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 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.

Babel-17: A dazzling new-wave SF space opera from the 1960s

Reposting to include Kat's review of the new audio version.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the 1966 Nebula award for best novel, tying with Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon. Samuel Delany’s space opera novel is dated in many ways, but still holds up.

In the future, humans have colonized many star systems. Currently, the Alliance is engaged in a war with the Invaders, who, despite the name, are also human. The Alliance has intercepted many dispatches in a code they can’t break. They’ve labeled it Babel-17. Desperate, they turn to the inter-galactically renowned poet Rydra Wong to help them decipher it.

Wong is in her late twenties, a linguistic, semantic and telepathic genius, a starship captain, and so compelling that the general who meets with her falls in love with her almost instantly. There is more than a bit of fan... Read More

Curse of the Bane: Another scary adventure

Curse of the Bane (The Spook’s Curse in the UK) by Joseph Delaney

Curse of the Bane (2005) is the second book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series. (The series is confusingly called THE WARDSTONE CHRONICLES in the UK and this book is titled The Spook’s Curse there.) The first book, Revenge of the Witch (The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) was terrifying and though I really enjoyed it, I warned that it might be too scary for many kids in the target age range of 9-12.

Tom Ward is the thirteen year old apprentice of the regional Spook. Together they travel around the county banishing witches, ... Read More

Ubik: Use only as directed

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Warning: Use only as directed. And with caution.

Written in 1969, Ubik is one of Philip K. Dick’s most popular science fiction novels. It’s set in a future 1992 where some humans have develop psi and anti-psi powers which they are willing to hire out to individuals or companies who want to spy (or block spying) on others. Also in this alternate 1992, if you’ve got the money, you can put your beloved recently-deceased relatives into “coldpac” where they can be stored in half-life and you can visit with them for years after their death.

As Ubik begins, Glen Runciter, the head of one of New York City’s top anti-psi organizations, discovers that all the operatives of the top psi organization (whose telepathic fields they like to keep track of) h... Read More

Keeper of the Castle: Mel reconstructs an ancient Scottish Monastery

Keeper of the Castle by Juliet Blackwell

In Keeper of the Castle, the fifth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION series, a famous inspirational speaker has hired Mel Turner to oversee the reconstruction of a medieval Scottish monastery on his property outside San Francisco.

There are a couple of problems with this. One is that there are protestors outside the gates. One vocal protestor, a guy who wears a kilt, objects to the “theft” of a Scottish national landmark. Another problem is that the monastery seems haunted by two ghosts. One is a sad hungry woman who wears a red dress. The other is a sword-wielding Highlander who attacks any man who comes close. These ghosts are spooking Mel’s construction workers. The last problem is that there’s been an accident at the constr... Read More

SFM: Genevieve Valentine, Ray Bradbury, Suzanne Palmer, Tanith Lee

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

“Given Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine (August 2015, free at Lightspeed Magazine)
If you’ve ever wanted to have a cagematch between Snow White’s stepmother and the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty, this is the story for you. It’s also the story for you if you find the never-ending woman-on-woman violence inherent to many of our most beloved fairy tales getting a little old.

Genevieve Valentine imagines a situation in which all the female villains and heroines of fairy tales the world over are put in a room together .... Read More

Home for the Haunting: Delivers what fans expect

Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell

Home for the Haunting is the fourth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION series. Each of these book is a short cozy paranormal mystery. Each story is self-contained, so the books can stand alone, but there’s an overarching plot involving Mel Turner’s personal relationships and each installment adds new characters, so most readers would probably prefer to start at the beginning and read the novels in order. The first three are If Walls Could Talk, Dead Bolt, and Murder on the House. After the fourth book, Home of the Haunting, comes Keeper of the Castle and the sixth book, Give Up the Ghost, will appear on shelves... Read More

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: Begins a new series by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

(Reposting to include Tadiana's review.)

Fans of Jim Butcher (including myself) were thrilled to see that he’s started a new series called THE CINDER SPIRES. This one is quite different than his previous works. THE DRESDEN FILES, for which Butcher is best known, is a modern-day urban fantasy with a first-person narrator and a hardboiled feel. THE CODEX ALERA is an epic fantasy with a typical medieval setting and plot.

