Feb 2, 2011

Yeti Review: Red Harvest - Joe Schreiber

In A Few Words: Disappointing in almost every way, the only thing scary about Joe Schreiber's Red Harvest is the fact that a major house considered it publishable.

-It's only 241 pages.

-Arguably unedited
-Repetitive plot ignores all of the inherent potential in the setup
-Entire plot threads do nothing but detract from the story

The Review: Brainless. Stumbling. Grotesque. Unrelenting. It's doubtful that Joe Schreiber was trying to be "meta" in writing his latest novel. At the same time, it's hard to ignore the similarities between Red Harvest and the single-minded zombie hordes contained within. The recipe behind Red Harvest is a standard one: an unexpected outbreak of an unknown pathogen results in a zombie menace from which the uninfected must escape. Yet even with the variety of spices found in Lucas's far, far away galaxy, it's about as palatable as a plateful of raw gray matter.

And it's certainly not the extra flavor that ruins the dish. Star Wars tie-in fiction has never claimed to be high art. Intended to sell first and entertain second, critical acclaim might not even be on the list of priorities. But even with lowered expectations, Red Harvest marks a new nadir for a franchise that has been slowly declining for over a decade.

Essentially, Schreiber's latest boils down to a repetitive sequence linked together more tenuously than the entrails of one of his victims. Wasting no time on character development, Schreiber quickly assembles his cast of paper-thin characters - Hestizo Trace (Jedi Botanist), Rojo Trace (Jedi brother and Liam Neeson wannabe), the Black Orchid (talking plant) and Darth Scabrous (generic bad guy) - before throwing them into the plot. After a brief setup and a little Force magic to introduce the zombie threat, Schreiber's writing soon devolves into little more than copy-and-paste carnage. The zombies surprise, attack, get "killed", are presumed dead, surprise again, infect someone, and are finally dismembered or eluded. It's splatterpunk at it's most gratuitous and it fails even at that.

The highest compliment I can pay to Red Harvest is that the first fifty or so pages are merely forgettable. Until page 53, on which Schreiber blatantly "borrows" [read "plagiarizes"] a key quote from 2009's action/revenge film Taken. Everything is downhill from there.
"Listen to me, Trace told him. I don't know who you are, but I am in possession of a very special set of skills. If you bring my sister back right now, unharmed, then I'll let you go. But if you don't, I promise you, I will track you down. I will find you. And I will make you pay." [pg. 53]

After this, it only gets harder to keep reading, and judging from the gradual decline in quality, the assigned editor might agree. That is, if an editor actually touched the manuscript after the outline phase. Based on the sheer number of awkward metaphors and continuity screw-ups, I wouldn't be suprised if they hadn't. And these aren't minor fanboy nitpicks about the number of fingers a particular alien has or the way that a character's motivation contradicts a single line of movie dialogue. These are blatant errors, the "Wait...What?" lines that force you to reread prose that in no way deserves it. At one point, a character slits his wrists in one scene and is alive and well in the next. At another, Schreiber apparently forgets which character bit another, temporarily reversing the vector/victim relationship. Maybe the editor assumed that he understood resuming a plot thread where it left off isn't optional, but Schreiber apparently likes to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable narrative.

Even as egregious as these "hard" errors are, they are almost welcome in comparison to the softer ones; those of story direction, pacing and thematic structure. It should be simple - a lone Jedi Knight has to stay alive in the midst of a bloody battle between cut-throat Sith and bite-throat Zombies, relying on her wits and the self-interested nature of evil to survive. By turning them against each other, she just may escape the planet alive, possibly in the company of a redeemed soul or two. Throw in a few meditations on the corrupting nature of evil and power and a handful of unique set pieces and you should have a winner. Instead, the Sith students are written like Slytherin drop-outs, turning a batch of potential adversaries into a cadre of whining red shirts. Instead of a dynamic conflict that changes with the ratio of Sith to Zombies, Schreiber gives us the same encounter again and again with no direction or distinction.

Schreiber also missteps with the inclusion of the entire Rojo Trace subplot. Even without the unforgivable Taken reference, his character contributes little to the book and if anything detracts from his sister's character by implying that she is incapable of saving herself. Gender politics aside, his role is completely superfluous as further evidenced by the illogically rapid pace with which he moves through his portion of the story. In not quite three pages, Rojo manages to connect the dots between footage of getaway vehicle and the identity of the bounty hunter, the Sith Lord who hired him and the location of the Sith Academy through a sequence of coincidences that would leave the cast of CSI rolling their eyes. It's like an outline with transitions and there is no reason why Rojo wasn't red penned out of narrative existence.

The only fathomable excuse is that at a mere 241 pages, the editor couldn't cut anything and still justify the $27.00 price tag on the jacket. Or even worse, the manuscript was turned in at 400 pages and what went to print was the "good" stuff. Either way, the end result is pure and utter drek and the reason why tie-in fiction has the reputation it does today.

The scariest thing about Red Harvest? The fact that it sold enough copies to get on the New York Times Bestseller List.


  1. lesson learned here folks: if you happen to be writing a star wars\wizards of the coast\D&D book, that SHOULD tell people something about how 'good' your writing is. short answer: stay away from tie-in fiction.

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