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.

Lone Star Planet: The Wild West in space

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Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper

Lone Star Planet (1957) is a fun science fiction murder mystery novella by H. Beam Piper. The murder occurs on a planet colonized in the future by the citizens of Texas who wanted to escape the intrusive United States government on Earth. They set up a system where there’s not much centralized government and it doesn’t have much authority, for they all agree on this tenet:

Keep a government poor and weak and it’s your servant; let it get rich and powerful and it’s your master. We don’t want any masters here on New Texas.

Thus, New Texas looks a lot like the Wild West. Men wear Levis and cowboy hats and carry pistols on each hip. Everything is super-sized and even the cattle whose beef they export (which they... Read More

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

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Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space (the “Upside”). The only problem is that Walden was n... Read More

Kat chats with Dexter Palmer and gives away a copy of Version Control

Dexter Palmer



My favorite book so far this year is, without a doubt, Dexter Palmer’s Version Control which I reviewed in March. It’s about the wife and colleagues of a physicist named Philip Steiner who is working on a device that he hopes will disrupt the space-time continuum, allowing time travel (though he doesn’t want to become a laughingstock in the physics community by actually using the term “time travel”). In the novel Palmer employs several well-worn science fiction tropes to freshly and humorously explore an array of human experiences. Version Control is exactly what I am always looking for in a science fiction story — heavy on the science and heavy on the humanity.

After I finished V...

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Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

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Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who w... Read More

The Sudden Appearance of Hope: An SF thriller about self-identity

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Hope Arden has an unusual problem: people forget her. It’s not that they don’t see and hear her, but that once she’s out of sight, she’s out of mind. They completely forget her and their interactions with her. This makes it impossible to have friends, colleagues, a career, and even just a job. She survives by stealing what she needs. Hope isn’t happy, but she’s doing the best she can.

Things change after Hope steals a diamond necklace at a fancy party hosted by a software company that produces a popular life-coaching app called “Perfection.” This app monitors all aspects of its users’ lives, making suggestions about what to wear, what and how much to eat, where to go, who to talk to, etc. It awards points for making the right choices and deducts them when a use... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: SPFBO Post #1

This year we’re participating in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) in which 300 self-published fantasy authors contributed their books to be reviewed by 10 fantasy review blogs which will work together to choose the best of the 300 books. (You can read all about it at Mark Lawrence’s blog.)

We’ve been assigned to read 30 books. We eliminated three immediately because they didn’t fit the spirit of the contest very well. We have 27 left.

Over the next three months, we’ll be posting five Thoughtful Thursday columns that each feature five or six of the books on our list. This is the first post. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be reading (or at least starting — can’t promise we’ll finish) each of the books you see below. We’ll choose our favorite which will then go up against the books in our next SPFBO column (probabl... Read More

The Summer Tree: Not our favorite work by GGK

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Reposting to include Katie's new review:

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

I absolutely loved everything about Guy Gavriel Kay’s stand-alone novels Tigana and A Song for Arbonne, so it was with great excitement that I downloaded the newly released audio version of The Summer Tree, the first novel in his famous The Fionavar Tapestry.

In The Summer Tree we meet Loren Silvercloak, a wizard who has traveled from the world of Fionavar to Toronto to fetch five university students (three guys and two girls) who are needed to help fight an ancient evil... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

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Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Read More

SFM: Pratt, Liu, Lee, Klages, Maberry

Short Fiction Monday: These are a few of the online short works we read this week. Our themes this week are libraries and books, mixed with some poison and zombies. As long as we keep the zombies and the poison out of the libraries, it's all good.  



The Fairy Library by Tim Pratt (2013, free on Apex, Kindle magazine issue, also included in Read More

SFM: Sanford, Palwick, Walton, Hill, Sullivan, Kemp

Short Fiction Monday: Here are a few shorter SFF works that we read this week that we wanted you to know about. Some great finds this week!



Blood Grains Speak Through Memories by Jason Sanford (March 2016, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, free ebook available on the author’s website)

Frere-Jones Roeder is the anchor of her land, charged with its protection and maintenance. The blood grains flow through her body, sharing memories of past anchors and giving her senses knowledge of all of the life and activity on her two-league plot of land, whether plant, animal or human. The blood grains are also part of all life on her land, and even fly through t... Read More

Brain Wave: A fascinating idea

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Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave has a great premise — for millennia, unknown to scientists, the Earth has been under the influence of some sort of field that dampens the speed of neurons in the cortex. But now the Earth has suddenly passed out of the field and immediately neurons start working faster, making everyone’s IQs (man and animal) escalate dramatically. This sounds like a good thing to me, but perhaps it’s not in Poul Anderson’s mind. In his story, human civilization changes drastically, and mostly not in positive ways.

The story follows several characters: a physicist named Peter Corinth; Sheila, his timid and dull-witted housewife; a mentally-handicapped farmhand named Archie Brock; and an official named Felix Mandelbaum. Each of these characters experiences a large jump in IQ w... Read More

When the Tripods Came: A prequel to a popular classic children’s SF trilogy

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When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

When the Tripods Came is the fourth book in John Christopher’s TRIPODS science fiction series for children, but it’s actually a prequel, so you could read it first if you like. When the Tripods Came was published in 1988, 20 years after the original trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), and after the airing in the UK of a BBC series based on the TRIPOD books.

Young readers of the TRIPODS trilogy may have been wondering how humans had been so stupid as to let the aliens subdue them by “capping” them with metal headgear that contro... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Summer reading giveaway!

Today’s the last day of school for my kids, which means that summer is here! Even though it’s a little chaotic around here with the kids home for the next couple of months, I am out of the classroom and teaching only one online course, so my schedule is lighter than usual and I’m planning to get a lot of reading done.

Click to embiggen.



I took a good long look at what will be landing on our bookstore shelves soon when Woman’s World Magazine asked me to contribute to their Summer Reading issue (it was in your grocery store check-out line this past week!).

There are several important sequels coming out, but for the magazine article, I focused on books that didn't have any prerequisites.

They only printed two of my suggestions, probably the two they thought would be most appealing to their readers:

Children of Earth & Sky by Read More

Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

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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 liv... Read More

The Pool of Fire: Wraps up the TRIPODS trilogy

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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 st... 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

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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.

... Read More

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

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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

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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 tragi... Read More

The Junkie Quatrain: Four connected zombie stories

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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 ... 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

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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 g... Read More

Pirate Sun: Wants to be a movie

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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 realiz... Read More

The Moon Pool: Exciting and accessible to modern readers

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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. ... 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

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