THE CINDER SPIRES is set in a more imaginative world. With its airships and steam power, it has a steampunk feel. The story takes place on a mist-covered planet (possibly a future Earth?) whose surface is so dangerous that humans have built their habitats in tall spires miles above the planet’... Read More

Murder on the House: Mel takes on a haunted B&B

Murder on the House by Juliet Blackwell

In Murder on the House, the third book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES, Melanie “Mel” Turner is starting to acquire a reputation as a successful general contractor and ghostbuster. Homeowners around San Francisco are asking for her special services and she’s got some new projects going on while she’s still finishing up some of the historic renovations we got to see in the first two books, If Walls Could Talk and Dead Bolt. This time she’s got a unique case. The homeowners whose historic house she hopes to renovate want the ghosts of the children that haunt the upstairs nursery to stay. They plan to convert the house into a haunted bed & breakfast and think the ghosts will attract customers looking for a unique San Francisco experience.

But Mel doesn... Read More

SFM: Rachel Swirsky, Ursula Vernon, Leigh Bardugo, Andre Norton

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (2013, free at Apex Magazine)

Rachel Swirsky's “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is tiny in size but remarkable in strength, a real pint-sized gem. It is no wonder the story won the 2013 Nebula short story award ― anyone who can pack such a punch into so few words knows what they are doing with them.

The story reads like a love letter. The author speculates on how it would be if her lover were a dinosaur, how she would teach him to sing and help plan his dinosaur wedding. The opening tone is perfectly tender, almost... Read More

Dead Bolt: Inspired by a San Francisco legend

Dead Bolt by Juliet Blackwell

Dead Bolt is the second book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES. I liked the first book, If Walls Could Talk, well enough, but felt like it was too similar to Blackwell’s other paranormal cozy mystery series, WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES. The best thing about both series is that the audiobook versions are read by the amazing Xe Sands and, I swear, I would probably be happy listening to Xe read the tax code. (Fortunately, Blackwell’s books are a lot more entertaining than that!) These books are short — each is just over 7 hours long in audio format.

In Dead Bolt, Mel Turner has been asked to renovate the historic San Francisco home of a young couple with a baby. The house, whic... Read More

Solar Express: Not entertaining

Solar Express by L.E. Modesitt Jr

L.E. Modesitt Jr’s newest work is a stand-alone hard science fiction novel that takes place in the 2100’s when the geo-political landscape of Earth has changed dramatically. Climate change and bad economic policies have nearly destroyed the United States, which now belongs to the North American Union. The major world powers have been exploring space, but all have signed a treaty that prevents them from weaponizing their spaceships or militarizing space in other ways. War threatens, however, after the Sinese Federation accuses the North American Union and the Indians of breaking the treaty. The Sinese seem to be using their alleged suspicions as an excuse to build up their own military capabilities in space.

As tensions rise, Alayna Wong-Grant, a young astrophysicist with a grunt job on a lunar space station, notices an anomaly in her data which indicates that an unknown object is travelling th... Read More

The Simulacra: Dick keeps his multiple story lines percolating

The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick

Fueled by prescription amphetamines, and in a burst of creative effort rarely seen before or since in the sci-fi field, cult author Philip K. Dick, in the period 1963 - ‘64, wrote no less than six full-length novels. His 13th since 1955, The Simulacra, was originally released as an Ace paperback in 1964 with a cover price of 40 cents. The book, written in Dick's best middle-period style, gives us a pretty whacky look at life in the mid-21st century. Scottish critic David Pringle, in his Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction, aptly describes the work as "an overpopulated novel which flies off wildly in too many directions," and indeed, readers may need a flowchart to keep track with this one. According to my careful count, the book features no less than 56 named characters (no... Read More

If Walls Could Talk: Begins another paranormal cozy mystery series by Blackwell

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

I’ve been enjoying the audio versions, read by Xe Sands, of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, so I thought I’d give the audio versions (also read by Xe Sands) of Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES a try. These are also paranormal cozy mysteries which take place in San Francisco and which feature a slightly socially awkward independent woman running her own business.

