Turns Out There's Something Darker Than The Dark SideS

Having a zombie overload? You still might want to save some room for the "zombies in the Star Wars universe" book, Death Troopers, which came out last week. It turns out stormtroopers and zombies do mix. Spoilers below.

The storyline for Death Troopers is pretty simple, really — an Imperial prison barge, during the years right before the original Star Wars movie, runs into some engine trouble. Good thing they find a Star Destroyer in the middle of nowhere, which they can cannibalize for parts. Unfortunately, the Star Destroyer has some kind of weird virus on board, which kills everyone it comes into contact with... and the people who die don't stay dead. And that's about it. The survivors from the prison barge have to run a gauntlet of Imperial zombies and try to escape in one piece, while facing their own personal traumas and uncovering a sinister biological weapons program that comes straight from Lord Vader himself.

Among others, we meet a sadistic prison guard, Sartoris, an idealistic prison doctor, Cody, and the Longo brothers, the two sons of Trig Longo, a smuggler whom Sartoris murdered. Everybody gets a nice story arc in between (and during) zombie attacks.

It's a quick read, and there's a lot of chasing around dark corridors and crawlspaces and the holds of abandoned spaceships. But the good news is Joe Schreiber, a horror veteran, finds enough twists and turns in the narrative to keep it thrilling. There are enough subplots and surprising nasties (like former officers aboard the Star Destroyer who've resorted to cannibalism and are as bad as the zombies) to keep things interesting. And a couple of characters you've actually met before do turn up, so you're not just stuck with a cast of newbies.

And Schreiber writes in a pleasingly intense, thriller style, managing to find new ways to convey terror and desperation. Like this bit, which I liked:

But there is nothing to worry about, Sartoris told himself, dropping the thought like a pebble into the deep well of his subconscious and waiting to hear some sort of telltale plink of reassurance. The silence that came back wasn't particularly reassuring.

Later on, he has neat bits about people running so hard, they have lactic acid in their joints and stuff. The visuals of deformed faces behind Stormtrooper helmets, and pits full of undead, howling Imperial officers, are vivid enough to make you cringe a bit, and the story's revelations hint at an evil greater than anything we've seen in Star Wars before: an unstoppable contagion that uses "quorum sensing" to lie in wait until it has enough numbers to overwhelm you completely.

The main problem with the novel is a slightly convenient, almost Deus Ex Machina ending. Apart from that, though, it's pretty much exactly what you want from a Star Wars zombie novel: monstrous evil, unspeakable horror, the grinding cruelty of the Empire, and a handful of petty criminals and rogues who discover their inner nobility at the exact last second. What else could you hope for? [Death Troopers at Borders.com]