on July 28, 2011
This is a manuscript for a movie. In recent interviews Ben Mezrich has been very open about that. He writes books from the very beginning in the hopes that they will be optioned for movies. And it shows.
Mezrich, author of "The Accidental Billionaires," the book upon which the Facebook movie "The Social Network" was based, went in search of his next great true-story thriller. What he settled on was the tale of Thad Roberts, a student enrolled in NASA's Cooperative Education Program who turned thief and decided to steal moon rocks and sell them online for easy cash. The story behind "Sex on the Moon" (itself an awful title) is hyberbolically subtitled "the Most Audacious Heist in History." Roberts' theft is by no means entitled to such an exciting description. The heist itself was fairly uncomplicated and involved nothing more than a clever use of chemical dust to break an electronic combination lock and some elbow grease to drag a safe out of a room and into a car. The only thing remotely remarkable about the theft is that actual moon rocks are involved. Had Roberts stolen terrestrial gem stones, he would have warranted nothing more than a mention in the local news paper police blotter. Mezrich has to work hard -- very hard -- to fill this thin conceit with enough volume to fill a book.
And then there's the writing. Which is awful. This is some of the most hackneyed, rigid, trite prose I've ever read. Some examples: "she had given him her number. It had been like rocket fuel in his bathing-suit all the way home" or "sooner or later, the truth would be as clear as the tattoo on her thigh" or "Thad only knew for sure what he was feeling. Which was beyond anything he could remember feeling before" or "suddenly, reality hit him like a Saturn V rocket to the face." Ugh.
Mezrich also seems to have a writing tick in which he is compelled to start sentences with "Hell,..." as in "Hell, the guy was really making a scene", "Hell, he was beginning to feel loose", "Hell, maybe they'd all end up visiting that pristine beach", "Hell, maybe the need to apologize went even further back", etc., etc. This became almost comical as the pages wore on.
I have to hold the editor(s) of this book responsible for this. I don't think they read this book. Here's some zingers they let slip through: "Matt had remembered Thad as the brilliant kind in physics classes who was willing to go further and think freer than anyone else." Think "freer"? Describing an unpleasant scene inside a federal prison Mezrich writes "there was such an undercurrent of anger and subverted violence in that place." "Subverted" violence? Could he have meant submerged or supressed? In another chapter, he refers to the "infamous orange soil" collected by the Apollo astronauts. Okay, that soil was certainly _famous_, but "infamous"? Someone needs to check the dictionary.
This is a lousy book undeserving of your time. Buy something else.
on November 23, 2011
And Thad Roberts really needed one. He is one of those poor slobs for whom the magnetic pull of self-destruction is as irresistible as a Siren's song. (Darwin would have had a field day with that.). At least Odysseus had the smarts to order his sailors to lash him to the mast and stuff wax in their ears. Roberts wasn't nearly as prudent, though he was certainly smart.
Booted from the family fold for the unforgivable sin of engaging in pre-marital sex, Roberts claws his way up from the depths of despair to earn a prestigious internship at NASA only to blow it trying to pull off one of the most cockamamie scams in modern history; stealing moon rocks.
That Roberts even got to NASA in the first place was something of a miracle. How a broke, disenfranchised kid managed to rack up the pre-recs for a shot at the big time is one question I still had at the end of the book. Roberts takes courses in physics, geology, anthropology, Russian and Japanese. He obtains a pilot's license. He learns to scuba dive. He completes a charity bike ride for cystic fibrosis and raises $10,000. That accomplishment seems to be what cinches his entry into the Johnson Space Center at Houston, where he spends three semesters glad-handing his fellow interns and trolling in and out of various labs and simulators with the James Bond theme song playing in his head.
Ego issues? Possibly.
Roberts also has a wife back in Utah. Something he doesn't hide, but doesn't exactly advertise. It wouldn't mesh with the ultra-cool, geek-meets-Mission Impossible persona he's created, the same persona that attempts a ridiculous, bumbling moon rock heist that ultimately does earn him a dope slap from the universe in the form of an eight year prison sentence.
Writer Ben Mezrich does an nice job nailing the zeitgeist of NASA, at least from Roberts' perspective, which brings me to the big question I had with this book. Are the thoughts in Roberts' head, his, or Mezrich's "interpretation" of them? There is a sort of contrived feel to expressions like "Thad swelled with pride", etc. The third person narration makes this book read like a hybrid of memoir, biography and creative non-fiction. My rat-like mind was scrabbling for a label(still is) and I had to push that aside (as best I could) in order to just enjoy the story.
