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Monday, July 26, 2010

Dimensions in Literature

Perhaps the most basic way in which the word dimension is used in literature is as a hyperbolic synonym for feature, attribute, aspect, or magnitude. Frequently the hyperbole is quite literal as in he's so 2-dimensional, meaning that one can see at a glance what he is. This contrasts with 3-dimensional objects which have an interior that is hidden from view, and a back that can only be seen with further examination.

Science fiction texts often mention the concept of dimension, when really referring to parallel universes, alternate universes, or other planes of existence. This usage is derived from the idea that to travel to parallel/alternate universes/planes of existence one must travel in a spatial direction/dimension besides the standard ones. In effect, the other universes/planes are just a small distance away from our own, but the distance is in a fourth (or higher) spatial dimension, not the standard ones.

One of the most heralded science fiction novellas regarding true geometric dimensionality, and often recommended as a starting point for those just starting to investigate such matters, is the 1884 novel Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott. Isaac Asimov, in his foreword to the Signet Classics 1984 edition, described Flatland as "The best introduction one can find into the manner of perceiving dimensions."

The idea of other dimensions was incorporated into many early science fiction stories, appearing prominently, for example, in Miles J. Breuer's “The Appendix and the Spectacles” (1928) and Murray Leinster's “The Fifth-Dimension Catapult” (1931); and appeared irregularly in science fiction by the 1940s. Some of the classic stories involving other dimensions include Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 ' —And He Built a Crooked House ', in which a California architect designs a house based on a three-dimensional projection of a tesseract, and Alan E. Nourse's "Tiger by the Tail" and "The Universe Between," both 1951. Another reference would be Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Wrinkle In Time" (1962) which uses the 5th Dimension as a way for "tesseracting the universe," or in a better sense, "folding" space in half to move across it quickly.

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