Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Space Opera, Shared World, Adventure
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Lucas Books; 1 edition (Del Rey/Ballantine)
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
ISBN-10: 0345509625
ISBN-13: 978-0345509628
Author Blog: Joe Schreiber

In a cross between Alien and Night of the Living Dead, Star Wars: Death Troopers is unlike any Star Wars novel to date. Horror author Joe Schreiber transplants his suspenseful storytelling into a much-loved universe with (mostly) good results.

In this stand-alone novel, the prison ship Purge is carrying a load of prisoners to an Imperial prison planet. Young Trig and Kale Longo, grifters, were snatched up with their father in an Imperial sweep. But after their father’s untimely death they are forced to make their way alone on board. Providing other perspectives in the narrative are Doctor Zahara Cody, daughter of a wealthy family, serving the Empire to get experience before going on to more humanitarian work, and Jareth Sartoris, the sadist Imperial Captain of the Prison Guard. When the Purge’s thrusters go out, it seems a boon that they happen upon a seemingly derelict Star Destroyer. But the Empire had its reasons for leaving the ship floating in space, as the crew of the Purge swiftly realizes as their colleagues fall dead around them. The few survivors must find a way off both ships before they too become a part of the madness.

Schreiber does an excellent job of setting the scene, making the Longo bothers and Doctor Cody sympathetic to the reader and Sartoris not so much. There is a slow build of tension as the reader wonders just how Schreiber is going to introduce the zombie horde into the Star Wars universe, something he does quite logically, though not with any real inventiveness. It is to be appreciated that Schreiber does not make the story entirely a hack and slash sort of horror tale, abstaining from introducing the physical enemy until a third of the way into the novel in favor of building tension. Schreiber takes his time, and as a result, the reader is drawn into the story, craving more.

Where Schreiber disappoints somewhat is in the convolutions he sometimes uses in his writing. Having established an animosity between the Longo boys and another prisoner, he goes out of his way to ensure that the two encounter that prisoner as a zombie in way that feels contrived, especially when the same thing is used once again for Dr. Cody and a favored patient. While this might be an effective tactic in some novels to engender a personal feeling of fear of surprise, Schreiber makes it feel heavy-handed, especially after using it multiple times (there are more besides the aforementioned).

And the ending, while leaving the zombie stormtrooper concept open for use in the videogame Star Wars Galaxies (an ad at the back of the book mentions that the “death troopers” have been added to that MMPORG) or in other novels, it is not properly foreshadowed and results in a deus ex machina style climax. That is not to say the ending is not pretty exciting, just that after the great build-up of the plot to that point, I was expecting something a little more theatrical.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. It is only original in the sense that this is first time zombies have been used in the Star Wars universe, as the plot follows a predictable course. But the characters of Trig, Kale, Dr. Cody and Sartoris are interesting, if not overly well-rounded (being a product of singular motivations). There is lots of exciting action, full of blaster fire and rather terrifying description of the “death troopers”. I found the best part of the novel to be the first half, when things are uncertain and life is held onto tenuously, Schreiber’s descriptions making my pulse race. In the latter half, it becomes mostly running and screaming, and while there are lots of fight scenes and chases, these are not nearly as compelling as Schreiber’s character and suspense building.

Overall, reading Star Wars: Death Troopers was a good experience. Schreiber creates a good mashup of the horror genre into the Star Wars mythos (rather than the other way around) and he has an initially suspenseful novel with an excellent amount of action in the latter half. I think this narrative is a great bit of entertainment that is good for an afternoon’s escape into another universe, which adds a rogue element and potential new direction for Star Wars stories. I’d like to see Del Rey and Lucas Books spin this off into a series of short stories or other novels that explore other aspects and elements traditionally associated with the horror genre. There is a lot of potential there, and Schreiber’s Death Troopers shows that it can be done well.

* Del Rey designed the cover so that the interior can be used as a mini-poster and the cover design is imprinted directly onto the binding. This was a nice bit of marketing that I hope Del Rey uses again in other fiction.