Space is something that will never be uninteresting, especially as we continue to know so little about it. From a fictional standpoint, this is why the sci-fi genre of books, movies, TV shows and video games continues to be so popular after so many years.
Enter Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes, which is the latest notable novel to tackle deep space. It does so with promised creeps, spooks and general haunts, and comes bearing recommendations from other authors that praise it to the moon and back. Hell, one even says that this is the new Alien, and that Ridley Scott’s epic has been surpassed.
Does S.A. Barnes’ latest measure up to those eye catching ads…I mean reviews? No. It’s a decent read though.
Dead Silence is the story of Claire Kovalik; the captain of a small ship called the LINA. After a very difficult childhood, in which she watched all of the residents of her Mars colony home succumb to disease, before being moved to company run foster homes, she wants to be as far away from people as possible. That — as well as her superiors deeming her unfit to lead a major operation — is why she’s chosen a job far out in space. One in which all she’s responsible for is leading four other souls during years long ventures to fix communications relays.
However, even that is coming to a close. This book actually picks up during the LINA’s last trip, after which Claire expects to be forced into desk duty. She’s not looking forward to it to say the least, but her psych and professional evaluations haven’t done her any favours. It also doesn’t help that Claire sees ghosts.
Salvation seems to appear at the end of this final trip, when the crew of the LINA discovers a strange emergency message on an old frequency. Curiosity gets the better of them, and when they venture into even deeper space — no man’s ‘land,’ to be more accurate — they discover that the message isn’t coming from some random ship. No, not at all. It’s actually been sent by the Aurora; a massive luxury ship that completely disappeared 20 years ago.
Think of the Aurora like you would a space faring Titanic, albeit one designed at least a hundred years into the future. With a glass enclosed pool, multiple restaurants, shops, a theatre and three levels of accommodations based on wealth, it was a sight to see. Said ship was also designed to take the super wealthy on a year long trip through the stars. In fact, that was the goal. It was during that maiden voyage that something went wrong, causing the craft to never be seen or heard from again.
The richest of the rich were on board the Aurora’s maiden voyage, including people akin to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Some pop culture celebrities were also filming and sharing a reality show while on board, until it stopped airing all of a sudden. Needless to say, the presumed deaths of such people had an impact on our ailing planet earth, which is said to be missing resources.
The crew of the LINA decides to venture on board the Aurora, to get its black box and some trinkets that can be used to prove that they found it. Those objects will hopefully lend credence to their claim to the salvage too. However, as is usually the case in such stories, they have no idea what awaits them on board this haunted ghost ship.
Dead Silence is told from only Claire’s vantage point, as she questions her own sanity. For the most part, she’s an interesting and pretty deep main character, too. However, the book isn’t written in a linear fashion, and hops between the discovery and exploration of the Aurora, and afterwards. It’s in the later segments where we discover that Claire is locked up in a rehabilitation centre in Florida, and is stuck in a psych ward there, because she’s the only one who returned.
Nobody believes what she says happened, but she’s sticking by her story, even if she doesn’t remember it all herself.
It might seem like I’ve spoiled the book, but rest assured that I haven’t. All of the above is introduced during the first part of this story.
I went into this review with mid level expectations, and they weren’t helped by some Reddit threads that popped up just before I obtained the first edition hardcover from my local library. People were saying that they were really disappointed despite the glowing reviews. I tried to go in with an open mind, though, and am glad to say that I enjoyed this book more than those folks. Did I love it? No. Did it scare me? No. Not really. Lastly, did its big reveal disappoint? Yes. I still enjoyed reading it though, at least for the most part.
Things took a little while to get going, and the beginning was a bit overwhelming. I’d considered ‘Did Not Finish’ or DNFing it, but decided to continue out of curiosity.
Dead Silence won’t compete for my favourite horror book, and likely won’t end up being a favourite of 2022, but it was a solid and slightly above average read. Check it out if you’re a fan of the subject matter, but don’t believe the quotes that say it’s better than Alien.
This review is based on a copy of the book that we were provided by the publisher. Thank you to Tor Macmillan for the early copy, and to NetGalley for facilitating. Receiving a free copy did not change my opinion of this book.
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