Fun science meets humor and heart in this adventure about a boy who is searching for his mother . . . in a parallel universe.
Stephen Albie Bright leads a happy, normal life. Well, as normal as it gets with two astrophysicist parents who named their son after their favorite scientists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.
But then Albie’s mother dies of cancer, and his world is shattered. When his father explains that she might be alive in a parallel universe, Albie knows he has to find her. So, armed with a box, a laptop, and a banana, Albie sets out to do just that.
Of course, when you’re universe-hopping for the very first time, it’s difficult to find the one you want. As Albie searches, he discovers some pretty big surprises about himself and our universe(s), and stumbles upon the answers to life’s most challenging questions.
A poignant, funny, and heartwarming adventure, this extraordinary novel is for anyone who has ever been curious.
Praise for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright:
“A big book with a big brain, big laughs, and a big, big heart.” —FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE, New York Times bestselling author of Millions and Cosmic
“Hilarious and full of heart.” —PIERS TORDAY, author of The Last Wild
“I’d love this book in all the worlds. Heartbreaking, heartwarming, heartstopping. Amazing.” —HOLLY SMALE, author of the award-winning Geek Girl series
“Heartwarming.” —The Guardian
“Proves the theory that novels about science can be enormous fun.” —The Times Children’s Book of the Week (UK)
“Moving, and exploding with scientific ideas and wonder.” —The Herald (UK)
An Excerpt fromThe Many Worlds of Albie Bright
It was my dad who gave me the idea of using quantum physics to find my mum.
She died two weeks ago. Her funeral was on Tuesday. It was at St. Thomas’s Church in the village. At first Dad said he wanted something called a humanist funeral without any“religious mumbo jumbo,”but Granddad Joe wasn’t having this.“She’s not a humanist,”he’d said, almost spitting out his tea when Dad tried to explain.“She’s my daughter.”
He said that Mum had been christened at St. Thomas’s Church when she was a baby, and he wanted her ashes buried there too, right next to Grandma Joyce, looking out toward the wind turbines and the mine at the edge of the moors.
That’s where Mum used to work--down in the pit. She wasn’t a coal miner; she was a scientist. You see, Clackthorpe Pit is one of the deepest mines in Great Britain, and when the coal ran out, it was scientists searching for the secrets of the universe who moved in there instead. Down at the bottom of the mine, they could use all their high-tech equipment without any cosmic rays interfering with their experiments.
Cosmic rays are radiation from outer space. Every second of the day, dozens of these cosmic rays zip through your body and you don’t even notice a thing. Don’t worry, they won’t turn you into a bug-eyed mutant, but they can seriously mess up the kind of experiments Mum and Dad do, so that’s why they’ve got to hide them away underground.
Mum and Dad used to joke that their first date was a thousand meters beneath the moors. They went down into the mine looking for dark matter--the invisible glue that sticks the universe together--and found each other instead. They got married, and (skipping the embarrassing biology bit) eight months later I showed up. Albert Stephen Bright. I was named after Mum and Dad’s favorite scientists, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, but everyone calls me Albie for short.
According to my mum, my early arrival was a bit like the big bang--a complete surprise, and pretty scary too--and I ended up staying in the hospital until I was nearly four months old. Then, when I finally got better, Mum and Dad took me with them when they went to work at CERN in Switzerland.
CERN is like Disneyland for scientists. It’s where the World Wide Web was invented, and now it’s the home of the Large Hadron Collider. In case you haven’t seen it on TV, the Large Hadron Collider is the biggest machine in the world. It’s sixteen and a half miles long and weighs a whopping 38,000 tons. That’s why it’s called the Large Hadron Collider. Scientists built the LHC to look inside the smallest things in the universe: atoms.
Everything in the universe is made out of atoms--you, me, this piece of paper, even the sun. And the thing about atoms is they’re small--very small. To give you an idea of how incredibly tiny I’m talking here, take a look at the period at the end of this sentence. Had a good look? Now, that period has eight trillion atoms inside it. That’s 8,000,000,000,000 atoms. Count those zeroes. There are more atoms in that period than there are people alive in the world today. That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think? And every atom is made up of even smaller particles called protons, neutrons, and electrons.
