Last Updated on February 14, 2024
Ray Nayler made waves in 2023 with literary science fiction novel The Mountain in the Sea. Now he’s back with a literary take on Jurassic Park. The Tusks of Extinction is set in a future world in which elephants have joined mammoths in extinction – except, now scientists have found a way to bring mammoths back to the Russian tundra. The Tusks of Extinction combines that fun speculation with a nuanced take on ecological preservation and poachers.
Dr. Damira Khismutallina made the survival of elephants as a species to her life’s work. Eventually, poachers won out, brutally murdering Damira and soon after, sealing the species’ fate. A century later, Russian scientists succeeded in reviving the mammoth species – but without their survival instinct. As the knowledge passed down over generations is now lost, the mammoths don’t know how to live, roam or recognise threats. In comes Damira. She had had her consciousness copied shortly before her untimely death. Now, she is called back into the world of the living, leading the mammoths into a new age.
As a novella, The Tusks of Extinction is a fairly short and punchy read. It is packed full of tension – though the focus is on more on themes and emotions rather than a quick-paced plot. In many ways, not much actually takes place in this novella, while at the same time, it is full of progression and scenes that propel the story forward. In that, the pacing is closer to a short story than long form fiction.
What makes The Tusks of Extinction stand out is the writing. Nayler has a way with words and I really enjoyed how he switched between human mode and mammoth mode – using different internal voices, looking at how both species handle memories and what impact they have on their day-to-day. I don’t know much about elephants, personally, so looking at their group dynamics and ongoing memory exchange was very interesting, especially at the intersection of a human mind in the body of a mammoth, dealing with a new way to interact with the world.
And of course, the novella features grey morality and a hostile world. It goes beyond human morality, though it does feel like the human side gets more play-time in this regard. The story asks the central question of what you are willing to do to reach your goals, and how far you are willing to break with your own convictions to succeed. And that makes this rather literary novella appeal to a grimdark audience, really. I am looking forward to reading more Ray Nayler and seeing what impact he will have on the genre as his career goes on.