Good morning (or afternoon/evening/later-in-the-week) to you all! Tabatha here again with another Friday Fiction Feature. This week we’re going to the worst of the worst; beyond who has the most annoying students, who has to work the longest hours, or who has lost the most digits on the job, we’re taking a peek at the very worst jobs available. These novels explore the demanding careers where you have to clean up after planet-sized messes, escape the devious designs of a billion 10-year-olds, work with clients who are never happy, or even dust those tricky corners on a world-ending-cataclysm device that they just have to store in the dustiest corner…
Planet Janitor: Custodian of the Stars by Chris Stevenson & Toni Zhang
When we’re talking about dirty jobs, the first & most obvious step is custodians: the brave ranks of custodians/janitors/caretakers who clean up after our awful messes. They distinguish themselves by cleaning, unphased, the most repulsive & creative messes the rest of us slobs make every day. Now any elementary school custodian can top even the worst ‘gross out’ stories most of us can come up with, and they’re just talking about Tuesday afternoon, but there is still a long way to go. How? you ask, What is grosser than cleaning up after 300 small children? Easy: cleaning up after 3 billion adults. The crew in Planet Janitor cleans up the mess of ages. Literally. That one’s not leading into a convoluted metaphor, they really have to clean up after eons of messy & destructive humans. If you thought your brother’s bedroom was a disaster area, just imagine what it takes to clean up after a thousand years worth of his fast-food wrappers.
Captain Zachary Crowe and the crew of Planet Janitor Corporation are adept at handling environmental clean-ups and close system jumps to collect precious ores and space trash. The problem is they have yet to complete an assignment without a mishap to add to their not so stellar record. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Orion Industries contracts Planet Janitor for a clandestine operation that no one else wants, offering them more money than they could spend in three lifetimes. The mission entails a 12 light-year trip to a newly found habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system. The crew will lose 26 years on Earth due to the cryo jump, but that is the least of their problems. What they find on Tau Ceti will rattle their wits, test their courage, and threaten their very survival.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley
Probably one of the worst jobs available is one we rarely think about, and certainly don’t think of as bad: Santa. It sounds like a cushy gig: only work one day a year, spend the rest of your time supervising a factory floor & maintaining an expected standard of corpulence. You get some nice perks like friendly letters from little kids, junk food left out with a note just for you. Sounds pretty good right? But that’s only because you don’t know about the other side of the job! Sure you get nice letters, but what about the mean ones? Selfish kids demanding you bring them toys they didn’t earn, mean letters after the big day angry because they didn’t get their fully-functional light saber (which her parents would never have allowed even if it existed–I mean, even elves have limits). What about the disgusting cookies & souring milk that has been left out too long? And don’t get me started on the bellyache that comes from eating every last cookie! They mean well, I know, but…there’s billions! Hoping that the elves don’t catch wind of this ‘union’ & ‘striking’ business. Yikes.
Anyways, this is all just the trivial stuff: the real trick is avoiding the traps. Kids like this Flavia de Luce from I Am Half-Sick of Shadows who spend all year thinking up ways to get me stuck in the chimney or steal my magic bag… That’s the real terror of the job. And when it’s a kid smart enough to solve murders… Oh boy, what I wouldn’t give to trade with the Easter Bunny. All she has to do is lay eggs & hide!
Precocious Flavia de Luce — an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving — is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. Amid a blizzard, the village gathers at Buckshaw to watch famed Phyllis Wyvern perform. After midnight, a body is found strangled by film. Flavia investigates.
