Spaceland: A Novel of the 4th Dimension - Rudy Rucker
I'm a big fan of Edwin A. Abbot's classic Flatland, a book about a 2-dimensional world that actually teaches the reader about the 4th dimension, and a great satire of our society. In modern times, it has spawned several spin-offs: Sphereland (Burger), Flatterland (Ian Stewart), and this one (and possibly others I haven't yet discovered). But while the first two are actually attempted sequels to Flatland, Spaceland is more of a derivative work. It's a sci-fi adventure taking place at the end of the millennium, with worries about Y2K, crazy dot-com IPOs, and visitors from the 4th dimension.

It was an interesting spin, including an innovative idea that uses the 4th dimension for high-bandwidth technology ... but it also referred to Flatland a little too much—the 4D visitor spent too much time explaining to the mathematically-challenged Joe Cube how the 4th dimension worked, and I felt like Rucker expected that the reader (1) had read Flatland before, and (2) didn't get it. The character in the book even refers to Flatland several times, and when Joe Cube briefly travels through the 0-, 1-, and 2-dimensional worlds, the depictions are straight out of Flatland.

The other thing I noticed was that several of the 4D-related ideas were lifted from another source: William Sleator's The Boy Who Reversed Himself, another book about 4D, but written for young adults a while back. It's been a long time since I read it, but I could have predicted a lot of the things that happened in Spaceland just from what I remembered of it: Joe "reversing" himself, for instance, and even the idea of things tasting funny when you're reversed. It's hard to believe that Rucker came up with all of these ideas independently; maybe, but I'm more inclined to think that he'd read The Boy Who Reversed Himself at some point, and just assumed that the audience would be sufficiently disparate for nobody to notice.

So-so. It's fun to think about the 4th dimension, but Rucker's book was a bit too familiar to enjoy. If you haven't read the other books, you may enjoy it more—I spent too much of my time thinking, "How can he get away with that?"

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 19, 2003