aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 2: Arise To Spiritual Strife

Jerusalem is builded as a city that is in the public domain.

May 10, 2017
San Jose

Right down the road from Berryessa Station there’s a big house with a hidden basement. The people who live there – usually six to eight of us, rarely the same from one month to the next – are the sort of artsy college students and aimless twenty-somethings who think that houses should have names. We call it Ithaca. Six days out of the week it’s an ordinary group house, with the ordinary arguments about who has to cook and when the living room is going to get cleaned. But on Wednesday nights people from all over the Bay Area gather in the basement to hold the secret rites of a faith banned throughout the civilized world.

I took out my key and walked inside. I wasn’t alone. The celebrants looked a lot like the rest of Silicon Valley – mostly male twenty or thirty-somethings in jeans and hoodies, shuffling in awkwardly, grumbling about traffic. Their banality wasn’t quite an act, but call it a facade. These were dangerous men. The enforcers of the Shrouded Constitution have cracked the mobs, cracked the cartels, but these men of the ratty t-shirts and faded jeans they have not cracked. A resistance that has never been broken. A cabal that spans centuries and crosses continents. Fanatical, implacable, deadly.

They were the Unitarian Universalist Church.

The cracks in the sky, the death of Reverend Stevens, the Shrouded Constitution; all of these had rent what was once a more innocent faith and driven it underground, forced it to change tactics. These were the new breed of Unitarians. A host of singers, cantors, open-sorcerors, Marxist-Lurianists, rebels, seekers, counterculture types. All the sundry outcasts Ginsberg had called “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” Never mind that the ancient heavenly connection had since been definitively located in a giant hurricane three hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana, or that by this point the machinery of night was pretty much held together with duct tape and bubble gum. They burned still.

One of them stood by the makeshift podium. Her hair was in something that made mohawks look conservative, and although you couldn’t see it now she had the flaming chalice symbol of Unitarianism tattooed on her shoulder. She was Erica Lowry, our fearless leader, and editor of the Stevensite Standard alternative newspaper. Also the leaseholder for our group home. Also Ana’s cousin. She was chatting with a guy in a leather jacket, but she lit up when she saw me.

“Aaron!” she said. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it!”

“Stuff happened at work today,” I said, which was a candidate for Understatement Of The Century. “Also, the CalTrain was delayed in Palo Alto for like ten minutes, for kabbalistic reasons.”

Erica was used to this sort of commentary from me. She shot me a smile and turned back to the guy in the leather jacket.

On the other side of the room I spotted Ana Thurmond, love of my life and partner in Biblical whale pun telepathy. She was reading a book and pretending to ignore everybody, while actually shooting me psychic commentary about some of the more unusual celebrants. [Oh no,] she thought at me, as Bill Dodd and Karen Happick came through the door arm in arm, [they’ve finally started dating. God Most High help them both.]

Before I had time to reply, Erica had taken the podium and called the meeting to order. In accordance with tradition too ancient and hoary to describe, she began by reciting a poem from a world spiritual tradition in which she found personal meaning:

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ’twixt that darkness and that light.”

It was “The Present Crisis”, by James Russell Lowell, Unitarian poet of the 1850s. Some say that the Unitarians of old were not as badass as they were today, but anyone who has read the poetry of James Russell Lowell knows this is not true. The Unitarians were always badass.

“Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.”

At this point I couldn’t help stealing a glance at the lone angel in the room. Pirindiel was certainly tall and beautiful, but now he had a kind of awkward deer-in-the-headlights look, as if he was worried somebody was going to ask him to enshield them from all wrong and he wasn’t going to know what to do.

“Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

There was something about James Russell Lowell that made him perfect for the counterculture. Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne. The system was evil. If it were not evil, it would not be the system. The persecuted are righteous; if they were not righteous, they would not be persecuted. Ana was the Augustine Distinguished Scholar in Theodicy at Stanford and she hated this stuff.

“We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.'”

“Yes,” said Erica, and her voice reverberated through the crowded basement. “They enslave their childrens’ children who make compromise with sin.”

Then she began her sermon.

