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.

Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

Troika by Alastair Reynolds

Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.

In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now lives in poverty. Through their conversation, a... Read More

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS dystopian series for children. If you haven’t yet read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, you need to go back and read those first. (And expect mild spoilers for those previous books in this review.)

At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will had escaped from the Masters and was heading back to the rebels in the White Mountains with the important knowledge he gained while he was a slave. In The Pool of Fire, the rebels are using Will’s intelligence to plan a way to defeat the Masters. The scientists and engineers, who are starting to re-learn some of the “ancient”... Read More

SFM: Howey, Yeh, Bolander, Ford, Sullivan, Smith

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



“Peace in Amber” by Hugh Howey (2014, $1.99 Kindle, $3.95 Audible)

“Peace in Amber” is Hugh Howey’s tribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a surrealistic novel in which Vonnegut explores his personal memories of the bombing of Dresden. Like Slaughterhouse-Five, “Peace in Amber” is also a personal reflection: Hugh Howey’s experiences on September 11, 2001, when he witnessed the collapse of the Wor... Read More

The City of Gold and Lead: Will infiltrates the Tripod city

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

This is the second book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series, one of (if not THE) first dystopian series for children. If you haven’t read The White Mountains yet, you should start there first, though there is a short recap in this instalment.

At the end of The White Mountains, the boys Will, Henry, and Beanpole had fled their towns because they didn’t want to be “capped” by the alien Tripods who had conquered Earth and turned humanity into docile sheep. After much adventure, the boys finally arrived at the rebel base in the White Mountains where they’ve been learning and training for a year. The rebels are not content to just hide out. They hope to overthrow the Tripods and restore humanity to its rightful place as Earth’s ruler.

To do this, they’ll need information. Th... Read More

The White Mountains: One of the first dystopian novels for kids

The White Mountains by John Christopher

The White Mountains, the first book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS series for children, has been sitting on my TBR list (and in my Audible library) forever. I was finally inspired to pick it up when Gary K. Wolfe, in his series of lectures entitled How Great Science Fiction Works, mentioned the book as probably the first YA dystopian novel (though Middle Grade is more accurate, I’d say).

The White Mountains was published in 1967 and takes place in an alternate version of our world where aliens called Tripods have conquered Earth and enslaved humans. (These tripods were inspired by the Martians in H.G. Wells’ Read More

Witches of Lychford: Appealing setting

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford is a novella that was published by Tor.com last year. You can find a fairly long excerpt at the Tor.com website, but you’d need to purchase the Kindle version ($2.99) or paperback to read the entire story. I acquired the audio version at Audible during a special sale. It’s 3.25 hours long and beautifully read by Marisa Calin who has just the right voices and accents for a story set in a quaint English village.

Paul Cornell’s story is about three women who live in this village. Judith Mawson is a crotchety old woman who seems to consider herself the town’s guardian from evil supernatural forces. Lizzie Blackmore, the town’s vicar, is trying to overcome a tragic event from her past. Autumn Blunstone was ... Read More

The Junkie Quatrain: Four connected zombie stories

The Junkie Quatrain by Peter Clines

I don’t read much zombie fiction, but I enjoyed Peter Clines14, and his The Junkie Quatrain has been sitting in my Audible library for two years, so I decided to give it a try. It contains four inter-connected zombie stories that are actually the same story told from four different perspectives. Each story starts with the sentence “Six months ago, the world ended” and proceeds to tell of events that have happened since a virus outbreak in China six months previously. Those who’ve been infected quickly lose their humanity and become mindless killer “Junkies” who prey on other humans. They don’t live long. The world’s population has been decimated, most government and civil structures have bee... Read More

SFM: Dickinson, Sanderson, Hill, Kelly, Valentine, Simak

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we've recently read. 



“Please Undo this Hurt” by Seth Dickinson (2015, free at Tor.com, Kindle version)

This is a really beautiful story about compassion, pain, and what it means to burn out. “Please Undo This Hurt” seems very realistic and not so much fantasy for a little while. I spent some time at the beginning waiting for the other shoe to drop. This “waiting” feeling didn’t last long, though, as the story... Read More

The Sunless Countries: Introduces a new heroine

The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder

The Sunless Countries is the fourth book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. This book introduces a new town (inside Virga) and a new protagonist. There are explanations of what’s gone on before, so you don’t have to read the first three VIRGA books (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun) first, but you’ll probably feel more at home if you do.

