Review: Mr g, by Alan Lightman

>>Published: January 2012

>>Finally got around to it: February 2012

“Such little lives,” said Belhor. “Wouldn’t you agree? But there is also something of grandeur in them. Not in the individual lives. The individuals are just tiny specks, nothing. But in the monstrous jellied masses of them, the crowds, the communes, and planets, there is something of grandeur. They have thoughts. And they strive.”

“They strive for what they might attain,” I said. “And they also strive for what they cannot attain. Most of them yearn for immortality. They want to live forever, even though they do not know what forever means.”

Belhor and I were walking together through the Void, just the two of us. He, as I, could hear the voices. “Yes, it is strange,” he said, “that they wish for immortality. As far as they know, immortality could be unending torture and excruciating pain.”

“But they understand very well its opposite,” I said. “They understand mortality.”

“That they do,” said Belhor. “They see death and dying all around them. They see other living things grow old, parents and loved ones. They see skin become brittle and dry. They see their ability to move slowly decrease, hearing and seeing diminish, internal organs fail one by one. Disease.”

“You always describe things so grimly,” I said. “Death is the way of all matter.”

“It is your law,” said Belhor. “It is what you wanted.”


Einstein’s Dreams author Alan Lightman offers an unconventional take on God: as a youthful renaissance soul; the Peter Parker-esque apple of his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva’s eyes, naturally gifted in music, mathematics, and physics. Mr g’s take on God is that of an ambitious, somewhat childlike creator who, on an impatient whim, decides to create the universe.

Each chapter in Mr g deals with another aspect of creation to be considered when designing a universe from scratch: “Time”, “Space”, “Matter”. Even basic operational laws and principles of action and reaction are matters of consequence and consideration for the young artist-cum-scientist.

The God portrayed in Mr g is less the omniscient, omnipresent force of Christian mythology and more a curious philosopher. He approaches creation as a means of giving his own existence a purpose; it is not about us, about unnamed mistakenly sentient beings created not purposefully but as a natural reaction to the basic articles of existence, as decreed by God. Rather it is about his existence, with his aunt and uncle, and the undefined parameters of immortality. Mr g does not philosophize the whys and wherefores of God’s existence—only that he does exist, and that his existence is as meaningless as any other until he chooses to create a universe (or series of universes) to which his presence is of great importance.

Yin and Yang—the light side of the force and the dark side: with the creation of the universe and life within, there is also the creation of a counterweight for God—the enigmatic Belhor (see also: Belial, Baalial, Beliar). Belhor, though somewhat troublesome, is not presented as the fallen angel to God’s throne. He is, in Mr g, God’s philosophical other half—the question to his authority. Where, regarding the creation of sentient life, God might say:

“Tell me, what do you think is the meaning of these creatures? What would you say is the meaning of their lives?”

And Belhor would respond:

“What meaning could they have? They amuse me. That is their meaning. But whether they have meaning in and of themselves? That would be giving these little things far more credit than they deserve.”

Mr g is ambitious in concept, but not in scope. The philosophy presented is not particularly new or unconventional. However, it is in the humanizing of a creator as an artist with need of a canvas, as lacking definition until choosing to define existence for his self, where Lightman’s novella finds its surest footing.

Similar in tone to Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination, Mr g is physics-and-spirituality-light from Pantheon: easily digestible yet engaging. There’s just enough fuel for curiosity and speculation in Mr g to hold one’s attention through to the end, but not so much as to drive away non-believers or anger the devout. A well struck balance.

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