Sunday, June 16, 2013

Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

The central character in Equilateral (2013) is a simple triangle. But what occupies its equidistant points? Man, woman, love? Corporate profits, scientific research, political dominion? Truth, fantasy, hope?

The story takes place in 1894 and concerns the building of an equilateral triangle in Egypt's Western Desert. A triangle of huge dimensions - 330 miles on each side with deep trenches five miles wide - that is being carved out of the sands and when finished will be filled with petrol and set afire as a communication with beings on Mars. 

The author, Ken Kalfus, has constructed this story that stars the brilliant astronomer Sanford Thayer whose idea of building the triangle is based on his own observations and belief that there is intelligent life on the Red Planet. Aiding him in the enormous project are his personal secretary and fellow adventurer Miss Keaton; the project engineer Ballard; and, the British head of the Board of Governors made up of representatives from every participating nation, Sir Harry.

There is also the Arab girl, Bint, who is combination nursemaid, servant, and is an object of Thayer's, if not affections, at least his attentions. 

There are troubles galore in the race to build the The Equilateral stemming from stifling heat, fevers, conspiracies, lazy workers, sabotage, failures to communicate, and outright mutinies. 

But there are also the fancies and aspirations "for the good of humanity" that lie behind the project that keep the vision inching forward.

I liked this dreamy, 200-page novel that looks at the wonders of the night sky while keeping its feet firmly planted in the shifting sands of the African desert.


  1. I've added this to my list to look for as a break from my usual fare. Our library doesn't have it (yet) but there is always ILL. They always seem to find what I want somewhere.

    You mentioned shifting sands - I wondered if the trenches didn't get filled in almost as fast as they were dug?

    Joyce in KS

    1. Hi Joyce. There was a sandstorm but no mention of trenches filling in. Oh, well, it's fiction. This project did make use of geometry principles which I enjoyed reading about as that is the only math class I ever got A's in!

  2. I love Ken Kalfus! I read some of his short stories years ago. Thanks for posting about it. Like Joyce, I'll try to find it at the library.

    1. Kat, I had not read anything - or really even heard of - Mr. Kalfus. This book was dreamy and down to earth at the same time. A nice mix.