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.

Bone Silence: An unsatisfying ending

Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair ReynoldsREVENGER series started off well enough with Revenger, which was entertaining, though, in my opinion, not deserving of its Locus Award for Best Young Adult novel. The sequel, Shadow Captain, a Locus Award finalist (but not winner) was a significant step down for the series. I was hoping for at least a return to form in the third and final novel, Bone Silence (2020), but was disappointed.

Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness are full-fledged space pirates now, having taken on, at least in the public’s eye, the persona of the sadistic pirate queen, Bosa. They are... Read More

The Harbors of the Sun: A lackluster ending

The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells

The Harbors of the Sun (2020) is the fifth and final novel of Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA (or at least this part of the RAKSURA series). It won’t make any sense if you haven’t read the previous books, so please do that first. There will be some spoilers for the previous novels in this review.

The Harbors of the Sun begins where the previous installment, The Edge of Worlds, abruptly ended. The Raksura were on a quest with some groundlings. They had entered an ancient city and discovered a powerful artifact and were on a ship heading away from the city when they were betrayed and poisoned. The artif... Read More

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor: An exciting story that asks a lot of questions

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Hank Green’s A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (2020) is the sequel to his 2018 debut, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing which you’ll need to read first. There will be spoilers for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing in this review.

It’s been a few months since the life-shattering events that occurred at the end of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. The Carls are all gone and it appears that April died in a fire that was set by some extremists influenced by anti-April vitriol on social media. Yet, her body has never been found. Her friends, who’ve been split up due to the absence of April’s coalescing force, are su... Read More

SHORTS: The Retro Hugo-nominated novelettes and short stories of 1944

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. In today's column we review the 2020 Retro Hugo nominees in the novelette and short story categories, following up on yesterday's column, in which we reviewed the novellas.

RETRO HUGO NOVELETTES:

Arena by Fredric Brown (1944, published in Astounding Science Fiction, free online at Internet Archive). 2020 Retro Hugo award nominee (novelette).

Two massive fleets hang outside the orbit of Pluto, about to engage in a furious battle to the death: Humans and the aliens they call the Outsiders. Bob Carson, a young human in an individual scout ship, is about to engage ... Read More

By the Sword: A stand-alone story about Kerowyn

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

In publication order, By the Sword (1991) is the ninth novel in Mercedes Lackey’s VALDEMAR saga, but if you haven’t read any VALDEMAR novels before, don’t let that stop you. By the Sword can stand alone and it’s a fine place to enter Lackey’s universe. There are several beloved VALDEMAR characters in the novel, but it doesn’t matter if you meet them now or later. In general, the VALDEMAR saga is divided into several different trilogies and a few stand-alones and anthologies. You should read the three books of each trilogy in order but you don’t necessarily have to read the trilogies in any sort of order. (I hope that made sense.)

By the Sword is about Kerowyn, the granddaughter of the sorceress Kethry who we met in the VOWS AND HONOR Read More

Mexican Gothic: A creepy gothic novel featuring fungus

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a 22-year-old flighty socialite living in Mexico City. She loves to dress up in beautiful gowns and high heels and go to parties with handsome young men. One evening she’s called home from a party early. Her wealthy father has received a strange letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin. Catalina thinks she’s in danger from her new husband’s family and is begging for help. Is Catalina really imperiled, or is she suffering a mental breakdown?

Noemí’s father asks her to visit her cousin at High Place, her husband’s family’s mansion on top of a mountain in an isolated rural area of Mexico. When she arrives, Noemí is shocked to discover that, indeed, her cousin is not well. Though Catalina has moments of lucidity, at other times she rails about ghosts and other hallucinations.
Read More

Across a Billion Years: An optimistic story about humanity

Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg

In Across a Billion Years (1969), Robert Silverberg introduces us to Tom Rice, a young archaeologist in training, who is writing to his twin sister on their 22nd birthday in 2375. While Tom feels some guilt that he is on the most exciting field trip in the history of Earth while his paralyzed sister is confined to a hospital bed, he is still eager to tell her about his work and he knows that she is just as eager to hear about it.