She talked about Royal Colorado. How just five days ago, a cell of Unitarians much like our own had been meeting peacefully in a home in Denver, and someone had tipped off UNSONG, and the men in black had come for them. It should have been much like my own confrontation earlier that day. Lectures. Maybe some arrests, followed by short trials, followed by fines or probations. Or who knows? Maybe they would have tried to make an example of them. It didn’t matter, because someone had spoken the Tempestuous Name. One of the congregants? Acting out of shock and self-defense when he saw the door shatter to splinters and a dozen men pointing guns at him? He spoke the Tempestuous Name, and then the guns started shooting, and by the time it was over two UNSONG agents and eleven Unitarians were dead. The biggest disaster to hit the Church since it was driven underground, maybe. And the worst part would be that the government wouldn’t apologize. They’d blame the whole thing on the Unitarians, plaster the news with pictures of the two slain agents, and crack down on us twice as hard.

And Erica spoke about this, and she spoke well. She hit all the stops. She talked about how grief-stricken we were as part of the global body of Unitarians, and how enraged we were as Untied States citizens. She talked about how we must stand courageously and not let this break our resolve. She even made a token reference on how we must not let this turn us to violence, even though she kind of liked violence and it was hard for her to say it convincingly.

“I can’t tell you what to feel,” she concluded. “All I can say is that they knew what they were getting into. And so do we. We swore to spread the thousand thousand Names of God. And even though I can’t tell you the same won’t happen here, I can promise the church leadership is doing everything it can to ensure that it won’t. So a few words about security from our choir director, Brother Aaron.”

Yes. God Most High help me, I was supposed to offer words on security. Me, the guy who had gotten a $70 fine earlier that day for using a Divine Name to wake me up because the coffee pot was empty.

One of my few true talents is an ability to stride confidently to the front of things, as if I am going to someplace I have every right to be. I strode confidently to the front of the assembly.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Brother Aaron. The short version of our safety plan is that we are going to be extremely boring and do everything by the book and not stand out or draw attention to ourselves in any way.”

(“Hi,” I said in my imagination. “I’m Aaron Smith-Teller. I know we’re not supposed to give out our full name at church, but since you know where I live and what I look like, it’s kind of silly to haggle over full names, isn’t it? We should probably stop pretending that our cute little Alcoholics Anonymous game gives any real protection. If UNSONG ever really wants us, we’re all fucked.”)

“Whenever you use a protected Name of God,” I continued “UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear, and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads, can track your location. In practice they rarely do, because a million people do that every day and they don’t have a million agents or a million jail cells to put people in. But if a dozen people use all sorts of Names in the same spot every day, they know it’s a place where singers hang out and then if they’re bored then they come and raid you. This is probably what happened in Colorado.”

(“We have no idea who UNSONG can and can’t track,” I said in my imagination. “The Coloradans weren’t stupid enough to consistently use Names in their hideout because no one is that stupid. So something else went wrong. We could do everything by the book and all get arrested tomorrow.”)

“So,” I said “here are some things you can do if you’re an idiot who wants to be caught. You can use Names in your own house. You can use Names here. You can use a Name in the same spot multiple times. And you can use a really new Name that lots of bigwigs care about.”

(“So,” I said in my imagination “Here are some things I have done multiple times. Used Names I have no idea what they do. Used Names in ways that caused giant catastrophes. Used the same Name that caused a catastrophe again, just to see if it would magically work the second time, which it never does. Been something like the third person on Earth to use a Name I didn’t even need, just for the adrenaline rush and street cred.”)

“Last,” I said, “remember that we can limit any damage that happens. UNSONG’s got to operate within the law. No one can torture you or force information out of you. They can’t even silence you without a court order. As soon as you realize you’re in trouble, sing yourself the Confounding Name and forget all about us. If that doesn’t work, reveal one of our false leads to them. They’ll go in, see the evidence we planted, and figure we got spooked and abandoned it just before they arrived.”

(“Last,” I said in my imagination, “Director-General Ngo is by all accounts terrifying, and it’s really easy here in our nice safe basement to say that they can’t torture you, but someone in Colorado said something and I don’t know why. The fact that we left a couple of old books and CDs in an abandoned factory might or might not fool UNSONG’s finest, but I wouldn’t want to have to be the shmuck who tests it.)

“Oh,” I added. “If worst comes to worst, and secret police burst through those doors right when I finish talking, no Tempestuous Name, please. Better we all get a couple years in jail for criminal copyright infringement than die.”

(I said the same thing in my imagination, only more condescendingly.)

“We will now begin choir.”

