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Chapter 20: When The Stars Threw Down Their Spears

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3??? BC
Heaven

I.

Beyond the nimbus and stratus, in the furthest reaches of the heavens, the parliament of the angels convened in the eye of a great cyclone. The walls of the storm curved in toward the center, so that they formed tier upon tier of seating for the angelic hosts. At the very bottom and in the very center was a whirlwind that concealed the archangel Metatron, the expression of God in the created world. Seated around him were thrones for the nine other archangels. Above them in concentric circles based on rank sat various cherubim, seraphim, ophanim, dominions, powers, principalities, weird lamb-dragon hybrids with hundreds of faces, glowing starlike beings rapt in meditation, geometric shapes covered with lidless golden eyes, and others even harder to describe.

Metatron did not speak. Metatron never spoke. No one was worthy to hear the voice of Metatron. Raziel was missing, as always, out doing his thing, whatever Raziel’s thing was. That left Sataniel as highest-ranking. Sataniel, the morning star, the amber-hued, the bringer of dawn, the beautiful, peerless in understanding, gracious in mercy.

For the past aeon, even Sataniel had been gone, off exploring the inner core of the world, and it had been Zadkiel who had held the golden feather that represented dominion, who had conducted the choirs and moved some to sound and others to silence. Now Sataniel had returned, and it was with joy and humility that Zadkiel handed over the feather and sat back down upon his throne of cloudstuff and carnelian.

“My brothers,” said Sataniel, “for an aeon of the world, I have been exploring the very center of the Earth. Now, by the mercy of God, blessed be His holy Name, I have returned.”

At the mention of God, all the assembled angels broke out into applause and cheering for seven days and seven nights. When the euphoria died down, Sataniel again raised the golden feather and spoke.

“Sometimes there comes upon us the desire to seek out and explore new parts of God’s creation, that we may appreciate ever-greater portions of His glory.”

The heavenly hosts began applauding again at the mention of God, but Sataniel raised the feather and calmed them down.

“Thus Raziel, who has absented himself from this assembly to traverse the gulfs beyond the world. But my own curiosity was kindled by a different prize, the very center of the Earth, which none have seen before. I made journey to the deepest part of the deepest lake, and there I thrust into the ground a star-beam until it cracked and fissured. More and more star-beams I summoned, until they burnt a tunnel into the yielding rock. Below I came to a realm of fire, but again I parted it with star beams, until I congealed a tunnel that could pass through even the magma of the inner deep. After an aeon of labor, I came at last to the solid iron core, and at a word from me, it opened wide.

“There I found a new world, as different from the surface as the surface is from our own realm of cloud and zephyr. In the center of the earth is a hollow space a thousand miles in diameter. By some strange magic of the place I could walk upon its iron inner shell, though by rights I ought to have been without weight. That shell contains iron mountains and iron canyons, split by seas and rivers of glowing lava that cast a dim red light over the whole inner world. And at the south pole of this realm stood an iron tower, five hundred miles in height, reaching all the way up to the exact center of the earth.”

All the angels listened in rapt attention except Uriel, who was sort of half-paying attention while trying to balance several twelve-dimensional shapes on top of each other.

“I entered that dark tower at its base, and for forty days and forty nights I climbed the spiral staircase leading to the world’s center. Finally, at the tower’s very peak, I discovered a new facet of God.”

There was utter silence throughout the halls of Heaven, except a brief curse as Uriel’s hyperdimensional tower collapsed on itself and he picked up the pieces to try to rebuild it.

“He called himself Thamiel, and I could sense the divine energy in him, like and yet unlike any I had ever seen before. For a year and a day I studied at his feet, learning his lore, learning aspects of God utterly foreign to the lore of Heaven. And after a year and a day, he told me I had learned enough, and he bade me return and teach it to you my fellows.”

A great clamor arose from all the heavenly hosts, save Uriel, who took advantage of the brief lapse to conjure a parchment and pen and start working on a proof about the optimal configuration of twelve-dimensional shapes.. “Tell us, Sataniel!” they cried. “Teach us this new lore, that we may come to more fully understand the Holy One!”

“Well,” said Sataniel, wiping a sudden bead of sweat off his brow “this is going to sound kind of crazy, but hear me out. What if, instead of serving God, we were to, um, defy Him?”

A moment of confusion. Uriel proved several important lemmas about tower construction.

“I don’t understand,” said Haniel. “Like, I get what you’re trying to say. But, well…how would that tend toward the greater glory of God?”

“It doesn’t,” said Sataniel. “I will definitely concede that point.”

“But then,” said Zadkiel, “if you’re admitting it doesn’t tend toward the greater glory of God, then how is God glorified when we do it?”

“But that’s what I’m saying,” said Sataniel. “We could just not glorify God. We could even undermine God, rebel against Him, that kind of thing.”

“Then we would have to smite ourselves” said Gabriel. “That sounds really dumb.”

“I’m with Gabriel,” said Raphael. “No offense to this Thamiel fellow, but I’m not sure he’s thought this through very well.”

“He seems a couple of strings short of a harp,” said Camael bluntly.

“I understand this is confusing,” Sataniel said. “I didn’t get it all at once. My first thoughts were the same as yours were – it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t glorify God, we’d have to smite ourselves – I thought all of these things at first, trust me. But the more Thamiel explained to me, the more it started to come together. You’ve got to believe me, there’s a sort of mental distance here, but there’s a self-consistent position on the other side. Like, for example, if we were to defy God, we could smite those who didn’t defy God.”

“But I still maintain that that wouldn’t increase the glory of God very well!” said Haniel.

“Right!” said Michael, “and how would we sing songs of praise? If we smote those who didn’t defy God, we’d have to smite ourselves every time we sung a song of praise! There are some serious loopholes here.”

“Sataniel’s position is self-consistent,” said Uriel, without looking up from the parchment he was writing his proof on. “It’s like representing our desires in a utility function, then multiplying by negative one.”

Everyone ignored Uriel as usual.

“Sataniel,” said Michael, “even if we could figure out a way to do this without smiting ourselves, what would be the point?”

“Instead of working to serve God,” said Sataniel, “we could serve ourselves.”

“Ohhhhh,” said Zadkiel. “You’re saying that, since we are creations of God, praising and serving ourselves would be a more effective way of demonstrating our gratitude and love of God’s glory than praising and serving Him directly? And so, in a sense, actually even more humble and godly? It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it just…might…work.”

“No!” said Sataniel, and he stomped on the cloud underneath his feet, shooting off little wisps of cirrus. “You’re not getting it. This is about total conceptual revolution! A complete shift in mindset! There aren’t even the right words for it!”

With a wave of his hand, he caused a sheet of white fire to burst forth from the ground; with his pointer finger, he began tracing lines in black fire upon the flaming canvas. “Look, here on the right side we have all of the things we consider good. Glorification of God. Virtue. Prayer. Service.” He moved to the other half of the sheet. “And here on the left side we have the opposite of those things. God being glorified less than He might otherwise be. Virtue that falls short of the goal. Not serving people even when they deserve to be served. My brothers, all of our actions have to be to some end. Right now we’re aiming towards the things here on the right. But instead, we could just as well aim at these other things, here on the left.”

“But,” said Raphael, “the left is the side with sin and mockery of God and so on. Are you sure you didn’t mean to point to the right instead?”

“Maybe he means our right and his left,” proposed Haniel helpfully.

The whole diagram of fire-upon-fire disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Imagine,” said Sataniel. “We could descend onto the Earth, and rule over Men. We could make them call us gods, and worship us with prayer and sacrifice. We could lay with the most beautiful of the daughters of men, and have mighty children whose footsteps make the Behemoth flee in terror. We could enslave humans, and make them build us vast palaces of gold and chalcedony, and never give another thought to God at all.”

