Monday, June 27, 2016

172 HOURS ON THE MOON // In Which I Talk Space Flight

Rating: Three stars—Good

I’d heard quite a bit about 172 HOURS ON THE MOON by Johan Harstad, and a lot of people seemed to have liked it, so I figured I would check it out. It’s advertised as creepy and disturbing, and I’ve been in the mood for that sort of thing since I started watching The Walking Dead in January. 

Unfortunately, I was relatively disappointed with the execution of the book. So let’s talk about it. 

The Plot. It’s been over forty years since NASA mothballed the lunar program. Now, in preparation for a mission, NASA hosts an international lottery for teens ages 14-18, offering the three lucky winners a chance to spend 172 hours on the moon. However, once our intrepid explorers reach the surface, they discover what their predecessors encountered before them—the reason NASA shut down the lunar program in the first place. 

The Creep Factor. I was, sadly, not the least bit terrified by this book. In the first hundred or so pages, during the build-up to the lunar launch, I felt a cozy sense of impending doom. But the fear factor never got beyond that for me, and it stopped feeling cozy pretty early on. I ended up being more weirded out than anything. Granted, it takes a lot for fiction to scare me, and what frightens someone else might not frighten me. So this could be a matter of personal taste and preference. I just know that I would have written this book differently were I the author. (I personally don’t think the ending is as powerful as it could be, but I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read the book. If you’re interested in how I would have written the ending differently, feel free to let me know via my contact form and I will gladly tell you privately. And if you loved the ending as it was, good on you. This is all subjective and not a matter of good writing vs. poor writing, so please don’t get your EVA suit in a bunch.) 

The Characters. I didn’t connect with the main characters at all. I understood their goals; I understood their motivations; I understood why each of them sees this as their big break. I don’t think they were poorly written, necessarily. I just didn’t feel anything for them (and upon further research, I’ve found that this is not an uncommon opinion). I did, however, quite like the retired astronaut in the nursing home—a minor character who contributes the only tension I really felt. 

Plausibility. I had a couple issues on this front. First of all, let me just say, I love YA. I have absolutely nothing against teens as main characters, nor do I see them as lesser humans. I am, however, very practical, and it does not seem very practical to send minors into space. Astronauts train for years and years, which is one of the reasons why astronauts are adults. But regardless of age, I also have a problem with sending anyone, kid or not, into space on only four months of intensive training when astronauts don’t get to go into space until they are experts and have been proven to be mentally and physically sound after rigorous testing. (Yes, I know, there have been seven space tourists in the past, but they each handed over about 20-40 million for the honor, whereas NASA is footing the bill in the case of these fictional kids. And the premise of the story says NASA needs these kids to encourage more funds.) It would be one thing if the main characters were hand-selected for their stunning genius. But they were chosen randomly. So that makes sense. 

These three teenagers count as nonessential crew members because they are not qualified for anything the mission requires. They are included on the mission as glorified tourists for the sake of publicity. Now, I don’t want to make your eyes glaze over if you’re not an astronomy geek like me, so I’ll avoid numbers and equations as best I can. But essentially, it takes tons and tons (think hundreds of thousands of tons) of propellant to get your shuttle off the ground and through the atmosphere, and even more if you want it to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. This means a single kilogram of equipment requires multiple tons (think thousands) of propellant. Translated into cash, that’s in the five digits (and remember, this is just for one kilogram). This is why the engineers who build shuttles use the most durable yet lightweight materials they can. This is also why crew members don’t get to bring their personal libraries or bowling ball collections into space. So no, NASA isn’t going to fork over crazy amounts of mullah in order to send up three inexperienced teens and their notepads and iPods, even if in forty years they have somehow managed to cut the cost of propellant in half. (Side note, in case you were wondering: When astronauts do bring music and literature and whatnot, they download it onto the mainframe because digital files don’t add mass.) 

Yes, I realize I have probably spent an obsessive amount of time thinking about this. But astronomy is somewhat of a passion for me (had you noticed?) and I find small fallacies in realistic space fiction very distracting. (However, I am by no means an expert in this field, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt and don’t built your rockets to my specs.) 