Fifty years ago, Apollo 8 cracked the sky open and people started discovering the Names of God. A decade later, corporations started patenting them, demanding license fees for anyone who wanted to work miracles with them. A decade after that, they codified the whole system into international law and created UNSONG – the United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God – to enforce it.

And a decade after that, people started asking: why are we allowing this? Everything we know about God suggests that He loves all humans and is not a fan of the rich getting richer. First came Reverend Stevens and his book. Then came the political movement, growing out of local Unitarian churches that insisted that God loved everyone alike and therefore everyone alike must know His Names. And finally, when every legitimate avenue of resistance had been crushed, there came groups like ours, stealing what Names we could find and teaching them to one another in hidden forests or dark basements. Spreading the illegal knowledge in preparation for…well…okay, the endgame wasn’t exactly our strong point. Reverend Stevens had said that once enough people knew the Names, it would spark a revolution in consciousness, an immanentization of the eschaton as the holy essence reverberated within the minds of all life. Sure. Let’s go with that.

But here I was. After getting expelled from Stanford, and taking minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, and being treated like scum by everyone in academic kabbalah, here all I needed to do was have some basic familiarity with the Names, know a couple of impressive-sounding things about Maharaj ranking, and I was Choir Director and a leading scientific authority. That felt good. And given all that the big theonomics companies had done to me, helping screw them over was icing on the cake. My life was already in the toilet. The same self-destructive urge that had led me to use the Wakening Name at work bound me here to Erica and her people.

“Tonight,” I said, “we’re going to practice something very special. This is the Vanishing Name. Has anyone heard of the Vanishing Name before?”

No one raised their hands.

“That’s because it was discovered three weeks ago,” I told them, to multiple oooohs and aaaaahs. “Fresh meat. A sweatshop in Pittsburgh picked it up, and somehow it got leaked to a Unitarian cell in Cleveland, and they were able to break the klipah and send letters to a dozen Unitarian cells around the country within fifteen days of discovery.”

I was pretty sure that some of my own work in klipotic reversal algorithms had contributed, actually, but I resisted the urge to boast.

“What does the Vanishing Name do? It’s no less than a form of teleportation! Speak the Name, and you disappear and reappear somewhere else within a few hundred miles. According to my sources one of the test subjects in Pittsburgh ended up in Akron, and another one in Erie. The precise range is unknown, and the destination doesn’t seem to be under voluntary control. Hence the label. It’s useful for getting out of a situation, but not necessarily getting into one. Useful for, for example, underground Unitarian choir members in exactly the types of problems we’re hoping to avoid.”

“So what’s the catch to this seemingly astounding discovery? First, the Vanishing Name teleports you to a situation complementary to the one you were trying to get out of. Both of the testers in Pittsburgh, for example, ended up in laboratories devoted to the testing of kabbalistic Names. So there you are in a laboratory testing a kabbalistic Name in Pittsburgh, and you speak the Name, and you end up in a laboratory testing a kabbalistic Name in Akron.

“This creates an obvious limit to its usefulness. I’ve been corresponding with the choir director of a Unitarian congregation in San Antonio. She was in the bad part of town and got accosted by hooligans. So she spoke the Vanishing Name. It teleported her to the bad part of Austin, where another band of hooligans was looking for someone to accost. She used the Name a second time, and ended up back in San Antonio with the first group of hooligans, because the complement of the situations’s complement is just the original situation. So she went secular and used her pepper spray. The lesson is clear. Additional uses of the Vanishing Name are unlikely to gain you very much. Any questions?”

There were none.

“Second, and this relates to what I said before. I don’t need to remind you that using this Name would be really stupid. It’s new. UNSONG is looking for it. You’re learning this name because it is your duty as a Unitarian and a human being to learn and spread the thousand thousand Names of God. Unless you’re in a situation where it is absolutely vital to your well-being and continued survival that you be accosted by a different band of hooligans than the ones who are currently accosting you, this name should be considered UNSONG-bait and therefore verboten. Do you understand?

The congregation understood.

“Very well,” I said. “Let us learn the Vanishing Name.”

There were twenty-eight of us there; twenty-seven humans plus Pirindiel. Angels cannot sing the Names, and only twenty of the humans were up for participating. The rest were there for moral support, political debates, some sort of sad countercultural version of networking, or the free refreshments afterwards. So I led the way and nineteen voices followed.

