Skip to main content 

Owing to the screen size of your device, you may obtain a better viewing experience by rotating your device a quarter-turn (to get the so-called “panorama” screen view).

Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

(click for menu)
You are here:  Home  »  Authors  »  Individual  »  Alan Lightman ( = this page)
(Click on any image above to see it at full size.)
You are here:  Home  »  Authors  »  Individual  »  Alan Lightman ( = this page)

You can get a site directory by clicking on the “hamburger” icon () in the upper right of this page.
Or you can search this site with Google (standard Google-search rules apply).
(Be aware that “sponsored” links to other sites will appear atop the actual results.)

Search term(s):

Welcome to the Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works web site!

You have apparently come to this page from a link on a search engine or another site. If this is your first visit here, I much recommend that you take a few minutes to look over the introductory material accessible via the red “Introductory” zone of the Site Menu available from the “hamburger” icon in the upper right of this (and every) page. An understanding of the purposes and principles of organization of this site will, I hope and believe, much augment your experience here, for this page and in general. You can simply click this link to get at the site front page, which, unsurprisingly, is the best place to start. Thank you for visiting.

Alan Lightman

Quick page jumps:

Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of Alan Lightman and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Lightman.

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Lightman: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)

I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Lightman tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Lightman worthy; in sum, to help you rank Alan Lightman (and the works by Lightman listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.

A Few Words About Alan Lightman

My knowledge of Lightman’s fiction is limited to one book, his much-praised novel Einstein’s Dreams. (He has written two other novels of a speculative-fiction nature—cited farther below—which I have not yet read.)

Einstein’s Dreams is actually less a novel than a set of related but disparate meditations (one cannot really call them “stories” in the usual sense). Each, presented as a dream the young Einstein has while still formulating his theories of relativity, explores some different conceptualization of what the universe would be like if the nature of time were in some way—a way unique to each “dream”—different from what it actually is (so far as we, and Einstein at that time, can grasp them).

What makes this little book a treasure are two things: first, the ingenuity of the various visualizations Lightman—an expert physicist—conceives, and the curious universes that each implies; and second, the luminous prose in which Lightman sets forth each “dream”.

Here is one example:

It is late afternoon, and, for a brief moment, the sun nestles in a snowy hollow of the Alps, fire touching ice. The long slants of light sweep from the mountains, cross a restful lake, cast shadows in a town below.

In many ways, it is a town of one piece and a whole. Spruce and larch and arolla pine form a gentle border north and west, while higher up are fire lilies, purple gentians, alpine columbines. In pastures near the town graze cattle for making butter, cheese, and chocolate. A little textile mill produces silks, ribbons, cotton clothes. A church bell rings. The smell of smoked beef fills the streets and alleyways.

On closer look, it is a town in many pieces. One neighborhood lives in the fifteenth century. Here, the storeys of the rough-stone houses are joined by outdoor stairs and galleries, while the upper gables gape and open to the winds. Moss grows between the stone slabs of the roofs. Another section of the village is a picture of the eighteenth century. Burnt red tiles lie angled on the straight-lined roofs. A church has oval windows, corbeled loggias, granite parapets. Another section holds the present, with arcades lining every avenue, metal railings on the balconies, façades made of smooth sandstone. Each section of the village is fastened to a different time.

And here, one more:

In this world, time is a visible dimension. Just as one may look off in the distance and see houses, trees, mountain peaks that are landmarks in space, so one may look out in another dimension and see births, marriages, deaths that are signposts in time, stretching off dimly into the far future. And just as one may choose whether to stay in one place or run to another, so one may choose his motion along the axis of time. Some people fear traveling far from a comfortable moment. They remain close to one temporal location, barely crawling past a familiar occasion. Others gallop recklessly into the future, without preparation for the rapid sequence of passing events.

At the polytechnic in Zürich, a young man and his mentor sit in a small library, quietly discussing the young man’s doctoral work. It is the month of December, and a fire blazes in the fireplace with the white marble mantel. The young man and the teacher sit in pleasant oak chairs next to a round table, strewn with pages of calculations. The research has been difficult. Each month for the past eighteen months, the young man has met his professor here in this room, asked his professor for guidance and hope, gone away to work for another month, come back with new questions. The professor has always provided answers. Again today, the professor explains. While his teacher is speaking, the young man gazes out the window, studies the way snow clings to the spruce beside the building, wonders how he will manage on his own once he has received his degree. Sitting in his chair, the young man steps hesitatntly forward in time, only minutes into the future, shudders at the cold and uncertainty. He pulls back. Much better to stay in this moment, beside the warm fire, beside the warm help of his mentor. Much better to stop movement in time. And so, on this day in the small library, the young man remains. His friends pass by, look in briefly to see him stopped in this moment, continue on to the future at their own paces.

Note well that besides the lambent prose and rich imaginings, a subtle moral is being expounded there; that is so in many if not all of the “dreams”. Lightman is heavily invested in moral questions (as most of his many non-fiction writings make manifest), but here he delivers them softly and gently.

(While I have yet to read either of his other two speculative-fiction works, I can say this: Mr g: a Novel About the Creation is pretty much just what it says: a parable about God’s creating of the universe, told with a light touch; and Ghost tells of a man whose life is changed by a brief moment in which he has seen a ghost, which event is the only “speculative” thing in the book.)

Return to the page top. ↑

Other Alan Lightman Resources

Alan Lightman Resources on the Web

Lightman has his own web site (maintained by MIT).

A few of the pages—there are many—relating to Lightman include:

There are also numerous interviews with him on line; here are some:

Lightman has written some book reviews for The New York Review of Books; here’s a linked list of those reviews. The Review also published a David Levine caricature of Lightman (which is copyrighted material).

Return to the page top. ↑

Alan Lightman Resources in Print

I could find none.

Return to the page top. ↑

Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Alan Lightman ****

(For more possible titles by this author, see the “Unrated Books by Rated Authors” page.)

Return to the page top. ↑

Disclaimers  |  Privacy Policy

owl logo This site is one of The Owlcroft Company family of web sites. Please click on the link (or the owl) to see a menu of our other diverse user-friendly, helpful sites.
owl logo Like all our sites, this one is hosted at the highly regarded Pair Networks, whom we strongly recommend—click the link to learn more. (To get 20% off on hosting fees if you move to Pair, use code pairref-FyXypEEk)

(Note: All Owlcroft systems run on Ubuntu Linux and we heartily recommend it to everyone—click on the link for more information).

All content copyright © 2024 The Owlcroft Company
(excepting quoted material, which is believed to be Fair Use).

This web page is strictly compliant with the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) HyperText Markup Language (HTML5) Protocol versionless “Living Standard” and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Cascading Style Sheets (CSS3) Protocol v3  — because we care about interoperability. Click on the logos below to test us!

This page was last modified on Sunday, 4 February 2024, at 5:32 pm Pacific Time.