Kat Hooper

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

The Testaments: A worthy return to Gilead

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, deservedly earning its accolades as a masterpiece and a contemporary classic as it brilliantly weds her substantial gifts as both a poet and a prose writer in the service of one of the most potentially powerful genres, dystopian literature. Her sequel, The Testaments (2019), is not a great book. But it is a good one (and really, Atwood has more than one great book to her credit, let’s not get greedy). Fair warning, spoilers ahead for those who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale and one kinda-sorta spoiler (explained below) for The Testaments.

The Testa... Read More

The Lost Sisters: Answers questions, provides depth

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

Twin sisters Jude and Taryn were taken to live in the Court of Elfhame after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a general in the land of faerie who is now their step-father and guardian. We witnessed how these mortal girls struggled as they came of age in the land of faerie in the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series, The Cruel Prince, which was written from Jude’s perspective. Jude tells us how she was bullied, all the ways she fought back, and how her twin sister Taryn eventually betrayed her.

Now we get to hear Taryn’s side of the story.

The novella The Lost Sisters (2018) re-tells the most important events of The... Read More

Cheshire Crossing: Works better in print than audio

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir

Before Andy Weir became famous by writing The Martian, he used to post fanfiction and webcomics on his website. After he was famous, publishers got interested in his pre-Martian work.

One of his webcomics has now been published by Ten Speed Press under the title Cheshire Crossing (2019). It’s a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wi... Read More

Salvation Day: Multiple issues, some bright spots

Salvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, S... Read More

Priest of Lies: Is Tomas going down the wrong path?

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies (2019) is the second book in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE. You’ll need to read the first book, Priest of Bones, first. This review will have some spoilers for that first novel.

It’s been six months since the events that happened at the end of Priest of Bones. Tomas is now married to Elsa, the Queen’s Man who has been (unbeknownst to the rest of the Pious Men) directing his behavior in service of the crown. The marriage is a sham and Tomas has soured on Elsa after the explosion that she orchestrated killed hundreds of people in his city. He isn’t sure (and neither am I) that it was necessary or wise. He also does... Read More

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter: A Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Captain John Wyndham has returned to Khelathra-Ven after being away with the army for several years. Rents are high, so he decides to answer an ad for a housemate. When he moves in, he discovers that his new companion is Shaharazad Haas, a renowned and powerful sorceress who’s addicted to opium. When Ms. Haas is asked to find out who is blackmailing her ex-girlfriend, Captain Wyndham tags along and starts getting involved in a case which turns into a weird and wacky adventure.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019) is a gender-bending Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Shaharazad Haas is Sherlock Holmes and Captain Wyndham, who was female when he was young, is Watson. The plot, which is quirky... Read More

Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

Priest of Bones: A brutal beginning

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Tomas Piety, a foul-mouthed army priest who recently promoted himself to captain after the death of the former captain, is on his way home with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Bloody Anne, and some of their soldiers. The war is over and Tomas is looking forward to returning to Ellinburg, his hometown, where he owns several small businesses such as taverns and brothels.

Actually, to call Tomas a businessman is slightly generous. In fact, he’s a mob boss and much of his wealth comes from selling protection to those who are weaker. He can be savage when necessary but, generally, he’s a nice guy who cares for the people he feels responsible for, including the citizens of his town. The men who work for him in Ellinburg are known as the Pious Men and Tomas has invited his remaining veterans to join them. (I’m not sure why they didn’t go back to their own hometowns.)

When Tomas and... Read More

The Unbound: Not your typical high school drama

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

The Unbound is the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, which you should read before starting this book. There will be some spoilers for The Archived in this review, so beware.

Summer is over for Mackenzie Bishop, the Keeper whose secret job is to escort the “Histories” of dead people back to their resting place in the Archive. When we met Mac in The Archived, she had just moved into an old hotel in a new town and solved some murders that had occurred there decades ago. Also, she met Wesley, a spiky-haired eyeliner-wearing boy who turned out to have a lot more in common with her than she ever could have guessed.

... Read More

Reticence: Percy finally falls in love

Reticence by Gail Carriger

I adore Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series, but I’m not a big fan of her related series (THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE and THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL). They’re just too silly for me, with their focus on fashion and frivolity. I can see why others like them, though. They are unique, creative, and well written with some great characters. They’re just not my thing.

However, I did want to read the final CUSTARD PROTOCOL book, Reticence, because it stars Percy, one of my favorite Carriger characters. Percy is the bookish navigator of the airship The Spotted Custard, which is captained by Prudence, whose sexual awakening we witne... Read More

The Archived: Hard to believe in, but still a pleasant read

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Mackenzie (Mac) Bishop, a high-school student, has just moved to a new town with her mom and dad. They’re living in an apartment in a renovated old hotel. Her mom is excited about restoring and reopening a once-popular coffee shop in the hotel, but Mac knows that her mom is really just trying to stay focused and busy after the recent death of Mac’s younger brother.

