April 26, 2024

Review: Ghost Station

Ghost Station Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This author seems to be making a career out of sci-fi horror, and a successful one: this book, her second, is more assured than her first. The back cover blurbs also compare this book to the classic sf/horror movie Alien, although that's not entirely accurate--there are no Xenomorphs to be found here. But there is a mystery and the slow reveal of alien possession, and the dawning horror of being taken over by a mysterious outside entity.

As in the author's first book, the protagonist Ophelia Bray is a troubled woman with a traumatic past of her own. She is the daughter of one of the richest families on Earth, and she is also the daughter of Field "Bloody" Bledsoe, who succumbed to ERS--Eckhart-Reiser syndrome--and killed twenty-nine people about twenty years before. Ophelia, then known as Lark Bledsoe, was present during the massacre and needless to say has been haunted by it ever since. She is now a psychologist studying the syndrome and trying to come up with ways to cure it, and as the book opens she is preparing to go into cold sleep for a three-month interstellar journey to join the Reclamation and Exploration team of the ship Resilience. They are on their way to an abandoned planet where an ancient alien city has been discovered, and Ophelia is taking new equipment provided by her employer, the Montrose corporation, to see if ERS can be prevented.

But the R & E team don't want Ophelia there, and she has a difficult time settling in with them on the planet. Then comes the slow reveal of things starting to go wrong, and the rising horror of the ruins infecting all the team members and taking them over. One of the most effective things about this is that the cause of the possession is not defined--is it the two black alien towers on the planet, some sort of sentient nanotechnology that killed the original inhabitants thousands of years ago, an alien organism that manifests itself as black sludge oozing out of noses and ears, or something else altogether? It doesn't really matter, because after all the pieces are set in place this becomes a tightly written struggle for survival, as the surviving team members race to get off-planet before they are completely taken over and no longer in control of their own bodies.

Along the way Ophelia undergoes a nice character arc: she is riddled with survivors' guilt and self-hatred for being the daughter of "Bloody" Bledsoe, and she has to learn to let that go and recognize she is neither responsible for the past sins of her father or the current sins of her mother's family. There is a hint of romance between Ophelia and Ethan Severin, the commander of the expedition, but for the most part the focus is firmly on the horror of the situation and the fight to survive. After reading the author's first book, I can see how she has improved as a writer: this effort is more mature, with better pacing, worldbuilding and characterization, and simply a better story. This book is well worth your time.

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