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 High Ground: Entertaining space opera

The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass

In the far future, humans have expanded into the universe and left Old Earth behind. But some old institutions still remain: slavery, patriarchy, the Roman Catholic church, a hereditary monarchy, and an aristocracy that descended from today’s Fortune 500.

The current emperor has nine daughters and no sons. In order to keep the crown in his family, he changes the law to allow women to enter The High Ground, the military academy (required for ascension to the throne). Thus, his teenage daughter Mercedes, along with a couple of her retainers, will be the first women to enter The High Ground. Her father has charged her to become an officer and to find a military husband who will help her when she becomes empress.

On the other side of town, a very smart boy named Tracy, the son of the emperor’s tailor, has won a full scholarship to The High Ground. He doesn’t want to be a soldie... Read More

Gingerbread: So lovely, so inventive, so bizarre

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

When we first meet Harriet Lee and her daughter Perdita, they seem fairly normal. Perdita is a London teenager who attends an upperclass school while her mother awkwardly tries to fit in with the other mothers on the parents’ advisory committee by bringing them tins of her famous gingerbread.

But those mothers do not properly appreciate the gingerbread gifts, perhaps because they are unaware of the existence of the country that Harriet Lee and her gingerbread came from. It’s called Druhástrana. It’s not on our maps and it’s not easy to get in or out of. But Harriet knows how and when her daughter Perdita tries to visit her mother’s homeland, she nearly dies. As she recovers, Harriet finally takes the time to tell Perdita all about her strange childhood in Druhástrana and how she eventually arrived in London.

There are a few things I absolutely adored about Read More

City of Golden Shadow: A fascinating virtual world

City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams

City of Golden Shadow (1996) is the first book in Tad WilliamsOTHERLAND quartet. The complicated plot, which is set in the near future, follows a large cast of characters all over the world who have some connection to a huge but secret virtual reality simulation that eventually becomes known as Otherland. The main characters are:

Renie Sulaweyo, a college instructor in Africa, is teaching Xabbu, a bushman from a remote African tribe, how to use the net. When Renie’s little brother Stephen, who spends a lot of time on the net, suddenly becomes comatose and the doctors can’t figure out what’s going on, Renie uses her research skills to try to discover what ails him and Xabbu offers to help.
Orlando Gardiner, a brittle boy who is dying from pr... Read More

A Brother’s Price: An amusing “what-if” story

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer

In a frontier land on some other world, a close-knit family of outlaws lives in the same sort of manner that you’d expect such a family to live in the American Wild West. They’re tough, they wear cowboy hats and ride horses, they speak coarsely, they curse and brawl, they shoot and hunt, they drink whiskey and smoke cigars, they protect their spouses... Oh, and I’m talking about how the women behave.

In A Brother’s Price (2005), Wen Spencer twists this classic Wild West tale by switching the genders. Because, in this world, male babies are rarely born alive, there is a gender role reversal. Women have the power, they rule, they do the dangerous jobs, and they compete for men (a limited resource). They choose, own, shelter and protect their men. Men are kept in the ... Read More

Oathbreakers: Better than the first book

Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey

Oathbreakers (1989), the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s VOWS AND HONOR series, is much better than the first book, The Oathbound. You probably don’t need to read The Oathbound first, unless you want the backstories on the main characters.

Tarma and Kethry are a female sword-and-sorcery duo. Tarma, a swordsmaster, is the last remaining member of her clan after they were obliterated by raiders. Kethry became a powerful sorceress after escaping an abusive arranged marriage. The women have become sworn sisters and they plan to revive Tarma’s clan after starting a sword-and-sorcery school. For now, they are working as mercenaries, tryi... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I really loved Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017), but not everyone will. You probably will if you’re a foodie (I am), an introvert (I am), and a bit geeky (I am). If you love sourdough bread (I do) and magical realism (I do), you’ve just got to read Sourdough. And you must try the audio version. It’s amazing.

Lois is new to San Francisco. She moved from Michigan, where she grew up, and she’s starting a job as a programmer of robotic arms at a tech company where everyone works so hard that they basically have no other life. Most of them just eat a nutritive slurry rather than bothering to plan, shop, and prepare meals.

Most nights Lois orders her dinner ... Read More

Midworld: Interesting biological science fiction

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster

On a faraway planet with a dense jungle ecosystem, a human colony ship accidentally landed generations ago. The planet killed all but a few hardy survivors and their offspring evolved, along with the jungle, into a symbiotic pseudo-human race.

A man named Born is one of the descendants of those few humans. In his early manhood, he is eager to prove himself a mighty hunter and a desirable mate for a girl he has a crush on. Among his people, who live in the trees, he’s somewhat of an oddity, unconventional and curious, daring to traverse areas of the jungle that are higher or lower than his people are usually willing to go.