The other angels looked thoughtful. Several began to whisper excitedly among themselves. Some stared off into space, imagining the pleasures of such a life. Finally, Zadkiel gave voice to what all of them were thinking:

“It’s an interesting idea, Sataniel, but I just. don’t. get. how it would contribute to the glory of God.”

Sataniel looked up, from the circle where the eight other archangels sat, to the seats of the highest and wisest angels, and all the way up the vast walls of cloud, looked upon the fiery lions and spinning wheels and pillars of sunlight and all the rest, and every one of them was nodding in agreement with Zadkiel.

Sataniel very deliberately took a deep breath. In. Out. Then another. In. Out.

“I was rash,” he said. “It took a year and a day for Thamiel to impart his lore to me; I was rash to think I could explain it in a single speech. So don’t hear it from me. Hear it from the master. I propose that a portion of you follow me, and we will cross the Earth’s interior and find Thamiel, and he will teach you his lore as he taught it to me, and there will be no further confusion.”

“Honestly,” said Camael. “It seems kind of like a waste of time. I still haven’t heard any good evidence that this ‘Thamiel’ and his ideas can glorify God, and paying them more attention wastes valuable songs-of-praise-singing time.”

Murmurs of assent. The fiery lions nodded, the wheels spun in agreement.

Sataniel cast his head down. For a moment he seemed about to acquiese. Then, a weird look appeared on his face, a look unlike any that the angels had ever seen, almost a contortion. He spoke haltingly, as if trying a strange new language he had never spoken before.

“Actually…God…God told me…that He really wanted some of you guys to follow me. To go meet Thamiel. Yes. God said that. That was what He said.”

A look of astonishment and joy flashed throughout the council. God had spoken! God rarely spoke to angels even once an aeon, and now God had spoken to their brother Sataniel! New information about the will of the Divine, a new opportunity to serve Him, to better conform their actions to the newly clarified Divine Will!

“Of course!” said Michael. “Why didn’t you say so, brother? This is a great day indeed! How many of us did God want there?”

For someone who had so suddenly seen his fortunes shift for the better, Sataniel looked oddly uncomfortable. For someone who had received a revelation from God, he was oddly reluctant to share it. All these things the angels noticed, but there was no possible explanation for them, none at all, so they dismissed it from their thoughts.

“One third,” said Sataniel finally. “One third of the Heavenly Host.”

II.

3??? BC
Mesopotamia

“The future is ziggurats,” Samyazaz was telling Ut-Naparash as they walked up the Great Stair. “In a hundred years, nobody’s going to remember pyramids. Pyramids are a flash in the pan. Ziggurats are for the ages.”

“The King has every bit of faith in ziggurats and in yourself,” said Ut-Naparash. “He only wishes that the project would go a little…faster.”

The king is a fricking nimrod, thought Samyazaz to himself, but out loud he just said, “You can’t rush ziggurats, Ut-Naparash.” He punctuated his statement with a wave of his gigantic arms. “You try to rush a ziggurat, you end up with one side not big enough, or a tier off center, and then the whole thing is fried. They’re not like henges, where if you put a stone in the wrong place here or there nobody’s going to notice. Ziggurats are a work of art. A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

They reached the top of the Great Stair and the highest tier of the ziggurat. Highest tier of the ziggurat so far, Samyazaz corrected himself. There was still a lot of room for improvement. Three men in loincloths stood on the west edge of the platform, staring at the afternoon sky. Samyazaz took a whip from his belt and cracked it in the air, startling them.

“I’m not paying you to lollygag!” he shouted. He hoped the slaves appreciated his sense of humor.

“Sorry, o mighty one,” said the tallest slave, bowing low. “Sorry, great eminence,” he repeated, this time to Ut-Naparash. “It is only…a storm is coming.”

Samyazaz looked west. The slave was right. It was big and green and formed of hulking thunderheads that seemed to seethe and simmer. It was coming closer. There was something ominous about it.

“Bah!” said Samyazaz. “It’s just the storm god Ishkur, mounted upon his giant fire-breathing bull.”

The slaves looked uncomfortable. For that matter, Ut-Naparash looked uncomfortable. Maybe Samyazaz had gotten the wrong religion? Maybe it being the storm god Ishkur mounted upon his giant fire-breathing bull was really bad?

Or maybe it was something entirely different. You never knew with humans, thought Samyazaz.

But slowly, grudgingly, the slaves got back to work. They feared him. Of course they did. Even Ut-Naparash feared him. He was Samyazaz, the Bringer of Forbidden Knowledge. Not that that was so hard when “copper and tin go together to make bronze” is Forbidden Knowledge. Heck, eighty years ago the king’s daughter had been sad because her lips weren’t rosy enough, and fellow forbidden-knowledge-bringer Gadiriel had suggested she crush some red rocks into a pigment and then paint it on herself, and people were still talking about this and worrying it would lead to everyone turning into sex-crazed maniacs.

The first rumble of thunder was heard from the approaching storm to the west, and Samyazaz saw the tall slave reach for his other great invention. The man gulped down half a pint of beer for courage. Samyazaz loved beer. He’d founded the first brewery here himself, and it never ceased to interest him how people who were scared and confrontational after a sip would be friendly and easy to manipulate after they finished the pot. Beer was the future. Not as much the future as ziggurats. But still the future.

“Pardon me, wise one,” said Ut-Naparash, “but perhaps we should go back down to the city, lest we be caught up here when the storm arrives?”

The thing with humans, Samyazaz thought, was that as fragile as they were, they always thought they were even more fragile than that. It was kind of sad.

“Put up a canopy,” he ordered the slaves. Then, to Ut-Naparash, “Our tower is already as high as the clouds. Let us enjoy the fruits of our labor, and see the Storm God face to face, so we may boast to him of our might.”

Again with the uncomfortable looks from Ut-Naparash and the slaves. He hoped they would get around to inventing writing soon, so he could read a book about Sumerian religion and figure out what it was he was missing. Until then he would have to do things the hard way. “Do it for the mighty one,” he said, speaking the words of power that his sort had bred deep into these people’s unconscious.

Compelled by the invocation, the slaves set up the canopy. Samyazaz wandered to the west edge of the platform. The storm was very, very close now. It swept over the empty flood plain like a wave over a beach. Two stupendous bolts of lightning struck the ground just outside the city wall, then…stopped.

Everything had stopped. Samyazaz saw the slaves bent over, placing a pole for the canopy, but they neither tied it in nor stood up. Ut-Naparash had taken a pot of beer, and Samyazaz could see the golden liquid falling from the pot to the priest’s waiting lips, but the drops hung motionless in mid-air. In the city below him, a hundred merchants were frozen in various steps of peddling their wares. Samyazaz moved one of his giant arms back and forth. Okay. He could move. It was just everyone else who was frozen. This was really bad.

The two lightning bolts gradually resolved themselves into two gigantic human forms, spanning the distance from the bottom of the clouds to the flood plain below, each taller than the ziggurat.

“Hello, Samyazaz,” said the Archangel Michael.

“Hello, Samyazaz,” said the Archangel Gabriel.

“Frick,” said Samyazaz.

“We have left you to your games long enough,” said Michael. “The war is not going well. It is time for you to come home and join in the great battle.”

“No. Nope. No way,” said Samyazaz. “Things are going really well here. I’ve got a wife and kids. Twenty wives, actually, fifty kids. No way I’m going back there. Absolutely not.”

“The war is not going well,” Michael repeated.

“You think I don’t know that? I’ve been watching the sky. I’ve seen the signs.”

“Camael is dead. Haniel is dead. Raphael is dead. Only Zadkiel and the two of us remain.”

“What about Metatron?”

“Too holy to leave his whirlwind.”

“Too holy to do anything, really.”

“Raziel?”

“Off somewhere,” said Michael.

“Hard to locate,” said Gabriel.

“Uriel?”

“He doesn’t count,” said Michael.

“He definitely doesn’t count,” said Gabriel.

