Reviews

Editorial Reviews

“Forget the Mad Max comparisons: Sparks is far more ambitious than that. Lotus Blue is A Canticle for Leibowitz by way of Neuromancer.”
—Peter Watts, author of Blindsight

“A mythic, far-future outback populated by superhuman soldiers, house-sized reptiles, and half-crazed armored vehicles: If that doesn’t sound incredible to you, you have no heart. Lotus Blue is the year’s most compelling science fiction novel.”
—Zachary Jernigan, author of Jeroun: The Collected Omnibus

“Astonishingly rich in ideas and concepts and the world building is truly breathtaking in its breadth and originality. Lotus Blue is a revelation.”
—Isobelle Carmody, author of the Obernewtyn Chronicles

“Lotus Blue is sci-fi author Cat Sparks’s debut novel, and for a first journey it’s a hell of a ride. As intelligent and thought-provoking as it is exciting . . . From the opening paragraphs you can feel the desert heat and the sand whipping your face.”
Starburst magazine

Lotus Blue is SF adventure on steroids. A dystopian vision worthy of H. Rider Haggard and the Mad Max film franchise.”
—Jack Dann

“Vivid, compelling, and relentless, Cat Sparks makes you care about the soul of a mecha future as you hang onto the edge, feeling the sandy grit between your teeth.”
—Tina LeCount Myers, author of The Song of All

“Strong-minded women to root for, self-driven, sentient war mech, and a broken, raw world make Lotus Blue the latest and greatest of recent post-apocalyptic stories. An imagined future that leaves you discomfited, but an engaging read that leaves you satisfied.”
—Betsy Dornbusch, author of the Books of the Seven Eyes trilogy

“A post-apocalyptic vision from Australia. Sparks’ debut is ambitious . . . but patient readers will find it ultimately rewarding.”
Kirkus Reviews

“In the spirit of the Mad Max films, Australian author Spark’s debut takes reader on a journey of the intersection of human and machine. Strong characters and a vivid desert landscape bring this postapocalyptic story to life” Library Journal

Lotus Blue reviewed by Ed Wright in The Australian

Ghosts, Warring Gods and the Apocalypse: The Best of New Science Fiction and Fantasy – Lotus Blue reviewed in the New York Times by NK Jemisin

A Bonnie Blue Story Indeed – Red Headed Femme 5 of 5 stars

For me, worldbuilding is the most important part of a good SFF novel, followed closely by characterization. A rip-roaring story is also a good thing, but if the first two elements are done well enough, I can forgive a slower pace or a more deliberate plot. That doesn’t happen with this book, happily: Cat Sparks has the first two in spades, and the fact that we also have a rip-roaring story is the cherry on top.

This is a far-future science fiction saga, in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate-change Australia. The seas have risen, massive areas have turned to desert, and the remnants of humanity are subsisting on the “Sand Road,” where caravans of scavenged tech travel to shantytowns built on, and with, the ruins of more tech. There were great wars in the past, and armies of genetically-engineered cyborgs and “mechabeasts” (artificially intelligent, half biological and half metal tankers that ride the desert like schools of fish–or maybe killer whales–and play an important role in the story), and all sorts of hidden bunkers and underground factories and cities. There is also a forgotten, uploaded, batshit crazy general called the Lotus Blue, who, after untold centuries, is waking up.

There are a great many viewpoint characters here, which normally tends to put me off. I would rather concentrate on just a few people, or one. However, the author is firmly in control of her story at all times, and as I progressed through the chapters I could see the threads that would eventually braid everything together. Sparks pays attention to the need for development for each of these characters, and the two who eventually emerge as co-protagonists–Star the Sand Road girl who longs for a better life and Tully Grieve the con artist and thief, who gets dragged into a bad situation and finds it within himself to be a better human being–get satisfying arcs. The story for these particular people is more or less wrapped up, but the door is also left open for a sequel.

This is a damn good story, and I would love to see more tales in this universe. Recommended.

IO9’s Must Read SF and Fantasy books for March

KIRKUS: 11 Can’t-Miss SF and Fantasy Books Coming Out in March

The Verge: 23 SF and Fantasy Books to Read This March

RT Book Reviews:

“Australian author Sparks’ first foray into full-length fiction is an unforgettable ride into dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi storytelling. Her rich, hauntingly familiar yet desolate alien landscapes are filled with eons-old mutant soldiers, ancient war machines and extraordinarily scrappy and resilient characters. But it’s her perfect weaving of the different plot threads into one fantastic read that rocks this debut sci-fi offering.” by Debbie Haupt.

