Mr g: A Novel About the Creation

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“As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.”
 
So begins Alan Lightman’s playful and profound new novel, Mr g, the story of Creation as told by God. Barraged by the constant advisements and bickerings of Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, who live with their nephew in the shimmering Void, Mr g proceeds to create time, space, and matter. Then come stars, planets, animate matter, consciousness, and, ...

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Overview

“As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.”
 
So begins Alan Lightman’s playful and profound new novel, Mr g, the story of Creation as told by God. Barraged by the constant advisements and bickerings of Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, who live with their nephew in the shimmering Void, Mr g proceeds to create time, space, and matter. Then come stars, planets, animate matter, consciousness, and, finally, intelligent beings with moral dilemmas. Mr g is all powerful but not all knowing and does much of his invention by trial and error.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry, and Mr g discovers that with his creation of space and time come some unforeseen consequences—especially in the form of the mysterious Belhor, a clever and devious rival. An intellectual equal to Mr g, Belhor delights in provoking him: Belhor demands an explanation for the inexplicable, requests that the newly created intelligent creatures not be subject to rational laws, and maintains the necessity of evil. As Mr g watches his favorite universe grow into maturity, he begins to understand how the act of creation can change himself, the Creator.

With echoes of Calvino, Rushdie, and Saramago, combining science, theology, and moral philosophy, Mr g is a stunningly imaginative work that celebrates the tragic and joyous nature of existence on the grandest possible scale.

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    May11_2/Mr_g_Alan_Lightman_BB_c471ea75f2868b7cc2686175ba480b9e11e4fd41  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Physicist and author Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams) offers another rumination in the form of a touching, imaginative rendition of God’s creation of the universe. Bored with the Void, his bickersome Aunt Penelope and tenderhearted Uncle Deva his only companions through Nothingness, the genius Nephew casts about in his infinite imagination for change, form, and meaning. Seized by an idea, he creates time—past, present, and future—suddenly injecting structure and motion into the “endless sleep” they’d heretofore inhabited. From time follows space and energy, the creation of universes, one of which Nephew favors, calling it Aalam-104729 (after “the ten thousandth prime number in base ten”), endowing it with laws of symmetry, relativity, and causality, and filling it with matter, so that it begins to develop life. Aunt and uncle are thrilled with their new plaything, yet the contrarian Belhor urges God to let the animate creatures have free will, thereby permitting great suffering among them, but also joy. While Belhor insists that the creatures live mean, insignificant lives, and that good and evil are relative but necessary, God sees a grandeur and beauty in their individuality. Above all, the immortal characters are changed by their brush with the enterprising, however doomed, mortals, bringing this elucidating treatment of quantum physics to an affecting, hopeful conclusion. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“A soulful riff on the birth and eventual demise of our universe…Lightman the humanist allows room for the compatibility of rationality with spirituality and mystery, while Lightman the scientist plays devil’s advocate with the partisans of Genesis, blinding them with logic.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Though Lightman’s clever irreverence recalls Salman Rushdie and Kevin Brockmeier, his plainspoken style lends the book a fitting earnestness…Readers who don’t mind the liberties the author takes with the sacred might enjoy this scienced fiction.” –Library Journal

“A scientific vision laced with the mirthful aura of divinity…aglow with wonder.” –Washington Post 

“Just as he did with his incomparable Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman again surprises us with a work that is utterly original in both form and content. Mr g is a philosophical fable which is at turns hilarious and moving, rendered with a literary hand so deft that the weightiest metaphysical topics levitate into pure delight.” –Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
 
"It would not seem possible for Alan Lightman to match his earlier tour de force, Einstein's Dreams, but in Mr g he has done so—with wit, imagination, and transcendent beauty." –Anita Desai

"Here is the creation of the Universe and the young Creator who grapples with what he has made—and ultimately with responsibility and loss…a gem of a novel that is strange witty erudite and alive with Lightman's playful genius." –Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“The beautiful writing throughout this little gem of a book is an Alan Lightman trademark…delightful.” –Washington Times 

"This delightful novel takes the reader on a light hearted romp through the development of the universe from the Big Bang to its cold dark end, addressing along the way some of the big questions that inevitably arise from the development of intelligent life." –Jerome Friedman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist 

“It is a delightful, sensual mixture of the mundane and—and sometimes it's not clear which is which. It conveys the spirit, the ethos of modern physical thought, without saying explicitly that it is doing so (until the very end). It deals powerfully with some of the deepest issues of existence, ethics, and the human condition. I think I've never read a more compelling description of the beauty of the universe. Its irreverent awe is powerful. I loved it!” –Kip Thorne, author of Black Holes and Time Warps  

