Saturday, October 19, 2013

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber (Star Wars zombie horror)

Trig Longo is a barely teenaged Cimarosan grifter imprisoned along with the rest of his family aboard the Imperial prison ship Purge, which is also home to five hundred other murderers, thieves, and rebel insurgents. En route to the detention moon, the Purge breaks down, its engines coming to a standstill.

The discovery of a seemingly abandoned Star Destroyer results in a scouting party being enlisted to search for salvageable repair parts. Only half return, and by the time they realize what they've brought back with them, it is too late: death is aboard the Purge — and it's contagious.

Before long, Dr. Zahara Cody and her 21B droid are dealing with over a dozen dead and a nearly 100 percent infection rate. Before long, only six of the living remain, surrounded by innumerable rank corpses.

But of course, these aren't your average dead bodies. These are the kind who make like Lazarus and get up and walk. And they're really, really hungry.

When I saw Death Troopers, my first thought was, "Wow, not even Star Wars can avoid jumping on the zombie bandwagon." And then I knew I had to read it. The cover image of a decapitated stormtrooper's bloody head hanging on a hook was simply too gruesome to resist.

I've always thought of Star Wars as relatively "clean" entertainment, so this addition of undead horror to the franchise was intriguing and exciting in its opening of a new world of potential storylines. Death Troopers is eerie from the beginning, and author Joe Schreiber (Chasing the Dead) uses his experience in the thriller genre to craft some genuinely scary scenes. The book doesn't really get moving for a while, but the surprise appearance of a pair of familiar faces one-third of the way in is a pleasing distraction.

Audiobook reader Sean Kenin adds to the gruesome nature of the disease by kindly providing appropriately wet coughs for the infected. Some poor choices, however, make the audiobook less than it could be. One is having Kenin describe a character's action (sighs, deep breaths, etc.) and then redundantly perform them. Another is just nit-picking, but I found it difficult to believe that a lab described in the text as "dead" and "abandoned" would require the use of mad scientist bubbling chemical sound effects.

The conceit of having the chapter titles screamed in a kind of electronic filtered echo starts out as a nicely disturbing counterpoint to the text but becomes laughable after only a few occurrences. (There are around forty chapters.) Death Troopers is in fact only the second time that I've felt an audio version detracted in some ways from the story. (See my review of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.) The crunching, slushy sound effects of a body being torn apart are quite nice, however, and the experience as a whole was altogether entertaining.

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