Hoffman, Nina Kiriki 1955–

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Hoffman, Nina Kiriki 1955–


Born March 20, 1955, in San Gabriel, CA; daughter of Gene Knudsen (a writer and peaceworker) and Hallock Brown Hoffman (an educator). Education: Santa Barbara City College, A.A., 1977; University of Idaho, B.A., 1980.


Agent—Matthew Bialer, Trident Media Group LLC, Carnegie Hall Tower, 152 W. 57th St., 16th Fl., New York, NY 10019.


Writer. Worked previously as a bookseller at B. Dalton bookstore, doing production work for the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and teaching classes at community college.


Phi Beta Kappa.


Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, 1994, for The Thread That Binds the Bones.



Legacy of Fire (short stories), Pulphouse (Eugene, OR), 1990.

Courting Disasters, and Other Strange Affinities: Short Stories, Wildside Press (Newark, NJ), 1991.

(With Tad Williams) Child of an Ancient City, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.

Unmasking, Axolotl Press (Eugene, OR), 1992.

The Thread That Binds the Bones, Avon (New York, NY), 1993.

The Silent Strength of Stones, Avon (New York, NY), 1995.

Body Switchers from Outer Space ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 14), Minstrel Books (New York, NY), 1996.

Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 23), Minstrel Books (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith) Echoes ("Star Trek Voyager" series, number 15), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1998.

(With R.L. Stine) I Was a Sixth-Grade Zombie ("Ghosts of Fear Street" series, number 30), Golden Books (New York, NY), 1998.

A Red Heart of Memories, Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 1999.

Past the Size of Dreaming, Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 2000.

A Fistful of Sky, Ace Books (New York, NY), 2002.

A Stir of Bones, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.

Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors: Fiction, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2003.

Spirits That Walk in Shadow, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.

Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact, Tachyon Publications (San Francisco, CA), 2006.

Contributor to anthologies, including The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection, 1996, Alien Pets, 1998, Twice upon a Time, 1999, Graven Images, 2000, Past Imperfect, and Redshift: Extreme Visions of Speculative Fiction; contributor of short stories to magazines and journals, including Amazing Stories and Weird Tales.


In a review in Science Fiction Chronicle of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's first work, the short story collection Legacy of Fire, Don D'Ammassa called Hoff- man "one of the best new writers" in the science fiction field. Hoffman's second book, Courting Disasters, is a collection of nineteen stories reprinted from periodicals such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, along with one original addition.

Hoffman's Child of an Ancient City, which she cowrote with Tad Williams, is a fantasy about a group of lost soldiers who are challenged to a story-telling contest by a vampire who offers to free the man who tells the saddest story. The stories, which are contained in the last part of the book, feature black and white reproductions by fantasy artist Greg Hildebrandt. Sally Estes wrote in Booklist that Child of an Ancient City is "a colorful variation on the Arabian Nights theme" and "a haunting fantasy."

The novella Unmasking takes place in the small town of Linden, where residents confront painful, repressed memories that return after a scientist adds an enzyme that releases those buried memories into the local water supply. The central character in Hoffman's novel is Matilda "Matt" Blackaver, a homeless woman with psychic powers who talks to her cardboard-box home, as well as to houses, cars, and doors. Most of the people of Linden cannot cope with the return of their psychic pasts; revenge, suicide, and other failed attempts to come to terms with the past, figure heavily in the plot. Tom Easton in Analog Science Fiction and Fact called Unmasking "a beautifully executed story," and added that the novel is "very enjoyable, a pleasure to read." Reviewer Edward Bryant wrote in Locus that Unmasking "is cut from a bolt of classic science fiction fabric … what a perfect therapeutic metaphor for the me decade. … what a direct line to personal honesty. … what a nightmare." Bryant compared Unmasking to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and wrote of the way in which Hoffman's voice draws the reader into the story. The critic called Unmasking "first-rate story-telling … Hoffman tosses off fascinating sparks that ought to be fanned into flames." Hoffman "is one of the genuinely distinctive voices in contemporary fantasy," praised Bryant. Science Fiction Chronicle contributor Don D'Ammassa called Unmasking "very strange and disturbing."

