Books

A Fold In The Skirt

In “Star Trek,” we’ve seen a stage-like platform called the “transporter.”

This is a fictional teleportation device that allows instantaneous travel between two locations by converting matter into bars of energy (de-materialization) and then, “beaming” it to a destination, where it’s converted back into atoms and molecules (re-materialization).

An onlooker, witnessing an individual in the process of “rematerializing,” may describe the event as such:

It wasn’t that Calvin wasn’t there and then that he was. It wasn’t that part of him came first and then the rest of him followed, like a hand and then an arm, an eye and then a nose. It was a sort of shimmering, a looking at Calvin through water, through smoke, through fire, and then there he was, solid and reassuring.

Only, he isn’t a crew of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise. Calvin O’Keefe is a character in “A Wrinkle in Time,” a science-fiction by Madeleine L’Engle.

The novel, which won the 1963 Newbury Medal,  introduces a new mode of space travel called “tessering.”

It revolves around the adventures in space and time of the plain, “the snaggle-toothed, the myopic, the clumsy” Meg, her prodigious kid brother, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe, a popular high-schooler.

On a “dark and stormy night,” the Murray family is visited by a strangely clothed old lady, bundled up in layers of shawls and colorful headgear. As she leaves, she says: “Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

The three are whisked away precipitously by a band of three old ladies, a Mrs. Whatsit, a Mrs. Who, and a Mrs. Which, only to emerge, moments later, on the surface of Uriel, a beatific planet somewhere far, far away.

They go in search of Meg’s father, a scientist, who’d disappeared while working on a secret government project.

How they get there within the blink of an eye, Mrs. Whatsit tells a confused Meg, is by way of the “fifth dimension.” She takes the aid of geometry to explain to her a concept that can’t be visualized.

The first dimension is a line. When a second dimension is added to it, the line becomes a flat square. Add the third dimension to that and you get a cube, a three-dimensional structure with length, breath, and depth. Time is the fourth dimension.

“Well, the fifth dimension is a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space …”

A tesseract is a four-dimensional analog to a cube, but it’s not clear precisely what L’Engle means by it. She’s likely alluding to a shortcut through space-time, a wormhole: “A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

Although nothing can move faster than light within space-time, it’s known that space-time itself can be warped and distorted, theoretically, so that the two points that used to be separated are connected.

A half-and-half mixture of cute quantum physics and fantasy, the story swings from mind-twisting braininess to a fluffy fairy tale.

Along the way, L’Engle stops to make an observation on the society of her era. Invisible forces were pushing to erase all individuality and impose a monotonous standardization, “making muffins of us, muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin.”

Camazotz, the dark world they alight on, looks just like home, but with a difference.

Everyone lives in identical homes, thinks identical thoughts and does the same thing at the same time in the same way, all obeying one master mind, the IT.

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