Monday, December 6, 2010

Review: Death Troopers

Joe Schreiber, 2010, Del Rey

When the Imperial prison barge Purge - temporary home to five hundred of the galaxy's most ruthless criminals - breaks down in remote space, its only hope appears to lie with a Star Destroyer found nearby, drifting and seemingly abandoned. But of the boarding party sent to scavenge for parts, only half return, bringing with them an horrific disease that wipes out almost everyone aboard the Purge within hours. The half-dozen survivors will do anything it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what will happen next. For the dead are beginning to rise. And they are unspeakably hungry...

It's not always an easy task to introduce horror successfully into an overtly science-fictional setting - particularly one as well-known as the Star Wars universe - since the tropes of horror (and zombies in particular) tend to rely, for maximum impact, upon their contrast with mundane settings familiar to the reader. However, author Joe Schreiber manages to generate an atmosphere of creeping dread that nicely complements the 'used future' of George Lucas' A New Hope (Death Troopers appearing to take place a couple of years prior to events - and featuring certain characters - from that movie).

The plot is one that will be intimately familiar to most zombie fans: the dead rise, and a disparate band of survivors must battle the undead - and each-other - in order to survive; nothing especially original, although some decent prose and dialogue, empathic (if not sympathetic) characters, plenty of action, and the Star Wars backdrop give the novel a fresh veneer that make it well worth reading. My only two niggles concerning Death Troopers are the emergence of something suspiciously like a deus ex machina at the conclusion, which neatly wraps up at least one of the threats facing our protagonists, and the author's occasional over-reliance on the reader's familiarity with all things Star Wars, with certain settings and characters being given the most cursory of descriptions; in others words, if you're going to write about alien zombies, I wanna know what they look like, dammit!

Death Troopers is a solid, scary read that will appeal to both die-hard zombie fans and Star Wars obsessives alike. A second, similarly-themed Star Wars novel - Red Harvest - is due soon from Joe Schreiber. It will be interesting to see if the success of these publications contributes to a subsequent boom in zombie/media tie-in crossovers, in the same way that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies kick-started the horror/classics mash-up, and Marvel Zombies generated the zombie/superhero niche.

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