When I asked Mum why she needed such a big machine to look inside something so small, she told me that the Large Hadron Collider is like an underground racetrack for atoms, but the winner is the one who has the biggest crash. In the collider, these tiny particles race around and around in circles, getting faster and faster until they smash together at almost the speed of light. Mum said this creates a mini big bang--a bit like the one that made the universe--and by studying this, Mum and Dad hoped to find out exactly how everything began.
There was just one problem. In addition to those mini big bangs, it turned out that smashing atoms together at nearly the speed of light might make mini black holes too. A black hole is like an invisible vacuum cleaner in outer space, sucking up anything that gets too close. This book my dad wrote says that the gravity inside a black hole is so strong that not even light can escape. If you tried to fly a spaceship past for a closer look, you’d get sucked inside the black hole and turned into spaghetti.
Of course, the idea of the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole here on Earth wasn’t that popular. Before you knew it, TV news crews from around the world were turning up at CERN to accuse Mum, Dad, and the rest of the scientists there of plotting to DESTROY THE WORLD! It ended up being my dad who was pushed in front of the TV cameras to explain how this was totally ridiculous and that any black holes that were created inside the collider would evaporate instantly without Earth being sucked inside out.
That’s when he got discovered by a talent scout. A TV company offered Dad the chance to make his own series, Ben Bright’s Guide to the Universe: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Space for People Who Hated Science at School. It turned out that quite a lot of people hated science at school, because eight million people ended up watching. One TV reviewer even nicknamed my dad The Man Who Can Explain Everything, but to be honest, he wasn’t much help with my homework. Most of the time he wasn’t even home, since he was flying around the world filming cool science stuff for his next TV show.
Whenever Dad did turn up to collect me from school, I usually ended up hanging around waiting while my teachers took a selfie with him. It was seriously embarrassing, but Mum didn’t seem to mind. She used to joke that all the time Dad spent being a TV star just gave her more time to get on with the real science, and that she’d win a Nobel Prize before him.
That was before Mum got the news that changed everything.
She’d gone for one of the health checks given to all the scientists at the LHC, and a shadow had shown up on one of the scans. Cancer. And with that one word, Mum and Dad packed up everything and we came back to Great Britain and the NHS.
We moved back into our old house in Clackthorpe, and I watched Dad ferry Mum to the hospital and back again, trying treatment after treatment until the doctors finally said there was no point in trying anything else. I watched Mum lose her hair, her smile, and finally all hope. There was just enough time for me to get angry, and then she was gone, leaving a supermassive black hole behind.
That’s how I ended up standing at the front of St. Thomas’s Church, staring at her coffin. The church was filled with Mum and Dad’s family and friends: Granddad Joe, Aunt Sophie and the twins, scientists from the Large Hadron Collider and from the mine at the edge of the village. There were people from TV and Mum’s old school friends. Everyone had come to say goodbye.
When the vicar started to speak, Dad grabbed hold of my hand and held on to it tightly. It was almost like he wanted to make sure I didn’t disappear on him too, but it just made me feel like a little kid. Granddad Joe was holding on to my other hand, and I had to sit there between them, just wishing I could stick my fingers in my ears. I didn’t want to hear any of it, but I can remember every word.
“Today we come together to remember Charlotte Elizabeth Bright, taken from this world at the age of thirty-nine, leaving behind her husband, Ben, and her son, Albie. Charlotte was not only a devoted wife, loving mother, and beloved daughter, but also a scientist of world renown. With her work at the Large Hadron Collider, Charlotte shined a light into the unexplored corners of the cosmos, helping us all understand a little more about the wonder of creation. Atoms and stars, the speed of light, and the beat of the human heart--all of these come from a power far greater than any machine ever built by the hand of man.
“And now Charlotte is in a place where such wonders will seem commonplace. A place of infinite beauty and splendor, where there is no sickness or pain, no sorrow or despair, only joy everlasting. I speak, of course, of heaven, where Charlotte will find the answers to every question she has ever asked about God’s creation.”
I wanted to put my hand up to ask the vicar my own question, but Dad and Granddad Joe wouldn’t let go, so I just had to sit there and listen to him drone on. It was only after the funeral, when everyone else had gone home and Granddad Joe was snoring in his armchair, that I finally got the chance to ask Dad the question that was bugging me.
“How does the vicar know that Mum’s in heaven?”
Sitting on the sofa, Dad blinked in surprise. As I waited for an answer, he opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no words actually came out.