LOCUS review by Gary K Wolfe

The post-apocalyptic desert wasteland was a staple of SF long before the Mad Max films–think of Zelazny, Ellison, Walter M. Miller, Jr.–but I suppose anyone invoking such a setting these days is fated for the “Mad Max meets so-and-so” treatment, just as anyone invoking a rainy, overcrowded dystopolis is likely to get Bladerunnerized. This is probably even more the case for an Australian writer such as Cat Sparks, although her fine first novel Lotus Blue, set in a far future Australian wasteland, is as evocative of Terry Dowling’s Rynosseros stories, with their neat sandships, or even of David R. Bunch’s surreal Moderan stories, as it is of George Miller’s monster truck rallies. The setting, in fact, is violent and inventive enough that it almost serves as an additional character, and it would make a terrific template for a video game of some sort, with its weaponized superstorms, vast tracts of obsidian from melted and fused cities, and long-buried giant war machines stirring awake. And while there are suggestions of a climate change theme–“‘Once this was all green pasture and rolling hills, filled with animals and plants and other things that were not trying to kill you'”–the main source of devastation is a series of ancient wars lasting for centuries (we’re only given one brief clue as to dates, and it places the narrative sometime after the 24th century).

The story begins with the main character Star and her sister Nene making their way across the bleached landscape called the Sand Road as part of a caravan of solar-powered wagons. Things begin to seem odd when they witness a “fallen Angel”–apparently an ancient satellite being brought down from orbit–and not long afterward another anomaly, an enormous sandstorm, destroys the caravan, leaving Star largely on her own to make her way to a remote city called Fallow Heel, where Nene tells Star a long-held secret that will eventually lead Star to question not only her identity, but even her humanity. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a colorful cast of other point-of-view characters, including an old woman named Marianthe who maintains a kind of refuge at the Temple of the Dish (an apparent reference to the Parkes Observatory, though there are likely several other references to actual Australian landmarks that outsiders like me aren’t getting); the cyborg supersoldier or “Templar” Quarrel, who believes himself to be the last of his kind; the street kid grifter Tully; the well-to-do antiquities merchant Mohandas and his spoiled daughter Allegra; and perhaps most fearsomely, the newly awakened General, its once-human mind uploaded into an enormous war machine, one of only a handful of color-coded “Lotus Generals” created prior to the 24th century Lotus Wars and thought to have disappeared long ago. His old designation was Lotus Blue, and he means trouble for just about everyone else in the book.

While there may be much that seems familiar in this scenario, with echoes not only of the Mad Max films but of Robocops, Terminators, and doomsday machines, there’s also a good deal that’s original–I especially enjoyed those bilious, churning green storm clouds that chase everyone with their own terrifying version of acid rain. While this exuberance of invention is what initially draws us in to Sparks’s world, her narrative energy builds admirably as we learn more about the characters’ true identities and secrets (pretty much everyone has at least one) and of past connections between many of them. Eventually the various viewpoints overlap and converge, with (needless to say) the very survival of these hardscrabble communities at stake in a climactic confrontation. At the same time, there are tantalizing hints of other parts of this world, such as the fortified underground city of Axa or the “Risen Sea”, which suggest Sparks may not be quite done with it. In the end, though, the fierce landscapes can only take us so far, and it’s the engagingly flawed characters like the teenage Star or the aging Marianthe and Quarrel–both refreshing reminders that adventure tales can also feature older characters with actual memories–that will keep us coming back.

KIRKUS REVIEW

A post-apocalyptic vision from Australia.

Seventeen-year-old dreadlocked Star and her older sister, Nene, a medic and the closest thing she’s got to a parent, are part of a nomadic group of travelers and traders enduring hard lives and journeys across the Sand Road, traversing a desert overrun with vestiges of rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a time and war long past. When their 13-wagon caravan witnesses a relic Angel satellite crash to Earth, a chain of events is set into motion that launches Star on a voyage far away from the familiar life she yearns to leave—but close to discovering a secret her sister has desperately tried to protect her from. As all of this takes place, an old and powerful entity has awoken in the desert: a Lotus Blue, the deadliest of all war machines of the past and a soldier with its own agenda. Star’s journey crosses paths with various soldiers and survivors in this complex tale, and knowing whom to trust, including herself, may be the key to her survival. Sparks’ debut is ambitious and, at times, convoluted. The worldbuilding is so detailed that language borders on repetitive and tedious, and the narrative sets up a daunting array of characters, but patient readers will find it ultimately rewarding.

