Friday, April 12, 2013

Review of Equilateral by Ken Kalfus

Equilateral is the first novel I've read by Ken Kalfus and I enjoyed it completely. Equilateral is the story of a British astronomer, Thayer, who is tasked with erecting in the middle of an Egyptian desert in the hopes of
communicating with the inhabitants of Mars.  The Equilateral is hundreds of miles long on each side and is to be constructed when the planets are  most perfectly aligned by 900,000 Arab fellahin. From the beginning of the novel it's evident that the erection of this triangle will not be easy. Kalfus creates the perfect storm in which to relay ideas of science, colonization, communication, human nature, and triangles. Lots and lots of triangles.

Early in the novel there is evidence that this venture into the unknown will be disastrous at best. There are bouts of Malaria flaring up in the camps along with religious and civil protests. Not to mention the vast majority of the world believes that Thayer will fail at constructing the Equilateral. Communication as Point A are minimal and often comical at times when the attempt at bridging the gap is embarked upon. There was always the idea of the earliest settlements and Columbus niggling at the back of my mind.

I found Thayer to be an extremely ironic and motivated character almost to a fault. He's intent on finishing the Equilateral because he's sure that the Martians will have a lot to provide humans in matters of civilization and advancement. I wondered constantly if he at all considered that maybe the Martians were unable to speak English or that they would not come in peace after all. I also found it ironic that Thayer is hellbent on communicating with the inhabitants of Mars but isn't interested in communicating intelligibly with the Arabs. Maybe it's the 1895 vibe that suggests that the fellahin aren't "civilized" enough to understand the importance of  the Equilateral.

The last thing to note is the triangle of love that seems to be going on at Point A. Thayer is involved in an affair with Binta. He's attracted to the fact that he's misjudged her. She knows a lot about astronomy. The secretary Miss Keaton is a player in this love triangle as well. These women help to reveal weaknesses in Thayer's character.

In the interest of not giving away too much of this novel since it is short, I imagine fans of literary fiction will love this novel. The word flow is ideal and easy to follow. Kalfus brings to life the ideas of civilization, exploration, communication, science, and human folly in this newest work of fiction. Fans of Kalfus will find Equilateral an essential to their collection. ****

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