“I mean, do you believe in heaven?” I asked him.
And that’s when Dad started to tell me about quantum physics.
“Atoms and particles can behave in rather strange ways,” he began. “There’s a famous experiment called the double-slit experiment where scientists fire a single atom at two tiny holes in a wall.” Grabbing hold of a piece of paper and a pen, Dad began to sketch out a diagram to explain.
“Now, sometimes in this experiment the atom goes through the left-hand hole, and sometimes it goes through the right-hand hole, but when nobody is looking, the atom appears to go through both holes at the same time.”
Typical. I ask my dad a simple question and he tries to turn it into an episode of his TV show.
“Different scientists have come up with different theories about how the same atom can be in two places at once,” Dad continued. “But some quantum physicists think that this is evidence of a parallel universe. They say that this universe--the world we live in--is just one of an infinite number of other universes. Every time our world is confronted with a choice--for example, whether the atom goes through the left-hand hole or the right-hand hole--it splits into new parallel worlds where each possibility actually happens.”
“What do you mean ‘new parallel worlds’?” I asked, still struggling to understand exactly why Dad was telling me this.
“Imagine a line of planet Earths all stretching into space,” he said, “one after another like the line for the school bus. Every one of these parallel worlds is just like our planet, but with one tiny difference. In one of these parallel worlds you’ve just won the lottery, but in another world you’ve been eaten by a shark instead. Everything that can happen does happen somewhere.”
Dad pulled that serious-looking face he does on TV whenever he’s explaining a really tricky bit of science.
“Just think about it, Albie. If this is true for a single atom when it goes through both holes in the wall, then it’s true for you and me too. We’re all made out of atoms. Your mum’s cancer was caused by a single cell in her body going rogue, but according to quantum physics there’s a parallel universe where this never happened--your mum never got cancer and she’s still alive and with us today.” He tried to force his face into a smile. “That’s a good thing to think, isn’t it?”
My head spun as the full meaning of what Dad was telling me slowly sank in.
I’d asked Mum once why she had wanted to become a scientist. She’d told me that what she liked best about science was that it didn’t just accept the way things are. Scientists ask questions, make discoveries, and sometimes end up changing the world. You only find out what is possible, she said, by trying to do the impossible.
If quantum physics said that my mum was still alive in some parallel universe, then maybe quantum physics could help me find her.
But before I could find out more about quantum physics, I had to go back to school.
You’d think that going to your mum’s funeral on Tuesday would get you the rest of the week off, but not according to my dad.
“We need to get things back to normal,” he says when I try to protest. “That’s what Mum wanted, and that’s what I’m going to make sure happens. That’s why I’m going back to work at the Deep Mine Lab to check on my experiments, and you need to keep up on all your lessons.”
“But I want to ask you about quantum--”
“We can talk tonight,” he says firmly. “I’ve got to go now, Albie. Be good for Granddad and don’t be late for school.”
Same old excuses. Same old Dad. Always more interested in his work than he is in me. If Mum were here, she’d help me find out what I need to know about quantum physics. Which is kind of ironic if you think about it.
I could ask my mum anything. Why does the cheese on toast always go stringy? Where did all the dinosaurs go? How come people have two nostrils but only one mouth? Whatever question I asked her, she wouldn’t just give me the right answer straightaway. Instead she’d usually ask me what I thought, and then we’d investigate it together. We’d make toasted cheese sandwiches, go looking for fossils, or even practice shooting out snot rockets until we worked out the answer for ourselves.
Now I’m left with The Man Who Can Explain Everything but Who Doesn’t Have Any Time to Talk to Me.
So while Dad heads off underground, I show up late for school, only to find that my classroom has been turned into some mad scientist’s laboratory. Every desk seems to be covered with cardboard tubes, helium balloons, and plastic bottles dripping with gloop. On the nearest table, Victoria Barnes is building a mountain out of mashed potato, while behind her Kiran Ahmed is fixing a parachute to a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Everybody is talking at once, the volume fast approaching the critical level that will send Miss Benjamin into meltdown.
Miss Benjamin is an NQT. This means she’s not quite a teacher. On the plus side, this means we get to do fun stuff like this science fair she’s set up, where everyone has to think up their own amazing experiment. Miss Benjamin even invited my dad to come along and judge the experiments next week, but he’s already said he’ll probably be too busy with his work at the lab.