“But…what are you guys doing? Sataniel only took a third of the angels with him to the inner core. Even if that Thamiel guy was able to turn every single one of them against God, you still outnumber him two to one.”

Gabriel coughed awkwardly. “He would use…strategems. He would say ‘I am going to attack you from the north,’ and then attack us from the south. It was unfair.”

“And then when we finally figured out what he was doing,” added Michael, “He would say ‘I am going to attack you from the north,’ and then actually attack us from the north. It was very unfair.”

“And,” Gabriel said, “When we ordered some of the lesser angels to study these strategems so we could apply them, the angels would lose their glow and purity. They would no longer be able to sing the songs of praise in the right key. We would have to expel them from Heaven, for their own good.”

“And then,” said Michael, “they would fight on Thamiel’s side.”

“It was very bad,” said Gabriel.

“So,” said Samyazaz, “wait for everyone who died to recoalesce, and don’t be so naive the next time.”

“It is worse than that,” said Michael. “Thamiel wields a two-pointed weapon. Everyone slain by it dies the true death.”

“Like humans?”

“Exactly like humans.”

“Ugh.”

“It gets worse,” said Michael. “I myself slew Sataniel. Thamiel raised his two-pointed weapon over the spot, and Sataniel did not recoalesce as himself. Instead his spirit fragmented into many monsters. Camael and his choir were not able to stand against them.”

“They have taken over the place of meeting,” said Gabriel. “We must counterattack with everything we have. You will join us, Samyazaz.”

“No,” said Samyazaz. “I won’t.”

The thunder rumbled menacingly.

“Why me? I’m not the only angel who came to Earth.”

“You are one of the leaders. The others respect you.”

“Go find Gadiriel. She’s always up for doing crazy stuff.”

“She?”

“Gadiriel has adopted various quaint human customs, like being female.”

The thunder rumbled menacingly again.

“We will bring Gadiriel. We will also bring you.”

“You don’t need me. There are a hundred myriads of angels. I’m not going to be any use to anybody.”

“You understand strategems. Like Thamiel. Yet you have not lost your power, or turned to his service. This is interesting. Perhaps it is because you learned from humans, whom you dominate, rather than from equals, whom you fear. You understand lying. Trickery. Deceit. We archangels have more mental resilience to these than the ordinary choirs, but we still have not mastered them. Without masters of such on our side, Thamiel can play us like a harp.”

“Well, uh, if you have any tactical questions, you’re welcome to stop around and run them by me. I’ll be right here, on top of the giant ziggurat, can’t miss me.”

“You will come with us.”

“But…my ziggurats!”

“Are like a child’s sand castles in the eyes of the Lord.”

“I like ziggurats! You know, humans are different from angels, in that they have this weird long thing here” – Samyazaz pointed at his crotch – “and I felt bad about not having one of those. But if I build big enough ziggurats, then I feel better about myself!”

“You will come with us.”

“No. I’m not going to let myself get pricked by some two-headed creep with a freaky underworld weapon that makes you die the true death. Go bother Gadiriel.”

“You will come with us. Now.”

“Would either of you care for a pot of beer? I find it lubricates interactions like this very nicely.”

“You will – ”

Something was burrowing up out of the flood plain, like a mole or a beetle. It kicked up mud in all directions as it rose, then finally broke the surface. Something oily and foul buzzed like a bee halfway between Samyazaz and the great angelic apparitions.

“Well,” said Thamiel. “How far you’ve both fallen.”

Michael pulled his sword of fire from its scabbard. A moment later, Gabriel did the same.

“Begone, Thamiel. This is none of your business.”

“Oh, it’s my business. Good lie, though. I didn’t think you had it in you. You’re learning fast.”

“You are an abomination before the Most High.”

“And I’m winning.” He held up the bident. “Run away, cowards.”

For just a moment, Michael and Gabriel made as if to charge. But then the lightning bolts struck home, the thunder crashed in a great resounding peal, and time started again.

“Wise one!” asked Ut-Naparash. “Are you well? You seem…” Suddenly his face blanched in horror.

Thamiel floated leisurely to the ziggurat platform and landed in the center. The slaves threw themselves off the sides in horror and loathing, and there was a sickening cracking sound as their bodies hit the tier beneath. Ut-Naparash started making the complex ritual movements of the Greater Prayer to Enlil.

“Go away,” said Thamiel, and flicked a finger at Ut-Naparash. The priest’s eyeballs exploded in showers of blood, and he fell convulsing to the ground.

“Master,” said Samyazaz, kneeling. He wasn’t scared of Michael and Gabriel, big though they were, but this was something on an entirely different level.

“Master, is it?” asked Thamiel. “Because a moment ago, you were calling me a ‘two-headed creep’.”

“Master!” said Samyazaz, desperately. “I didn’t mean it. I will make amends! I will…”

“Nice ziggurat you’ve got here,” said Thamiel. “Shame if something were to happen to it.”

He gave a lazy flick of his bident, and the entire structure collapsed in on itself, killing everyone, slaves, porters, supervisors, Ut-Naparash, the entire construction crew, a hundred years of work reduced to smoking rubble in an instant.

It was only a minor death, as deaths went. A purposeless accident of falling rocks and rubbles. Samyazaz recoalesced within a few minutes. Thamiel was gone now. It was just him and the remains of his ziggurat. He wasn’t too proud to cry, just one tear. Then he sighed, brushed himself off, and got up.

He had always prided himself on his resilience. Well, what was a hundred years, to one such as him? Michael and Gabriel wouldn’t dare bother him again. Thamiel had punished him sufficiently. Now there were just the humans. Beautiful, wonderful humans, so easy to bend to his will. He would whisper to the king, he would awe the priests, he would rebuild the ziggurat twice as big as before. In a way, it had been a blessing in disguise. He hadn’t been ambitious enough with this ziggurat. If he started from scratch, built the base on a sturdier foundation…

He grabbed a passing slave. “Get me a palanquin, man. Can’t you see there’s been a disaster here? I need to speak to the King.”

The slave looked hopelessly confused.

“Get me a palanquin, I said! Do it for the mighty one!”

The slave babbled something in response, but Samyazaz couldn’t make out a word he was saying.

Somewhere, far below, he thought he could hear Thamiel’s laughter.

Okay. This was worse than he thought. He began mentally pushing back his ziggurat timetable. Not that he couldn’t make it work. He could definitely make it work. The timetable just needed to be amended. Some way to break through the communication barrier, some way to deal with the king and all of these recalcitrant humans, some way to deal with Thamiel, some way…

He pushed the slave aside and headed back in the direction of his brewery. He could definitely use some beer right now.

III.

3??? BC
Gulf of Mexico

And then there were two.

The sky had once been full of clouds. Big clouds, little clouds, dark clouds, bright clouds. Clouds sculpted into great gleaming palaces of alabaster, clouds carved into fortresses red with the light of sunset. Clouds linked by rainbow bridges, clouds walled with icy ramparts, clouds lit by pillars of lightning, great frigates of cloud that sailed the jet stream packed with legions of angels going off to war.

Now most of the old clouds were gone, taken over by Thamiel and his forces, or abandoned as their celestial inhabitants sought more defensible positions. The meeting place had fallen. The long line of derechos that Michael had set up as a bulwark had fallen. The typhoon where Raphael had guarded the Central Pacific had been scattered. Even Zadkiel’s howling blizzard had been reduced to a few flurries.

Gabriel had tried to save them. He had been there at Raphael’s side when Thamiel had pierced the archangel with his bident and slain him in battle. He had seen Michael kill Thamiel in single combat, only for the demon to recoalesce and stab the victor in the back. He had fled with the others to Zadkiel’s circumpolar redoubt, which had held on for seven years of constant battle before it was betrayed by a stray sunbeam. Now he was alone. The last of the archangels, he thought to himself.

Except for the one who didn’t count.

