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.

Untouched by Human Hands: Sheckley’s stories are sharp and insightful

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Untouched by Human Hands by Robert Sheckley

After reading Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles, I was eager to read more of his work. That novel was intelligent, creative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. So I picked up Untouched by Human Hands, a collection of Sheckley’s short stories published in the 1950s in the various pulp magazines.

My edition is the audiobook produced by Skyboat Media and read by Gabrielle de Cuir, Stefan Rudnicki, and Harlan Ellison. It’s almost 6 hours long. The stories are:

"The Monsters" (Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, March 1953) — This is a first contact story in which friendly humans arri... Read More

Deathstalker: Rebellion: More of the same

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Deathstalker: Rebellion by Simon R. Green

This review may contain spoilers for the first DEATHSTALKER book, Deathstalker.

Owen Deathstalker, Hazel d’Ark, Ruby Journey, Jack Random, and assorted others are still plotting rebellion against The Iron Bitch who rules the galactic empire. Everyone in this motley group has a different idea about how a galactic government should work, but they all agree that their empress must go, so they begin by hacking into the empire’s bank account and using the funds to instigate rebellions on a few different planets.

Nobody likes the empress, but she still has loyal supporters who protect her. These people are either too scared to cross her, or they are benefiting financially from their relationship with her. Also, there’s bee... Read More

A Nameless Witch: Trips along merrily without any pretensions

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A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

This silly little tale is about a beautiful witch who doesn’t have a name. When she was young she was taken in by an old ugly witch who educated her in magic spells and other witchiness. Part of her education involved learning how to make herself appear ugly with sloppy clothes, hair coverings, and warts, because nobody trusts a beautiful witch.

After the death of her mentor, the young nameless witch was on her own, though she acquired a few companions: an enchanted broom, a troll, and a demonic duck. After they settled into a friendly village, a brave knight came along and warned them that a goblin horde was approaching. The witch, her companions, and the knight teamed up to defeat the goblins and an evil magician who had plans to remake the world. During the process, the witch realizes she’s got the hots for the knight, but she worries she may eat... Read More

Proposal: A MEDIATOR novella that can be skipped

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Proposal by Meg Cabot

Fans of Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series thought it was over back in 2005 with Twilight, but in 2016, Cabot published this novella as book “6.5” before publishing another full novel (Remembrance) that year. This review will have some spoilers for the series, so please don’t read further if you intend to read MEDIATOR.

Suze is now in college and Jesse is in med school. Theirs is a long-distance relationship, so Suze is not expecting to see Jesse on Valentine’s Day. Instead, she’s dealing with some young ghosts who want revenge on their killer. So, when Jesse shows up to surprise her, she’s kind of busy.

The... Read More

The Gates of Eden: Interesting ideas about evolution and species diversity

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The Gates of Eden by Brian Stableford

Lee Caretta is a geneticist who has been sent, along with a xenobiologist, to the newly discovered planet of Naxos to investigate the mysterious deaths of the first exploratory team to arrive on the planet. As far as anyone knows, there are no sentient species on Naxos, but Lee and his colleagues will learn that there is life on Naxos, and it is strange and dangerous.

But it’s not only the new planet that is hostile. There is some political and personal intrigue going on, too, and it might be just as deadly. Lee will be hard-pressed to discover the planet’s secrets, as well as the humans’ secrets, before it’s too late.

The Gates of Eden (1983) is an entertaining, tense, and pretty quick read. I was interested in the planet’s ecology and I wanted to know what killed the exploratory team. Lee h... Read More

Deathstalker: Too much like NIGHTSIDE

Deathstalker by Simon R. Green

The galactic empire is ruled by a brutal empress, a woman who terrorizes both the peasants and nobles who bow down to her. She’s the kind of ruler who decorates her palace with the tortured bodies of her dead enemies. Or she brainwashes them, augments their bodies and, as she sits on her Iron Throne, requires them to sit naked at her feet and protect her. Or, if she’s feeling merciful, she summons them to her throne room and, when they board her personal subway car to make the journey, has them gassed. They call her The Iron Bitch. She’s really mean.

One of her most recent targets is Owen Deathstalker, a quiet and studious young man who is the last “Deathstalker,” a lineage with a genetic gift that allows them to turn on a power “boost” when fighting an enemy. Owen wants to be a historian, not a rebel like his father, but the empress doesn’t like what he’s studying. When she strips ... Read More

The Soul Eater: Moby Dick in space

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The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick

Nicobar Lane is a hunter. People hire him to acquire (dead or alive) exotic species from all over the galaxy. They pay him a lot of money to do this and he’s very successful. But there’s one creature who he refuses to hunt: a creature known by different cultures throughout the galaxy as the Soul Eater, or the Dreamwish Beast, or Starduster. People say this creature lives in space, is not affected by black holes, and perhaps even eats them! Nicobar thinks the beast is a legend and that it’s not worth his time to go looking for it.

