Humor. It is a difficult concept.
– Saavik, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
By JJ: A couple of centuries ago, a plague destroyed the human race as it existed on Earth, turning them into mindless, carnivorous zombies and destroying their civilization. They – or at least a small number of them – were saved by one of the galaxy’s alien races, which cured the feral condition of a few thousand of them, and gave them back at least some semblance of sentience. Now grateful humans serve their alien saviors on their starships and space stations, as throwaway infantry soldiers and in menial maintenance and housekeeping roles.
This might sound like the synopsis for a grimdark science fiction series – and certainly the series has its grim moments – but it’s actually the premise for the humorous Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series by Jim C. Hines.
I’d like to head off the inevitable comparisons to Douglas Adams right here. Certainly this series has a bit of the whimsy and absurdism of which the Hitchhiker series is constructed – but it’s got plenty of grist for more serious thought, as well. And I have to say that while the humorous gimmick of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy got old
and tedious really, really fast for me, the first book in this series amused and amazed me, and left me wanting more. The second book of the trilogy has now arrived, and it did not disappoint.
When a bioweapon attack from another race of aliens wipes out the alien crew of their own spaceship, the team leader of the human janitorial staff must try to learn how to run the ship and save their benefactor race from further attack. But of course, nothing is as simple as it seems at first.
With their historical records pretty much eradicated in the fall of of their civilization, the uplifted humans have had to rely on what they are told about their species’ past by their alien rescuers – who, it turns out, are pretty damned unreliable narrators.
I adore the protagonist of this series, Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos, for many of the same reasons I adore the characters in books by Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher: she’s practical and pragmatic and does not suffer from idealistic delusions, but she refuses to be defeated by her circumstances, and her pragmatism is leavened with humor and with hope.
This series manages to provoke thought about what it means to be human, what constitutes really living versus merely existing, the tragedy of failing to accept responsibility and make amends for mistakes, the danger of blaming – and punishing – entire races for the evil actions of only some of their members, whether the ends can sometimes justify the means, and the question of whether it’s ever really possible to accept and move on (and maybe even forgive) after being on the receiving end of a catastrophic, grievous wrong.
And in these novels, just as in real life, the beings on the receiving end of the wrongs can sometimes be the ones who are also committing transgressions. These are not stories of cut-and-dried heroes and villains, but of well-developed, complex and flawed beings with understandable motivations – wrapped up in a mystery and delivered with both pathos and levity.
I really enjoyed these books. They employ some great humor, have some imaginative alien races, and explore the role of support staff (which is largely ignored in most science fiction and fantasy) in the context of some serious themes – while managing, in my opinion, to avoid the annoying “tryhard” humor which characterizes so many of the SFF books which are intended to be amusing. I loved the major role played by librarians, and I especially enjoyed the character which is an ongoing meta-reference to a notorious late 20th-century villain. I’m really looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Terminal Peace.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)
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.
Human civilization didn’t just fall. It was pushed.
The Krakau came to Earth in the year 2104. By 2105, humanity had been reduced to shambling, feral monsters. In the Krakau’s defense, it was an accident, and a century later, they did come back and try to fix us. Sort of.
It’s been four months since Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos learned the truth of that accident. Four months since she and her team of hygiene and sanitation specialists stole the EMCS Pufferfish and stopped a bioterrorism attack against the Krakau homeworld. Four months since she set out to find proof of what really happened on Earth all those years ago.
Between trying to protect their secrets and fighting the xenocidal Prodryans, who’ve been escalating their war against everyone who isn’t Prodryan, the Krakau have their tentacles full.
Mops’ mission changes when she learns of a secret Krakau laboratory on Earth. A small group under command of Fleet Admiral Belle-Bonne Sage is working to create a new weapon, one that could bring victory over the Prodryans… or drown the galaxy in chaos.
To discover the truth, Mops and her rogue cleaning crew will have to do the one thing she fears most: return to Earth, a world overrun by feral apes, wild dogs, savage humans, and worse. (After all, the planet hasn’t been cleaned in a century and a half!) What Mops finds in the filthy ruins of humanity could change everything, assuming she survives long enough to share it.
Perhaps humanity isn’t as dead as the galaxy thought.
Magic Ex Libris
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic.
Fiction available to read for free online
- “Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy” at Podcastle
- “The Creature in Your Neighborhood” at Apex Magazine
- “How Isaac Met Smudge” at Literary Escapism
- “Gift of the Kites” at Clarkesworld
- “Original Gangster” at Fantasy Magazine
- “Goblin Lullaby” (audio) at PodCastle
- “Spell of the Sparrow” (audio) at PodCastle
Jim C. Hines
Jim C. Hines’ first novel was Goblin Quest, the tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After completing the goblin trilogy, Jim went on to write the princess series, four books often described as a blend of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with Charlie’s Angels. He’s also the author of the Magic ex Libris books, which follow the adventures of a magic-wielding librarian from northern Michigan, as well as the Fable: Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes.
Hines has written more than fifty published short stories. His first professional story sale was the award-winning “Blade of the Bunny,” published way back in 1999.
Hines is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012.
He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English. He lives with his wife and two children, who have always shown remarkable tolerance for his bizarre and obsessive writing habits. (The cats, on the other hand, have no tolerance
whatsoever, and routinely walk across his desk when he’s trying to work.)