In If Walls Could Talk, the first HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION book, we meet Melanie (“Mel”) Turner, a divorced ABD (All But Dissertation) anthropologist who took over her family’s construction business after her mother died and her father became depressed. Turner Construction’s area of expertise is renovating old houses in ... Read More

Undead and Uneasy: I’m finished with Queen Betsy

Undead and Uneasy by MaryJanice Davidson

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the QUEEN BETSY series.

Undead and Uneasy is book six in MaryJanice Davidson’s QUEEN BETSY series, a humorous paranormal urban fantasy. I listened to the audio version which is only 5.5 hours long and is read by Nancy Wu.

Betsy is still working on her plans for her wedding to Eric Sinclair, the sexy Vampire King, and trying to stay within her 3 million dollar budget. She’s also spending a lot of time babysitting her half-brother, writing her advice column, and worrying about her best friend’s cancer. Then a sort of tragedy strikes and Betsy has to attend a double funeral. (I say “sort of tragedy” because even though it’s something that wou... Read More

Mad Ship: Complex characters struggle for power and freedom

Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

This review will contain spoilers for the previous novel, Ship of Magic.

Mad Ship is the second book in Robin Hobb’s LIVESHIP TRADERS trilogy which is part of her larger REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS saga. (I’ve explained how all the trilogies in the ELDERLINGS books are connected in my review of the first LIVESHIP TRADERS book, Ship of Magic.) I loved this trilogy when I read it about 20 years ago and I’m currently enjoying re-reading it in audio format. Anne Flosnik, who narrates the books for Tantor Audio, has a nice voice and does a good job distinguishing between the characters in Hobb’s large cast. These... Read More

The Man Who Japed: PKD shines in his third novel

We're re-running this post to include Sandy's recent review.

The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

Cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's third novel, The Man Who Japed, was originally published in one of those cute little "Ace doubles" (D-193, for all you collectors out there), back to back with E.C. Tubb's The Space-Born, in 1956, and with a cover price of a whopping 35 cents. (Ed Emshwiller's cover for The Man Who Japed was his first of many for these beloved double-deckers.) As in Dick's previous novel, The World Jones Made (1955), the story takes place on an Earth following a nuclear Armageddon that has considerably changed mankind's lot. In The Man Who Japed, by the year 2114, a... Read More

SFM: Thomas Brookside, Dan Simmons, Orson Scott Card, Robert Sheckley

The Last Days of Jericho by Thomas Brookside (2010)

The Last Days of Jericho is Thomas Brookside's follow up to his incredibly creative and well-executed novella De Bello Lemures, or The Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica. Let's make one thing clear: Thomas Brookside may be self-published, but his writing is as crisp and descriptive as that of any big house published author. Both stories take place in a very particular historical setting, and Brookside nails the narrator's tone and delivers an extremely genuine-sounding account.

The Last Days of Jericho tells the story of the fall of Jericho in ancient Canaan. Brookside's fictional account represents Joshua's god as a supernatural, near-monster-like entity that destroys everything in its path. The first-person narration is handled by a fictional citizen in Jericho who manages the... Read More

Ship of Magic: Brilliant characterization

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

I doubt that there are many lovers of epic fantasy that wouldn’t list Robin Hobb as one of their favorite epic fantasy authors. Hobb creates wonderfully detailed worlds and characters that are complex and convincing. Her best-loved stories are those that star FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the man who abdicated the throne in the Six Duchies. Fitz’s best friend is a strange man he calls “The Fool.” We meet Fitz and the Fool in THE FARSEER SAGA, the first trilogy of the REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS series. Their story continues years later in the TAWNY MAN trilogy and then, again after many years have passed, starts up again in Hobb’s latest trilogy, FITZ AND THE FOOL. The Fool never really tells Fitz what he does during the long periods of time tha... Read More

Glory Road: Sandy loves it, Kat doesn’t

Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein

So what does an author do after writing one of the most beloved science fiction novels of all time and in the process picking up his third out of an eventual four Hugo awards? That was precisely the conundrum that future sci-fi Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein faced in 1962, after winning the Hugo for Stranger in a Strange Land, and he responded to the problem by switching gears a bit. His follow-up novel, Glory Road, was not precisely Heinlein's first fantasy piece — his 1959 novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag had contained a large dollop of very strange fantasy mixed in with its central mystery — but, as far as I can tell, it was his earliest full-length creation in the fantasy vein; one that was... Read More

The Pnume: Will Adam escape the Planet of Adventure?

