David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks: A Glossary

I finished David Mitchell’s novel The Bone Clocks during a long flight. In the sky, surrounded by strangers, I didn’t want to leave the world he created. So I wrote a glossary defining the acts, events, and inhabitants that make that world so compelling. If you’ve read the book, I hope it will help you remain in or return to Mitchell’s world. If you haven’t read it, perhaps it will inspire you to pick it up.

Act of Hiatus (n. phrase): A mental feat performed by atemporals, whereby a fugue state is induced in the subject that prevents the registering of experience for a given period of time; may be used for benevolent or malevolent purposes. (Note: I’d appreciate an Act of Hiatus now and then.)

Anchorites (prop. n., plural): A cabal of Carnivores who survive through a ritualistic collection of black wine, stalking mortal psychosoterics for years in order to feed a supply of supercharged soul matter to drink up at their quarterly gatherings. (See Carnivore.)

Atemporal (n.): A human being who exists outside time–or in a rare relationship with time. Some atemporals do not age, like vampires, by feeding on the souls of psychosoteric mortals. Others perform a cycle of ingression and egression, occupying (colonizing? stealing?) the body of an ordinary mortal until it ages or dies. When this happens, most atemporals take a forty-nine day break post-egression, before finding a new body to steal. These are known as returnees; alternatively, sojourners “just move onto a new body when the old one’s worn out.” Nobody knows why atemporals exist, whether they evolved or were made. (Note: Sojournees and returnees are the good guys, but even good guys have to do some bad things in the name of The Script. (See Carnivore; The Script.)

The Blind Cathar (prop. n.): A powerful soul who occupies The Chapel of the Dusk, rather than a human body or an incoporeal form. (Note: That’s right. The Blind Cathar is a building with a soul, but also with a pretty hazardous crack in a load-bearing wall, because “faith requires doubt, like matter requires anti-matter. That crack is the Blind Cathar’s doubt.”) (See The Chapel of the Dusk.)

Bone Clock (n. phrase): Human beings (or perhaps any form of veterbrate life subject to decay with time). Use it in a sentence: “Using the brother as bait was clever, but look what you’re reduced to now, Horologist. Trying to hide in this slut-gashed bone clock.” (See Horology.)

Carnivore (n.): An atemporal who does not age due to the period ingestion of black wine, made from the souls of psychosoteric mortals; “carnivores are drug addicts and their drug is artificial longevity.” (Note: Carnivores are ordinary humans before they taste black wine.) (See Atemporal.)

The Chapel of the Dusk (prop. n.): A chapel that sits on the precipice of  The Dusk. (See The Blind Cathar; The Dusk.)

Cord (n.): A tentacle of soul matter that allow one soul entry into another. (Note: The existence of cords is a key to the novel’s central speculation about how life forms feel interconnected despite the fact that consciousness separates us.)

The Counterscript (prop. n.): The way things might turn out if the good guys can outfox the bad so that narrative and time take a different turn. (See The Script.)

The Dusk (prop. n.): “It’s a beautiful, fearsome sight. All the souls, the pale lights, crossing over, blown by the Seaward Wind to the Last Sea.” (See The Last Sea.)

Egress (v.): To evacuate a body, by squirting one’s soul through the chakra-eye of that body. (Note: It seems to me that Mitchell is fucking with a doctrine of the early twenty-first-century–that we know enough to presume dualism is a quaint artifact of a time when people believed in the fantasy of souls. The invocation of chakras may be evidence for this, in the sense that Mitchell is drawing on a Hindu concept appropriate by New Age westerners. In the horological world of his novel, flaky American mystics intuited partial truths that eluded materialist neuroscientists whose methodological myopia prevented them from realizing that there may be forms of matter that operate outside the laws of electricity and chemistry, even though their physicist colleagues down the hall would have told them had they asked. I think it’s doctrine in general that Mitchell is fucking with, rather than the particular beliefs of well-intentioned neuroscientists or new age philosophers. (See The Script.)

 Horology (n.): The study of time. This is a word in our ordinary world. In the novel, horologists are more than philosophers. They put theory into practice–playing with time, manipulating it, stopping it, doing cartwheels through it. 

Ingress (v.): To enter the mind of another, through the chakra-eye.

The Last Sea (prop. n.): The place beyond The Dusk, “which, of course, isn’t really a sea at all,” where souls subject to the laws of time go when the bodies they inhabit die. Nobody in the novel has been there, or seen or felt it: “If consciousness exists beyond the Last Sea and I go there today, I’ll miss New York more than anywhere.”) (See The Dusk.

Mind-walking (v. / gerund)One mind in possession of another’s body.” (Note: Mitchell hints at the stakes of mind-walking through Ed Brubeck, an ordinary mortal journalist on assignment in Iraq, when he tells readers, “I’d give a year of my life to be inside the prime minster’s head.” If we could mind-walk, we might understand why Tony Blair could have been suasioned by George W. Bush when he wanted help ratcheting up global turmoil.)

Psychosedate (v.): To induce an anesthetic state through the telekinetic manipulation of the electro-chemistry of another’s brain. 

Psychosoteric (n.): An otherwise ordinary human who experience inexact precogntition, which is often difficult to interpret. Psychosoterics are the favorite food group of carnivorous atemporals. (See Atemporal; Carnivore.)

Redact (v.): To erase memory. It’s imprecise. Psychosoterics can erase a particular memory, but not without collateral damage to other memories presumably connected to the target memory. (See Psychosoteric.)

Scansion (v.): To conduct a comprehensive survey of another’s memory. (Note: The implication is the memory is like poetry, perhaps in its capacity to be precise and ambiguous at the same time.)

The Script (prop. n.): An immaterial narrative documenting all time, to which psychoterics and atemporals have limited access. Something like a Bible for atemporals. However, even the most adept atemporals are uncertain about the veracity of the script’s contents, possibly because time is too labile and contingent for any text to be trusted.

Suasion (v.): To alter another’s beliefs or convictions telepathically. (Note: Suasion comes in handy when other people refuse to cooperate with one’s plans.)

Subsay (v.): To speak telepathically. Variations indicate a range of telepathic communication, including subshout, subremind, subwarn, subsend, subcall, and subask.

Subvoice (n.): An agent of telepathic communication; generally used to describe agents whose identities are unknown. (You wouldn’t need to say “I hear a subvoice” if you knew who was invading your mind.)

Transverse (v.): To move through solid matter. To do so, one must  detach one’s soul from one’s body. To be good at it, one must also be “nasty” (in Janet Jackson’s sense of the word, meaning a badass mix of good intentions and a willingness to transgress.)