There’s just something about abandoned, derelict spaceships drifting in outer space that makes our skin crawl in the best possible way.
Video games like “Dead Space” and Hollywood films such as “Event Horizon” have reinforced the popular “haunted house in space” horror hybrid theme to create an alluring sub-genre that spans across all arenas of popular culture.
Riding the crest of this spooky sci-fi wave is “Dead Silence” (Tor Nightfire, 2022), a frightful new novel from author S.A. Barnes that’s been billed as “Titanic” meets “The Shining” in space.”
That’s a pretty enticing hook that should have readers steeling their nerves to dive into Barnes’ compelling storyline that unspools somewhere in the far future. (You can check out our best sci-movies based on books for more space reads.)
In “Dead Silence,” a salvage team leader named Claire Kovalik and her crew grapple with their sanity as they answer a distress signal and investigate a nest of unreal nightmares awaiting inside the long-lost luxury spaceliner, the Aurora. The nature of reality becomes distorted while they creep deeper into the hull where phantoms of every nature lurk around dark corners and bulkheads.
The Aurora has a notorious past as it became legendary after disappearing two decades ago on its maiden voyage. Hoping to secure a lucrative salvage claim on the ghost ship, Claire and company endure unspeakable terrors as they piece together the truth of what happened to the forgotten craft’s crew and passengers.
Space.com spoke with Barnes on her inspirations for “Dead Silence,” and what deep space horror readers will encounter into as they brave Aurora’s haunted decks.
“‘Event Horizon’ is one of my favorite movies and that was definitely an influence, as was ‘Aliens,'” Barnes tells Space.com. “In terms of the actual idea, I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic forever. Of course James Cameron has been down there multiple times and they found artifacts and there’s this whole debate about do we bring this up or not since it’s a mass grave. I loved that idea of being able to see those things frozen in time, if you could actually go and see this place, sort of like Pompeii. What happened and what went on?”
Barnes admits to being too big of a chicken to actually go exploring anywhere on her own, but she can make it up in a novel instead.
“I’ve not ever played ‘Dead Space’ but everybody keeps telling me about it because of this book, so at one point I’m going to have to sit down and look at that. I’m not much of a gamer. When my brother got the first Nintendo system I learned very quickly that I do not have the eye-hand coordination required. I have a bit of an obsessive personality so if I really got into it I wouldn’t be writing books, I’d be playing video games.”
For further inspiration, Barnes references a particular scene at the beginning of “Aliens” when Ripley is addressing skeptical Weyland-Yutani executives who are leery of her wild story of the Nostromo disaster and the crew’s clash with an alien they picked up on the planetoid LV-426.
“Sigourney Weaver is such a badass and I just love her,” she adds. “The other movie that was a big influence was ‘Ghost Ship.’ It is creepy and terrifying and gross. This book is set up in dual timelines and part of the story starts when a survivor is found from the communications team that was out there. Her story doesn’t match with the evidence. I was intrigued with that idea that someone is trying to tell people of authority what really happened but they don’t believe her.
“The notion of abandoned ships or spaceships is a familiar concept that we relate to. I think it also represents our comfort level with space and our accomplishments in that we’ve come far enough that we have these random floating derelict ships. It also represents opportunity and the potential for wealth and for solving a mystery. Everybody knows the creepy house on the block and it’s about getting up as close as you can because of the vicarious thrill of it. It’s the haunted house in space that we’re going into for our reasons, but the smart thing is to stay away!”
S.A. Barnes’ “Dead Silence” is available now at book stores and major online outlets.