The Names of God are long and apparently meaningless. If you’re not a freaky mnemonist like me, they’re hard to remember. I don’t know who first figured out that if you sing them to a melody, they’ll stick with you longer, but so they do. That’s why we call it choir practice, why I’m choir director, why the people who learn the Names are called singers or cantors. The twenty of us joined together in song.

“Asat!” I sang.

“ASAT!” echoed nineteen voices.







[You’re going to finish this quickly, skip the food, and tell me how you’ll become World Emperor soon, right?]

[Shhhh! I’m trying to concentrate!]

[The Gospel according to Fluke]

[…um…Epistle to Philemonstro. Also, @#$% you.]

“Asat-zam…sorry…where were we?…Asat-zam-rus-shan-sever-las-kyon-dal-athen-try-kophu-li-mar-tan-day!”


This was not the Vanishing Name. It didn’t really end with “day”, and it didn’t quite start with “asat”. If you sang a Name straight out, you’d invoke it, and then depending on which Name it was you’d end up teleporting to a Unitarian choir three towns over, or summoning a tempest, or destroying a city.

So in order to communicate a name without activating it, you needed to sing something that was almost, but not quite, the real Name. A transformation. One you could easily perform and reverse at will.

There was already one such transformation well-known to every red-blooded American.

It was strange and almost sacrilegious. But every week we returned. UNSONG and the theonomics corporations couldn’t be allowed to whore out the Names of God unchallenged. A revolution was coming, and we were going to be ready for it. Nobody was going to get a monopoly on the Divine without fighting for it.

And that was why every Wednesday night the choir of the Unitarian Church would meet in secret and sing the hidden transcendent Names of God in Pig Latin.

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96 Responses to Chapter 2: Arise To Spiritual Strife

  1. null says:

    The real question is, does Richard Stallman exist in this universe and if so, what is he doing?

  2. Anon says:

    I love the Pig Latin thing, that’s great. This story is shaping up to be awesome already.

    Potential error: “Untied States” – either a typo or some sort of hint to total governmental change?

    Probable error: “if they were not righteous, they would they be persecuted”

    Anyways, this stuff is great, keep it up Scott!

  3. Anon says:

    This is great, I love this story already Scott. The Unitarian Church is amazing, as is the Pig-Latin

    Minor errors: “Untied States”, “they would they be persecuted”

  4. Thecommexokid says:

    It’s hard to tell with this story, but I am leaning toward the position that “Untied States citizens” is a typo. And there’s definitely something wrong with “they would they be persecuted.”

  5. Deiseach says:

    The Unitarian Universalists????

    My impression of the UUs was that they would have been mortally shocked and offended to find out that God was, you know, real and that religion was not all about moral uplift, being nice, and having good table manners 🙂

    These sound more like Unitarians as such, going back to their roots, rather than the UU branch of the family.

    Very interesting to see that they’re at least trying to use classical small-cell tactics (but of course, if X knows Y in a cell in location Z and Y knows A, then all UNSONG has to do is get X to sing and they’ve got the chain). Aaron is sounding like the weak link here: he obviously has contacts in other cells, so he’s the one to go after if they’re looking for information. And given that he has Ana, she’s the lever to threaten him with.

    I did appreciate the “Augustine Distinguished Scholar in Theodicy at Stanford” part. The attitude that “the persecuted are righteous; if they were not righteous, they would not be persecuted” reminds me of a RPG (“Legends of Eisenwald”) I’m playing, set in mediaeval Europe, where one element is a group of heretics called “Oviites” who – in the words of the game – value the Eighth Beatitude (“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) above all others and think that the only true Christians are those constantly being persecuted by the worldly powers.

    • Susebron says:

      In all honesty, I would expect it more of the Quakers than the UUs. I’m a bit biased there, though.

    • I think this is part of the humor.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, my problem is I can’t imagine the UUs getting het-up about spreading the true names of God to all the people. I’d expect them to be more aggrieved that damn it, it’s the Judaeo-Christian/Abrahamic faiths version of God which is being reinforced here which is so terribly non-inclusive. What about other faith traditions? Or people of none? This is not conducive to free thought and your own interpretation of whatever religion means to you personally! 🙂

        • Argent says:

          More likely the people who got het up about it decided that they were Unitarian Universalists, and the original UU were too nice to fight them over it.

    • In the 19th century the Unitarians were compared to to Wahhabi Muslims by people who weren’t being ironic.

