The good news? David Mitchell’s completed a new book! The bad? None of us will be alive to read it when it’s finally released.
That’s because Mitchell’s book, From Me Flows What You Call Time, was written for something called the Future Library Project. Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood was the first to contribute a work to the project, which archives pieces in a time capsule that won’t be opened for about 100 years. In 2016, Mitchell became the second celebrated novelist to participate. From Me Flows What You Call Time won’t be revealed until 2114.
Mitchell tells The Guardian that the project is about optimism:
“It’s a little glimmer of hope in a season of highly depressing news cycles, that affirms we are in with a chance of civilisation in 100 years,” said Mitchell. “Everything is telling us that we’re doomed, but the Future Library is a candidate on the ballot paper for possible futures. It brings hope that we are more resilient than we think: that we will be here, that there will be trees, that there will be books, and readers, and civilisation.”
The one and only time I met Mitchell was in 2010, when he stopped at Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore for a reading and signing while he was promoting The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He was greeted like a rock star, and the store’s employees asked those of us in the crowd to form a proper line instead of the blob of people that had gathered round the signing table. I’d driven from Westchester County and wasn’t in any hurry to get back, so I queued at the rear.
When Mitchell finally worked his way through hundreds of autographs and I got to hand him my copies of Thousand Autumns and Cloud Atlas, he admitted he was a bit drunk — the good people at Greenlight had stocked up on sake as the thematically appropriate beverage of choice for the evening, and since signing books is thirsty work, they kept Mitchell’s glass topped off.
There’s that old saying warning against meeting your idols because they’re bound to be disappointing, but what people say about Mitchell is true — he’s an incredibly gracious, nice guy who was more than happy to shoot the shit for a few minutes while he signed. I thanked him for staying for hours to sign every last book, and he said no, thank you for waiting for so long. Meanwhile, I was terrified — I kept thinking “I’m talking to David fucking Mitchell! What is he thinking? Oh God…he’s like an infinitely more imaginative version of Data from Star Trek, who knows what’s going through his head right now? Don’t say anything stupid, don’t say anything stupid!”
All of this is just a long winded way of getting to my point, which is that, with the aid of sake, Mitchell was happily divulging secrets about his next novel, the one that would become The Bone Clocks. We’d gotten onto the topic of science fiction, and he was talking about the end of the book, when heroine Holly Sykes is struggling to raise her grandchildren in an oil-depleted world that’d regressed to tribalism. He must have read my face, because he suddenly stopped and said, “But it’s probably not going to be that bad!”
No, Mr. Mitchell, I’d like to think it won’t be.
In fact, From Me Flows What You Call Time is a great reason to start developing cryopreservation in earnest. Us Mitchell fans could work through our young years, retire to cryopreservation pods for a few decades, and wake up to freshly-printed copies of the new Mitchell novel!
My other favorite novelist, the Welsh-born physicist and prolific science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds, fills his books with variations on stasis — sometimes they’re called reefersleep caskets, other times they’re called frostwatch cabinets or cryopods. Reynolds uses them to tunnel his characters through time — with the stasis effect of cryopreservation itself, and the way time slows to a crawl at relativistic speeds, some of his memorable human characters are able to personally witness galactic turns, chronicling history as entire civilizations rise and fall across the galaxy.
It’s awe-inspiring stuff. Like the vast majority of the tech in Reynolds’ books, it’s also founded in real science. We’re not quite there yet — scientists know how to freeze people, but so far no one’s figured out a way to store and revive living beings without the process rupturing living tissue on the cellular level, killing the sleeper in the process. But hey, maybe we can get Elon Musk or some other visionary with deep pockets to become a passionate David Mitchell fan and fund the research necessary to make cryosleep a reality. Then we can all snooze away a few decades, then wake up for the ultimate book party. I’m in.