DARLAH (English title: 172 Hours on the Moon) is a 2008 sci-fi/horrornovel by NorwegianauthorJohan Harstad. The book was originally published in Norway on September 15, 2008 by Cappelen Damm, with an English language translation being published by Little, Brown in New York City on July 10, 2012. Rights to DARLAH have also been sold to sixteen other countries: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, France, the Netherlands, Germany, UK, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil. In 2008 Harstad's work on DARLAH won him a Brage Prize.
After a prologue set in 2010, the book begins in 2012, after NASA has announced its intent to hold a contest for teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18. Three winners will be selected from all over the world, with the prize being a coveted spot on an upcoming mission to return to the moon. The stunt is believed to be a way of increasing both funding and public interest, but the real reason is that NASA intends to study a mystical phenomenon with a sinister edge that was previously discovered during the original moon landings. This is the reason that NASA stopped sending people to the moon back in the seventies. Three teenagers from Norway, Japan, and France (Mia, Midori, and Antoine respectively) are excited at the rare opportunity to see the moon firsthand as well as stay in the formerly secret lunar base DARLAH 2, which was built in the 1970s during Operation DP7. Their excitement is short-lived as they realize that this base might become their tomb, discovering what keeps other from visiting the moon: beings that can only be described as doppelgängers, which are revealed to have appeared in earth's history before. Before the moon landings, they were harmless, but after a radio telescope receives what has been called the "6EQUJ5" signal, humans decide to investigate. The code "6EQUJ5" has been following the three teenagers everywhere since shortly after they are selected to travel to the moon, with Mia seeing "6E" written on a hobo's jacket, Antoine seeing "QU" on a crashing plane, which never existed, and Midori seeing "J5" as the airport gate leading to where she is to depart for the United States. Ever since the first moon landing, the doppelgangers have attacked any and all astronauts, nearly killing the crew of Apollo 13, and after analyzing a detached doppelgänger arm, NASA finds that the beings are not living, as they are composed of an unknown inorganic material.
Meanwhile, a retired NASA custodian from the era of the previous moon landings, living in a retirement home, slowly remembers the horrible secret that will mean the teenagers' imminent death if they are allowed to travel to the moon. Back on Earth, after the doppelgängers attack the moon base, the children and their "chaperones" are declared dead, leaving no hope for them. One by one, each are killed by their doppelgängers: the two engineers on the mission are locked in an airless room to suffocate; Antoine and Mia's short-lived romance is extinguished by his disappearance with the mission commander; the lunar module pilot, a young woman, is murdered by Antoine's doppelgänger, leaving Mia and Midori to fend for themselves.
The retired NASA worker tries to alert the military, but because of an inability to speak, fails, and dies shortly afterwards.
Mia and Midori run to the kitchen of DARLAH 2 to hide from the doppelgängers, which have infiltrated the base, first posing as Mia. They hide in the kitchen and then run to the greenhouse, finding the moonbase commander camped out under a tree. He tells them to run to the escape pod in the underground moonbase DARLAH 1, which can only carry three people. Mia tries to persuade him to join them, since there is room, but he believes he should die on the base, saying he has a gun and can defend himself. Mia and Midori find spacesuits and go outside, having to traverse some of the moonscape to get to the pod. Along the way, they find the bodies of Antoine and the astronaut he disappeared with. Mia pauses to mourn Antoine, and moves on. Once inside the room leading to the pod, Midori suddenly acts childish and tries to thwart Mia's attempts to make it to the pod. Mia realizes Midori is dead and has been replaced with a doppelgänger, having been killed when they were hiding in the kitchen. The Midori doppelgänger muses about how "silly" Midori was, believing in urban legends, including the legend of Kuchisake-onna. Imitating the legend, the Midori doppelgänger splits her mouth, leaving two scars, and asks "Watashi kirei?" ("Am I beautiful now?") Mia makes a desperate escape to the pod, the doppelgänger changing its shape to match Mia's. The two Mias fight, and Mia gets into the escape pod, with the other Mia desperately beating on the sides, trying to get access, but failing and shrieking as the pod takes off.
