Ben Mezrich | Sex on the Moon (Doubleday)

Sex on the Moon is an extremely cinematic true story that reads like a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Real Genius.

320 pgs., $26.95 (hardcover).

Ben Mezrich began his career writing science fiction or high-tech thrillers, including the exceptionally creepy X-Files novel Skin, but he soon found writing real-life high-tech thrillers more lucrative. Since making that discovery, Mezrich has authored The Accidental Billionaires, which became the Oscar-winning movie The Social Network, and Bringing Down the House, which became the 2008 film 21. Apparently sick of Hollywood changing his titles, Mezrich gave his latest soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture book a title even the dumbest movie studio executive wouldn’t change, Sex on the Moon.
Sex on the Moon (subtitled “The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History”) is an extremely cinematic true story that reads like a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Real Genius. Thad Roberts is the kind of smart and ambitious person who decides what he wants and then makes it happen. In what seems to be a rather casual manner, Thad gets it into his head that he’s going to be an astronaut. A lot of people have this dream, of course, but Thad actually seems to be on his way when he gets picked for a prestigious position at NASA. He impresses everyone, from the kindly, brilliant scientist to his fellow students, to various hot, brainy science chicks.
While at NASA, Thad learns of a safe that contains samples brought back to Earth from the Apollo missions. These particular samples have already been used in a variety of experiments and, as such, are no longer scientifically useful. While still valuable beyond calculation, they are also in effect, trash.
Being the kind of man Thad is, he can’t help but fantasize about stealing the moon rocks. It offends him that these relics of the most amazing adventure in human history are locked away unseen. He works out exactly how he would go about committing the crime. It all remains just a fantasy, an intellectual exercise, until he falls hard for Rebecca, a particularly hot, brainy, science chick. When he tells her of his notion to steal the moon rocks, her eyes get big and she says “Oooooooh!” As any man who has ever been infatuated with a woman can tell you, making her eyes get big and making her say “Oooooooh!” is all that matters. Not his career. Not his future. Nothing else. Thad’s plan to steal moon rocks is no longer hypothetical.
Sex on the Moon is a quick, fun read. The only real problem with the book is that it’s a bit too tailor-made for the cinema. Things seem to happen a bit too fast to be believed (always a problem in heist movies). Thad’s estranged wife is a model who is more interested in her modeling friends than her husband. All the brainy science chicks are hot. There’s even a wacky, stoner sidekick, seemingly a requisite for at least half the movies being made today. Like all nonfiction these days, there is an author’s note warning that some details have been changed*, and as a result, I periodically found myself reading a passage and wondering, “Did it really happen this way?” I should point out that in the Acknowledgements section, Mezrich thanks Gordon McWhorter so, apparently, the stoner sidekick is real.
One thing this book is not is noir, which is just, well…odd, because the description of the plot makes the book sound like a space-age James M. Cain novel. It seems like it should be noir, but it’s not. It took me a couple of days after reading the book to realize why.
Noir is a hard thing to define in books. It’s easier in movies because film noir is defined largely by the look. In books, it’s all about plot and characterization and foreshadowing…especially foreshadowing. In Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray (playing the doomed insurance salesman) knows he’s in trouble the moment he sets eyes on Barbara Stanwyck’s ankle bracelet and really tight, white sweater. When he agrees to murder her husband for the insurance money, he knows they won’t get away with it. He behaves as if they will, going through the motions but, deep down, he knew all along how it would end. Thad Roberts, on the other hand, really thinks he will get away with it. As smart as he is, he continues thinking that right up until the F.B.I. shows up and starts sticking guns in his face. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way: several of the early chapters begin with love letters written by Thad to his girlfriend from prison, so while Thad may not see it coming, the reader does.
Sex on the Moon is the perfect book if you are looking for a quick, fun, movie-like experience. Or you could just wait for the movie. | Gordon Hopkins
* You can’t blame the author for this. This is all down to libel lawyers. There hasn’t been a truly accurate non-fiction in at least thirty years because lawyers insist on changes to avoid lawsuits. “It really happened,” no longer protects writers from accusations of libel, which makes all the outrage leveled at fibbers like James Frey pretty ridiculous.

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