Kat Hooper

On FanLit’s staff since June 2007

KAT HOOPER is a professor at a university in Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing fantasy is much more fun. Kat has five young children and no time (or desire) to read inferior literature, so after being frustrated about the lack of a free, reliable source for information about excellent fantasy fiction, she started this website.

Kat’s first criterion for the novels she reads is that they be excellently written. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for grammatical errors, bad sentence construction, dull prose, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Dark elements are fine, but not horror. And it helps if there’s a tall good-looking man wielding a sword (Joscelin Verreuil is HOT, Thomas Covenant is NOT).

Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Robin Hobb, Robert Holdstock, Roger Zelazny, and William Gibson.

Clan and Crown: Historical military SF

Clan and Crown by Jerry Pournelle

In this second installment of Jerry Pournelle’s JANISSARIES series, the modern American military unit that was abducted by aliens and deposited on the planet Tran to oversee the harvest of psychedelic drugs for alien drug dealers is still trying to get the planet under control so they can focus on their horticultural task. Though they accomplished a lot in the first book, Janissaries, things have gotten even more complicated (politically) and they make very little progress (at least that we see) with their main goal in Clan and Crown.

Captain Rick Galloway, who is now one of the most powerful people on the planet, wishes he could give up fighting and be a teacher at the newly-formed university, but so far that hasn’t been possible. The same weather pattern changes that are increasing the growth of the psychotropic plant they... Read More

Janissaries: Modern soldiers in ancient Rome on distant planet

Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle

Captain Rick Galloway and the soldiers he commands were surrounded by hostile enemies when the flying saucer arrived and offered them a way out of certain death. They had to take it. Now they’re on a planet called Tran where they’re expected to oversee the growth and harvest of a marijuana-like plant which their alien “saviors” collect and distribute on the black market when it ripens every 600 years. A human woman named Gwen has also been dumped on the planet after her boyfriend, who was working for the aliens, talked her into coming aboard the flying saucer.

Tran is not uninhabited. It is home to several ancient civilizations who were also delivered from Earth to Tran each time the harvest was nearing readiness. Galloway and Gwen, reluctant heroes, must somehow lead the locals to fulfill the aliens’ demands, or they risk being eradicated. This involves gaining power, allying with local go... Read More

The Secret of the Key: Premise is fabulous, execution falls short

The Secret of the Key by Marianne Malone

The Secret of the Key appears to be the final book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventures. This children’s series has been a bit of a disappointment for me and the only reason I have continued with it is that I requested a review copy of the audiobook edition of this final book and so I felt obligated to read it. As I have noted previously, and as Bill and Kelly have mentioned, the premise is fabulous, but the execution falls short.

The stories follow Ruthie and Jack, two sixth graders who find a way to shrink and explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. The two likable kids discover that the... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with... Read More

The Pirate’s Coin: Slight improvement

The Pirate’s Coin by Marianne Malone

The Pirate’s Coin, the third book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS fantasy adventure series for children, is a slight improvement over the first two novels, The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Stealing Magic, which three of us here at FanLit agreed did not meet the potential of Malone’s excellent premise. Readers who haven’t dropped out yet, presumably because they have enjoyed the series so far, should also be pleased with this installment.

Ruthie and Jack just can’t stay away from the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. This time the plot involves two separate threads that (again) take place in the worlds of two of the Thorne Rooms. One involves a classmate that Ruthie and Jack discover is a descendant of... Read More

Tendeleo’s Story: A companion to McDonald’s CHAGA novels

Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald

Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.

Tendeleo’s Story does n... Read More

Acceptance: Returns to Area X

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Jeff VanderMeer’s first two books in his SOUTHERN REACH series, Annihilation and Authority, end up on my top ten list for the year, so it was with great excitement and high expectations that I opened up Acceptance, the third and final book of the trilogy. Having finished, I can’t honestly say those expectations were wholly met, though my lack of satisfaction has less to do with any real complaints about the novel itself and more about the question I had at the end, which was, if it was still a good novel, was it a necessary one? Thinking about it a day later, I’m still not sure about the answer to that.

While I’m going to try as much as possible to avoid spoilers for Acceptance (which admittedly may make this ... Read More

Lock In: An enthralling novel of big ideas

Lock In by John Scalzi

In Lock In, Haden’s syndrome has created millions of people who are conscious and alert, but have no voluntary control of their bodies; they are, effectively, “locked in” to themselves. Government funded technology has developed ways to assist these, who are called “Hadens,” to function; both in a non-physical information-world called the Agora, and by using sophisticated Personal Transports or android bodies called “threeps.” (You might be able to figure out where that name comes from if you remember a certain gold-colored android from a popular trilogy of movies a few decades ago.) Chris Shane is a Haden, one of the two most famous Hadens in America, and a freshly-minted FBI agent. On the second day on the job, Chris and acerbic partner Leslie Vann take jurisdiction of a baffling case that involves a dead mystery man and an Integrator, a human who can let Hadens “ride” in his b... Read More

A Wonderlandiful World: A great series for preteen girls

A Wonderlandiful World by Shannon Hale

In A Wonderlandiful World, Shannon Hale’s story about the teenage children of famous fairytale characters shifts focus from the conflict between the Royals and the Rebels about their “happily ever after” destiny to the problems caused by one of the students’ previous misadventures. They had accidentally let the Jabberwock (from Wonderland) loose into their world. The Jabberwock is not happy about not being in Wonderland anymore, so he’s making life miserable for the students and faculty of Ever After High by making all the magic go wrong. Some of the students are turning into objects. The breakfast porridge is demanding hugs. Even the narrator goes all squonky and Maddie has to take over for her.

