172 Hours on the Moon
A Novel by Johan Harstad
Translated from the Norwegian by Tara F. Chace
(2008) 2012 / 360 Pages
The Setup: Everyone said sending teenagers into space would be their opportunity of a lifetime…
It’s been decades since anyone last set foot on the moon. But three ordinary teens are about to change that–and their lives–forever. Mia knows this will be her punk band’s ticket to fame and fortune. Midori believes it’s her way out of her restrictive lifestyle in Japan. And Antoine just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible. But little do they know that something sinister is waiting for them on the dark side of the moon. And in the black vastness of space, no one is coming to save them… Strap yourself in for this chilling adventure from a young Norwegian author on the rise. You’ll want to keep your lights on long after you’ve read the last page. (From the hardcover edition)
Johan Harstad’s Norwegian Brage Award winning young adult novel 172 Hours on the Moon (originally titled DARLAH in its native language) is a science fiction / horror story that takes place in 2019, the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the original moon landing. To celebrate this historic landmark NASA has decided that they want to schedule a return trip to the Earth’s lone satellite, but of course when they finally do, things don’t go quite as planned. This basic premise does make one stop and wonder about which of Harstad’s ideas is more unlikely: that NASA will ever go back to the moon for some reason, or that they’ll even still exist as an organization in 2019.
The quality of the physical novel is amazing as is the marketing campaign behind it (more on that particular piece by the way of video links can be found below.) This isn’t an aspect of a book that I generally spend a lot of time on as I’m usually quite focused on opening, reading, reviewing and then moving on to the next title, but here it’s worth taking a moment or two to talk about. The font used is crisp and clear, the dividers between each section are beautifully laid out in black and white with a sparse space-type feel to them, and meaningful black and white pictures along with basic geeky diagrams of space stations are interspersed through the text to great effect.
All and all you really couldn’t ask for better packaging, but how does the book read?
Fans of Harstad’s wonderful novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to you in all the Confusion? which arrived in English translation last year from Seven Stories Press will no doubt end up a bit disappointed. While that novel spent an extremely delicious amount of time on building detailed, realistic characters that the reader couldn’t help but fall in love with, 172 Hours on the Moon instead opts for a different tactic, pushing the tension and action ever forward, while never really stopping to investigate what motivates each of its protagonists. To be far, it is a novel that is aimed at the young adult market, and keeping that squarely in mind while reading it, judging the story and it’s execution for what it aims to be rather than what one would like it to be based on past exposure to its author, 172 Hours on the Moon ends up being a surprisingly good, quick page turner.
NASA’s bright idea for drumming up public interest for their new lunar mission is to hold a worldwide contest to pick three random teenagers to send into space along with a group of highly trained astronauts. Here things seem a bit far-fetched. Would NASA send teens from other countries into space using the United States proprietary technology? Would other countries actually allow their teenagers to participate? Yes to both questions says Harstard and thus a Japanese girl named Midori, a Norweigian girl named Mia and a French boy named Antoine are randomly chosen to take part in what should prove to be the experience of a lifetime.
NASA isn’t exactly being truthful about exactly why they’ve decided to go back to the moon however, a fact that becomes readily apparent almost immediately after the teens and their astronaut guardians touch down on the surface of the lunar satellite and make their way to a top secret installation that the US government is only now willing to admit that they built in the 1970s.
It’s at this station named DARLAH 2 that things go horribly wrong, and the entire group is forced to race against time in an effort to save themselves from a strange, unknown force. This piece of the story is actually one of the most intriguing as it’s based partly on an actual signal that was received from space by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in Ohio in 1977.
172 Hours on the Moon is a great thrill ride. It won’t necessarily keep you guessing or have you deeply invested in the welfare of its characters, but it will keep you turning the pages, in a desperate attempt to keep up with action and to see how the story that has unfolded ultimately gets resolved.