“A touching, imaginative rendition of God’s creation of the universe…the immortal characters are changed by their brush with the enterprising, however doomed, mortals, bringing this elucidating treatment of quantum physics to an affecting, hopeful conclusion.” –Publishers Weekly

“With iridescent precision, fairy-tale wonder, and brainy humor, Lightman crafts an enthralling and provocative cosmic parable that offers a startlingly fresh perspective on the mysteries of the universe and the paradoxical human condition.” –Booklist, starred review

“Lightman is able to write with the keen insight of a scientist and the lyricism of a poet…he brilliantly conveys a sense of the awesome power and mystery of the universe's origins. Whether you are a believer, an atheist or occupy some position in between, if you approach it with an open mind you are certain to find something worth pondering in this delightfully original novel. Who knew cosmology could be such a blast?” –Shelf Awareness    
   
“Concise but ambitious…unusual but often charming.” –New Yorker  
 
“A charming, comic explanation of how The Maker might have created the cosmos…if your philosophy allows for the possibility that science and faith in a creator can coexist, you’ll enjoy this clever and witty creation.” –Boston Globe  
 
“A playful but reverent story…The divine magic of this creation is science itself.” –The Daily Beast Must Read

“Lightman is fundamentally serious, not satirical, and his awed amazement at the universe is contagious…those who find science, poetry and religion a palatable mix will be delighted.” –Columbus Dispatch

Mr g bridges the gap between the things we know and the things we cannot know…Lightman has always had a crystalline prose style, and it’s very much on display in Mr g. The passages devoted to existence in the Void and to the beauty of the developing universe are delightfully lyrical…Lightman takes on the big metaphysical questions in his book with economy and clarity…Mr g is a brilliant, entertaining allegory, a book that creationists and atheists would find equally thought-provoking. Lightman has created a novel that is erudite and fun to read, and more likely to inspire discussion than dispute.” –Chapter 16 review

“Fans of Lightman’s popular previous novel, Einstein’s Dreams, will recognize the playful imagination behind [Mr g]…if you’re open-minded enough to consider the possibility that science and faith can coexist, you’ll enjoy ‘this clever and witty creation.’” –The Week 

“Profoundly inventive.” –About.com

Lightman is a physicist, and the pyrotechnics involved in the creation of said universe are as dazzling as they are fascinating…The thing that makes it work is its refusal to take itself or its topics too seriously. It makes us think, yes but it also makes us laugh—and what’s more enlightening than a book that can make us laugh in mid-winter?” –KUER, Salt Lake City NPR

“Entertaining, clever, and well-written…Mr g is a delightful interplay of faith and science that ultimately renders science absolute but without reducing the human experience to only the material.” –Catholic Books Review

“This is a marvellous counterpoint to all of the other nonsense out there on creation. Lightman writes exquisitely, so this fable on the origin of space, time, matter and life is a wordfest that is securely pinned to the rational — making him a ‘magic realist’ of a refreshingly different stripe.” –Nature   
 
”A beautiful and philosophical fable that weaves the laws of quantum physics into a modern Genesis myth that will stick with a reader long after the book is put away.” –New York Journal of Books
 
“A fluent description of the cosmos based on the principles of quantum physics—a stunning, symmetrical light show of subatomic particles.” –The Wall Street Journal
 
“Lightman once again showcases his training as a theoretical physicist as well as his skill as a writer…What at first appears to be a whimsical story of the creation of the universe winds its way through thought-provoking questions with humor and sound science principles.” –NPR Morning edition 

“Terrific. Lightman manages the impossible—writing a riveting story, with odd and intriguing characters, that also slips a stunning amount of physics and cosmology into the reader while he or she is absorbed by what will happen next.” –Orion  

“Food for thought…and discussion.” –Hudson Valley News
 
“Thought-provoking fiction…With echoes of Calvino, Rushdie, and Saramago, combining science, theology, and moral philosophy, Mr g is a stunningly imaginative work that celebrates the tragic and joyous nature of existence on the grandest possible scale.” –B&N Tuesday Nook Blog
 
“I must say, I am a huge fan of his work, God and Lightman…this novel is very clever. Although it is small, it packs in a lot of thought and imagination.” –KickAssBookReviews.com
 
“Bold… Lightman suavely weaves theology grounded in science and moral philosophy and alights on evolution of matter, consciousness, spirituality and existential crises.” –Miami Herald 

