‘Dead Silence’ by S.A. Barnes: Readers board a sci-fi ‘Titanic’ that leaves them afraid of their own imagination

Our Dead Silence book review considers a new book that takes readers into the scariest reaches of outer space.

Perfect for the dreary winter months, Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes promises readers, “A ghost ship… a salvage crew… unspeakable horrors.” It’s an exciting new sci-fi horror book, and one that’s spooky enough that I recommend reading it in the limited daylight hours available to us.

S.A. Barnes is the new pen name for Stacey Kade, who is one of my all-time favorite authors. I have followed her to unexplored genres before, including a very memorable first jaunt into New Adult. Although I would ordinarily not approach sci-fi horror (or any horror, for that matter) with a ten-foot pole, I had enough faith in the author to give it a shot, and now present my Dead Silence book review.

In Dead Silence, Claire is the prickly captain of a ragtag space crew that stumbles upon the find of the century: a spaceship named Aurora. The Aurora was the Titanic of space travel: a spaceship embodying the height of luxury that tragically disappeared on its maiden voyage. But there is no iceberg at fault here: All the passengers died through an unexplainable outbreak of violence. Claire and her team must figure out what drove everyone aboard the Aurora mad, before it drives all of them mad too.

At least for this novice of the genre, Dead Silence was really creepy. I made sure not to read it before bed, lest my nightmares take me to the Aurora, where all manner of ghosts and malaise await. Barnes does a great job setting a chilling atmosphere, using the dissonance of horror and luxury to great effect. A scene is set of great opulence—a spaceship full of art and precious materials—which makes the remnants of the massacre all the more jarring.

I liked how the book leaned more into the mystery than the horror elements. While plenty of time is spent on Claire fighting off both ghosts and her fellow crazed explorers, the driving force of the plot is figuring out what happened aboard the Aurora to cause it. No spoilers, but the answer proved both a satisfying twist and a reveal that makes perfect sense in retrospect.

In fact, the hyperviolent behavior out in space reminded me of my favorite foray into science fiction: Firefly. Specifically, I thought about the Reavers, half-expecting them to show up aboard the Aurora. There was that familiar sense of dread, letting the reader’s imagination fill in the horrible gaps in what the Reavers do. As any self-respecting geek reading this Dead Silence book review will tell you, a comparison to Firefly is one of the highest compliments we can pay.

dead silence book review

One stylistic choice I didn’t care for was the structure of the book: Claire told the story of finding the Aurora after the fact. The momentum came crashing down several times as the story was interrupted by, “And then Claire and Reed sniped at each other while Max was patient with her.” And knowing right from the beginning that it all ends horribly with most of the team dead took a lot of the suspense and dread out of it. Sure, there are genre expectations, so I assumed the whole crew wouldn’t live happily ever after—but that’s different than knowing they meet their demise, and just waiting for it to happen.

On a similar note, too much of the story was relegated to the epilogue for my taste. I can acknowledge this is a trope of the genre: a survivor standing amid the wreckage immediately after dispatching the threat, and roll the credits! But I prefer my stories to have a bit of denouement, and so I felt a bit cheated in that respect. (This, and my squeamishness at a few gory descriptors near the end, reinforced my certainty that horror just isn’t my cup of tea.)

In terms of world-building, Dead Silence wastes no time. The world Barnes creates is all about the interplay between the ascendant power of corporations and the battles taking place in the court of public opinion. In a world where billionaire CEOs go to space and politics plays out on Twitter, the world of Dead Silence feels not only plausible but somewhat inevitable: It takes place in the year 2149, but the events could come to pass far sooner than that. This is the most effective aspect of the book: how it serves as a cautionary tale for us, the way many of the best sci-fi books do.

To conclude my Dead Silence book review, I have no doubt that fans of the genre will enjoy Dead Silence, but even the chicken readers like myself will find the book a worthwhile trip to space.

‘Dead Silence’ hit store shelves on February 8, 2022

Buy Dead Silence by Rachel Hawkins from Tor Nightfire, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

This article was written by Subjectify contributor Irvin K. Hear Irvin on Episode 11 of Prophecy Radio, a Subjectify Media podcast. Look for more recommendations on our books page.