First Look at New YA Sci-Fi Horror Novel '172 Hours on The Moon' (Exclusive)
Publisher Little, Brown is hoping for big things with its new YA sci-fi thriller 172 Hours on the Moon and The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive sneak peak of chapter one in advance of the book's arrival in stores on April 17.
The plot centers on a mission to the moon a few years in the future:
In 2018, as the fiftieth anniversary of the original moon landing approaches, the United Sates decides to return to the moon. To generate publicity for the effort, NASA holds a worldwide lottery to choose three teenagers for the trip. The winners are Mia, a Norwegian girl hoping to gain attention for her punk band, Midori, a Japanese girl looking to escape her country's restrictive culture, and Antoine, a French boy trying to forget the ex-girlfriend who broke his heart.
After rigorous training, the group departs for the moon, where they intend to spend a week (hence the title 172 Hours) at a secret lab which NASA established in the 1970s and subsequently abandoned. But as soon as they land, things go terribly wrong; the three of them encounter terrifying things on the moon, accidents happen, and someone -- or something -- appears to be stalking them jeopardizing the possibility that they'll make it home alive, much less safely.
172 Hours is a thrilling read that deftly mixes horror and sci-fi in the tradition of the best space-based horror movies of the '70s and '80s. The story builds tension effectively to a twisty, surprising conclusion. The three main characters are well-developed and believable; the international ensemble gives the book a welcome breath of diversity that sets it apart from other entries in this genre. 172 Hours is a thrilling and original addition to the crowded shelves of YA books.
The novel was originally published in Norway in 2008, where it won the Brage Prize for Children's Literature, the country’s top literary prize. It is the first YA novel by Johan Harstad, whose only other book published in the U.S. was 2011's Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All The Confusion?
Little, Brown is making a big push with 172 Hours, releasing a series of well-crafted videos that do a great job teasing the story. Earlier ones featured a pre-launch news conference and video diaries. This final video, which is exclusive to THR, is a transmission from the moon by the teens and things are not looking good.
The movie rights to the book are still available, but 172 Hours' possesses a cinematic quality that would be well-suited to a big-screen adaptation.
In advance of the book's debut, read THR's exclusive look at the first chapter.
From the book 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad. Copyright © 2012 by Johan Harstad. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
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.
Mia went up to her room in the attic and started practicing.
When it came to her music, she never slacked off. She’d been playing the guitar for two years, and for a year and a half she’d been a vocalist in the band Rogue Squadron, a name with a nod to the seventies appropriate for a punk band that sort of sounded like something from another era, maybe 1982. Or 1984. Even though she didn’t always care about getting every last little bit of her homework done, she made sure she knew her music history better than anyone.
Her latest discovery was the Talking Heads, a band she had slowly but surely fallen in love with. Or, rather, that she was doing her best to fall in love with, because she could tell it was good. She still struggled a little when she listened for a long time. And she wasn’t quite sure if the music was post-punk or rock or just pop, and that made the whole thing even more complicated. But it had such a cold, electronic eighties sound, she knew it would be a perfect fit for her if she could just get into the music.
She kept practicing her guitar for an hour and wrote a draft for a new song that worked off a riff she’d stolen from songs she was totally sure no one had heard. It would be okay to show up with that at her band’s rehearsal tomorrow. After she’d played through it five times and was pretty sure she remembered the chords, she set her guitar down, plugged her headphones into the stereo, and pressed play. Music from the band she had decided to start liking filled her ears. She lay back on the bed and closed her eyes.
“What are you listening to, Mia?” her dad asked, raising one side of her headphones. He was trying to smooth over the negative vibe from earlier in the day.
“Talking Heads,” she answered.
“You know they were really popular when I was young.”
Mia gave him a look but didn’t respond.
“You know, it’s an amazing opportunity, Mia, the moon. I — we — just want what’s best for you. You know that.”
She groaned but tried to smile at him anyway. “Dad, please. Just drop it, okay?”
But he wouldn’t drop it.
“And for your band, have you given that any thought? Don’t you guys want to be famous? I don’t think it would hurt Rough Squadron in terms of publicity if the vocalist were a world- famous astronaut.”
“Rogue Squadron,” she corrected.
“Anyway,” he replied, “you know what I mean.” And then he left, shutting her door carefully behind him.
Mia lay down on her bed again. Was there something to what he said? No, there wasn’t. She was a musician, after all. Not some astronaut wannabe. She turned her music on again, and vocalist David Byrne sang: “I don’t know what you expect staring into the TV set. Fighting fire with fire.”
