Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich review

by Fiona Rae / 26 November, 2011
The true story of a Nasa trainee who stole bits of the Moon.
It happened. Nasa trainee Thad Roberts met 20-year-old “sable-haired sprite” Rebecca and was smitten. So smitten, he stole the Moon for her. Specifically, he, the sprite and a third party stole 101g of lunar rock brought back by Apollo missions, plus a small Martian meteorite. They put it all in a safe, loaded it into a jeep and drove off with it.

To do so, Roberts broke into a high-tech, high-security Nasa laboratory, negotiating guarded compounds, keypads, steel doors with cipher codes and hallways with security cameras. It’s film-trailer stuff. Don’t be surprised to see it at a cinema near you. And remember, someone else once sold a single gram of the stuff for US$5 million.

Roberts and co were caught. The FBI already had a Belgian mole/mineral collector keeping it informed. Roberts was sentenced to 100 months in prison. He never saw Sprite again; his letters were returned unopened. Judging from those scattered through the text, it may have been a rejection based on literary criteria.

In idiosyncratically US style, Roberts has provided enthusiastic assistance with Sex on the Moon. But the writing is presumably Ben Mezrich’s fault. His recreated dialogue reads like recitative. The flashbacks jerk and judder. Style veers between purple and ultraviolet: fingers whiten on the steering wheel, neurons “go off like fireworks”, a shower is “angry rivulets tearing at his skin like white-hot needles”. Not only the moon rocks are outta this world.

Don’t feel sorry for Roberts. He compromised scientific research, sabotaged decades of work by others and stole other items as well. He did it for money as well as love. Still, he’s probably been punished enough by appearing in this tumescent, tawdry book.

by Ben Mezrich (William Heinemann, $37.99).

Click here for more stories and columns by David Hill.
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