Monday, July 11, 2011

3645 BBY: Red Harvest

Star Wars and zombies is more of a compatible match than I ever would have thought. Joe Schreiber’s Red Harvest was an absolutely fun read in the horror genre, its Star Warsiness incidental to its plot. With that being said though, I get the impression (impression because this is the first horror novel that I’ve ever read) that its setting in the Star Wars universe makes the events of the plot MORE believable because there is already long established lore and fertile ground set up to allow the rise of zombies to occur in a galaxy far far away.


Following the typical formula of American created horror, the virginal maiden survives while all other less virtuous players are killed by the walking dead. Even though the reader has a fairly good indication of who is going to survive the zombie onslaught, all other characters remain in Schreiber’s cross-hairs as no one is safe from Darth Scaberous’ zombie creation.

There are a bunch of very cool elements going off in this story, the first being the way zombies enter Star Wars lore in the first place. Knowing what we know of the darkside of the Force, it makes perfect sense that a dark lord of the Sith is looking for immortality, and turns to Sith alchemy, sorcery, and magic to do so. I find the magical element of the darkside of the Force fascinating: "He'd once overheard talk in some spaceport about the Sith, how they'd learned to manipulate spatial geometry itself, creating buildings that were, in themselves, detached from physical reality" (24). Very cool stuff indeed.

Darth Scabrous follows in a long line of Sith alchemists, beginning with Ajunta Pall who was one of the dark Jedi banned at the start of the 100 year darkness. He was known to be a practitioner of Sith Alchemy and was probably one of the exiles who transformed creatures into “mutant warriors, mounts, and spirit-devouring leviathans”. As far as I can remember, Ajunta Pall and his ilk were not interested in seeking immortality the way Scabrous was, but that’s not to say their alchemical experiments weren’t heading in that direction anyway. Also, I think as far as chronology goes, Darth Scabrous is the first Dark Lord of the Sith we meet who is explicitly looking for immortality through the use of Sith magics. I believe during this time that the Sith emperor (not referenced in this text) has already found immortality through the essence transfer techniques referenced many millennia later by Darth Bane, but I would also assume that the Sith emperor has not shared his secret with anyone.

As it is, many Sith seem to have immortality as their final objective; however, the means by which they go about achieving it differs. Like I said, the Sith emperor (again, if my assumptions are correct) has already achieved this through essence transfer. Here, in Red Harvest, we have Darth Scabrous looking for immortality through alchemy and potion creation, using force sensitive plants as his x-factor final ingredient. Darth Bane sought immortality through the essence transfer ability and cloning (albeit unsuccessfully), while Darth Sidious was successful with Bane’s failed techniques (I think – I have yet to get there).

The second element of this story I found very cool, which ties in to the first, is the Force sensitive Black Orchid sought by Scabrous for his evil concoction. I thought it very neat that we are introduced to a self-aware Force sensitive plant with a high midichlorian count. Like the Dark Lord’s quest for immortality, the inclusion of this particular element is not foreign to Star Wars lore. Remembering back to the text The Jedi Path, there is reference in that book to force-wielding animals (pg. 90). Some are referenced as either being able to handle the force, commune through the Force, or nullify the force. The logic then follows, if not animal life then why not plant life? The answer is simple: of course plant life is part of the Force, and yes, the Force could affect planet-life to self-awareness. What is more, there is an increasing amount of research being done in the field of emotions and plants in our world. Some scientists are arguing that plants have feelings, and can communicate simple emotional states. See an article here for what I’m talking about. The Black Orchid is a new and exciting element of the Star Wars story, one which can take the narrative of a Jedi in the Agricultural Corps in exciting new directions.

Following this train of thought, the third element of this story I enjoyed was the inclusion of a Jedi from the Agri-Corps as the hero of the tale. Hestizo Trace, a simple Jedi botanist and the virtuous virgin I made reference to in my opening paragraph is not your typical chivalrous Jedi bounding into action. That role is reserved for her brother, Rojo Trace. Her expertise is in the field of botany which she uses to her great advantage. I wonder if we’ll see her again. But like I said, with Red Harvest, Schreiber has given others a way to write about Agri-Corps Jedi. Maybe the story of other Jedi will be told, those in the Explorer-Corps for example?