Hoffman's The Thread That Binds the Bones is the tale of Tom Renfield, a janitor with magical powers who uses his gifts to prevent the suicides of two youths in Portland. Tom avoids the ensuing publicity by taking a job driving a taxi in the small town of Arcadia. Here he meets Laura Bolte of the centuries-old Bolte, Locks, Seales, and Keyes families. They marry and the plot unfolds. D'Ammassa in Science Fiction Chronicle called the story "a delightfully unusual fantasy that … keeps you guessing right to the end." Bryant noted in a Locus review of the work that "Hoffman staffs her novel with a cast that would do Dickens proud, in terms both of number and of character traits," and maintained that protagonist Renfield has the "reader appeal of the Anastasia figure." Bryant compared the novel's magic to sequences of Fantasia but noted that after the fast-paced beginning, the momentum of the plot "starts to vanish like fairy dust." Hoffman "beguiles the reader by means of magic," Bryant continued, adding: "It's a spell I suspect few will regret falling under."

Hoffman's writings for the young adult audience include work in novelist R.L. Stine's universe in the "Ghosts of Fear Street" series, as well as contributions to the "Star Trek Voyager" novel collection. She returned to writing fantasy novels in 1999 with A Red Heart of Memories, a work that revives Matt from the Unmasking novella. Matt possesses "dream-eyes" which allow her to "see" what others are thinking, and she can also communicate with objects. She meets two fellow wanderers, Edmund Reynolds and his friend, Susan Backstrom. The three friends embark on a journey to learn how to deal with the hidden pieces of their pasts. The plot reveals that each of their gifts was the result of trauma. "Hoffman handles the interconnected solutions to the trio's problems with skill, as each solution leads subtly to greater understanding and compassion," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while Library Journal contributor Jackie Cassada commended the author's "graceful storytelling and down-to-earth magic."

Hoffman updates the Matt Black story in Past the Size of Dreaming. Again, Matt teams with Edmund, but a number of new characters join the cast, such as Julio, who was abducted by a wizard as a child. The group moves into a haunted house that has a personality of its own, and there they practice spells in an effort to fight the darkness within themselves. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly described the book's premise as "a fuzzy concern with spiritual union with all the universe." Cassada, writing in Library Journal, once again gave positive praise to Hoffman's style, observing that her "sensuous prose and gentle humor add a graceful charm" to the story. Booklist contributor Roberta Johnson found the characters "so vivid and likable that this is surely a lasting addition to the urban fantasy canon," and also commended the author's "beautifully precise writing."

A Fistful of Sky takes place in a contemporary Los Angeles in which magic exists, even if it is not quite believed. The story focuses on a family of spell casters, of which Gypsum is the middle child. Her siblings all come into their magic over the course of the story, an event that traditionally occurs to members of her family during adolescence, but Gypsum fails to mature in this manner until quite late, at which point her transition is difficult and results in unexpected power. A reviewer for Eyrie.org labeled the book "an occasionally silly young adult novel, the sort of story that attracts labels like ‘heart-warming,’" and went on to add: "It's well-done if you take it on its own terms, but if you're looking for something powerful, deep, or complex, I'd save this for another mood." A contributor for Publishers Weekly opined that "the lyrical writing flows at a perfect pace and is as engaging as the characters."

In A Stir of Bones, Hoffman offers readers a prequel to her earlier book, A Red Heart of Memories, including earlier characters, and focusing on Susan, who many years later will rename herself Suki. The book describes Susan's struggles as she attempts to be the perfect teenager in keeping with her father's wishes, and her gradually developing friendships with Edmund, Deirdre, and Julio. The friends use a haunted house as their meeting place, and first discover the ghost, Nathan, who figures in the later books. John Peters, writing for Booklist, praised the book for its "evocative language, and suspenseful storytelling." Charles de Lint, in a review for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, remarked that "a new novel by Hoffman is always a treat," then went on to add: "This is a wonderful book—not so much a coming-of-age story as a daring-to-be-one's-self story. And even with its dark underpinnings, it's chockful of magic and delight." De Lint concluded that "Hoffman shines a light into the darkness and finds treasures there as well as deeper shadows."

