by Joe Schreiber
Published by Del Rey
Adrick's Rating: 3 out of 4
When the Imperial prison barge Purge--temporary home to five hundred of the galaxy’s most ruthless killers, rebels, scoundrels, and thieves—breaks down in a distant, uninhabited party of space, its only hope appears to lie with a Star Destroyer found drifting, derelict, and seemingly abandoned. But when a boarding party from the Purge is sent to scavenge for parts, only half of them come back—bringing with them a horrific disease so lethal that within hours nearly all aboard the Purge die in ways too hideous to imagine.
And death is only the beginning
The Purge’s half-dozen survivors—two teenage brothers, a sadistic captain of the guards, a couple of rogue smugglers, and the chief medical officer, the lone woman on board—will do whatever it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what lies waiting aboard the Star Destroyer amid its vast creaking emptiness that isn’t really empty at all. For the dead are rising, soulless, unstoppable, and unspeakably hungry.
In case you’ve been living under a genre-fan-free rock for the past couple of years, you know that zombies are all the rage. Movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland have been as successful as they are quotable. You can’t walk into a Barnes and Noble without spotting, say, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the Zombie Survival Handbook. Several people I know have, half-seriously, prepared survival strategies in the event that a government engineered virus transforms the Earth’s population into unstoppable flesh eating undead monsters. (Remember when people thought Trekkies were weird?)
Given that this scenario, which has become an almost integral part of zombie lore, is so preposterous, it’s a testament to Death Troopers author Joe Schreiber’s skills that I found this novel to be genuinely frightening in spite of the worn-out absurdity of the premise. There are piles of gore, of course, and a lot of that is genuinely nauseating. But what really makes Death Troopers horrifying are the little moments of wrongness, such as the terrible scenes with the baby wookiee, or the Imperial crew trapped in a shuttle. (No spoilers here—you have to read the book to get the full effect.)
Those concerned that this is simply a zombie movie transformed into a Star Wars novel, Mad Libs style, can put their minds at ease. True, Death Troopers utilizes all the zombie tropes, but the distinctly Star Wars themes of family and redemption are here as well. Schreiber also makes effective use of the Wookiees, showing that the infection not only twists their monstrous tempers and strength, but their family ties, rituals, and loyalty as well. Plus, there’s Han Solo and Chewbacca. Not that I’m weird or anything, but in the event of a zombie outbreak, I’d definitely want them in my survival plan.
Death Troopers is short. Really short. Even with the extra-long, omnipresent Outcast excerpt in the back, the book doesn’t even hit 270 pages. The length is fine for the story that Schreiber tells, but I’m not sure that I’d want to pay the hardcover price for it. ($24? Really?) At the very least, I would have liked to have seen some of the extensive marketing material, such as the “Purge letters” that were circulated around several Star Wars sites or the Vector tweets, reproduced in the back.
You know what? Take your pick. It’s all pretty nasty.