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.

Exo: An exciting YA SF thriller

Exo by Fonda Lee

A hundred years ago aliens defeated and colonized Earth. For the most part, humans now live in peace with the aliens. A minority of humans have been chosen to go through the aliens’ hardening process when they are young. This gives them a type of exoskeleton that makes them very hard to kill. These Exos constitute a military upper class and they look down on “squishies” — those humans who can’t be, or refuse to be, hardened.

Donovan Reyes, the son of the Prime Liaison to the aliens, is an Exo. One of his jobs is to patrol his city, flushing out and arresting any dissidents who remain. When a raid goes wrong and Donovan is captured by a rebel group, his father refuses to negotiate with the terrorists. Donovan’s whole life is turned upside down and his loyalties are challenged.

Exo (2017), the first book in Read More

Aerie: An unnecessary and disappointing sequel

Aerie by Mercedes Lackey

Aerie is the fourth and final book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS series. This review will spoil some of the plot for the previous three books, Joust, Alta, and Sanctuary, so it’d be best to not read further in this review if you haven’t read those books yet.

I’m convinced that Aerie exists only because Lackey left a thread dangling in the third book, Sanctuary. After the bad guys were defeated and Alta and Tia were at peace, we kind of ... Read More

The Belles: Exciting despite characterization problems

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The history books say that the God of the Sky married the Goddess of Beauty and their children populated Orléans. But when Beauty started spending all her time with their children instead of her husband, Sky cursed the people of Orléans, giving them “skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” So, Beauty created the Belles, special girls who have magic that can bring beauty and joy back to the people of Orléans.

Camellia and her five sisters are Belles. They’ve been training and practicing all their lives and now, on their sixteenth birthday, they are on their way to Orléans to be honored and assigned their Belle duties. Camellia knows that she is the most creative and gifted of her sisters and she expects to be named as the queen’s Favorite, which means that she’ll get to live in the pa... Read More

Inspection: Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book

Inspection by Josh Malerman

Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book: Read the publisher’s blurb below, think it sounds sweet and thoughtful, and then order an audio copy that doesn’t have a book jacket containing quotes from Chuck Wendig and J.D. Barker. The publisher’s blurb goes like this:

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world. J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know — and all they are allowed to know. But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s ... Read More

Kingdom of Needle and Bone: Preachy, but interesting

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Lisa Morris, Patient Zero, is only eight years old when she contracts a mutated and vicious form of measles, infects hundreds of other people while visiting Disney World, and dies. The disease races across the planet, killing millions, because “the virus always spreads.”

Lisa’s Aunt Isabella, a pediatrician who feels guilty about Lisa’s death, goes on a crusade to protect those who haven’t yet been exposed to the virus. Her pediatric clinic is targeted by anti-vaxxers, but she continues to champion — and try to explain — herd immunity. Then her youngest sister discovers something even more terrifying than the obvious initial effects of the new virus, making Isabella change course and launch an elaborate plan that may not be entirely ethical but just may save the human race.

Mira Grant Read More

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword: Charming and quirky

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen and her little brother Cricket have been chosen by the dowager empress to represent their province at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword in the famously beautiful city of Pearl. In exchange, the mayor of Pearl has sent two of his children to Shin, the poor rural area where Peasprout and Cricket grew up.

The Chen siblings were chosen because Peasprout is the best wu liu competitor in her entire province. She’s a celebrity there. But when Peasprout arrives at their new school, her classmates are not impressed. Right away, Peasprout and Cricket don’t fit in. They don’t have fashionable clothes or extra skates. Peasprout sets out to prove herself as the best in her class while she tries to protect her little brother, not nearly as accomplished in the martial art, from bullies.

Peasprout is a great skater, but she’s at a major ... Read More

Golden State: Another frightening alternate history by Winters

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Here’s another frightening alternate history thriller by Ben H. Winters. If you loved his 2016 Underground Airlines, like I did, you’ll want to give Golden State (2019) a try. It’s set in a near-future California (or some part of California) where lying has been criminalized due to the fall-out from the disastrous events that occurred when certain leaders of the United States kept deceiving the citizens. (I will say that one good thing about the current US administration is that it’s providing a wealth of fodder to speculative fiction authors!)

To uphold the truth, there is surveillance everywhere. Everything is on the record. Even logs of personal daily activities and all re... Read More

Sanctuary: A rather dull installment

Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey

Sanctuary (2005) is the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS quartet. You need to read Joust and Alta first. There will be spoilers for those first two books in this review of the third.

