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.

Competition: Night of the Living Trekkies

Kevin David Anderson, co-author of Night of the Living Trekkies, recently announced the following exciting competition on his website.
Just sharing some news and some contest info. Night of the Living Trekkies, from Quirk Books, will soon be available in German and Spanish and to celebrate we are having a little creative contest.
Zombie Trekkie Holiday Khantest

First Prize – autographed printed galley collectors edition of Night of the Living Trekkies, autographed Night of the Living Trekkies poster, and a hardback copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Second Prize – autographed printed galley collectors edition of Night of the Living Trekkies, autographed Night of the Living Trekkies poster, and a copy of Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies prequel by Steve Hockensmith.

Third Prize – autographed Night of the Living Trekkies poster and a copy of The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures by NotLT co-author Sam Stall

Contest details at:
Lots of zombie-related goodness on offer there! However, this competition closes soon, so be sure to check out the link asap and enter for your chance to win one of these great prize packs!

Review: Zombies vs Unicorns

Ed. Justine Larbalestier & Holly Black, 2010, Allen & Unwin

Which reigns supreme, the zombie or the unicorn? It's a question as old as time itself (or not). Zombies vs Unicorns is a short story feud that challenges the reader to pick a team and stick to it. But be warned: the contributors to this unique anthology are stellar storytellers all, and may just convince you to switch...

Zombies vs Unicorns is that rarest of all beasts, an anthology containing not a single story that isn't an absolute gem. Frankly, it's one of the most enjoyable and entertaining reads I've had in ages, and - for all that I am, and always will be, staunchly Team Zombie - the unicorn tales were of such quality as to almost swing me over to the side of the rainbow-farting hornponies. Almost.

Major kudos must go to editors Larbalestier and Black for their obvious decision to seek out authors and stories that pushed the boundaries of both camps. Herein, you'll find intriguing new takes on the zompocalypse, as well as stories that shatter the image of unicorns as noble white steeds. The tales range across many genres including romance, horror, comedy, fairy-tale fantasy, and even mild erotica, with each prefaced by some largely entertaining and good-natured bickering between the two editors on the perceived strengths and failures of the individual story.  

As one might expect, it was difficult to pick specific personal favourites from a publication comprising only top-quality prose, but I must make mention of the two stories that, for me, most fully represented the anthology as a whole, in terms of their originality and entertainment value; for Team Zombie, 'The Children of the Revolution', by Maureen Johnson, relates the tale of an American backpacker stranded abroad, who winds up minding some very unusual adopted youngsters for a very unusual (and strangely familiar) Hollywood power-couple. What begins as a wry, gently humorous story rapidly develops into one of the more disturbing pre-apocalyptic pieces I've ever read. For Team Unicorn, 'Princess Prettypants', by Meg Cabot, brings us a highly-satisfying fantasy/SF/romantic mash-up that manages to actively lampoon traditional 'unicorn culture' whilst simultaneously reinventing the legendary beasties.

Zombies vs Unicorns is an anthology that every fan of speculative fiction should read, and I'll certainly expect to see the publication - as well as many of the stories herein - garnering multiple genre award nominations over the coming year, and quite possibly inspiring a range of copycat collections. Vampires vs Goblins, perhaps? How about Cthulhu vs Fairies? No..?