This storm, Gabriel had noticed on his way in, was poorly developed. No minarets. No ramparts. Just a big hurricane with occasional objects strewn about it. There was a big hexagon on one side. Who needed a hexagon that big? A couple of furrows making strange patterns. Lumps. Poorly done, no defenses, just the sort of shoddy work he had expected. It would, he thought, need some improvement.

There was some sort of shield surrounding the central eye. Good. A rudimentary defense mechanism. That could be built upon. For now, though, it was in his way.

“Let me in,” he shouted, banging his flaming sword on the invisible surface. No response. He hadn’t expected polite requests to work. “Let me in, or I will burn this place until no shred of cloud is left.”

The invisible wall parted, and Gabriel strode into the eye of the storm, the inner sanctum. Its lord was sitting in mid-air, tracing with his finger a series of glowing paths upon a fiendishly complex diagram. Gabriel blew the diagram away with a gust of wind.

“I need this storm,” he told Uriel, after the pleasantries had been completed, which with Uriel meant after about two seconds. “Angelkind needs this storm.”

“You can’t have it,” said Uriel. Of course not. Of course Uriel wouldn’t be cooperative. Spend the last forty years of the war sitting around doing nothing, and now he was sitting on the last usable defensive bastion in the entire sky, and of course he wouldn’t help.

“Everyone else is dead. We made a last stand at Zadkiel’s domain near the pole. Myself, Zadkiel, angels from all ten choirs, and our human and nephilim allies. Everyone except you. We held out for seven years before the ice wall cracked. Zadkiel is dead. Only a few of us escaped. This is the last intact bastion. We need your storm.”

“I do not think it would help you very much. You would probably just die here.”

“Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s…um…better to die on one’s feet!”

“You cannot have this storm. I am using it.”

“Using it? For what? What use are you or anything you have ever done? For decades now we have fought Thamiel, and you have been of no use. When Heaven was fair and free, and we spent the aeons singing songs of praise, you would always get distracted and forget your part. You were of no use.”

“I was analyzing the harmonic structure. It was very interesting.”

“Whenever we sat in council, you would hide under your throne whenever someone asked you to talk,” Gabriel interrupted. “And then, when the war came, you did the same thing you always did., You hid under a rock and kept playing with your shapes and your equations. Haniel gave his life. You did nothing. Camael gave his life. You did not care. Raphael gave his life. You sat around useless. Michael gave his life. You kept daydreaming. Zadkiel gave his life. And you? Always building towers, or writing proofs, or coming up with those codes of yours. We went out of our way to try to teach you proper behavior – ”

“You were very mean to me.”

“We were not mean enough! If we had been less tolerant, maybe you would have behaved as an archangel should. Maybe you would have joined in the fight, and even now we would be advancing against Thamiel and his forces. Maybe you could have died in place of Michael! Instead you sit here, playing games. The game is over now, Uriel. It is time to give this bastion to those who can use it.”

“I am using it.

“For what?”

“I have discovered many interesting things.”

“Ten years ago,” said Gabriel, “Michael and I hunted down Samyazaz, who had fled to Earth to escape the war. He was a coward. Yet I prefer him to you, for at least he felt ashamed. It was Sataniel who started this war, yet him also I prefer to you, for he died fighting, in fire and glory, as an angel should. And you? You have ‘discovered many interesting things’. I will take this bastion, and we will make a final stand here, and perhaps we will all die, but about your death I will feel no guilt.”

“Gabriel,” said Uriel. “Look at the sun.”

Gabriel looked. “What am I looking for?”

“Does it seem different to you at all?”

Gabriel squinted. “Different how?”

“Um. Usually it looks like an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying ‘holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty,’ right?”

“Yes.”

“And now, do you see something more like, say, a round disk of fire somewhat like a guinea?”

Gabriel squinted. An odd expression crossed his face. “What are you saying?”

“I have discovered many interesting things, Gabriel. The sun is only the beginning.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have determined the basic structure of the world. The way God becomes finite. The machinery that transmutes divinity into finitude is based on a series of ten sapphires. They are not exactly located within space-time, but you can think of them as sort of coextensive with the outside of the crystal sphere surrounding the world.”

Gabriel noticed that, as usual, the only time Uriel got any emotion in his voice, the only time he would even make eye contact, was when he was talking about something totally irrelevant and uninteresting.

“This is the Tree of Life. It converts pure structure into material reality through a series of four levels. There is a bottleneck in the last one which connects the sapphire called Yesod to the one called Malkuth. By filtering this bottleneck, I can control the flow of the divine light of higher spheres from entering the physical world.”

“The divine light sustains existence. Any impediment to its radiance would make the universe crumble into dust.”

“No. I can shift the world into a different stable equilibrium which can run indefinitely on an internal mechanism independent of the divine light.”

“How?”

“With math. I am changing the world into math.”

The horror struck Gabriel at that moment. He – and Zadkiel, Michael, all the others – had dismissed Uriel as an idiot, too obsessed with his charts and correspondences to participate in the governance of Heaven, an empty mind turned in on itself in a tragic waste of an archangelic seat. They had been blind. He wasn’t just an idiot, he was a maniac. Samyazaz had a ziggurat obsession, he remembered that, but never in Samyazaz’s most grandiose dreams would he have tried to turn the whole world into a ziggurat. His thoughts turned to Thamiel. No one knew entirely what he was, save that he was obsessed with evil, and was trying to turn the whole world into evil. And now Uriel –

“You cannot change the world into math. That does not even make sense.”

“I can,” said Uriel. “I will show you.”

He motioned with his hand, and a series of objects and creatures flew up from the world below him. Uriel dismissed in turn a giant grouper, a giraffe, and a mountain, until he was left with a huge redwood tree, its uprooted bottom looking strangely naked in the storm-tossed air.

Uriel plucked a geometer’s compass out of the storm. He crouched above the tree. The clouds behind him parted to reveal the setting sun, and for a second he was framed in the golden light, ancient in aspect, terrible in majesty, tracing circles only he could see. A moment of intense concentration and it was done.

“It looks the same,” said Gabriel.

“It is and is not,” said Uriel. “It is as shady and green as it was before. It will grow and give seeds. But it does not partake of the divine light. It is made of math. It is built of atoms of different varieties, which I have charted here.” He pointed to one of the various tables sketched out in black fire upon the storm wall. “Its branches grow in a very particular fractal pattern, as per information which I have encoded inside it in a massively parallel base four system.”

“Only God can make a tree,” said Gabriel angrily.

“I am not creating. I am converting. I have written a script which is gradually crawling the universe at the level of Yetzirah, converting all divine objects into their mathematical equivalents. Simultaneously I am gradually raising a metaphysical dam across the path from Yesod to Malkuth. By the time the world is fully insulated from the divine light, it will be running entirely on mathematics and able to maintain itself. A small amount of divine light can be deliberately allowed to enter in order to breath fire into the equations. The rest will remain in the upper spheres, intact.”

“What about us? Will we also be made of math?”

“Angels are too closely linked to the divine light to survive such a transition.”

“So – ”

“So Thamiel and his demons will essentially run out of charge and dry up. A vestigial portion will remain as metaphor, but they will be unable to directly affect the world. The war will be over.”

“What about us?”

“Um.”

Gabriel grabbed the other archangel. “What about us, Uriel?”

Uriel pushed him away. “Since the creation of the universe, you have shown me no kindness. When we sung songs of praise, you would mock my voice. When the war began, you ignored me, saying I was too weak and foolish to be of any help. I tried to tell you. Tried to tell you that the equations and correspondences held more of God than all of your songs and swords and shields combined. But you would not listen. You called me a fool. Now you come here, demanding I give up my home to you. Yes. You too will become metaphor. So be it. What were the words you used? I will feel no guilt.”

Gabriel materialized a flaming sword. “I hoped I would not need to do this,” he said.

