Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Book Review: 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, Translated by Tara Chace

Pros: some tense scenes, hard SF, tense climax 

Cons: confusing ending, lots of unanswered questions including some contradictions 

In an attempt to raise funds for another manned mission to the moon in order to investigate strange occurrences recorded there from the 1970s, NASA holds a contest for three teenagers to win a place on the trip.

Mia is a Norwegian singer in a band she hopes will make it big.  She has no interest in the moon.  Nor does Midori, a clothes loving Japanese girl.  Antoine signs up for the contest so he can get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as he can.  None of them know what awaits them on the moon.

While the teens get a lot of pages devoted to them, I never connected with them or felt they developed much as characters.  Perhaps that’s because I’m no longer a teen, though I did understand and sympathize with their problems (parents, relationships, trying to find yourself).  It seemed that some important things were left out of the story, like why Simone broke up with Antoine.  While I didn’t find the kids irritating, I also didn’t find them so interesting I wanted to spend the first half of the book learning about them.  I wanted them to get to the moon faster - and the action there to be more drawn out and suspenseful.

The adults get very little introduction, so when things start happening the action slowed while some backstory was quickly doled out.  The horror elements, when they showed up, were quick and brutal with little opportunity to build tension.  The climax was quite tense though, which I appreciated.

I found the ending very confusing, with several plot holes exposed.  More on this in the spoiler section.

The story used actual science (astronaut training, takes four days to get to the moon, the signal code used).

It was a quick read, even if the ending left me with more questions than I started with.  Ultimately I found the book unsatisfying.

*** SPOILERS ***

I’m basically asking a bunch of questions I would love answers to.  It is a horror novel, and there doesn’t necessarily need to be logic to a horror story (especially a SF one where the bad guys aren’t human), but it is nice when a story makes sense and this one left me seriously scratching my head over several things.

The report at the end explains that Mia’s body is on the moon, which means she wasn’t on the capsule at all (she either died outside DARLAH 2, or she died at DARLAH 1 and her body was moved - like those of others - to that location).  So were two dopplegangers fighting over the escape capsule?  Are the dopplegangers unaware of what they are?  Similarly, we’re told the NASA people didn’t find anyone in the capsule when they recovered it, yet the news story clearly states they found a survivor.  Was this an error or was there a second doppleganger (one in the capsule and one outside)?  

How did Coleman not notice the black in Midori’s eyes as he explained what the dopplegangers were?  And why was he the only crew member who knew about the dopplegangers?  I thought their part of the mission was to set up equipment to conduct research on them.  Or were they just setting up preliminary stuff for the second mission’s team to work with?

Did the dopplegangers send the second signal?  If so, were they trying to get to earth?  They seemed pretty adamant on the moon that no one leave, but were quite happy to start taking people over once they arrived on earth.

Who sent the warnings to the teens before their trip?  I thought it was the dopplegangers warning them not to come, but if they didn’t want them to come that badly, why send the signal that encouraged NASA’s mission in the first place?  Unless the messages came from different sources.

I find it odd that no one at NASA questioned whether DARLAH 2 would still work and its supplies be adequate.  Even without human interaction or wind, etc. other things could have gone wrong in the 40 years it was dormant.

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