Besides these three elements, I found others aspects of the story interesting as well. One of the things I love about going through the story of Star Wars in such a dogmatic fashion is coming across rarely used alien species. In this case it was the Neti librarian. The Neti remind me of the Ents from Lord of the Rings: ancient and giant trees that carry with them the wisdom of the universe. I think so far in Star Wars chronology we’ve only come across two Neti so far, Ood Bnar from Tales of the Jedi, and Dail’Liss, whose name means ‘lover of knowledge’ in his native tongue.

In that Lord of the Rings vein, Darth Scabrous’s tower and lair reminded me of Saruman’s tower and lair: dark, foreboding, and filled with all kinds of ancient and evil arcane just waiting to be unleashed. A few years ago there was a Lord of the Rings exhibition that came through town, and I enjoyed it so much I went twice. The aspect of the exhibit which stuck with me most was Saruman’s lair. It was awesome – black walls, unknown creatures in jars, candles everywhere. Saurman’s lab was one of the most vibrant memories I have of the LOTR exhibit. Reading about Scaberous lair brought to mind my walk through of Middle Earth those many years ago.

The last element I was to address before I talk about two of my problems with the text was the mention of a cloaking device: “‘Our sensors recorded the arrival and departure of an unlicensed ship early this morning.’ Emmert glanced away, abashed. ‘It must have come in under some kind of cloaking device and managed to evade our detection…’” (67). I think this is the second time I’ve come across a cloaking device on a smaller private ship. The first was in the Jedi Apprentice series, The Dark Rival, when the cloaking device on a freighter was sabotaged by Xanatos. In Red Harvest, the Whipid bounty hunter Tulkh has also managed to acquire one for his vessel. Interesting. I’m defiantly going to integrate this knowledge into my own Star Wars RPG campaign for next year.

Coming to the end of my reactions, I only really had one small problem with the story, and it was the inclusion of the word “newbie”: “‘You look good lying there on the floor, newbie,” T’sank leered at him.” (14). What grates me about this particular world is that ‘newbie’ is an American colloquialism brought into common usage with the arrival of the internet. I don’t like it when a contemporary colloquialism or turn of phrase makes its way into the Star Wars universe. I feel an author writing Star Wars should rise above such usages, and separate themselves from their contemporary culture when creating language in a different universe. But I think I’m being overly nit-picky here.

Lastly, I have a question about the events of the book which I’m not sure I understand. Throughout the story, the characters were “killing” the Sith zombies by cutting off their heads or destroying their brains, which is how one kills a zombie. But in one particular scene, when Scopique encountered zombie Jura, he beheaded the creature, yet it still came at him: “Thumping noises from below: the headless monstrosity was still moving. In fact, it was leaning forward, groping around the floor until it found its severed head…Scopique saw the decapitated corpse of Jura Ostrogoth haul back and fling its own head straight at him, its mouth still wide open.” (103-104). Have I mis-read events here, or weren’t the zombies killed once their heads were detached? Please clarify my understanding here.

Before I sign off I have a couple of requests. Does anyone here have a copy of Challenge #58: The Battle for Mandalore, which is at 35-33 BBY in Joe’s timeline, or a copy of The Starfighter Trap, parts 1, 2, and 3 from Star Wars Gamer #1? I’ll need these soon. If you do, drop me a line at the forums at www.swtor.com my handle there is Iscariot. Or post a link in the comments below.

For my next post I’m going to jump ahead a few thousand years in Star Wars history to 1032 BBY and engage with Knight Errant: Aflame. Until them my friends, may the Force be with you.

14 comments:

  1. I haven't read Red Harvest yet (waiting for the paperback with the cool new cover), so I can't answer your question about the headless zombie. I can help you out with the other stories though.
    The Battle for Mandalore (three pages):
    http://jaymach.com/Jason%20Fry/Challenge%2058%20001.jpg
    http://jaymach.com/Jason%20Fry/Challenge%2058%20002.jpg
    http://jaymach.com/Jason%20Fry/Challenge%2058%20003.jpg
    The Starfighter Trap (three parts):
    http://web.archive.org/web/20080102004115/http://www.starwars.com/gaming/videogames/news/f20001027/
    http://web.archive.org/web/20080212170847/http://wizards.com/starwars/story.asp?x=starfighter_part2,1&c=gamer
    http://web.archive.org/web/20040923070537/http://www.lucasarts.com/products/starwarsstarfighter/starfighter_flash/trap.htm

    I look forward to your thoughts on "The Battle for Mandalore," since it doesn't easily fit into the overall continuity (it was written at a time when much about Palpatine's history and the Clone Wars wasn't nailed down).

