Author: Joe Schreiber
Publication Date: December 2010
Timeline Placement: 3,645 BBY
I almost stopped reading this book on page 16, when I got to this passage at the end of the second chapter:
Opening his eyes again, he looked at the cracked wall. It had been strong, but now it was damaged, its value weakened in some fundamental way by what had been inflicted on it.
I am that wall.
It’s always a good sign when a book comes with its own built-in SparkNotes, just in case you find its heavy-handed symbolism too obscure. It’s good to show contempt for your audience.
Red Harvest is a zombie book, and a prequel to the 2009 zombie book Death Troopers, which I haven’t read and am now dreading. The story involves a zombie plague that breaks out on an ice planet full of faceless bad guys when an evil faction at war with the Republic attempts to harness the knowledge of an ancient Sith Lord 3,000-some years before the movies. If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. A lot of indistinguishable characters are introduced, do nothing, and die. Eventually the main girl escapes due to no agency or capability of her own, and the book ends. That’s the whole plot.
Let’s take a look at our cast of characters, if you can call them that. The dramatis personae lists fifteen named characters, thirteen of which are human and thirteen of which are male. It’s like an argument for affirmative action right there on the first page.
Hestizo Trace, nicknamed “Zo” because even the author realized what a stupid name “Hestizo” is, is the main character of Red Harvest, as far as I can tell. A twenty-five-year-old member of the Jedi Agricultural Corps, she has a natural affinity for plantlife and psychic communication with shrubbery. As established in various other sources, the AgriCorps is basically where you get sent when you’re inducted into the Jedi Order as a child but your Force powers don’t develop enough for you to become a Knight. You don’t get a lightsaber, but you do get to spend your life telepathically encouraging plants to grow. Yayyyy. I don’t think this fact is ever mentioned in the book, however; Zo is consistently referred to as a Jedi, but she doesn’t have a lightsaber and is Force-incompetent to the point of being regular-incompetent.
Zo has a special bond with a Murakami orchid, an especially Force-sensitive flower that is the final ingredient the evil Darth Scabrous needs to complete his immortality potion. He sends a Whiphid bounty hunter named Tulkh to steal the orchid, but because Zo is foolish enough to tell him that the flower, once removed from its incubator, can’t survive outside her presence, she ends up kidnapped and hauled off to the frozen wasteland of Odacer-Faustin, home of Sith High and brazenly pointless filler plots.
Seven of the fifteen characters in the dramatis personae are teenage students at Sith High, and one is a teacher. That’s over half the cast, and you could excise literally all of their point-of-view chapters without affecting the plot in any way. One after another, they’re introduced, get no character development, and then are brutally killed off for no narrative reason. Mnah Ra’at, Hartwig, and Maggs are virtually indistinguishable, and Jura Ostrogoth is only discernible from them because of this incongruous anecdote about how he almost got gay-raped by another student his first day at the school. Kindra is the girl and lives the longest by betraying her classmates and refusing to take her clothes off when they ask her to, but she eventually gets torn apart by zombies anyway. Sith Professor Xat Hracken has like two lines of dialogue and then turns into a zombie. None of these characters ever interacts with or is even aware of the existence of Hestizo Trace or anyone involved with her section of the plot, which is really just “the plot.”
Zo’s brother, Jedi Knight Spanish-for-Red Trace, senses her abduction through the Force. Rather than alert his superiors that his sister has been kidnapped and going after her with some Jedi backup, he sends this message to her abductor through the Force, even though he has no reason to believe that this person is a Force-sensitive who would even be able to receive it: Listen to me. I don’t know who you are, but I am in possession of a very special set of skills. If you bring my sister back right now, unharmed, then I’ll let you go. But if you don’t, I promise you, I will track you down. I will find you. And I will make you pay.
This is the second point where I almost stopped reading the book. Not that Liam Neeson’s Taken isn’t a time-tested classic in the cinematic canon whose influence will be immediately evident to anyone reading this book more than two years after it came out, but why is that in here?
