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Author Spotlight: Cat Sparks

The setting is so vivid, it’s almost another character. How did you build such an intense world — did you visit any real salt flats or salt-flat racers?

I’m afraid my answer might be disappointing — I’ve never set foot on a salt flat or watched hot rods racing live. I’m not a vintage car enthusiast — I don’t even have a driver’s license. The setting for my story was entirely constructed using YouTube clips, other people’s photo essays, and accounts of their salt flat racing experiences.

I have, however, been to the Parkes Elvis festival, which cops a mention. Parkes is an outback Aussie town probably most familiar to Americans for its radio telescope featured in a movie called The Dish. They hold an annual Elvis festival where the town becomes awash with Elvises and Priscillas of all ages and persuasions: tinyurl.com/lsurvdg

A few years back, I researched land yacht racing for another project. Trace elements of that research triggered this story and its setting.

Why were Lachie and his friends on the flats during what seemed to be a lightning storm — were they running away?

The Base was engaging in weaponised weather experiments. Lachie and his friends were expendable contractors, Lachie particularly expendable, having been busted attempting to communicate with the outside world against the express directives of the base operators. They were being used for target practice when the other kids found them.

The Base is all-powerful in this story. Did you know from the start that Cracker and Harper would fail?

Yup. Harper and Cracker were always doomed — and the whole town along with them. The country, too, as more and more of it becomes the property of foreign governments and corporations, used as experimental testing and dumping grounds, its local populations marked as expendable: the do-not-matter caste. A fantastical scenario, yet not entirely without real life precedent: In the ’50s and ’60s, the British Government, with the agreement and support of our own, carried out secret nuclear tests on Australian sites, the most well known of them being Maralinga in South Australia. The indigenous Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people were relocated, but suffered health issues as a result of radiation, as did involved Australian service personnel.

You’ve written before about people on the other side, or locked out of a better life. What about this theme particularly resonates for you?

Nearly half the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day. That’s three billion people locked out of a better life, for starters. I’m not one of them — I grew up lower middle class and am a big fan of that particular strata of society. Middle class is all about having enough (whether we recognize such privilege and advantage for what it is or not), but “having enough” does not fit the capitalist ideology of limitless, relentless expansion. I believe Western middle class society is currently being eroded by an elite that would rather see the world divided into two convenient categories: the super rich and the working poor. But this process necessitates perpetual growth and expansion, which in turn requires gambling with terrifying stakes: the ongoing sustainability of the one and only proven life-sustaining planet we know of.

My country’s relatively strong economy is closely tied to the mining industry’s cycles of boom and bust. Things could easily change here. Australia is a remarkably inhospitable place. A massive land mass, the sixth-largest country in land area, yet there are only twenty-four million of us, mostly clinging to the eastern coastal fringe, well illustrated by this Australian Bureau of Statistics population density map: tinyurl.com/lgcz2je

Rising sea levels, salinity, and the increasing frequency and catastrophic intensity of bushfires, cyclones, and other extreme weather events are already impacting on our economic stability. To top it off, we’re saddled with a climate change denier for a Prime Minister. First day in office, he sacked the Climate Commission, then set about decimating environmental and climate change legislation, policies, and programs while the rest of the world has been upping its response to evidence of human-induced global warming.

Yeah, I do tend to repeat and reinforce with the choice of themes I tackle with my fiction. It’s unbelievable to me that there are people willing to gamble on destroying everything we have. The argument that it may be the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself seems overwhelming some days. Surely as a species we’re smarter than this?

What are you currently working on?

I’m at the tail end of three months of agent-directed revisions to a novel I’ve been struggling with across the past eight years. Lotus Blue is a biopunk SF adventure set in a future climate-changed and war-ravaged Australia — approximately 500 years after the events in “Hot Rods” take place.

I’ve completed this book, submitted it to readers and my agent, pulled it apart, reimagined and reconstructed it more times than I’d care to remember — or admit to. Well over 300,000 words have gone into the bin. At one point an earlier version received an offer of publication, but I knocked it back because the book wasn’t good enough.

I’m also halfway through a PhD in young adult climate change fiction, examining the ways in which science fiction authors utilize scientific data in their narratives. This research infects and influences everything I write. I no longer believe in a non-climate changed future — as you’ve probably figured from my answers. The biggest, most terrifying issue of our time.

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Lee Hallison

Lee Hallison

Lee Hallison writes fiction in an old Seattle house where she lives with her patient spouse, an impatient teen, two lovable dogs, and the memories of several wonderful cats. She’s held many jobs—among them a bartender, a pastry chef, a tropical plant-waterer, a CPA, and a university lecturer. An East Coast transplant, she simply cannot fathom cherry blossoms in March.