Saturday, November 28, 2009

Star Wars: Death Troopers

Well, they finally did it. They've been slapping zombies into everything and it was only a matter of time before they finally made a Star Wars Zombie novel.

I've been grousing for months about the complete saturation of zombies in pop culture. While I like the stuff I watch/read and can take the work on their own merits, when I take a step back and look at the zombie landscape, it's hard not to feel a little overrun. I've discussed before at length the basic appeal of zombies but as time goes on I'm starting to see this over reliance on the living dead as a quick way to generate drama. It's fundamentally interesting to watch characters under siege, but they better be interesting because most zombie stories follow the same basic structure: we run to sanctuary and sometimes we die. This one sticks to form, but it does a pretty good job of it.

The story follows the unfortunate crew of the Imperial Penal Starship Purge as they're forced to dock with an abandoned Star Destroyer after their engines go off-line. The salvage operation quickly turns deadly when they realize the Star Destroyer was conducting sinister biological experiments and they're not alone.

I tend to be leery of franchise books, occasionally to my detriment, but this one was actually pretty good. Author Joe Schreiber knows how to build suspense and atmosphere. We don't actually see the first zombie attacks until after the hundredth page, by which point we're immersed in the vicious culture of the Purge and the creeping tension of those endless dark Star Destroyer corridors. I liked the haunting image of the droids continuing their pre-programmed routines in the bowels of the dead ship.

I also dug the fact that the zombies weren't simply mindless Romero knock-offs. There's something sentient in their behavior and the individual zombies seem more like molecules of the same horrible mass-organism. The creature's method of infection is much more imaginatively vile. The method the ship's hapless doctor uses to cure one of the infected patients was visceral and extremely nasty.

The one complaint I had with the book was the fact that a couple of major characters from the movies take a fairly major role in the book. I have read a few other books set in the Star Wars universe and they tend to run roughshod over my beloved character's lives. Schreiber treats the characters with a lot more respect, but their appearance really didn't add anything to the story beyond an almost Pavlovian dread at what could happen to them. Plus, y'know, if I escaped a Star Destroyer full of zombies, it would probably come up in casual conversation.

Beyond this minor, and admittedly completely geeky complaint, I had a lot of fun with Death Troopers. It's a creepy and surprisingly effective horror novel, and it's a good solid popcorn novel even without the Star Wars tie-in. If you like it, Schreiber wrote the incredibly atmospheric Eat the Dark, which was one of the best horror novels I read last year. Also, apparently, there's a Star Wars Galaxies tie-in.

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