In his comedic sci-fi novel Terminal Alliance — the first novel in his Janitors Of The Post-Apocalypse trilogy — writer Jim C. Hines introduced us to the crew of the Earth Mercenary Corps ship the Pufferfish. And by “crew,” I mean the janitors. In the following email interview, Hines discusses the second book in the series, Terminal Uprising (hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audiobook), how it connects to the first, and his plans for the third and final installment.
For those unfamiliar with this series, what is the Janitors Of The Post-Apocalypse series about and when does it take place?
The first book starts in the year 2251. This is about a hundred and fifty years after a plague wiped out most of humanity. Fortunately, the Krakau came along, discovered what was left of us, and did their best to fix us.
Mops and her team are hygiene and sanitation specialists aboard the Earth Mercenary Corps ship Pufferfish. Long story short, the rest of the crew is incapacitated, and Mops et al. end up having to run the ship, fight hostile aliens, undercover galactic conspiracies, and so on. They don’t know how to do any of this, but their janitorial expertise ends up coming in handy.
And then what is Terminal Uprising about, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to the previous book, Terminal Alliance?
Terminal Uprising is set about four months after the first book. Mops and her team are flying around in the Pufferfish, trying to find more answers to the big conspiracy questions from book one, when they get sidetracked with a mission to Earth. A Krakau admiral has been running some questionable experiments on humans, and our heroes have to put a stop to it.
When did you first come up with the idea for Terminal Uprising, and how, if at all, did the story evolve as you wrote it?
My initial outline for this one had nothing at all to do with Earth. I had the crew heading to an alien planet, doing first contact-type stuff that’s now been shifted over to book three. After playing with plot ideas for a while, I realized it would be much more powerful to have everyone return to Earth, which has become this scary place full of boogeymen.
Pretty much the entire plot, including the discovery of [REDACTED] on Earth, Wolf’s decision to [REDACTED], and the discovery of Admiral Sage’s [REDACTED] all developed as I was writing.
This is not my normal process, which caused me a fair amount of stress, but I’m really pleased with the results.
Terminal Uprising sounds like it’s a comedic sci-fi space opera. Is that how you see it?
This book doesn’t have quite as much of the space opera feel to it as the first book did. There are a couple of space battles in the beginning, but then most of the book takes place on what’s left of Earth. In some respects, because it’s set on a single planet, the scope feels smaller…even though what Mops and crew find there could affect the whole galaxy.
Definitely comedic and sci-fi, though. So two out of three?
Cool. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Terminal Uprising but not on Terminal Alliance?
I mean, everything I read influences me in one way or another, but I can’t think of any that had a direct impact on Terminal Uprising specifically.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of those have a particularly big impact on Terminal Uprising?
I did binge watch some episodes of the History Channel’s Life After People to help me brainstorm what Earth would be like so many years after the end of human civilization. Which species might survive and thrive, what would be left of our buildings and infrastructure, and so on. Thanks to things like zoos and nature preserves, I got to include some interesting and unexpected beasts.
And in terms of the humor, who do you see as the big influences on the comedic aspects of Terminal Uprising?
Humor it a trait and skill that develops over time, so really, I’d say everything from Terry Pratchett to my parents’ joking and general smart-assery.
Speaking of other funny sci-fi writers, I have to ask, have you heard of, or maybe read, Chris McCrudden’s novel Battlestar Suburbia, which is also a comedic space opera about blue collar workers?
Alas, I have not. Love the title, though. I’ll probably avoid it until after I finish the Janitors trilogy, just to avoid idea cross-contamination, but I’ll keep it in mind.
Now, in the previous interview we did about Terminal Alliance [which you can read here], you said that the Janitors Of The Post-Apocalypse series was going to be a trilogy. Is that still the plan?
That is still the plan. I’ve got a fantasy idea whispering to me from the shadows, so I’ll be finishing up book three and then — if nothing changes — jumping back to the magical side of the genre.
So do you know what the third and final book will be called and when it might be out?
The current working title is Terminal Peace, but that might change between now and the release date. I’m hoping it’ll be out in early-to-mid 2020, but that mostly depends on how long it takes me to write the silly thing.
As you know, some people wait until every book of a trilogy is out before they read it, and some then read all three in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait for all of the books to come out before reading any of them, or shouldn’t read them all in a row? Or that they should?
If we’re sticking to story-based reasoning, I can understand not wanting to wait a year or more to be able to finish whatever larger story arc an author is developing. The Janitorbooks mostly stand alone, so I don’t think you’ll get as much of that frustration of having to wait to find out what comes next, but there are definitely unanswered questions at the end of books one and two.
I’ve never really bought into the idea of waiting for a series to be finished before starting it, though. I like being able to read stuff as it comes out, and sometimes half the fun is speculating about what’s going to happen. Remember all the Harry Potter theories when those books were coming out? Everyone talking about whether Snape was good or evil, what the horcruxes were, which characters would end up together, and so on?
Going back to the earlier interview we did about Terminal Alliance, when I asked you if has there been any interest in making a movie, TV show, or video game based on it, you said there hadn’t been at the time. Has that changed?
No change yet, I’m afraid.
Do you still want Terminal Alliance and Terminal Uprising to be an anime starring Kevin Conroy, Kathy Bates, and Tom Hanks?
Sure! If only so Kevin Conroy can do his Batman voice for some of the plumbing-related scenes.
Finally, if someone enjoys Terminal Uprising, and they’ve already read Terminal Alliance, what funny sci-fi novel or novella would you suggest they read while waiting for Terminal Peace or whatever it’s called to come out? And to make this more interesting, anything by Douglas Adams, John Scalzi, and Terry Pratchett are barred from inclusion.
Robert Asprin’s Phule’s Company series might be a good place to start. Catherynne Valente has gotten a ton of good buzz for Space Opera. Alex Shvartsman has been doing an annual anthology of humorous SF/F called Unidentified Funny Objects; not a novel, but there are seven volumes with plenty of funny SF/F.