Our new heroine is Dr. Leal Maspeth, a tutor in the history department at the university on the wheel/town of Sere. Sere is compiled of several spinning wheels and it has no sun. Its citizens’ only sources of light are the artificial lamps they use. That’s why Leal got lost one night as she was travelling home... Read More

Pirate Sun: Wants to be a movie

Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for the first two books, though nothing not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.

Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. You probably don’t need to read the previous two books (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce) to enjoy Pirate Sun, but the story will make a little more sense if you do. In Sun of Suns we learned of Virga, the huge balloon like structure near the star Vega that contains its own little universe with man-made suns and planets that are often constructed of metal, gears, and cables in a wild steampunk style. Virga’s inhabitants don’t realize they’ve been closed off from the rest of... Read More

The Moon Pool: Exciting and accessible to modern readers

Reposting to include Sandy's new review:

The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt

Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool was originally published as two stories in All-Story Weekly (“The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool”) and combined into a novel in 1919. Its copyright has expired, so you can find it at Project Gutenberg or as a free Kindle e-book at Amazon.

The Moon Pool is supposedly a layperson’s account (transcribed by Abraham Merritt) of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin’s exploration of the ancient ruins of Nan Madol in the South Pacific. Dr. Goodwin, a famous botanist, had run into... Read More

SFM: Goss, Hogarth, Algernon, Maberry

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 (or listened to!) this week that we wanted you to know about. 

“Red as Blood and White as Bone” by Theodora Goss (May 2016, free at Tor.com, $0.99 Kindle version)

Klara, the daughter of a woodcutter, now a kitchen maid at a wealthy baron’s castle, deeply loves fairy tales, which are the only outlet for her imagination. Perhaps she is a princess in disguise, or at least can help one someday. So one day when a mysterious, love... Read More

How Great Science Fiction Works: A college course for science-fiction fans

How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K. Wolfe

For years I’ve been a fan of the GREAT COURSES audiobooks, which I usually pick up at my library or at Audible. These are a series of college-level lectures devoted to a specific topic and delivered by an expert in the field. A couple of months ago they released a set called How Great Science Fiction Works. Our teacher is Gary K. Wolfe, a professor of Humanities who received a BA in English from the University of Kansas under the tutelage of science fiction writer James E. Gunn and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Wolfe (no relation to Gene Wolfe) is well known in the fantasy and science fi... Read More

Queen of Candesce: Characterization is better in this sequel

Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

“I’m someone infinitely more capable than a mere heir to a backward nation on this backward little wheel.”

Warning: This review contains a minor spoiler for Sun of Suns, the previous volume in the VIRGA series, but the same spoiler is in the publisher’s blurb for the book, so maybe it’s not really a spoiler after all.

Queen of Candesce is the second book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. It’s been four years since I read the first book, Sun of Suns, so I don’t remember all of the details of that story, but I do vividly recall the fascinating world that Schroeder built and I remember that... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” read by Katherine Kellgren
“Cinderel... Read More

SFM: Lemberg, Brockmeier, Das, Bishop, Bolander

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

“The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar” by Rose Lemberg (March 2016, free at Uncanny Magazine, Kindle magazine issue)

In this lush story, Lemberg shows us a long-distance romance developing between two makers-of-things. Maru lives in the desert and sings sand into glass; Vadrai lives in the Northern woods and uses deepnames to inscribe images into jewels. Each is enchanted with the work of the other, and through letters — over a four-year span, because lette... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In Rage of the Fallen, the eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES horror series for children, Tom flees with Alice and the Spook to Ireland to avoid the war that has engulfed their county. The evil creatures who live in Ireland are different from those they’re used to, so Tom gets to learn about, and attempt to defeat, these new threats to the world. Basically it’s the same sort of trouble he’s always been dealing with, just more Celtic-inspired. There are Irish gods, Irish witches, Irish mages, Irish ghosts, Irish blood-suckers, etc.

In addition to these new challenges, the old ones remain. The Fiend continues to dog him as we wait for their final confrontation. Witches are trying to get revenge on Tom.... Read More

Down and Dirty: Lacks cohesion, but still entertaining

Down and Dirty edited by George R.R. Martin

Jube: Hear who won the Miss Jokertown Beauty Pageant last week?
Croyd: Who?
Jube: Nobody.