The Pnume by Jack Vance

The Pnume is the final book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE quartet. These four short novels, which were published between 1968 and 1970, combine to tell the story of Adam Reith’s adventures on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crash-landed there. Adam has been trying to gather resources so that he can build a new spaceship and leave Tschai. Besides just wanting to return home, he also wants to warn Earth that there are other sentient creatures out there who may threaten Earth.

There are four main races of inhabitants on Tschai, each with their own customs and quirks. In each of the four PLANET OF ADVENTURE books — City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, ... Read More

The Tournament at Gorlan: A RANGER’S APPRENTICE prequel

The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan

Well, I thought the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, which I recently reviewed, was finished, but it’s not. The Tournament at Gorlan begins a prequel series which tells us what happened before we met Will on the day he became a Ranger’s apprentice. We already know some of the backstory — about how Morgarath became a traitor to the King of Araluen, destroyed the reputation of the Rangers, and tried to seize the throne. John Flanagan’s prequel series will fill in the details of those events and let us enjoy the youthful days of some of our favorite older RANGER’S APPRENTICE characters.

In The Tournament at Gorlan, Morgarath has kidnap... Read More

Star of Gypsies: A beautiful story about exile, wandering, and coming home

Star of Gypsies by Robert Silverberg

In 3159 AD humans have spread across the universe, colonizing other planets. The spaceships that took them to the stars were piloted by the special “magic” of the Romany people. The Romany “Gypsies” have always been mistreated by the people of Earth who never realized their true history and nature. The Gypsies are not actually human. They are the remnant of an ancient race who escaped from their home planet thousands of years ago when it became inhospitable to life after its sun flared. According to prophecy, after the third solar flare the sun will be stable and the Romany can return home. Meanwhile, while they wait, the Gypsies have roamed the Earth and have used their skills to help humans get to space.

But it’s been so long, and as the Romany people have begun to settle down and get comfortable on other planets, their urgency to return home is diminishing. Because of this complace... Read More

Who Goes There?: An influential, entertaining novella

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Three mad, hate-filled eyes blazed up with a living fire, bright as fresh-spilled blood, from a face ringed with a writhing, loathsome nest of worms, blue, mobile worms that crawled where hair should grow…

John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, first published in 1938 in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, formed the foundation for the thrice-made movie The Thing. John Carpenter directed the 1982 film starring Kurt Russell and it holds a significant place in my childhood memories as it was the first horror movie I was able to watch all they way through. The movie is dark and creepy, and incorporated some realistically disgusting special effects for its day and age. That version was preceded by the 1951 The Thing From Another World a... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the best book you read last month?

It's the first Thursday of the month. You know what that means. Time to report!

What is the best book you read in September 2015 and why did you love it? It doesn't have to be a newly published book, or even SFF. We just want to share some great reading material. Feel free to post a full review of the book here, or a link to the review on your blog, or just write a few sentences about why you thought it was awesome.

(And don't forget that we always have plenty more reading recommendations on our Fanlit Faves page and our 5-Star SFF page. And we've also got a constantly updating list of new and forthcoming releases.)

As always, one commenter will choose a book from Read More

Tower of Glass: Enough ideas for several novels

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg

Tower of Glass (1972) is another of Robert Silverberg’s ambitious novels from his most prolific period in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In that time he was churning out several books each year that were intelligent, thematically challenging, beautifully written stories that explored identity, sexuality, telepathy, alien contact, religion and consciousness. At his best, he produced some masterpieces like Downward to the Earth and Dying Inside, as well as some dreadful books like Up the Line, but his unfettered imagination and prolific energy were undeniable.

Unfortunately, a wealth of ideas can sometimes overwhelm even the best books, and I think Tower of Glass Read More

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