A little foreword: I read this last July (2022) and only put my review up on Goodreads at the time. Now, The Last Gifts of the Universe is through to the SPSFC2 finals I thought it best to have a copy here too!
It is hard to write a review that is more than just “CAT IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE” for this book. Pumpkin (the cat) is clearly MVP of the story but, as a cat-lover, I might be biased. It’s also brilliant to see a non-binary main character who isn’t an alien. So there’s two reasons to hype this book up.
The Last Gifts of the Universe is a bit of a slice-of-life sci-fi that follows Scout, their brother Kieran and Pumpkin the space cat, as they scour the universe for caches containing information from civilisations that came before – hoping that one day there will be something on what wiped out everyone and everything else. On one seemingly average mission, they discover a cache that hints at knowing what the big-bad enemy was but they are interrupted in their recovery of it by corporate mercenaries intent on copywriting it all and shoving it behind a paywall. Not being particularly well-equipped to fight off super soldiers Scout and Kieran lose the first cache but get enough from it to pinpoint the next one in the series.
What follows is a series of mad-dash races to see who gets to each next cache first, as Scout desperately tries to reason with the corpo-goons that this is information that needs to be free. The reason behind the end of all civilisation isn’t something to be hidden away for only the wealthy to access.
In between these confrontations Scout, Kieran and Pumpkin get on with their jobs aboard their ship, The Waning Crescent, and spend their downtime with video games, TV serials and pizza. In their exploring of what little cache data they saved, Scout finds a recording from Blyreena, who made a last stand against the encroaching darkness hundreds of year before. Will Scout find answers in Blyreena’s last words?
Besides the cat in adorable space-booties and the exquisite normalising of a non-binary character, The Last Gifts of the Universe presents some excellently thought-out themes that will engage you, while the characters keep you coming back for more. It’s about ends and beginnings, loss and hope, and fighting for what you believe in and those you love. Adeptly balanced with action and cosy vibes, this is a must-read for sci-fi aficionados.