But then he meets an old man who claims to have encountered the legendary beast many years ago. The man offers Nicobar a deal: if the old man can help Nicobar finish his current hunt in a fraction of the time it usually takes, then they’ll spend the time they save looking for the Soul Eater. That’s how Nicobar discovers th... Read More

Twilight: This is not the Suze we know and love

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Twilight by Meg Cabot

Twilight (2006) is the sixth novel in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. The first five books are Shadowland, Ninth Key, Reunion, Darkest Hour, and Haunted. I’ll assume you’ve read them (though, as I explain below, I think you could have skipped Haunted).

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Dimension of Miracles: Absurd, amusing, thought-provoking

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Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman produced a series of audiobooks called Neil Gaiman Presents in which he identified several of his favorite novels that had not yet been produced in audio format, found suitable narrators, and provided his own introductions to the books. I’ve purchased almost all of them.

In his introduction to Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles (1968), Gaiman discusses his disco... Read More

The Man Who Fell to Earth: A vivid portrayal of alcoholism

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The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who has come to Earth on a mission. He hopes to save the remaining 300 aliens who are dying on his home planet. Since childhood he’s been preparing for this, training by watching and listening to Earth’s radio and TV broadcasts. Being mostly humanoid in appearance, and understanding much of Earth’s culture, he has disguised himself to successfully pass as a man from Kentucky.

Soon after his arrival, he contacts a patent lawyer and begins to “invent” the technology of his superior planet. His goal is to earn half a billion dollars so he can have the money he needs to fund his mission. He needs to keep his identity secret because, though his intentions toward the humans are completely benevolent, who knows what they will do if they find out there’s an alien among them.

But there is ... Read More

The Wizard Knight: A wonderful, deep, rewarding read

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Reposting to include Kat's new review.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.

The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards... Read More

Slan Hunter: The sequel to a Retro-Hugo winner

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Slan Hunter by A.E van Vogt & Kevin J. Anderson

A.E. van Vogt always intended to write a sequel to his most famous novel, the Retro-Hugo Award winning Slan. But by the time he got around to it, decades after publishing Slan, he had started to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. van Vogt’s wife, Lydia, gave her husband’s notes to Kevin J. Anderson, who wrote Slan Hunter and published it in 2007. Slan Hunter picks up right after the events of Slan and, if I hadn’t known better, I wouldn’t have realized the change in authorship. Read More

Necroscope III: The Source: Harry visits another world

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Necroscope III: The Source by Brian Lumley

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books, Necroscope. And Necroscope II: Vamphyri!. You’ll want to read those books before picking up this one.

Harry Keogh is back and now he’s got a body again. How that came about is a sad tale that you need to read about in Necroscope II: Vamphyri!. You’d think that all would be well now — Harry could get back with his wife and son and maybe life could somewhat normalize, though Harry, of course, still hears from the dead and can travel through time and space on the Mobius Continuum, so maybe Harry is never going to be normal or even really desire a ... Read More

Necroscope II: Vamphyri!: Harry Keogh is back!

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Necroscope II: Vamphyri! by Brian Lumley

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Necroscope.

Suggestion: Try to ignore the horrible cover art.

Necroscope II: Vamphyri! Or (Wamphyri!) is the second book in Brian Lumley’s NECROSCOPE series. These horror novels follow the life and death of Harry Keogh, the Necroscope. As the only person who can talk to the dead, he is beloved by them and, since most people who have ever lived are currently dead, he has more friends than anyone else in the world... and these friends are willing to do favors for Harry. One thing they do is teach him, so Harry has becom... Read More

Slan: A classic and Retro-Hugo winner

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Slan by A.E van Vogt

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt, is considered a classic science fiction novel. Published in 1940, Slan, by nature, feels old-fashioned and obsolete, especially in the technological sense, but it tells a story that is entertaining and intense, at least until the end.

We meet our protagonist, Jommy Cross, when he’s a young boy who is running from the police who have just killed his mother. Jommy is a Slan, a race of genetically-engineered super-humans who are stronger and smarter than normal humans and who can read minds and speak to each other telepathically. They are identifiable by the gold-colored tendrils that hang down the sides of their heads, like antennae. At one point in our world’s history, the Slan had almost conquered hum... Read More

Summers at Castle Auburn: A lovely YA romance

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Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Summers at Castle Auburn (2001) was my first exposure to Sharon Shinn's fantasies, and it was pretty much insta-love for me (I like to think that Shinn returns my affections in a distant and anonymous fan-appreciation kind of way). It instantly set me off on a search for more of her books.

Corie is the teenaged illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who died before the story begins, but the royal family is still keeping close tabs on her. Most of the time she lives with her grandmother in a remote village, learning medicinal herbs and a bit of witchery from her. But her summers are spent with the royal family in Castle Auburn.