      • Deiseach says:

        The Unitarians I can see and understand raising ire when they started to become more than a few scattered irritants, but the merged Unitarians and Universalists gave me a different impression: that they were as happy to welcome all faiths and none, and that you didn’t particularly have to believe anything (creeds and dogma being anathema) apart from “everyone should be nice to everyone else and tolerance and good manners above all” 🙂

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      UU might attract a lot of former atheists after evidence if divinity presented itself (I think it’s already a somewhat popular choice for atheists who want a church experience). Could be one driver of changing character.

  6. Deiseach says:

    The only other thing I’d say is this (and it’s certainly not meant to be telling you how to write your story): I have a very limited patience for puns and if Ana and Aaron are going to be this cutesy-wootsy all the time with the punning, I’ll be handing their location over to the Men In Black myself 🙂

    This does NOT mean “Stop writing Ana and Aaron playing their pun game”, it’s just to let you know in advance if, for example, there is a horrific scene of torture ahead for Our Turtledoves, I will be sitting here with an objectionable grin on my face going “Yeah, make a pun about that, why don’t you?”

    (Also possibly to request “Canthere be a horrific scene of torture ahead for Our Punny Valentines?” because I’m nowhere nice enough to be a Unitarian Universalist).

    • Marvy says:

      > Yeah, make a pun about that, why don’t you?

      Be careful what you wish for. What if the jailer likes puns no more than you do? I can easily imagine that happening, and the jailer starting to loose his cool, gradually, until finally… “STOP! I can’t take it any more! You’re free, go away, just no more puns!”. And then runs screaming into the distance.

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s easy. For each pun, we turn up the Tickle Torture Machine a notch and make the cushions of the Comfy Chair even fluffier.

        They’ll break any second now! 🙂

    • Marvy says:

      Sometimes some one says something like “this is delicious, try one!” and I’m like “nah, I don’t like pears” (or whatever it is), and then they say “maybe you never tried good ones. Here, just have a bit!”. Sometimes I give in, and usually it’s just as bad as I remember. A few times I was pleasantly surprised. In that spirit: maybe you’ve haven’t tried the best that puns that the world’s best punsters have to offer. Here are some collected by our favorite author:

      • Deiseach says:

        I think I got all punned out after Piers Anthony (who apparently never considered a pun he could resist putting into his work); several of his novels are nothing more than a stream of puns and set-ups for puns, to the point where I was cringing every time a new character was introduced, or the characters moved to a new situation, from dread about “Okay, what dreadful pun is he setting me up for this time?”

  7. g says:

    I have to assume that the famous Unitarian Jihad piece was an inspiration for this.

    Presumably “klipah” is a reference to the Clipper chip?

    I wonder what happens if one Name of God is the same as the Pig-Latin-ization of another.

    I couldn’t parse this: “UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads can track your location.” I’m guessing it’s just that “involve” should be “involved” and the idea is that if you have SN above your ear and X on your forehead then you can track people using X?

  8. Lambert says:

    I wonder what happened to good old fashioned IP infringement over the internet, if that is a thing in their world.

    • ton says:

      Internet????? The government developed the internet. Do you think they would have developed/released it had it been frowned upon by the UN and large corporations?

      • Lambert says:

        Unless the information revolution stopped with the sky cracks, I would imagine some kind of equivalent would exist.

  9. Quite Likely says:

    This is pretty awesome. Man are our real life copyright and patent laws terrible.

  10. GCBill says:

    For those wondering, here’s an explanation of Aaron’s pun.

  11. Lambert says:

    ‘ten minutes, for kabbalistic reasons’

    10 minutes is 600 seconds, in the year 600, all I could find was Augustine of Canterbury converting some bloke and the Pope telling exeryone to say ‘Bless You’ when someone sneezes.

    • Deiseach says:

      The conversion of the king of Kent is important leading into the Synod of Whitby but agreed, I’m not sure how that (either the conversion or the Synod) ties in here 🙂

    • Susebron says:

      He would almost certainly round to the nearest minute here. This means we have a leeway of ~30 seconds each way. The most obvious thing around the turn of that century, of course, is the founding of Islam.

  12. Lola says:

    I hope you have a more convincing way to deal with first-letter-vowel Names than “-way” or “-yay” as these make the function no longer invertible.

  13. transfuturist says:

    You’re going to finish this quickly, skip the food, and tell us how you’ll become World Emperor soon, right?

