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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

RED HARVEST: Star Wars returns to horror genre with mildly good zombie story

Had author Joe Schreiber not written Star Wars: Red Harvest, I would have been completely satisfied with his 2009 novel Death Troopers (see my review here) as a standalone story. Death Troopers was the first time that the Star Wars saga had delved into the territory of classic horror. It succeeded, and hopefully it will prove to be the first of many more endeavors to scare us with the darkness of that galaxy far, far away.

With Red Harvest, Schreiber follows up with a prequel examining the origins of the Blackwing virus: the infectious agent that turned an entire Imperial Star Destroyer into a derelict tomb packed with flesh-hungry zombies that Han Solo and Chewbacca had to blast their way through. However instead of again setting the story within the timeframe of the classic movies, Schreiber takes the readers back to the era of the Old Republic, more than thirty-five hundred years before the time of the Empire.

I thought that Red Harvest is something of a mixed bag, that for the most part works fairly well. But I have to wonder if it might have been more effective at eliciting terror had Schreiber set it (or if he'd been allowed to set it: remember we're talking about Star Wars licensed fiction under the ultimate control of the Lucasfilm bigwigs) during the period of the classic films. The virus, it turns out, was originally created by a Sith Lord named Darth Scabrous (that is either the funniest or the most sicko moniker for a Dark Lord ever), as part of his bid to find a means of living forever. Maybe it's just me, but Scabrous as a character just... didn't have the sense of menace that most Sith Lords have embodied. Although there is one vile act that Darth Scabrous does involving a bounty hunter and his partner (if you've read the book you know what I'm talking about) that is... well, it's pretty harsh. I mean it, it's outright gross to the max! And I can't help but think that somehow it would have been more intense had it been Darth Vader doing that instead to some poor shlub.

Death Troopers worked so well because it involved a setting and characters that most Star Wars fans already understood and appreciated. Red Harvest on the other hand demands that we feel empathy for an entirely new cast and an era of Star Wars lore that for many people, is still an unknown quantity. I'm not saying that you won't get a thrill from Red Harvest (which was originally to be titled Black Orchid until it was decided that sounded too much like a romance novel), just that the "scare factor" in Death Troopers was in most part because it involved elements we'd already invested significant time in coming to know and love. With Red Harvest even die-hard Star Wars fans will have to "work" at arousing the empathy needed to feel something toward the story's good guys.

So yeah, it wasn't quite up to the snuff that Death Troopers is, but I still have to say that I was entertained plenty enough by Red Harvest. It was good to see the concept of midi-chlorians explored further, and Schreiber also demonstrates in Red Harvest that he's not squeamish at all about turning the reader's stomach.

And hey, this novel has Sith ZOMBIES in it! Hard to say "no" to that :-)