Friday, September 23, 2022


Where do writers get their ideas? Anywhere and everywhere they can. In the case of Beyond the Burn Line, it began with something so slight it barely qualified as the ghost of a notion. A throwaway remark by a minor character in one of my earlier novels, The Quiet War, who wonders, as nations struggle to fix the damage to ecosystems caused by previous generations, if Earth might not be better off without humans. ‘In time, some other species might start to look at the stars and wonder. Bears, perhaps. Or raccoons. Perhaps they will manage things better . . .'

Something I more or less forgot, at least on the conscious level until more than a decade later, when I remarked on Twitter, during a brief to and fro about waves of galactic colonisation or some such, that by the time an extraterrestrial civilisation discovers Earth, the human species may well have managed to extinguish itself, and some other species of Earthling will have to deal with First Contact instead.

The fusion of these two notions was the inception of Beyond the Burn Line, and an early, fleeting interest in UFOlogy gave its first half development direction and purpose. It wasn't the novel I was intending to write. That one, set in the near future, was in the early stages of development when COVID-19 began to spread across the globe; because of the uncertainties created by the pandemic (still not settled), I set it aside, recalled the remark about post-Anthropocene First Contact, and began to tinker with what became, after a couple of false starts, the story of a scholar who doggedly pursuing his late master's research into glimpses of strange visitors and stumbles on a greater truth. As for my brief flirtation with UFOs and their cults, it involves summer thunderstorms, my aunt's boarding house, one of the first libraries in the UK to have an electronic ticketing system, and Joni Mitchell. But that's another story.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Publication Day!


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Brief Review: Venomous Lumpsucker, by Ned Beauman

The two central characters in Ned Beauman's dark comedy are, broadly, personifications of the commonest reactions to the great thinning of the world's ecosystems: grief and anger. Emotions which in this case are generated by the accidental destruction of what may have been the last breeding grounds of a 'bumpy and greyish fish' that's obscure and distinctly uncharismatic, but also the second most-intelligent species on the planet.

Karin Resaint, the animal cognitive specialist who was studying the venomous lumpsucker, experiences a kind of existential collapse; Mark Halyard, who works for the extinction industry which commodifies endangered species, is furious not because of the loss, but because it threatens to ruin him over an unwise bet he made with company money. The two of them form an uneasy odd-couple relationship as for very different reasons they try to track down rumours of surviving populations of the lumpsucker. Their search spans the collapsing ecosystems of the Baltic and the North Sea, a pirate nation plagued by a rapture of gnats, and the self-willed isolation of the Hermit Kingdom (whose refusal of the outside world and enthrallment to an imaginary past is all too recognisable), and uncovers the machineries of a grandiose scheme in which the lumpsucker was an accidental casualty.

Although nominally an author at the literary end of the spectrum (he was selected as one of Granta's best young British novelists in 2013; his second novel was long-listed for the Man Booker prize), Beauman hasn't been shy in listing in genre influences; the deep-grained noirish cynicism of Venomous Lumpsucker reminds me of Fredrick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth's satires of American mid-twentieth century hyperconsumerism, The Space Merchants and Gladiator-at-Law, and there's a truly science-fictional twist to this densely realised ecothriller. Combining high-end farce with an acerbic portrayal of a world in which technology fails in various terrible ways to counter the effects of uncontrolled plundering of finite natural resources, it's unsparing in its deconstruction of global capitalism and the fallibility of well-intentioned attempts to preserve the myriad species that knit together the world's ecosystems, and pivots on an urgently topical question. We're a clever species, noble in reason, infinite in faculties and so forth, but are we clever enough to save the world from the worst of our nature?

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