Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber (2010, Del Rey)
In Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op investigates the murder of one Donald Wilson and, in doing so, encounters widespread corruption in the town of Personville.
Whoops. Wrong book. I was thinking of this one:
Joe Schreiber’s Star Wars novel shares nothing in common with Hammett’s classic detective story other than its title. It’s a prequel to his earlier Star Wars book, Death Troopers, which I reviewed around this time last year. In it, we discover how the zombie virus from Death Troopers came to be, more than three thousand years before.
The novel is largely set on the world of Odacer-Faustin, a cold, inhospitable planet that houses a large Sith academy. This setting is a good choice on Schreiber’s part; not only is it convenient for the novel’s plot, but before the undead ever get involved, there is already something of the horrific about a bunch of teenagers and young adults being formally trained to embrace hatred, spite, and backbiting.
The academy is run by a Sith lord known as Darth Scabrous, who, like all good megalomaniacs, wants to be immortal. To achieve this end, he has a bounty hunter bring him a special breed of black orchid which possesses sentience and certain other special properties.
The orchid requires the presence and nurturing of a Force-sensitive to survive, and so Hestizo Trace, a member of the Jedi Agricultural Corps, is apprehended by a Whiphid bounty hunter named Tulkh and dragged to Odacer-Faustin along with the flower she’s been nurturing.
Scabrous adds the orchid to whatever mix of snakes, snails, and puppy dog’s tails that he’s been working on, killing one of his human test subjects and then bringing him back to life… as a zombie.
As I’m sure anyone with a passing familiarity with horror has guessed, the newly raised zombie carries a viral contagion, and from here, things begin to go to hell in a hand basket.
In this book, Schreiber does an excellent job developing setting and mood. The reader is constantly reminded of the cold and desolate landscape, painted entirely in white, black, and various grays. Schreiber also takes a page from H.P. Lovecraft and uses things like the improbable geometry of the Sith academy’s architecture to convey a sense of disorientation and unease. The descriptions of zombie mealtimes are pretty effective, too.
Where this book falls a little short of its predecessor is in the realm of character. This book has a larger cast than Death Troopers, including a number of Sith students and the aforementioned Sith lord, bounty hunter, and Jedi Agricultural Corps member. The characters are not bad, and their personalities are developed enough, but their backgrounds and relationships to one another lack the depth of emotion and interest that was present in Death Troopers, making it more difficult for me to feel especially terrible when a group of zombies decides it’s chow time.
Despite this, Red Harvest is a quick, entertaining read, and certainly recommended for anyone who’s a combination Star Wars/horror fan.
Enjoy your Halloween, and check back here next week for my review of Timothy Zahn’s Outbound Flight.