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172 Hours on the Moon Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Chat with Johan Harstad

Today we are very excited to be a part of Johan Harstad’s 172 Hours on the Moon blog tour, celebrating the release of the novel. A celebrated short story author, novelist, and playwright in Norway, Johan Harstad made his speculative fiction and YA debut with the 2008 publication of DARLAH. This month, that novel is being published and sold in the United States as 172 Hours on the Moon.

As Thea is a junkie for all things scifi and horror related, we were thrilled to be a part of the US release of 172 Hours on the Moon, and to have the opportunity to interview the author! Please give a warm welcome to Johan, folks!

The Book Smugglers: Welcome, Johan, and thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions! 172 Hours on the Moon (originally published as DARLAH) is a crossover YA/SF novel, in which three teens are sent to the moon as part of NASA’s PR revitalization program gone terribly wrong. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the novel? Have you always been a fan of science fiction/horror?

Johan: Hi there! If someone had told me ten years ago that i would someday write a YA sci-fi/horror novel, I would have thought that they probably didn’t know me very well since I never thought I’d ever write a genre faithful-novel at all, little less a YA one. But life takes some strange turns and one day in 2007 I was asked or commissioned, more or less, by one of the big Norwegian publishing houses to write a book in connection with my hometown Stavanger – The Cultural Capital of Europe 2008 (yeah, it sounds great. In reality it’s just politics…). I was free to do whatever I wanted, I could write a short book with mostly illustrations or about bullying and all that stuff. The idea was that the book would get normal distribution and all, but it would also be handed out to about 10,000 3rd graders in the city. Which was an idea that I liked. So, after having thought about it for a while, I decided that I would try my best to scare the shit out of them with a novel that also paid tribute to books and films of the genre I grew up with. Needless to say, perhaps, they couldn’t hand the book out to third graders in the end … they gave it to 9th or 10th graders instead.

For me writing the book was great fun. It was very, very different from my other books and it made me remember a lot of the books I read when I was 11, 12, 13, 14, like Stephen King, Michael Crichton, a lot of thrillers and horror novels. I had completely forgotten about them and I realized I hadn’t read any books in those genres since I was that age – and so I got online and ordered a bunch of them to reread. I was never a big sci-fi buff when it came to literature, that was more of a movie thing, loving the Alien franchise, The Abyss, Solaris (not the Clooney remake, mind you, but the weird, scary Soviet original), Star Wars, etc. Also, newer crossover series like Lost had a great impact on me. When it comes to horror I’ve always been a big fan of the genre, constantly trying to find movies that are actually scary (most of the time you end up disappointed). I had some great – and horrible – memories of watching great films like The Exorcist, The Shining, Invasion of The Body Snatchers and A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was eleven or twelve, and in later years I’ve been a big fan of Japanese and Korean horror movies. They seem to be willing to go further than their American counterpart. So all these things got my brain working, I guess. I also made a promise to myself before I started writing: I should not be moralistic in any way, and it should not have a happy ending, but be quite dark, almost without hope, as I think too much literature and movies today tend to end in a very “and-then-everyone-was-happy-and-reunited-with-their-families-and-newfound-boyfriends” sort of way. I wanted the reader to feel distress. Just as I did when I was at that age.

The Book Smugglers: The Moon has been a source of inspiration and has piqued humanity’s curiosity for centuries. Recently there has been a resurgence of public interest in space travel, whether those destinations be a simple low earth orbit, or to more exotic locales such as the Moon or Mars. Why did you choose the Moon as the destination for your lottery-winning teens? What does the Moon symbolize and what role does it play in your novel?

