VENOMOUS LUMPSUCKER – Ned Beauman (2022)

Venomous LumpsuckerNed Beauman’s 5th novel doesn’t seem out of character: Ned is British, born in 1985, son to an economist and a bookpublisher/journalist, and student of philosophy in Cambridge. Venomous Lumpsucker seems entirely like the kind of book such a fella would write: witty, very contemporary and with a healthy dose of late stage capitalism free market criticism.

Single genre classifications being very last century, Venomous Lumpsucker is a near-future-satirical-clifi-thriller. While to book is not an outright triumph, Beauman makes the combination work, and I liked it quite a bit. Its 294 pages are brimming with ideas.

The book’s main problem is that it doesn’t know where its heart is – not genre-wise, mind you – but qua content: Beauman doesn’t seem sure to be sad or humorous about the demise of our current ecological constellation.

My dust jacket has it like this: “Gripping and singular, Venomous Lumpsucker is a comedy about environmental devastation that asks: do we have it in us to avert the tragedy of mass extinction? And also: do we really need to bother?

It seems to me that the fact that Beauman seems unsure himself got in the way for me as a reader to fully emotionally engage with the book. As such, it is more a novel of ideas & action than one of emotion.

And so, while I liked the book, I can see where Dan on Goodreads is coming from: “[Beauman] falls into the classic trap of smart funny writers; the cumbersome need for a plot. At which point the book becomes a chore to read, because the plot and the characters are stupid and contrived (which is totally fine for short form comic fiction, but unsustainable for the long haul).”

Mark Halyard, a cynical yuppy working in the extinction industry, is not much more than that: a template for a hedonistic suit that favors money, expensive whiskey and sushi above all else. Karin Resaint is a suicidal biologist, and not much more: a character with motivations that seem unrealistic, at the other end of the yuppy spectrum: caring so much she’s depressed.

What Beauman does well is throw up arguments for both of them: there’s something to be said for either side. Beauman also seems to imply that all this talk about animals going extinct is ultimately about ourselves, not about ethics, and I agree – the fact that Richard Powers seemed to favor the opposite view in the grandstanding Bewilderment is one of that book’s biggest shortcomings. But that doesn’t save Beauman’s satire completely: is this book nihilist, or does it only pretend to be? It would have been stronger if he had positioned himself more either way.

Beauman has clever things to say about how trying to use market mechanisms to end our current ecological crisis will not work – at least not without heavy, heavy regulation. Carbon credits don’t seem to cut it at the moment. As such, this is a good companion volume to KSR’s The Ministry for the Future.

His satire dosed, he generally keeps things almost believable. Beauman tackles Brexit, Jeremy Bentham and the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Easy targets maybe, but it’s done in clever ways, using science fiction elements creatively. The pacing is spectacular, especially in the first half. Afterwards, there’s a bit too much detail at times, but it generally stays an engaging read, and while his main characters lack a bit of depth, Beauman still says interesting things about human nature.

I bought this book because of the review on Speculiction, and while I may be not as positive in tone as Jesse, nor as glowing as Anthony Cummins in The Guardian, I have no problem with recommending this either.

Venomous Lumpsucker

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25 responses to “VENOMOUS LUMPSUCKER – Ned Beauman (2022)

  1. I find it interesting that everything you list as positives (the authors upbringing, the people and papers that reviewed this before you) I find as complete non-starters for even thinking about this book. Which leads me to thinking about:

    How do people go about bridging that gap? I have no desire to stop associating with you but at the same time am on the complete opposite side of many thing we both feel are important.

    That’s just been something I’ve been thinking about recently. How do I interact in a real way with people who I disagree with and who disagree with me. In blogging terms, and in many social settings, you just don’t talk about “X” and that’s enough. But that’s shrinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a really great question, especially in the spirit of Christmas, and I do have some thoughts about that, but I’m off to a family gathering soon, so let me get back to you tomorrow or the day after.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the main thing is that we have more in common than what divides us. The list is endless, but should maybe start with the obvious things: we love our family, we love our partners, we have a general love for being alive, enjoying tasty food, enjoying good books, enjoying to feel the sun on our face, enjoying fresh air in the woods, etc., etc. As all these things are more or less obvious, we tend to forget them and focus on certain differences. You might not enjoy KSR, but we both love Dune & McKillip.

