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.

Machine: Should have been more exciting

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Dr. Jens and her alien colleagues rescue spaceships that are in trouble. After answering a distress call, they discover an old ship in which all of the human crewmembers are in cryogenic storage. Their only caretaker is an oddly sexy robot who was given instructions to build the cryogenic storage containers for the crew long ago.

When Dr. Jens and her colleagues get back to their own ship and get ready to thaw out some of the frozen humans, they discover that their own trusty shipmind, Sally, is starting to forget things. They begin to suspect a rogue artificial intelligence might be responsible for what’s been happening on both of the ships.

When Dr. Jens is asked to figure out what’s going on, she begins to unravel a strange mystery and discovers that the benevolent organization she works with, and some of her beloved colleagues, may not be quite as wonderful as she thought. As we tag... Read More

Victory on Janus: A weak ending

Victory on Janus by Andre Norton

Victory on Janus (1966) is the sequel to Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janus (1963). The two novels make up the JANUS duology (Baen, 2002) which has recently been published by Tantor Media as an audiobook (2021). Gabriel Vaughan, the narrator, gives an excellent performance.

In Judgment on Janus, we met Naill Renfro, who was an indentured servant on the frontier planet of Janus. After touching a forbidden “treasure,” he turned into one of the green-skinned people who used to live and thrive on Janus. This ancient race no longer exists, it seems, but humans who find the treasures become changelings who, like Naill, are equipped with some he... Read More

Judgment on Janus: A good introduction to classic SF for an MG or YA audience

Judgment on Janus by Andre Norton

Naill Renfro lives in The Dipple, a ghetto on the pleasure planet of Korwar (same setting as in Catseye). He and his mother arrived there years ago as refugees when their home was destroyed by a space war. Now his mother is dying and she’s in a lot of pain and anguish. To purchase a final gift and a peaceful death for his mother, Naill sells himself into indentured servitude on a frontier planet called Janus.

When Naill arrives on Janus, he is put to work in the fields where the citizens seem to be battling the forest. They are chopping down trees as fast as they can.

Naill and the other servants are warned not to touch any artifacts they find as they work. These items are called “treasures” and they’re destroyed as soon as they’re found because they’re cursed. According to the ove... Read More

Quest Crosstime: A slightly sloppy story with some prescient ideas

Quest Crosstime by Andre Norton

Quest Crosstime (1965) is Andre Norton’s second and final story about Blake Walker, a man who has the precognitive ability to sense when he’s in danger. Quest Crosstime is combined with The Crossroads of Time (1956), the first novel about Blake Walker, in the Crosstime omnibus which was published by Baen books in 2008 and has recently been released in an audiobook edition by Tantor Media. Graham Rowat gives a nice retro-sounding performance in Tantor’s audiobook edition which is 12 hours long (for both books).

At the beginning of Quest Crosstime we meet Marfy, a young woman who has just landed on a... Read More

This Virtual Night: An entertaining SF thriller

This Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman

C.S. Friedman’s This Virtual Night (2020) is billed as book two in her OUTWORLDS/ALIEN SHORES series but these novels are, so far, stand-alone stories set in the same universe. Thus, you don’t need to have read the first book, This Alien Shore (1998), though I’d recommend doing so anyway because it was fabulous. All you need to know about Friedman’s world is that, long ago, the humans who left Earth to colonize other galaxies evolved in ways that their fellow humans who remained on Earth find repulsive. There is little communication or cooperation between Earth and the outworld “Variants,” though some people on earth are trying to reconcile the two groups.

... Read More

The Crossroads of Time: Chasing a tyrant across parallel Earths

The Crossroads of Time by Andre Norton

Recently, Tantor Audio has been releasing audiobook editions of many of Andre Norton’s stories which have been combined in omnibus editions originally published by Baen Books. I’ve been reviewing each novel separately because that’s our preference here at Fantasy Literature, but I love that readers can purchase these relatively short novels in cost-effective omnibus editions, and I am especially pleased that these stories are finally available in audiobook format.