Johan: I had done a lot of research on the Moon when I wrote an adult novel called Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion? (published in the US last year), but in a very different way. The novel was quite a sad story about a guy who ever since he was young wanted to be second best in life, like his biggest hero Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man on the moon in 1969. Though the novel didn’t really have anything to do with space or the Moon, per se, I did a lot of research on it since I also wanted the novel to tell the story of Buzz Aldrin’s trip to the Moon. And so I was left with a feeling, or a wish to use the Moon for something else, in another book. As a location for a horror story it seemed perfect, it’s both so close to us and also so deserted, deadly quiet and unfamiliar. There’s something very scary about that place, the quietness and how footprints stay forever. And the moon is a bit old fashioned as well, I guess – memories of the 1960’s, the Cold War, etc. Interestingly, since the book came out in Norway in 2008, there seems to have been quite a few movies made with similar takes on the moon, for example the, uh, slightly crappy movie Apollo 18 and more recently a film called Iron Sky, in which Nazis apparently have lived on the moon ever since escaping there in 1945. Haven’t seen that one yet … But 172 Hours on The Moon is the real deal, and hopefully with a more interesting and chilling plot than these low budget movies.

The Book Smugglers: You’re an experienced writer of adult and YA fiction, as well as full length works and short stories. Do you find it challenging to write for different audiences, or across different genres? Which genre is your favorite, from a writing perspective?

Johan: Apart from writing 172 Hours on The Moon I never think about audiences while writing, and I probably didn’t do it that much when writing that one, either. Since I read a lot of adult fiction, poetry, drama and short stories from an early age, I know that very young people will read above their level/age and the other way around. So my feeling is that if the book is good it’ll find its readers in a wide age span. Writing adult novels and short stories are closely related in terms of work and approach (both a mix between being impossibly hard and immensely rewarding), while writing a plot driven YA novel like 172 Hours is easier in some ways, but more frustrating and complicated in others. You have to consider pacing in a whole different way and there’s not as much room for ‘playing literary jazz,’ if that makes any sense. The most frustrating, sometimes least rewarding – but at the same time still very fascinating and interesting form of writing is plays. I’m usually in a very bad mood when writing plays, as opposed to working on a novel, I guess it’s because I have to put all I want to say in the dialogue instead of being able to use language as an art form describing the world the characters living in it feels, do, experience and thinks. And I’m constantly aware that a crap actor can ruin even the best line …

The Book Smugglers: Are you a reader of Science Fiction? Who are your favorite authors and most beloved books (or films) in the genre?

Johan: I’ve already covered much of this in my first answer, I think.

The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ‘smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?

Johan: Not really. I’m probably more of a gatekeeper. I buy a lot of books, from bookstores, online and when traveling, both for research purposes and because I simply want to read them. My wife works in publishing and brings home more than her fair share as well. And then there’s the books given or sent to us. It piles up pretty quickly. The difference, though, between my wife and me is that I buy books that I want to read in part or full while she’ll also bring home a lot of books connected to her work at the publishing house. They seem to take up even more space. So she’s doing a bit of smuggling, I think. On top of that I also keep a number of my own books in the apartment in case I need them or want to give them away. Now, with seven books published, some of them in twelve different languages, in a number of different editions and formats and everything from five to a hundred copies of each there are boxes of books in every available space. So we do give away a lot of books, especially when we have two or more copies of stuff, to friends, or we put boxes of books in the basement for other people in the building to pick up or we leave stacks of books on subway stations. But all this being said, I’d much rather have too many books than an empty apartment and a kindle…

For more about 172 Hours on the Moon, make sure to check out the official facebook page HERE.

Giveaway Details:

We have FIVE copies of 172 Hours on the Moon up for grabs! The contest is open to addresses in the US only (no P.O. boxes), and will run until Saturday, April 21 at 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, leave a comment here naming your favorite story, tv show, or movie about the moon. Good luck!


  • Jennifer @ A Librarian's Library
    April 17, 2012 at 12:09 am

    I really enjoyed Cinder, which has an entire race on the moon that I want to know more about! And I also really enjoyed the recent Transformers movie, which focused a lot on the moon. =)

  • SandyG265
    April 17, 2012 at 4:27 am

    My favorite movie about the moon is Apollo 13

  • Katy
    April 17, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Anything involving Artemis, the goddess of the moon!

