We had the honour of chatting with the super intelligent Femi Fadugba on his nerdy (it’s a compliment!)The Upper World.
Esso is running out of time and into trouble. When he discovers he has the ability to see glimpses of the future, he becomes haunted by a vision of a bullet fired in an alleyway with devastating consequences. A generation later, fifteen-year-old Rhia is desperately searching for answers. Whether on the roads of South London or in the mysterious Upper World, Esso and Rhia’s fates must collide.
It is super lovely to see how The Upper World reflects your experiences as a physicist and a tutor. How were you feeling when you added all the equations and diagrams to your manuscript? Were you anxious that editors and readers would find them too complicated, or were you mostly excited?
If you saw my first draft, you’d laugh – it had almost as much maths as words! I’m glad we included it, though (after skimming it down). Very few people will bother carefully reading the E=mc2 derivations at the back. But for the handful who do, there’s a new dimension to the book (and to spacetime) that’s there to explore. That makes the nerd in me pretty gassed.
In academia, how do physicists in general view time travel?
To answer this, I think you got to break down time travel into 3 categories:
A) being able to move forward through time at a uniform pace: All physicists (and non-physicists!) dig this since it’s how we normally view and experience time.
B) being able to move forward through time at an accelerated/decelerated pace: All physicists believe in this one too since it’s backed by Einstein’s Relativity and real-life experiments (e.g. at CERN where they spin particles round so fast that they end up ageing slower because it turns out, speed affects the flow of time).
C) being able to move backwards in time: No one agrees on this one! Some think the grandfather paradox forbids it (i.e. you could go back in time and kill your grandad, he wouldn’t have slept with your nan, which means you wouldn’t have been born, which means you wouldn’t have gone back to kill your grandad, which means he does sleep with your nan which means… SYSTEM ERROR.) … Some reckon there are workarounds to this paradox and specific situations where you can travel back. And then, you have some (like me!) who believe the future influences the past and present just as much as the past influences the present and future. The list of views is quite long, and it’s not surprising – if you figure out time, you probably figure out consciousness, metaphysics, and all sorts of mad, otherworldly stuff with it. So, a definitive view of time would be worth the climb, but that climb has proven too steep and spooky so far.
The allegory of the cave is most often linked to the philosophical discussion on how one perceives truth. How/when did you think to link it to time travel?
The Upper World (which is described as bright, and full of awe and wonder) is a view of things from eternity: i.e. where past, present and future coexist. And weirdly, Einstein’s equations, which provide the ‘truest’ picture of time we have – describes time this way. And meanwhile, us humans are trapped in time, where the future is unlit, and the past is just an echo – a cave.
How does your experience as a science tutor help you portray Rhia and Esso’s relationship?
I think it helped me remember just how hard it always is at the beginning. Most of the time I tutored, it was with a kid who didn’t want to be there. And that was usually due to a combination of them thinking they were missing out on something more fun than science/maths, them being embarrassed about their ability, and them fearing our lesson would go no better than all the others. One of the things Esso says to Rhia in their first lesson is ‘believing is seeing.’ I think as a teacher, you have to believe your student is something that they aren’t yet. And if you do, they often can end up becoming it.. (i.e. the future influences the present! lol)
Congratulations on the Netflix adaptation. Which scene from the book are you most excited to see come alive on the screen?
The first time they see the Upper World. We’ve got to nail that one.
Why did you set the timeline as now and 15 years later, instead of 15 years ago and now?
I’m not sure, to be honest. But I guess since my book’s about predicting the future, it makes sense to try it out!
Your career path has changed a lot throughout the years. What would you tell the Femi from 15 years ago? And what do you think Femi would be doing 15 years from now?
I’d tell the Femi of 15 years ago to relax, trust God a bit more, and enjoy the ride. I’ve got no idea what I’ll be doing 15 years from now, champ. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so just enjoying this sunny August afternoon.
Get your copy of The Upper World here.