Being a late bloomer is sometimes challenging. I’ve always been a little behind when it comes to what’s the “cool” new thing, and not good at them when I do catch up. Baggy pants? Check, enormous red jeans. Kingdom Come, Watchmen and Game of Thrones? Yeah, five-to-ten years after everyone else had already absorbed them. So why not a zombie book, well after the massive shambling wave of popularity has subsided? And not just any zombie book, but a Star Wars zombie book?
The nice part about huge pre-made universes, as any fan in any world knows, is that it’s pretty easy to slide in your own ideas and characters, whether they work or not. I’ve read a decent amount of fanfiction. The good is very good, so much so that it might make the original material better, and the bad is hopefully entertaining. Death Troopers is an odd case in between the two extremes.
It’s set mainly on a prison ship, an extremely wretched hive of scum and villainy. The descriptions of the inmates and their condition is bleak and pretty chilling. Two of the protagonists are Trig and Kale Londo, young “apprentices” to their conman father who have been locked up as his accomplices. Guardsman Jareth Sartoris, doctor Zahara Cody are apparently the only survivors of a gruesome plague that sweeps the ship, killing all of the crew and prisoners. Then the fun begins.
My main issue with this book is that it doesn’t HAVE to be set in Star Wars. It’s a zombie story that could easily be plopped into a jail anywhere else. The zombies are the selling point, not the universe in which they are set. That’s fine, it’s the point of the story, but it doesn’t make the book any better. Significant characters and locations from the movies are mentioned, but it only served to reinforce the place, not make it feel like part of a wider universe.
Zombies themselves are a tough subject, simply because they’ve been used so many times that wringing something new out of the idea is probably a grueling task. Schreiber does a good job in painting the setting and making the dead disgusting and scary, but not to a degree that they’re too much different from any other example of the genre. There are some clever changes to the standard “risen dead” zombies though, such as the learning curve of the formerly-dead. His characters are fairly sold (though I have to nitpick about one name: “Jareth Sartoris”? Has he never seen Final Sacrifice on MST3k?). The story is likewise decent, but has some parts that just feel like padding as the cast moves through the ship. Perhaps I’m too jaded to appreciate the horror of the situation he creates for them.
As with anything I review here, I’d encourage you to try it for yourself. It’s not terrible by any means and has some memorable scenes and ideas. Joe Schreiber clearly has talent, given that this is not his first book, but I just can’t shake the feeling that he built a zombie story and plugged in Star Wars elements (especially a few that made me roll my eyes somewhat-I am firmly anti-spoiler, so go look it up yourself if you want to know.) I’d try his other books, but Death Troopers can be lost in space.