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Tabula Rasa

Lotus Blue

by Cat Sparks, Talos Press 2017

a review by Kyla Lee Ward

Dear legislators, bioengineers, and the team who built that robot leopard;

Please, please don't make the mistakes your counterparts did in Lotus Blue. Although a solid read, evoking wonder and excitement, it presents an appalling future where all our ingenuity has run amok in the name of war.

In Lotus Blue, most of the world has been reduced to toxic ruin, inhabited only by such plants and animals as were genetically modified for use as guards, and semi-sentient tankers, preying upon each other for spare parts. Few still comprehend what brought humanity to this pass—all has become myth, dictating the ritual use of unreliable technological relics. Such as Quarrel.

I'm certain that creating cyborg soldiers with superhuman strength and endurance may seem a wonderful idea. But consider them lingering on, centuries after the conflict they were designed for. Quarrel makes for a brilliant character, as prickly as he is driven, but the pathos of his situation is well-nigh unbearable. Above all else, never, ever create an "Old Blue"--a Lotus General.

If left to themselves, the remnants of humanity may indeed adapt to this situation. They may become warlords, carving out their petty fiefdoms along the Great Sand Road or they may become traders, driving caravans along its length. Healers and shamans may come to fill the needs formerly addressed by doctors and priests. But "Old Blue" filled a different kind of need, and leaving humanity to itself is not part of the plan.

You may be tempted, you who are even now shaping our future, to think that the central character of Star represents redemption. Raised by a healer, she is as ordinary a seventeen-year-old girl as ever roasted a sand skate or hefted a tanker lance, but confronted by this threat from the past, she rises to the occasion. It may be argued that confronting such challenges brings out the best in humanity, but genuine courage only appears when people (and part-organic constructs) manage to break their programming and veer from their preordained tracks. And it is hardly necessary to destroy the ecosystem to witness this!

For almost all the characters in Lotus Blue have one thing in common with you and I: the conviction that life will be better on the other side of the wall, desert, or unending lake of glassified slag. Not even "Old Blue" is immune. But as Star, Quarrel and the others they encounter discover, this promise is a phantom in the absence of love. Love can be hard to recognise, especially in the midst of a polyp storm, but in a world where everything is trying to kill you, it may be the only thing that is actually worth dying for.

The vistas of Lotus Blue are vivid and original. But do not overlook the fact that this volume follows the path of a traditional quest. In the absence of Spark's gift for story-telling, this milieu would be nothing any of us would ever want to witness. So once again, I implore you who work in the relevant industries (especially those responsible for domestic drones): ensure everything that you create has not just reach and smarts, but heart as well.

Yours Sincerely,

Kyla Lee Ward

 

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