Crosstime contains two stories about Blake Walker, an orphan who doesn’t know where he comes from and has an uncanny ability to sense imminent danger. In the first story, The Crossroads of Time, which was originally published in 1956, Blake is shaving when he gets a sudden a... Read More

SHORTS: More Hugo and Locus Award finalists

In this week's SHORTS column we wrap up our reviews of most of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu (2020, free at Uncanny magazine)

One eventually gets the list the titles implies, but first the story opens with an obituary of the list’s author — “WHEEP-3 (‘Dr. Weep’), probably the most renowned AI AI-critic of the last two decades.” The obit explains how WHEEP was created/trained by Dr. Judy Reynolds Tran, the odd and at times controversial relationship between the “strange pair who whose lives were inextricably entwined,” the three phases of WHEEP’s career, culminating in “advice aimed at advanced artificial intelligence,” and fin... Read More

Hench: A hilarious debut

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Anna Tromedlov (try reading that backwards) works at a temp agency that supplies minions to evil villains. Her expertise is in data analysis so, typically, her jobs involve spreadsheets and reports and she gets to work from home. This fits her personality nicely, plus it’s the safest way to work for an evil villain.

When her best friend June encourages her to take an on-site job, Anna agrees that it might be good for her. She is just beginning to add new skills to her resume when there’s a conflict between her boss and a superhero and she gets badly injured by the hero. Irate, she begins calculating the actual cost of superhero encounters. This is a life-changing event that sparks a whole new career for Anna.

I loved Hench (2020), the Locus-nominated debut novel of Natalie Zina Walschots, from the first paragraph. This fast-moving story is amusing, witty,... Read More

War of the Maps: A straightforward story in a fascinating world

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

On an artificially created planet made up of numerous islands, a middle-aged man called the lucidor is stalking his prey. At first, we don’t know much about Remfrey He, the man the lucidor hunts, except that he’s an arrogant and corrupt man who, thanks to the lucidor’s detective work, was convicted and imprisoned years ago. But now he’s been set free because his skills will be helpful in fighting “the invasion,” a war with an unknown enemy which has brought genetically engineered monsters to the realm. These creatures are scary and deadly and Remfrey He says he can help the army defeat them.

But the lucidor believes that Remfrey He is the more terrible monster so, in protest, he has resigned from the department and set out to recapture his enemy. The lucidor’s former colleagues, though, have been ordered to stop the lucidor from interfering. Consequently, the lucidor is both hunter Read More

Beowulf: He was the man!

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

A couple of years ago I read Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife (2018) which was a finalist for the Locus Award in 2019. Set in a wealthy suburb, the story was a promoted as a “modern retelling of Beowulf” and told from the perspectives of the mothers. I admired this novel and was therefore eager to read Headley’s new translation of Beowulf which also happens to be a Locus Award finalist in the Horror category this year.

While The Mere Wife was billed as a “retelling,” Beowulf: A New Translation is, as promised, a new modern translation of the epic poem. In the introduction to the piece, Headley explains her love of the poem (she’s been obsessed with it since seeing an illustration of Grendel... Read More

Race to the Sun: An exciting and educational family story

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Nizhoni Begay wants to be a star, or at least popular. She’s hoping to make the game-winning score at her middle school basketball game but, instead, she’s humiliated when she gets distracted and gets hit in the face by the ball. The reason she was distracted was that she saw a man in the stands watching her. She could tell he was a monster. When that same man shows up at her house for dinner because he’s her dad’s new boss, Nizhoni tries to warn her father that he’s a monster but her father doesn’t believe her and seems very eager to please the monster.

When the new boss tells Nizhoni that she and her little brother Mac have powers he’s interested in, and then kidnaps their dad, it’s up to Nizhoni, Mac, and Nizhoni’s best friend Davery to rescue him.

This sets them on a quest in which they will need to find a map, solve riddles, pass tests, procure special weap... Read More

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: Hilarious and horrifying

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Patricia Campbell and her neighbors are housewives in Charleston, South Carolina. Looking for friendship and something to talk about other than their husbands, children, housekeeping, and other neighbors, they form a book club. True Crime is their genre of choice.

After the ladies read Helter Skelter, Patricia laments that nothing exciting ever happens in their neighborhood:
“But don’t you wish that something exciting would happen around here?” Patricia asked. “Just once?”

Grace raised her eyebrows at Patricia.

“You wish that a gang of unwashed hippies would break into your house and murder your family and write ‘death to pigs’ in human blood on your walls because you don’t want to pack lunches anymore?”

