Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott


Science FictionFlatland by Edwin A. Abbott

FlatlandEdwin Abbott Abbott; Dover Publications 2007WorldCat

Flatland is the where the narrator lives. It is a two dimensional world, living on a plane. Women are straight lines, the lowest class is isosceles triangles, the working class is equilateral triangles, with squares at the lower strata of the middle class. Each shape with more sides is higher in the classes, with multi-sided polygons, or circles, at the highest scholarly level. Houses are pentagons. The narrator is a square.

The square uses much of the book to describe his own world and how their social mores work. Women are silly and unintelligent, only good for companionship. But because they are straight lines, they can be very dangerous when angry, upset, or out of their minds. The sharpest isosceles triangles are the soldiers in the lowest class, but very effective in battle. They are also the most numerous shapes. If there is a war, the higher classes don’t mind sacrificing the soldiers. Indeed, it keeps down civil unrest within a nation if the lower classes are killing each other off.

Then the square is pulled by a sphere from Flatland into Spaceland. He learns there is another dimension although it’s very difficult for him to understand. Once he understands that, he believes there are infinite dimensions, each invisible to the dimension below it. Will he be believed when he returns to Flatland?

Edwin Abbott wrote this book in the 1880’s. It is a social statement about his surrounding world as much as it also teaches geometry and spacial concepts. Flatland’s residents are supposed to be a mirror of the Victorian world Abbott saw around him in England. There are biting statements about the treatment of the citizens by the upper classes.

Abbott wrote this book while the dimensions were still theory. A fourth dimension wasn’t accepted, nor was any space-time theories. It is a mathematical book, instructing geometrical concepts. Yet the satirical look at his culture can’t be ignored. In fact, Abbott, a minister, first published the book anonymously under the name A. Square.

Flatland is high on the list of best science fiction books of all time. Today it seems like general fiction. But when the reader thinks about when it was published, it definitely is science fiction based on the known concepts of the time. I found it dragged but I wanted to keep reading. The descriptions of the women and the problems with the lowest classes made me angry (as they were undoubtedly supposed to do). Flatland is a book with a bite.

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