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.

A Closed and Common Orbit: A popular Hugo nominee that bored me

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A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Warning: This review will contain a spoiler for the previous novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s really impossible to talk about A Closed and Common Orbit without this spoiler. However, you don’t need to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before reading A Closed and Common Orbit since this sequel focuses on two minor characters from the first book.

Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is immensely popular but I didn’t like it. As I explained in Read More

Spoonbenders: Come for the psychic shenanigans, stay for this eccentric family

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Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders (2017) by Daryl Gregory, is multi-generational family saga. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a psychic adventure story and a weird conspiracy tale for lovers of shadowy CIA projects like MKULTRA. It’s a gangster story. There’s a heist. There is a long con, and a madcap comedy along the lines of classic Marx Brothers routines. There are a couple of romances, a direct-distribution scheme, a medallion, a cow and a puppy. If we’re talking genre, I don’t know what Spoonbenders is. I know I loved it. I know it was fun and made me laugh, I know it was scary at times and I know I closed the book feeling happy and sad. And I know it’s a five-star book.

The book follows the Chicago-based Telemachus f... Read More

SFM: Zelazny, Reisman, Stufflebeam, Silverberg, Moraine

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny (1963, text and audio free on EscapePod, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). 1964 Hugo nominee (short fiction)

In this classic and much-anthologized tale of life on Mars, Gallinger, a brilliant linguist and poet with an antagonistic personality, is part of an Earth mission to study the humanoid Martian natives. The Martians are long-lived but slowly dying society, though Gallinger sees evidence of their past greatness in their buildings and culture. As he studies their ancient texts, tutored by M... Read More

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Like watching Barney & Friends while eating cotton candy

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers self-published her debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up and published by Harper Voyager the next year and since then has been included in all sorts of “best of” lists and nominated for major awards. People I trust love this book and I can see why. I don’t love it, and I’ll explain why here, but I encourage you to try it out for yourself (if you haven’t already) and let me know what you think. There are lots of things to like about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s just not my thing. It had too little tension, action, and plot for me. It was just too sweet.

Running away from her secret past, Rosemary Harper takes a job as a clerk on the Wayfarer Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: On vacation today!

Thoughtful Thursday is on vacation today.

We're still celebrating our TENTH BIRTHDAY and giving away TEN gifts!

If you haven't already, please visit last week's post and leave a comment.

We'll be choosing 10 winners.

Have a great day!

  Read More

Dead Man’s Hand: Companion to Ace in the Hole

Dead Man’s Hand edited by George R.R. Martin

This review will contain mild spoilers for the previous WILD CARDS novels.

Dead Man’s Hand (July 1990), the seventh WILD CARDS novel, was published merely six months after the previous novel, Ace in the Hole (January 1990). Supposedly, Martin had planned for the stories in each to be combined into only one novel but his publisher (Bantam Books) said it would be too long, so it was divided into two books. Only two writers, John Jos. Miller (who created Chrysalis) and George R.R. Martin, contributed to Dead Man’s Hand, in contrast to the five authors involved with Ace in the Hole. The result is a ti... Read More

Cold Welcome: More Vatta!

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Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

I was surprised and pleased to see that Elizabeth Moon has continued her VATTA’S WAR quintet with a sequel series called VATTA’S PEACE. I read all of VATTA’S WAR (Trading in Danger, Marque and Reprisal, Engaging the Enemy, Command Decision, Read More

SFM: de Bodard, Smith, Buckell, Steele, Pinsker, Barnett

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard (2013, free to read online or download on author’s website). 2013 Nebula award winner and 2014 Hugo award nominee (novelette)

In this 2013 Nebula award-winning story, set in the 22nd century, Aliette de Bodard weaves together two narratives that at first seem unconnected but in the end, of course, are. The first concerns a woman’s exploration of a derelict spaceship in a graveyard of spaceships in an isolated corner of space controlled by the Outsiders. Lan Nhen’s Vietnamese-descended people build Mind-ships, ... Read More

Expanded Universe: An Undead History by Kathryn Troy

Today we welcome Kathryn Troy, an historian turned novelist. She has taught college courses on Horror Cinema and presented her research on the weird, unnatural, and horrific to academic conferences across the country Her nonfiction book, The Specter of the Indian: Race, Gender and Ghosts in American Séances, 1848-1890, is forthcoming from SUNY Press. Her historical expertise in the supernatural and the Gothic informs her fiction at every turn. Her genres of choice include dark fantasy, romance, horror, and historical fiction. She lives in New York with her husband and two darling children. Connect with Kathryn Troy at Bathory’s ClosetFacebookRead More

A Second Chance: Are there no rules?

