Years ago, in the long lonely days after Return of the Jedi but long before The Phantom Menace, I was a Star Wars book nut. I recall being particularly fond of the “Tales of” collections be they the Mos Eisley Cantina, Jabba’s Palace, The Empire and so on. Then George Lucas revisited the franchise with a new trilogy, a few animated incarnations highlighting the Clone Wars came about, and a whole slew of Star Wars based video games pushed the universe in both directions of the timeline.
After a decade and a half hiatus, I selected Joe Schreiber’s Red Harvest as an entry point to rediscover the world of Star Wars based literature and while I cannot claim to have been familiar with his earlier works, I can attest to the reality that things have certainly become more complex in my absence.
For starters this book comes with a very handy reference diagram that places the ever-expanding Star Wars novels universe into a linear timeline. To my surprise, the books have gone as far as back as 5,000 preceding the events of Episode IV A New Hope and as far forward as 40+ years after the events of the original trilogy. Schreiber’s piece, interestingly enough, isn’t included on the page (presumably because new titles are appearing so frequently that updates are probably made periodically to include several new books at a time). It is, however, set in the Old Republic, which immediately tells the reader that it has taken place sometime between 5,000 and 33 years prior to A New Hope.
In addition to this whole era in the timeline having appeared since last I was involved, this book also falls into the horror subcategory, another area that simply didn’t exist in the Star Wars setting back in the day.
That said Red Harvest tells what boils down to a tale of a plague of zombies that breaks out within a Sith academy on a cold and dark miserable planet called Odacer-Faustin in the year 3645 (BBY).
The book literally opens from the standpoint of some of the acolytes (trainees) within this academy amidst rumor of one of the dark masters (Darth Scabrous) abducting and performing unspeakable experiments upon members of the student body.
In the meantime we follow a human female Jedi and part of the Jedi Agricultural Corps named Hesitizo Trace and her unique bond with an extremely rare orchid that depends upon The Force to survive. When she and the plant are abducted by a Whiphid bounty hunter, her Jedi brother Rojo Trace with some assistance from his mastery over The Force finds himself in pursuit to the Sith-occupied wasteland on a mission of rescue.
The Jedi are quite unprepared for the epidemic running rampant when they arrive and even the remaining Sith acolytes find themselves in no position to dispute devotion to sides of The Force. The game is one of survival for all involved.
Schreiber weaves his tale by bouncing surprisingly short chapters from seemingly unrelated character viewpoints. For the most part the technique works here by never allowing for an opportunity of boredom on a single story thread. The downside of course is that occasionally things get really interesting for a particular character and it may be four or five chapters until you return to that storyline. Of course the threads do all come together eventually and, for better or worse, in doing so meld the intricacies of each tale into an action-heavy survival tale.
This having been my first extended stay in the Old Republic time frame (save for the Old Republic video games from BioWare and LucasArts), I was drawn to and surprised by the amount of freedom given to the author. Locations, technologies and perhaps most importantly characters are essentially his for the molding with little concern of interfering with the well-established mythos that follows. It sounds almost funny to draw such a comparison, but Schreiber does an admirable job of crafting a Sith academy that pays homage to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
It is at about the halfway point of the novel that the tale switches into survival horror mode entirely and fans of gory detail, violent encounters and hopeless chases are sure to delight. Personally (and probably in the minority), I was partial to the first half of the piece whereby the author touches upon the mysterious relationship between the Jedi Order and the Sith, the allure of the Dark Side, and coolest of all by far, some never-before-explored uses of The Force (after all, the Jedi posses an Agricultural Corps here).
The films constantly allude to a Jedi’s omnipotence through The Force then contradict this by portraying them as lightsaber wielding enforcers that can be dropped by a well-placed blaster shot in the area on Geonosis. Red Harvest atones for such missteps by introducing Jedi who use the force to teach themselves to communicate with plants, Jedi who can reconstruct crime scenes and spaceship crashes based on the emotional imprint left behind, and concepts like summoning air molecules to cushion falls or to form protective bubbles during a cave-in. Very cool stuff!
On the flip side, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the blending of survival horror into the Star Wars mythos. It works at times here but just as often feels contrived and “cheap”. Expect a lot of paragraphs that serve only as gruesomely descriptive cannon fodder. In Schreiber’s defense, at least the means in which he creates the zombies in question is passable and there is undeniable coolness in the idea of hacking up a creature of the undead with a lightsaber. For this alone, the book will surely appeal to readers looking for something a little less political and more “mindlessly” action-driven. However, after having witnessed the author’s ability to shed some light on a wildly intriguing area of the Star Wars timeline, I’m secretly hoping he’ll turn his attention to a more science fiction oriented offering in the future.
What did you think of this review?