josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Mezrich’

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

In Book Review on August 21, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Last weekend I reviewed Ben Mezrich’s new book – Sex on the Moon – for the Canberra Times. Although my review is quite sarcastic, I’m sure, I held back slightly from saying what I really thought of it. It is, plainly and simply, one of the worst pieces of garbage I’ve ever wasted my time with. That I didn’t enjoy it is made clear in my review, but I held back from lamenting in print the truly atrocious writing that is in the pages of this waste of paper.

My review is below.

SEX ON THE MOON. By Ben Mezrich. William Heinemann. 308pp. $29.95

I’m writing this review only hours before I board a plane bound for the subtropical beaches of Vanuatu. I am taking A Game of Thrones – the first of George R. R. Martin’s  A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series – to read while sipping cocktails in the resort’s pool. It has been recommended to me with great vigour by family, friends and colleagues. Although not a great fantasy fan, I feel it can no longer be avoided.

A writer who has never been recommended to me before, by anyone, at anytime, is Ben Mezrich. You may have read some if his books. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions tells the tale of, well, a group of six MIT students with an exceptional talent for counting cards who make a lot of money in a Las Vegas casino until they are driven out of town. No? Maybe you have read The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook. A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, the story of – let me get it just right – the founding of social networking site, Facebook.

If you haven’t read the books you have certainly seen the films on which they are based. Bringing Down the House was filmed as 21, an excellent movie starring Kevin Spacey. The Accidental Billionaires you would know as The Social Network, one of the best films I saw in 2010, receiving eight Academy Award nominations and winning Best Motion Picture at the Gold Globe Awards.

Mezrich has an eye for drama. It pervades all his books, especially his latest, Sex on the Moon. His characters come off the page ready-made for Hollywood. Mezrich, no doubt, has become a very rich man from writing popular non-fiction which reads as fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, per say, but I’d extend him greater kudos if his books weren’t merely the recycling of the same theme, over and over.

Here’s the true, seemingly banal story of Mezrich’s protagonist, Thad Roberts: Hoping for a career with NASA, Mr Roberts goes to work as an intern at the Johnson Space Centre. While there, he stole some priceless moon rocks but was caught in a FBI sting and went to jail for nearly nine years. Hollywood? Hardly.

In Mr Mezrich’s hands, however, Thad Roberts becomes, like Kevin Lewis in Bringing Down the House and Mark Zuckerberg in The Accidental Billionaires, a confused young man of exceptional intellect seeking popularity and “hot babes”. For a while, he succeeds.

Thad Roberts stashes his stolen moon rocks under the mattress in a hotel room. He and his girlfriend make use of that mattress for more than just sleeping. Hence Mezrich’s title. But – and I hope I am not giving away too much of the book here – there is no actual sex which ever takes place on the moon. Stolen moon rocks under a hotel mattress is as close as it gets.

After stealing the moon rocks, Thad Robert’s makes his getaway in a Jeep. “It had to be the strangest getaway in history,” Mr Mezrich writes in his opening sentence. Stopped at a red light, “He took a deep breath, let the red glow from the traffic lights splash across his cheeks. Only a few more seconds.” The suspense is palpable.

One of his accomplices, Sandra, whose “face was ivory white, her eyes like saucers” compares their daring feat to James Bond. Only Mezrich has her say it much better than I ever could, “To her, this was beyond thrilling – really, James Bond kind of shit.” Indeed.

And on it goes in a similar tedium of appalling writing and recycled clichés. Roberts’s Mormon childhood is to blame for the theft. His father booted him out of the house as a teenager because he had sex with his girlfriend. Obviously he would turn to a life of crime.

Ben Mezrich has written seven books of fiction and five books of non-fiction. I’ve even read some of them. Mezrich may have reached the peak of his popularity; he may have further heights to climb. Who knows? But he certainly seems to have run out of original ideas. So myopic is his storytelling that Thad Roberts in Sex on the Moon bears a striking resemblance to Mark Zuckerberg in The Accidental Billionaires.

Perhaps most disappointing for me – speaking as an academic – is Mezrich’s complete disregard for the fact that in the process of stealing priceless moon rocks, Thad Roberts destroys 30 years of research notes belonging to Dr Everett K. Gibson Jr., Roberts’s mentor at NASA. Collateral damage on the road to Hollywood, it seems.

Mezrich’s recycled themes and tired narrative tools might be your cup of tea. Happy reading. Me? I’m glad I chose A Game of Thorns for my holiday read, rather than Sex on the Moon. I can’t wait for the film to come out. Unlike the book, It’s sure to be a corker.