Saturday, December 8, 2012

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

My Rating: 3.5 / 5.0

Amazon Rating: 3.50 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.48 / 5.00

I read an ARC of this title, which I received from Kristen at Fantasy Cafe. It is also a translation from the original Norwegian.

Due to budget cuts it has been many years since the last man stepped onto the Moon, but now NASA needs to send a new expedition. In order to generate the necessary funds they create a huge media frenzy by holding a worldwide lottery for three places in the lunar lander.

We follow the three winners as they prepare for the journey of a lifetime: Norwegian Mia is hoping to use the publicity to kick start her punk band’s rise to fame, Midori simply wants to get away from her restricted life in Japan while Antoine wants to get as far as possible away from his Parisian girlfriend.  However, NASA is not being truthful about their real reasons for mounting the expedition and once they arrive at the DARLAH 2 Station things go from bad to worse.

This is an intriguing mix of science fiction, mystery and paranormal horror. Right from the start, we know that NASA is concerned about strange radio signals coming from the Moon, and that they have suspicions that there is something non-human already on the satellite. This makes the decision to send three teenagers along for the ride seem all the more cynical and immoral, as they are simply a way to raise the necessary funds.

The teenagers themselves are well drawn and are generally likeable, although they display a suitable amount of teenage selfishness and disgust with their parents and the world in general. This is especially true for Mia, who thinks that the whole idea is lame and is actually entered into the lottery by her parents. The only reason that she decides to go along is to advertise her band, which is suitably grungy and rebellious. Midori is a much sweeter character, although she feels stifled by her culture’s expectations and restrictions. She tries desperately to rebel and be a non-conformist, but in a much gentler way than Mia. Meanwhile, Antoine is the stereotypical Frenchman who has been dumped and is now obsessed by the woman who broke his heart. He is maudlin and rather gallant in a nihilistic kind of way.

Even before we arrive on the Moon there are supernatural events that make us realize that the non-human presence is not friendly. One of the scariest devices that Mr Harstad uses is to show us the reactions of Mr Himmelfarb, who is a patient in a nursing home suffering from severe dementia. He used to work for NASA and is one of the few people who know exactly what happened during the last manned mission. We see his reactions to television reports about the lottery and upcoming return to the Moon, which show such intense terror that we are left in no doubt that the mission is an extremely bad idea.

However, for all the likeable teenagers and intriguing premise, the book does have some major flaws. Some of these are rather small, like the fact that only three teenagers are trained, even though any or all of them could have proven to be unsuitable once they were subjected to zero gravity or any of the other tests. Also, there were no replacements in case of a case of illness, which seemed rather silly: surely the PR department would have realized that having a group of teenagers and then following them ‘Big Brother’ style through training and up to the final selection would have been more captivating for the international audience.

Other problems are more major, such as the uneven pacing. We spend a great deal of time following the teenagers before their selection and then in training, which builds the tension beautifully. However, once we actually get into space things become rushed. On the moon we have hardly arrived at the DARLAH 2 station before we are thrown headlong into a panicked race to the end. There are some major plot holes and examples of characters behaving irrationally, which makes no sense for seasoned astronauts who have been trained for years and have proven to be the most suitable candidates for this very situation. There is also a certain amount of confusion at the end and I did not feel that all the paranormal events were explained in a satisfactory manner. 

Overall I enjoyed reading this title, especially because it was rooted in the real mystery of the Wow! signal. However, I was frustrated by the ending, which did not live up to the suspense of the earlier sections.

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  1. I felt the same way about this book. Too much about them before the trip and then things went kind of off. The mystery was a total surprised for me. I was definitely expecting little green or white men to be the source of trouble. I felt the book kind of rushed but I think it might be because he is thinking about a second one? I love the cover though! It totally goes with the book.

    New follower :-)

  2. I never thought that he might have been setting up for a sequel, but that makes perfect sense . . . even if the end of the book doesn't! :D

  3. Sorry to hear about the flaws as this one sounded interesting otherwise, especially after having read the very excellent Apollo's Outcasts which also features teens on the moon. If you are looking for a better structured novel with a little bit of kinship to this one then I highly recommend you check it out.

  4. I saw that you really liked it, so I was tempted . . . :)


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