The Last Gifts of the Universe is a dark, grief-filled, weird, fast, fun read that ends much faster than you expect it to.
Rory August’s The Last Gifts of the Universe is somehow both a hauntingly beautiful meditation on grief and loss, as well as a delightful space-faring romp, and I’m honestly in awe of how it manages to encompass both of those things in a lean, and efficient narrative.
Last Gifts follows Scout and their brother Kieran – two space archaeologists – who, along with their cat Pumpkin, are racing against the profit-obsessed Verity Corporation to find caches of data from dead interstellar civilizations. These caches may hold the key to discovering the origins of and defeating the mysterious Remnants who have been destroying planets across the galaxy.
August’s world-building in Last Gifts applies such a light touch while still being satisfying that it’s beyond admirable. We learn precious little about the galaxy at large. All we see are dead planets (side-note: can it be called world-building if all the worlds are dead?) and the only hints of the larger galactic civilization are the fact that space archaeologists and corporate greed exist (alongside pizza, beer, trashy b-movies, and videogames, thank god).
But the slight world-building serves the story well, as we spend most of our time exploring Scout’s emotions regarding life, death, and the inevitability of all things – when confronted by the last words of the representative of a long-dead species. We feel Scout’s anger, fear, and desperation to hold on to all they hold dear (including the cat) so thoroughly and effectively, that the greater world beyond their inner turmoil feels like something of an afterthought – which anyone who has gone through true grief can tell you is pretty much the case.
When the events of the plot and world do propel the narrative forward, it’s with such swiftness that putting the book down seems all but impossible – again, exactly like a race against time, certain death, and evil corporatists should. And what’s extra surprising is that the book doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, the ending might take you by surprise – which can be a good and bad thing based on how you look at it:
Some may not feel satisfied by the book’s lack of closure in terms of overall plot and questions, but honestly that just made me love it even more. It ties so closely to the themes of death and inevitability – and embracing life in the face of them – that if August HAD opted for a complete resolution (which is always tempting) it might have been a lesser book for it. But the fact that August took the high ground shows how much care and thought and love went into crafting this narrative.
The Last Gifts of the Universe is a dark, grief-filled, weird, fast, fun read that ends much faster than you expect it to. Such is life.
Read The Last Gifts Of The Universe by Rory August