Sunday, February 2, 2014

Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland: A Romance of Many DimensionsI call our world Flatland, not because we call it so, but to make its nature clearer to you, my happy readers who are privileged to live in Space.

"Narrated by A. Square, Flatland is Edwin A. Abbott's delightful mathematical fantasy about life in a two-dimensional world. All existence is limited to length and breadth in Flatland, its inhabitants unable even to imagine a third dimension. Abbott's amiable narrator provides an overview of this fantastic world-its physics and metaphysics, its history, customs, and religious beliefs. But when a strange visitor mysteriously appears and transports the incredulous Flatlander to the Land of Three Dimensions, his worldview is forever shattered."

Flatland is a weird little book, as one might expect; however it was fairly entertaining, and the writing amusing enough, despite the narrator's didactic and elitist tone. I find it hard to believe that the author's views could be as elitist as those of the narrator though. The society of Flatland is centered around how many sides each shape has - the more sides the better. The women are just straight lines, and are treated abominably, characterized as having no sense at all. 

In the first half of the book, nothing much happens; it's just an explanation of what life is like in Flatland. Then something does happen, but very little; not much is explained. The book was more like a treatise than a novel. It wasn't bad per se, but certainly not what I was expecting. At all. 

There's some math in the novel, which I found interesting, and several times diagrams to explain the narrator's point. Some of the later things are kind of difficult to understand, but this aspect was fascinating. To us, the third dimension seems so transparently obvious, but to the inhabitants of Flatland it seems ludicrous. A. Square cannot conceive of a third way of measurement coming from inside him up. And us humans find the idea of a fourth dimension insane, but who knows? It's certainly an intriguing thought which Flatland artfully explores, if not from a very practical perspective. After all, the characters are all shapes, and the third dimensional visitor who shows A. Square the third dimension is nothing but a sphere. However, through these shapes, Abbott astutely pokes fun at scientists who refuse to accept anything new. 

Society is also satirized through the society of Flatland, which is cruel and unfeeling. Despite knowing that it was meant to be mocking, reading about the way that Flatlanders deal with issues was quite infuriating; those figures born with "Irregularities" are either altered or just summarily executed. Basically, they just execute or imprison anyone who's out of line. Hmm, bears startling similarity to late 19th century England...

Anyway, this was such an odd little novel; I'm not entirely sure that I'd recommend it unless its quirk appeals to you. It had its points and was thought-provoking at times, but it wasn't great or anything. 

118 pages. 

Rating: ***

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