Book Review: ‘172 Hours on the Moon’ by Johan Harstad

Author: Johan Harstad

Translated by Tara F. Chace

Published by Atom Books in 2012

Review by Miriam Atkinson

It’s been decades since mankind went to the Moon. To revitalise public interest, NASA decides to send three teenagers along with a new team of astronauts. But what if there was a reason why humanity never went back to the Moon?

172 Hours on the Moon uses multiple narrators to tell its story – with primary focus on the three teenagers Mia, Antoine and Midori. The trio win a NASA competition to earn their spots on the space shuttle.

Based on the title, I wasn’t expecting the story to spend as much time as it did on Earth. However through this extended build-up and the alternating narrators I was pleasantly surprised by how in-depth and three-dimensional the protagonists and their lives were.

I loved that author Johan Harstad gave each of the teens a different reason for entering the competition. For Midori the competition was her dream come true. Antoine was desperate to do anything to escape a bad relationship and Mia only entered because of her pushy parents. These different backgrounds gave diversity to the story which kept it interesting from a reader’s perspective.

The novel is split into two halves, with the first half set on Earth and the second half set on the Moon. Despite this even split, when I read the book it felt closer to two-thirds set on Earth and only a third on the Moon. I think this is due to the uneven pacing of the novel. In the Earth-half we get to know the teens and follow the slow gradual build-up of their journeys to NASA. In comparison the Moon-half is considerable more faster-paced with dramatic event quickly following dramatic event.

Overall I prefer the earlier chapters that detail the build-up to the mission. For me the second half the novel is too fast-paced to the point where I sometimes had to go back and re-read pages just to double check I was understand the plot correctly. The epilogue especially is particularly ambiguous. Now, to be fair, it could be argued that this rapid pace is used to place the reader in the position of the characters who must quickly deal with developing situations. Regardless I still would have preferred it if there were a few more pauses and moments to breathe in the novel’s second half.

I found that 172 Hours is quite a divisive novel with many readers either loving or hating it. The main criticism seems to be about the novel’s unrealistic premise of NASA sending three teenagers to the moon.  Something I realised whilst I was reading was, despite the title and story premise, 172 Hours does not fully fall into the genre of science fiction. Instead is it closer to a horror/thriller story with sci-fi elements. This is a story primarily focused on entertaining its readers rather than presenting a 100% realistic world (unless there really is something monstrous living on the moon). As a fan of both fiction and sci-fi I didn’t have a problem with the premise but I do appreciate that some people may find it a bit far-fetched.

So did I it love or it hate? I think I fall somewhere in the middle. While I enjoyed a lot of aspects 172 Hours on the Moon offered there were some sections – particularly the ending – which frustrated me. Despite my mixed feelings I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone who wanted to give this novel a try.

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