Jim C. Hines’
The central character is nicknamed Mops, a reminder to the reader that she was a janitor. She is on the run with her crew in a stolen spaceship due to their discovery that a catastrophe which occurred on earth was in fact the fault of the aliens purporting to help, rather than a self-made disaster as had been reported. This species, octopus-looking creatures called the Krakau, have kept humanity in servitude since the incident and have re-engineered them as shock troops against their enemies. When these facts were discovered, Mops and her fellow janitors aboard the EMCS Pufferfish went rogue. By the time of this novel’s events the ship is falling apart, but the crew is getting undercover aid from an admiral in an effort to go public with proof of the crime against humanity.
This book features the crew heading to discover a new contact, only to realize it is a member of an aggressive species called Prodryans, insect-like and universally hating other species. He explains that his title is “Advocate of Violence” and he is a practicing lawyer, which he seems particularly proud of. Given the crew already consists of multiple pain resistant modified humans, a rare alien related to the Krakau, and an A.I. named Doc who often lives in a fancy monocle, the presence of a lawyer who literally hates everyone is oddly appropriate.
This motley bunch then find themselves heading to Earth. There are indications of uninfected humans on the planet, as well as a facility that should not exist. This combination seems to Mops and her crew to indicate a possible cure. Again this is something of interest to both the crew and readers, and develops in a way that references librarians, history, and twists the expectations of the reader repeatedly.
A reader’s first thought reading this volume is likely to turn to other fiction, particularly Red Dwarf, probably the most famous example of blue-collar people on a spaceship in science fiction comedy. Another comparison, however, stems from the fact that there was an obvious structural similarity to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in no small part because of the pieces at the beginning of each chapter that do not connect directly to the lead characters and their narrative aboard the Pufferfish, an amusingly named ship they have absconded with. The first few such items are factoids and notices sent by individuals in authority, and as a result the impulse to draw comparisons gets much stronger at a fast pace.
The influence of Douglas Adams is strong enough that the phrase “don’t panic” is used in relation to a “great Earth philosopher” at the beginning of the second chapter. With that in mind, the fact that this is a humorous science fiction novel moves it instead into the territory where it’s difficult to compare it with anything but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The unfortunate matter is that that is not a good comparison for any author to find themselves in, to the point that Eoin Colfer himself wrote a sequel to that series and ended up being lambasted for it.
As a successor to Douglas Adams, I cannot say that Hines succeeds, matching neither the tone nor style of the original. Fortunately, Hines makes no attempt to imitate the Adams, instead forging his own worlds and dealing in his own brand of distinctively less-than-classical British humor. In its place is a somewhat more American style, including references to popular culture featuring multiple characters with chosen names identical to those of musical figures (including a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Greensleeves and Michael Jackson) and others which are hard to avoid smiling at, and sometimes rolling one’s eyes at, each likely deliberate. In addition, references to video game culture are quite easy to spot, including a number of references to different types of games, though jokes pertaining to first person shooters are by far the most common.
This fact seems appropriate given the context of the novel. The crew of renegade former janitorial staff regularly find themselves in combat situations of one sort or another, and the parallel in a readers mind between that type of game and many situations are obviously appropriate. Indeed, they almost serve as foreshadowing, given that a number of combat situations end in less than heavy firepower, which makes those epidosodes that do end in combat (such as a string of scenes near the end, on earth) feel well prepared for structurally.
The cover by Daniel Dos Santos is expressive, with interpretations of the crew and the Krakau each noticeable, and setting the mood as a light work with comic elements. In fact it feels an excellent evolution over the graphics in the first book, with the illustrations of the Krakau prominent without dominating the images, and the humanoid characters having obvious imagery.
I went into this little volume expecting light comic science fiction, and quickly went into comparisons to Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Merely by dint of not being an obvious U.K. written piece this work did not fit that mold; however, there was a pleasant ability to blend light and heavy concepts that hearkened back to them. This book reads well as an introduction or continuation, and the plot has a clear through-line without becoming overly predictable.
Terminal Uprising is a fun, humorous romp through a scarred wasteland and a few corners of a vast universe. There are colorful characters, and a humor that is anything but subtle. Readers should enjoy it if they like such material, although they shouldn’t go in comparing it too closely to anything with a similar premise, as that would do both a disservice.
(DAW Books, 2019)