“Well, not when you put it like ... Read More

Legendborn: YMMV

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (2020), the first book in her LEGENDBORN CYCLE, wasn’t on my radar until I saw it on this year’s Locus Awards finalists list for Best Young Adult novel. I grabbed the audiobook and one of the YAs that lives in my house (Tali, my 18-year-old daughter) and we listened to Legendborn together as we worked a jigsaw puzzle. We agreed to give Legendborn a rating of 3.5 which is quite a bit lower than the book currently rates at both Amazon and GoodReads, so keep that in mind (YMMV). The bottom line is that we found the story entertaining and wanted to know what happened, but there were too many issues for us to fully endorse Legendborn.

Bree Matthews is a young black high school student who is smart and successful enough that she gets admitted, along with her bes... Read More

SHORTS: Hugo and Locus Award finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“Wait for Night” by Stephen Graham Jones (2020, free at Tor.com)

Chessup is a day laborer working as part of a crew outside of Boulder, Colorado, helping to clean up a creek that was filled with trash in the aftermath of a flood. At the end of the day, looking to borrow a battery from the crew’s bulldozer to jumpstart his old car, Chessup finds something very old tangled up in the roots of a tree that the bulldozer had pulled down.

With visions of selling his discovery to a pawnbroker for cash, Chessup sets about removing it from the tangle of tree roots. He’s about to leave when his co-worker Burned Dan, who wears a bandanna over his fac... Read More

Cemetery Boys: A heart-warming coming-of-age tale

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel’s Latinx community in East Los Angeles practices brujería. The men are brujos who escort ghosts to their final resting place and the women are brujas who have healing powers. But Yadriel’s large close family has not supported his desire to be a brujo because he is transgender. Their community has strict gender roles, they don’t see him as a boy, and they don’t think the brujo magic will work for him (though the women’s bruja magic definitely doesn’t work for Yadriel).

Yadriel is determined to prove not only that he is a boy, but that he can be a brujo, too. Only his cousin Maritza believes in him and is willing to help Yadriel become a brujo so, together, without the rest of their family, they perform the ceremony. When they accidentally summon the ghost of a handsome boy named Julian, and when another cousin, Miguel, dies unexpectedly, the teens, though grieved, finally ... Read More

The Fall of Koli: Plenty of surprises in this finale

The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey

The Fall of Koli (2021) is the third and final novel in M.R. Carey’s RAMPART trilogy. The first book, The Book of Koli, was one of my favorite books of 2020. In my review I said it has “pretty much everything I want in a novel” – lovable characters, intriguing setting, captivating storytelling, and a great sense of humor.

The second book, The Trials of Koli, was entertaining but definitely felt like a middle book, so I was hoping for a return to form in the final book, The Fall of Koli... Read More

Upright Women Wanted: Subversive roaming librarians in a near-future U.S.A.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

After being betrothed to a man she doesn’t love and watching her secret lover, Beatriz, get hanged for aberrant behavior and possession of unapproved reading materials, Esther decides to run away. So she hides herself in the wagon of the traveling Librarians, the distributors of all approved reading materials, who are passing through her town.

When the stowaway is discovered, Esther attempts to convince the librarians that she always wanted to be one of them but, in reality, she is hoping their good morals and upright behavior will rub off on her so she will no longer feel deviant.

But that’s not going to happen, as Esther soon learns, because there’s a good reason why these women have chosen to remove themselves from regular society and become itinerant librarians. They don’t fit into the conservative, patriarchal social order endorsed by the approved reading materials t... Read More

Riot Baby: A short, intense, emotionally draining novel

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby (2020), a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo Awards for Best Novella, is a mind-expanding story about growing up Black in America. Kevin, the titular “riot baby,” was born in South Central Los Angeles during the riots of 1992 which were sparked by the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King after a traffic stop turned into a high-speed chase.

Before Kevin is born, Onyebuchi sets the scene by introducing Ella, Kev’s big sister. As a child, before the family moves to Harlem, we see Ella witnessing gang activity as she rides the school bus through South Central Los Angeles. On a day when it’s too hot to be inside, we see her watching a woman she calls her grandmother sweep bullet ca... Read More

Star Daughter: A fairly strong debut

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

16-year-old Sheetal seems like any other normal Indian-American teenager. She’s close to her large family, has a best friend and a boyfriend, and she’s looking forward to going to college. What most people don’t know, though, is that her father, a famous astrophysicist, married a star.

Sheetal’s mother left years ago to ascend to her celestial court, and she told Sheetal never to let anybody suspect that she’s half star. To hide this fact, Sheetal dyes her silver hair black, but lately the hair dye has not been taking. Also, recently, as Sheetal approaches her 17th birthday, she has started to hear her mother’s starsong and doesn’t know what that means.

