Our third interview with the contributing authors of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue is with Australian speculative fiction short story writer and editor, Cat Sparks, who penned a space opera horror fantasy with pirates, “Dead Low”.
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Midnight Echo: What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?
Cat: I’m not sure I have an absolute favourite, but I was really taken by Jeff Long’s The Descent when I read it a few years ago. The novel concerns a vast, labyrinthine world of tunnels and caverns below the subsurface of the world and the troglodyte hominid cultures that inhabit them; tribes humans have interpreted as demons throughout history. This is a violent novel rich with character and detail. Many scenes remain indelibly imprinted on my mind.
Other favourites include Stephen King’s The Stand and Patricia Highsmith’s collection of short storiesTales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes.
Midnight Echo: Tell us about your story and what your influences are?
Cat: “Dead Low” is inspired by elephants’ graveyards and abandoned children raised by wolves, only instead of elephants there are space ships and in place of wolves run malfunctioning surplus military hardware. Did I mention there are pirates? What’s not to like?
Midnight Echo: Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn’t common knowledge?
Cat: Most of my writing, one way or another, tends to be about the search for identity: either mine, my protagonists’, or perhaps that of the entire human species. I didn’t realise this fact until an astute editor pointed it out after reading a bunch of my stories. “Dead Low”, however, is about SPACE PIRATES!
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They were seven all up if you counted the pilot—and Clancy always did. Qamar had the smarts to demand a fee in lieu of a share of the plunder. Smarts enough to get paid regardless. He never went in but he’d always got them out. More than once by the skin of their back teeth. He cut things close but close was good enough for Clancy. She wouldn’t have swapped him for all the jewels on Europa.
The Sargasso Drift was not for the faint hearted. Not for greenhorns either. She knew she should have left the kid at base. Konte was excited for all the wrong reasons. Busting out and itching for a fight. Trouble was the last thing Clancy needed. The Sargasso Drift was trouble enough on its own.
“Looks like an elephants’ graveyard,” said Kyah, picking at her fingernails as Clancy enhanced the view. Before them, a sea of debris meshed with frozen rocks. Shattered hulls slept nestled amongst them, their once shiny surfaces pockmarked by centuries of micro impacts. Booster cylinders, photon drives, modular components battered into new and unrecognisable shapes. All jammed together to form a large amorphous mass, like a cancer or a blood clot. And something else; a substance registering as a brown-grey shadow that looked as though it should have been rock, but wasn’t.
“This here’s what you call a dead low,” Clancy explained. “Everything adrift in this part of the system ends up here sooner or later.”
Corvettes, cutters, blockade runners, battle cruisers, satellites, zips and flails, and all the other junk detritus illegally dumped from freighters.
“Elephant?” asked Konte, the kid in battle fatigues so new, the fabric was still stiff and shiny.
“An ancient kind of ship,” said Pace. “Freighter. Pre-Empire. Reckon this is where the Horgis generals sent their ships to die.”
“No way!” said the kid, his eyes as wide as saucers. He turned to Clancy. “Can’t we get in closer?”
“Not until we have to.” The grim tone to Clancy’s voice gave them all an early warning. All except the kid, of course, this being his first time out. Nobody wanted him along for the ride. Virgin heroes were generally the first to fall, usually dragging some other poor bastard down with them.
“First in, first serve for salvage rights,” said Kyah. Her hands were trembling, which meant she was on the juice again. Not good.
“Hon, we’re far from being the first. A good many of those shattered hulls belonged to salvage crews.”
“Not good ones, though. If they were good, they would never have bought it so easy.”
Clancy decided to let it go. Regret was already gnawing at her edges. The lies it had taken to get them all this far. After all, the ship belonged to Pace. His ship, Barbuda’s map, but the heartache was hers and hers alone. If she was wrong then none of it was going to matter.
“So what does the scan say?”
DeVere was already on it. “Highly mineralised,” he offered.
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Biography – Cat Sparks
Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. A graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop and a Writers of the Future prize winner, she has edited five anthologies of speculative fiction and more than fifty of her short stories have been published since 2000. She’s won thirteen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art. She is currently working on a dystopian/biopunk trilogy and a suite of post-apocalypse tales set on the New South Wales south coast. (Photo credit: Selena Quintrell)