The premise is that aliens visit Earth seeking engineers to help them in some great task. Unfortunately, the guy they find is a sanitary engineer (a toilet cleaner, essentially) who gets dragged into it all.

I'm unsure if it's a novel or a short story. I think he read it in the late 70s/early 80s but I'm not too sure on this.

  • Actually, a series of six books. – gnasher729 Oct 11 at 16:24

It looks like the answer is Spellsinger (1983) by Alan Dean Foster.

The premise is that aliens visit Earth seeking engineers to help them in some great task.

In a world of sentient animals and humans, the hardheaded tortoise wizard Clothahump searches across the dimensions for another kind of wizard to help defeat the looming threat posed by the armies of the Plated Folk.

Unfortunately, the guy they find is a sanitary engineer (a toilet cleaner, essentially) who gets dragged into it all.

What he gets is Jonathon Thomas Meriweather, law student, part-time would-be rock guitarist and janitor, who finds that with the use of a unique instrument called a duar, he can perform magic by playing and choosing from his well-worn repertoire of rock.

  • 1
    Obviously this isn't the book you were thinking of. However, I believe close to the spirit of the question is Jim C. Hines' latest Terminal Alliance, where the entire crew of a starship gets overcome by a zombie virus, except for a small janitorial engineering squad (who were in sealed suits fixing a sewage leak during the outbreak). They then have to disable the zombies, learn to pilot the ship, figure out what caused the virus, and lord knows what else in the upcoming works of the series. – T.E.D. Oct 11 at 19:23
  • While this matches a lot of the detail in the question, it's not a perfect match -- have you checked it by reading it, or have you just looked at a summary? The major discrepancy that I can see is that Spellsinger doesn't involve aliens visiting Earth (the non-human characters are sentient versions of Earth animals, and they don't actually visit Earth at all, as Jon Tom was transported to their home world magically). – Jules Oct 12 at 0:09
  • Hi guys, thanks for your additions. I've since spoken to my friend, and he's delighted with the answer. He had certainly read it way back. I can only put discrepancies down to a vague recollections from him in the first place. I'm happy for this to remain answered. Thanks again. – Indigo Roth Oct 15 at 10:09

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