The Writing Style. I wasn’t hugely impressed by the writing style itself, and the dialogue seemed somewhat stilted and unrealistic (although some of that could have been due to translation, as 172 HOURS ON THE MOON was originally written in Norwegian). Also, fun fact—I spent the whole book wondering why the writing style reminded me so much of BATTLE ROYALE, so I was really pleased when the author mentioned, in the Q&A at the end, that BATTLE ROYALE was one of his writing inspirations. 

What I Liked. I didn’t absolutely hate this book. I mean, I did give it three stars, after all. Like I said earlier, I liked the initial build-up and the sense of dread that came with, although even that took too long (in my opinion). I liked the premise—the idea that there might have been a reason we stopped making trips to the moon, that there might be something very dangerous up there waiting for us to return. And I am a sucker for space travel stories, even when they’re not entirely faithful to the facts. Also, the story incorporates some black and white photos of lunar landscapes and suchlike, so that adds to the mood. 

In Conclusion. I hate to say this, but 172 HOURS ON THE MOON (in my opinion) does not work as a Young Adult novel. It’s one of those books where I get the itch to rewrite the whole thing because it feels relatively close to the mark, like an arrow that's hit just an inch or so away from the bull's-eye. However, that doesn’t mean 172 HOURS ON THE MOON won’t be exactly right for you, so if you’re still interested in it after reading this review, more power to you, and I hope you enjoy it. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Do you find it odd that I’m simultaneously bad at math and passionate about astronomy? Have you read 172 HOURS ON THE MOON? What is something that awakens your inner geek? Have you secretly been to the moon? (If so, please tell all. I will pay you in coffee beans.)


  1. I DO find it really weird that you're bad at math but passionate about astronomy. But I don't really care because it's your thing. (What the heck are you saying, Grace?!).

    I have never heard about this book before as I am not into space travel books. I was however, somewhat interested when you mentioned that it was inspire by Battle Royale. I liked the writing in Battle Royale for some reason... it's just... DIFFERENT (and translated but shh).

    What awakens my inner geek? Languages but, but, but, I'm definitely not the best at languages. However, I am trying and it's good to try. Hahahahahahaha. (What the heck am I doing?).

    1. :P I've always found it vaguely confusing, because I love subjects like physics and astronomy and I love reading heavy, technical books on astrophysics, but when I have to do math just, ends very badly.

      It is a different sort of writing, and I like that it's unique, even though it's not necessarily beautiful. (I did prefer the style in BATTLE ROYALE over the style in this one.) But yeah, I actually thought of you when I was reading it because I wondered if you would like the similarities in style. :P

      Languages also awaken my inner geek! *high fives you* But I'm right in the same camp as you. I don't have a huge amount of confidence in my linguistic abilities. :P

      Thanks for commenting! :)

    2. You thought of moi? **bows head in happiness(?)**

    3. I did indeed. (I hope that didn't come across as creepy. :P) I just remembered how much you liked Battle Royale, so the style made me think of you. :P

  2. That plausibility thing is definitely something that would get me. They have these very, very strict health regulations about space travel because you need to be physically strong enough to deal with the zero-grav environment. There are certain things they would not allow because of the damage it could do—like let someone who hasn't finished going through puberty up into space. Like, I'm sure we don't know all of what it would do to young people, but it would also be immortal to just send kids up randomly to find out. If it had lifelong impacts, that would be very tragic and not something that was worth the discovery.

    I mean, I know you have other thoughts and stuff and it wasn't all bad but if I'm this bothered about it based on a review, imagine how bothered I'd be while reading the book?

    1. Exactly. There are so many reasons why the set up just didn't work, unless for some reason NASA has thrown out the entire book of rules and regulations, which would never happen. Yes, it would, um, be indeed immoral to send random kids up into space. *hides spacecraft full of children* Who would do such a thing? But in all seriousness, yes, it would be tragic. The only situation I could see this working in is if children with terminal illnesses were allowed to volunteer for a space flight so they could experience something awesome before they died, but even then...

      Yes, probably you would not enjoy the book. :P I tried to just take mental notes and not let the implausibility issues distract me, but it was difficult. :P

      Thanks for commenting! :)