Hell by Robert Olen Butler
Since we’re not all that concerned with this whole ‘reality’ business, we may as well jump to the most obvious choice for bad jobs: Satan. The devil has a nasty job. First off, absolutely no one likes him. Really, no one at all. Even the people who think he isn’t real (ouch!) think he is awful. Then of course there’s the job: he only gets to talk to the worst people, everyone else in Hell is always complaining, even when the interesting sinners chat him up it’s only because they want to trick him or shorten their sentences. And now in Hell they’re even getting the audacity to question him! How dare they question his omnipotence? Why can’t they just accept that everyone has done something & probably deserves damnation for one reason or another. That’s what he does…
Hatcher McCord is an evening news presenter who has found himself in Hell and is struggling to explain his bad fortune. He’s not the only one to suffer this fate—in fact, he’s surrounded by an outrageous cast of characters, including Humphrey Bogart, William Shakespeare, and almost all of the popes and most of the U.S. presidents. The question may be not who is in Hell but who isn’t. McCord is living with Anne Boleyn in the afterlife but their happiness is, of course, constantly derailed by her obsession with Henry VIII (and the removal of her head at rather inopportune moments). One day McCord meets Dante’s Beatrice, who believes there is a way out of Hell, and the next morning, during an exclusive on-camera interview with Satan, McCord realizes that Satan’s omniscience, which he has always credited for the perfection of Hell’s torments, may be a mirage—and Butler is off on a madcap romp about good, evil, free will, and the possibility of escape. Butler’s depiction of Hell is original, intelligent, and fiercely comic, a book Dante might have celebrated.
Laminar Flow (The Book of Drachma #1) by Timothy Cook
Our next contender puts up a good fight for the title because it doesn’t stop at just one bad job, it moves that bad job into the worst context. We all know it is difficult to be a doctor. You have to finish years upon years upon years of school, study & work long hours, all for the eventual award of discussing pus with patients who think you should be able to fix everything. For free. We could probably assign some serious points just for working in a profession where oozing wounds & “Why on earth would you put that in there!?” are a normal part of your day, however, why bother with the lesser contender when someone is willing to go an extra mile? And so Laminar Flow leaps to the head of the competition by taking all the implied gross of ‘doctor’ & shoving it into an era where soap was considered optional at best. (Also I hear there is murder & philosophy & other things that will muck up an already dirty job).
What does being a doctor really feel like? What is it like to get called out in the middle of the night to care for a desperately ill patient, to be the one everyone depends on? Bob Gilsen knows only too well. And what does a fifteenth century physician, who gets called out in the middle of the night in winter, possibly have to offer his patient? This is the beginning of The Book of Drachma, a novel of medicine, murder, fantasy, and self-discovery, set in two times and places. It is a novel for the curious, for those who really wish to know what it means to be a doctor, in this, as well as past ages. In Part One, Laminar Flow, readers find the two stories have a commonality that transcends the barriers of time and place, and leads to the two tales coming together under the watchful eye of the mysterious Drachma.
Maintenance, Volume 1: It’s a Dirty Job by Jim Massey & Robbi Rodriguez
Our final contender is another group of custodians, this time they aren’t cleaning up galaxies, they’re cleaning up after mad scientists. Now, this one should lose on the scale of things- I mean, up against entire worlds & medieval pus anything else seems to fall short–but don’t forget the particular challenges of cleaning up after a mad scientist. While the world cleaners might be able to give up & administer the planet-sized version of just dunking everything in bleach, these poor Maintenance men have to consider what kind of world-ending calamity they might cause by upsetting the delicate chemical balance of the lab whenever they want to use a bit of soap.
You think your job is bad? Well, Doug and Manny have you beat! These guys are janitors! But they’re not your typical custodial crew – no, sir! They’re the guys who keep things shiny and clean at TerroMax, Inc., the world’s biggest and best evil science think tank! When they’re not dealing with toxic spill monsters, they still have to worry about their jerk of a boss, multiple mad scientists, crazy would-be dictators, and the cute girl who works at reception! And when an experiment doesn’t go as planned, it’s up to Doug and Manny to socialize the lonely “man-shark” in Lab 3B, turn back the laser gun-armed caveman army that’s escaped from prehistory and fend off the aliens intent on taking back whatever otherworldly technology TerroMax has “acquired” over the years!