Monday, 19 January 2015

172 Hours on the Moon

Johan Harsted 172 Hours on the Moon (2008)
About a mile from where I live is a little free library, as they're called. It's a large, brightly-painted wooden box with a glass door mounted on a pole where someone's garden borders the sidewalk. There are apparently a few of these around now, and not just in San Antonio. The idea is that you bring along some old book, leave it inside the box, and take one of the many from the shelf within. It's a neat idea, and means you get a book you might not ordinarily have picked had you seen it in a store. I suppose it's also a slightly twee idea, it could be argued, and each little free library tends to provide a window into the psychology of the neighbourhood in which it is situated. My nearest little free library, being bang in the middle of Alamo Heights, has one fuck of a lot of self-help books on offer, but this title looked interesting, so I took it and left another in its place.

Aside from Twilight - which was excellent obviously - and a pile of Who books if you absolutely insist, I'm more or less a stranger to young adult fiction, and I'm not even sure I entirely understand why such a bracket needs to exist. I wasn't a big reader as a kid or as a teenager, but I coped well enough and even enjoyed all of the usual titles thrust our way at school - Jane Eyre, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, John Steinbeck, Dickens and so on and so forth. I didn't read these with the feeling that they were necessarily above my head, or that they failed to address my concerns as a teenager. By the time I'd left school I was reading Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs without having been told to do so; and on reflection, I was no child genius - in fact I was pretty fucking thick in most respects; and I tend to regard those who read Asimov, Crime and Punishment or even Plato whilst they were still at school with some degree of envy and admiration. So by contrast I take the impression that young adult fiction must therefore pander to some extent, otherwise there would surely be no need for such a distinction. Harsted himself writes that in his opinion, young adults are just as smart as a lot of grown-ups and can usually take whatever you throw at them.

Well anyway, 172 Hours on the Moon is a horror story set inside a science-fiction novel. Three teenagers are selected by means of a global lottery to go to the moon for the somewhat implausible reason of this getting everyone into the idea of going to the moon again, causing funding to thus flow freely because everyone loves teenagers or summink. So they go to the moon with some grown-ups who do all that flying the spaceship stuff, and it turns out that there's a secret abandoned NASA base up there, left over from the seventies and still working. The reason for the base being abandoned turns out to be scary moon ghosts resembling the very people they are causing to shit themselves, terrifying doppelgängers who bust airlocks, sabotage spacesuits, leave passive-aggressive messages on computers, and all the sort of stuff you would probably expect them to do unless you've never watched television or been to the cinema. Annoyingly we don't actually find out anything about the doppelgängers, beyond that they probably have something to do with 6EQUJ5, a genuinely mysterious signal picked up by SETI astronomers back in the seventies; so the novel is a few hundred pages of teenage whining which suddenly turns itself into Isaac Asimov for just long enough to remind you of the scary scenes in whichever CGI thriller you saw last, then ends with the revelation of the doppelgängers having arrived on Earth.

It's not a bad book, and it chugs along nicely once we're all acclimatised to the three main characters being more or less complete wankers, but it doesn't actually have a story, which is a problem. Everything it does is done so as to allow the narrative to hold a torch beneath its chin and go boo! in your face on page 244, and to then keep going boo! for the remaining hundred or so pages, and that's all it does so far as I could tell; and as for our heroes...

The windows were fogged up. The breath of eight people was creating condensation in the capsule, and Mia had to wipe the glass at regular intervals to be able to see out. Not that there was much to see. The stars that had so engrossed and transfixed her were starting to bore her. They weren't changing; nothing was changing.

Interstellar travel eh? Talk about booooooooring. I mean just shoot me now, except that won't happen 'cause you never let me do anything. I hate you. It's so unfair.

Characterisation consists of one of our crew being in a band and also a fan of the Talking Heads because they were like in her dad's record collection and like some of that old stuff from when the bloke who wrote the book was growing up is like really fetch.

Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen.

Okay, I didn't not enjoy this. It does what it does efficiently but suffers from a lack of ambition, as I would guess must be inevitable when an author presupposes his audience won't be interested unless they are specifically able to recognise themselves somewhere in there. Harsted is interviewed in the appendix, and he insists that he has not presupposed anything of the sort, but I have too say it sure reads a lot like he has. I suppose there may have been some subsidence during translation from the original Norwegian, although when Mia bemoans the death of her beloved iPod in response to learning that the team may be stranded on the moon for up to a year before a rescue mission can reach them, I have a feeling this isn't simply an interference pattern that's emerged from somewhere beyond the language barrier. I suppose that at forty-nine years I'm some way outside the age range of the target audience, although that didn't stop me enjoying Twilight and I don't even have ovaries.

Given that people who don't read books tend to be, almost without exception, thick fucking cunts, if whining teenagers are no longer able to read books told from any perspective other than that of whining teenagers, then we're screwed. Personally I don't really care as I'll be dead by the time we get to our first president who's never read a book but can ace all six levels of Pokémon: Omega Ruby; and 172 Hours on the Moon was free, which is still better than a kick up the arse, I suppose.

1 comment:

  1. When you go for it, you're really rather funny, you.