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.

Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

This stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and ... Read More

Three Laws Lethal: Exciting, fascinating, and timely

Three Laws Lethal by David Walton

Best friends Tyler and Brandon are building a new ride-hailing service that uses autonomous vehicles. Their software is spectacular, especially with the secret AI algorithm developed by Naomi, one the two sisters they’ve partnered with. When a tragedy occurs during their public media demo, all of their plans and hopes are dashed and the college friends all go their separate ways. Within a few years, Tyler and Brandon become competitors and their feud gets ugly, leading to more tragic accidents and even murder.

Meanwhile, as Naomi continues to develop her algorithm, she makes some exciting but unsettling discoveries about what her artificial intelligence can do and she has to make some hard decisions about what she’ll do with the information she learns.

It takes a while for David Walton’... Read More

SHORTS: Miller, Leiber, Clement, Brackett

SHORTS: In this week's column we review several short fiction works that we've read recently, including three more of the current Retro Hugo nominees from 1943.

“Galatea” by Madeline Miller (2013, $3.99 on Kindle; anthologized in xo Orpheus, edited by Kate Bernheimer)

In the Roman myth of Read More

The Glass Bead Game: Surprisingly appealing

The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game (1943), written by Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is a finalist for a Retro Hugo Award this year. I picked up the audio edition produced by Blackstone Audio and pleasantly read by David Colacci. It’s more than 21 hours long.

The first section of the novel, which lasts 1.25 hours in the audiobook version, is titled “The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to its History For the Layman.” In this section, the book’s narrator explains why this book was written, some general problems with published biographies, and some history and background of the Glass Bead Game, including its origin and purpose and how it was responsible for changing culture. (How the game is played is something we never a... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Exhalation: The very best kind of speculative fiction

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s stories are the very best kind of speculative fiction. They’re modern, sophisticated, intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. Best of all, they’re full of futuristic science and explorations of the personal, sociological, and ethical considerations we may be facing as science and technology advance.

Most of the stories in Exhalation have seen print before; only two are new. Here are my thoughts on each:

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" — Originally published in 2007 by Subterranean Press, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. A man in Baghdad visits a merchant who shows him a gate that allows his customers to go backward and forward in time. Both amusing and poignant, and told in a series of nested vignettes, this thoughtful novel... Read More

Steel Beach: Did Not Finish

Steel Beach by John Varley

I hate giving up on books I plan to review but, unfortunately, this is the second one in a month that I’ve had to abandon.

Steel Beach (1992) is the second in John Varley’s stand-alone novels set in his EIGHT WORLDS universe in which vastly superior aliens have kicked humans off of planet Earth so they can commune with the dolphins and whales (who are more intelligent, in their eyes, than humans). I liked the first EIGHT WORLDS book, The Ophiuchi Hotline, because, though it had its share of problems — weak characterization, confusing plot, uneven p... Read More

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: A nice blend of horror and beauty

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

Randolph Carter keeps dreaming of a beautiful unknown city which he is aching to visit. After begging the gods to show him the way and receiving no answer, he sets out on a dream-quest to find it. The priests tell him that nobody knows where the city is and that the journey will kill him, but Randolph Carter is not deterred. His quest takes him through fantastic and mostly dangerous places where he meets strange friends and enemies. All the while he can tell that the gods who don’t belong to Earth are trying to stop him from discovering Unknown Kadath.

Anyone who has read anything by H.P. Lovecraft will be familiar with his style, and it’s on full display in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). Lovecraft excelled at invoking a sense of terror and dread as he described the... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

The Labyrinth Index: The American president is missing and that’s a bad thing

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth Index (2018) is the ninth novel in Charles’ StrossLAUNDRY FILES epic. This installment features Mhari, Bob Howard’s psycho ex-girlfriend who we met back in The Rhesus Chart when she and her colleagues at a bank accidentally developed some software that turned them all into vampires.

Now she’s Dame Mhari Murphy – she’s been elevated to Baroness and she works for the new government in England. Her boss is N’yar Lat-Hotep, the Black Pharaoh, who’s been reincarnated as the new Prime Minister of England after the country was forced to make a lesser-evil type of deal with the ancient god to prevent the rise of Cthulhu.