We follow Corie over the next several years as she hangs out with her half-sister Elisandra; Br... Read More

Haunted: More teenage drama than plot

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Haunted by Meg Cabot

Haunted (2003) is the fifth novel in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. You’ll want to read the previous books first: Shadowland, Ninth Key, Reunion, and Darkest Hour.

In my review of Darkest Hour I said that the series was getting more complex after we meet a guy named Paul (sup... Read More

Necroscope: An original take on the vampire story

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Necroscope by Brian Lumley

Necroscope (1986) is the first in a series of 18 novels and novellas that Brian Lumley has written about Harry Keogh, a man who has the power to speak to the dead. I have previously read one of these novellas (The Mobius Murders) and wanted to read more stories about Harry. I purchased the audiobook of this first one at Audible a few years ago and have been waiting for the rest to be put on audio before starting. Fortunately, Macmillan Audio is now producing them.

In Necroscope, we meet Harry for the first time. At the beginning of the story he is just a boy, growing up as an orphan and attending a private scho... Read More

SFM: Kritzer, Valentine, Robson, McClellan, Reed

Short Fiction Monday: Our feature exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we want to share with readers.

“Field Biology of the Wee Fairies” by Naomi Kritzer (2018, free at Apex Magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)When Amelia turns fourteen, everyone assures her that she’ll catch her fairy soon. Almost every girl catches a fairy, and the fairy will give you a gift if you promise to let her go. The gift is always something like “beauty or charm or perfect hair or something else that made b... Read More

Good Guys: Pleasant but forgettable

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Good Guys by Steven Brust

The Foundation, a secretive government agency, collects people who have magical powers and puts them to work for minimum wage. They are tasked with keeping evil magic users under control while ensuring that normal people don’t find out that magic exists.

In Good Guys (2018) we follow three of these folks: Donovan, Susan “Hippie Chick,” and Marci. At the Foundation’s direction, they are working together to investigate a string of magical murders which are getting progressively more gruesome and seem to have a particular end-game in mind. Donovan, Susan, and Marci investigate crime scenes, find clues, make deductions (and huge leaps of logic), and attempt to find and stop the killer before the killer gets them.

This is all very dangerous and they don’t get a lot of support (or pay) from the bureaucratic organizatio... Read More

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds: Three novellas tell a compelling story

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Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson

If you’ve ever wondered what might happen if Batman’s rogues gallery was made up entirely from creations of his own mind (and only visible to himself) rather than individuals who are, more often than not, created as a result of his actions, then I recommend that you read Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds (2018). Compiled herein are two of Brandon Sanderson’s previously-published novellas, “Legion” (2012) and “Legion: Skin Deep” (2014), along with the concluding and never-before-seen third novella, “Lies of the Beholder.” I hadn’t read any of these works before opening Legion, nor had I read Kat and Tadiana... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

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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 from a food delivery se... Read More

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: It’s not about aliens, it’s about us

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Disclaimer: As my students know, I’ve had a crush on Hank Green for years. I will try to not let this bias my review.

In the middle of the night when April May, a graphic designer, is on her way home from work in Manhattan, she’s the first person to notice a huge new statue on the sidewalk. It’s totally out of place, but she appreciates its artistry, so she calls her friend Andy and asks him to help her make a video about the statue (which she names Carl). When Andy uploads it to YouTube, it goes viral. When other Carls are discovered in other major world cities, April, the first person to report on the Carls, becomes famous and begins to relish her role as their spokesperson. Her fame opens many doors but also causes problems and, eventually, becomes dangerous. Read More

Drop by Drop: A boring small-town soap opera

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Drop by Drop by Morgan Llywelyn

I’m going to make this short. There was nothing — absolutely nothing — that I liked about Drop by Drop (2018), the first book in Morgan Llywelyn’s new STEP BY STEP trilogy.

The story is about a small town where everybody seems to know everybody else. Suddenly one day, the plastic gradually starts to melt. Everything that is made of plastic eventually fails (they call it “The Change”) and the society has to learn to live without plastic. This means reverting to more primitive technologies since cars, computers, the internet, and so many other things all rely on plastic parts. As The Change is happening, we follow personal developments (marriages, divorces, deaths, etc.) of the town’s citizens.

... Read More

Darkest Hour: This series is getting a bit more complex

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Darkest Hour by Meg Cabot

“You really have the most alarming way, Susannah, of getting yourself into scrapes.”

Darkest Hour is the fourth book in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. It’d be best to read the previous books, Shadowland, Ninth Key, and Reunion before picking up Darkest Hour. While each short book has a stand-alone story, the key characters are the same and there are some overarching plotlines including Suze’s crush on the ghost who live... Read More

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