Monday, 12 July 2010

Space Zombies Are The Coolest Zombies

Death Troopers is the sixth Star Wars novel I have read, not counting the novelisations of the Original Trilogy itself. The other five were all by Timothy Zahn, so Death Troopers is up against some healthy competition.

Or at least, it would be, if it was possible to judge them in remotely the same way. Frankly, conceiving them as being in the same universe - Star Wars' or our own - is tough enough. For the first third of the book, there's absolutely no reason in the slightest why the story needs to take place in the Extended Universe at all. Give me the original document, ten minutes, a list of Star Wars planets, races and ships, and a short-cut to "Find and Replace", and I could make this a Star Trek novel and nobody would be any the wiser. No-one would be asking why Commander Riker had force powers, or whether or not Worf would really have access to a lightsaber. Every name and object is entirely without context. The whole thing screams "Shameless cash-in" at the top of its zombie-infected lungs. If there are genuinely people out in the world who would consider a spaceship overrun by zombies insufficiently cool, then I say leave 'em to it. Certainly, I'd be leery of assuming adding "Also, the spaceship is a motherfucking Star Destroyer" is necessarily going to help:

Still, once you get past the pointlessness of the EU trappings, the actual build-up itself is pretty good. Nicely paced (I particularly liked the ADHD-sized chapters, though this might have something to do with only having just finished the decidedly thickly-sliced Accelerando) with some good jolts, and some fun atmosphere building. It's all entirely lightweight and pointless - and never claims to be anything else - but it keeps you entertained. Essentially, the plot runs as follows. An Imperial prison barge finds an abandoned, drifting Star Destroyer, and the resulting boarding party sent over to investigate comes back with a hideous gribbly virus that a) kills you with, like, 99.99% probability, and then b) makes you insane and determinted to eat the 0.01% of the population still wandering about. Not exactly original, obviously, but you could sensibly argue that the book gets let off complaints about its derivative nature since Schreiber is, at least, not following the established pattern of reshuffling the Original Trilogy into a fractionally different order and hope you simultaneously don't notice and love them forever for doing it.

Then we get to the part where the medical officer (miraculously one of those immune, but fuck it, this book does not care about coincidence - coincidence is getting its face eaten by a zombie stormtrooper) springs the two prisoners in solitary to give them her rather after-the-horse-has-bolted-y cure, and they turn out to be... wait for it... Han and Chewie!

That's right. You remember that scene in A New Hope where Han was all "I can't believe we're up to our necks in Imperials just a few months after we were nearly eaten alive by zombies!"? Well, now you know why.

(Actually, maybe that's unfair. Maybe Chewie is complaining about it all the time, and Han just keeps quiet because he's sick of his buddy's constant whining. Who knows what that lunatic Wookiee is actually saying. Sometimes I like to imagine he's talking exclusively in haiku).

As soon as our two favourite scoundrels show up, the whole thing takes a massive lurching dive from "Why is this a Star Wars book?" to "Why the Hell is this book taking itself seriously?" You've got Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting zombies. In what ludicrous crevice of the human mind could the idea be born that that is something to attempt to play straight? If you're going to make me believe the EU is the kind of place one might run into a zombie horde, fine. If you want me to believe two major characters will happen to be quite literally delivered to same catastrophe, OK. But for the love of God, know what it is you've got on your hands. Don't try to make me feel bad for the other survivors. I want to see Han Solo decapitate a zombie with a lightsaber he's found for no fucking good reason. I don't want to watch someone teetering back and forth on the brink of redemption. I want Chewbacca to punch a zombie in the stomach and then for that zombie's head to explode. Do not waste my time with anything else at all.

Not that this is a total disaster, or anything. It's just entirely throwaway when it could have been throwaway and hilarious.

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