The Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler [7/10]

Ray Nayler, a poet among other attributes, is an expressive, stylish writer versed in modern environmental issues. I missed his signature novel, 2022’s The Mountain and the Sea, but was determined to catch this new novella. The Tusks of Extinction knits together three character strands on an earth a century hence, when elephants are extinct and the mammoth has been genetically de-extincted to roam Siberia. An uploaded ex-elephant expert inhabits the mind of the leader of a mammoth pack, a young mammoth poacher rebels against the slaughter of his trade, and a bounty hunter’s husband questions his spouse’s hunting ardor. Nayler tersely brings the reader into this complex narrative world but inevitably in a book just over a hundred pages long, the very act of worldbuilding mitigates against a highly effective plot. But the scenes of the disembodied human scientist in the wild, inside a mammoth’s head, are evocatively executed. The Tusks of Extinction could have, methinks should have, formed a strong, long epic novel. At this length, it is a fine read but a morsel, not a full meal.

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