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The Last Reef by Gareth L. Powell

01/11/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Last Reef in the USA - or Buy The Last Reef in the UK

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pub: Elastic Press. 181 page enlarged paperback. Price: 5.99 (UK), $12.50 (US) ISBN: 978-0-9553181-7-7.

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I've been following Gareth L Powell's work or 'the other Gareth' as I like to call him, since we both had stories in 'Aphelion' in April 2005. 'Six Lights Off Green Scar' is one of the stories reproduced in this collection. What struck me about it at the time was the terse prose that somehow conveyed a mass of sensory information in few words, a quality that continues to define GLP's work. Since then, we've corresponded regularly and met up a couple of times, I joined Gareth's Friday Flash Fictioneers, though I believe I coined the title and we've collaborated on a flash fiction anthology, still available from OddTwoOut Press. Having read all of this you may conclude that my review will be rather biased. Well, you'd be wrong and I resent the implication.

The collection includes fifteen stories that range from present day accounts that barely touch on speculative themes to far-future epics that span the gamut of classic SF tropes but each time add something new. An example of the latter is 'The Redoubt'. There was real emotional depth here as a young couple are offered the chance to send a digital copy of themselves on a universe-spanning voyage to the end of time. The scope of the concept and the agonising debate made it just fabulous.

While on a brutal punishment detail repairing a bridge, 'Pod Dreams Of Tuckertown' where he grew up. The background concerns mysterious aliens that have taken control of the Earth, but they are irrelevant to Pod and his dreams of escape and revenge. It's a stark story that captures the raw emotions of the characters and the desperation of their situation.

'A Necklace Of Ivy' is a realistically rendered tale set against the backdrop of a mysterious alien plague sweeping through Cornwall. A young couple are making their way out of the county in advance of an army curfew, but make the mistake of stopping for one last break. The realistic dialogue and briefly sketched description make it a compelling little story.

'Hot Rain' is what could be described as a hard-boiled detective story, set in the exotic locale of Rio where a young girl has been cloned and kidnapped. It's a fast-paced thriller with enough high-tech elements to make it stand out from the seemingly regular background.

My favourite of the collection is 'Arches', a story that initially appears to be a variation on 'Stargate', as purple arches appear across the world and people disappear through them to unknown destinations. The military do get involved, but random civilians also find themselves travelling to other planets for a variety of reasons. The scope of the story suddenly becomes apparent when the mechanism of travel is discovered and the whole concept suddenly becomes epic in scale. I found it truly captivating.

'Flotsam' is set against the same background as the title story 'The Last Reef', the reefs being artificially intelligent organic super-computers that are being quarantined and destroyed to protect humanity. As Europe sinks under the rising seas, two scientists formerly involved in this work meet up in what I found to be an intriguing location where hard decisions have to be made.

GLP has a habit of leaving you wanting more, either by ending his stories on a note of suspense, at the dawn of something bigger or at the denouement of conflict where issues still have to be resolved. It's not always a satisfactory ending for the characters and you may be left feeling frustrated on occasion, but you'll likely be left wanting to read on.

Gareth D. Jones

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