I continue to listen to the new audiobook version of the WILD CARDS books as they are released by Random House Audio. Down and Dirty, the fifth volume, was published a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read the previous volumes (Wild CardsAces High, Jokers Wild, Aces Abroad), you should do so before reading this review. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the format of these anthologies / mosaic novels, and the story so far.

Down and Dirty (originally published in 1988) has a strange structure which, as George R.R. Martin admits in the boo... Read More

SFM: Caroline Ives Gilman, David D. Levine, Kij Johnson, Cixin Liu, Andy Weir

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.



“Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (April 2016, free at Clarkesworld magazine, Kindle magazine issue)

In “Touring with the Alien,” an unnamed alien species has landed impenetrable bubble ships on Earth and is sending out “translators,” apparently-human people who claim that they were abducted as children and raised by the aliens. The translators claim that the aliens do not pose a threat to humans... Read More

Aces Abroad: Aces and Jokers tour the world

Aces Abroad edited by George R.R. Martin

Aces Abroad is the fourth WILD CARDS anthology edited by George R.R. Martin. It was originally published in 1988, released in a new print edition by Tor in 2015, and released in audio format by Random House Audio in March 2016. It would be best to read the previous volumes (Wild Cards, Aces High, Jokers Wild) first, not only because they introduce the most important characters and provide a lot of background information that you’ll need to fully appreciate Aces Abroad, but also because those first three books are more entertaining than this one is and represent the series better, I think.

WILD CARDS is a shared universe written by sev... Read More

SFM: Dellamonica, Malik, Gilman, Vaughn, Fischer, Hurley

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.



“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica (2010, free online at Tor.com or purchase Kindle version)

“The Cage,” a stand-alone short story by A.M. Dellamonica, was published a few years ago on Tor.com; I read it a while ago, re-read it recently, and am happy to report that it was just as enjoyable the second time around. Jude is a general contractor in ... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Rise of the Huntress is the seventh of Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES popular horror series for children. The series deservedly has legions of young fans and it’s likely that nothing I, a jaded adult, has to say about a seventh book will mean anything to anybody, so I’ll make this short.

Rise of the Huntress delivers exactly what we expect. The formula has become clear by now. Each book is a scary little adventure which gives Tom and his friends an evil foe to fight while advancing the overall plot slightly. This time Tom, the Spook, and Alice flee the Spook’s house because it has been overrun by soldiers involved in the war we keep hearing about. Bony Lizzy, the evil witch that th... Read More

The Knights of Crystallia: Targeted at a YA audience

The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

The Knights of Crystallia (formerly published as Alcatraz Versus The Knights of Crystallia) is Brandon Sanderson’s third book in this YA series and I have several confessions to make. One is that I haven’t read the first two Alcatraz books. The second is that I am not Y. Not even close. Usually, I don’t feel that hinders my reviews of YA books. But as I read much of The Knights of Crystallia, I started to wonder if I’d become the old guy in a bathrobe yelling “Get off my lawn ya lousy kids!” while waving a hairy-knuckled fist in the offenders’ general direction. Maybe, gasp, I just didn’t get the “Y” in YA anymore.

What tipped me off? Maybe the occasional reference to farts or “potty breaks,” the character who thinks curses in the Hushworld (our world) are phrases l... Read More

The Builders: A delightfully unexpected mash-up

The Builders by Daniel Polansky

I'm a huge fan of Daniel Polansky's LOW TOWN series, so I might have claimed that I wouldn't have bought The Builders if he hadn't written it, but that's not completely honest because there is something appealing about a story that features personified animals. I’m sure I’m not the only adult man who hasn’t outgrown them.

As it turned out, this novella is one the wildest stories I've ever read. I can't explain it any better than to quote what other authors and reviewers have already said:

The Wild Bunch meets Watership Down.” ~ Read More

Clash of the Demons: Tom and Alice go to Greece

Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney

In Clash of the Demons, the sixth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series, expect more of the same: scary creatures, dark magic, dangerous quests, captures and rescues, Tom’s insecurities, questions about whether Alice is good or evil, the Spook’s insistence that they can’t compromise with the dark, foreshadowing of war, etc.

This time, the quest is to accompany Tom’s mother to Greece where they must fight an ancient witch called Ordeen who threatens a group of monks who for years have held her at bay and protected the world from her evil. The monks are growing weak, though, and they need some powerful help. They may be able to destroy Ordeen once and for all if Tom’s mother can unite the witches and spooks against her.

This... Read More

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