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    1. I'm looking for the Battle for Mandalore. Can't find it anywhere and your link seems to be dead. Could you please put it back online? :)

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  2. Plaristes, you're the best. I thought for sure the Battle for Mandalore would be a lost cause. Thanks man!

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  3. Thank you, Plaristes. I was also looking for those.

    I have the audio version which I listened to while I went to sleep, and I noticed two things.
    1) I only heard the pronunciations of names so especially with minor characters I have trouble to put together name and character
    2) Zombies' screams were quite well made, it was not a sound you'd like to wake up to after already going half-asleep

    I liked the idea that a Sith Lord would look for immortality and accidentally create zombies, but I don't remember what exactly the zombies were (important point when dealing with different classes of undead). Were they animated bodies like inferi, or were there still something left from the original owners soul inside them?

    My memories could be shaky, but I remember there being a couple of mentions of the zombies keeping moving unless you hack them into little pieces (or do what the Orchid did).

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  4. I didn't like John Glover's narration as much as I liked Marc Thompson's from Deceived, but yes, the zombie screams were well done.

    I also forgot to mention another important Sith Lord from the past that "raised the dead" in search of immortality and galactic conquest: Karness Murr and the Rakgoul plague. Though unlike Scabrous's zombie creation, there was a cure for the Rakgoul plague wasn't there?

    I got the impression that it wasn't so much the Orchid stopping the zombies, but Zo through her botanical powers. The issue of the headless zombie has still left me scratching my head.

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  5. JOE SCHRIEBER IS A TOOL. HE SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF HIMSELF FOR ABUSING THE STAR WARS LABEL TO LURE PEOPLE INTO READING THIS GARBAGE..

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  6. That’s a very strong opinion you’ve got there. At the very least thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.

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  7. MKB, nice blog. I have no Ill feelings towards Joe Schrieber personally, only as an author. I enjoyed Fatal Alliance much more, and can't wait for Drews new revan book and James Lucenos Darth Plageous!

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  8. In regards to the headless zombie issue, I believe I have found more conflicting evidence.

    On page 164 it reads: "Ra'at broke right, as directed, letting his lightsaber lead him like a natural extension of his will. He pivoted and swung it down into the head of the first Sith-thing that he came to, splitting its skull down to the tonsils. But its hands flung upward blindly toward him like a pair of carrion birds, and it kept fighting."

    Also, on page 181 it reads: "She walked over to Hracken's still-snarling head and chopped it straight down the middle."

    From these two events we see trauma done to the head in the first paragraph and a decapitation in the second, neither of which immediately kills the respective zombie. The only thing I feel confident in saying is that decapitation alone does not kill these zombies, at least according to my interpretation.

    Great blog MKB, I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and analysis on the Expanded Universe and I look forward to reading more.

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  9. In the face of such conflicting evidence maybe Lugija was right, that in order to destroy these particular zombie one must hack them into little pieces.

    I posted a link to this thread at the swtor forums and many there made me aware of some criticisms of this book I overlooked. The most telling criticism for me was about the timeframe this story took place. Skagerberg points out that there is nothing in the text itself to indicate it takes place at the time of the Old Republic, so he suggests it is simply an attempt by Schreiber to get elements his novel into the upcoming MMO. Skagerberg also pointed out lines in the text lifted from the film Taken, which is interesting because this can get into a discussion of Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. McDizzle also talked about how the Sith Academy was a carbon copy of Karpyshyn's from the Darth Bane trilogy.

    Anyway, thought I'd throw some of those thoughts out there.

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  10. The placement in the timeline was confusing for me as well. I actually found a link to your blog in my search of the forums on Theforce.net

    The only reference to the rest of the galaxy I found was a brief mentioning of the sacking of Coruscant, but that isn't very informative in and of itself. I am looking for the exact quote, but the specific page eludes me. Do you have a link to the swtor forum you mentioned? I would like to read their responses as well.

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  11. If you manage to find the page# that references the sacking of Coruscant let me know. The thread I mentioned can be found here:

    http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=373643

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  12. The reference is on page 48 and reads: "We're aware that it's a Sith warship. We saw our share of them in the sacking or Coruscant."

    Combine that with what Scabrous tells us about the formation of the academy on page 185: "It was constructed over a thousand years ago by a Sith Lord named Darth Drear" and I think we have a pretty compelling case for this book being set in the Old Republic.

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  13. I know it's been while since I've responsed to this conversation, but thanks for hunting down that reference Razoredge17.

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