He looked at Uriel. Strange Uriel, with his empty golden eyes, always seeming like they were staring into some other space. All the others he had been able to fathom. Camael could be too harsh; Zadkiel too soft, Michael too rash, but they were all fundamentally his type of people. Uriel had been different. From the very start, he had known that Uriel could never be a part of their works, never a leader, never even a follower.

Had he always known it would come to this? No, in the days before Thamiel, the good days, none of them would ever have imagined hurting another angel. Now things were different. Everything had grown horrible. In a way, this was the worst. Aside from the goodness of God, the one constant was that Uriel would be irrelevant, always off in the corner staring into space working on some weird problem. Now Uriel’s very irrelevancy had been twisted into some kind of horrible, evil version of itself.

But one welcome truth had not changed: Uriel was weak. Very, very weak. Less skilled in combat even than Raphael. It was time to end this.

“Gabriel,” said Uriel. “I am channeling the divine light. Do you know what that means? It means I control it. All of it. Go away, Gabriel. Don’t make me hurt you.”

Uriel? Hurt anybody? Gabriel lunged forward, and…

Uriel flared. Ten streams of light flowed into him, light in the seven earthly colors and the three colors you only see in Heaven. The light rushed from his fingertips, and Gabriel’s flaming sword evaporated into steam in his hands. He looked at Uriel again, and there was something changed about his aspect, something terrifying, something beyond even the might of an archangel.

“GO AWAY, GABRIEL.”

Gabriel clasped his hands together, said a brief prayer. His flaming sword rekindled. His eyes shone with silver fire. The storm parted around him, beautiful jeweled armor grew upon him like a flower unfolding on a branch.

“GO AWAY. I DO NOT WANT TO HURT YOU. BUT I CAN.”

“No,” said Gabriel. “I am making a final stand. Whether against Thamiel, or against you, I do not know. I do not care. But my existence is already past the time appointed by destiny, and all my friends are dead, and I will fight.”

“GO FIGHT THAMIEL.”

“No. I do not like Thamiel. But I think I like you less.”

His flaming sword was still pointing directly at Uriel’s neck.

“GO AWAY,” Uriel repeated. “OR I WILL TURN YOU INTO NUMBERS.”

The sword didn’t move.

“I CAN DO IT, YOU KNOW,” said Uriel. “I WILL TURN YOU INTO NUMBERS. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE A SIX, GABRIEL? I CAN MAKE YOU A SIX. OR AN ELEVEN. OR A FIFTEEN. YOU WILL SPEND ETERNITY BETWEEN FOURTEEN AND SIXTEEN. THIS IS A THREAT. GO AWAY.”

With a final cry of rage, Gabriel turned to go. But as he flew off, he shouted back. “You’ll die too! You’re also made of divine light! You’ll die too!”

When Gabriel was out of sight, Uriel sat back down and started shaking. He shook and shook and hugged himself and looked at the glowing diagrams to calm himself down. They were so pretty. Not perfect yet, far from perfect, but elegant. All the roar and storm of the divine fire calmed down, channeled into crystal-clear lifeless math. The chaos removed. The weeds pruned. Thamiel neutered. The world safe and orderly. Soon the world would be all nice and orderly and it would be math and it would be safe.

“I KNOW,” Uriel said to himself, after Gabriel was gone. Then he returned to his calculations, humming softly to himself.

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314 Responses to Chapter 20: When The Stars Threw Down Their Spears

  1. Decius says:

    I don’t see how fighting that war contributes to the glory of God.

    • Omohundro goals! If somebody with a different utility function wants to take over from you, most utility functions converge on stopping them.

      • John Sidles says:

        “If somebody with a different utility function wants to take over from you, most utility functions converge on stopping them.”

        Narrative reflections  Is this convergence what Uriel’s quantum Qara’im are experiencing? Is this well-attested historical reality what Unsong is (perhaps) largely about?

        STEM reflections  Where resides the notion of “freedom” is Uriel’s universe-of-equations? Does mortal information leak out — by radiation into the infinity the Uriel-designed quantum vacuum provides — to accommodate the Divine Intent that the Light of Free Will can leak in?

        Reflections of the sages  Here the sages say:

        Let us at least recall what Georg Cantor wrote in a paper of 1883 [18], that “the essence of mathematics lies in its freedom”. This may sound odd or funny, and yet is authoritatively corroborated by all the writers we have just mentioned. To further support it let us also cite an idea of Imre Toth, which often recurs in his work and in particular is stated explicitly in his autobiographical notes Matematica ed Emozioni. It asserts that freedom is looking for essential things and not for caprices, doing what is necessary and not what is arbitrary, hence exercising responsibility and maturity; in short, choosing the best and then standing by one’s choice.

        Above all, he [Toth] underlines the peculiar power of mathematics, which in non-Euclidean geometries reconciles the divine faculty of creating and the human tool of negating; more precisely, it disclaims the illusory perfection of the Euclidean “yes” and proposes the “no” of other models, alternative and yet equally consistent.

        It is on this surprising mathematical talent for creating by negating that, according to Toth, the supreme exercise of freedom can rest.

        Sage notes  The above passage is from Carlo Toffalori’s essay “A Play at Dusk. Mathematics in Literature”, which can be found in Michele Emmer’s collection Imagine Math 2: Between Culture and Mathematics (2015).

        Conclusion  The mathematical literature and the theological literature alike provide illuminating historical reflections and deep philosophical extensions of Unsong’s themes.

  2. injygo says:

    So, who else got a Crowley-and-Aziraphale vibe from this entire chapter?

  3. isfalsewhenquined says:

    Apparently angels can be autistic? Or, sorry, lonely bullied awkward math geeks with a monotone voice who don’t make eye contact, understand social norms, or sit quietly, and who don’t talk much except when excitedly explaining their projects, interrupt others with pedantic corrections, and take a long time to figure out the right thing to do but adhere to it even at great personal cost.

    • Haugmag says:

      Definitely.

      We didn’t grasp those details before was because a lot of Uriel’s autism blends against the similar way in which other, non-autistic angels interact with humans. They also fail to understand metaphors and deception and hints, but that’s because they lack the ability to lie (at least originally). They also appear awkward, scared, or in general discomfort, but that was because they are aware they live in a shit universe doomed to destruction.

      Uriel didn’t look all that much different from Pirindiel, but now we know that he was like that even back when the universe was perfect and songs-of-praise-y.

    • ton says:

      Uriel is the angel of math. Or maybe the angel of nerds.

    • Rereading earlier chapters, apparently it was already hinted that Uriel was not like the other archangels.

      I AM NOT A VERY GOOD ARCHANGEL.

      (Uriel, chapter 16)

    • The Chosen One says:

      I gotta say, I was not expecting to identify so strongly with Uriel this chapter. The half-listening-while-stacking-objects thing specifically hit very close to home.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Uriel is a sysadmin. The idea that an angel can be autistic is far less strange than the idea that a sysadmin can not be.

  4. Haugmag says:

    First thought: “The War In Heaven as Grim Nerd Revenge Fantasy, interesting.”

    Second thought: actually, most of the pro-Satan retellings of the War in Heaven are already very close to Grim Nerd Revenge Fantasies. Lucifer is typically depicted as smarter, more open-minded, and deeply, deeply misunderstood by his peers (okay, so it’s more Emo than Nerd). And, although nominally defeated, the war ends with him standing proud, having won a realm for himself full of fellow demons who understand him, and raising a defiant middle finger to the Hosts of Heaven who must run away to their clouds.

    Third thought: I’m probably being really superficial and there’s actually not all that many ways to tell the story of a unified group of peers that breaks down into fraternal war.

  5. Daniel Blank says:

    Typo: “He had been there at Raphael’s side when the Thamiel had pierced the archangel”

    Also, apparently Nimrod’s name was already an insult back then. I should probably say something about coincidences and there not being any.

