Review: Death Troopers

by Joe Schreiber.

The grim undead
The grim undead

This may be the only time I’m going to do a repeat review. Death Troopers was one of the first things I reviewed for this site, back before I had a format or any real formula for reviewing, and even before there was a consideration about canon vs. non-canon. It was suggested on the Facebook page that I review this book in my current sweep of reviewing, and when a recent comment on the site suggested a possible conflict between this and the canon A.C. Crispen trilogy, I decided it was worth re-evaluating. After all, it’s been three years. Does the Star Wars zombie book hold up?

In a word, yes. Joe Schreiber has a real sense of story and a gripping way of describing things. The good news is, I am pleased to affirm that this book is canon. The bad news is, you may not want to read it if you don’t want to read gripping descriptions of vile gore. He does not balk in the description department and this book deserves all the R rating of the best-done zombie pictures from Dawn of the Dead to Zombieland and back to 28 Days Later.

It’s 01137, the year before A New Hope. The Imperial prison barge Purge is cutting its way through deep space toward the final destination for most of its passengers, a penal colony on the outer rim. Among the hardened denizens of the ship are a couple of adolescents, Kale and Trig, whose grifter father was just murdered by a guard. But all in all, life on board seems pretty typical.

Until the barge freezes in deep space for no obvious reason, tantalizingly close to a derelict Star Destroyer that any good horror buff would tell the crew to stay leagues away from. Just as obviously, they don’t follow this advice and send in two investigatory teams that become Purina zombie chow within half an hour — if they didn’t, there would be no book.

I really enjoy the way Schreiber describes things, as well as the way he twists the storyline this way and that. He is by far the most skilled 21st century author of Star Wars books, which I guess could be construed as unfortunate that he uses his talents for evil. By evil, I mean writing books that many Star Warriors won’t want to read due to the scary content and gore.

I’m not exaggerating when I say scary. Both times I’ve read this, I’ve done so with the Star Wars soundtracks on my headphones, and more than once gotten creeping terrors by the combination of John Williams’ music and the artful descriptions. While reading this straight after Lockdown made Schreiber feel a little “one trick pony” (seriously, can you do anything not set in a grungy prison?), I maintain that it’s a high-quality zombie movie any fan of the genre should enjoy.

And like any good zombie movie, there are inevitable deaths. No one is safe (at least mostly no one). Yet — and this is another interesting thing about zombie movies — most of the deaths have more meaning than those in your average flick where people get killed. From Doyle in 28 Weeks Later, who sacrifices himself to facilitate a potential cure making it out safe, to the deaths in Dawn of the Dead where members of the team sacrifice themselves so the others can get out, zombie movies have a recurring element of nobility and sacrifice, and the least likely people discovering these traits in themselves. And Death Troopers is in fact no different.

Which really means there’s some philosophy tucked up and hidden deep in what on the surface looks like any random, cheap Star Wars novel with zombies thrown in just to attract some shallow 21st century readers. It’s definitely more than that. It is a very good book, and good canon.

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