The laws of physics, as far as we can tell, are universal – so alien life would also abide by mathematical rules such as Pythagoras’s Theorem. This is the underlying rationale of Ken Kalfus’s new novel, Equilateral, in which arrogant British Empire types attempt to open up communication with Martians (they are convinced of their existence) by signalling to them across space with a giant burning equilateral triangle. The largest civil engineering project the world has ever seen, carved into Egypt’s western desert, the triangle of perfect dimensions is designed to provide Martian astronomers with evidence that intelligent life exists on Earth. Predictably, things don’t quite pan out – giving rise to a series of philosophical questions about just how intelligent human civilisation really is.
Appropriately, it is in the post-Darwinian world of the 1890s that astronomer Professor Sanford Thayer and his assistant, Miss Keaton, begin work on the triangle. For him, it is representative of humanity’s highly evolved faculties of ingenuity and intelligence. But Kalfus deftly toys with the symbolism of the vast project