Sex On The Moon is an enjoyable read. Having grown up in the era of space exploration, it was interesting to get an "insider's" view into one facet of NASA. As for Thad Roberts, hopefully he's learned a lesson and been able to piece his life back together.
But moon rocks?
Thad, what the heck were ya' thinkin'?!
on August 12, 2011
An inside look at NASA, stolen moon rocks, an international team working to recover the goods, sex, interns, prison....how did this story turn out to be boring? Whatever the reason, boring is how it turned out.
Maybe there just wasn't enough material to fill a book about this case. Plus, in spite of his desire to make himself into a larger-than-life character, Thad really isn't one. Instead he's more of a pathetic loser who throws away everything he worked for and disappoints so many people in an attempt to re-make himself.
Dull, slow, only occasionally interesting, and the only characters you really care for get treated badly.
on July 16, 2011
I've read most of Ben Mezrich's books and have to say that I always enjoy the story. He writes about fascinating characters and situations and I've never been hung up on the fact that Mr. Mezrich creates his own dialogue when one isn't available through interviews or research. Either way, I found myself thinking that Sex On The Moon just didn't have much depth. It took me no time at all to get thru the book and it left me wanting more. For one of the most anticipated books of the summer, it leaves me a bit disappointed.
This latest Mezrich book is a 308-page 'con-job' - the entire story can be, and should have been, told in one paragraph. Thad Roberts is an aspiring NASA astronaut with weak ethics. While at the University of Utah UofU) he steals some rocks, then gets accepted as a student researcher at NASA's Johnson Space Center where his marriage falls apart, he becomes enamored with two new lovelies and gets them to help him steal a 600+ lb. safe containing moon rocks being studied by his mentor, Dr. Robert Gibson. Predictably he's caught trying to sell the loot, loses his girlfriends (they're sentenced to probation), he does 8 1/2 years, and then receives a cool reception from the UofU upon asking to return and complete his studies.
The outcome is as predictable as tomorrow's sunrise, given that NASA is the only legitimate source of moon rocks and NASA doesn't sell or give them away. The outcome is even more predictable when Thad tries drumming up interest in his ill-gotten loot by emailing a reputable rock collector in Belgium who promptly notifies the FBI. All the rocks are recovered, though Roberts' mentor loses some 30 years of research notes. Dr. Gibson emerges as the second of the story's two 'stars,' showing his and NASA's gratitude for the Belgian rock collector's assistance by traveling to one of their club meetings and giving an expert presentation on moon rocks.
Final Score: Mezrich - 0, Roberts - 0, Dr. Gibson + 1, and the Belgian rock collector + 1.
on August 25, 2011
Like the author's previous books, the story has an entertaining premise.
Unfortunately, the story is ultimately shallow and unsatisfying.
Protagonist Thad is an immature, selfish wastrel cloaked in a thin veneer of self doubt and troubled up-bringing which fail dismally to make him likable.
The book tries to convince us that he's a sort of tragic, conflicted, ultimately lovable anti-hero scamp in the mould of catch-me-if-you-can. But it doesn't really stick.
As a result it becomes sort of like reading the triumphal adventures of the neighborhood bully and being expected to cheer as he steals some more lunch money.
To give gravitas to a fairly silly crime the author goes on and on about the 'street value' of the items - with ever more ridiculous estimates -'close to a trillion' at one point. The other characters in the story are underdeveloped and or wooden.
For all that, it has a breezy narrative and in the main was ok as a (very) light summer read.
on December 7, 2011
Ugh. I really expected to like this book -- it seemed like a fascinating story, and I was very interested in learning more. I wasn't expecting it to be high literature or anything but I was expecting something at least entertaining. Instead, the execution is just awful, awful, awful. Mezrich's writing is trite, cliched, and full of fake drama. It also borders on hero-worship of Roberts, who doesn't seem at all worthy of the rosy cast Mezrich gives him. It's clear that Roberts was basically Mezrich's only source, and Mezrich never questions anything he was told by the thief, despite the fact that an awful lot of it reads as bad adolescent boy fantasy. This book could have been SO much better if Mezrich had actually talked to anyone other than Roberts, and made an effort to tell a balanced story. This story had amazing potential, all of which remained unrealized in Mezrich's hands.
"Sex on the Moon" relates the story of NASA intern Thad Roberts, who tried to steal priceless moon rocks from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Well, he actually did steal them, but not for long.
