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Terminal Alliance: Book One of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse

Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.

Terminal Alliance: Book One of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse by Jim C. Hines finds a nice balance of hard science fiction and comedy in a manner that is more than reminiscent of Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (though I would be hard pressed to call Hitchhiker's "hard" sci-fi).

Terminal Alliance takes place a couple of hundred years after humans have caused a species-wide apocalypse. Through some form of genetic tinkering, a disease swept across Earth and turned every human into feral creatures. When the Krakau came to Earth following radio signals, they were surprised to find that humans had reverted to this state and have been working for decades to bring humans back. In return, the "reborn" humans join a branch of the Krakau military called the Earth Mercenary Corps in order to help enforce peace in the pan-galactic alliance that the Krakau helped found generations ago.

Terminal Alliance follows Lieutenant Marion "Mops" Adamopoulos, the head of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation division on the Pufferfish, one of the EMC's most feared space cruisers. When a mission to stop a group of Prodryan pirates from harassing another vessel results in a virus spreading throughout the Pufferfish and causes most of the humans on board to revert back to their feral state, Mops and her team are the only ones left with enough sentience to fly the ship and discover exactly what caused the reversion. The only problem is, they know how to clean the Pufferfish, not run it.

A lot of the book's comedy comes from the fact that much of Earth's history was lost and gets reinterpreted by the Krakau. Upon rebirth, humans choose a new name from the list of known names in human history, so many of the human characters running around in the book are celebrities, and they often behave very differently than their namesakes. Instances like a well-known fighter named Mahatma Gandhi are not unheard of in this book, and characters like Charles Schulz and Fred Rogers also pop up. Mops' team consists of Lieutenant Junior Grade Marilyn Monroe, a former marine who transferred to SHS after he (the gender of the name seems to have little bearing after the apocalypse) was mutilated in an attack; Technician Sanjeev Kumar, a germaphobe; and the brash Wolfgang "Wolf" Mozart. Assisting Mops in all her work is her personal A.I. named Doc and the group will also end up picking up the only non-human and non-Krakau member of the Pufferfish, a Glacidae computer technician named Gromgimsidalgak, or just "Grom."

Mops and her team will learn how to survive more than one space battle, fly their ship in the hopes of tracing down the cause of the disease, and dodge everyone from the Krakau Alliance that has branded Mops as a traitor to the Prodryans that Mops' team believe is the source of the attack. It's a good thing the Pufferfish is packed with tutorials and even a helpful training A.I. named Puffy that starts off many conversations with "It looks like you are trying to ... " and "Can I help you with ..." It looks like the Krakau have found old references to some Microsoft Office helpers and thought that was what all of human A.I. behaved like.

Like I said above, Hines does a great job of weaving humor into what would otherwise be a perfectly fine hard sci-fi novel. The rules that Terminal Alliance uses are consistent and, for the most part, in the realm of science as we understand it. What's great is, instead of trying to explain the pieces that are beyond our current understanding, Hines uses the opportunity for more tongue-and-cheek humor as the Krakau scientists snub the reader and basically explain that things like faster-than-light travel are simple, but humans are too stupid to understand it. I almost always prefer this approach to explaining how advanced science works rather than having the author try and explain it to the reader. Typically the explanation either doesn't work, it doesn't make sense, or it's just wrong and the book slides a little more away from the "hard" side of science fiction.

Terminal Alliance acts as a fun first step into this new universe and the book does a great job of not only telling a complete story, but also showing that there is more to come. I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next in the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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