Moscow has resurrected the mammoth, but someone must teach them how to be mammoths, or they are doomed to die out, again.
The late Dr. Damira Khismatullina, the world’s foremost expert in elephant behavior, is called in to help. While she was murdered a year ago, her digitized consciousness is uploaded into the brain of a mammoth.
Can she help the magnificent creatures fend off poachers long enough for their species to take hold?
And will she ever discover the real reason they were brought back?
A tense eco-thriller from a new master of the genre."
The Tusks of Extinction is a very unique novella centered around moral and ethical concerns of poaching, climate concerns, and the possibility of technology.
The story is split into dual POVs, one featuring a past timeline with Dr. Damira Khismatullina and her colleague as they fight to protect the few remaining elephants on the earth. Damira is an expert on all things elephant and has been working hard to help stop poaching and save elephants. Sadly, Damira is murdered by poachers while working and is unable to continue her work–at least, not in any traditional sense.
A hundred years later, we enter our second POV. In this future timeline, wooly mammoths have been brought back from extinction and scientists need Damira's expert knowledge to help give them a chance to survive and thrive. Fortunately, before Damira was murdered she agreed to have what is essentially her memories and consciousness uploaded to a database in order to save all of her knowledge of the elephants. Scientists decide to take her uploaded memories and place into the brain of a woolly mammoth int he hope of being able to teach them how to survive. It's a lot to take in, but I think the author handled this rather momentous task with deftness and cleverness.
I've always thought the idea of bringing back extinct animals sounds... potentially problematic, bordering on very unwise, but I've also found the idea moderately intriguing (who doesn't, really?) so I was excited to explore this premise. Nayler's take on this is a little different from what I expected, but I thought it was a really logical investigation into what it would take to have a new population succeed. There are always natural instincts in place that I think would guide animals, but the idea of having Damira's consciousness implanted into a mammoth's brain was something that brought an entirely new and fascinating angle to this entire idea. I was surprised at how well Nayler actually worked this concept into a story in a way that felt both intelligent and entertaining, while also providing sharp commentary on poaching and the many ways humans treat the world around them.
I think my only struggles with this novella would fall into similar veins as my problems with Nayler's previous book, The Mountain in the Sea. There's an aspect to the author's prose that doesn't resonate with me quite as much as I'd love it to, and I found there to be an overwhelming technical quality to it that keeps me at arm's length. I also do feel that this was an exceptionally ambitious story to explore in about a hundred pages. I'm not sure if this story would need a longer format since it does work overall, but there were parts of this I actually would've liked to have expanded a bit or just explored in some deeper ways than it was able to be in such a short amount of pages. That being said, I do still think this novella was overwhelmingly successful in doing what it wanted to and conveying the messages it set out to convey.
I also would not necessarily describe this as a 'thriller,' and would not recommend you go into this expecting something that will keep you on the edge of your seat in a traditional thriller way. It is more 'thriller' in the sense that it's a very intense overall topic and quite shocking sometimes to realize the many ways in which humans can wreak havoc and have such callous attitudes towards living creatures.
I listened to the audiobook edition of The Tusks of Extinction and thought the narrators did an excellent job with it. I would think it could get tricky to narrate the voice of someone who has essentially become a mammoth, but Gabrielle de Cuir handled it with finesse and has a lovely voice to boot. Stefan Rudnicki also kept my interested while narrating the alternate POV chapters. I also highly recommend reading the author's note at the end, in which Nayler shares some of his inspiration, research, and other tidbits that I found really fascinating.
Overall, I've given The Tusks of Extinction 3.5 stars. This is absolutely a recommended read for anyone interested in technological and speculative fiction, and especially if you enjoyed Ray Nayler's previous book, The Mountain in the Sea.