Click here to return to the main site.

Book Review

Book Cover

The Last Reef and Other Stories


Author: Gareth L Powell
Elastic Press
RRP: £5.99, US $12.50
ISBN: 978 0 9553181 7 7
Available 01 August 2008

The universe is a wondrous and terrifying place, full of experiences which will twist the mind. However, often the most important impedance to change lies in our relationships - whether you are at the end of the universe or out of your mind...

The Last Reef and Other Stories is a new collection of science fiction short stories by Gareth L. Powell. It’s a worthy collection worth every pound of your hard earned dosh as the stories are universally well written.

One of the things that you first notice about Powell’s work is his apparent belief that it is women, rather than men, who act as the agent of change - a proposition that any resident of Troy would have agreed with. This is a refreshing idea from a male writer, who as a species have mostly put males at the centre of the action, and gives Powell's work an individual voice.

Like the majority of good writers Powell presents a balance of ideas within each of his short stories. Some of the stories are interlinked, so the Monkey computer program which causes so much havoc in Ack-Ack Macaque is also referenced in A Neckless of Ivy, though in truth these mini tales of armageddon are really love notes to the women which appear in the stories.

Not everything is a love note to strong women as in The Long Walk Aft and Cat in a Box where Powell shows a playful and dark side to his humour. Both stories involve choices. The first is that age old problem of finding enough biological matter to restart your food replicator when all you have is a spaceship full of your sleeping shipmates. The second poses the problem of having a box which might grant immortality, though there is one catch, the box has a cat in it, if the cat’s dead then so are you, so would you open it?

One of the nice things about Powell’s writing is his ability to conjure whole worlds in a limited number of lines; his characters are not just ciphers there to push a clever idea forward. Having said that, the book isn’t short of these either. I was especially impressed with the idea of rogue computers which spin out of control, evolving past sentience used in The Reef and its companion stories Flotsam and Hot Rain. I feel there may be a novel in Powell yet.

As well as big ideas, comedy and world construction, Powell also does a nice turn at subtlety. This is especially evident in my two favourite stories in the collection Sunsets and Hamburgers and Distant Galaxies Colliding, though I think that Sunsets represents Powell at his best with a big idea - reconstructed humans at the death of the universe - played against both hope for the future and the depiction of a realistic relationship. The main pleasure with the story is that it treats its reader as intelligent. Powell paints just enough to get the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks, thus engaged, you are able to enter further into the experience than the role of voyeur would allow.

In total the book contains fifteen of his short stories and there is not a dud amongst them. Buy this book and do your brain a favour; you know it will love you for it.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£3.96 (
£5.99 (
£3.59 (
£5.69 (
$11.72 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.