Th... Read More

The Call: Scary sadistic sidhe

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

I picked up Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call (2016) because its sequel, The Invasion, is a finalist for a Hugo Award this year (Best YA Fantasy Novel). Though I often enjoy Young Adult fiction, this book is probably not something I would have noticed had it not been for the Hugo nomination.

The Sidhe are finally taking revenge on the Irish for banishing them to The Grey Lands centuries ago. Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world and every Irish teenager will, on some random day at some random time during their teenage years, receive “The Call.” At that moment, they disappear from earth and arrive naked in The Grey Lands where they will spend a day being chased, toyed with, and tortured by the Sidhe. Then they will be sent back to wherever they disappeared from, usually grossly deformed and dead. It will appear to the humans around them... Read More

The Ophiuchi Hotline: Full of interesting ideas

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

Dr. Lilo Alexandr-Calypso, a brilliant geneticist who lives on the moon, has broken the law by fiddling with the human genome. Just as she’s about to be executed, she is saved by a group of vigilantes who want to use her skills to help them free the Earth from the alien invaders who’ve taken over and kicked the humans off.

Lilo doesn’t want to serve anyone, but their leader, a former president of Earth, has captured a clone of her and says that either she or the clone will be executed for Lilo’s crime. It doesn’t seem right for the clone to live on, so Lilo agrees to participate, thinking she’ll escape. She’s taken to a secret hideout located on a Jovian moon and set to work for the Free Earthers. She doesn’t like the work, which involves experiments designed to discover how to kill the invading aliens, but every time she escapes (or dies trying), she just gets cloned again. Now ... Read More

The Dragon Token: Did Not Finish

The Dragon Token by Melanie Rawn

I tried and failed to finish The Dragon Token, the second book in Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy (really the fifth book in her DRAGON STAR trilogy). These novels are currently being released in very nice audio formats by Tantor Audio who has generously sent them to me for reviews. I feel bad for quitting, because these are such excellent audio productions narrated by Christa Lewis, but I am just so bored with them and each book is quite long.

Readers who enjoy or feel nostalgic for a medieval-style fantasy epic with a huge cast of white nobles who try to gain power, keep power, or scheme with others to wrest power from someone else, will certainly get more enjoyment out of these books than I did.

While Rawn attempts to flip th... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

Bewitched and Betrothed: Another fun few days with Lily

Bewitched and Betrothed by Juliet Blackwell

Anyone who’s been following Lily Ivory’s adventures as a witchy vintage dress shop owner who solves murders as a hobby has been looking forward to the tenth installment: Bewitched and Betrothed (2019).

As the title suggests, Lily is preparing for her wedding. The handfasting will be in a few days and Lily’s grandmother and her coven, as well as Lily’s mother, are in town. Of course, as readers have come to expect, nothing ever goes smoothly in Lily Ivory’s orbit. First, an old Alcatraz prisoner’s uniform has come into the shop, and Lily can sense the malice of the thing. Then the cousin of Carlos Romero (the friendly policeman) is kidnapped. These two events converge as Lily and her friends visit Alcatraz and try to solve the mysteries. There are some little romantic concerns, too, as usual. These will have to be taken care of before the day of the h... Read More

Limited Wish: You can’t always get what you want

Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

As Limited Wish (2019) begins, Nick Hayes, the 16-year-old math genius that we met in One Word Kill (you need to read it first) is being pursued by a pack of drunken Cambridge students bent on beating him up. It’s 1986 and Nick has just been enrolled at Cambridge, thanks to the notice of Professor Halligan, a brilliant mathematician who recognizes Nick’s potential. What Prof Halligan doesn’t know is that Nick has to invent time travel so that when he’s older he can come visit his teenage self in the late 1980s and, in so doing, save Mia, the girl he thinks he loves and has a future with.

But there are several major problems with this scenario. Worst: (1) Nick has no idea how the mathematics of time travel might work, especially when you throw in the time paradoxes he’s ex... Read More

Stronghold: A soap opera

Stronghold by Melanie Rawn

I’ve been reading Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE and DRAGON STAR trilogies because the audio versions of this late 1980s / early 1990s fantasy epic are just now being released in audio format and Tantor Audio has sent me review copies. Stronghold (1990) is the first book in the DRAGON STAR trilogy but it’s really just book four of the DRAGON PRINCE trilogy. I have no idea why the epic was divided into two trilogies since you must read DRAGON PRINCE if you hope to have any clue about what’s going on in DRAGON STAR.

