Book Review: Flatterland

Flatterland:  Like Flatland, Only More So, by Ian Stewart

This is why we can’t have any nice things.  This book is a sign of why it is that our times are not nearly as good as the late Victorian period.  For all its flaws, the Late Victorian era did have virtues that we do not possess, and this book demonstrates how one can take a book that was a classic and turn it into one of those virtue signalling tedious bores that flops and leaves people to blame the public for not approving of the travesty that is inflicted upon originals.  Flatland was a subtle work written to lightly criticize the norms of the time, especially as they involved the treatment of women, by placing them in the mouth of someone who was both sympathetic as well as somewhat uninformed, thus placing the reader in a privileged position that could subtly overcome some of the prejudice that the reader might possess.  This book does not have any of that subtlety, and it suffers dramatically for that lack, leading to a book that is but a pale imitation of what it copies, and a work that the author is likely to think of far more fondly than the reader, unless the reader is of the same mind as the writer.

This book is set a century after Flatland when Victoria Line finds the diary of her ancestor and is intrigued by the thought of a third dimension beyond the two of her world.  She is, of course, one of those bratty young people who assumes that they know more than their parents and one of this book’s chief failings is that it reinforces that prejudice with a plot that involves her calling a being to visit her and visiting all kinds of dimensions with strange people with strange habits who teach Victoria new ways of looking at the world and also attempt in a clumsy way to teach these aspects of mathematics to the reader as well.  This includes nonwhole dimensions, time travel, topology, and even the geometry of snowflakes.  Some of the characters are agreeable enough but the main fault of the book is that the reader is saddled with Victoria as the stand-in for the audience and this makes for a lot of whining and complaining and plotting and general frustration given the fact that she is nowhere as gracious a figure as her much-maligned ancestor.  That said, there is at least some worthwhile math discussed here so it is not a complete loss.

In many ways this book is an attempt to continue the original work in a new generation, but it suffers dramatically compared to the original.  One of the areas where Flatterland suffers is with regards to the lack of sympathy that the reader is going to have with a privileged, bratty, leftist activist of a character.  Where A. Square came off as humble and confused and worthy of our sympathies, especially once he was arrested, his reputed descendant here is an insufferable know-it-all who does not receive her just deserts for the treason that she plots against her own world.  And where the original author was restrained his attempt to force down math onto his reader, this book is unrestrained in its idolotry of theoretical mathematicians, to the point where the book can be somewhat tiresome in that regard as well.   In nearly every area it falls short of its model, in that the mathematical explanations are more intrusive, the general approach is more heavy-handed and less subtle, and the characters are far less likable.  If the book is still an acceptable read it is because the model chosen for it was a good one.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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