Title: 172 Hours on the Moon (Original title: DARLAH)
Author: Johan Harstad
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) / Atom (UK)
Publication Date: April 2012 (US & UK)
Hardcover: 355 Pages
It’s been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA’s unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space–and change their lives forever.
Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band’s ticket to fame and fortune.
Midori believes it’s her way out of her restrained life in Japan.
Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space… no one is coming to save them.
In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the US Publisher (via NetGalley)
Why did I read this book: 172 Hours on the Moon first caught my eye based solely on its title – and then when I read the blurb, I was instantly sold. Teenagers on a PR mission to reinvigorate NASA and raise money, gone terribly, horribly wrong? Sci-fi horror on the moon? Oh HELL yes.
On August 15, 1977, a mysterious signal is detected on Earth – a signal that, impossibly, comes from the hunk of dead rock and dust that is the moon. Even before the signal, though, dating back to man’s first intrepid steps on the moon, NASA has known that there was something other in the vacuum where nothing should be alive. In the 1970s, NASA created a secret research facility in the Sea of Tranquility to investigate the source of the mysterious happenings and signal, named DARLAH 2. Due to budget cuts, international tensions, and a general lack of public interest in missions to space, however, DARLAH 2 remained uninhabited and untouched…
Until fall of 2010, when the mysterious signal is picked up once again by Earth. In order to secure funding to further investigate the lunar mystery, a small contingent of NASA’s need-to-know elite concoct a brilliant, high-stakes plan that will rip the space program from the cobwebbed clutches of the 1970s: they will send teenagers to the moon.
In 2018, holding an international lottery for eligibly healthy teens between the ages of 14 and 18, NASA gambles with the biggest PR stunt of the century and instantly sparks speculation and feverish public interest. Three teens will be selected from across the world and will be given the chance of a lifetime to spend 172 hours on the moon, accompanying experienced astronauts on a goodwill research mission.
Mia Nomeland, age 16 from Stavanger, Norway is headed to the moon by accident; her parents signed her up for the lottery without her consent or knowledge, but she’s determined to make the most of it for the sake of fame and fortune for her band.
Midori Yoshida, age 15 from Yokohama, Japan enters the lottery to escape the dim future she sees in her home country. A Harajuku girl with ambitions much larger than those of her classmates or family, Midori sees the mission to the moon as her chance to leave Japan behind and live her bohemian dream in a Brooklyn loft with her best friends.
Antoine Devereux, age 17 from Paris, France, has just had his heart broken when his beloved Simone dumps him for another man. Earth holds nothing more for Antoine, and the moon represents a new, fresh start.
After a year of intense training and preparation, the three teens leave Earth in July of 2019 and make their way to the Moon and DARLAH 2, their temporary home for a little over a week.
But something else waits in the vast, cold vacuum of space for the crew and yearns for Earth.
Blending classic science fiction and supernatural horror elements with an intriguing take on the revitalization of a largely irrelevant and overlooked space program, 172 Hours on the Moon is the first book I’ve had the pleasure of reading from Johan Harstad. Suspenseful and brilliant in its conception, I truly enjoyed this crossover novel, albeit with some reservations. First, the good: I adore the central premise of the novel and the idea of using a lottery and children as a means to endear public opinion and funding for NASA. When you first learn that teenagers are going to be sent to the moon, it requires some major suspension of disbelief – who in their right mind would actually send teens into a costly, dangerous, unprecedented mission to the moon? The conceit that this is all a publicity stunt for NASA is a stretch, but it makes sense – in a world where celebrities and the megarich are vying for tickets into low Earth orbit and where reality TV reigns supreme, sending teens as civilian representatives to the Moon isn’t that far off (after all, NASA and the United States had already launched a similar mission with the Teacher In Space program from 1984 – with similarly disastrous results). The fact that the teens would not be sent up into space alone, and would actually be observers – PR-candy civilians, as opposed to actual pilots and astronauts – aids the suspension of disbelief. It’s actually quite brilliant, and I applaud Mr. Harstad and 172 Hours on the Moon for making this seemingly impossible mission feel believable, right down to the details of keeping the Saturn V and LEM aesthetic for marketing and nostalgia purposes. Brilliant.
Similarly, I love that the teenage protagonists of this story (Mia, Midori, and Antoine) actually feel like real teenagers – each of them is going to the Moon for reasons that do not stem from their being geniuses or super-space-enthusiasts. In fact, not one of them is going to the Moon for the sake of the Moon. These are flawed, at times self-centered, immature, real people, and I love that they are imperfect, not noble-minded or saintly good or worldly. In the strictest, unkindest terms, Mia is selfish, Midori a hopeless dreamer, and Antoine emotionally compromised bordering on unstable. This said, they are all endearing, believable protagonists in their own ways, and Mia especially grows impressively over the course of the novel.