On one of his risky excursions, Born discovers an alien (human) spaceship inhabited by people who have recently landed on the newly discovered planet, strayed from their base, and become lost in the hostile jungle. Being adventurous and brave, and wanting to impress t... Read More

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams

In reaction to the Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States as well as to the rhetoric spewed by his far-right supporters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams wrote to a diverse set of speculative fiction authors with this charge: “We are seeking stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice: narratives that release us from the chokehold of the history and mythology of the past… and writing that gives us new futures to believe in.”

The “mythology” they refer to is the history we learned in school which taught us about all the great white men who accomplished all the significant events in American history. This idea ha... Read More

The Oathbound: Features a female sword-and-sorcery duo

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

The Oathbound (1987) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s VOWS AND HONOR series, a trilogy in her larger VALDEMAR saga. You don’t need to be familiar with VALDEMAR before picking up The Oathbound.

The story focuses on two heroines who suffered traumatic events, re-made themselves, and are on separate quests for revenge. Tarma is a clanswoman from a nomadic tribe that got wiped out by raiders. She became an elite warrior and has sworn to avenge her people. Kethry fled an abusive marriage, went to magic school, and became an extremely powerful sorceress. She has a sword named Need (those familiar with other VALDEMAR novels may recognize it) that compels its master to go to the aid of... Read More

Breach of Containment: Doesn’t live up to the advertisement

Breach of Containment by Elizabeth Bonesteel

This third novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS series needs to be read after you’ve finished the previous novels, The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust.

When publishers make promises such as “a page-turning hybrid combining the gritty, high-octane thrills of James S. A. Corey and the sociopolitical drama of Ann Leckie” I just can’t help but point out when the book doesn’t deliver. I have enjoyed Elizabeth Bonesteel's CENTRAL CORPS novels enough to continue the series when I already have the audiobooks loaded onto my phone, and I was multi-tasking by doing a jigsaw puzzle at the same time, but that’s about it. I object... Read More

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump: Very punny

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove

David Fisher is an inspector for the Environmental Perfection Agency (EPA), a bureaucracy in charge of regulating the industrial by-products (pollution) caused by using magical spells in an alternate America where most of the technology is based on magic or the actions of any deities or demons that people believe in. For example, the telephones work because there are imps that relay messages back and forth, salamanders produce heat, and vehicles are actually flying carpets.

One night, David gets a frantic call from a superior who tells him that there’s some unusual activity at a spell dump north of this world’s version of Los Angeles. A spell dump is where companies and other entities guard the spells they devise so they can keep them secret, and so any dangerous by-products of the magic are contained.

When David visits the spell dump, he notices some oddities... Read More

Remnants of Trust: Some improvements, but still kinda bland

Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel

Remnants of Trust (2016) is the second novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. If you haven’t yet read The Cold Between, you should read it first. This review may contain spoilers for that first novel.

Elena and Greg were appropriately court-martialed for their actions in The Cold Between and, instead of prison, their ship Galileo was given a low-level assignment in a backwater sector of space. This partially restored my faith in their military structure, but Elena and Greg suspect that there is a secret segment of the military (called Shadow Ops, actually) that may be manipulating th... Read More

A Different Flesh: Thoughtful stories about humanity

A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove

A Different Flesh (1988), by Harry Turtledove, is a thoughtful collection of linked stories set in an alternate America which was inhabited by a hairy upright-walking sub-human species (homo erectus) when European settlers arrived. The settlers call them “sims.” The earliest story is set in 1610 and the last one in 1988 and, as the stories progress through time, we see the sims become more and more advanced, but it is clear that they will never reach the level of cognition that homo sapiens has achieved.

The relationship between sims and humans also progresses. In the first story, new European settlers are trying to wipe out the sims, who they view as animals. They do not succeed. By the final story, there is a much different relationship between the t... Read More

Year of the Griffin: A sweet boarding school fantasy

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

Year of the Griffin (2000) is a sequel (of sorts) to Diana Wynne JonesDark Lord of Derkholm, a satirical fantasy aimed at children and young adults, but just as enjoyable for grown-ups. Year of the Griffin is different — it’s not a satire and, for that reason, probably isn’t as appealing to adults, but I still enjoyed it. It’s what I like to call a boarding school fantasy, in the vein of HARRY POTTER. You don’t need to read Dark Lord of Derkholm first.

Year of the Griffin begins eight years after the events of Dark Lord of Derkholm and stars one of Derk... Read More

THE FADED SUN: An epic tale of clashing civilizations

THE FADED SUN by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh’s FADED SUN trilogy (1978) consists of three books: Kesrith, Shon’jir, and Kutath. They’ve been bundled into an omnibus edition and Tantor Media sent me a review copy of their recently released audiobook version.

The three novels make up a continuous story of clashing civilizations that takes place in the far future with a few alien species on several distant planets. One of these species is the Mri, a race of excellent fighters who hire themselves out as mercenaries to other races. For two thousand years they have been acting as the military arm of a more technologically-advanced and power-hungry race called the Regul. The Regul are not suited to combat because they become heavy and immobile as they age, so t... Read More

Dark Lord of Derkholm: A delightfully satirical fantasy

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) is a delightful young adult story for those who like a heavy dose of satire in their fantasy. Similar to Diana Wynne JonesThe Tough Guide to Fantasyland, it pokes fun of the genre we love by exposing and exploiting some of its most common clichés.