      But books are easy to feel different about. Salient differences are often political ones, because they matter on a level that is fundamental for how we organize things: how do we distribute stuff, land & money, who pays how many taxes and how are those taxes used? It directly involves what people have earned, it’s about fairness & reciprocity, and so people – rightly so – care a lot about it, and are obviously opinionated too, even if those opinions often are based on feelings and not so much on facts: the facts are messy and society & economy is complex, so it’s not that easy to determine who is right so these differences keep existing. The same can be said for what laws nations uphold, especially laws that deal with culture war topics: guns, abortion, etc. People get worked up about those things because they have a real effect on people’s lives, and people feel they have to do with fairness, protecting others from harm, respect, and even sanctity. These are moral issues, and again, rightly so, people care, care a lot.

      I think the essence of politics is trying to work together with people that think/feel differently, which often boils down to having different backgrounds. If everybody would agree, politics as such wouldn’t be necessary. The alternative to working together is violence. I don’t think violence is often productive. So I think it’s important to realize that we all care about a lot of similar things, and that even as people discuss something like abortion, they do so from a basic emotion of care & love: pro-choice people put their focus of care and love on the mother’s life, and pro-life advocates put their focus of care and love on the unborn life. I think both sides should start from a position of respecting that fact: knowing that the other side has good intentions too. Whenever I see debates – in the United States, but also here in Europe – I often feel people seem to forget that aspect from the other: people easily demonize and dehumanize political opponents as if they are heartless or cruel or dumb or privileged or smartasses or whatever.

      One of the main ideological issues in my community has to do with racism and our attitude to immigrants. It always surprises me how the left dehumanizes so called racists, while they often are just afraid & a bit lost in an ever changing world, struggling themselves with providing a good life for their family, just as some immigrants are.

      As for not talking about “X”: I think it’s a bad idea to keep to your own ideological niche and only talk to people in one’s own bubble. I notice this both on the left and the right side, and it seems as if the culture wars in the United States have become so problematic that also the progressive left is showing signs of totalitarian thought – I heard of a Belgian theater group that was invited to preform a play in New York but had to change the final song, because it was felt that white people dancing on stage to Nina Simone’s Sinnerman was a form of cultural appropriation. While I understand that minority groups feel protective about their heritage, and while I acknowledge big systemic injustices in history and our contemporary world, so I can understand these things evoke strong emotions & attitudes, I don’t think retreating to our own respective islands is a solution to anything. So we need to talk more, not less. Have more comments like yours on blogs, not less. But each comment and each post should start from a fundamental and deep realization that first and foremost we share a whole lot more than the things that divide us. Yes, about certain things we feel differently, but I truly respect you, not only as a human being, but I truly respect your opinions as well. So I don’t really feel it is so difficult to bridge our gap: it’s just a matter of reaching out and offering an open hand across it.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. This book keeps popping up everywhere for me. It sounds appealing, and something I might like. However, I totally see where Dan from Goodreads comes from because I have that same problem with every satirical novel that I read: a plot gets in the way and then the novel becomes a chore. I had that same problem with Marc-Uwe Kling’s QualityLand which is an Amazon satire and very funny too, up to the point that it remembers that it has a plot to work through. Many Pratchett novels give me the same problem. So, I don’t know. I might have to do some research. Thanks for writing about it, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s worth nothing the satire isn’t on top of everything. It’s not really the main dish Beauman serves. It’s there, but it’s generally subdued. This isn’t a funny-funny book, I don’t think I laughed out loud once, just a smile or fiver or so. But it is amusing nonetheless.

      The plot is obviously impossible as in most thrillers, and as such contrived, but I wouldn’t say it gets in the way, on the contrary, Beauman sets up some mysteries and questions in the first pages and they engaged me.


  3. Knowing what it is – what the tone it – makes it safe for me NOT to consider reading it. Satire is exhausting unless VERY well done, and even then I have better uses for my limited attention capabilities than trying to keep track of a clever and contrived plot and characters. I’m tired already, just from reading ABOUT it.

