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Weekly Book Buzz: Orson Scott Card Suffers Stroke

We Review Star Wars: Red Harvest

By Tim Janson     January 09, 2011

Star Wars: Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber
© Del Rey


In the news…
…Orson Scott Card suffered a mild stroke on New Year’s day. While his website expects him to have a full recovery, Scott is suffering from slurred speech and some mobility problems with his left arm and hand.
Not much out this week to speak of…but things for the next couple of weeks look good. Be sure to check out my review of Star Wars: Red Harvest!
Nell Gwynne's Scarlet Spy Kage Baker [Subterranean Press]
Lady Beatrice was the proper British daughter of a proper British soldier, until tragedy struck and sent her home to walk the streets of early-Victorian London. But Lady Beatrice is no ordinary whore, and is soon recruited to join an underground establishment known as Nell Gwynne's. Nell Gwynne's is far more than simply the finest and most exclusive brothel in Whitehall; it is in fact the sister organization to the Gentlemen's Speculative Society, that 19th-century predecessor to a certain Company...and when a member of the Society goes missing on a peculiar assignment, it's up to Lady Beatrice and her sister harlots to investigate.
Transformers: The Best of Starscream Simon Furman [IDW Graphic Novel]
He's Megatron's second-in-command, but he's number one in his own mind! This is Starscream, fierce Decepticon warrior and full-time schemer. When he's not doing the bidding of his leader, Starscream is plotting his ascension to the Decepticon throne. These stories collect his darkest and most telling moments.
The Naming of the Beasts (Felix Castor) Mike Carey [Little Brown]
The pulse-pounding pace never slackens as Carey's superlative fifth supernatural thriller featuring London exorcist Felix "Fix" Castor picks up where its predecessor, Thicker Than Water, left off. Castor's closest friend, Rafi Ditko, who's possessed by the demon Asmodeus, has escaped from his jail cell and begun killing off people close to Ditko, starting with his former girlfriend, Ginny Parris. In order to thwart the evil spirit, Castor must be careful about his choice of allies, even as he struggles to predict his adversary's next move. Amid the grimness, Carey manages to slide in flashes of humor, as in his portrayal of the difficulties the British legal system faces with the increasing numbers of the dead and the undead, whose civil rights also need protecting.
Star Wars: Red Harvest Joe Schreiber [Lucas Books Hardcover]
Red Harvest is the sequel to last year’s “Death Trooper” which combined the Star Wars universe with zombies. Joe Schreiber is one of my favorite new horror writers and I’ve liked everything he’s written including Death Troopers. Red Harvest on the other hand…
The setting for this story is the planet Odacer-Faustin, a desolate planet that is home to an academy for Sith in training. Darth Scabrous thinks he has discovered the elixir for eternal life and it comes at the expense of using the students to create the brew…that as well as the mysterious and deadly black orchid. This is a sentient plant life that needs someone who can communicate with it. This comes in the form of Jedi Hestizo Trace who is abducted by a bounty hunter because of her ability to communicate with the flower. Scabrous uses the elixir to turn reanimate the dead, turning them into ravenous zombies. Meanwhile Hestizo’s brother, the Jedi Rojo Trace learns of his sister’s abduction and rushes to rescue her, unaware he’s heading into a zombie plague.
Now, I’ve interviewed Joe Scheiber and he received a veritable library of books from Random House to help with his research for his books to make sure he stuck close to Star Wars canon. But the sense here is that the success of Death Troopers meant a sequel was demanded by Random House, and quickly. While Joe is a huge Star Wars fan he’s not an expert on the Star Wars universe, a fact I’m sure he’d be the first to admit. Thus, while were given the period that the story takes place in, it’s relatively colorless and generic. Then there is the fact that we’ve become over-saturated with zombie novels. While Death Troopers was a fresh blending of genres, the thrill has worn off in Red Harvest. What were left with is a story with underdeveloped and boring Jedi characters. In fact the talking plant might be the most interesting character in the book. While the horror elements are good, hopefully Scheiber will get back to straight horror. Grade C+
Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Vol. 4 (Dark Horse Archives)
A lot of people are under the impression that the only comic book publishers putting out serious comics (i.e., non humor books like Archie or Harvey) during the 1960s were Marvel and DC. And they are not far from wrong. The Comic industry implosion during the 1950s put ninety percent of the publishers out of business. But one company who was not only publishing but putting out great horror comics was Gold Key. Gold Key Comics started up in 1962 as an imprint of Dell Comics, who had been publishing since the 1930s. Gold Key put out original titles as well as licensing many properties of popular TV shows and cartoons of the day. One of those was Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery, based on the TV Series Thriller that Karloff hosted in the early 1960s.
The series presented horror stories at a time when horror stories were almost impossible to do due to the Comics Code Authority. While Tales of Mystery won’t ever be confused with EC Comics horror tales, it’s macabre stories were light years ahead of anything Marvel and DC were doing or would do for many years to come. This volume collects issues # 17 – 24 of the series including the original covers. This is a special treat since one thing Gold Key was known for in many of its titles were fully painted covers. While Gold Key didn’t have the quality of artists of Marvel or DC, a handful of stories in this volume feature the talents of legends like Joe Orlando, Jeff Jones, Jerry Robinson, and Luis Dominguez. 
Orlando’s story “Dream Demon” is a tale of dark Africa and a witch doctor who torments and bullies his villagers until he gets his comeuppance. Dominguez lends his talent to the haunting story called “The Death Bell” about a small Italian village where a bell tower rings on its own and always signals that death is to follow. Also reprinted are the original text stories that appeared in each issue, the picture dictionary features of fantastic phenomena, and more. These are great comics and you have to love Dark Horse for keeping these alive nearly fifty years later. Grade A


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