When Sheetal begins to realize she has some special powers and then accidentally causes her father to have a heart attack, she realizes she must visit her mother’s court to find a cure for him. When she arrives in the c... Read More

SHORTS: 2020/21 Awards finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2020 Nebula and 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novella, novelette, and short story categories.

“A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2020, free at Tor.com, originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution)

This is an absolutely delightful story! A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a living by engaging in robot deathmatch and assassination games, is obliged to mentor a chirpy, innocent new robot who is having problems with its life, ranging from “how do I remove illusionary dogs from my optical feed” to dealing with adverse working conditions at a cheap automated café. What begins as a meeting between opposite personalities gradually evolves into an unlikely friendship.
Read More

A Game of Fox & Squirrels: A moving allegory

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

11-year-old Samantha and her big sister have just arrived at their Aunt Vicky’s farm in Oregon. Samantha is not happy that the girls have been taken away from their parents and she wants to go home, even though her dad sometimes has a pretty bad temper. Aunt Vicky and her wife are clearly not prepared to take the girls in, but they do their best to make the sisters feel at home.

Aunt Vicky gives Samantha a game called The Game of Fox & Squirrels and one night, when Samantha is playing with it, the fox from the game visits her room. He’s charming and offers to give Samantha anything she wants if she can find the Golden Acorn. Samantha, who just wants to be back with her family in Los Angeles, is nervous about the challenge, but decides it’s the only way to get out of her current situation.

As Samantha attempts to complete her quest, various dangers arise ... Read More

Raybearer: Deserves its accolades

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Tarisai, who has the magical gift of being able to perceive the memories of objects and people, has always lived a sheltered life in her mother’s large house. She rarely sees her mysterious mother and is taken care of by unfriendly servants and tutors who are rigorously educating her for some unknown task. Lonely, Tarisai longs for companionship, travel, freedom, and a sense of purpose.

When she is 11 years old, without any explanation, Tarisai’s mother sends her to the capital to compete to be one of the crown prince’s 11 counselors. If she is chosen, she will live with the other young counselors and the Prince for the rest of her life, as they rule their country together through a magical bond called the Ray. However, Tarisai’s mother, who wants revenge for something the royal family did to her years ago, has placed a geas on Tarisai -- as soon as Tarisai is sworn in as one of the counselors, s... Read More

Wraiths of time: An American grad student becomes an African princess

Wraiths of time by Andre Norton

Tallahassee (Tally) Mitford, a graduate student who studies archaeology and African history, has been asked to examine some Egyptian artifacts that appear to be very old, important, powerful, and radioactive.

When one of the relics pulls her into a parallel universe, Tally finds herself in Meroë, an ancient Nubian kingdom located on the Nile River. She is completely helpless there with no status and the inability to speak the language. She has no idea how to get back home.

When she’s rescued by some women who are the companions of the recently deceased princess Ashake, she is asked to impersonate the princess and help Queen Candace fend off the attacks of a powerful man who hopes to subjugate these women who just want to rule themselves.

Andre... Read More

Android at Arms: A prince wonders if he’s an android

Android at Arms by Andre Norton

This year Tantor Media has been producing audio editions of the Baen omnibus collections of Andre Norton’s science fiction stories. Gods and Androids (2004 in print, 2021 in audio) contains the two novels Android at Arms (1971) and Wraiths of Time (1975). I am reviewing the novels separately because that’s how they were originally released, and that’s usually been our practice here at Fantasy Literature. Each of these stories stands alone.

In the opening scene of Android at Arms, Andas Kastor comes to consciousness in some sort of automated jail cell on a harsh uninhabited planet. He has no idea how long he’s been there or how long he’s been in a state of delirium. In... Read More

Voorloper: A few humans try to make peace with a hostile planet

Voorloper by Andre Norton

Voorloper (1980) is the last novel collected in The Game of Stars and Comets (2009), Baen’s omnibus of Andre Norton stories. I’ve been reviewing the books individually (because they were originally released as separate novels), but it’s cost-effective and convenient to purchase them in the omnibus edition. Specifically, I’m reviewing Tantor Media’s new audio version of the omnibus, which is excellently narrated by L.J. Ganser.

The first three books in this omnibus are The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Read More

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