Book identification: 80s-ish YA/teen novel about crossing dimensions
March 17, 2016 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Trying to identify a book I read as a young teenager in the early 80s, prominently featuring people traveling across dimensions. The thing I remember most is the striking explanation of how, e.g., a 3-dimensional body would look like to someone who can see only 2 dimensions.

If you encounter something in a dimension higher than yours, it would look distorted and even scary, but it's only because you couldn't see the whole substance. The concept has stuck with me ever since, but sadly, neither the title nor the author has. If I remember correctly, the main character was a girl, but that's about the only detail that remains.

Does this ring a bell for anyone?
posted by leticia to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds rather like A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L'Engle) although it's been a while so I can't swear that conversation is in there. Female protag, math-y multiple dimension stuff for sure, though.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:01 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I seem to recall something like this in A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
Meg sighed. "Just explain it to me."
"Okay," Charles said. "What is the first dimension?"
"Well—a line: —————————————"
"Okay. And the second dimension?"
"Well, you'd square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension."
"And the third?"
"Well, you'd square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn't be flat any more. It would have a bottom, and sides, and a top."
"And the fourth?"
''Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you'd square the square. But you can't take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it's got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time."
"That's right," Charles said. "Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension you'd square the fourth, wouldn't you?"
"I guess so."
"Well, the fifth dimension's a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points."
For a brief, illuminating second Meg's face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles's.
"I see!" she cried. "I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can't possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!" She turned excitedly to Calvin. "Did you get it?"
He nodded. "Enough. I don't understand it the way Charles Wallace does, but enough to get the idea."
posted by infinitewindow at 4:03 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, it definitely wasn't A Wrinkle In Time, which I read much earlier than I read this book I'm thinking about. If I remember correctly, the protagonist meets a boy (maybe a new student in her class??) who is her introduction to this world of multiple dimensions.
posted by leticia at 4:06 PM on March 17, 2016

I think you're remembering The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator.
posted by fermion at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

Bingo!! fermion, FTW!!

Wow, that was so quick. :) I heart MeFites!
posted by leticia at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2016

Very glad that you found your answer, and I wanted to mention a much earlier example of cross-dimensional perception: Edwin Abbot's "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" (1884).
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:15 PM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

The one thing I remember from The Boy Who Reversed Himself was that he had a couple of ketchup packets in his pocket on one of his trips into the Fourth Dimension, and when he came back they all had backwards text on the packaging and due to molecular chirality or w/e the reverse-ketchup tasted incredible
posted by theodolite at 6:09 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I own all of William Sleator's books and re-read them every few years. If you like "The Boy Who Reversed Himself," you would probably also enjoy "Interstellar Pig," "The Duplicate," "Singularity," and "House of Stairs."

They are all YA fiction based on interesting science ideas.
posted by tacodave at 3:49 PM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

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