o you gotta understand that The Brick Moon is scifi from way, way, waaaaaaaay back. We’re talking initial publication in 1869. Think about that. Telegraphs and steam engines and horses and six-guns. The transcon had just been completed (the Union Pacific crashing in bankruptcy) and the scars were still tender from the Civil War.
The Brick Moon starts with a lesson in navigation, how you can tell latitude easily by the elevation of the polar star, but longitude (east-west position) requires clocks and guesswork. But say you could build a tower on the Greenwich Mean Line, one a hundred miles tall with a beacon on it. And maybe one in New Orleans as well. That would help. Then you could work out your longitude. But that’s impractical. So lets go to practical.
Let’s launch a brick moon in a polar orbit, looping from Greenwich over to New Orleans. Now every ship can tell exactly where it was.
This was a cool idea back then – orbits with artificial satellites. Cutting edge stuff. So the main characters (a group of three college chums) who have made their way in the world and now have cash (and a brickworks) begin to build their moon. Interesting stuff, the idea of building moonlets, three in the base, seven around the equator, and three in the top, to act as its strengthening internals. And to launch it, they build a water-powered double-flywheel. The moon will simply slide down a trench and into the bucket of the always-spinning flywheel, which is calculated to fling it into orbit.
But there are winter delays. The camp is dismissed. The workers are sent away. Only thirty or forty people remain, and after weathering some cold rains in their dingy little shacks, they get the idea to move into the huge brick sphere. Nice and dry. In fact, they even move the next year’s camp supplies in to keep them from rotting in the soggy conditions. But they wire to the main character – the rains are increasing, the bank below the moon might settle so they’d better launch soon! So the main character returns.
And finds the site devoid of anyone. And the raised ground slightly settled by the rains. And the moon missing from its position. And the flywheels endlessly spinning.
The horror of the realization.
And what comes next!
If you’d like to read this classic from the past, you can find it here and there online (a determined search should find it). My copy (bought in and shipped from England) comes with a follow-up story, “Another brick in the moon”, which I am looking forward to reading next. Check it out. Scary, sad, funny and impractical. Great read!