The epitome of a slow burn, with a drawn-out plot and leisurely pace, this jigsaw puzzle requires full attention to piece together. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

From Barnes & Noble’s 96 books sci fi and fantasy editors can’t wait for you to read in 2017
Lotus Blue, by Cat Sparks (March 7)
One of more unique genre mash-ups I’ve read in some time. Is it a Middle Eastern-flavored desert fantasy adventure? Is it a post-apocalyptic SF thriller where high-tech sentient war machines wander a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland looking for trouble? Could it be both at once? At its core, Lotus Blue is the story of Star, a teenage girl who begins the book living a harsh, nomadic life in a caravan of traders. Where she arrives by its conclusion is somewhere else entirely, entangled in an increasingly intricate web spun by powerful and ancient supersoldiers, remnants of a bygone high-tech landscape long buried in the desert sands. Australian author Cat Sparks has packed what feels like an entire series worth of worldbuilding into this tightly-paced story. This is one of those debuts that doesn’t feel like a first book.

From Barnes & Noble’s 19 science fiction debuts we can’t wait to read in 2017
Lotus Blue, by Cat Sparks (March 7)
Sparks, already well-known for her short stories and editorial work, delivers her first novel in fine style. If you’re someone who watched Mad Max: Fury Road and wondered what the rest of the world might be like after the fall, Sparks offers up a desert future where the landscape is littered with ancient war machines and the other detritus of a long-gone age. Orphan teens Star and Nene, who hide a terrible secret, travel with a caravan along the Sand Road until they witness a satellite crashing to Earth, setting off a chain of events that sees the sisters kidnapped by an ancient supersoldier—just as one of the deadliest and most intelligent of the old war machines awakens in the dry, mapless desert. It is Lotus Blue—a machine that sees no future for humanity at all. Filled with seemingly effortless worldbuilding that will have you shaking the sand out of your shoes after each reading, Sparks debut is sure to be a modern classic.

From Starburst Magazine, review by Ian White
Lotus Blue is sci-fi author Cat Sparks’ debut novel, and for a first journey it’s a hell of a ride. Because it’s the kind of book you should know as little as possible about before you begin reading, here’s a brief synopsis: in a post-apocalyptic future, something tremendously ancient and powerful awakens in the desert. It’s called Lotus Blue and, despite its rather cosy nomenclature, it is far from friendly. In fact, it is the deadliest of all ancient war machines, and it will stop at nothing to carry out its mission.

But Star and her sister Nene have problems of their own. They are nomadic orphans travelling in a thirteen-wagon desert caravan, and they have just entered a forbidden territory known as the Dead Red Heart, a ruined landscape preyed upon by long-forgotten monsters and rogue technology. The sisters are used to living with danger, but when an archaic satellite smashes to Earth the stakes are raised nightmarishly high. Star is forced to begin a journey that will take her dramatically away from the life she knows, and a secret that her sister has spent her whole life trying to protect Star from will begin to surface.

And just when things couldn’t get worse, Lotus Blue is waiting.

Where YA fiction is concerned, post-apocalyptic universes and teenage heroines are a dime a dozen, but it’s the environment that makes this novel so fresh and engaging. From the opening paragraphs you can feel the desert heat and the sand whipping your face, and smell the bodies that are packed into the wagon where Star is sitting. Perhaps inevitably it also conjures up images of Star Wars’ Tatooine – this is definitely a place where George Lucas’s Tusken Raiders would feel at home – and maybe because of Cat Sparks’ Australian heritage, there’s also a sense that this is a place where Mad Max could be living somewhere among the rocky outcrops, watching the caravan wind its tortuous way along the harsh Sand Road. But Lotus Blue is more than a pastiche of cinematic imaginings, it’s an intensely written story that has a unique flavour all its own. And, like all very good YA fiction, its audience is universal.

