Wednesday, 8 December 2010

‘Star Wars: Red Harvest’ – Joe Schreiber (Del Rey)

We all love Star Wars don’t we? I do. Whether it’s on the television, on Christmas afternoon, or a rainy day read the franchise is ‘comfort media’ at its warmest and most enveloping. The bottom line is that you know just what you are getting whenever you pick up a book or watch a film; a tale of good versus evil with familiar characters and some monstrous threat that either needs to be blown up with star fighters or taken apart by Luke Skywalker as he narrowly escapes falling to the Dark Side of the Force, again.
One big problem with the franchise though is that the level of ‘comfort’ is fast growing repetitive at the expense of any urgency in the plot. Certain characters have to be included and you just know that they’re not going to die. What, another galaxy threatening super-weapon? No worries, it’ll be dead and gone in the penultimate chapter...

It was a very good thing then that Joe Schreiber came along last year and gave us his tale of ‘zombies on a Star Destroyer’ with ‘Deathtroopers’. Here was a book that carried flaws, that you would expect to find in a Star Wars novel, but was still a fresh and engaging take on a long established setting. I was definitely keen to see more from Schreiber to see if he would deliver another slice of Star Wars horror. The good news is that he has, it’s zombies again but the major problem I had with ‘Deathtroopers’ isn’t here this time round and the book is all the better for it...

You would have thought that life in a Sith Academy would be dangerous enough but things have just got a lot more dangerous for the students on the planet Odacer-Faustin. The resident dark lord of the Sith has barricaded himself away and isn’t taking questions about just why violence is increasing while students are disappearing. Answers are only forthcoming when a bounty hunter arrives bearing a rare prize and a Jedi hostage; all hell is about to break lose. Those missing students were dead but they aren’t any longer. What they are is very hungry and they’ve got the force skills to catch all that they can eat. Our Jedi hostage must escape what is fast becoming a planet of the undead...

If ‘Deathtroopers’ was a haunted house in space, ‘Red Harvest’ is very much the Star Wars equivalent of a holiday camp full of teenagers being sliced and diced in a variety of ways. It’s great. With Joe Schreiber at the wheel, I can’t see ‘Star Wars Horror’ getting tired any time soon and this is a setting that can very much benefit from a healthy dose of the living dead.

My main issue with ‘Deathtroopers’ was the inclusion of a couple of very well known characters. It’s always great to see them but once they appeared you just knew they were going to make it and you could hear the sound of the tension slowly deflating as a result. Schreiber neatly sidesteps this issue by having the action take place thousands of years before the events of ‘Deathtrooper’ (which happened just before ‘A New Hope’). In this respect ‘Red Harvest’ is very much a prequel to ‘Deathtroopers’ although I’m still hoping for another book telling us what went down on the Star Destroyer before the prison barge found it. Here’s hoping...

 While it’s still a little too obvious that one character will survive, Schreiber declares open season on the rest. Anyone can get that one way ticket and Schreiber is more than happy to dole out ‘death by zombie’ in liberal measures. There are no one dimensional characters either; Schreiber takes the approach of giving everyone a little depth and you find yourself getting to know characters more and more as the book progresses. This, of course, is all part of the plan. Just when you think a character is so well drawn that they’ll be allowed to escape... they’re dead. Given the duplicitous nature of the Sith students, death can come from any direction and this uncertainty really racks up the tension in the best possible way.

Not only is Schreiber good at creating and maintaining this tension but when things kick off Schreiber makes sure that it all goes off in style. Whether it’s the attack in the canteen, the scenes in the library or the moments in the Tauntan stables (can’t say too much without spoiling things but it’s a nice little homage all on its own) Schreiber has a firm and assured hand on the energy and rhythm that’s all too evident in these passages. Things not only flow smoothly but they also flow very quickly and hold your attention for all the right reasons. The ending is signposted a little too clearly for my liking (that final surprise isn’t that surprising...) but the rest of it works well with everything coming together and providing fresh impetus for the plot to push forward.

There’s not too much to say about the zombies themselves that I haven’t already said in my review of ‘Deathtroopers’; they’re not the zombies that you would expect to see normally but as far as the Star Wars universe goes they fit in rather nicely. When you can cut up a regular zombie with a lightsaber, the only way you can even up the odds is give that zombie a lightsaber and the ability to use it. It works and it feels just like Star Wars at the same time. Can’t complain about that!

‘Red Harvest’ is a definite step up from ‘Deathtroopers’ although some of the same problems are still apparent to a certain extent. It’s entertaining enough though that you won’t care about that, I didn’t. I wouldn’t want to see zombies in all Star Wars books but I wish that all Star Wars could be written like this... Look out for 'Red Harvest' at the end of the month.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

3 comments:

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

Excellent review, thanks Graeme; I'm very glad to hear that Joe pulled off the Force and lightsabers - I was worried when they weren't included in Death Troopers. Looking forward to this! :-)

noothergods said...

I love Star Wars! I never got a chance to read Deathtroopers though, it was one of those that I always meant to read, but never got around to actually picking up. This one sounds like it might be a better place to start though. I have to admit that I'm still not sold on Star Wars Zombie Fiction but I might just give it a chance.

Kelly aka yllektra(I Work For Books) said...

Great review!!
I'm gonna pass it on to my bro who absolutely loves this series!