Then later there’s a Fahrenheit 451 reference: chapter 32 begins with the line “It was a pleasure to burn.” The author also revealed that “the first draft of the novel contained a character named Middish Sunblade, modeled after Holden Caulfield, but Sunblade was removed from the rewrite because he was whiny and nobody could stand him.” It’s like this book was written by a high school student doing an assignment for a creative writing class, and he just threw a bunch of references and allusions to books he’d read for other classes and what was on TV at the time into his zombie splatterbook without stopping to consider if they made any sense at all or were in any way appropriate for the subject matter he was writing about.
Anyway, Trace appears in like three scenes after that, then the zombified Darth Scabrous kills him with a sword.
Tulkh, the Whiphid bounty hunter, and Dail’Liss, the Sith librarian, are the only two non-human characters in the dramatis personae and also the only two who come at all close to being interesting to read about. Tulkh carries a spear and his ship has a trophy room full of bones, just like the Predator in Predator 2, and he later teams up with the female character he was previously antagonizing to face a greater threat, just like the Predator in Alien vs. Predator. Unlike the Predator, however, he has no reason to do this, as after he was paid for delivering Zo to Scabrous he could have just left the planet. For some reason, though, despite showing no remorse for kidnapping her and impaling her coworker, Tulkh sticks around to help Zo, and ultimately rescues her at the end of the book before nobly allowing himself to be flushed into space to save her from the zombie contamination within him. This would be an acceptable character arc if anyone had bothered to actually write it.
Dail’Liss is a thousand-year-old Neti, a tree-like alien who at a certain point in its life cycle becomes even more tree-like, sinking its roots into the ground and becoming immobile. The book clearly states that Dail’Liss is rooted in place and can’t leave his library, but he’s somehow still able move his trunk through the walls and cracks of the building by sliding along his branches or something, which makes me wonder if the author has ever seen a tree before. Despite being a Sith, Dail’Liss seems like a pretty chill dude. He just wants to sit in his library and read books, so naturally he gets turned into an evil zombie tree.
The third almost-interesting character is Darth Scabrous’s HK-model assassin droid, who gets neither a name nor a mention in the dramatis personae, but is more important than about two thirds of the characters who do. The droid teams up with Tulkh to eviscerate zombies with giant guns, then later sacrifices himself for no reason to take out the Sith’s antiaircraft batteries and allow his friends (?) to escape.
The book ends with two survivors, Hestizo Trace and a mechanic named Pergus Frode, escaping from Odacer-Faustin aboard Tulkh’s ship. Zo returns to the AgriCorps, but decides that instead of getting back into botany right away she wants to first visit the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to continue her training, even though Darth Malgus razed the Jedi Temple to the ground in the previous book. That’s going to be a pretty short trip, Zo.
Stylistically, the book’s prose is very simple and straightforward, with the occasional SAT word like “threnody” or “rectilinear” thrown in for flavor. That’s not to say it descends to the bland juvenility of something like Revan; Schreiber’s writing style is uninspiring but intellectually inoffensive, and I was able to breeze through the book in a handful of sittings over about three days. There is a ton of gore and excessive violence, lengthy and repetitive descriptions of people’s guts hanging out and people’s faces sloughing off, which isn’t typically what I would read a Star Wars book for, but it would be fine if there was anything to it besides graphicness for the sake of graphicness.
This is ostensibly a horror novel, but it’s never scary. Even the unremitting violence isn’t that fun; there are hardly any cool zombie kills, with the exception of Tulkh and the HK droid briefly teaming up at the very end and a non sequitur scene in which Zo, whose greatest talent is talking to plants, uses the Force to slow down time enough to grab an arrow in mid-flight use it to kill ten zombies in about two seconds. This is the only cool or interesting thing she does in the entire book, until near the end when she uses the Force to somehow phase through the bonds tying her to a sacrificial altar.
This book isn’t insultingly, embarrassingly bad like Revan, but Revan failed both as its own story and as the follow-up to a much better story; Red Harvest is just a whole lot of nothing, so that’s what I’m giving it.
0/5 Death Stars.