The story takes place in a world parallel to ours to which people can travel and pay to have an adventure. The company that sells the tours, Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties, is from our world. Mr. Chesney’s company has constructed a medieval fantasy setting in the parallel world and employs the people who live there to act out the stereotypical characters that its customers expect.

Much to his dismay, this year Derk ... Read More

The Hod King: You need to be reading this series!

The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

If you haven’t read Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx yet: Please stop here and go get them. I recommend Hachette Audio’s versions because they are absolutely brilliantly performed by John Banks. Read the rest of this review at your own risk — there will be mild spoilers for Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx in my review.

I am so conflicted. For some reason I just assumed that Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL was going to be a trilogy and that The... Read More

The Dreamers: Not enough pay-off

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

At a small California college, a strange illness has broken out on one floor of a co-ed dorm. Some of the students have fallen asleep and can’t be woken. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled. All they know is that these students are dreaming and their brain activity is off the charts.

As the unknown disease keeps spreading, the dorm is quarantined, then the hospital, and eventually the entire college town.

Citizens are panicked as they worry about themselves and their families. It seems like just a matter of time before the whole town is asleep. Some of the quarantined people are visitors and they can’t get out, while family members of the sleeping students and townspeople can’t get in to see their loved ones.

The story focuses on several students, faculty, and residents:

Rebecca, a freshman from a very religious homeschooling family who is... Read More

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection by Gail Z. Martin

I haven’t read any of Gail Z. Martin’s DEADLY CURIOSITIES novels, but Tantor Audio sent me Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection (2016) and I thought it’d be a good introduction to the series.

The premise reminds me of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, which stars a young woman, Lily Ivory, who gets vibes from used garments. She has a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and, because of her knack, gets pulled into all sorts of mysteries which she then solves. The San Francisco setting features prominently in the tales, as do a few people in Lily’s orbit, such as the friends who help her run the shop. Read More

The Cold Between: Pleasant but mundane space opera

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

The Cold Between is the first novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. This military space opera focuses more on personal and romantic relationships than most in this genre do. I’m tempted to call it romantic military space opera. The publisher compares Elizabeth Bonesteel’s work to that of Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read both of those authors’ space operas and I can say that this comparison is inaccurate. Bonesteel is writing for the same audience, but doesn’t quite make it in this debut novel.

The prologue of The Cold Between takes place 25 years before the events of the trilogy and briefly introduces us to Kate and her co... Read More

Thin Air: An intense, foul-mouthed, high-octane thriller

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Richard K. Morgan’s stand-alone novel Thin Air (2018) is set on Mars in the universe of his novel Thirteen. His protagonist, Hakan Veil, is a disgraced “enforcer” who’s just been dumped on Mars by the corporation to whom he had been indentured since childhood. They recently fired him. Hakan would love to get back to Earth, but that’s nearly impossible these days because it costs too much to get there and Earth lets very few people in. Mars is a hostile and decadent world with a populace made up of many criminal elements.

Fortunately, Hakan still retains some of the genetic enhancements his company supplied before cutting ties with him. This makes him a total badass. Corporate enforce... Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

THE CORPORATION WARS: Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence

THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod

My preference is to review the books in a series Individually, but I find myself so busy at the moment that I don't have much time for writing reviews. And in the case of THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod, I don't feel that there's much distinction between the individual novels and it makes sense to review the series as a whole.

THE CORPORATION WARS is a trilogy that consists of the books Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. The story is set in the far future when Earth-based prospecting corporations vie for interstellar resources and use robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality two mine planets and fight wars.

At the beginning of book 1, Dissidence... Read More

Eternity’s Wheel: A nice introduction to SF for tweens

Eternity’s Wheel by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves

This review will contain spoilers for the previous two INTERWORLD books, InterWorld and The Silver Dream. You need to read those books before starting Eternity’s Wheel or you'll have no idea what's going on.

After discovering in the last book, The Silver Dream, that Hex and Binary are working together to destroy the universes, Joey finds himself back on Earth and not able to get back to InterWorld because it’s being chased by Hex. Though cut off from his fellow Walkers, Joey is determined to fight for his universe’s future, so he focuses on recruiting new agents and building up an InterWorld ba... Read More

Sister Mine: A refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (2013) is a refreshingly unique stand-alone fantasy novel featuring characters, settings, and situations that you’ve never seen before. Makeda and her twin sister Abby were conjoined at birth. Now that they are separated, they each suffer some sort of loss. Abby’s loss is obvious — her body isn’t formed quite right and she has some physical deficits. Makeda’s loss is less obvious — she does not have the mojo that her sister got from their unusual parents... or so she thinks.

Desperate to get out from under the wing of her protective twin sister, Makeda is moving into her own apartment. She wants to live her own life in a world where she doesn’t feel like she’s malformed. But in her new apartment complex, she meets an attractive young man... Read More

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