    An interesting trivium: This story does not appear to be censored save for the last chapter for humorous purposes, as “fucked” appears uncensored, but in thought-speech, “[…um…Epistle to Philemonstro. Also, @#$% you.]”

    • theoneeyedman says:

      Hypothesis: sending [the idea of swearing] rather than any individual epithet. Which implies that telepathy may be a bit un-verbal. I wonder how that works, neurologically speaking. Also how it’s being achieved kabbalistically.

      • Marvy says:

        We’ve already seen in the last chapter that it’s very un-verbal:

        [Anger] said an internal voice that was not quite my own, although the telepathic link radiated only love. Then, [Moabite Dick]

        [I hate you] I thought back, but I sent through a burst of fondness

  14. zensunni couch-potato says:

    Amazing installment. A lot was revealed about how this world works.

    Love the idea of a UN subcommittee becoming extremely powerful.

    Love the idea of Marxist-Lurianism.

    Also, “you needed to sing something that was almost, but not quite, the real Name.”

    Although they don’t use Pig Latin, this is similar to what many Jews do to avoid speaking divine names.

    And of course, it’s bizarre how believable it is that in this world the UUs would become the radical underground extremists!

  15. anonymousway says:

    I grew up going to a UU church, and I laughed out loud at the reveal. Nice work. I’m looking forward to the story getting going.

  16. Haggai says:

    Next Wednesday, they’ll learn a new name, whose pig-latin translation is accidentally *yet another* name. Oops.

  17. 75th says:

    Oh my lord, we should be ashamed of ourselves for not having already worked out “United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God” before this was posted. The logo is a dead giveaway

    • You really should. Eldritch gets partial credit, though, and zensunni-couch-potato gets very partial credit.

    • Ninmesara says:

      IMO choosing to include “on” in the acronym is kind of cheating…
      Not being a native English speaker myself, I think that including “on” while leaving “of” out is a bit weird. Maybe it doesn’t sound as contrived to a native speaker. Contrived acronyms are a(n) (annoying) feature of the real world, but we should aspire to better ones when writing fiction.
      In this case, I’d prefer something like: “UN Subcommittee for Oversight of the Names of God” (UNSONG, which preserves the original acronym) or even better: “UN Subcommittee on the Use of the Names of God” (UNSUNG, which sadly doesn’t, but has the advantage of being a real word).

      Anyway, kudos for Scott for a (very funny) new chapter.

      • “on”, “of”, and other minor corrective words are *usually* left out of acronyms, but are allowed to be included if their contribution would form a better word, just like how sometimes you can take the first two or three letters, or the last letter. It’s irregular and not as good as making a clever acronym “normally”, but when the alternative is “UNSNG”, some artistic liberty is warranted.

      • 75th says:

        UNSONG is on par with real-world United Nations acronyms. “UNITAR” is the “United Nations Institute for Training And Research”, which has exactly the feature you mention.

  18. Nomghost says:

    As much as I’m enjoying this book, it’s pretty funny how tailored it is to this audience.

    I wasn’t alone. The celebrants looked a lot like the rest of Silicon Valley – mostly male twenty or thirty-somethings in jeans and hoodies, shuffling in awkwardly, grumbling about traffic. Their banality wasn’t quite an act, but call it a facade. These were dangerous men.


    • Magnap says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but it may also be a case of “write what you know”.

    • pku says:

      Both in the sense that a lot of Scott’s readers are these people, and that a lot of us aren’t, but enjoy reading about them.

    • Deiseach says:

      I am not male, twenty to thirty something, the last time I wore anything like jeans (I’ve never actually worn jeans as such) was when I was twelve, and I’ve never worn a hoodie in my life. Also very much not from the Bay Area.

      Aside from that, yes, I am indeed the target audience for this story 🙂

  19. Eoin says:

    Open-sorceror is a great term!

  20. Anonymous says:

    The underground church and the writing style remind me a bit of Julia’s story in The Magician King.

  21. Anon says:

    > the Augustine Distinguished Scholar in Theodicy

    This is apparently related to a school of thought called Augustinian Theodicy, which is likely going to impact the plot in some way, but I don’t know enough theology to make a good guess. What I can do, though, is take the initials of every other word:

    > Augustine Scholar Theodicy -> AST

    > Aaron Smith-Teller -> AST

    Let’s err on the side of kabbalistic interpretation and see where that gets us.

