Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: Death Troopers

I'm not big into the Star Wars books. I used to be big into the Star Trek books. From what I've read in each series I have to come down on the side of Star Trek books. Probably because Peter David writes for Star Trek but has only one one Star Wars story and it was in comic book form.

Sorry. Got off track a bit there.

I first heard about the book "Death Troopers" in the comic strip "Unshelved".

Normally I'd avoid books like this. If you told me there was a Star Wars zombie book I'd laugh and forget about it. "World War Z" aside, I tend to avoid zombies in book form. I like mine in movies and video games. There's another Star Wars zombie book coming out by the same author and it interests me not at all. But "Death Troopers" interested me.

The comic strip spells it out rather well. Shortly before the movie "Star Wars" (a.k.a "A New Hope", "Episode IV") an imperial prison barge is taking rebels, aliens, criminals, and other undesirables to a prison moon. The engines fail a week from their destination. They're not on any major traffic lane. They're not near any planets. But there is a Star Destroyer nearby. A Star Destroyer that doesn't respond to hails and scans show only 10 life signs. Maybe they can help!

Before I go on, have you heard of Quorum sensing? It usually refers to bacteria and how their behavior changes when the population density reaches a certain level. Certain bioluminiscent bacteria only start to glow when their numbers get high enough. Some behave like the disease in this book in that they don't become dangerous until they exist in sufficient quantities to overwhelm the immune system.

As you read the part where people from the prison ship start to explore the obviously abandoned Star Destroyer you'll want to picture in your mind what they're seeing. The description of these ten tiny people walking inside of the huge empty hangar bay is a bit creepy.

By the time they got back to the prison barge an hour later some of them have already developed a nasty cough. Instead of a bite the plague spreads through the air. It seems that not even biohazard suits can stop it. But somehow it can't get into solitary confinement where Han Solo and Chewbacca are being held.

The infection uses quorum sensing in it's attacks. You don't know you're infected until it's too late. Once you've started coughing it's already strong enough to take down your immune system. Soon you die. How you die depends on your race. Less than 1% of people have a natural immunity.

But that's just the first phase. Once minute the survivors are stepping over the dead all over the ship. The next minute the corridors are clear. A little while later the dead come at you in a group from the shadows. If you get bitten you're infected enough that your natural immunity is no longer up to snuff.

The disease is smarter than your normal zombie plague. It learns. It learns, slowly, how to open doors, climb ladders, use blasters, turn on tractor beams, and near the end of the book they're even learning how to fly small ships.

This was a pretty quick read and pretty engaging. I would recommend it to any Star Wars or zombie fans.

Since I started talking about Star Wars and Star Trek books, I also recommend "Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina". A variety of authors wrote short stories about each and every creature seen in the Mos Eisley Cantina from the original Star Wars movie. And from the Star Trek line of books, anything by Peter David is good. I kept a small library in my locker in high school for my friends to borrow. Once I picked all the best to bring in I realized all but one of them was by him.

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