Exclusive Interview: “Ghost Station” Author S.A. Barnes


In space-based science fiction stories, the main character is usually the leader; like, say, the captain of the ship. The commander of the military. It’s one of many reasons why Alien was such a revelation when it came out in 1979; its main character was an officer, just not the one in charge.

It’s something author S.A. Barnes is doing as well in her psychological space horror novel Ghost Station (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), in which the main character is not the one leading an expedition, she’s a psychologist in the crew.

In the following email interview, Barnes discusses what inspired and influenced this scary sci-fi story.

S.A. Barnes Ghost Station

Photo Credit: Mila Duboyski


To begin, what is Ghost Station about, and when and where is this story set?

Ghost Station is about a psychologist, Dr. Ophelia Bray, joining a Reclamation and Exploration team on a mission to establish residency on Lyria 393-C for their corporate employer. Ophelia is struggling to redeem herself after a recent tragedy in her professional life, and the team is reeling after a death on a previous mission, a death attributed to Eckhart-Reiser Syndrome (ERS). Ophelia is an expert in ERS, a condition that often afflicts those working and living in space or off-Earth. It’s a psychological condition that can result in depression, delusions, anxiety, insomnia, suicide, or even homicidal violence. And this team, having recently suffered an ERS-death, is considered high risk.

The team, however, does not want Ophelia’s help. They work very hard to exclude her and, in some cases, to make her life miserable. But Ophelia suspects that it’s more than simple reluctance that’s keeping them from opening up. They’re hiding something. Something big. Ophelia, of course, has her own secrets, which makes it tricky to dig around without revealing more than she’d like about herself.

Making things even more complicated is their assignment. Lyria 393-C is an abandoned planet with ancient ruins from an alien species. But it’s tidally locked so it’s always twilight and frequently subject to violent storms. The hab where they’re staying is from a previous corporate team and it’s…eerie. It’s huge, far larger than normal, and it seems like the prior residents left in a huge hurry. Leaving behind important items, like wedding rings, personal photos, a tooth.

When Ophelia and the team start experiencing strange phenomena, Ophelia must figure out what’s going on. Is it ERS? Or something even worse?

It’s set in 2199, and primarily on Lyria 393-C, but also the Resilient, the team’s ship.

Where did you get the idea for Ghost Station?

Two things. First, I’ve always been intrigued by the Great Filter theory, which is basically that civilizations can only develop so far before being destroyed or destroying themselves — which is why extraterrestrial life is (thus far) nonexistent. So we simply might have become space-faring thousands of years too late to meet aliens. But we might find proof of their former existence someday. If we find their tech, their fashion, their homes, we might have no idea what we’re even looking at. (Kind of like those videos of teens today trying to work out rotary phones and cassette tapes, except the issue might be that it’s still too advanced for us.)

The second thing is more personal. I’ve always thought the most terrifying “horror” is realizing that you can no longer trust your own perception of reality. Of what is real and what’s not. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, passed away in 2021, but she had dementia for years before that. Early on, she would seem mostly fine, mostly herself, but then something would change and the confusion and fear would set in. Once she was at my parents’ house, a place they had lived for more than twenty years, and she had visited many, many times, and she became frightened, unsure of where she was. I could imagine how terrifying that must be. To suddenly look around and find the familiar completely altered, to feel like something in you has shifted outside your control.

Is there a reason why you decided to center this story around a psychologist as opposed to the group’s leader or a medical doctor?

It was a combination of factors. Some of it was Ophelia herself. Specific events in her history, I believe, would lead her to an interest in understanding people as best as she can for her own reasons.

I was also deeply fascinated by winter-over syndrome, which is a real thing for the scientists living and working in Antarctica. I can only imagine how something similar would afflict those living and working in space full time. There was an article a few years ago about a scientist who stabbed another scientist after he — the stabbee — told the stabber all the endings to the limited number of books they had in their small library.

I considered whether she should be the mission commander, but to me, a running theme in the story is around secrets. If she’s an outsider, she has her own skeletons, so to speak, and so does the team.

It sounds like Ghost Station is a sci-fi space opera horror story…

To me, space opera brings to mind ships firing on each other and laser battles in space. Possibly that’s just me.

To me, this is psychological horror (and some body horror) set in space. So, space horror is what I would call it.

Ghost Station is your second scary sci-fi novel after Dead Silence, though you’ve written a bunch of books in other genres under the name Stacey Kade. Are there any writers, or stories, that were a big influence on Ghost Station but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Dead Silence?

It’s hard to determine where influences like that begin and end. I feel like my love of locked-room mysteries played a role in Ghost Station, but not a specific mystery, if that makes sense. I’ve never written anything like that before.

What about non-literary influences; was Ghost Station influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because anytime you have a scary space story, I immediately think of the Dead Space games.

John Carpenter’s The Thing, definitely. Also, Solaris. Maybe a little bit of Arrival. And it didn’t come out until after the book was finished but oh my gosh, if you watch the first episode or two of True Detective: Night Country, when Danvers is exploring the abandoned science station and when they find the missing scientists, I was like, the writers were in my head.

Now, while they are both scary sci-fi stories, Ghost Station is not the sequel to Dead Silence. But are they set in the same fictional universe?

They could be set in the same fictional universe. There’s enough of a time gap between the stories that technology could have advanced to this point from the Dead Silence universe. Corporations leading the charge in space exploration is probably the main similarity. But we’re also heading that way right now in real life.

And is Ghost Station a stand-alone story like Dead Silence, or is this the first book in a series?

It is a stand-alone story, like Dead Silence. I think there could be more to the story after Ghost Station ends — in the same way that Claire’s story certainly could go on after Dead Silence, and I’m positive that it does — but I like leaving the continuing adventures / terror up to the reader’s imagination.

Earlier I asked if Ghost Station had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Ghost Station could work as a movie, show, or game?

Hmm. My inclination would be a show or a movie. I think it might work better as a movie because I’m not sure how it would break down into specific episodes, but that would not be my job. I would be thrilled if it were adapted into any of these forms.

And if someone wanted to make Ghost Station: The Movie, who would you want them to cast as Dr. Bray and the other main characters?

Oh, see, this is where I run into trouble. As an author, I can cast anyone across time and space. It doesn’t matter if they’re not a practical choice in real life.

I would cast Anna Torv as Ophelia, with her Fringe role as inspiration. For Ethan Severin, Ethan Peck [Star Trek: Strange New Worlds]. (Yes, his first name was intentional.) He has that severity and seriousness that I think our mission commander needs. For Suresh, Utkarsh Ambudkar because I adore him as Jay on Ghosts.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Ghost Station?

I hope it gives them a case of the creepy-crawlies in the best way!

S.A. Barnes Ghost Station

Finally, if someone enjoys Ghost Station, and they’ve already read Dead Silence, what scary sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out next?

Oh, gosh, let me think.

Paradise-1 by David Wellington. I could not put it down, and it made me care about the characters so much I cried.

Dead Space by Kali Wallace. I wish this was a series. It has a fantastic mystery element to it. I would love to read more set in this world with this main character.

And Salvaged by Madeleine Roux. So cool, so gross…in the best way.



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