In the desolate expanse of Egypt’s Western Desert, thousands of Arab workers labor to excavate a strange monument: a perfect equilateral triangle, three hundred miles on each side, that will serve as a message to an extraterrestrial race. Leading this obsessive endeavor is British astronomer Sanford Thayer – a quintessential product of the Victorian age who believes that the strange lines sighted on the face of Mars are evidence of an advanced civilization, and that the uncompromising language of mathematics is the only way to communicate with this newly discovered Martian race.
The triangle must be completed by maximum elongation – the all-important moment when Mars is best aligned to view the message from Earth. No detail can be less than perfect. As Thayer obsesses over his fantastical goal, expending the resources of states and monarchies and running roughshod over the needs of his Arab workers, the project begins to spiral out of control. As Thayer sacrifices his health to the cause, his secretary – who has devoted her life to Thayer’s dream – becomes a kind of Horatio figure left to witness the ruins.
Equilateral is billed as an intellectual comedy, and it is that – extreme but all too believable in its ludicrous interpretations of Victorian science. Thayer stakes his life and reputation on scientific “evidence” that the modern reader knows will collapse like a house of cards – but the reader is never allowed to forget that such an extreme endeavor could very well have taken place within the context of the time. Do the Martians ever touch down? No. But nor are they ever disproved. Even as the reader smiles at Thayer’s obsession, the possibility is always left open that fantasy could become reality. Literary but laconic, cynical but cerebral, Equilateral is an entertaining vision of Victorian science and the Victorian Age.