If you love your science fiction served up with a fresh scoop of snark and silly, you can do no better than Michigan-based author Jim C. Hines' latest novel, Terminal Alliance: Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse.
Hines is well known for his distinctive voice in speculative fiction and this first book in a new trilogy is the perfect jumping on point for readers new and old. With hilarious hints of Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and Firefly, Terminal Alliance follows the misadventures of Marion "Mops" Adamopoulos and her crazy custodian crew of janitors and plumbers as they attempt to save the universe aboard the EMCS Pufferfish after an alien attack leaves them as the sole non-zombie survivors.
The Hugo Award-winning writer has a fiercely loyal fan base with his fantasy novels, especially the acclaimed Magic Ex Libris, Princess, and Goblin Quest series. Terminal Alliance balances space opera action with a healthy dose of bathroom humor to create a thoroughly enjoyable beginning to what hopefully is another admirable effort by Hines.
Here's the official synopsis:
The Krakau came to Earth to invite humanity into a growing alliance of sentient species. However, they happened to arrive after a mutated plague wiped out half the planet, turned the rest into shambling, near-unstoppable animals, and basically destroyed human civilization. You know—your standard apocalypse.
The Krakau’s first impulse was to turn around and go home. (After all, it’s hard to have diplomatic relations with mindless savages who eat your diplomats.) Their second impulse was to try to fix us. Now, a century later, human beings might not be what they once were, but at least they’re no longer trying to eat everyone. Mostly.
Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is surprisingly bright (for a human). As a Lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps Ship Pufferfish, she’s in charge of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team. When a bioweapon attack wipes out the Krakau command crew and reverts the rest of the humans to their feral state, only Mops and her team are left with their minds intact.
Escaping the attacking aliens—not to mention her shambling crewmates—is only the beginning. Sure, Mops and her team of space janitors and plumbers can clean the ship as well as anyone, but flying the damn thing is another matter.
As they struggle to keep the Pufferfish functioning and find a cure for their crew, they stumble onto a conspiracy that could threaten the entire alliance… a conspiracy born from the truth of what happened on Earth all those years ago.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Hines about his amusing new military science fiction book and its iconoclastic origins, how the kooky crew of unlikely galactic heroes formed, and what readers can anticipate riding aboard the Earth Mercenary Corps' Pufferfish.
Can you take us on a brief tour of the story for Terminal Alliance?
Jim Hines: Well the short, short version of the plot in a very small nutshell is that you've got your standard starship crew out there exploring space and doing starship stuff. Bad aliens come along, most of the crew is incapacitated, all except for the janitorial crew, who were busy cleaning up the toxic mess so they were all suited up and unaffected. So now this crew of janitors and one alien computer tech have to figure out how to fly the ship, fight the battles, and investigate this big attack and conspiracy. And while they're very good janitors, they're not very good at all the rest of it.
There's a freshness and a familiarity about the book. How did you balance those two elements while you were writing it?
JH: It wasn't a conscious sort of thing where I thought I need to make this fresh but I also need to have touchstones so that people can identify. I like to play with genre tropes, play with assumptions, and sort of think, hey, let's take this genre and turn things upside down or look at it from a different angle. We're still dealing with something familiar, in this case space opera, Star Wars, Star Trek, but then looking at it from a perspective we haven't seen very often.
How was this a departure for you in tone and style from fantasy novels like the Magic Ex Libris series?
JH: Well it's the first time I've ever done a science fiction novel. I've got twelve fantasy books out and I told myself to try something different. Which always sounds so good in theory and then you sit down to do it. In terms of tone, I wanted to write something fun. I wanted to write something humorous. Especially the way the world has been the past year or two. We need some laughs. So it's a little lighter than the Magic Ex Libris series and probably closer in tone to the Goblin books I wrote when I was just beginning. It's definitely still a Jim Hines Book. My father was describing it the other day as having a level of snarky humor to it, and I think that tends to run through a lot of what I write.
Terminal Alliance has killer cover art and is one of the year's best. What was your reaction upon first seeing it?
JH: I love it. The artist is Dan Dos Santos and I think he did an amazing job. Not only in capturing these characters but also capturing the feel of the book and conveying that it's not too serious. And underlying the feeling that there's still a sense of hope and, if I did my job right, when you read this you'll come away feeling happier about the world. All of that is right there in the cover. Plus, the yellow worm guy, Grom, when I was writing that character I had a vague sense of what he looked like and I was writing down the description and got all of the details but I'm not always a very visual person. It wasn't until i saw Dan's cover art that I thought, oh, that's Grom! He's adorable. I love him. The cover is cheerful, despite explosions, it's happy explosions.
It seems you had a load of fun writing this new novel. Was it easier or more difficult to write than your last?
JH: Oh, definitely harder. I did have a lot of fun with it but in some ways each book has gotten a little harder. And I think that's part of the learning and growth curve. When you're writing your first book you don't know any better. By the time you get to book thirteen, you've learned so many things that can go wrong and so many things to keep in mind, that for me, it has slowed me down a great deal. I think the books are better for it, but it is definitely a harder process, combined with the fact that this was the first science fiction book I had done. In the past all of these fantasy books required a lot of world-building, but not only was I doing more world-building now, I was doing it for seven different worlds. Looking back, I had a lot of fun with it and it was very rewarding. I loved coming up with some of these alien races and some of the different personalities.
Where does your sly, slightly-twisted sense of humor come from?
JH: Probably from my family. Anybody who has met my parents or met my brother and picks up one of my books is going to to say, "Oh, yeah, this is a Hines." Growing up, humor was one of the ways I coped with the world, to laugh and try to cheer myself up but to also connect with people, because if you can make somebody laugh, you've got a bond there.
There are echoes of things like Men in Black, Firefly, Galaxy Quest, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Doctor Who linked into the book. Why do you think this blend of science fiction and sophisticated humor works so well?
JH: I think because it's one piece of the whole that reminds us to not always take ourselves too seriously. There's absolutely nothing wrong with very serious, grim, dark stories but we need balance. We need to take that break and see the lighter side of things too. It's a way to help keep us balanced. A way to help keep us safe.
What types of entertainment offerings do you draw from to stay inspired?
JH: It depends on what I'm in the mood for. I liked Stranger Things a great deal and I loved the storytelling and the characters. I had a lot of fun at Thor: Ragnarok. It was not the deepest story in the world but it was fun and colorful and the actors were obviously having a blast with this. We've been reading to my son lately the book, The Princess Bride, and I love it. I love all the tangents that Goldman goes off on, all the humorous asides, all of the layers to it.
What's next for Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse and what other projects can we look forward to going into 2018?
JH: In January I have a novelette coming out called Imprinted that continues the Magic Ex Libris story. For Janitors, I've signed a contract for three books in the series. Book Two is called Terminal Uprising and I've got the first draft done. It's more of Mops, more of her team, and unless things drastically change in revisions, Book Two will see them coming back to Earth, which should be very interesting.