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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


172 Hours on the Moon

Johan Harstad

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To purchase 172 Hours on the Moon

Title: 172 Hours on the Moon
Author: Johan Harstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 351 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: 172 Hours on the Moon - US
172 Hours on the Moon - UK
172 Hours on the Moon - Canada
172 Hours on the Moon - India
Darlah - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Darlah: 172 timer på månen
  • Translated by Tara F. Chace

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Our Assessment:

C : some suspense, but way too hasty and unscientific

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Cleveland Plain Dealer . 18/5/2012 Rollie Welch
The Guardian A 4/8/2012 ellathebookworm
Publishers Weekly . 5/3/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "172 Hours on the Moon is a well-crafted physical object, peppered with vintage photographs of Apollo moon shots. Like Stieg Larsson, another Scandinavian, Harstad knows how to tuck in a nasty shock. The narrative zips past training and detours safely around the confusing, alphabet-soup of NASA-speak. (...) Sure, this novel has plenty of logic-defying scenes, but they don't stall the escalating tension." - Rollie Welch, Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • "This book is quite scary, so if you don't like scary books, I wouldn't recommend it. However, if you want a good read, which is frightening and scientific." - ellathebookworm, The Guardian

  • "Harstad effectively builds tension by moving among the perspectives of adults and teens on the Moon and on Earth; readers don’t get to know the characters terribly well, which only adds to the book’s icy remove. Creepy and bleak, Harstad’s story is both psychologically and atmospherically disturbing." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       172 Hours on the Moon is a YA novel with a premise that surely appeals to teens and tweens: NASA sends three teenagers to the moon. Okay, that's a pretty far-fetched premise, but presumably readers are readily willing to suspend disbelief -- if the author presents the whole idea plausibly enough. Unfortunately, plausibility turns out not to mean much in Harstad's fictional world: 172 Hours on the Moon is a work of shockingly unscientific fantasy, practically from the first page to the last; perhaps hardly surprisingly, the novel's best moments come at its end, when it forsakes any scientific grounding and fully embraces the supernatural.
       The set-up has some promise: in 2010 NASA decide it's time to head back to the moon. They had constructed a base there, DARLAH 2, between 1974 and 1976 -- but no one had actually ever been inside. It turns out, the moon missions were abandoned not because of money, but because:

what we found up there is not the type of discovery for which one receives money for further research. We would have been asked to leave it alone. So we pretended it never existed ... and, anyway, the signal disappeared.
       Leaving aside the fact that this sure as hell sounds like exactly something that the government would have been willing pony up enormous amounts of money to do further research on ... well, the 'signal' is back, and NASA thinks it would probably be a good idea to go check it out. But how to enthuse a nation weary of billions of taxpayer dollars shot up into space with little to show for it while still keeping the actual object of the mission secret ? Ah, of course:
Teenagers on the moon, gentlemen, is the solution we've been looking for. The door opener.
       Just to make sure, too, they go on a real nostalgia trip: even the rocket that they want to use for the mission is just a polished-up version of the ancient Saturn rockets from the Apollo missions ..... Yes, they have the perfect marketing and publicity angle; as to the rest .....
       By 2018 everything is more or less ready, and they hold a worldwide competition to fill the three teen slots (five adult astronauts are also along for the ride, to take care of the actual space- and flying-work). This allows Harstad to introduce the three future high-fliers, two girls, from Norway and Japan, and a boy from France (because, of course, American taxpayers would be happy to send some damn foreigners to space on their dime, rather than insisting on homegrown talent getting the spots ...). The kids --like all kids, apparently -- all have some issues: Mia doesn't even want to enter the contest and is more concerned with her band, for example, while Midori sees it as her ticket away from her family. Harstad does the sullen/rebellious teen okay, but all three remain pretty thin characters.
       Still, that's nothing compared with the thin science and other details. Beginning with the fact that the winning teens are notified by letter -- will there even still be postal delivery service in these countries in 2019 ? -- to the fact that they're not attended to every waking second by a whole team of security personnel and administrators as soon as they're signed on, the whole process of becoming part of the NASA team is close to ludicrous. Harstad glosses over most of the month-long preparation training, too, and soon enough they're all set to be shot into space.
       Admirably, in a way, Harstad allows pretty much everything to go wrong on the actual mission. But what should be tragedy is only farce. The adult astronauts are entirely unprofessional, more or less falling apart as soon as there's the slightest hint of trouble (okay, bad things happen -- but they do not react very well, and certainly not professionally).
       Harstad manages some reasonable suspense as things fall apart, but he makes it a bit too easy on himself, too: there's very little to all this -- or rather, there's everything and anything he wants. 172 Hours on the Moon is so shockingly unscientific that it's hard not to see it as anti-scientific, and it's the supernatural that slowly comes to the fore -- and then 'explains' more or less everything. The last and only saving grace is that it doesn't quite explain everything, as the book closes with a very open ending, one of the few points in the book where the going is vaguely good because there's at least some really creepy anticipation of something really strange and bad happening. But, as noted, it's an open-ended ending, not a conclusion; a final two pages, dated 2081, give a few more hints but don't reveal the extent of what happened in 2019 and after.
       Harstad spends quite a bit of time relating what's going through the teens' minds, but even that doesn't entirely convince, given the incredible journey they go on (from the preparation stages through the actual moon-mission). The short chapters, switching between characters, move things along quickly enough -- but for long stretches what's missing are the details. Harstad zips along the surface, rarely digging deeper; when he does, readers are treated to such things as pseudo-profound memories that are meant to help define the characters; as is, they're simply not enough (and read rather awkwardly, given everything else).
       Perhaps the resorting to the simply supernatural -- without much explanation or any suggestion as to the how or why -- suffices for the most undemanding of readers, but even at the most basic level 172 Hours on the Moon offers little more than occasional suspense. Meanwhile, the scientifically inclined can surely only be disappointed by how weak the descriptions and explanations of anything to do with science and space-exploration are.
       [I realize I am not the target audience for this book, but I'm pretty sure that, had it been available when I was the appropriate age, I would have been even more outraged at how unscientific it is.]
       The volume is well-designed, the text presented with illustrations and photographs which look 'cool'; the writing and, especially, the story, however, leave very much to be desired.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 October 2012

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172 Hours on the Moon: Reviews: Other books by Johan Harstad interest under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Johan Harstad was born in 1979.

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© 2012 the complete review

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