We don’t usually take our time machine further back than the 20th-century for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great science fiction of our past. Today, however, will be one of those times we make an exception because we are going back to 1870 with Edward Everett Hale’s “The Brick Moon.” And yes, if Hale’s name seems familiar to you, it’s because he’s famous for authoring “The Man Without a Country.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is not going to be good science fiction because the title is not imaginative nor is it scientifically smart. A moon made out of brick would break up quickly, after all, and we’d be having to deal with asteroids falling to earth at an alarming rate. People would die.
Well, let’s just ignore that little niggling thing of imminent death by fiery brick for right now and focus on the more important parts of “The Brick Moon.”
Firstly, it’s the first science fiction story to predict satellites and the first to describe what is effectively a space station. Both of those things are so prevalent in science fiction, it’s hard to believe there was a time without them, but that’s folly on our part. The fact that someone wrote a story about them before we could even get into space is truly incredible.
“The Brick Moon” is written as a journal entry of a scientist, which unfortunately makes it a very dry read. I’m told there is humor and satire in it, but it can be difficult to find while you’re trudging through long passages of about the cost of the bricks. But even then, it’s hard not to be impressed that in 1870, there was the notion that a geostationary satellite (the reason for constructing the brick moon and sending it into space) would help with navigation, particularly when GPS feels like a much more modern invention.
It follows a group of people who are excited to be the world’s next guides and patrons who then accidentally get shot up into space with the moon and are forced to live aboard it while communicating home in morse code. The incongruities in technology are one of the most intriguing parts of the story and makes one wonder how backward the future will think our own sci-fi is, yet be impressed that we had the idea that bending time and space was possible.
To be frank, though, this story is essentially plotless. So if that is not your bag, you might want to give this one a pass.
For the rest of you, “The Brick Moon” is an oldie, but it should not be forgotten. So if you’re interested in a little bit of Victorian-period science fiction (and let’s be honest, how much of that is there really), this is surely a short story for you.