If post-apocalyptic Cli-Fi is your thing, and you’re looking for a story that is as intelligent and thought-provoking as it is exciting, you’ll find a lot to admire in Lotus Blue.

From Koeur’s Book Reviews blog

I really cannot believe that this novel was “read now” on the book site. Meaning the publisher is handing it out to anyone who asks. This was one of the best novels I have read in a long time. Great characters, constant movement and epic world building.  So lets get to the meat of it, shall we?

Initially Star stole the show with her gumption, grittiness and guile. All her flaws are out there to see. She is extremely self-centered which makes sense coming from living in a wasteland where everyone is more likely to stab you than give you a hand up. She has base instincts that she acts upon (sex), has regrets and hopes for a better life somewhere other than where she is. I like that Star grew within the movement but the time compression in order to realize this was not real believable. She goes from a badass wall climbing, knife wielding hell-cat to needing help in every dire situation while burying her head in anyone’s manly chest. I exaggerate but her decline from independence was noticeable as she traverses the wasteland.

Much like the latter part of Star’s tale, the storyline towards the end tended to drag on a bit. It is hard to make a wasteland interesting but the storms keep you on your feet and the beasties that could have added a dash of suspense were sadly absent. This was a solid 4 stars and I would not hesitate to read any of this author’s subsequent novels as the world building was great as were the supporting cast and all the tech.

Reviews of Dark Harvest from Solaris Rising 3, edited by Ian Whates
SOLARIS RISING 3

Review from The Bookbeard’s Blog 2014

Edited by Ian Whates and now in it’s third (and a half) iteration, Solaris Rising 3 once again brings forth a veritable feast of short sci-fi stories from a number of great authors, some more well known than others.

First up, I read Cat Sparks’s Dark Harvest after Mr Whates described it as military sci-fi with a difference. A slice of brutal life for grunts, stuck on an alien world, fighting things they don’t understand, Sparks captures the overlapping banter of soldiers perfectly. Hints and ideas are wonderfully woven to create a view of the world as the group of mercenaries encounter terrifying super-soldiers and the even weirder ‘nuns’.

The transition in perspective from the human soldiers, eager to escape the planet and just as eager to destroy everything that moves, to the nuns is a sharp, revealing contrast. Sparks has seemingly delivered a brief glimpse into a fully fledged world that visually and conceptually offers up a lot.

“Dark Harvest” Review by Katharine Stubbs on Netgalley

An army on a foreign planet are having some difficulties. Though they contact base, no one comes – not to collect the body bags, so not for anything – they’re losing hope. This is a startling story, as one can expect from Sparks, and it delivers with a punch.

“Dark Harvest” Review by Jesse at Speculation

Like Powell’s story, Cat Sparks “Dark Harvest” is stylistically engaging, and works with larger-than-life genre elements.  But only at first.  Transmuting into something entirely unpredictable, the opening, which features of a group of mercenaries on a foreign planet that could have come straight from a Hollywood action flick, winds its way to a soft-spoken conclusion that warrants re-reading.  Acid rain pouring down with war thundering in the distance, the mercenaries watching nuns cremate a corpse on the battlefield outside their tent is only the beginning.

Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, edited by Ekaterina Sedia
Paper Cities

Review by Marshall Payne (excerpt)

Cat Sparks tells a powerful tale on another world in “Sammarynda Deep.” Miriyam arrives in Sammarynda looking for her old lover, Orias. In this city, denizens achieve their “honour” in odd ways, some by self-mutilation-one woman named Jahira has hideously torn her right eye from its socket to achieve hers. It’s the time of the great water joust and the atmosphere is festive. The title refers to the Glass Rock in the ocean which devours any light that touches it. Divers once leaped from the rock into the ocean and surfaced forever Changed.

This is a fine story of an interesting people and an excellently depicted world. My only problem was that the POV began with Miriyam but, toward the end, switches to Jahira’s. I’m sure Sparks had her reasons for doing so, but I thought this could’ve been handled better instead with a round-robin POV throughout to the sudden shift at the end. That would’ve made the story longer, perhaps, but it would’ve given it more symmetry and made the switch not so jarring. Regardless, I found “Sammarynda Deep” quite enjoyable.