    There are three ways this may impact the story:

    1) Cutesy worldbuilding. Ana went for AST because she already had/wanted AST and, for kabbalistic reasons, decided getting AST would help her get AST, she wanted a matching set, AST is love AST is life, or something along those lines.

    2) AST will become the AST in the near future as a direct or indirect result of his discovery, and knocks Ana out of her position, thus creating drama and plot from the strain on their relationship. (Unless I’m misunderstanding the use of “the” above, and it’s not an individual honor.)

    3) AST was supposed to be the AST, but his fall from grace was a butterfly-effect ramification of the Apollo crash, and thus not part of the Divine Plan. When AST inevitably speaks with Uriel, because let’s face it AST’s the protagonist and kind of a Gary Stu so of course he will, Uriel will learn of this error and compensate for it in some way, likely for comedic effect in the vein of “giving everyone the ability to play piano”.

    (Note: Scott, your writing is good. Having a Gary Stu protagonist does not mean the writing is bad. Notable Gary Stu protagonists of good books include Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Eragon

    It could, of course, be some combination of the above. Based on how the series has been going, I expect 1 and 3 to be more likely than 2, but all combinations are possibilities depending on how much drama Scott wants to add to his comedy.

    For example, AST speaks with Uriel, and Uriel compensates for the error by pulling strings at Stanford and making him AST, which leads to Aaron saying “NO NO DON’T DO THAT MY GIRLFRIEND WILL KILL ME SLOWLY” but too late, it’s done. Then the girlfriend angsts over it for a few chapters but eventually she states that 1 is canon in some way that reaffirms their relationship and they hug and life is good up until Director-General Ngo kicks in their door 5 minutes later.

    However, I can’t think of a way that could be written without having a much higher drama:comedy ratio than Scott’s been using, and I’m estimating a 15% chance that I’m entirely off base here.

  22. aphyer says:

    So, I mean, it CAN’T be a coincidence that Scott posted ‘Should AI be Open?’ only a few weeks before introducing an organization full of people who think that the Nuclear Name should be open-source…

  23. KG says:

    Does “Pirindiel” mean something?
    When I looked it up (I assumed as “pe resh nun dalet” -el), the only thing I found was that it could be the same letters as “friend”, but that’s obviously not a real translation.
    Oh and I’m loving the story so far, obviously.

  24. MawBTS says:

    Don’t change “Untied States”, I like it.

  25. Quixote says:

    Another good one. Keep it up!

  26. Aegeus says:

    Using Names is called “singing.” The authority that regulates Names is called “UNSONG.”

    I’d say “nothing is a coincidence,” except that one’s so blatant it has to be deliberate.

    • 75th says:

      Well, not only is it deliberate on Scott’s part, but in-universe, the United Nations people who named it “UNSONG” probably did it on purpose, too. You can’t claim that someone’s fulfilling a prophecy proves the prophecy’s divinity if the person knew the prophecy when they did it.

      What’s more interesting is that the actual name of the book is not the acronym. It’s just a word: “Unsong”. Maybe the endgame of the book will involve the Names of God no longer working or existing?

  27. Lorxus says:

    Just realized that the UUs are fighting UNSONG copy protection and the limits of Names through a song that inverts things.

    That is, they’re fighting UNSONG with unsongs.

    This is, of course, not a coincidence, because nothing is a coincidence.

  28. Occurred to me that perhaps God doesn’t much like people tracking the use of His Names, what with all the tattooing going on (Leviticus 19:28), however it appears that there’s some interpretational issues with the translation of that verse (modern tattoos vs. inscribed or engraved symbols). Though as nothing is a coincidence …

    Of course, there’s also the huge amount of taking the Lord’s name instead of coffee going on so maybe He isn’t hot on the whole issue, if He indeed cares much about the Bible anyway.

    • Broggly says:

      Given the story I think Revelation 13 might be referenced, especially since “Evil UN Plots” tend to be associated with The Beast and its mark.
      [i]And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
      And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority…
      And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations…
      And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
      And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed…
      And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads
      And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
      Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.[/i]

  29. cl says:

    Wait, wouldn’t unsung be aware of the existence of his word? how does the Sentinel name works?

