The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

One day in the early 1840’s, several Harvard students are discussing astronomy. Someone notes that the North Star makes it easy for sailors to calculate latitude (distance from the equator) but that no corresponding heavenly body assists in the calculation of longitude. As a consequence, many lives have been lost at sea. One of the students, identified only as Q., half-seriously suggests launching an artificial satellite—a brick moon—to correct this heavenly deficiency.

The subject is dropped, and the students go their separate ways. Seventeen years later, one of them, George Orcutt, calls the group back together. He has become a wealthy railroad magnate and proposes to put some of his money into the satellite experiment. Another member of the original group, Ben Brannan, is a noted orator who raises more funds for the project. The story’s narrator, Captain Frederic Ingham, a minister, finds the area best suited for carrying out the project. An unsettled forest has the clay for brick and streams to provide the power for the giant flywheels that will send the sphere into the sky.

By late fall a few years after the Civil War, construction is almost complete. Orcutt and a number of families decide to winter at the isolated construction site and, for warmth, move into the moon, which contains a number of braced chambers. One night when all aboard are asleep, a shifting of the ground causes the moon to slide down the rails to the flywheels,...

(The entire section is 444 words.)