Vetch has come a long way. When we first met him in Joust, he was the servant of a cruel master in his home country of Alta. One day he was picked up by a Tian Dragon Jouster named Ari and set to work as a dragon boy for his country’s enemy. Eventually he escaped with the dragon he secretly raised from an egg, flew back to his home country of Alta and, with the skills he ... Read More

Planetfall: An SF exploration of mental illness

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall, the first science fiction offering from Emma Newman, is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. Suh and her best friend Ren, a brilliant geneticist and engineer, gathered a team of like-minded believers and they landed on the planet 22 years ago. After “Planetfall,” Suh disappeared into “God’s City,” where she continues to live and send yearly messages and instructions to the rest of the colonists. All is going well until a visitor arrives and claims to be Suh’s grandson. His presence threatens the colony’s peace and it’s up to Ren, the story’s protagonist, to pr... Read More

The Rosewater Insurrection: A wonderfully imaginative sequel

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Insurrection (2019) is the sequel to Rosewater (2016), a stunningly imaginative, structurally complex, and beautifully written novel that Kate and I loved. It’s about an alien presence called Wormwood that tunnels under the surface of our planet and has sprouted a dome in Nigeria. Because the dome has healing properties, a ramshackle city called Rosewater has grown up around it where people with various ailments live, hoping to benefit from the healing. Sometimes this goes badly awry, though, such as when dead bodies are reanimated but no longer carry the souls they once did.

Read More

Kabu Kabu: Are you ready for a change of scenery?

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Speculative fiction reader, are you in a rut? When you think about the genre, do you mostly see brawny white guys with swords and old white wizards with beards? Or maybe a thief with a hood? Or a group of misfits who must team-up to save the world from an evil overlord or a tyrannical government? Is there a castle or a spaceship in every story? And lots of people riding horses?

Speculative fiction reader, isn’t it getting a bit stale? Are you ready for a change of scenery?

If so (and even if not) I urge you to pick up Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu (2013), a collection of 21 short stories that will expand your horizons and restore your faith in the future of your favorite genre.

Kabu Kabu begins with a short introduction by Whoopi... Read More

Sea of Silver Light: An exciting but too-long finale

Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

Sea of Silver Light (2001) finally concludes Tad Williams’ imaginative and very long OTHERLAND quartet. You must read the previous three books, City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, and Mountain of Black Glass first. There will be spoilers for those books in this review.

If you’ve read the previous three books in the OTHERLAND quartet, I don’t need to convince you to read Sea of Silver Light. I’m sure y... Read More

PERfunctory AfFECTION: Far from perfect

PERfunctory AfFECTION by Kim Harrison

Three years ago Meg, a talented artist who also works as a university art instructor, was in a bad car accident. She was driving and her boyfriend, the passenger, was badly injured. Since then she’s dealt with PTSD, high levels of anxiety, and overwhelming guilt. She has also had trouble recovering after her mother’s death and this has led to depression. Meg is pretty messed up and has trouble teaching her classes, making friends, and coping with life in general.

As the novella opens, Meg’s psychiatrist has put her in an experimental drug study. Almost immediately, Meg feels much, much better, almost suspiciously so. Within days of starting the new medication, Meg has even made some new friends, something that had previously been all but impossible. Her boyfriend, though, suspects the drug causes hallucinations and delusions and that Meg has too quickly become wholly dependent on it. The... Read More

Alta: Multiple plot problems, but I want to know what happens next

Alta by Mercedes Lackey

Alta (2004), the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS quartet, starts where Joust left off. Vetch, formerly a slave and more recently a “dragon boy” in the land of his enemies, has escaped with the dragon he raised from an egg. They are now in Alta, the land of his birth, which has been occupied by Tia, the land he just escaped from.

Vetch (now called by his real name, Kiron) arrives with much knowledge about how Tians train their jousters, and about how to best raise and train dragons. He hopes to meet the right people and convince them to try his training methods so that, in the future, Alta will be better prepared to win their country back. He worries a bit that so... Read More

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales: A Dunsany primer

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

In In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales (1986), literary critic and editor S.T. Joshi has compiled a large collection of Lord Dunsany’s short fiction that spans fifty years and is representative of his entire oeuvre. As someone who is not well-acquainted with the writings of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878-1957), I found this collection to be both an excellent resource and an enjoyable read. I especially appreciate the opportunity to listen to this in audiobook format, thanks to Tantor Audio who has recently released an audio edition which is 17 hours long and is beautifully narrated by Steven Crossley.

After giving us an informative introduction, Joshi has arranged Dunsany’s stories into six sections. The fi... Read More

Joust: Quite entertaining despite the problems

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Vetch’s family used to own land in Alta, but when they were invaded and occupied by Tia, Vetch’s father was killed and the rest of his family became serfs. Vetch, who was taken away from his mother and sisters, is now the servant of a horrible fat and lazy man who’s pretty much the worst master you can imagine. (All of Mercedes Lackey’s bad guys are really really bad!)