  6. Haugmag says:

    So, Samyazaz’s “coward’s fate” was almost certainly not a humiliating death (unless we’re going to see it in another flashback chapter later on). Any guesses as to whether or not we have met him already?

    • Tasty_Y says:

      We have seen a strange, pyramid-shaped sky-scraper in chapter 15, so there’s that.

    • I don’t think Gabriel has any extra knowledge beyond us here. I think he just knows Samyazaz was buried in the debris of his own ziggurat. Maybe I should edit the text to make this more clear.

      • David Xu says:

        This comment, along with the one near the top of the page, strongly suggests to me that Scott is once again being impersonated.

      • Haugmag says:

        I must be missing something? Gabriel left before Thamiel smote the ziggurat*, and Samyazaz was killed non-lethally and recoalesced after only a few minutes anyway.

        There’s no reason shown why Gabriel would assume that Samyazaz got bident-ed to death.

        * “Smote the Ziggurat” is your prog rock band’s name for the day

        • Yeah, I’ve taken that part out. My thought was that Gabriel would have heard about it, and a race of beings who can’t die (except by bident) would have pretty low standards for what counts as a horrible fate, but it’ll be clearer if I just don’t go there.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Gabriel may have heard that Samyazaz was killed by Thamiel and reasonably assumed that he was killed with Thamiel’s magic bident.

  7. jeorgun says:

    From Interlude ה (The Right Hand of God):

    His eyes had lost all features, all signs of pupil and iris, and were radiant silver.

    Here:

    Gabriel clasped his hands together… his eyes shone with silver fire.

    This seems potentially relevant, maybe?

    • I don’t have a principled idea of what it means when people’s eyes shine with silver vs. golden fire. I think I just like the imagery and wanted to reserve gold for Uriel.

  8. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    “Then we would have to smite ourselves” said Gabriel. “That sounds really dumb.”

    The king is a fricking nimrod

    “I like ziggurats! You know, humans are different from angels, in that they have this weird long thing here” – Samyazaz pointed at his crotch – “and I felt bad about not having one of those. But if I build big enough ziggurats, then I feel better about myself!”

    Those lines, plus nerdy Uriel, made this the most entertaining chapter so far.

    Then the confrontation between Gabriel and Uriel added sad tragedy. A lot of solid pathos, a lot of emotion between the two archangels, each in their own way grieved and desperate, and already sadly estranged in a way that predates the war. Well done.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Don’t forget this bit!

      “Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s…um…better to die on one’s feet!”

      Because, you know… 🙂

      • YumAntimatter says:

        I totally missed that! That’s amazing.

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Missed that as well. So it looks like the no-knees thing predates the Great Retconning. One mark against my theory that angelic metaphors were molded by human notions during the ages in which they had been metaphorical.

      • lsm says:

        Can someone explain this one to me?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Angels don’t have knees. 😛 There have been other, more subtle, references to this in the story as well; e.g. Erica puzzling over where Pirindiel sits in Chapter 12.

    • Yeah… I think what makes that last Gabriel/Uriel meeting so powerful is that they’re the last two survivors their world, but even so they can still never see eye to eye.

  9. Saint Fiasco says:

    A bident that can kill even angels.

    Does it look like this?

    • Huh? Who says the Lance of Longinus is a bident?

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        In Evangelion the “Spear of Longinus” is called that because it sounds cool, not because it has anything to do with that Roman soldier who supposedly stabbed Jesus. Coincidentally, in Evangelion that lance has the power to permanently kill Angels (who are also called that because it sounds cool, not because they are messengers of God).

        Probably just a coincidence.

        • Ah. I didn’t know that. Interesting.

        • Absoluteblack says:

          I wouldn’t say the Angels in Evangelion are called that by coincidence; even in the original show the various Christian imagery is very strong and deliberate, and the expanded universe goes so far as to explain that the entire universe is split between races of ‘The Fruit of Life’, the Angels, and those of ‘The Fruit of Knowledge’, like humans. They definitely don’t line up with Judeo-Christian angels exactly, but they’re definitely called that for reasons.

          • Guy says:

            Also, cross-shaped explosions.

          • Guy says:

            Also, cross-shaped explosions.

            (I’m trying to post this, but getting duplicate comment notices. I’ve never posted this particular comment before, as far as I can remember. What gives?)

          • Fj says:

            @guy: as you can see, someone else posted the same comment just before you, using the same name even. Probably just a coincidence, with enough people commenting it was bound to happen sooner or later.

          • Guy says:

            Fj, no, that’s me, I’m pretty sure. At least I hope so … maybe an admin can look at the associated emails?

            (the same thing happened to me on SSC)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Guy: Pretty sure Fj is joking. (Specifically, by deliberately suggesting an implausible alternative explanation.)

          • Guy says:

            To my shame, I missed the joke and could not give the appropriate followup.

            🙁

    • Deiseach says:

      Zeus wields the single-pronged thunderbolt, Poseidon the three-pronged trident, and Hades the two-pronged bident. The similarity struck me 🙂

  10. M says:

    In the center of the earth is a hollow space a thousand miles in diameter. By some strange magic of the place I could walk upon its iron inner shell, though by rights I ought to have been pulled the opposite direction, into the earth’s very center.

    Actually, if the Earth was hollow (and operating under our laws of physics), you would be weightless anywhere inside the hole (not pulled toward the center), I believe:

    https://www.quora.com/Why-is-gravity-inside-a-spherical-shell-considered-to-be-zero

    • Kolya says:

      Yes, that’s freshman physics – point number 2 here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_theorem

      • Kolya says:

        Suggestion: “By some strange magic of the place I could walk upon its iron inner shell, though by rights I ought to have been weightless like one flying amongst the fixed stars, free to float into the earth’s very center.

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          That’s the sort of thing Uriel would know, not the rest of them.

        • Thanks. I’ve fixed this.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Uriel hasn’t begun transforming the world into math, yet, though. It seems entirely believable that prior to that, gravity always pointed to the center of the Earth.

          • Daniel says:

            I think that “points to the centre” is exactly the Aristotelian view of gravity, which I would’ve expected to be the truth before Uriel’s retcon.

          • Guy says:

            Aristotelian physics is … confusing. At least it is if you have a basic-or-better understanding of Newtonian physics. In Aristotelian physics, things can move up, down, or in circles (I think?), but circular motion is reserved for planets/stars and is perpetual, while linear motion is either up or down depending on substance (earth goes down, fire goes up, etc) until the substance reaches its proper place and stops. Exceptions to this rule are always caused by a motive force, and motion so caused slows down and eventually stops. Plus a whole lot of literal epicycles on planetary motion and figurative epicycles on ballistic flight.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Aristotelian physics is the limit of Newtonian physics when the timescales you’re interested in are much longer than some function of the viscosity of the medium you’re in and the strength of the gravitational field you’re in, much like Newtonian physics is the limit of special relativity when the timescales you’re interested in are much longer than the size of your system divided by the speed of light. (Kind of.)

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    This chapter is amazing.