The pod crash-lands on Earth several days later, and Mia's parents rent her the most expensive hotel room in New York. She runs into the hobo from the beginning of the book and kills him, revealing that the Mia on earth is a doppelgänger, and can make a copy of itself with every person it kills. Mia's family comes to visit her, and her little brother is frightened by her, saying her eyes are scary. She kills Mia's family, making many copies of herself, and proceeds to kill the entire hotel.
A mission report appears at the end of the book from the spacecraft Providence, returning to the moon on the way to Europa in 2081, finding the bodies of Mia, the lunar module pilot, the engineers and the moonbase commander. The commander shot himself, and the rest were either suffocated (the two engineers and Mia) or had an unknown cause of death (the lunar module pilot). The Providence has not encountered the doppelgängers, and says they have found the cause of the "DP7 event on Earth in 2019" (Mia killing everybody) and have found a letter written by Mia. She says goodbye in this letter, saying she has very little time left and that the space suit's gloves make it hard to write. The report ends.
US marketing campaign
Prior to the US release of 172 Hours on the Moon in July 2012, Little, Brown, the publishing house, created an extensive media campaign to promote the book. A website was made, where visitors were met by the text "Do you want to go to the moon? Are you between the ages of 14 and 18? Spend 172 Hours on the moon at moon base Darlah 2", trying to get them to believe that the upcoming mission to the moon was in fact real. Visitors were asked to submit their e-mail in order to compete for a ticket allowing them to come along on the expedition into space. In addition, a Facebook-profile was created, as well as a Twitter account where Mia, Midori and Antoine, the three teenage protagonists in the novel updated followers in real-time about the last preparations leading up to the announced liftoff, which was in fact just the date and time for the release of the book. During the media campaign Little, Brown also put up a number of video clips on YouTube, further enhancing the experience of a real upcoming mission by allowing the viewers (and potential readers of the novel) to meet the three main characters through found footage-style snippets of private video logs, press conferences, home video and footage apparently shot on the moon itself.
Harstad also attended the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, taking part in panel discussions with other sci-fi/horror novelists, such as Mark Z. Danielewski, as well as doing signings. At the Hachette Book Groups booth on the main expo floor, Little, Brown gave away packs of custom designed Space ice cream, with the sentence "This could be your last meal" on the front, along with a picture of the moon on a pitch black background and the title of the book.
Reception for the various translations of DARLAH has been positive, with The Guardian calling it "out of this world".The Hollywood Reporter also gave a positive review, citing the mixture of horror and sci-fi as a highlight of the novel.Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly praised the book, with Publishers Weekly stating that although "readers don’t get to know the characters terribly well" that this lent to the book's atmosphere. The book received the 2008 Brage Prize for children's literature.
Title:172 Hours on the Moon (Original title: DARLAH)
Author: Johan Harstad
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) / Atom (UK)
Publication Date: April 2012 (US & UK)
Hardcover: 355 Pages
It’s been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA’s unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space–and change their lives forever.
Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band’s ticket to fame and fortune.
Midori believes it’s her way out of her restrained life in Japan.
Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space… no one is coming to save them.
In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the US Publisher (via NetGalley)
Why did I read this book:172 Hours on the Moon first caught my eye based solely on its title – and then when I read the blurb, I was instantly sold. Teenagers on a PR mission to reinvigorate NASA and raise money, gone terribly, horribly wrong? Sci-fi horror on the moon? Oh HELL yes.
On August 15, 1977, a mysterious signal is detected on Earth – a signal that, impossibly, comes from the hunk of dead rock and dust that is the moon. Even before the signal, though, dating back to man’s first intrepid steps on the moon, NASA has known that there was something other in the vacuum where nothing should be alive. In the 1970s, NASA created a secret research facility in the Sea of Tranquility to investigate the source of the mysterious happenings and signal, named DARLAH 2. Due to budget cuts, international tensions, and a general lack of public interest in missions to space, however, DARLAH 2 remained uninhabited and untouched…
Until fall of 2010, when the mysterious signal is picked up once again by Earth. In order to secure funding to further investigate the lunar mystery, a small contingent of NASA’s need-to-know elite concoct a brilliant, high-stakes plan that will rip the space program from the cobwebbed clutches of the 1970s: they will send teenagers to the moon.
