I live on military SF set in deep space. You know, the kind where there are massive ships and dramatic space battles, and a small deadly team of space marines or space sailors is caught in the grinder of war and forced to become heroes almost against their will. It’s big and epic, but oh so human. You come to care about the team and then, if you are reading Tanya Huff, almost everyone dies, or if you are reading Jack Campbell, there are intrigues and politics and you get angry on behalf of the characters. Wave that in front of me, and I will download a sample. If there are aliens involved, I’m buying.
Yes, I’m a sucker, leave me alone.
Awhile ago I saw Jim Hines talk about his new book. It was a military SF, set in space, with epic space battles and a small team… you get the picture. I was like, “Ooo, let me google this.” I googled it.
Read the synopsis.
In his hilarious new sci-fi series, Jim C. Hines introduces the unlikely heroes that may just save the galaxy: a crew of space janitors.
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.
So, long story short, I twisted Jim’s arm for an advanced reader copy. The book is damn hilarious. It’s less Tanya Huff and more Phule’s Company in the best possible way. It’s witty and sharp, it sneaks in some social commentary, and it skates just on the right side of the line between clever absurdity and complete chaos. And the sanitation jokes. So many sanitation jokes.
Mops chuckled and approached the only occupied cell. Glowing letters in the wide, glassy door labeled it Cell 6. “Doc, how long until we jump?”
A narrow cot strained to hold Technician Wolfgang Mozart’s bulk. The guards had stripped Wolf of her equipment and harness, leaving her black jumpsuit bare and baggy. A short blue service stripe on her upper right sleeve marked her time in the EMC, just as the two short and one long red Lieutenant stripes on Mops’ denoted her twelve years. Wolf’s sleeves were pushed back to the elbows, exposing the tattoo of an Earth wolf on her left forearm. She flexed her muscles, and the reactive inks animated the wolf’s jowls, making it bare its teeth in challenge.
“I was just doing my job. The Glacidae should be in here, not me. They’re the one who started giving me crap.”
Mops folded her arms and said nothing. Anticipating her next request, Doc pulled up the incident report details on her monocle.
The cot creaked as Wolf sat up and ran thick fingers through her dark, sweat-spiked hair. She looked Mops up and down, probably trying to assess how much trouble she was in. “I mean that literally, you know. I was busting my ass trying to clear a jam in their toilet. The next thing I know, they’re shooting shit-pellets in my direction.”
“That wasn’t excrement. Technician Gromgimsidalgak was expelling unfertilized eggs.”
“Whatever. It was like a machine gun from their ass.”
“I’m sure Grom was as unhappy about it as you were.”
Since the book was tons of fun, and I invited Jim over for a guest blog post. Jim – Book Devouring Horde. BDH – Jim Hines. Enjoy!
Ilona was kind enough to read an advance copy of my book Terminal Alliance, which—by amazing coincidence—comes out this week. She was also kind enough to say, “I loved the book!” and to invite me to do a guest blog post.
I’m tempted to jump right into PLEASE BUY MY BOOK I’VE GOT CATS AND DOGS AND KIDS TO FEED (NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER) mode, but I’ll save that for the end. First, I want to chat about…let’s call it story snobbery.
I don’t mean hating a particular story. Some stories are just bad. (Case in point: almost all of my unpublished work from the mid-90s when I was first learning how to write.) But when you get into dismissing or looking down upon entire genres? That’s messed up.
One week it might be a NYT book columnist dismissing science fiction and fantasy as empty, juvenile nonsense. The next week, we SF/F geeks console ourselves by ripping on those literary writers and their plotless, metaphor-laden wankfests. And it seems like everyone wants to take a shot at romance novels. (Isn’t it odd how romance, one of the most universally sneered-at genres, is also one of the genres most aimed at women? Coincidence, I’m sure…)
I’ve talked before about my development as a writer, how I started out wanting to write “important” stories. To me, that meant serious, literary science fiction and fantasy. I bought right into the story snobbery. I loved SF/F, but I wanted to avoid those “lesser” forms.
I hated trying to be that writer. It wasn’t me. Eventually, I said the heck with it and started writing stories that were more fun, stories about nearsighted goblins and flaming spiders and magic librarians and kick-ass princess and, most recently, space janitors. What I thought of as your basic junk food fiction.
Those were the stories that sold.
It used to be when I talked about my path, that was where I’d end it. I’d discovered my voice, thrown off the yoke of important stories, and built a career. I found happiness in my little ghetto of “bubble-gum fantasy,” as one reviewer put it. I lived happily ever after, eventually hitting the NYT bestseller list and getting those big Hollywood deals and earning enough money to buy Hawaii. (I write fantasy. I’m allowed to dream…)
What took me longer to figure out was that those bubble-gum books mattered too.
I started to understand when a teacher from the west coast emailed me about one of her students who hated reading. He wouldn’t read anything. And one day, she left a copy of Goblin Quest on her desk. He was intrigued. Not only did he end up finishing it, he went on to read the whole trilogy. He wrote a report on the books. Later, he sent me a letter about them.
My book—my book!—was the book he needed. It changed him. That revelation shook me. To quote Keanu, “Whoa…”
In recent years, I’ve seen another type of dismissal: not of a specific genre, but of a story type. “Not another Mary-Sue,” bemoans the long-suffering (usually male) critic, complaining of yet another too-competent girl or woman. “So unbelievable,” he sneers, setting the book aside to watch the latest incarnation of Batman.
Screw that. We need Mary-Sue stories too. We need stories of uber-competent women. And when people complain it’s just blatant wish-fulfilment, so what? Why shouldn’t women be allowed to fulfil their wishes too?
There are no unimportant genres. The world needs romance and fantasy, literature and poetry. We need comics and tie-in work and mystery and thriller. We need densely written epics and one-day comfort reads.
It took me far too long to start breaking down my own prejudices, to recognize the power and importance of stories I’d dismissed in the past.
Never underestimate the impact of story. Maybe it’s a depressed teenager finding escape in a romance novel. Maybe it’s a little kid finding dreams and inspiration in sci-fi. Maybe it’s an old man in hospice finding comfort in the poetic language of literary fiction.
Stories are everything. They shape how we understand the world. They give hope and comfort and joy. They create empathy and compassion. They bring people together in amazing ways.
Even, I hope, stories about space janitors. About Lieutenant Marion Susan Adamopoulos (“Mops”) and her team of utterly unqualified humans having to figure out how to fly the ship when the rest of the crew is incapacitated. (They also have the ship’s Glacidae computer tech, a yellow worm-like creature who spends too much time playing video games on the bridge viewscreen.)
Terminal Alliance isn’t deep literary fiction. It wasn’t meant to be. I wrote it to be fun, to bring a bit of happiness and maybe even hope to people. I wrote because I wanted to challenge certain SF tropes, and I wanted to show Mops overpowering attackers by hotwiring a space station’s sanitation system.
Thanks for reading. And thank you Ilona for loaning me your platform.
Read well. Read widely. And no matter what you read, read unashamedly.
Jim website can be found here: http://www.jimchines.com/
Excerpt of Terminal Alliance can be found here: http://www.jimchines.com/project/janitors/
Buy links for your convenience. Please remember that your mileage may vary, so always try a sample before you buy.