Tom’s diverse team, which includes some non-human specialists, is visiting a site where they hope to uncover artifacts of the High Ones, an ancient race of superior beings who were travelling in space before humans existed. They haven’t been seen in a long time and are presumed to be extinct. Tom’s team hopes to get clues about the High Ones’ physiology and culture as well as to find out what happened to them. When they dig up a... Read More

Hella: Unusual protagonist, uneven pacing

Hella by David Gerrold

Hella is a harsh planet that was colonized by a few dozen humans about 100 years ago. The gravity of Hella is lower than Earth’s, so all of the plants and animals are enormous. The tilt of the planet makes its climate harsh in the summer and the winter, so the human colony migrates every season. As they migrate, they try not to contaminate the environment (who knows what effect humans will have on it?) and they must be careful of the huge carnivores that also migrate.

Kyle, a neuro-atypical 13 year-old, is our guide to Hella. He is fascinated by the planet, the past and future evolution of its flora and fauna, and the way that humans and their stuff could adversely affect Hella. He loves to learn and he loves to share his knowledge with anyone who will listen. When a ship full of new immigrants arrives in Hella’s orbit earlier than expected, Kyle is asked to produce instructional videos for the newcomers... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: A sheer pulpy delight

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling... Read More

The Last Curtain Call: Fortunately, not the last book

The Last Curtain Call by Juliet Blackwell

It hardly seems necessary to continue to review Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES because fans are going to read them no matter what I say but, since the audiobook publisher keeps providing me with review copies, I’ll keep doing it. I love Tantor Media’s audio editions of Blackwell’s two cozy paranormal mystery series (this one and WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES) because they’re narrated by the fabulous Xe Sands. They are a pleasure to listen to and I recommend them to fans (or future fans) of Blackwell’s books.

The Last Curtain Call (2020) is the eighth novel. Each is a stand-alone mystery, so you could start here, but you’d miss the progression of Mel’s relationships, so it’s best to start at the beginning w... Read More

Light of Impossible Stars: A satisfying but not great conclusion

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L. Powell brings his EMBERS OF WAR trilogy to a satisfying conclusion with Light of Impossible Stars (2020). You’ll need to read Embers of War and Fleet of Knives first. There will be some spoilers for those novels in this review.

When we left Captain Sal, she had just brought a few new crewmates aboard Trouble Dog: Captain Johnny Shultz, who lost his ship to ferocious dragon- and crab-like aliens; one of his crew with whom he had just begun a romantic relationship; and Lucy, the ship’s avatar in human form. Captain Sal had also just suffere... Read More

City of Lies: Appealing characters in this debut

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Sam Hawke’s debut novel, City of Lies, is the first book in her POISON WARS series. It features two protagonists, Jovan and Kalina, who are brother and sister. They work for their friend Tain, a young man who has suddenly become the Chancellor of their country after his uncle was poisoned. As the Chancellor’s proofer, Jovan tests everything Tain eats or drinks. He knows how to detect most poisons, he’s inoculated against many of them, and he carries the antidotes. With a successful poisoner on the loose, Jovan’s job is more important than ever.

Kalina is trained in diplomacy, so her job is to advise Jovan in his interactions with his people and their enemies. This has also suddenly become an essential duty because an army has arrived at the gates a... Read More

Witchy Eye: A creative alternate history

Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

D.J. Butler’s Witchy Eye (2017), the first book in his WITCHY EYE series, is an alternate history set in a 19th century United States that’s almost unrecognizable.

In Appalachia, a scrawny teenager named Sarah Calhoun is being raised by her grandfather. Her most notable features are her razor-sharp wit, her willingness to stand up for herself and others, and her eye which is swollen shut and looks gross. Sarah’s life is turned upside down when a priest and his minions attempt to kidnap her. She’s saved by a travelling monk who tells Sarah the secret of who she really is. To avoid the bad guys who are trying to capture her, she sets off with the monk and Calvin, her devoted cousin, to claim her destiny.

