Tuesday, 13 October 2009

‘Death Troopers’ – Joe Schreiber (Del Rey)


I first saw the cover for this over at Dave Brendon’s Blog and, once I’d managed to convince myself that this wasn’t a prank and was really going to happen, I just knew that ‘Death Troopers’ was going straight on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2009’ list. I’ve only come to love zombies fairly recently but horror fiction and Star Wars have been favourites of mine since... oh, probably a little longer than I can remember :o) The way I saw it, ‘Death Troopers’ couldn’t possibly fail as a read because even if it let me down in one area there would still be another couple of wellsprings of cool to drink from. I was onto a winner whichever way I looked at it!
As it turned out I couldn’t have been more right. The fanboy in me will undoubtedly add a little edge of bias to this review (so bear that in mind everyone) but I can quite confidently say that if you like zombies, horror or Star Wars then you’re in for a bit of a treat here...

Having picked up it’s quota of prisoners, the Imperial prison barge ‘Purge’ is making its way towards its assigned prison moon; at least that’s the plan until a fault in the engines leaves it adrift in space. A derelict Star Destroyer promises spare parts but half the boarding party don’t return and the other half manages to bring back a virulent disease that wipes out the crew and inmates in a matter of hours. It soon becomes very clear to the survivors that ‘Purge’ is no longer a safe place to be and the only place to go is into the Star Destroyer itself. This proves to be the lesser of two evils though, the original crew may be dead but that doesn’t make their hunger for flesh any easier to bear...

I enjoyed ‘Death Troopers’ so much that I almost feel that I should point out a couple of the shortfalls I found, straight off, in an attempt not to go off on a gushing tangent...

Anyone who’s read up on ‘Death Troopers’ will know that a couple of very well known figures from the Star Wars universe make an appearance here; I won’t say who they are if you don’t know already. I’m not sure that this was such a good thing...
When you’ve got well known figures, such as these, making an appearance then a whole load of the tension goes out of the book immediately; especially when there’s a timeline at the front of the book telling you where the book fits in and what else is to come. When you realise that these two characters are still to appear in three films and countless books then you just know that nothing will happen to them, they’re going to make it. Schreiber does a great job with the horror in ‘Death Troopers’ but the story lost the sense that no-one was safe because you know right from the start that two people very much were. I was actually a lot more interested in the other characters, fighting for survival, and wondered if the ‘star appearance’ was actually necessary. The Star Wars universe is an entity in its own right and a Star Wars story doesn’t need guest appearances to validate it.

I also wasn’t so sure about Schreiber’s naming certain supporting cast after well known horror characters (Quatermass and Phibes, I’m looking at you...) On the one hand it’s a nice nod to horror fans but, on the other hand, the names are a little too obvious and stand out in a universe that isn’t meant to hold them. It might not be an issue for you but it jarred the flow of the book for me...

When you get past this though (and it’s only a couple of instances) and into the story itself then you’ll find yourself forgiving the shortfalls and really getting into ‘Death Troopers’. It’s slickly done, scary as hell and one that I wasn’t able to put down until I’d finished it.

What you’ve got here is a ‘haunted house story in space with added zombies’ and it’s a mix that works very well indeed. The one thing scarier than a fully functional Star Destroyer is a Star Destroyer that initially looks deserted. We’re talking about an empty ship with long echoing corridors and an interesting experiment in the medical bay. It’s quiet, almost too quiet... And that’s when Schreiber hits you full on with the horror! Here’s a writer who’s great at lulling his reader into a false sense of security and then smacking them bang in the face with something visceral.

The zombies aren’t those you’ll be used to but they do fit in well with the Star Wars universe and I think that’s the main thing here. They’re unrelenting in their search for flesh and this drives the plot at a heady pace with intermittent images that you won’t want to read before going to sleep. All good zombie books focus on the survivors and ‘Death Troopers’ does this very well, our cast is forced back on their resources and they have to deal with pretty much everything you would expect from a zombie book or film. Schreiber doesn’t flinch from putting them through some really nasty stuff and ‘Death Troopers’ is all the better for it. Implied horror is good but sometimes nothing beats seeing it up close...

‘Death Troopers’ is a trip into the Star Wars universe like you’ve never taken before and it’s good to see a risk like this taken, on an established setting, and really pay off. I’m looking forward to seeing more in this vein (pun intended, maybe...)

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

6 comments:

Mark Chitty said...

I so want to read this book and your review just adds icing to the cake :)

org said...

I'm thinking 'setting for stun' will be of little use.

Iain said...

OOOOHHH!!!!! Star Wars and Zombies!!

I cannot wait until this book arrives on my doorstep. It fills me with the kind of longing that I experienced in the gaps between the original Star Wars films when I was a kid.

I no longer feel like a 36 year old. I am a fresh faced ten year old waiting to see if Darth Vader really is Luke's father:).

Tremendous review, by the way. If that doesn't whet the fanboy in all of us nowt will.

James B said...

By George, I do believe he liked it......

logankstewart said...

I really, really want to read this now. Wonderful review. I can't wait to get mine.

logankstewart said...

Just finished reading this book and my review will be up on Thursday morning (USA) on my blog, Rememorandom, if anyone's interested.