  30. KidWinTinker says:

    Actually, the names of god can’t be patented. They can however be copyrighted. It’s a literary form after all.
    This is true under Indian law (where I practice) and as far as I know under TRIPs as well, and all countries that are TRIPs compliant should follow the same system.

  31. Ninmesara says:

    (“So,” I said in my imagination “Here are some things I have done multiple times. Used Names I have no idea what they do. Used Names in ways that caused giant catastrophes. Used the same Name that caused a catastrophe again, just to see if it would magically work the second time, which it never does. Been something like the third person on Earth to use a Name I didn’t even need, just for the adrenaline rush and street cred.”)

    This has been bothering me: Aaron seems to be referring to events that will happen in the future. Unless he 1) caused some giant catastrophes in the past and 2) used the same name again, and said name failed to work. Is this a mistake (the author is confusing the narrator with the character)? Or is it time travelling (which would explain how he could be one of the persons on Earth to use a name he didn’t need; I know this is probably hyperbole, but it is a strange hyperbole)?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I think you’re misreading it. It’s “failed to work” in the sense of “failed to have the intended effect”, not “failed to do anything”. As in, he’s caused giant catastrophes with Names in the past, and then attempted to use the same name again, and it “failed to work” in that it still caused a catastrophe the second time around.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Ok, I admit I might be misreading it. It’s just that the parallel is too strong to ignore. But anyway, which giant catastrophe might he have caused? Is it just hyperbole? Like it might have caused a girlfriend to break up with him? Or did he kill someone? Will we ever find out? Alluding to “giant catastrophes” and never going back to them is strange from a narrative point of view. I hope we find out eventually.

  32. Yossarian says:

    Just a random thought that visited me upon re-reading this chapter – isn’t Pig Latin just adding “” to some words? ‘Causus thatus howus Ius understoodus itus sous farus, not rearranging the last syllabus with the first one, as seems to be done here (considering that we know what the Vanishing name is from one of the futurus chapterus)? Or would that be too close to being a klipot to actually use it to teach someone a Name?

  33. Anonymous says:

    From chapter 14:

    For something to be a klipah, four things are necessary.

    That the speaker know the Name he is trying to conceal.

    That there be a one-to-one correspondence between the klipah being uttered and the letters of the Name being concealed, one which the speaker understands at the deepest level.

    That the correspondence not be ad hoc – you can’t turn “Hello how are you” into the Tetragrammaton by declaring on the spot that “Hello” equals yud, “How” equals hay, and so on. There has to be at least an intention or possibility of consistency, rather than a deliberate mapping on to a preexisting pattern.

    And that the signal be separated from the noise; that the parts which represent letters are fixed in advance and not separated by other parts representing other letters.

    Which of these conditions is violated by Pig Latin? I don’t see any of them being broken. Speaking Names in Pig Latin should activate them just as well as speaking them in cleartext.

    • The coment king says:

      I think the letters have to be in the same order. Pig Latin moves one letter to the back.

      • Anonymous says:

        The conditions don’t specify that.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          What is your point here? You’ve already demonstrated that Scott messed up; the only question now is how it can be repaired (and possibly, how did Scott intend for it to work, if he miswrote it). “The letters have to be the same order” is a simple solution to the first, and it’s likely the answer to the second, too (misusing/abusing “one-one correspondence”). (It’s particularly a reasonable condition to add since otherwise it kind of makes Names into multisets, rather than strings, of letters.) And honestly it’s not so far off from the mathematician’s abuse of assuming every map is a morphism unless stated otherwise…

    • mupi says:

      Late to the party, but…

      I believe that Pig Latin violates #4: the parts cannot be separated by other parts representing other letters. By moving the first letter to the end, the part representing the first letter is now separated by parts representing other letters.

      It’s also at least an implicit violation of #2, because “one-to-one” correspondence strongly implies that the order is maintained (even though it’s not explicitly stated).

      Finally, you could also infer from #3 that there is “intentionality” at play. That is, if there must be an intention of consistency, does there also have to be an intention of invocation? This is also strongly suggested by Chapter 1, as the workers apparently have to be in the “right mindset” (Indeed, if it’s my job to invoke Names of God, then by definition, there’s intentionality in the chanting….)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Shrouded Constitution

    47 chapters in, and we still haven’t learned what it is.

  35. Michael says:

    Typo? “Names involve tattooed” should be “Names involved tattooed”?

  36. Tc says:

    Apakah novel unsong masih berlanjut ?

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