I read a lot of YA dystopia. A lot. I’m huge fan of the genre, but after so many trilogies of teens fighting the system, rising to fame, falling into a forbidden love and/or making terrible decisions, I’d become a bit bored of it. So when I came across 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad and skimmed the book flap – in 2019 three teenagers are selected from a worldwide lottery to go to the moon in the hopes of making space travel more popular and, for the teens, to gain fame for a punk band, to forget an ex or to escape strict parents – it seemed like the same old thing. But, faced with a long stretch of being TV and Internet-less, I finally gave it a chance.
And, man oh man, was I wrong.
Forget about fighting the power, forget the love triangle. This book is one of the best straight-up no-blood horror books I’ve read in quite a while (no surprise the author is Norwegian, where some of the best stark horror novels come from.) Its classification as young adult is unfortunate, as many horror fans might turn their noses up at the genre.
The novel does begin with the usual teenage angst: Mia, from Norway is worried that her punk band will fall apart before they can reach fame; Midori feels suffocated by her life in Japan and Antoine is suffering from an exceptionally bad breakup. The trio is sped through three months of training and are soon launched to the moon, accompanied by three experienced crew, to spend a week living and conducting experiments in the previously abandoned moon base DARLAH 2. As soon as they arrive, of course, things start to go very, very wrong. Damage to key systems that appears to be sabotage, vague references to the ill-fated first moon base DARLAH 1 and its crew, and impossible sightings of spacesuit-clad others walking about the surface all combine to heighten the paranoia and terror of the group. Back on Earth, a former astronaut struggles against dementia to spread a dire warning to the world – that we should never have gone back to the moon, and – if the current crew survives – what we may bring back. Throughout the book, Harstad offers little pieces of memorabilia – blueprints of the DARLAH stations, heavily redacted mission reports and the text of strange transmissions received from an unknown source, lending an eerie reality to the story.
This is a novel that, after a bit of slow beginning, grips you tightly with icy hands. The background of the three teens isn’t as developed as it could have been, but that only increases the feeling of watching something horrible happen from a great distance. The ending, while not an entirely happy one, left me desperate for a sequel.