What Mackenzie’s parents don’t know is that Mac is a Keeper, a job she inherited from her now-deceased grandfather. Keepers are responsible for tracking down the confused embodied souls of dead people (usually children) who wander away from the Archive, where a copy of everybody’s history goes after death. They may look like zombies, but these “Histories” are simply recordings of a person’s life and they must be returned to their vaults if they wander away. Since the public doesn’t know about the Arch... Read More

The Silver Gryphon: A second-generation survival story

The Silver Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

The third and final book in Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon’s MAGE WARS trilogy is The Silver Gryphon (1996). Like its predecessor, The White Gryphon, it jumps ahead about ten years. By this time, our heroes Skandranon and Amberdrake have teenage children who are preparing to receive the torch from the previous generation.

Skan’s son Tadrith and Drake’s daughter Silverblade feel daunted by their illustrious fathers’ reputations and are hoping they will eventually measure up. Their fathers, however, are typically nervous parents who not only lack confidence in their childrens’ leadership abilities, but are also just plain scared of their kids getting hurt.

Tadrith and Silverblade belong to... Read More

The White Gryphon: Skandranon and Amberdrake become detectives

The White Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

The White Gryphon (1995) is the second book in Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon’s MAGE WARS trilogy, a prequel trilogy in Lackey’s VALDEMAR universe. You’ll probably want to read The Black Gryphon before starting this book (and this review will contain some spoilers for it), but you don’t need to read any other VALDEMAR novels.

In The Black Gryphon we met the gryphon Skandranon and his friend, the healer/therapist Amberdrake. They were trying to help the good mage Urtho win a war against the evil mage Maar. At the end, both mages died, there was a huge blast of magic, and Skan barely escaped through an energy gate. When he did, his black feathers h... Read More

The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

Fall, or Dodge in Hell: A super cool concept that eventually collapses

Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Richard (“Dodge”) Forthrast, the famous and popular billionaire who created a much-loved video gaming company, unexpectedly dies during a routine medical procedure. Many years previously he had been duped into signing a contract that specified that his brain should be preserved until technology was developed that could scan and upload it to a virtual environment. He never changed his will. Unable to get out of this legal predicament, his family is forced to adhere to his youthful whims.

Dodge’s niece Zula, and her daughter Sophia, who remembers her great-uncle with great fondness, are determined to be part of the creation and evolution of the virtual space where the brains of rich dead people go. Unfortunately, they have a rival — Elmo Shepherd, the man who owns the company that’s got Dodge’s brain. He’s a zealot who’s anxious to create the virtual world as fast as possible... Read More

The Black Gryphon: Begins a VALDEMAR prequel trilogy

The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

There are dozens of novels and stories set in Mercedes Lackey’s VALDEMAR universe. Most of these are arranged into trilogies that can be read by themselves without familiarity of the other VALDEMAR trilogies, though there are some overlapping characters and a shared history. The MAGE WARS trilogy (The Black Gryphon, The White Gryphon, and The Silver Gryphon), though published later in the series, takes place before Valdemar and its Heralds and Companions even existed, making it a prequel trilogy.

In The Black Gryphon (1994) we meet a large and powerful Gryphon named Skandranon (Skan for short) who was created by a good mage named... Read More

Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

This stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and ... Read More

Three Laws Lethal: Exciting, fascinating, and timely

Three Laws Lethal by David Walton

Best friends Tyler and Brandon are building a new ride-hailing service that uses autonomous vehicles. Their software is spectacular, especially with the secret AI algorithm developed by Naomi, one the two sisters they’ve partnered with. When a tragedy occurs during their public media demo, all of their plans and hopes are dashed and the college friends all go their separate ways. Within a few years, Tyler and Brandon become competitors and their feud gets ugly, leading to more tragic accidents and even murder.

Meanwhile, as Naomi continues to develop her algorithm, she makes some exciting but unsettling discoveries about what her artificial intelligence can do and she has to make some hard decisions about what she’ll do with the information she learns.

It takes a while for David Walton’... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Glass Bead Game: Surprisingly appealing

The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game (1943), written by Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is a finalist for a Retro Hugo Award this year. I picked up the audio edition produced by Blackstone Audio and pleasantly read by David Colacci. It’s more than 21 hours long.

The first section of the novel, which lasts 1.25 hours in the audiobook version, is titled “The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to its History For the Layman.” In this section, the book’s narrator explains why this book was written, some general problems with published biographies, and some history and background of the Glass Bead Game, including its origin and purpose and how it was responsible for changing culture. (How the game is played is something we never a... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

Steel Beach: Did Not Finish

Steel Beach by John Varley

I hate giving up on books I plan to review but, unfortunately, this is the second one in a month that I’ve had to abandon.

Steel Beach (1992) is the second in John Varley’s stand-alone novels set in his EIGHT WORLDS universe in which vastly superior aliens have kicked humans off of planet Earth so they can commune with the dolphins and whales (who are more intelligent, in their eyes, than humans). I liked the first EIGHT WORLDS book, The Ophiuchi Hotline, because, though it had its share of problems — weak characterization, confusing plot, uneven p... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

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