It was almost May, but the air was still chilly in Norway. The trees lining the avenue were naked and lifeless with the exception of a couple of leaves here and there, which had opened too early. Two weeks had passed since Mia’s parents had suggested their silly idea to her.
Now she was standing outside school, scraping her boots back and forth over the ground as she waited for Silje to come back from the bathroom. Lunch break would be over soon, and around her other students were scurrying back into the building for fear they’d be late. But Mia was not in any hurry. The teachers always came to class a few minutes late anyway. They sat up there in the teachers’ lounge eating dry Ritz crackers and drinking bitter coffee while they trash-talked individual students.
Mia felt her school was the kind of place where the teachers, with a few decent exceptions, should have gone into pretty much any profession other than teaching. Janitorial work, for example. Or tending graveyards. Something where they didn’t need to interact with living people. Most of them had just barely squeaked through their teaching programs about a hundred years earlier. They had almost infinite power here, and they did their best to remind the students of that every chance they got — because they all knew that this authority disappeared like dew in the sunlight the second they left school grounds and headed out into the real world, where they were forced to interact with people their own age.
Silje came out of the bathroom. She and Mia were the only ones who hadn’t gone back inside yet.
“Cool boots,” Silje said.
“I’ve been wearing them all day,” Mia replied drily. “Didn’t you notice?”
“Not until now. Where’d you get them?”
Mia looked down at her worn, black leather boots that laced up just above the ankle. “Online. Italian paratrooper boots.”
“Awesome,” Silje said. “Well, should we go in?”
“What do you have now?”
“Math,” Silje said.
“I have Deutsch. With ‘the Hair,’ ” Mia said with a sigh.
They went back in and took the stairs up to the second floor.
“Are we rehearsing tonight?” Silje asked right before they went their separate ways.
“I think so. Leonora’s going to call me as soon as she knows if she can.”
“Let me know, okay? I can be there at seven. Not before.”
“Seven’s fine. Hey, I wrote a new song yesterday.”
“You did? What’s it called?”
“ ‘Bomb Hiroshima Again,’ I think. I haven’t decided yet.”
“Cool,” Silje said with a laugh. “See you later.”
Mia continued on to the third floor and walked into the classroom. The teacher wasn’t there yet, so she skimmed through her German book to figure out what in the world she was supposed to have read the night before.
The Hair came sailing into the classroom with an inflatable beach ball shaped like a model of the moon in her hands. Mia rolled her eyes. Oh my God, not her, too.
But, yes, the Hair — this tiny lady with the freakishly big hair — had caught moon fever. She disappeared behind her desk and started blabbering on in German about how exciting the whole thing was and how great it would be if one of her students ended up being selected.
Mia rolled her eyes again. It was a known fact that the Hair had been at this school too long. She only taught German and home ec. And then there was her big secret, which everyone knew but which she thought was well kept: The Hair had never been to Germany. She had only ever left Norway once, to go to Sweden. And that was back in the summer of 1986 or thereabouts, and she had come home again after four days.
But maybe the fact that she was now standing in front of them with that inflatable moon under her arm wasn’t as strange as one might think. The whole world had come completely unhinged this winter. The newspapers, the radio, the TV, and the Internet were flooded with moon mania every day, from trivia and data spouted by experts and professors and astronomers to competitions where you could win all sorts of stuff just by answering a few simple questions about space travel. Meanwhile, millions of teenagers were busy logging on or standing in long lines at registration desks in malls or grocery stores in just about every single town in the whole world to make sure that their names had been entered.
For safety reasons, NASA had decided that the three young people who would be chosen to go must be at least fourteen and that they couldn’t be older than eighteen. They would also need to be between five feet four inches and six feet four inches tall, undergo a psychological examination performed by a certified practitioner in their hometown, and pass a general physical examination in order to obtain a medical “green card.” All applicants should have a near and distant visual acuity correctable to 20/20 and a blood pressure, while sitting, of no more than 140 over 90. And then there were all the tests and training they would be put through in the unlikely event that they were among the selected few.
While these requirements restricted the number of candidates somewhat, millions of names had been submitted for the big drawing, and as the days and weeks went by, people were close to bursting with excitement. Gamblers put money on which countries the lucky three would come from and on whether the winners would include more boys or girls. Talk show hosts invited experts to speculate about nonsense like the effect of seeing Earth from space on people so young. And then there were the debates that were as numerous as they were endless about this moon base that no one had ever heard mention of before now.
What was it? Why was it there? What did it do? Could people really trust that it had been built with peaceful intentions?