  • Tina
    April 17, 2012 at 5:52 am

    I know it is silly, but I think I will always have a soft spot for Goodnight Moon 🙂

  • Justine
    April 17, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I gotta go with Apollo 13 because it’s about history and real life, yo!

  • Stacy
    April 17, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Another vote for Apollo 13!

  • Phoebe
    April 17, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Oh, this sounds terrific! And definitely Moon. I <3 Gertie.

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  • Vanessa
    April 17, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Even though it’s not ACTUALLY about the moon, the scene in Joe vs. the Volcano where the moon fills the screen and he is awed by it. Yeah that one.

  • Misti
    April 17, 2012 at 7:31 am

    This book sound interesting. I think I’ll say Space Camp. They may not have made it to the moon, but it was a great favorite when I was a kid. 🙂

  • Gilly
    April 17, 2012 at 8:23 am

    My favorite book about the moon is Paula Danziger’s This Place Has no Atmosphere. It’s one of the few YA books I remember from when I was an actual YA and I remember utterly adoring the story – especially the part where she used a system called TENS to alleviate pain during a dental visit. Man, I still wish someone would really invent that!

  • LB
    April 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Does “Moonlighting” count?

  • pscott
    April 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I love the Darkangel trilogy. It kinda takes place on the moon… Futurama also has some great moon related fun.

  • Kathleen Brown
    April 17, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Does Dr. Who count… they don’t ever go to OUR moon but they talk about moons of other planets… like the lost moon of Pooth and such. Other than that I would have to say that, when I was a tiny tiny child, I read “Goodnight Moon” several times a day (mostly because I had it memorized and did not know how to “read” any other book at the time)

  • Deb B.
    April 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I really loved Michael Collins book “Carrying the Fire” about his time in the space program.

  • Ellie M.
    April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    “Life As We Knew It” is about the moon being pushed by an asteroid closer to earth. It’s a pretty creepy book, but I love it!

  • Christine S.
    April 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I’d also have to pick “Life as we Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer (only the first book, not the second or third). It is an amazing account of the impact the moon getting knocked closer to the Earth has on the main character, Miranda, and her family. Favorite good movie is Apollo 13 and favorite HORRIBLE movie is Apollo 18 🙂

  • Jill of The O.W.L.
    April 17, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Well I loved Apollo 13, but there is this one story that is in outer space but not the moon called All Summer in a Day. It takes place on Venus where it rains all the time until one day with it stops for just a few hours. I read it with my 7th graders.

  • tess
    April 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    My favourite movie about the moon is definitely MOON, with Sam Rockwell! 🙂

  • Mia
    April 17, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I’m going to have to agree with tess up there, the 2009 movie Moon is sad and beautiful and funny and Sam Rockwell is fantastic. (This book looks fantastic, and it’s on my TBR list whether I win a copy or not. 🙂 Plus Johan Harstad’s other work!)

  • Victoria Zumbrum
    April 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I love the last Transformers movie. Please enter me in contest. I would love to read this book.

  • Jessica T.
    April 17, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Definitely Apollo 13. Oh, and MOON! Can’t forget that–Sam Rockwell is amazing in it.

    Thanks for the giveaway! This book sounds so creepy and cool. 🙂

  • Becky C.
    April 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I just finished reading the Life As We Know It series, so that makes my list. But, Star Trek is the best and lots throughout the series takes place on the moon.

  • Jen B.
    April 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I really enjoy Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series. They are some of the best SF I have every read.

  • scribe kira
    April 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    “Life as we knew it” for sure!=)

  • jenmitch
    April 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    There are lots of good moon stories out there, but one that really stands out to me is “A walk in the sun” by Geoffrey Landis.