“Delightfully intriguing…a small novel with immensely imaginative ideas.” –Arcadiana

Library Journal
In his new book, Lightman (Einstein's Dreams) assumes the voice of God—God being the titular Mr g. The Devil makes an appearance early on with vexing questions like "Do you think it is possible for a thing and its opposite both to be true?" But Mr g goes ahead to create space, time, and matter all the way up to sentient beings with existential quandaries, finally concluding that "this relationship between time and space was also beautiful and good." (Lightman's background as a theoretical physicist serves him well here.) Still, the demons Baphomet and Belhor keep showing up with more questions about free will. The novel's not as heavy as the subjects imply. This God seems young and caught between his squabbling Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva. Though Lightman's clever irreverence recalls Salman Rushdie and Kevin Brockmeier, his plainspoken style lends the book a fitting earnestness, although the characters are less interesting than the scientific details. VERDICT Readers who don't mind the liberties the author takes with the sacred might enjoy this scienced fiction.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL
Kirkus Reviews
In his sixth novel, physicist Lightman (Einstein's Dreams, 1993, etc.) playfully bridges the gap between creationism and evolution by having the Creator Himself explain how the whole shebang started. He's Mr g in the title, and unnamed in the text, but known to the world as God. He's been living and sleeping in the Void, along with his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva. These down-home characters, who squabble like any old married couple, provide a domestic background for their Nephew. It's a question of scale. Though God's upcoming enterprise, the creation of the universe, is vast, it's being designed by a modest family man. First comes the creation of time, followed by space and energy, and then a universe, which He names Aalam-104729. There's a rush of subatomic particles and atoms and a lot of textbook physics, well orchestrated. The key moment comes with the making of the molecules. Cause and effect, muses God, in enraptured passivity, the Creator standing back to admire evolution, which will lead to animate matter. Will His creatures have free will? That question is raised by a stranger, an immortal named Belhor who has been monitoring the creation. Way in the future he will be the Devil, but right now he is a stimulating interlocutor for God, who takes his question to heart. God learns even as he creates: the capacity of the mind is a case in point. Questions of suffering, and good and evil, are addressed, though not with the same rigor as quantum physics. Towards the end of this short novel Lightman appears to be running out of material. There's an altogether too cute chapter in which Aunt Penelope gets a dress of pink stars, a whole galaxy; a disruptive visit by Belhor to an opera house on a waterlogged planet is just filler. A grab-bag of physics, philosophical inquiry and family tomfoolery that fails to cohere.
Ron Charles
What elevates the novel beyond [the] lovely descriptions of how matter evolved…is the entrance of a mesmerizing stranger named Belhor…a philosophical sparring partner—something like Satan in the Book of Job. Going to and fro, he engages God in a series of unnerving debates about the purpose of creation, His responsibility for evil, and the limits of omniscience…If he's dogmatic about the nature of the physical universe, [Lightman is] evocative and playful about these philosophical questions, moving freely from Miltonic seriousness to harlequin absurdity. An atmosphere of melancholy eventually settles over this strange novel, as it must, I suppose, when God learns about sadness from his creation. But it remains aglow with wonder.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307379993
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/24/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Lightman is the author of five previous novels, a book-length narrative poem, two collections of essays, and several books on science. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Nature, among other publications. A theoretical physicist as well as a novelist, he has served on the faculties of Harvard and MIT, and was the first person to receive a dual faculty appointment at MIT in science and in the humanities.

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Read an Excerpt

Time

As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe.
 
Not much was happening at that time. As a matter of fact, time didn’t exist. Nor space. When you looked out into the Void, you were really looking at nothing more than your own thought. And if you tried to picture wind or stars or water, you could not give form or texture to your notions.
 
Those things did not exist. Smooth, rough, waxy, sharp, prickly, brittle—even qualities such as these lacked meaning. Practically everything slept in an infinite torpor of potentiality. I knew that I could make whatever I wanted. But that was the problem. Unlimited possibilities bring unlimited indecision. When I thought about this particular creation or that, uncertain about how each thing would turn out, I grew anxious and went back to sleep. But at a particular moment, I managed . . . if not exactly to sweep aside my doubts, at least to take a chance.
 
