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Terminal Alliance: Interview with Jim C. Hines

It’s Terminal Alliance day! What that means is that you should scurry to your nearest independent bookseller (or preferred online bookseller) and snag a copy of Jim C. Hines latest novel. Terminal Alliance is the sci-fi epic about space janitors that you never knew you wanted (except for y’all in the back of the class who enjoyed Viscera Cleanup Detail, yeah, I see you). It’s also the post-zombie-apocalypse/space opera novel you scoffed would never work – or you would have, anyway, if it’d occurred to you.

Well, it does work, you do want it, and it’s pretty great. I’ll tell you why in my review later this week. For now, though, enjoy this brief interview I had the pleasure of conducting with Jim a couple of weeks ago – it’ll either whet your appetite for Terminal Alliance or give you some knowing grins if you’ve already read it:

GeekDame: What was your approach to imagining alien species? (You did an amazing job: not a humanoid in the bunch. I love seeing sci-fi that moves beyond human-centric imaginings, especially since novel writers aren’t constrained by a costuming or CGI budget.)

Jim C. Hines: Thanks! Most of my aliens are very loosely based on the more unusual or bizarre life forms we have on Earth. With the Nusurans, for example, I began with tardigrades—microscopic water-dwellers that are practically indestructible. Then I made them several meters long with a ridiculously voracious sex drive. I wanted aliens that weren’t just modified humans, but that human readers would still be able to relate to. My favorite might be the Merrabans. They were a last-minute addition in the final draft, but I love them. They’re so laid-back and chill. “Oh, you blew up my restaurant? No worries. Want some soup?”

GD: So, clearly the aliens are worried about humans reverting to their zombie state if they’re encouraged to eat things orally. Apart from the moments of flavor levity (Willy Wonka in SPAAAACE!), why did you have the Krakau bring back gum?

JCH: The Krakau try to monitor humans pretty closely. The feeding tubes mean they know exactly what humans are eating, and it’s easier for them to keep their humans healthy. Gum is a way for humans to satisfy that oral craving without actually ingesting anything that might mess up the nutritional balance. That and the fear that humans eating “naturally” might trigger a reversion to the feral state. (I suspect the Krakau exaggerate that fear to keep the humans frightened and on their feeding tube regiment.)

Beyond that, I mostly included it for the fun, and to give Monroe a little bit of mystery. How does that man always have a cube of gum, even when he’s been thoroughly searched again and again?

GD: We need to know – who voices Doc in your head? (Or, y’know, for real. I’m sure the Krakau had access to enough data to create a voice they deduce was soothing to humans. I’m betting Morgan Freeman.)

JCH: I didn’t really have a voice in mind as I was writing Doc, but I like the idea of Morgan Freeman living on as the voice of a futuristic AI encoded in a janitor’s monocle. Realistically though, since the Krakau basically created a new Human language for us, they probably synthesized the AI voices on their own. They think of humans as simple creatures, so they’d keep the voices as basic and easy-to-understand as possible. More of a Mister Rogers vibe, by default. Only in Doc’s case, it’s a sarcastic Mister Rogers.

GD: What was your process for selecting each Krakau’s Human name? And is there a mixtape?

JCH: I knew I wanted the Krakau to select human names based on our music, which is closer to the Krakau languages than any human tongues. Since the book takes place long after the end of our world, that meant the Krakau would have to retrieve and restore old recordings. A lot of our history, including music, was probably lost. So I started with lists of more popular songs that were more likely to have been preserved in some form.

I also wanted to make sure the songs I chose were representative of more than just one or two cultures. So you get Scheherazade, from the 19th century Russian opera, or Under the Orange Tree, from a Nigerian children’s song. But you also have a Krakau technician named Final Countdown.

GD: In the All-Purpose Apocalypse*, who would you rather have at your back: Jig the Goblin; Danielle, Snow, and Talia; the Porters; or Mops and her crew? And why, of course!

* Just assume everything that can go bad has gone bad from zombies to Ragnarok to plague to Killer Pastel Ponies with Glitter Death Hooves, and so on.

JCH: The princesses, without a doubt. Jig is fun, but being a goblin, he’d happily stab me in the back and leave me to keep the killer ponies distracted while he ran away. And while Mops and her team do a pretty good job dealing with things, they’re not trained to fight the end of the world.

Whereas the whole point of the Princess series was to bring together three fairy tale princesses and turn them into kick-ass crime-fighters. Given the choice of goblins, space janitors, or a trio made up of Snow White (a witch with mirror magic), Talia (aka Sleeping Beauty, who’s essentially a fairy-gifted ninja), and Danielle (aka Cinderella, with an enchanted glass sword and the ability to talk to animals)? There’s no question.

Thanks for joining us, folks! Come back for my Terminal Alliance review this Thursday, November 9!

Disclosure: purchasing books via affiliate links above will give GeekDame a small kickback.

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