    It is about a woman stranded on the moon in increasingly desperate circumstances, and is totally worth a read. Its a great piece of hard sci fi.

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  • Alice Snarkopotamus
    April 17, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    I really loved Cinder by Marissa Meyer, with a colony of people who live on the moon. They’ve developed powers over time, and the Lunar Queen is especially skilled with their mind-control, mind-massaging powers. I love me some creepy moon stuff! 🙂

  • Marsha
    April 18, 2012 at 9:04 am

    I think I have to go with an oldie but a goodie; Sailor Moon.

  • Heidi
    April 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I really enjoyed Sex on the Moon, which I read last year, but if we’re going more fanciful, I am loving Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. Thanks for hosting, excited to check out this book!

  • Spencer Phillips
    April 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    My two picks for books are The Silver Wolf by Alice Borchardt, and The Quiet War by Paul McAuley. I like the former because in it the main character Regeane, who is of course a silver werewolf, finds freedom in and loves the moon, despite regularly being forced to change by it. But beyond that is the fact that it’s just an awesome book. The latter features the Moon as a training camp for a clone spy, and the staging operation for a war on the Outers, people who underwent a Diaspora from Earth, and as a result of challenging conditions and relative freedom underwent a Rennaissance, which the Earth wants to control.

    TV-wise, Futurama. Movie-wise, Interview with a Vampire.

  • A_nna
    April 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I love the character of the moon in “The Mighty Boosh”.

  • Hannah
    April 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    I need to cheat a little bit. I thought about voting for Apollo 13, which I loved, but the all-time coolest broadcast about the moon is the original moon landing footage. It’s surreal and wonderful and unforgetable. I’m a kid, so it doesn’t have the impact that it probably did for the people who saw it first, but still… wow.

  • Kate
    April 19, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Pathetically, I could not think of any stories about the moon. But, I do remember that when I was a kid, my family had this collection of space books, and I was in love with the book about the moon and the book about Pluto.

  • Christina Kit.
    April 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I absolutely loved From The Earth to the Moon, which was a mini-series with Tom Hanks. It was so interesting:)

    This book sounds INCREDIBLE!!

    I loved the background info we got in the review with the mystery surrounding the moon and this interview was great – thanks for sharing your inspiration with us!

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  • Lilian
    April 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Does Salior Moon count? I remember being addicted to the franchise when I was a child. But it’s also one of those books that don’t work the same way when you pick them back up as an adult…somehow everything just turns childish and naive. *sigh*

    Speaking about novels about the moon, it reminds me of Christopher Pike’s The Season of Passage, which I started a few years back and never finished (becuase I had to return it to the library.)

    …and nevermind, it was actually about an expedition to Mars. The sci-fi/horror elements just reminded me of it.

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

  • Stephanie
    April 20, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    The first thing that came to mind was Feed by M. T. Anderson because that was scary in a very different way but it only started on the moon. Then I thought of Goodnight Moon… I feel like everything kind of vaguely touches the moon but it’s role is relatively small. People mentioned Apollo 13, where they never even actually go to the moon. Now I’m excited about the moon finally getting to play a larger role!

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  • capillya
    April 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Ha! I laughed when I read about how Johan came to write – the whole bit about the third graders and preferring to scare the poo out of readers. I can also imagine how full of books his home is — between him and his wife and giving away books, that’s a LOT of books. But like him, I’d rather have a bunch of books than an empty apartment and a Kindle. 😉

    My favorite moon-related story is definitely the film Moon with Rockwell & Spacey, hands down! I watched that film right before The Hurt Locker and those two films together with those characters in their bubble suits about tore me apart.

    Also: 172 Hours on the Moon’s cover totally freaks me out. In a nice way. To where I can’t look at it too long without thinking OMG IT IS WATCHING ME.

  • Fatma Shahin
    August 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I dont really know any stories from the moon but I guess Doctor Who counts! Love that show 😀

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