Almost immediately, it seemed, my aunt Penelope asked me why I would want to do such a thing. Wasn’t I comfortable with the emptiness just as it was? Yes, yes, I said, of course, but . . . You could mess things up, said my aunt. Leave Him alone, said Uncle Deva. Uncle toddled over and stood beside me in his dear way. Please don’t tell me what to do, retorted my aunt. Then she turned and stared hard at me. Her hair, uncombed and knotted as usual, drooped down to her bulky shoulders. Well? she said, and waited. I never liked it when Aunt Penelope glowered at me. I think I’m going to do it, I finally said. It was the first decision I’d made in eons of unmeasured existence, and it felt good to have decided something. Or rather, to have decided that something had to be done, that a change was in the offing. I had chosen to replace nothingness with something. Something is not nothing. Something could be anything. My imagination reeled. From now on, there would be a future, a present, and a past. A past of nothingness, and then a future of something.
 
In fact, I had just created time. But unintentionally. It was just that my resolution to act, to make things, to put an end to the unceasing absence of happenings, required time. By deciding to create something, I had pressed an arrow into the shape- less and unending Void, an arrow that pointed in the direction of the future. Henceforth, there would be a before and an after, a continuing stream of successive events, a movement away from the past and towards the future—in other words, a journey through time. Time necessarily came before light and dark, matter and energy, even space. Time was my first creation.
 
Sometimes, the absence of a thing is not noticed until it is present. With the invention of time, events that had once merged together in one amorphous clot began to take shape. Each event could now be enveloped by a slipcover of time, separating it from all other events. Every motion or thought or the slightest happenstance could be ordered and placed exactly in time. For example, I realized that I had been sleeping for a very long time. And near me—but I couldn’t say how near, because I had not yet created space—Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva had also been sleeping, their loud snores rising and falling like something or other, their tossings and turnings unfolding in time. And their interminable bickering could now be identified with moments of wakefulness, which in turn could be understood as taking place between periods of sleep. I refused to think how much time I had wasted. In fact, we had all slept in a kind of pleasant amnesia, a swoon, an infinite senselessness. In various ways, had we not luxuriated in the unstructured Void, unaccountable for our actions? Yes, unaccountable. Because without time, there could be no reactions to actions, no consequences. Without time, decisions need not be considered for their implications and effects. We had all been drifting in a comfortable Void without responsibilities.
 
See, my aunt complained when it became apparent that we were now conscious of time. I told you that you would mess things up. She shot Uncle a look of disapproval, as if he had encouraged me to act as I had, and then she began an unhappy summary of the various things that she had done and not done during the immediate past, then during the past before that, and so on, back and back through the now visible chasms of time, until Uncle begged her to stop. You should never have created the past and the future, she said. We were happy here. See, now I must say were, when before . . . Oh! There it is again. It was nicer when everything happened at once. I can’t stand to think about the future. But don’t you think that we have some responsibility to the future? I suggested. To all the things and beings I might create? Non- sense, shrieked Aunt Penelope. What a foolish argument. You have no responsibility to things that don’t yet exist and won’t ever exist if you could just keep your big thoughts to yourself. But it’s too late now, she went on. I can feel time. I can feel the future. She had gotten herself into one of her states, and the Void twisted and throbbed with her displeasure.
 
Gently, Uncle caressed her. For the first time ever, she responded to his touch. Her ranting diminished. Soon after, she realized that her hair needed combing, and that was the beginning of something and probably all for the best.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Very Good Book

    This book is the story of creation as told by The Maker and the unintended consequences of His creation and choices. There is a lot of science at the beginning as well as philosophical conversations. The beginning may be slow for some readers, but as the book progresses, the philosophical conversations become more frequent and the read picks up a bit. Lightman includes a little about other possible species and worlds which I found to be interesting. And I love the philosophical debates between The Maker and his adversary, Belhor, as well as some of the discussion He has with Uncle Deva and Aunt Penelope. They discuss topics such as the meaning of life, the existence of absolutes (whether good can exist in the absence of evil), whether The Maker should give proof of his existence, and more. Alan Lightman is an atheist, although after reading an article he wrote, he is unlike any other atheist I have spoken with or read about. I am not an atheist and the fact that Lightman is, did not sway me from picking up this book or enjoying it. It is only 212 pages and in my opinion, well worth your time. At the very least, it will make you think and would give any book club or discussion group a plethora of discussion topics from which to choose.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 29, 2012

    Hhmvngvbnlnvlfht

    B mnihhk

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    barely recommended

    To begin "Mr. g"'s premise without the concept of time and yet introduce the protagonist's aunt and uncle within the same introduction led me to think the logic would be random, capricious and not very thoughtful. I very much enjoyed Einstein's Dreams and found this to be a great disappointment had trouble finishing it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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