Butler’s alternate world is creative. Americans a... Read More

Time Patrol: Classic time travel stories by Poul Anderson

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson

Between 1955 and 1995 Poul Anderson published a series of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, about the Time Patrol, a secret group of people from all over the world whose job is to protect the world history we know. They jump up and down the timeline, making sure that terrorists and other disruptors don’t use time travel to remake history to suit their own malign purposes. Or any purposes, actually. Their goal is to keep history the same, even with all its evils, so as not to accidentally wipe out human civilization so that we can eventually evolve into the Danellians, a post-human species that is highly invested in making sure history doesn’t change.

Though there are many Time Patrol agents, the one we see most often in these stories is Manse Everard, an American man who was recruited by the ... Read More

Jade War: An Asian-inspired mob drama

Jade War by Fonda LeeJade War (2019) is the second book in Fonda Lee’s GREEN BONE SAGA series and a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It follows Jade City, which won the World Fantasy Award, and which you’ll need to read first (this review will contain some mild spoilers for that novel). Jade War picks up a year after the dramatic events of Jade City. Hilo and Shae are trying to keep the Kaul clan’s empire together on the island of Kekon but ther... Read More

SHORTS: Hill, Osborne, Towles, Buckell, Palmer

SHORTS: Our column exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's post reviews two more Locus Award nominees, along with other recent short fiction works that we've enjoyed.

Late Returns by Joe Hill (2019, included in the Full Throttle collection). Locus award finalist (novelette)

Joe Hill, who like his famous father typically writes in the horror genre, switches it up in Late Returns, a novelette that was originally published in his Read More

Fleet of Knives: Tense and exciting

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell

Fleet of Knives (2019) is the second book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series and a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Its predecessor, Embers of War, was also a Locus finalist and won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel of 2018. When I reviewed it last year, I reported that Embers of War was “pleasant but forgettable” and, sure enough, I had to refer to my notes to recall the plot. (I keep notes about the plot on all the series books I read). There will be some spoilers for that first book in this review.

We’ve got some new characters in Fleet of Knives Read More

Permafrost: A time-twisty thriller

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair ReynoldsPermafrost (2019), a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Novella, is billed as “a time-traveling climate fiction adventure.” It takes place in two timelines.

In 2080, humanity seems to be coming to an end, mostly due to a lack of food. Valentina Lidova, an elderly Russian math teacher, attempts to continue teaching her malnourished students, knowing all the while that it’s futile.

Then she’s visited by someone from an institution called Permafrost who offers a crazy-sounding solution. They claim to have invented time travel and want Valentina to be the first person who travels back in time. They’ve chosen her because it was her mathematician mother, now dead, whose widely-mocked theories they used to invent the techno... Read More

The Iron Dragon’s Mother: Surreal

The Iron Dragon’s Mother by Michael Swanwick

It’s been eleven years since I read Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, a novel that, while recognizing Swanwick’s brilliance, I did not enjoy. Some phrases from my review include “random, chaotic, and senseless,” “weird, disjointed, obtuse, inaccessibly bizarre,” and “chaotic nihilism.” But mostly I despised the protagonist, Jane, who was “a remorseless foul-mouthed thief, drug-user, slut, and murderer.”

So, at first I expected not to enjoy The Iron Dragon’s Mother (2019), which is set in the same universe, but when I learned that it’s a s... Read More

Shadow Captain: Worse than its predecessor

Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain (2019) is the second novel in Alastair ReynoldsREVENGER series for young adults. You’ll need to read Revenger first, and this review will have some spoilers for that first book.