I usually don't have a problem with stories about anti-heroes or people who make mistakes, but for some reason this book kind of annoyed me. First, Thad Roberts leaves his smart, supportive, pretty wife for a cute NASA intern, all because his wife had the temerity to want to talk about HER job every once in a while, or wanted Thad to occasionally socialize with her friends and colleagues. Imagine! Oh, yes, I should also mention that Thad's wife was a successful fashion model. What a rough road he had, no wonder he left her!
Secondly, Thad totally dismisses the value of his gold-standard NASA internship to plan the heist of moon rocks securely stored at the NASA facility where he worked. Incidentally, these are the moon rocks that- in case people forget- were procured by selfless astronauts taking on impossibly dangerous odds to further mankind's knowledge of the universe. But Thad needed some extra cash and a few thrills, so what's the big deal, right?
Finally, on top of the above annoyances, the heist itself generates no suspense whatsoever, due to a parallel plotline- that unfolds right alongside Thad's scatterbrained operation- that reveals that the FBI was aware of Thad's plan almost from the beginning. So I knew that, despite any meager engagement I had with Thad's plan (I tried to be interested on at least a technical level, despite my disapproval), the FBI was just waiting for the right moment to crash the party. Which is what it did. What a shock!
Oh, the title of the book? It references a scene after the heist, when Thad seduces his naive girlfriend- yes, he drew her into his plan, too- on a hotel room bed, with several of the moon rocks placed beneath them under the mattress cover. "Sex on the Moon", get it? Anyway, her future at NASA was eventually ruined, too. But at least she had a romantic adventure with wonderful Thad first.
Did the book have any plusses? Sure. Author Ben Mezrich has a smooth, engaging storytelling style, and I enjoyed learning a little about all the behind-the-scenes activity at NASA. But learning about NASA only made me more annoyed at Thad Roberts' plan to hurt and embarrass the agency.
I should also be fair and point out that the book doesn't promote what Thad did as harmless or right, or anything like that. But, as most of the book relates Thad's viewpoint on things, and Thad tends to go easy on himself, the book does somewhat romanticize and glamourize Thad's actions, and minimize the wrongness of what he did.
So, my own take is that if you can get past the generally unlikable central character and the lack of suspense in the heist plotline, you might get a modest bit of entertainment out of this book. Just don't hope for the moon and stars.
on May 24, 2016
I almost never rank any book less than 3 stars - even if reading it turned my stomach into knots and made me want to puke. But I really couldn't bring myself to give this title anything more than that 1 star, and probably if giving it 0 out of 5 were possible I would.
"Sex on the Moon" is a cheap read with a disgusting lead you can't help but loathe that I'm surprised it was written by the same author who penned "Ugly Americans" and "Bringing Down the House". Nothing was redeemable about Thad Roberts or this book. And Mezrich's usual delightful prose is totally sacrificed in this book in the misguided hopes of catching another screen deal with a bankable adventure - but the "Moon Rock Heist" is not even interesting and the motivation behind it is so lame and trivial I got angry every time I was reminded that I still own this book. Which is immensely disappointing on another level, because I've been a dedicated reader of Mezrich's since high school trying to find print copies of his work whenever I could. Mezrich's titles "Ugly Americans", "Rigged", "21: Bringing Down the House", and " TheAccidental Billionaires" were all biographicals deftly translated into enthralling prose narratives that were as suspenseful and gripping as any Myster or Thriller. And in all of these works, Mezrich's artfully and skillfully portrayed real people who did illegal, even immoral, things in a way that not only humanized them but made them relatable and sympathetic heroes. But "Sex on the Moon" is the total opposite of all this, and I finished it only so I could confidently write an honest review. Everything said to pitch it is extreme hyperbole of what actually transpires in the pages of this book - and very little space is dedicated to the actual crime or anything scientific, it's basically all about his very uninspired affair which, unsurprisingly, also turns out to be another of Roberts's many failures. Pick it up from your local library or borrow it from a friend if you really want to read it for yourself, but I strongly advise against actually purchasing this if you want an intriguing or fun read or if you've enjoyed any of Ben Mezrich's other titles.
on August 18, 2011
Heard good things about this one as a fun, summer read, but it didn't deliver (and this is the kind of book I usually like). My Kindle says I'm 51% of the way done and I just can't bring myself to finish. The story is just not that interesting and is buried deep within irrelevant information. The writing is really disappointing. Every time our hero meets a new female, there is a description of her "hard little body." It's like a bad romance novel, but without the sex. More disappointing, the development of the female characters is practically non-existent, leaving each a flat and hollow stereotype (and I don't usually even notice that kind of thing).
I'm guessing Mezrich fans will be happy and that's cool. This review is for more casual shoppers. You might want to look elsewhere, even if you're just hunting for fun summer reading.