill one’s pleasure in food, or facial recognition software for tracking the spread of a cattle plague. There’s a good story here, with a couple of likeable if damaged main characters, but it’s these little things that make Venomous Lumpsucker a special pleasure.