Sci-fi Novella Review: The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler

This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Tusks of Extinction will be released on January 16, 2024.

I read Ray Nayler for the first time in 2022, and he quickly became a must-read author. So when I saw he had a Tordotcom novella coming out about memory and mammoths, it was no decision at all to request the ARC of The Tusks of Extinction. 

The Tusks of Extinction takes place in two timelines, one in which an elephant behavioral scientist fights the rampant poaching of African elephants, and the other featuring both poachers and trophy hunters seeking a mammoth herd in Siberia, after the extinct giants have been brought back Jurassic Park-style. The connection: that scientist has had her consciousness uploaded into one of the mammoths and is encountering the poachers from an entirely new angle. 

The result is a gripping and emotional novella driven by a whole lot of anger directed at poachers and trophy hunters. And because it’s Nayler, it’s told in significant portion from the perspective of minor characters—the son of a poacher, the husband of a trophy hunter. The driving force of the story is a powerful and morally straightforward one, but these perspective characters bring pathos to even the wrong side. 

The central conflict has stakes aplenty—literally life and death—and drives the narrative forward quickly, but just as central to the story is the theme of memory. The lead is trying to bridge the gap between a genetically engineered species and the ancestral memory of its long-dead predecessors, all while seeing her human memories recur in the midst of animal experience. Meanwhile, both she and the poacher’s son repeatedly reflect on the memories of their mothers and how parental influence has shaped or failed to shape the remainder of their lives. 

The ruminations on memory and the political background to poaching and trophy hunting add a meditative element to the novella that I’ve come to expect from Nayler. It adds a level of depth to a story that could’ve otherwise easily been a paint-by-numbers thriller with a strong conservationist message. Instead, it keeps the themes and the thrills but doesn’t limit itself to them, telling a story just as thoughtful as it is exciting. 

After a year-and-half of reading his work, I’m not surprised to find myself loving something written by Nayler. He consistently delivers thoughtful sci-fi with the perfect blend of excitement, reflection, and pathos. The Tusks of Extinction is no exception—an excellent read. 

Recommended if you like: contemplative sci-fi, conversationist themes.

Can I use it for BingoIt’s a Novella in a Queernorm Setting that Features Robots. It will also be inevitably usable for April’s new Bingo board as Published in 2024.

Overall rating: 17 of Tar Vol’s 20. Five stars on Goodreads.

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