Sunday, March 20

Red Harvest - a review

Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber is a prequel to Schreiber’s previous Star Wars tale, Death Troopers, which attempted to be the first Star Wars horror novel. I was not thrilled with Death Troopers, but if I ever get truly desperate for a read and pick it back up, maybe I’ll discuss its problems on here.

You should know that I love Star Wars and the Star Wars universe. I have several shelves full of the books and own all but one of the movies (episode I, which I’m waiting to find cheap at a garage sale or something). However, that doesn’t prevent me from taking a critical look at the stories or the novels either.

So back to my review. I said this was a prequel to Death Troopers. And it is….but it’s not a normal prequel. This prequel take place a little over 3,000 years earlier. This means none of the same characters (thank goodness), a different setting, and no Stormtroopers around to get infected by virus that turns living creatures into ravaging zombies.

The story largely takes place around a Sith academy. Darth Scabrous seeks the key to immortality. He has gathered nearly all of the pieces. All he needs is the juice from a rare orchid. A hired bounty hunter discovers the flower in the care of Hestizo, a young woman who trained as a Jedi but didn’t have the ability to become a full knight. Instead, she tends to this orchid, which has a strong force bond to her. If they are separated by too great a distance, the orchid will die. So, Hestizo is kidnapped with the flower and brought before the Sith lord.

Using the final ingredients, Scarbrous nears completion of his task. He injects part of a serum into a Sith Student and the student quickly turns into a mindless killing machine. The mind of the student is dead and is replaced with a powerful bloodlust – a zombie. True to zombie form, if any bodily fluids from a zombie comes in contact with your own fluids, you become infected as well. This Sith zombie escapes and soon more and more Sith students are nothing more than blood thirsty monsters. Darth Scarbrous still has one last thing to do before he can gain immortality and Hestizo wants nothing more that to get off the planet.

Despite not liking Death Troopers, I was hoping that Red Harvest would be better. For one, I knew it would have completely original characters and wouldn’t attempt to bring in well known ones (Han Solo and Chewbacca in the case of Death Troopers). Plus, I find the time period interesting, especially with the Sith versus Jedi thread being extremely strong. I was rather disappointed to find Red Harvest barely better than its precursor.

1) The first thing Schreiber did was wrong was having a sentient plant A sentient, force sensitive plant who’s only purpose was the be the catalyst for the zombie-disease and encourage the good guys. Yes, I know Star Wars has a sentient planet, but the planet actually had purpose, character, and even had a back-story. This flower is just a flower that talks. That it is sentient adds nothing substantial to the story.

2) The characters are extremely weak. Back story is kept to a bare minimum, replaced by characters mulling over their ultimate goal or watching people getting bitten by zombies. Darth Scarbrous wants to be immortal, but that is really all we know. I want to know about his standing as a Sith. I want to know how much power he truly holds. I don’t know him at all. I also don’t know Hestizo. So she didn’t end up being a Jedi, I get that. But that seems to be the only thing behind her. I don’t care about her. I don’t care if she lives or dies, because she doesn’t seem real. The only character I really started to like and who I wanted to see more of died 1/4th the way through the story…

3) Writing the word “blood” does not make this a horror novel. But Schreiber seems to think that. Horror should stem from the circumstances and the characters, not the presence of gratuitous violence. Honestly, the violence isn’t even realistic sounding. All Schreiber seems to do is write about blood flying. Perhaps he’s going for the ‘slasher’ genre, but even then the amount he dedicates to writing about the violence is more than a scene demands. It was a short book already (under 300 pages) and it felt like he wrote more violent scenes just to beef up the size a bit.

Still, I think that the horror element failed. The first task should be to make me feel any emotion besides apathy toward the characters. Then, the characters have to go through ordeals in which I honestly don’t know how they’ll be affected. Sure, if it’s half way through the book I figure the lead won’t die, but that doesn’t mean horrific things can’t happen or affect them!

A horror story needs more than zombies.

Finally, as a part of the Star Wars universe, it wasn’t particularly strong. We don’t learn a whole lot about the Sith, which is regrettable. Until recently there were very few books or stories about the times when Sith were as plentiful as Jedi. This book could’ve benefited from an inside look at the Sith since most of the story takes place on a Sith world. Given that it is a Sith academy, we could learn about the teachings of the Sith. We could learn about Sith students. We get a bit in the Darth Bane books, but being over thousand years earlier, this easily could’ve given us strong insight into the Sith view of the force. Fatal Alliance, set only a little before this, did a much better job at delving into the Sith teachings and practices. A main character was a Sith apprentice who was a character I actually cared to know more about. The story went through twists and turns that kept it interesting, and it played on the Sith versus Jedi dynamic. I am looking forward to Deceived, and hope it continues the arc, since Red Harvest just didn’t do it for me.


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