Alan Lightman is one of the people I’d nominate to represent the human race should aliens arrive requesting an audience. For a gift, he could bring them Einstein’s Dreams and Mr g and that could possibly save us all from being mashed or blended into a human smoothie. Most of us anyway.
According to Mr g, the first decision to be made in eons of unmeasured existence was to create a universe, a rational universe with organizing principles and room for mystery and spirituality. He calls the universe Aalann-104729.
Told in first person, Mr g sounds like a giddy child who’s just learned to ride a bike and wants to go everywhere on it. He gets a little over excited and starts creating countless other universes until his aunt and uncle, who come around from time to time, make the case that he should concentrate efforts on a single universe. According to his math, the universe is a perfect creation, ever expanding without pulling apart, dwindling or vanishing. The questions he asks himself are enough to keep you up at night because he doesn’t know the answers and he’s the creator:
What if one universe ran into another?
He creates space and with space comes time and with times comes a way to measure it, which his uncle Deva argues against:
Each thing possesses its own special essence, which has nothing to do with anything else. Understand the essence of a thing and you know everything you need to know.
Deva then argues:
…give your universe a soul. You need to make sure that everything in the universe is connected not just to other things, but to you.
Mr g’s aunt Penelope sees the sadness of souls dissipating after a single life, so short compared to her own eternal existence. She wisely talks Mr g out of bringing time to the void where they reside because she is “unmeasurable”.
The characters are written with logic and little emotion. Shortly after its creation, a devil character comes along with two sidekicks. They’re all curious of what will come of the little universe, and can’t seem to stop fiddling with it.
First there was time. Then space and energy. Then Matter. And now the possibility of life, of other minds.
Reading this the first time was a little jarring. Every page gives you a view of a universe, its beginning, history and the fluidity of time, from the perspective of its creator. Lightman pulls off this wild concept like a master. The notion that all religions are a belief in something eternal is rather beautiful and hard to forget.
This is pure thought and craft. I loved it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t parts that bug me. What of reincarnation and spirits, Mr g? It’s only natural for the living to dream of immortality, to be unable to comprehend a state of non-existence, yet Mr g isn’t too generous about easing this fear. The creation parts astonished me, but the inevitable sadness over the shortness of life struck me as patronizing. This isn’t a criticism of Lightman, but Mr g himself – and I love that this book puts you in a place to be mad at him.
Alan Lightman didn’t write a choose your own adventure story, and let’s just say it didn’t go where I wanted it to go. It does raise numerous questions that are excruciating to think about, but impossible not to. This is a deceptively thin book. Try to breeze through it and you’ll miss the best parts. Take your time with it, Mr g is in the details.
If you’re curious to learn more, check out this review from LiteraryTreats.