Spirits That Walk in Shadow tells the story of Jaimie, a young girl with magical abilities who sets out from her insular community to experience the real world, only to be dismayed when she is assigned a human roommate in her college dormitory. Her opinion changes, however, once her roommate, Kim, begins to show signs of being manipulated by a dark being that appears to have possessed her. Holly Koelling, in a review for Booklist, remarked that the volume "labors to convince readers that much is at stake, and it lacks intensity and literary polish of Hoffman's earlier works," but ultimately concluded it is an appealing novel. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book "tight and exciting, with lots of suspense and misdirection." Emily Rodriguez, writing for School Library Journal, concluded that "with its quirky tone and colorful imagery, this novel has more spirit than shadow." Kliatt contributor Cara Chancellor wrote: "This novel is an enchanting read that is impossible to put down."

Hoffman's next novel, Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact, is a very different book from her previous efforts, shifting away from the world of witches and ghosts and into that of life on other planets. The book is set in the future on a recently discovered planet where a young boy named Kaslin has discovered a cave containing an alien being while running from a girl called Histly. The two are both trapped and altered by their encounter, and forced to rely on each other in order to survive, but each has a very different reaction to the aliens, and their individual temperaments appear to cause varying reactions from the aliens as well. Michael Jones, in a contribution for the Green Man Review Web site, dubbed Hoffman's effort "a sensual story of tactile discovery, adolescent exploration, and alien communication," adding that "underneath the surface, the story teems with sexuality, texture, growth, change, and discovery." Booklist contributor Ray Olson felt that "Kaslin—and Histly, for that matter—are vibrant creations, their psychology utterly credible for smart adolescents."



Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.


Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September, 1993, Tom Easton, review of Unmasking, pp. 160-168.

Booklist, December 1, 1992, Sally Estes, review of Child of an Ancient City, p. 662; March 15, 2001, Roberta Johnson, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 1360; October 1, 2003, John Peters, review of A Stir of Bones, p. 310; September 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact, p. 33; November 1, 2006, Holly Koelling, review of Spirits That Walk in Shadow, p. 42.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2001, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 224; October 1, 2006, review of Spirits That Walk in Shadow, p. 1015.

Kliatt, November, 2006, Cara Chancellor, review of Spirits That Walk in Shadow, p. 11.

Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of A Red Heart of Memories, p. 110; March 15, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 110.

Locus, February, 1993, Edward Bryant, review of Unmasking, pp. 23, 54; June, 1993, Edward Bryant, review of The Thread That Binds the Bones, pp. 23, 53; February, 1994, Edward Bryant, review of The Thread That Binds the Bones, pp. 39, 75.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September, 2003, Charles de Lint, review of A Stir of Bones, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1999, review of A Red Heart of Memories, p. 79; January 29, 2001, review of Past the Size of Dreaming, p. 70; October 14, 2002, review of A Fistful of Sky, p. 69.

School Library Journal, January, 1993, Cathryn A. Camper, review of Child of an Ancient City, p. 134; January, 2007, Emily Rodriguez, review of Spirits That Walk in Shadow, p. 129.

Science Fiction Chronicle, April, 1991, Don D'Ammassa, review of Legacy of Fire, p. 30; April, 1993, Don D'Ammassa, review of Unmasking, p. 31; July, 1993, Don D'Ammassa, review of The Thread That Binds the Bones, p. 32.

Wilson Library Bulletin, October, 1993, Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Child of an Ancient City, p. 124.


Eyrie.org,http://www.eyrie.org/ (December 20, 2005), review of A Fistful of Sky.

Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (June 30, 2007), Michael Jones, review of Catalyst.

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