A review from Fantasy Book Critic (excerpt)
07) “Sammarynda Deep” by Cat Sparks. This one was interesting. The backdrop is an Egyptian-influenced port that features such strange customs as sacrificing something of great value-an eye, love, etc-in return for honour, water jousting, the forbidden Glass Rock and the Sammarynda Deep, a Lovecraftian chasm that can change a person in unnatural ways while the story concerns a man, a woman and the tragic past that they share… Considering the way the short was narrated and its ending, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Sammarynda Deep” expanded into a novel and personally, I hope that’s exactly what happens 🙂

A review by Michael Curry
Paper Cities is an eclectic collection of fantastic stories that are about, obviously enough, cities. While that makes them urban fantasy, these stories don’t fall within that part of the genre most recently popularized by writers like Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison or Kelley Armstrong. Instead, they use a broader definition of the term that results in some wildly different settings and a variety of writing styles.

There are outstanding stories from some of my favorite writers, such as Jay Lake’s “Promises: A Tale of the City Imperishable” (a story set in the City Imperishable from his novel Trial of Flowers) and Hal Duncan’s “The Tower of Morning’s Bones” (a story using the mythology of Vellum: The Book of All HoursVellum and Ink), excellent work from notables like Ben Peek (“The Funeral, Ruined”) and Forrest Aguirre (“Andretto Walks the King’s Way”), and great efforts from authors I’d never read before, including “Sammarynda Deep” by Cat Sparks and “They Would Only Be Roads” by Darin C. Bradley.

Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy is sure to find it’s way onto plenty of “Best of” lists for 2008, and I highly recommend it.

A review by Mario Guslandi
As pointed out in Jess Nevins’ introduction to the volume, urban fantasy – intended as a type of fiction where cities are the setting and the supporting character of the story – has a long-established tradition in the literature, can be traced as far back as the Arabian Nights and appears throughout the centuries in Gothic novels, Dickens’ London and modern horror and SF fiction.But the cities involved are not always real places such as New York, Rome or Tokyo. More often than not authors pursuing the avenues of urban fantasy create worlds of their own, imaginary towns and cities the inhabitants of which behave differently than us, follow unusual rules and live alien and strange lives.However, every time a writer tries to push the genre limits, stretching his imagination to create something entirely new, the risk is that fantasy becomes the synonym of weirdness and that the story simply becomes a hollow specimen of the bizarre, lacking heart and failing to touch the inner chords of the reader’s soul.

Paper Cities, an anthology assembling twenty-one stories of urban fantasy by both well-known and brand new authors, is a standing example of how fantasy can sometimes just equate eccentricity and oddness offering little else. Many of the stories included in the volume are just bizarre and quirky, the plots are often flimsy and inconsistent,and the characters flat and uninteresting. The first requirement of good fiction, namely to tell a good story and to tell it well, seems to be out of fashion.Mind you, not everything is disappointing in Paper Cities, fortunately there are some good tales.Cat Rambo’s “The Bumblety’s Marble,” an elegant tale of magic set in and beneath the imaginary city of Tabat, is imbued with subtle lyricism.Jay Lake contributes a fine, fully enjoyable piece set in the world of his The City Imperishable series (“Promises: a Tale for the City Imperishable”), which will make you want to secure a copy of all the novels in the series.

In “Sammarinda Deep” by Cat Sparks, the characters are credible and well carved, the imaginary world is quite plausible and the story is solid and well written.Other excellent stories are Steve Berman’s offbeat but fascinating “Tearjerker,” a veritable feast of imagination and creativity and the colourful “Painting Haiti” by Michael Jasper, portraying the nightmares and the difficulties to survive experienced by an artist from Haiti emigrated to the USA.Some stories are worth mentioning especially for the exquisite language and the beautiful wording which grace plots either too weak or too obscure (Anna Tambour’s “The Age of Fish, Post-Flowers,” a post-modern vivid urban fantasy and Catherynne M. Valente’s “Palimpsest,” providing further evidence of that author’s enormous literary talent).

My favourite story is “Down to the Silver Spirits” by Kaaron Warren, a gorgeous piece with a “quiet horror” taste where, in order to conceive a child, some childless couples face a descent into a dead underground city.On the whole, the fact that I’ve been able to select only eight stories out of twenty-one doesn’t speak too well for this anthology, which remains, in my way of thinking, merely a gallant attempt that resulted in failure.

 

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