    Healthier, younger readers may take up the challenge: I bow before their flexibility and adaptability. And their imperative need – to fill the coffers of the mind while they still can.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s an interesting remark. Could be that age is a factor here, or energy levels at least. It’s obviously not a happy subject, and in that respect reading this is draining, because the only conclusion one can reach after reading it is that Beauman is right about those market mechanisms & the way some humans operate, and that’s basically a very, very depressing thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Energy levels – I’ve had ME/CFS for 33 years: I don’t spend energy on things I have no chance of affecting in any way. It would help no one, especially me, for me to become interested in a subject I’ve already worried about enough (I have children who will inherit the Earth and its messes).

        Having some small historical background, I know that humans have lorded it over other humans forever, and have always looked for the easiest way to get rich and become top of the heap – and we’re still around. Of course, now there are 8 BILLION of us (although Covid is trying to reduce that number).

        It will be the masses and the greedy who determine the fate of everyone, and the small number of consciousness-raised humans who are highly educated and wish to save the planet simply can’t keep up with how much damage the others can inflict on a constant basis. Me reading about it won’t help, and may make me even less functional.

        He’s probably right.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m sorry to read of your condition. You’re basically right: it’s neigh impossible in the face of so many. As I replied to Silvia, that doesn’t mean you can’t lead a meaningful life, and I have the feeling that you are doing just that, in a way that works for you. It’s really the only thing you can do, as a human I mean, do what works for you.


  4. I enjoy your review probably more than the book. Like Alicia, I know me and being in my 50’s I find satire very steep on quirks and opinions on contemporary issues that are too close to me that are exhausting. I prefer the more tried and proven books. And as you mention in your review, what a lost opportunity, I say go big or go home, bet for one direction or the other, or you risk losing impact on the reader. Thanks for the review. Merry Christmas to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, best wishes too!

      As I replied to Alicia, in a way books like these are indeed exhausting, but that has more to do with the real world they are about than the books themselves. I think that what you write about issues being too close to home is indeed spot on for many people: mass extinction might affect us all, and the way the financial business world operates and influences politics is affecting us all already, and it has been for ages.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But can those who agree DO anything about it, especially those like me who can barely find the energy to brush their teeth some days. No. So I allow myself to skip it. I CAN’T change it. No point in me being MORE depressed. You go ahead. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not going ahead either, at least not with big ambitions for changing the planet or the human race. I try to be a good father and a good teacher, and that’s more of a contribution than most, I feel, even though there are obviously others that do way, way more, so I’m not patting myself on the back here, just trying to live a meaningful life for myself.


      • It’s the world these books are about, most definitely. But maybe it’s also our mindset or perception of that reality. I do agree with you and Alicia that it’s been this way for ages. We may have thought for a while that we were better off on these issues, on the game of life, but we are starting to realize how much we’re repeating history at every cycle.
        And our writers have stopped believing that we are moving ahead, and don’t know if to laugh, be angry, show the pain or embrace abandon, denounce or resign to it. And yet there’s a dimension in all this that is missing, the realm of the soul, faith in humanity that resides outside of humanity or that’s linked to more than the material world as the only intelligent consolation (not the cult style, hahaha), that puts responsibility in the individual and humanity but that goes beyond.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, but I feel even with such a faith it is hard to see a path to a (material) paradise on earth. But all that doesn’t mean one can’t lead a meaningful life these days – and with meaningful I don’t mean meaningful for the planet or the human race, but just in your personal life, meaningful for yourself. It’s the only way to not end up depressed or paralyzed.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That’s true, that paradise on earth is out of reach despite our advance technology (or maybe because of it.)
            Only an spacial era could maybe bring renewed hopes, and that era seems very fat away.


  5. Very interesting review about a book I probably won’t read ;). I enjoy satire when it offers something more than just a distorting mirror. For the time being, I prefer non-fiction on the topic of biodiversity and climate change 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like the kind of book one has to be in a very specific mindset to truly appreciate, and I’m wondering about how the satire aspect of the writing can be sustained throughout the story: you mention a constantly engaging narrative pace for the reader, but I’m not sure I could stay for the duration…. Still, thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I said to Jeroen, the satire isn´t really sustained throughout, so no worries there. It a fairly short book, so the duration isn´t a problem either, but you are right, you need to be in the right mindset nonetheless, but that more or less applies to all books I guess 😄

      Liked by 1 person

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