Monday, May 22, 2006

Flatterland – like flatland, only more so

Ian Stewart

Flatterland, as Stewart points out in the introduction, is another sequel to Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions (note that this version has ASCII illustrations, which are no substitute for the real thing), Edwin A. Abbott's most famous work. Stewart also points out that Flatland was written as a satire and commentary on Victorian English society and customs. Stewart continues this in Flatterland, though how effectively or to what particular purpose I'm not sure.

The story tells of Victoria Line ("Vikki"), the great-great-granddaughter of A(lbert) Square, and her journeys through the "Mathiverse" with the Space Hopper (yes, that's really what it was based off of). Use a device called the "Virtual Unreality Engine," Vikki is able to experience the various realms of the Mathiverse in their full glory, instead of merely her natural two-dimensional viewpoint. Together, they explore the concept of dimensionality, discrete geometries, fractals (and thereby fractional dimensions), topology, hyperbolic geometry, and even some physics such as relativity and super symmetry before returning back to Flatland, where Vikki begins Flatland's version of a feminist revolution.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I read it all on May 20, so it must've been at least decent. Most of the time, however, I already understood the concepts, so it was easy going. When I didn't understand, however, I didn't feel as if the book did much to clarify them. I enjoyed the more colloquial style of Vikki's journal, although it used what I guess is British slang like "BRILL". The book is not without obvious reference to Lewis Carroll: once the Space Hopper used "frabjous," a word from the poem Jabberwocky (and one that I also saw yesterday in Larry Niven's Tales of Known Space), and there is a 'doughmouse' and a 'harsh mare' and even a 'mud mutter' (sometimes the puns were almost too much). I also enjoyed how Vikki matured through the book, as shown in her journal. However, some of the commentary was, I felt, unneccesary. There was a large bit about the "Hawk King" that rather confused me, and the ending of the story, while it would make sense for a 1960s/70s book, seemed a bit out of date to me.

Ah, well. I would still recommend the book, particularly if you have an interest in science and mathematics. It's a worthwhile read and interesting subject matter.
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