In 2018, holding an international lottery for eligibly healthy teens between the ages of 14 and 18, NASA gambles with the biggest PR stunt of the century and instantly sparks speculation and feverish public interest. Three teens will be selected from across the world and will be given the chance of a lifetime to spend 172 hours on the moon, accompanying experienced astronauts on a goodwill research mission.
Mia Nomeland, age 16 from Stavanger, Norway is headed to the moon by accident; her parents signed her up for the lottery without her consent or knowledge, but she’s determined to make the most of it for the sake of fame and fortune for her band.
Midori Yoshida, age 15 from Yokohama, Japan enters the lottery to escape the dim future she sees in her home country. A Harajuku girl with ambitions much larger than those of her classmates or family, Midori sees the mission to the moon as her chance to leave Japan behind and live her bohemian dream in a Brooklyn loft with her best friends.
Antoine Devereux, age 17 from Paris, France, has just had his heart broken when his beloved Simone dumps him for another man. Earth holds nothing more for Antoine, and the moon represents a new, fresh start.
After a year of intense training and preparation, the three teens leave Earth in July of 2019 and make their way to the Moon and DARLAH 2, their temporary home for a little over a week.
But something else waits in the vast, cold vacuum of space for the crew and yearns for Earth.
Blending classic science fiction and supernatural horror elements with an intriguing take on the revitalization of a largely irrelevant and overlooked space program, 172 Hours on the Moon is the first book I’ve had the pleasure of reading from Johan Harstad. Suspenseful and brilliant in its conception, I truly enjoyed this crossover novel, albeit with some reservations. First, the good: I adore the central premise of the novel and the idea of using a lottery and children as a means to endear public opinion and funding for NASA. When you first learn that teenagers are going to be sent to the moon, it requires some major suspension of disbelief – who in their right mind would actually send teens into a costly, dangerous, unprecedented mission to the moon? The conceit that this is all a publicity stunt for NASA is a stretch, but it makes sense – in a world where celebrities and the megarich are vying for tickets into low Earth orbit and where reality TV reigns supreme, sending teens as civilian representatives to the Moon isn’t that far off (after all, NASA and the United States had already launched a similar mission with the Teacher In Space program from 1984 – with similarly disastrous results). The fact that the teens would not be sent up into space alone, and would actually be observers – PR-candy civilians, as opposed to actual pilots and astronauts – aids the suspension of disbelief. It’s actually quite brilliant, and I applaud Mr. Harstad and 172 Hours on the Moon for making this seemingly impossible mission feel believable, right down to the details of keeping the Saturn V and LEM aesthetic for marketing and nostalgia purposes. Brilliant.
Similarly, I love that the teenage protagonists of this story (Mia, Midori, and Antoine) actually feel like real teenagers – each of them is going to the Moon for reasons that do not stem from their being geniuses or super-space-enthusiasts. In fact, not one of them is going to the Moon for the sake of the Moon. These are flawed, at times self-centered, immature, real people, and I love that they are imperfect, not noble-minded or saintly good or worldly. In the strictest, unkindest terms, Mia is selfish, Midori a hopeless dreamer, and Antoine emotionally compromised bordering on unstable. This said, they are all endearing, believable protagonists in their own ways, and Mia especially grows impressively over the course of the novel.
I loved that for all that NASA is an American institution, the teens selected are not American.
Finally, I loved the buildup to the moon mission and the entire central concept of the story involving a signal from the moon, a classified moon base, and a mysterious lunar presence that dates back to Apollo 11.
