Spooky season is almost upon us and my house is getting into the mood quickly! Sure it’s the middle of August, 102 F in the shade, and Lake Mead is drier than a Mormon wedding, but it’s time for ghouls and ghosts dammit! A few choice decorations have been added to the collection by my like-minded wife, and we are ready to go into the season in style.
This brings me to Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes. First off, I love the cover and picked this one up on that alone. Dead Silence has all the things I love in a good horror thriller. Ghost ships are my jam, space horror is always fun, and a good psychological horror will beat a slasher any day. Bonus points if some good graphic violence is thrown into the mix. Dead Silence has all this in a body bag filled with delightful terror and mystery.
In the far future corporations rule the solar system. Even most spaceship crews are indentured to the megalithic corporations and owning one’s own ship is rare. Claire Kovalik and her team of the LINA are on their last mission prior to being split up and downsized. Kovalik and her team are interstellar line workers tasked with upgrading the communication array in the Kuiper belt. As they finish the last antenna array the boosted signal picks up a faint distress signal from deep in uncharted space. With nothing to lose, the crew decides to take their ship for one last spin and investigate.
The distress signal leads them to the lost luxury liner Aurora, which disappeared twenty years before on her maiden voyage. Anticipating vast fortunes they decide to board the Aurora to bring out an artifact proving their salvage claim. What they find is a ship full of corpses, all victims of extreme violence, and the dead are not at rest.
The premise is admittedly derivative but the execution and unexpected swerves are what make Dead Silence worth picking up for horror/thriller fans. The crew of the LINA are only co-workers, and Claire is their leader in name only. This is not the forged-in-fire camaraderie of the Enterprise. From the start, Claire and her pilot, Voller, do not get along. Lourdes is their communications tech, and she is on her first rotation. Rounding out the crew is the systems tech, Nysus, and their chief mechanic, Kane. This crew of four have been stuck together in the tiny LINA for months and are ready to kill each other even BEFORE they get to the Aurora.
Claire is the sole survivor of a disaster in a Martian colony when she was a child and has been haunted by the dead ever since. Her closely guarded secret is she sees ghosts or thinks she does. Which lends a heaping dose of “What is really happening?” to the events of the book. Are there really ghosts on the Aurora? Or is Claire losing her mind from the stress of her impending job loss?
The center of the story is the mystery of what happened on board the Aurora twenty years before and whether it is happening again. This tension drives the story through all the twists and turns to make for a compelling and rivetting mystery with large doses of sci-fi action that moves fast culminating in a terrific blockbuster ending.
There are clear elements of Event Horizon, Ghost Ship, and Alien. But also touches of The Shining, Session 9, and Aliens in the story structure which I greatly enjoyed. Barnes keeps the story moving with a lean narrative that keeps the reader off balance from page one and never lets up.
Dead Silence is a very fun novel and a great one to start off your own Halloween celebration early.