Tuesday, 18 June 2013



A horror story by Joe Schreiber

Published in paperback in the UK by ARROW BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

Note: this review contains mild spoilers

Dare you discover the horror of the Deathtroopers…?

Whilst there have been occasional and intriguing dalliances into the realms of the supernatural within the STAR WARS universe-some more successful than others, and primarily in tales set within the UK and US MARVEL comic book stories from 1978 to 1980-LUCAS BOOKS initiating of their first true horror novel is a much welcome move in developing the STAR WARS brand into new areas. The selection of Joe Schreiber as its author is also another plus factor to their credit-already critically acclaimed by both critics and horror fans alike for his inventive, atmospheric delves into the realms of psychological and physical terror in crafting popular genre books such as NO WINDOWS, NO DOORS and EAT THE DARK. The fact that he’s also a die hard STAR WARS fan, who knows his Corvellian Corvettes from his Star Destroyers, and his Bossk’s from his Zuckuss’s, however, is the ultimate plus.

But what to pick for the first STAR WARS horror story? Well, all I can say is “Bring on the Zombies!” Everyone else has done it in the past few years. Even Indiana Jones has had a run in with ‘em in his DEL REY book ARMY OF THE DEAD-though the less said about that one the better-it really is an undistinguished entry for such a popular book series, and I expected much more from Steve Perry!! You could say it was a tale better off buried with the undead themselves!! This attempt at bringing the Zombie genre into a galaxy “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, works a helluva lot better, right from the first chapter. The end result is something that is sure to make SHAUN OF THE DEAD’s Simon Pegg a very happy man indeed, though there are no Sade or Prince BATMAN records available to Han Solo and Chewie to throw into the heads of attacking Zombie legions. Ah well…

With certainly the most effective and fan acclaimed stand out cover in years of STAR WARS publishing- HELLRAISER meets STAR WARS!- DEATHTROOPERS chronicles the story of the stranded Imperial Prison Barge appropriately named Purge, which, having broken down in the back ends of space, docks with a derelict Star Destroyer and sends a crew into its dark bowels in order to retrieve spare parts for repair. Things don’t look good for the crew of the Purge from the get-go. And then, before you can say swine flu, one part of the repairs team disappears, whilst the other half unwittingly returns to the barge with an unknown, highly contagious disease that, bar a small group of resistant individuals, practically wipes out the entire ships 5000 strong crew and prisoners. But just because they’re dead, that doesn’t mean they’re gonna stay dead!

What lurks in the silent darkness of the Star Destroyer? What is behind the deadly disease that has created this frightening scenario? Can the survivors discover the terrible truth behind it before it’s too late? And is there more to the dark genesis of this “disease” than meets the eye?

The cast of characters introduced into this world of blood and gore are kept to a minimum that works to the books favour – Schreiber presents the classic archetype concept familiar to all horror fans, and displayed in an exemplary way in movies such as ALIEN and THE THING (with just a hit of ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS/cannibalism and a veritable mix of RESIDENT EVIL thrown in for bloody good measure)-including a scumbag Imperial Captain with a penchant for killing prisoners whilst under his zealous and cruel interrogation, numerous sleazy secondary security guards and trigger happy Stormtroopers, and a fastidious ships commander/warden, despised by his senior staff-all of whom are developed but not too well rounded- I mean, you don’t want to care too much about-they are the enemy after all!!- and secondly, its another typical horror pattern from the last thirty years that the characters are never too well developed before they get eaten, torn apart or Zombie-fied, anyway!

Imperial carnage!

Finishing off the main Imperial cast, there’s the vessel’s lone female crew member, the ship’s Doctor, Zahara Cody, who’s considered to be more friendly and considerate with her prisoner patients than her superiors, as well as a dedicated medical droid-a 2-1B affectionately referred to by his superior as Waste!! Overall, Zahara Cody is almost a more likeable version of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley from the first two ALIEN movies, not afraid to use either her intellect or a blaster to survive.

On the other side of the bars, amongst the lock down prisoners on the Purge, are two young teenage brothers, who, along with their recently deceased father, prove to be innocents caught in a nightmare scenario of Imperial entrapment, additionally taunted and threatened along the way to their new prison home by an alien gang leader who could give T’bag from PRISON BREAK a run for his money in the vile stakes.

And then there’s the surprise rogue element to the story-two familiar spice smugglers who quickly get caught in the Zombie crossfire.

Beyond LUCAS BOOKS website making an incredible gaffe in blowing the surprise factor of their involvement (showing them in poster art for the books related internet STAR WARS GALAXIES game site far earlier than it should have (though, thankfully, the book has no sign of Aayla Secura waving about a lightsaber!)), Han Solo and Chewbacca’s involvement in the tale is a fun addition. Set in a time frame just before the events of EPISODE IV, how our lovable duo gets themselves caught in this mess is something you’ll have to find out for yourself-I won’t divulge. Truth be told, though, there’s ultimately no real need to have them in the adventure-they could have been two other characters- but, being amongst the most popular characters in the Original STAR WARS Trilogy, if any of our familiar heroes were going to be introduced into this horror tale, then these guys are the most suited to make an appearance. I certainly don’t think it would have worked as well with any other lead characters from the OT.

As things go from bad to worse for the Purge survivors, Schreiber’s writing style from start to finish is as crisp as it is dark, with story building expected but effectively creepy. With no heavy Expanded Universe continuity to drag it down (sorry, forgive the pun-I couldn’t resist!! It is a horror book review!), the adventure-almost like an expanded short story, a style favoured by veteran horror authors like H.P. Lovecraft- moves fast and loose and has lots of good description- Schreiber keeps the story straightforward, amping up the horror and setting it up against some very filmic set pieces, especially for the scenes set within the Zombie infested Star Destroyer, a giant cathedral of darkness and doom that quickly proves a perfect setting for the events of the books second half. Cue eerie hangar bays, weird noises, shadows and strange murmurings in the ultimate haunted house, then add blood, killer organs, nasty death scenes and tons of vomiting and you’ve got a monster hit on your hands. All in all, the golden rules of creating horror stories are honoured and used to good effect here.

The author also gets to throw in some fun references to other horror TV and film classics, past and present, with character names that you’ll have fun looking out for. As for STAR WARS references, many fans consider the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL television show from 1978 to be a unique horror story in its own right-here the author goes one step further and puts a dark new spin on one aspect of it’s story and characters, linked to a scene involving Chewbacca’s possession by the alien Zombie virus.

With disturbing images that would look terrific if adapted into a visual medium-I would love to see a graphic novel of this or perhaps some more successful STAR WARS fan films like the ones highlighted in LUCASFILM ‘s recent online competition- DEATHTROOPERS is a strong first descent into the depths of horror, death and purgatory for the STAR WARS saga. With certain plot strands not totally resolved by the books satisfying end, I’ve no doubt that the Zombies (which, intriguingly, are never actually referred to by that name in the book) and their “disease” will return for future helpings of Imperial and Rebellion flesh in the near future...

AFICIONADO RATING: DEATHTROOPERS brings the draughty cold, dripping terror of a slaughter house into both the STAR WARS saga and your front room! When reading it, make sure that your doors are locked and that those curtains are tightly drawn against those invading night time shadows!! 8.5 out of 10

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