These praises said, there are some significant downsides to consider, too. While the overall story is brilliant in its conception, the pacing is uneven, with so much time spent on buildup to the actual lunar mission and a disproportionately short amount of time actually spent on the Moon. Once our crew actually lands in the Sea of Tranquility, things move along at a sadly rushed rate, creating a lopsided and truncated reading experience. The best works of horror are those that play on the slow seduction of terror – with fear building bit by tantalizing bit to a horrific crescendo. In 172 Hours on the Moon, the buildup is abrupt and ultimately dissatisfying because things are escalated so quickly.
Because the meat of the story is so rushed, many of the actual explanations and reveals are missing, and some elements remain glossed over or unresolved. The integration of the supernatural/premonition elements of the story don’t quite work, and earlier portions of the novel don’t quite manage to add up with the final explanation for the mysterious signal and lunar presence. Similarly, the significance of one main character’s entire narrative (an elderly man in a nursing home that somehow knows of the terror on the moon) feels completely extraneous by the end of the novel.
From a writing perspective, many key backstory elements are related in data-dump fashion, which feels a little more awkward at times because of the rigid, clinical feel of the prose (I should note this might be because of the translation). Another shortcoming was the lack of character development for Midori and Antoine – while all three teens initially get equal stage time in the early parts of the book, once our protagonists head to the Moon, we are given Mia’s perspective almost exclusively. While Mia goes through an impressive character arc and I enjoyed her story, it does come at the expense of the other characters, which is a shame. Finally, the ending of the book is fairly predictable and sticks to any number of science fiction and horror tropes – in itself not a bad thing, but I can’t help but feel like there was potential for more, and ultimately 172 Hours on the Moon didn’t quite live up to the spectacular promise of its early chapters.
All these criticisms said, there is still plenty to get excited for with this novel, and certainly it’s one of the best pure science fiction titles in recent YA memory (i.e. the physics actually make sense, for once!). I loved the integration of science fact and the speculative stretch of unresolved mysteries explained with a supernatural/sci-fi twist (i.e. the Wow! signal). If you’re yearning for some old school science fiction with a good dose of tension and horror, you cannot go wrong with this book. Suspenseful, entertaining, and well-researched, I truly enjoyed 172 Hours on the Moon. Recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
PART 1 — THE EARTH
OPPORTUNITY — 2018
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Mia Nomeland said, giving her parents an unenthusiastic look. “No way.”
“But Mia, honey. It’s an amazing opportunity, don’t you think?”
Her parents were sitting side by side on the sofa, as if glued together, with the ad they had clipped out of the newspaper lying on the coffee table in front of them. Every last corner of the world had already had a chance to see some version of it. The campaign had been running for weeks on TV, the radio, the Internet, and in the papers, and the name NASA was on its way to becoming as well known around the globe as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.
“An opportunity for what? To make a fool of myself?”
“Won’t you even consider it?” her mother tried. “The deadline isn’t for a month, you know.”
“No! I don’t want to consider it. There’s nothing for me to do up there. There’s something for me to do absolutely everywhere except on the moon.”
“If it were me, I would have applied on the spot,” her mother said.
“Well, I’m sure my friends and I are all very glad that you’re not me.”
“Fine, sorry. It’s just that I . . . I don’t care. Is that so hard for you to understand? You guys are always telling me that the world is full of opportunities and that you have to choose some and let others pass you by. And that there are enough opportunities to last a lifetime and then some. Right, Dad?”
Her dad mumbled some sort of response and looked the other way.
Her mother sighed. “I’ll leave the ad over here on the piano for a while, in case you change your mind.”
It’s always like this, Mia thought, leaving the living room. They’re not listening. They’re just waiting for me to finish talking.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Make sure you stop by to check out our interview with author Johan Harstad for a chance to win a copy of 172 Hours on the Moon.
And, if you’re interested, there are a ton of pretty cool book-related extras courtesy of the publisher, including a number of higher quality videos (youtube channel HERE). Check out the official website and facebook page for more videos, images, character profiles, and extras.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next:Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis
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HorrorJohan HarstadScience FictionYoung Adult
Thea James is half of the maniacal book review duo behind The Book Smugglers. By day, she does digital operations things over at Penguin Random House. By night, she watches an abundance of horror movies, stays up too late, and voraciously devours ALL THE SFF.