Three characters set out to fix the trouble and restore order (if you can call it order): Lizzie Heart (daughter of Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts) who is armed wi... Read More

Stealing Magic: Full of unmet potential

Stealing Magic by Marianne Malone

Stealing Magic is the second book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventure series for middle grade readers. When Bill and Kelly wrote about The Sixty-Eight Rooms, the first book in this series, four years ago, I was intrigued by the fascinating premise — two 6th grade kids find a way to explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago and discover that they can use the rooms to get into the world of the time period the rooms depict. This sounded wonderful to me, but Bill and Kelly were disappointed because there was too little time spent actually exploring the fantasy worlds (which would be the ... Read More

Kirinya: I didn’t get what I wanted out of it

Kirinya by Ian McDonald

After recently enjoying Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore, the first book in his CHAGA series, I was eager to proceed with book two, Kirinya. I wanted to know where McDonald was going with the fascinating ideas he presented in that first novel. What is the goal of the Chaga, the alien evolution machine that has landed on Earth in the form of a ground-covering jungle that changes the landscape and its human inhabitants as it slowly progresses across equatorial regions? What is in the BDO (Big Dumb Object) that came from Saturn and hovers in Earth’s orbit? How will our world’s societies and cultures be affected by these otherworldly intrusions?

As Kirinya begins we learn that Gaby, the famous feisty Irish journalist, has had Shepherd’s baby. Because their daughter Serena was affected by the Chaga, Gaby and ... Read More

A Fall of Princes: So much drama!

A Fall of Princes by Judith Tarr

In this third novel of Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN RISING trilogy (which probably could stand alone), it’s been 15 years since the events of the previous book, The Lady of Han-Gilen. Mirain and Elian now have a teenage son named Saraven who is heir to the throne of his country. One day Saraven saves the life of Hirel, the son of the king of a neighboring kingdom. At first they have nothing in common and even despise each other, but after enduring a series of accidental adventures which include being captured and escaping a few times, the boys eventually overcome their prejudices and become friends. When they make several unsuccessful attempts to stop their fathers from destroying each others’ kingdoms, they end up resorting to a bizarre solution that shocks everybody (including me). As young leaders, they make a sacrifice to save their people, but the path they choose tu... Read More

The Lady of Han-Gilen: Great audio performance, boring story

The Lady of Han-Gilen by Judith Tarr

The Lady of Han-Gilen is the second novel in Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN saga. In the first book, The Hall of the Mountain King, we met Mirain, supposedly the son of the sun god Avaryan and a human princess. Mirain appeared in Ianon, where his grandfather rules, became his heir, and fought for control of the kingdom. The story wasn’t particularly original, but I enjoyed Tarr’s style and Jonathan Davis’s audio performance.

This second installment, which can stand alone fairly well, takes place several  years later and focuses on a new character: Princess Elian of Han-Gilen, foster sister of Mirain. Red-haired and independently-minded, Elian has left a trail of spurned suitors in her wake, but now she’s getting older and feeling the pressure to marry. When she finally meets a man who is good enough to match her in wits and ... Read More

Evolution’s Shore: Fascinating SF with African setting

Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald

In several equatorial regions of the earth, an alien plant has been growing. The “Chaga,” as it is called, came from outer space and destroys anything manmade that comes near it. Scientists are worried about what it might do to humans. They have not been able to kill it and it is advancing slowly but steadily each day, changing the landscape and covering villages and cities as it progresses. Not only are people’s lives being disrupted as they have to flee their homes and become refugees, but they’re also worried about what the Chaga is doing here in the first place. Is it benign? Is there an intelligence behind it? Is it a precursor to an alien invasion? Nobody knows.

The mystery of the Chaga and its effect on humanity have inspired Gaby McAslin, a feisty red-headed green-eyed Irish woman, to become a journalist so she can go to Nairobi and try to figure out what the Chaga is doing as it... Read More

Warlord: Satisfying resolution (but not the end of the story)

Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Warlord is the last book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy and part of her HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. Like its predecessors, Wolfblade and Warrior, it’s a huge sprawling epic (26 hours on audio). The story starts immediately after the tragic events of Warrior (which you really must read first). Marla is still the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, but she has taken a major hit and, in some ways, feels alone, despite her large family.

Hablet, the Fardohnian king, is planning to take advantage of Hythria’s weakness while the country is recovering from a plague and while their high prince, Lernen, a useless wastrel, is still ruling. Hablet is massing his army for an invasion and hoping that... Read More

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