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A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor

I was disappointed in A Symphony of Echoes, the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, but I had already purchased most of the rest of the series at Audible, so I read the third book, A Second Chance (2014). Unfortunately, it has all of the problems of the previous book and I don’t see things getting any better in the future.

In this volume we again get a series of loosely connected time-travel adventures: Max witnesses the fall of Troy, visits Isaac Newton, watches an African tribe cross the Gate of Grief, attends the... Read More

SFM: Wong, Shehadeh, Buckell & Schroeder, Sieberg, Anderson, Honeywell, Taylor, Rustad

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.




You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay, Alyssa Wong (2016, free at Uncanny, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue) 2017 Nebula and 2016 Hugo award nominee (novelette)


Alyssa Wong sets her novelette You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay in a Western mining town, focusing this second-person tale on Ellis, a young boy who works at the town’s brothel... Read More

Viriconium Nights: Seven stories set in Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Viriconium Nights by M. John Harrison

I was in Viriconium once. I was a much younger woman then. What a place that is for lovers! The Locust Winter carpets its streets with broken insects; at the corners they sweep them into strange-smelling drifts which glow for the space of a morning like heaps of gold before they fade away.

Viriconium Nights is the last book in M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM epic. It’s a collection of these seven short stories set in and around the city of Viriconium:

“The Lamia and Lord Cromis” — tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.
 “Viriconium Knights” — Ignace Retz, a young swordsman and treasure seeker, discovers an old man who has ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Celebrating Endings

This week my family is celebrating two endings. My oldest son has been graduated from The University of Florida with a degree in computer science (he's the one who does this site's special coding) and we will all attend another son's high school graduation this afternoon. They are relieved that years of toil are over and we are all excited about the next chapter in their lives.

Graduation represents both an ending and a beginning, but let's just talk about endings today.

What are some of your favorite endings in speculative fiction? Bill and I recently finished Robin Hobb's Assassin's Fate which concludes her FITZ AND THE FOOL trilogy but also wraps up all the other series set in her REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS novels. We were amazed (but not surprised) at... Read More

A Symphony of Echoes: Not well crafted

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A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor

A Symphony of Echoes (2013) is the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, a series about an academic institution where researchers study history by travelling back in time to witness historical events. Tadiana and I enjoyed the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013), as a light fluffy time-travel story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise is fun, similar to stories by Kage Baker and Connie Willis (though not nearly as well... Read More

The Floating Gods: A mysterious plague hits Viriconium

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Floating Gods (aka In Viriconium in the UK) by M. John Harrison

In this third volume of the VIRICONIUM omnibus, we visit the old artists’ quarter of Viriconium — a lazy decaying place where gardens bloom and the smell of black currant gin exudes from the taverns where the increasingly lackadaisical citizens used to sit and talk about art and philosophy. This part of the city used to be vibrant and innovative, but it has been deteriorating as a psychological plague has been creeping in from the high city. The artists’ patrons, infected by this plague of mediocrity, have become dreamy and only want to purchase uninspired sentimental watercolor landscapes. And all they want to talk about is the debauched antics of the Barley Brothers, a couple of twins who act like buffoons but are rumored... Read More

SFM: Buckell, Krasnoff, Miller, Herbert

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of  free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about, including some nominees for the 2016 Nebula award.

“A Militant Peace” by Tobias Buckell (2014, $2.62 at Audible)

“No nation has ever seen an invasion force like this.”Tobias Buckell’s short story “A Militant Peace” was published in Mitigated Futures, a collection of tales dealing with “the future of war, our climate, and technology’s effects on our lives.” Buckell’s story, as you can probably tell by the title, is about the future of war and I thought it was fascina... Read More

Rendezvous with Rama: Multi-award winner with controversial ending

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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

In 2131, humans are minding their own business when a large object thought to be an asteroid is detected at the edge of our solar system. As it gets closer to Earth it is photographed and found to be unnatural — obviously an alien spaceship. A team of scientists is sent to meet the ship dubbed “Rama” and to make our first contact with an alien species. When they get there, they find Rama uninhabited and they set out to discover all they can about the aliens who must have launched it. What are they like and what do they want with us?

