The Planiverse: Computer Contact with a Two Dimensional World by AK Dewdney
The setting is a graduate program in the early 1980's. Computers are mainframes, time and resources are precious, and programs are primitive at best.
A group of students led by their professor decide to model a two dimensional world--with the deptyh and horizontal axis rather than the horizontal and vertical axes of Flatland. It starts as an exercise in pure physics, mathematics and computer science, until their model somehow connects to a real two-dimensional world, and an inhabitant, YNDRD, who can hear them in his mind.
And with YNDRD as our guide, we begin to learn about himself and the two dimensional Planiverse that makes his home...
Its a classic for good and many reasons. Dewdney's characters, with the exception of a little unnecessary and half-baked melodrama, are easily recognized academic types, jealous of their prize, and eager to learn more and more about the world they have inadvertently contacted. The Planiverse is a marvel of a gedankenexperiment--how could an inhabitable two-dimensional world exist and what would it be like? YNDRD goes on what is ultimately a spiritual quest (the novel can be thought of, really as a sufi story), and so we get to see a wide swath of his world, and learn about it, as he makes his journey.
Although the technology has changed over time, the novel can comfortably be thought of as taking place in the early 1980's rather than as a contemporary novel. Once upon a time, computers really were this primitive.
There are lots of asides and text boxes exploring some of the concepts touched upon, as well as appendices that give the Planiverse even more depth. It's an amazing book and definitely suited to those who would want to think about the implications and puzzle of a two-dimensional world. The narrative itself is pretty basic and straightforward--but the universe, man, is where this novel shines. Dewdney's conceit in making the novel at first seem like a first hand account of a real event gives it verisimilitude, and the level of detail, as said above, sells it.
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Paul Weimer (Jvstin)
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