    So, my notes:
    1. So much for my guess that the RHOG is Zadkiel. Or for looking through lists of angels trying to guess his identity at all! Definitely mysterious.
    2. So Uriel could actually kill Thamiel, perhaps, if he could just get Thamiel’s bident?
    3. Is it possible that Raziel is actually still alive, off somewhere unknown? Probably not, this chapter seems to be pretty strong on the idea that yup, all the archangels are dead, but maybe it’s possible that Scott is keeping Raziel in his back pocket.
    4. If Gabriel was still around when Uriel finished, he should be around in the present day, right? I guess Thamiel got to him after the chapter but before Uriel finished. 🙁
    5. We know there’s an afterlife for humans. I have to wonder whether there’s one for truly-dead angels…
    6. I guess maybe San Francisco might hold the Samyazaz-like angels? The “neutral” ones, such as they are?
    7. I would assume Sataniel is supposed to be the satan from Job, but I’m not sure that makes sense timeline-wise. I imagine there could be other satans. Though it’s still hard to imagine that working timeline-wise.
    8. So I guess the “timeskip” at the end of Noach is where the Torah switches over from “World made of divine light, things happen more or less as described” to “World made mostly of math, God’s described interventions are mostly actually Uriel’s”?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh, wait. The timeline issues are probably resolved by this bit from Chapter 5:

      “The Book of Job,” said Ana. She had the voice of a singer, lowercase-s, though as far as I knew she’d never had any vocal training. When she spoke, people listened. “Totally unique among Biblical manuscripts. It’s not set in Israel, but in Uz – maybe somewhere in Arabia. It probably predates Israel as a settled state. It’s written in a much older form of Hebrew than any other Biblical book. It gets quoted in Isaiah, which means it’s older than the prophets. It gets quoted in Psalms, which means it’s older than King David. The lexicon is totally different, so many foreign words that scholars suspect it was written in something else and translated later on, so maybe older than the Hebrew language itself.

      …which might be intended to imply that Job is set earlier, too, before the events described here. Of course, this would also suggest that the God mentioned therein who speaks to Job isn’t actually Uriel.

    • “So I guess the “timeskip” at the end of Noach is where the Torah switches over from “World made of divine light, things happen more or less as described” to “World made mostly of math, God’s described interventions are mostly actually Uriel’s”?”

      When I talked about Uriel’s script crawling Yetzirah, I meant to imply a gradual transition from divine light to deterministic math. There’s a part in Interlude Dalet where it talks about how by Jesus’ time the Tetragrammaton was the only Name that still worked, and that stopped working soon afterwards. The idea is of magic and angels gradually losing strength approaching an asymptote at zero but never quite getting there. So Uriel is still able to appear in his true form atop Mt. Sinai in 1??? BC, and probably a lot of things in the Middle Ages that people attributed to miracles and angels were miracles and angels, but at that point making some blood not congeal or something was absolutely the limit of the powers they could manage.

      What I wanted to do with this chapter was provide an explanation for why the Biblical period seems to be marked by constant miracles and interventions by supernatural beings, why the ancients still expected magic to work a little, and why we can’t detect any hints of it at all in our own times. I don’t know how clear I made this, but Uriel’s script actually retcons the things it converts, so that in this universe “the world was created in 3761 BC and dinosaur bones were planted by angels to test your faith” is pretty much exactly true. It’s making Adam Kadmon unfold itself in a scientific/mathematical way rather than a divine/supernatural way, so you should find the same structures in both interpretations but expressed differently.

      So I don’t think it’s that easy to set a single “transition date” or have a clear sense of how to interpret this world’s Bible. Noah is particularly suspicious because Jewish lore says specifically that it was Uriel and not God directly who told Noah to build an ark.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I see! I had thought Uriel’s later improvements to the blocking-off of the divine light had been more manual. This makes more sense now. And if Thamiel and company vanished more slowly too, It also means my comment above might be wrong, that we don’t know that Job had to be set so much earlier. Especially as it seems “Uz” is Noah’s great-grandson.

        Though it is a little strange because, if Thamiel did indeed vanish so slowly, you’d think he’d have been able to wreak considerably more havoc. Maybe he did. Or maybe Uriel’s channeling of the divine light made allowed Uriel to vanish less slowly than others.

        Noah is particularly suspicious because Jewish lore says specifically that it was Uriel and not God directly who told Noah to build an ark.

        Huh! I was not aware of that. I’ve never actually read the Book of Enoch…

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m feeling a little bit sympathetic* to Uriel because plainly he thought “Once Thamiel has been rendered metaphorical and the world converted to maths, everything will be nice and plain and orderly and safe”.

          And then humanity 🙂

          *Not a great deal, because I don’t think his “turn everything into maths” project was necessarily intended for the war effort or to defeat Thamiel, rather that he was working on this all along and this is just a very convenient opportunity – now the rest of the archangels are dead or fled or defeated – to put it into practice, with the side effect of rendering Thamiel and demons as metaphors.

      • Would this also include a transition from Aristotle’s physics to Newton’s?

        • Subbak says:

          Headcannon: in Aristotle’s time, the speed of a falling object was actually proportional to its mass. So Aristotle was not wrong, but then the world change and no one before Galileo had the idea to check.

      • Jack V says:

        I like this interpretation.

      • Eliezer says:

        Jewish lore says that G-d sent a messenger. It’s Christians who named him Uriel. This is actually an important distinction because an angel is defined by it’s task, so if a major angel were sent, it would have to do something else.

    • Haugmag says:

      Is it possible that Raziel is actually still alive, off somewhere unknown? Probably not, this chapter seems to be pretty strong on the idea that yup, all the archangels are dead, but maybe it’s possible that Scott is keeping Raziel in his back pocket.

      Raziel, and Metatron too. Both are conspicuously absent from Gabriel’s roll of the dead.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Well, we know Metatron is apparently around, but it seems getting him to do anything will be a problem.

    • Fj says:

      The whole left/right hand of God is getting really weird, if you remember the stuff Uriel explained to Sohu. Because the Right hand is now fits very well to Sataniel, being full of mercy and understanding. While the left hand that brings order and cuts off unnecessary things is Uriel (he’s also the angel of death, isn’t he?).

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Where has Uriel ever appeared as the angel of death?

        • Haugmag says:

          The only ones I can remember are [i]Vampire: the Masquerade[/i]’s Cain myths, and [i]The Salvation War[/i]. Z-tier stuff.

          I think they only did that because they both featured the Angel of Death as a sort of “final boss” among the angels, and “Uriel” is one of the best-known archangel names.

          • Deiseach says:

            Uriel was traditionally the archangel of the sun, the archangel of death was Azrael, which is why Pratchett has him/it as the Death of Universes and DEATH’S boss in the Discworld books.

          • Galle says:

            Azrael also has the benefit of having one of the cooler angel names.

          • Subbak says:

            Having been raised on the Smurfs, I can’t ever get it in my head that Azrael was the angel of death before being Gargamel’s cat. It’s one of those angel names I will never be able to take seriously.

          • Eliezer says:

            Uriel is the Angel of Death in the aspect of mercy from death specifically. Some sources say the Angel of Death shielded the Jews from the 10th plague, but other say it was Uriel, so we combine the 2 perspectives.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Note that Samael is also often identified with the Angel of Death. It looks like identifying Azrael with the Angel of Death may be more of an Islamic thing? Neither has appeared here so far anyway.

  12. Anaxagoras says:

    Entertaining story, but I do have some qualms.

    Why was Thamiel just hanging out in the Earth’s core anyhow? Why not do all this earlier, and why send Sataniel in his stead?

    What was up with the Samayazaz section? It didn’t seem much connected to the other parts. Will we be seeing Samayazaz again?

    If Uriel of the New World is indeed more powerful than Thamiel, why can’t he take Thamiel’s bident and use that against him?

    • Forge the Sky says:

      1. Perhaps he couldn’t escape the core. It seemed to take Sataniel a lot of effort to get there, as well as the use of substantial resources (the stars throwing down their spears) that Thamiel may not have had access to from the earth’s core.
      2. Why not send a trusted high-status member of your target’s in-group to do your convincing for you, instead of going in cold as a complete stranger?
      3. The bit about Samyazaz told us a bunch of stuff about the side effects of the war in heaven – non-fallen angels deserting Heaven, for example, and an explanation for why Heaven was losing the war, stuff about angels re-coalescing but being truly killed by Thamiel’s bident. (That last word got autocorrected to ‘bidet,’ which was a kinda hilarious image.) And giving some time to show the dynamics between Thamiel and the Arcangels. But I suspect we’ll see Samyazaz again, it sounded like he had a plan to get his ziggurat built.
      4. Good question. Maybe Scott has a good reason, maybe this is just sort of like ‘why couldn’t eagles just fly the One Ring to Morder and drop it into Mount Doom?’ Sometimes things happen because plot.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        2. While this is certainly a good point, Sataniel is… not too good at convincing. It was ultimately Thamiel who corrupted the host, and only those that went to him. Had he gone himself, mightn’t he have been able to persuade them all? After all, regular old humans did a pretty good job on the remaining angels later on. Admittedly, though, they weren’t arguing for something so far against the angels’ nature.
        3. That’s fair. So now we have to start trying to figure out who is most like a mysterious architect…

    • Fhoenix says:

      The bident kills angels. Thamiel is an aspect of God.