As Robert J. Sawyer mentions in the introduction the audio version I listened to, Arthur C. Clarke’s strength is not his characterization — ... Read More

Just One Damned Thing After Another: Fun, fluffy time-travel tale

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Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first novel in Jodi Taylor’s THE CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S series. It’s got a fun premise that’s similar to Kage Baker’s THE COMPANY series and Connie Willis’ work. St. Mary’s is a shadowy, underfunded institution related to the University of Thirsk that recruits historians and trains them to travel to the past to witness historical events. Our main protagonist is Dr. Maxwell (just called “Maxwell” or “Max”), a historian with a tragic past and no family ties. In this first book in the series, we watch her get recruited, go through rigorous training, and become one of S... Read More

A Storm of Wings: Strange, outlandish, blurry

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison

A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult’s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium’s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.

A Storm of Wings... Read More

The Pastel City: A baroque, decaying, phantasmagoric dream city

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Pastel City by M. John Harrison

Viriconium sits on the ruins of an ancient civilization that nobody remembers. The society that was technologically advanced enough to create crystal airships and lethal energy weapons is dead. These Afternoon Cultures depleted the world’s metal ores, leaving mounds of inscrutable rusted infrastructure with only a few odds and ends that still work. The current citizens of Viriconium are baffled by what they’ve dug up, but they have no idea what any of it is for.

tegeus-Cromis, “who fancies himself a better poet than swordsman,” used to be Viriconium’s best fighter until he left the Pastel City after King Methven died. But Viriconium is now under threat — young Queen Jane, Methven’s daughter, is about to lose the empire to her evil cousin. Queen Jane needs the help of the men... Read More

Planet of Blood and Ice: A teen sci-fi horror thriller that wants to be a movie

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Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

Planet of Blood and Ice (2017) is the first book in A.J. Hartley’s CATHEDRALS OF GLASS series for teens. Hartley is billing this story as Alien meets Lord of the Flies, and I’d say that description is fairly accurate since Planet of Blood and Ice is about a group of teens who must overcome the dangers of a hostile alien environment while struggling to live with each other in a safe and civilized fashion.

The story starts as a spaceship containing ten teenagers crash-lands on an icy planet (here is some concept art.) The kids are juvenile delinquents who had be... Read More

The Lady of the Lake: The final WITCHER book

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The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Lady of the Lake (English translation, 2017) is the final WITCHER book by Andrzej Sapkowski. Don’t bother to start it until you’ve read the previous novels. I’ll assume you’re caught up with the series, so this review will have mild spoilers for the previous books.

The story starts where the last one, The Tower of Swallows, left off. Ciri has disappeared into the Tower of Swallows, Yennefer has been captured by Vilgefortz and is being tortured, and Geralt has no idea if Yennefer and Ciri are still alive. He is wasting his time fighting monsters in a sleepy town that seems to have cast a spell over him. Meanwhile ... Read More

The Library at Mount Char: We all love it

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one catacl... Read More

SFM: Lawrence, Vaughn, Kressel, Baggott, Mott, Veter, Clarke

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories that caught our eyes this week.



“The Secret” by Mark Lawrence (2015, $1.95 at Audible)


I haven’t read Mark Lawrence’s BROKEN EMPIRE series yet, but after reading “The Secret,” I definitely want to. This story gives some background into Brother Sim, an assassin who is part of Jorg Ancrath’s brotherhood. Brother Sim has snuck into a princess’s bedroom (invited) and is telling her the story of an assassin. I saw where this story was going, but I didn’t care. I liked Lawrence’s storytelling style and I was intrigued by Brother Sim. I want to know more about his origins and his goals and motivations. I wan... Read More

The Dispatcher: An interesting premise that made us think

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Reposting to include Marion's review of Subterranean Press's new hardback edition.



The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

A weird thing has happened in our world. Suddenly, people who are murdered can come back to life. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t happen when people die naturally — only when they’re murdered. To take advantage of this new death loophole, the job of Dispatcher has been created and Tony Valdez is one of them. His job is to murder people so they can end up in their own beds a few hours before they died. For example, in one scene we see Tony murder a man who is about to die on the operating table and in another we see him shoot a woman who just got hit by a bus. Dispatchers occasionally do less savory jobs, too, such as shooting injured stuntmen on movie sets so the studio won’t get su... Read More

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