The Hair reached the end of her speech and switched into broken Norwegian, which often happened whenever she spoke German for too long. “But listen to this. Someone representing NASA — yes, the NASA — called our school to check in with our students about signing up for the lottery. As I’m sure you’ve heard, any school with one hundred percent participation by their eligible students will be entered in a sweepstakes for a grant for technology upgrades. The representative from NASA said that a whopping ninety-one from your grade have already signed up and asked us to encourage the rest of you to do so as well. But only five of you from my German class have taken advantage of this incredible opportunity.”
No one said anything.
“Well done, Petter, Stine, Malene, and Henning.”
The four students who’d signed up smiled at her smugly.
“And Mia, what a nice surprise. Congratulations.”
Mia stiffened completely and said, “I didn’t sign up for anything.”
“Well, according to NASA, you did.” Mia leaned over her desk and said loudly, “Well then, they must have made a mistake! I totally didn’t sign up for that stupid-ass lottery.”
“Calm down, Mia. It’s nothing to be self-conscious about.”
“I’m not embarrassed about it. It’s just not true. And even if it were, NASA shouldn’t be releasing that kind of information to anyone.”
The Hair waved her hand dismissively and winked at her, as if they were both in on some secret. “Evidently it was a condition of the sign‑up procedure that you give NASA permission to reveal your name as a participant in the lottery. But we don’t need to dwell on this. It’s up to each individual to decide if he or she wants to consider doing it or not.”
“What’s your point?” Mia railed, rage welling up inside. “I told you I didn’t sign up for that thing. What the hell would I do in space, anyway? Don’t you think I have better things to do? Screw the moon!”
“We don’t use language like that in my classroom, Mia!”
“No, we don’t talk at all in your classroom. You just go off on hour-long monologues about whatever bullshit you feel like!”
The teacher stood and pointed to the door. “You’re excused from the rest of the class, Mia. I don’t want you here. You can wait out in the hall.”
Mia didn’t protest. She brushed her German book off the edge of her desk so it landed in her backpack, got up, and left. The hallway was empty, and from the surrounding classrooms she could hear snippets of Norwegian, math, and English classes going on. Without thinking, she opened the door to her classroom again and stared straight at the Hair.
“Besides, everyone knows you’ve never been to Germany. Maybe that’s something you should be embarrassed about?” For half a second her teacher’s face became long and sad, as if she’d been sentenced to life in prison for a nasty crime she forgot she’d committed.
Mia heard cheers starting to erupt from the other students before she slammed the door shut and headed down the stairs and out onto the school grounds. She strolled over to the track next to the gym, sat down on the railing, and took out her phone to call her mother. An uncomfortable suspicion had started to take shape in her mind.
Behind her, about thirty students were running around the track. Mia didn’t even need to look to know that this was their crazy PE teacher’s doing. She was almost fifty, had a mustache, and had been teaching there since the dawn of time. She didn’t accept the concept of excuses; even if you were paralyzed from the waist down, she demanded that you perform to Olympic standards. Several of the panting students in the back were obviously pale, a couple of their faces were light green, and it was only a matter of time before they keeled over and vomited.
Mia’s mother answered just as the first stomach emptied its contents onto the track.
“Mia, hi. What is it? Are you at school?”
“Mom, did you sign me up for that trip to the moon thing?”
It was quiet on the other end of the line. Very quiet.
“I . . . we, your dad and I, we . . . thought you’d regret it. Later. So, well, we, um . . .”
Mia interrupted her harshly. “Did you sign me up?”
There was another pause, but shorter this time. “Yes.”
Mia groaned. “What were you guys thinking?”
“Mia, everyone else your age thinks this is an amazing opportunity. Why —”
“But I’m not everyone else, am I? You have absolutely no respect for the fact that my opinions are different from yours. Why don’t you guys go yourselves if you’re so excited about it? Because that’s what it’s about, right? Since you guys aren’t eligible, you’re signing me up as the next best thing. What do you think, that it’ll make us all rich and famous? Is that it?”
“Mia, I think you’re being unreasonable now.”
“Unreasonable? What’s unreasonable is doing it behind my back.”
“Mia . . .”
But Mia had already hung up. Two students collapsed with a dull thud onto the grass behind her. Seconds later the PE teacher was over them, hauling them up as the vomit ran down their gym clothes.
Mia didn’t even like the word. And it didn’t have anything to do with the kind of shape she was in. She could have easily outrun most of the kids on the track. She could swim laps in the pool with her clothes on and retrieve those lame dummies from the bottom or whatever they were being asked to do, without getting tired.
But it was all just a waste of time. Actually, compared to gym, a trip to the moon kind of made sense.