The Planiverse (ISBN 0-387-98916-1), a 1984 novel by A. K. Dewdney, was described by Steve Grand as the "primary inspiration" for Creatures. The novel is about some university students who design a computer simulation of a two-dimensional universe and make first contact with an actual 2D universe. The students converse with Yendred, a highly philosophical Ardean, as he begins a rite of passage of Ardean society - "The Journey".
In 1977, Dewdney was inspired by an allegory of a two-dimensional universe, and decided to expand upon the physics and chemistry of such a universe. He published a short monograph in 1979 called Two-Dimensional Science and Technology. In July 1980, this was reviewed by Martin Gardner in Scientific American, and shortly after this, all copies of the monograph were sold out. In 1981, following the success of the monograph, Dewdney published A Symposium on Two-Dimensional Science and Technology, which contained suggestions for how a two-dimensional universe would work from scientists and non-scientists on varied subjects.
Several of the names of places in Arde are derived from Arabic, due to Dewdney's interest in Sufism.
In the spirit of Edwin Abbott Abbott's Flatland, Dewdney and his computer science students designed a vertical 2D world (i.e. East-West and Up-Down, no N-S) and considered the issues of biology and society for the inhabitants.
To their surprise, they find their artificial 2D universe has somehow accidentally become a means of communication with an actual 2D world – Arde. They make a sort of "telepathic" contact with "YNDRD," referred to by the students as Yendred, a highly philosophical Ardean (or Nsana, as they call themselves), as he begins a journey across the western half, Punizla of the single continent Ajem Kollosh to learn more about the spiritual beliefs of the people of the East, Vanizla. Yendred mistakes the watchers on Earth for 'spirits', hence his interest in communicating with them.
The students and narrator communicate with Yendred by typing on the keyboard, and Yendred describes how he "feels" their thoughts in his head. For Yendred's replies, he thinks an answer, and it appears on the computer's printout (this is 1980s technology). The name Yendred (or "Yendwed", as pronounced by one of the students, who has a speech impediment) is simply "Dewdney" reversed. The novel is in fact an allegory of Yendred/Dewdney's search for a reality deeper than that of scientific enquiry.
Written as a travelogue, Yendred's journey through the West takes him through three cities. In Is Felbelt, the capital, he observes the chaotic politics of democracy, contrasted with the orderly kingdom of the East. In Maj Nunbilt he visits the Punizlan Institute for Technology and Science, 'the PITS', and hears about the vain search of scientists for truths beneath the surface reality of existence. In Sema Rhublt, a colony of artists, he learns about their futile attempt 'to create random forms in the hope of obtaining something which looks like nothing else'.
As Yendred travels, he explains aspects of the politics, geography, construction (all houses are underground, so as not to be demolished by the periodic 2D rivers), tools (nails are useless for attaching two objects; tape and glue are used instead), biology (most Ardean creatures don't have deuterostomic digestive tracts since they would split into two, and have instead evolved alternatives), astronomy, and even games such as one-dimensional Alak. An appendix explains some fundamentals of Ardean two-dimensional physics and chemistry.
The underlying allegory culminates in Yendred's arrival at the watershed of the continent, where he at last finds a teacher, Drabk, who can give him spiritual enlightenment. Together they fly into the Shrine that stands on the edge of Vanizla; it is square - the 2D equivalent of the Kaaba, the cubic shrine at the heart of Islam. Yendred has no more need of the failed 'spirits' of the watchers on Earth, and contact with Arde is lost.
Connection with Creatures
Steve Grand has described it as the "primary inspiration" for Creatures, dating back to the late 1980s. Grand took the idea of the Journey from The Planiverse. Steve Grand would later name the Throgs from Grandroids after a creature from The Planiverse. Although Albia is said to be a two-dimensional world, the existence of planes is a significant difference from Arde. In more technical literature, Albia is described as a 2.5D world.
- Creatures series (inspired by The Planiverse)
- Begley, Sharon. 1982. "Life in Two Dimensions." Newsweek. January 18, pp. 84–85.
- Dewdney, A.K. 1979. "Exploring the Planiverse." Journal of Recreational Mathematics. 12:16–20.
- Dewdney, A.K. 2000. "The Planiverse Project: Then and Now." The Mathematical Intelligencer. 22:46–51.
- Gardner, Martin. 1980/2001. "The Wonders of a Planiverse." Scientific American, July 1980; reprinted with appendix in The Colossal Book of Mathematics (New York: Norton).
- Sandberg-Diment, Erik. 1984. "Review of Dewdney 1984/2001". New York Times, November 6.