Dec 11, 2009
YetiReview: Death Troopers
21 Words or Less: A fast-paced and truly creepy novel, Death Troopers combines Star Wars and horror but fails to try for more.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
The Good: Fast-paced popcorn read; Visual, descriptive prose; delivers on promise of "Star Wars horror"
The Bad: Feels very safe; Zombies take a long time to actually appear; very short for a hardcover, Could have been excellent with a little more character back story or a more detailed plot
While not quite as overexposed as vampires, there is an undeniable zombie epidemic lurching its way through the genre. World War Z. Zombieland. The Walking Dead. Necropolis. Even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That being the case, it was no surprise when LucasBooks announced Death Troopers, a zombie/Star Wars mash-up written by up-and-coming horror writer, Joe Schreiber. Luckily for the galaxy far, far away being bitten the Zombie virus doesn't necessarily guarantee turning into a mindless, staggering, decomposing story. On the other hand, it doesn't preclude it either. Some works of zombie fiction are absolutely brilliant, others deserve to be shotgunned, burned, or otherwise lobotomized. It's all about the execution.
So does Joe Schreiber deliver? Yes and no. From the beginning, it's clear that Schreiber has a way with words. His prose style has a visual style that is pitch perfect for writing horror. Simply put, you see what he writes, even when you really, really don't want to. And when the zombie action ramps up aboard the derelict Star Destroyer, Schreiber writes some things you really, really don't want to see. So as our small cast of characters attempts to escape the rapidly deteriorating situation, you feel like you are next to them every step of the way. It is horror.
It's also Star Wars. Despite the lack of flesh eating undead in the original trilogy (or even the crappy prequels), Schreiber captures the feel of the universe, the dialogue, the descriptions very well, especially for a SW rookie. There are even a few cameo appearances along the way. I won't give them away but he writes them so well it’s as if they walked off the screen and into this book. Schreiber did his research and he integrated his story into the greater galaxy. So when Death Troopers is described as Star Wars Horror, it's a fair assessment. Unfortunately, it feels like it could have been more.
One of the largest problems with this book is its length. It's a hardcover novel for a hardcover price but only contains 232 pages of actual story; a length which simply doesn't allow for deep characters, a well-crafted plot, and the intricate prose needed in a quality horror novel. While Schreiber does a spectacular job turning a sterile Star Destroyer into a terrifying set of corridors and caverns, the plot and the characters disappoint. They aren't bad by any means, they just need more attention. There is no reason why the book needs to be that short. Schreiber could easily have maintained the visceral prose that is the book's main strength AND detailed a cast of three dimensional characters uncovering an insidious plot concocted by the Empire's most brilliant and nefarious minds. He could have done it and kept it under 300 pages. There are hints of a larger story and characterization but those hints were never fully realized.
As a result, Death Troopers commits one of the most basic (and admittedly hard to avoid) sins of the zombie subgenre: the cold open. Instead of hitting the ground running, we first bear witness to the death of the majority of the ship's passengers and then their disappearance. There is no mystery here. It's zombies. Like almost any other zombie book or movie, the audience is firmly aware of what they are getting into when they jump on board. So when Schreiber takes his time getting to the fun stuff the book suffers.
Without ample characterization or mysterious plot elements, there is no connection between the reader and the potential victims fleeing the zombie horde. Without that bond, even the most frenetically paced story will fail to excite. Schreiber allows us to gradually become invested in Kale and Trig Longo, political prisoners aboard the ill-fated Purge, and Zahara Cody, the ship's chief medical officer but they don't really develop like they could have, especially considering some of the surprising decisions they face. This is very apparent when considering how "right" the cameos feel when contrasted with the underdeveloped main cast.
All in all, Death Troopers is a decent Star Wars story and a decent Zombie novel. The prose is dripping with suspense and Schreiber masterfully paints an unsettling story with the blood of Stormtroopers and Wookies alike. The book is good but it could have been so much more, given more pages and more development, both of plot and of character. While the novel succeeds at being creepy (and at times profoundly disturbing), Schreiber appears to have said "good enough" rather than turning off his targeting computer and trusting the force. While he's survived the battle, if he had ramped up the action little faster, developed his original characters a little deeper, and detailed the underlying cause of the epidemic a little bit more, he might have been just blown the reactor core.
Posted by Patrick at 12/11/2009 10:23:00 AM