Having established a reputation as one of the leading authors of humorous fantasy with series like Jig the Goblin and Magic Ex Libris, Jim C. Hines makes his first foray into science fiction. Terminal Alliance, book one of the new Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series, is a blend of space opera, military SF, spoof and zombie fiction.
In the early twenty-second century, human civilization abruptly ends with a self-inflicted plague unleashed by a scientist. The virus turns the entire human race into shambling feral monsters (essentially zombies). Fifty years later, the Krakau, an octopus-like alien species, arrive looking to make contact with the sentient species on Earth only to find that they are no longer sentient. Rather than move on, the Krakau work on a cure. They eventually develop a process that restores sentience to feral humans, though maybe not at the same intelligence level they had once attained.
“Awakened” humans, now numbering some ten thousand, retain their feral toughness, making them difficult to kill and perfect mercenaries for the Krakau Alliance. Most of the awakened humans fill the role of infantry in the Earth Mercenary Corps.
Lieutenant Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos, however, did not qualify for infantry. Instead, she serves as commander of the Corps’ Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team on the EMCS Pufferfish. Together, with her crew of not-fit-for-combat janitors, she expertly keeps the ship in tip-top shape fighting clogs and bacteria.
That is until the Pufferfish responds to a distress call from an alliance freighter seized by enemy Prodryans. EMC soldiers retake the ship, unaware that the Prodryan’s real mission was to infect the human troops with a new bio-weapon that reverts humans to their feral state. The contagion quickly spreads and soon all Krakau officers on the Pufferfish are dead and all the humans are feral, except for Mops and her crew who happened to be wearing bio-hazard suits while cleaning up a particularly nasty alien mess when the outbreak occurred.
Mops now finds herself the commanding officer of a space cruiser with a staff of three human janitors and one alien technician whose chief skill seems to be playing video games. First, they must survive the feral humans to reach the bridge. Then they must win the space battle in progress without having any idea of how to control the ship or weapons. And then they must solve the mysterious source of the bio-weapon if they are to have any chance of saving their feral crewmates.
Terminal Alliance works both as amusing comedy and as rousing military SF, and I recommend it to fans of either. Having janitors as heroes not only works as a comedic premise, but Mops and her crew make for perfect underdogs. Considered too stupid to succeed, they must use their tenacity, their underestimated intelligence, and their knowledge of sanitation and maintenance to outsmart a host of alien adversaries.
Fans of Hines’ fantasy novels may be wondering if they will enjoy the switch to SF, particularly if they are not normally partial to it. To that, I would answer probably. Nobody is going to confuse Terminal Alliance with hard SF. Technical jargon is limited and the science is closer to Star Wars than Ringworld. Ultimately, what fans of his fantasy novels will be attracted to is Hines’ usual style and humor. They will recognize the voice and enjoy the characters.
Terminal Alliance will be available next week in hardcover and digital formats from DAW Books. Mr. Hines is currently at work on the next book in the series, Terminal Uprising.