I loved that for all that NASA is an American institution, the teens selected are not American.
Finally, I loved the buildup to the moon mission and the entire central concept of the story involving a signal from the moon, a classified moon base, and a mysterious lunar presence that dates back to Apollo 11.
These praises said, there are some significant downsides to consider, too. While the overall story is brilliant in its conception, the pacing is uneven, with so much time spent on buildup to the actual lunar mission and a disproportionately short amount of time actually spent on the Moon. Once our crew actually lands in the Sea of Tranquility, things move along at a sadly rushed rate, creating a lopsided and truncated reading experience. The best works of horror are those that play on the slow seduction of terror – with fear building bit by tantalizing bit to a horrific crescendo. In 172 Hours on the Moon, the buildup is abrupt and ultimately dissatisfying because things are escalated so quickly.
Because the meat of the story is so rushed, many of the actual explanations and reveals are missing, and some elements remain glossed over or unresolved. The integration of the supernatural/premonition elements of the story don’t quite work, and earlier portions of the novel don’t quite manage to add up with the final explanation for the mysterious signal and lunar presence. Similarly, the significance of one main character’s entire narrative (an elderly man in a nursing home that somehow knows of the terror on the moon) feels completely extraneous by the end of the novel.1
From a writing perspective, many key backstory elements are related in data-dump fashion, which feels a little more awkward at times because of the rigid, clinical feel of the prose (I should note this might be because of the translation). Another shortcoming was the lack of character development for Midori and Antoine – while all three teens initially get equal stage time in the early parts of the book, once our protagonists head to the Moon, we are given Mia’s perspective almost exclusively. While Mia goes through an impressive character arc and I enjoyed her story, it does come at the expense of the other characters, which is a shame. Finally, the ending of the book is fairly predictable and sticks to any number of science fiction and horror tropes – in itself not a bad thing, but I can’t help but feel like there was potential for more, and ultimately 172 Hours on the Moon didn’t quite live up to the spectacular promise of its early chapters.
All these criticisms said, there is still plenty to get excited for with this novel, and certainly it’s one of the best pure science fiction titles in recent YA memory (i.e. the physics actually make sense, for once!). I loved the integration of science fact and the speculative stretch of unresolved mysteries explained with a supernatural/sci-fi twist (i.e. the Wow! signal). If you’re yearning for some old school science fiction with a good dose of tension and horror, you cannot go wrong with this book. Suspenseful, entertaining, and well-researched, I truly enjoyed 172 Hours on the Moon. Recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
PART 1 — THE EARTH
OPPORTUNITY — 2018
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Mia Nomeland said, giving her parents an unenthusiastic look. “No way.”
“But Mia, honey. It’s an amazing opportunity, don’t you think?”
Her parents were sitting side by side on the sofa, as if glued together, with the ad they had clipped out of the newspaper lying on the coffee table in front of them. Every last corner of the world had already had a chance to see some version of it. The campaign had been running for weeks on TV, the radio, the Internet, and in the papers, and the name NASA was on its way to becoming as well known around the globe as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.
“An opportunity for what? To make a fool of myself?”
“Won’t you even consider it?” her mother tried. “The deadline isn’t for a month, you know.”
“No! I don’t want to consider it. There’s nothing for me to do up there. There’s something for me to do absolutely everywhere except on the moon.”
“If it were me, I would have applied on the spot,” her mother said.
“Well, I’m sure my friends and I are all very glad that you’re not me.”
“Fine, sorry. It’s just that I . . . I don’t care. Is that so hard for you to understand? You guys are always telling me that the world is full of opportunities and that you have to choose some and let others pass you by. And that there are enough opportunities to last a lifetime and then some. Right, Dad?”
Her dad mumbled some sort of response and looked the other way.
Her mother sighed. “I’ll leave the ad over here on the piano for a while, in case you change your mind.”
It’s always like this, Mia thought, leaving the living room. They’re not listening. They’re just waiting for me to finish talking.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Make sure you stop by to check out our interview with author Johan Harstad for a chance to win a copy of 172 Hours on the Moon.
And, if you’re interested, there are a ton of pretty cool book-related extras courtesy of the publisher, including a number of higher quality videos (youtube channel HERE). Check out the official website and facebook page for more videos, images, character profiles, and extras.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis
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- Interestingly, Johan Harstad references LOST as an influence for this book. Like that show – which is near and dear to my heart despite its flaws – many tantalizing tidbits remain merely tantalizing tidbits. Some things are never explained. That’s frustrating, especially in retrospect. ↩