Alan Lightman, Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation (London: Corsair, 2012), 214pp
For a story that follows a universe from its moment of creation to its eventual demise many eons later, Mr. g is told with a remarkable brevity. In a shade over 200 pages, it touches upon practically every relevant aspect of science, spirituality and philosophy. The first half of the novel, where g creates matter and decides on physical laws, deals primarily with the science part, and it is interesting to conceive of how matter became stars, planets and, eventually, intelligent life forms. The second half begins to deal with the consequences of the emergence of intelligent life. Mr. g debates with Belhor (a Satan-like figure, the 'dim mirror' of g) about various philosophical and spiritual matters, such as free will, the necessity of evil, and so on. The second part of the book reminded me somewhat of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, both for its brevity and the concepts it describes, particularly the interconnectedness of all things (in Mr. g, this is done through noting how a woman's body is broken up after death and the various atoms are scattered, becoming over millennia parts of many other different living and non-living things). I finished Mr. g with the same sort of feeling I left with Siddhartha, a warm contentedness about life and the universe.
If I could make one criticism of Mr. g, it is that - due to the novel's brevity - these concepts are not discussed in depth. We are treated to observations on many important concepts, but they only get one or two pages to themselves before they are resolved or deferred by Mr. g. But Alan Lightman does well to cover many of the important dilemmas that arise out of creation, and of course one can look elsewhere if they wish to ponder these concepts further. In that sense, Mr. g serves almost as a primer for such matters, a playground of scientific, philosophical, metaphysical and spiritual ideas.
It is also interesting how Lightman allows spirituality and science/rationality to complement one another. Mr. g is shown as accepting the desirability of this, as it allows his living, mortal creatures to glimpse, imagine, or become inspired by immortality and the wonderment of the universe beyond their own lives, even if they cannot truly understand it. The most interesting part for me was that Mr. g is not depicted as infallible. In relation to the universe, he is omnipotent, omniscient, etc., but in the Void, outside the universe, he is not. He is more or less a science nerd and the universe is his experiment - he observes and adapts as he goes along as new data emerges. Lightman suggests that g did not even intend to create life, certainly not intelligent life, although he did not intervene to prevent it. Rather, animate matter in his universe is part of natural growth, like mould growing in his own petri dish. Furthermore, g does not intervene in the individual lives of his creatures, and his sparring with Belhor on these matters is an intriguing part of the novel.
Mr. g, then, is not the God of our monotheistic religions. In a chapter on religion, g observes how some of his creatures have created religions - ideas about how the universe came into being. Therefore, whilst rejecting religion as truth, Lightman's novel is not irreligious or anti-religious. As stated above, the author allows spirituality and science to complement one another. How can something of such dazzling complexity have arisen out of nothingness? Pondering such matters of creation inspires within me more awe and cause for wonderment than any biblical tract or religious fable. Mr. g encourages such wonderment, and must be recommended reading as it is an enjoyable romp, something which is rare to say about books dealing with such weighty and complex matters.