Historical Context

In 1884, Edwin Abbott, a British clergyman, wrote Flatland, a fantasy novel about a world in two dimensions. (More detail on taht added by rebecca/isabelle since they read the book, if they want.) Since then, several variants on Flatland have been written, expanding upon its ideas and improving flaws in its conception, including Hinton's An Episode of Flatland, and Burger's Sphereland.

A.K. Dewdney is a Canadian computer scientist based at the University of Waterloo. In his acknowledgments to Planiverse, he explains the genesis of the work:

"It was in May 1977 that I was reading a popular work on cosmology and came across the familiar analogy which describes the expansion of our own three-dimensional universe in terms of a balloon whose two-dimensional skin continually expands. This led me to speculate about whether it would be possible, taking the balloon analogy literally, for a two-dimensional universe actually to exist. What sort of physics and chemistry would it have? What sort of life forms?" (p. 242)

He went on to make some initial explorations in the idea, publishing an article in 1979 in the Journal of Recreational Mathematics in which he offered some suggestions for improving upon Abbott's and Hinton's results. For example, he noted that there was no substrate for the flatlanders to anchor themselves to in Abbott's world. While Hinton--a-- --mathematician--corrected many of these flaws, he too left some errors, according to Dewdney. So Dewdney took it upon himself to attempt to create a more plausible world, which would follow the laws of physics, chemistry, etc., or at least a reasonable two-dimensional analogue of them. Dewdney went on to pen a 97-page monograph that he privately distributed titled Two-Dimensional Science and Technology.

The next year, a flurry of interest was sparked by an article Martin Garnder wrote in Scientific American about the planiverse project (ironically, Dewdney would later follow Douglas Hofstadter as Gardner's replacement at Scientific American). In response, Dewdney received over a thousand letters of interested, and edited A Symposium of Two-Dimensional Science and Technology.

According the Dewdney's acknowledgment, it was the publishing of a press release in the campus newspaper that led to publicity outside the world of mathematical games and the like. Articles were published in Newsweek and Maclean's. (The articles, of course, teased the reader along; the Maclean's articled, titled "Scientific dreamers' worldwide cult," ended: "As to whether a 2-D universe might actually exist, Dewdney admits that it is unlikely. However, he muses, 'to people living in the fourth dimension, our universe would appear just as improbable.'")

Finally, in 1984, Dewdney compiled the insights from many contributors, added a story element, and published the result as the book The Planiverse. Written in, as he described it in his preface to the new edition, "the style of an academic whose literary opportunities are continually overwhelmed by events," it--to the author's surprise--confused some people who thought the world was real. The book received a positive review in the New York Times, and a Lexis-Nexis search turns up the occasional allusion to it.

In 2001, an updated version of the book was published. Still, its popularity seems low; a google search for "planiverse" yields less than a thousand hits.