It’s been three months since Revenger ended, and Adrana and Fura Ness are back together after Adrana was kidnapped by the evil pirate Bosa Sennen and rescued by Fura. Now the Ness sisters have Bosa’s infamous ship and Fura, markedly changed since the beginning of Revenger, has declared herself captain. She wants to find the place where Bosa kept her wealth but, to do so, first she’ll have to land to get refueled and ... Read More

Infinite Detail: A powerful warning about the way we use the internet

Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan

“It’s time for a reboot…. see you on the other side.”

Inspired by whistleblowers, leakers, hacktivists, computer viruses, Big Data, fake news, and civil movements such as Black Lives Matter, journalist Tim Maughan paints a frightening vision of the future in his first novel, Infinite Detail.

The plot is set in two timelines labelled simply “Before” and “After.” In “Before” we meet Rushdi (“Rush”) Mannan, a software engineer who lives in the Croft, a two-mile section of Bristol, England that has decided to go off the grid. The Croft is cut off from the Big Data surveillance that the rest of the world has so eagerly submitted to for the sake of convenience. Citizens of the Croft are not luddites, they even create their own brilliant apps and software, they just don’t want big companies controlling the data they... Read More

Ancestral Night: Asks interesting and relevant questions

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Haimey Dz grew up in an all-female community that she thinks of as a cult. After a bad experience involving a girlfriend, Haimey leaves her home, joins the Synarche, finds a business partner, has her body adjusted a bit (has her feet turned into another pair of hands), and starts a rescue and salvaging business.

Now Haimey and her partner, along with Singer, the sentient AI that drives the ship, travel through space, finding distressed or wrecked spaceships and either saving them or, if it’s too late, salvaging stuff. When we join them, they’re heading toward the source of a signal that seems to come from a ship that was lost a long time ago. Upon arrival, Haimey makes some unsettling discoveries and acquires some technology that somebody else wants. Now they’re being chased by pirates, including a really sexy one that Haimey knows she needs to stay away from.

Gradually Haimey... Read More

Revenger: An entertaining YA space opera

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

“If the Ness sisters had a brain cell between them, they’d be back in Mazarile, taking needlecraft lessons from a robot.”

Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have run away from home, joining the crew of a spaceship captained by a man named Rackamore. Their job on the ship is to use a skull to listen in on chatter that gives them clues about things going on in the universe, such as the location of other ships, gossip, and information about “baubles” that are about to open. They relay these messages to the captain who takes the ship to a bauble so that others on the crew can enter it and collect ancient treasures before it closes again. Everyone on the ship apparently has some genetic affinity for their job.

What the sisters don’t know, before it’s too late, is that Captain Rackamore is being pursued by a pirate named Bosa who is the most feared person in space. She’s le... Read More

Tomorrow, the Killing: Another mystery set in Low Town

Tomorrow, the Killing by Daniel Polansky

Tomorrow, the Killing (2012) is the second book in Daniel Polansky’s LOW TOWN series, a noir-flavored fantasy set in the grimy underbelly of a fictional city. Tomorrow, the Killing takes place three years after the events of Low Town (UK: The Straight Razor Cure). You don’t necessarily need to read Low Town first because the stories stand alone, but it will be most enjoyable if you do.

In Low Town, we met a man whose friends and acquaintances call him Warden. Warden is a former soldier and police officer who’s now a crime boss. He sells (and uses) drugs, but... Read More

The Girl and the Stars: The underground icy setting is the best part

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Stars (2020) is the first book in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It’s about a society that lives in an extremely harsh icy climate. They have a spiritual leader called “the regulator” who looks for children who are “broken” — children who are too weak or who have character traits that will not benefit the survival of their tribes when they become adults. Every few years, to cull the herd, the regulator identifies these kids and has them thrown into a hole in the ice where, presumably, they die.

When Yaz’s brother is assessed by the regulator, he is found lacking and pushed into the hole. Distraught, Yaz jumps in after him. She is surprised when she doesn’t fall to her death. Instead, she’s saved by a group of oth... Read More

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