Perhaps the division is signaling a change in focus from Rohan and Sioned’s generation to that of Prince Pol. At this point in the story, Pol has taken on more and more ... Read More

Take a Thief: The backstory of a popular VALDEMAR character

Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey

One of Mercedes Lackey’s most popular characters is Herald Skif, the young former thief who we met in the first two VALDEMAR trilogies (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR and MAGE WINDS). In Take a Thief (2001), a stand-alone prequel novel, Lackey gives us his backstory.

It starts as so many of her stories do. Skif is a young orphaned boy who is basically a slave to his cruel uncle. The uncle owns a dirty and dilapidated tavern where, for a penny, miserly clientele can purchase the cheapest (and vilest) ale and stew in the city. Skif has lots of chores there but he tries to be out from under his uncle’s eye whenever he can. Most mornings he attends classes to learn reading and math, and he spends his afternoons stealing food from rich people... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Ja... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

Embers of War: A pleasant but forgettable space opera

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell

Embers of War (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, is the first book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series. The story is set in the far future, after humans were welcomed into the Multiplicity.

In the prologue we meet Captain Sally (“Sal”) Konstanz and the sentient spaceship she captains, Trouble Dog. They belong to the House of Reclamation, an ancient organization that serves the Multiplicity by rescuing the crews and passengers of injured or stranded spaceships. Trouble Dog used to be a warship but after being ordered to nuke the planet Pelapatarn, killing a sentient forest and many people, Trouble Dog felt remorse and left the military.

Also aboard the Trouble D... Read More

Exile’s Valor: Important events occur, but there’s a lot of down-time

Exile’s Valor by Mercedes Lackey

Exile’s Valor (2003) is the sequel to Exile’s Honor (which is the best VALDEMAR novel I’ve read so far). Both of these books are prequels to Mercedes Lackey’s first VALDEMAR trilogy (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR). You should read Exile’s Honor before starting Exile’s Valor but you don’t need to read any other VALDEMAR novels in order to understand and appreciate Exile’s Valor.

Alberich, formerly an enemy of Valdemar, is now the weapons master of its heralds and is a chief advisor and bodyguard to queen Selenay. He also continues to en... Read More

The Agony House: A fun and instructive haunted house mystery

The Agony House by Cherie Priest

When she was too young to remember, Denise Farber’s father and grandmother died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She and her mother fled to Houston. Now, with Denise about to enter her senior year in high school, her mother has just remarried and their new little family is returning to New Orleans. They have very little money, so they’ve purchased an old dilapidated Victorian style home that they hope to fix up and turn into a Bed & Breakfast.

After moving into the house, which has been nicknamed “The Nail House” by the neighbors, conditions are far worse than they imagined. Almost nothing works, new electrical wiring and plumbing is required, all of the walls and flooring need remodeling, and the place is filthy. As they start working on the house, strange things start happening — Denise sees, hears, smells, and feels things that don’t seem to exist and then there are multi... Read More

One Word Kill: A tale of teens, time travel, D&D, and cancer

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill (2019) is a tale of 1980s British teenagers, time travel (bonus: with branching universes), Dungeons & Dragons, and cancer. As the first book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, it sets things up nicely, and we’re all three looking forward to the next two novellas.

We know that the first-person narrator of the story has cancer ― leukaemia, to be precise ― from the very first paragraph of the story. Fifteen-year-old Nick is something of a genius, though his smarts don’t show much yet except in his choice of reading material during chemotherapy sessions. He has a group of close friends with whom he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday, which group has recently been augmented by the addition of ― gasps of a... Read More

We Sold Our Souls: Heavy metal horror

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Here at FanLit we’re working together to get all the Locus Award finalists reviewed. I’m not a fan of horror, but when I learned that Grady Hendrix’s horror novel We Sold Our Souls (2018) was about a woman who used to be the lead guitarist for a metal band, I knew this novel was for me. Hard rock and metal are my favorite music genres, I love to attend live shows, and I have often fantasized that being a guitarist for a metal band could have been an alternative career path if my mom had allowed me to take guitar instead of piano lessons. So, I was ready to love We Sold Our Souls.

The story starts by introducing a teenage Kris Pulaski in the late 1980s as she discovers metal and hard rock music and begins learning to play electric guitar in her bedroom. I could totally relate to Kris and her friend Terry (a singer) as they ... Read More

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