Reed’s Recommendation Corner: Ghost Station by S.A. Barnes

Is humankind made for outer space? Are we meant to live on other planets? What happens when corporations are responsible for the wellbeing of their employees thousands of miles away?

Welcome to space. Prepare to scream.

There might be scarier things in space than late stage capitalism. 

There’s always been a question of the consequences of space travel and the effects that living on another planet might have on the human body. More importantly, what happens to the mind between the cold sleep necessary for traveling hundreds to thousands of light years away from our natural habitat? Dr. Ophelia Bray is a leading psychiatrist in the treatment of Eckhart-Reiser Syndrome (ERS), which is a mental illness that causes hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and potential homicidal/suicidal tendencies in people who have been in space for too long. She works for a large corporation, but more importantly, she is part of a family that owns another major corporation. Because of this, and because she is haunted by the death of one of her patients, she decides to fly out with a space crew to try out some new technology that is meant to help equalize their sleep cycles and hopefully prevent or alleviate the symptoms of ERS.

The small crew is distrustful of Dr. Bray’s intentions, especially since they are such a close crew. When they arrive at the planet they have been sent to survey, they make a series of strange discoveries at the abandoned station there. It starts to feel like everyone is against her, but she is a woman on a mission. She will not lose her crew.

I am a huge fan of a good ghost story. I am an even bigger fan of ghost stories in space. When EscapePod or Pseudopod runs them, I am glued to the audio with my eyes closed, just imagining being stuck in a glorified tin can filled with atmosphere and gravity (or even worse, in the claustrophobic space suits required to survive). I can feel my heart begin to beat harder and harder, as I imagine what it would be like to see a ghost in those environments. Especially if the ghost isn’t human. 

Another thing I really enjoyed about this story was the inclusion of extinct alien species. When humans are finally capable of space travel, finding other intelligent species that have already disappeared from existence. It is definitely mind blowing to consider that entire civilizations had lived and died before we even lifted our feet from our earthly domain.

I also like the consideration of how space travel and late stage capitalism affects us physically and mentally. We are social creatures with specific circadian rhythms. We are sensitive houseplants with very specific nutrient needs, sun cycles, and sleep cycles. Without our native soil, what happens? In some stories, humans adapt in ways that are almost detrimental. In The Expanse series, Belters tended to be tall and thin, as the gravity affected their growth as children. They had to take special supplements to make sure that their bones can handle regular gravity. It makes sense that taken out of our natural habitat, we might start to lose our sense of reality. 

Basically, if you like body horror, mysterious diseases, intergenerational trauma stories, and abandoned space stations, this is definitely a book for you. 

I recommend picking up the book here, as the website supports local bookstores for your order. 

You can check out the author’s biography and other works here.

As always, when the last chapter is read and the final page turned, I shall be here with another suggestion, should you need it.