When a Tian dragon jouster named Ari notices Vetch’s plight, he rescues him and takes him as his own servant. Now Vetch is a dragon boy, feeding and cleaning up after his new master’s dragon. In the process, he learns everything there is to know about caring for dragons and his new circumstances are comfortable and far superior to his previous enslavement. However, Vetch is treated like a serf by the other dragon boys and, worse, he fee... Read More

The Face in the Frost: A short, charming, classic fantasy

The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs

Thanks to Tantor Media for giving us a wonderful audio edition of The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs’ short classic fantasy novel which was first published in 1969. It’s performed by Eric Michael Summerer and is 5 hours long.

Prospero is a small-time wizard who lives in a small kingdom. Lately he’s been noticing some odd occurrences around his house and starts to suspect that something sinister is going on.

When his studious and adventurous friend Roger Bacon (also a wizard) arrives for a visit, the two friends decide to investigate. They suspect that an evil wizard may be stalking them. To get off Prospero’s property without being seen by the evil wizard’s minions, they shrink themselves and escape down the stream on a toy boat.

Read More

The Hidden World: The plot really thickens

The Hidden World by Melinda Snodgrass

Stop right there and don’t read past this paragraph if you haven’t yet read The High Ground and In Evil Times, the first two books in Melinda Snodgrass’s IMPERIALS saga. The Hidden World (2018) is book three (of five total, I think) and my review can’t help but contain spoilers for the previous books.

Fourteen years have passed since we left Tracy and Mercedes at the end of In Evil Times. Tracy, framed, disgraced, and now out of the service, has changed his name and turned smuggler. He captains a ship with several aliens on his crew... Read More

In Evil Times: Exciting and entertaining, despite the problems

In Evil Times by Melinda Snodgrass

In Evil Times (2017) is the second book in Melinda Snodgrass’s IMPERIALS saga. You’ll want to read The High Ground first. (Expect spoilers for that novel in this review.)

At the end of The High Ground we left Tracy (smart low-class scholarship student) in despair when his friend/nearly lover Mercedes (heir to the imperial throne) ditched him for a more suitable (noble) match. Poor Tracy.

After enduring his graduation ceremony and Mercedes and Boho’s wedding, Tracy is assigned to a spaceship at a much lower rank than his higher-class fellow students. As he goes about his duties for his empire, he keeps getting passed ... Read More

In the Vanisher’s Palace: A fascinating world

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Yên, who studied to be a healer, has not lived up to expectations. Both she and her mother have failed to heal the child of one of their country’s leaders. In this land, useless people are eliminated, but Yên’s mother saves her daughter’s life by selling her off to a dragon who can shapeshift into a woman. The dragon has two rambunctious children who need to be educated, so Yen is assigned this duty in the dragon’s bizarre palace. As she lives with the dragon and her kids, she learns more about her world, herself, and the dragon who has enslaved her. Some of the things she learns will change her life forever.

Aliette de Bodard has described In the Vanisher’s Palace Read More

Oathblood: Stories about Tarma and Kethry

Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey

Fans of Tarma and Kethry shouldn’t hesitate to pick up Oathblood (1998), a short story collection featuring all of Mercedes Lackey’s tales about the female sword and sorcery duo. A couple of these stories appeared in The Oathbound and Oathbreakers, the other two books in Lackey’s VOWS AND HONORS series (part of the larger VALDEMAR saga), but most did not (though published elsewhere previously).

In these stories we witness the event that set Tarma on her quest for revenge (and, wouldn’t you know, it involves a gang rape, a common feature in Lackey... Read More

Mountain of Black Glass: The most exciting book in the quartet

Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams

The third book in Tad WilliamsOVERLAND quartet, Mountain of Black Glass (1999) is better than the previous novels in the series (City of Golden Shadow and River of Blue Ice). Warning: You must read those books before starting Mountain of Black Glass.

At this point in the story, our heroes are still in Otherland, hoping to find Paul Jonas, but their progress is hampered because they’ve lost the lighter that allowed them to jump between simulations. They are still split into two groups after losing each other in the previous boo... Read More

River of Blue Fire: A great story that’s just too long

River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

River of Blue Fire (1998) is the second book in Tad WilliamsOVERLAND quartet. You absolutely must read the first book, City of Golden Shadow, first.

Our group of heroes (Renie, Xabbu, Orlando, Fredericks, Martine, Tb4, Kwan-Le) have entered Otherland and are searching for Paul Jonas at Mr. Sellar’s request. They hope to discover what the Grail Brotherhood is up to and why some kids (including Renie’s little brother Stephen, and online pals Orlando and Fredericks) are in comas. What is the Grail Brotherhood’s plans for these kids?

But soon the heroes are accidentally separated into two groups and they are struggling just to stay alive as ... Read More

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

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