Published: 1882 Genres: Science Fiction
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I’ve been on a Victorian sci-fi kick lately, and after several recommendations decided to try “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” by Edwin A. Abbott.
The book is unlike anything that I’ve ever read before. It’s under a hundred pages, but that does not make the book a quick read.
“Flatland” is a satirical work that describes a two-dimensional universe with a rigid class structure. Geometry and angles determine every aspect of life. The more sides a person has, the more aristocratic, as wider angles denote intelligence. Therefore, a circle is a priest, but a triangle is a common soldier. Women are straight lines, and thus incapable of rational thought.
The narrator of the story is an average square who spends the first half of the book describing society in Flatland. One day, a messenger from the third dimension visits the narrator and explains the limitations of a two-dimensional worldview.
Confession time: I haven’t taken a math class since high school. Math was the sort of subject where my experiences depended entirely on the ability of a teacher to explain the concepts in a way that I’d understand, whereas subjects like literature and writing were more intuitive to me. Basically, my geometry is a bit rusty. This is important because I was still able to understand this book, even if I had to reread certain parts to grasp it. Abbott takes readers on a journey not just to another world, but to another dimension, and he does so in a very relatable way. Of course, the story isn’t just about geometry and the theory of dimensions–it’s a satire of Victorian society which criticizes the rigid class structure and the lack of women’s rights.
I was surprised to learn that “Flatland” wasn’t particularly famous in its own era, but it experienced a surge of popularity after Einstein described time as the fourth dimension.
One piece of advice that I would offer–if you decide to read this on Kindle, the free versions don’t have the original illustrations. Pay the extra $0.99 and get the version that contains them. It’s worth it. The narrator uses diagrams in order to explain some of the geometric concepts in the book and how they relate to Flatland’s society. For me, they were invaluable.
I’m quite glad that I read this book. It was delightfully bizarre and trippy.
This book counts toward The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings, the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge from The Little Red Reviewer and the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.