After waking from a nap, Mr. g, a thoughtful, tentative resident of the Void, decides to create the universe. But this isn’t the same story we’ve heard for millennia. This creator, who is part scientist, part philosopher, agonizes over his choices in a way that’s recognizably human.How many universes should he create? How many dimensions? (Two might be “unnecessarily confining” and four or more “could lead to the misplacing of small objects,” he tells us.)
Mr. g begins with time and space, followed by his first creation of matter: a chair. A few organizing principles provide order for all the matter that will eventually inhabit the space: electrons, neutrinos, planets, stars…and eventually living creatures.
Two trinities accompany us on the tour of the universe. The forces of good are Mr. g, Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva. The forces of not so good are Belhor, who is Mr. g’s intellectual sparring partner, and two Baphomets, representing folly and malice.
Hardly an objective observer, Mr. g shares his own reactions to the beauty of his creations. “Ocean waves were music in material form,” he tells us. “Energy fields lay across the cosmos in vast, floppy blankets…”. He is moved and even altered by what he’s made, prompting the profoundly loaded question, “Is it possible that the created can create its creator?”But what about animate matter? This question gives Mr. g pause and here the novel itself comes alive. Should living creatures have free will? Should they be immortal? Mr. g is deeply troubled by the suffering among living creatures and grapples with his role in their lives.
Alan Lightman is a playful and imaginative author, as he was in Einstein’s Dreams, and his own creation, this quirky novel, is as profound as it is charming. He shows us how the universe is put together from just a few rules and elements, how creation shapes the creator, and how to make dresses from galaxies. And, crucially, he reminds us that relativity can apply to both physics and morality.
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.