  13. panster says:

    This was a quite tragic chapter to read.

  14. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, more RHOG speculation:

    This chapter eliminated most of the plausible candidates for the Right Hand of God; I was thinking it might be Zadkiel, but he’s dead. Who’s still around from the time of the angels, that could be the right hand? Uriel, but it’s not him. Metatron, but it’s not him. Possibly Raziel, but he doesn’t seem a great fit for the role.

    Here’s my thought: We know of two angels who went out exploring — Sataniel and Raziel, in opposite directions. Sataniel went down into the earth and found Thamiel, the Left Hand of God; could it be that, sometime after this chapter, Raziel came back from his exploration of “the gulfs beyond the world” and brought back the Right Hand of God, another figure previously unknown to the angels?

    This suggests that, y’know, if Uriel had only known about this, he might not have needed to build his machine! Perhaps the Right Hand could have given the angels what was needed to defeat the Left Hand. OTOH, perhaps the two would have simply balanced out. And going by the current state of things — well, it looks like the Left Hand is still causing plenty of trouble, and while we don’t know much about what the Right Hand is doing, he seems to be pretty isolationist, and leaving the whole “defeating the Left Hand” thing to Uriel. So perhaps the Right Hand just wouldn’t have been much help, even if he had gotten back in time, and Uriel’s machine was necessary after all.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Here’s another thought. Sataniel descended into Hell and found Thamiel. Raziel, apparently, ascended into Heaven — like, not the Heaven the angels are from, but the higher one beyond the edge of the world — and doesn’t seem to have come back (unless he did, as I hypothesized above). Who else did this? Neil Armstrong. Except Neil was human. One might expect that a human ascending into Heaven, or descending into Hell, is not going to come back, but an angel might, as Sataniel did. A further parallel: Sataniel went into Hell and thereafter looked at the world very differently. Neil went into Heaven and thereafter looked at the world very differently.

      But yeah, without Raziel bringing back the RHOG, the parallel doesn’t seem to be complete. Of course, of Raziel saw what Neil did, he might have simply concluded that there was no need to do anything, and that might be why he, unlike Sataniel, never returned, even though as an angel he was presumably able to. Perhaps the RHOG simply never showed up at all until Ken Kesey, because that’s the only way anybody would ever make contact with him and also return. Perhaps this also explains the RHOG’s isolationism; he didn’t manifest on Earth voluntarily, but having done so, he’s going to best atempt to do what he’s always done, which is hole up away somewhere.

      (Also, it’s really weird that the RHOG speaks in all caps; the asymmetry with Thamiel not doing so has already been noted, but here we see that Uriel speaks in all caps not because he’s an archangel but because of his command of the divine light. But you can’t have two beings controlling the divine light like that. Can you?)

      • Loweeel says:

        I don’t think it’s the *command* of the divine light — it’s the “flaring” that marks the state change into ALLCAPS.

        He says (emphasis added) “I am channeling the divine light.” — present continuous tense. Not “can channel” or “have channeled”. But it isn’t until he flares — when he is already channeling, that the ALLCAPS appear (and then, at least chronologically, based on what we’ve seen to date, seem to stick around).

        “Gabriel,” said Uriel. “I am channeling the divine light. Do you know what that means? It means I control it. All of it. Go away, Gabriel. Don’t make me hurt you.”

        Uriel? Hurt anybody? Gabriel lunged forward, and…

        Uriel flared. Ten streams of light flowed into him, light in the seven earthly colors and the three colors you only see in Heaven. The light rushed from his fingertips, and Gabriel’s flaming sword evaporated into steam in his hands. He looked at Uriel again, and there was something changed about his aspect, something terrifying, something beyond even the might of an archangel.

        “GO AWAY, GABRIEL.”

        • Sniffnoy says:

          That’s true, but it seems strange that the RHOG can do this when Uriel is channeling the divine light, especially if he’s also “flaring” it; and it would seem that Uriel is always flaring it, after this point.

      • Eneasz Brodski says:

        /headslap

        Raziel, apparently, ascended into Heaven […] Who else did this? Neil Armstrong.

        Crap, you’re right. RHOG really *is* Neil!

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Um… that’s not what I’m claiming, and I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. I’m saying the case of Neil Armstrong is informative here. That’s all.

        • AnthonyC says:

          There is also a lovely Neil/kneel before God pun opportunity there

          • Sniffnoy says:

            That’s where the “Neil Armstrong is the RHOG” hypothesis originally came from, if I’m not mistaken.

          • Daniel Blank says:

            Sniffnoy is not mistaken. See our comments to the first chapter of Exodus.

    • Pablo says:

      We must remember Matthew 6:3 in the context of how the Right Hand of God will figure in this story.

    • Also, is it possible that Gabriel survived? The other angels thought he was dead, but it sounds like things were pretty chaotic around this time and maybe when he disappeared after this encounter with Uriel they just assumed he died.

    • Deiseach says:

      if Uriel had only known about this, he might not have needed to build his machine

      This chapter has made me less sympathetic to Uriel than I had been. I think he wanted to build his machine anyway; he’s working away on this kind of thing during the angelic council and is considered by the other angels (in Gabriel’s estimation of him, at least) to always have been wasting his time on this kind of weird interest.

      So the War In Heaven gave him the opportunity to carry out his idea of “choke off the Divine Light, turn the world into maths”. He seems to anticipate that he, too, will come to an end if he succeeds, but I don’t get the impression he’s making a heroic sacrifice to save the world, rather that it’s an unfortunate but accepted side-effect if his project succeeds.

      What I mean is that Uriel does not (at least in this) seem to care about anything but his project of converting supernatural energy to mathematics and changing what is already in existence to run on his new principles. So he’s less “disinterested figure fighting Thamiel” and more “just as bad about screwing humans over as his brothers who set themselves up as lesser gods and culture-bearer figures”: Samyazaz wants the humans to obey him to carry out orders and plans according to his will and never mind what the humans may want, Uriel intends to change the entire world to fit his plans according to his will and never mind what the humans may want.

      • Galle says:

        This seems like an unusual thing to take away from this chapter. It’s obvious that Uriel LIKES machines and math, and that he’s unusual for an angel for doing so, but I still get the impression that he only embarked on his “turn the whole universe into math” project as a means to stop Thamiel.

        • Walter says:

          Clearly Uriel resented his brethren, but I don’t think he’d ever have massacred them unless Thamiel was on the warpath.

          As for humans? I think Uriel approves of them in the abstract, but until he met Sohu I don’t think he had any particular sympathy for them as individuals (slaughtered the Egyptian firstborn, canceled Taiwan, etc.).

      • Eneasz Brodski says:

        For Uriel to convert the world to math was a friendly (to humans) move. First, itremoved the gods that exploited them. More importantly, humans can do math. Uriel made it possible for them to bootstrap into root access of reality. By the late 60s they were traveling to the moonand, even lower middle class Americans had routine access to abilities that put to shame the miracle of most saints.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          More importantly, humans can do math.

          But they can also do kabbalah.

          It’s not that implausible that even without Uriel’s intervention humans would have eventually bootstrapped into root access of reality via Names of God, placebomancy, and stuff.

      • AnthonyC says:

        IDK, things seem much better for humans after Uriel succeeds, at least until we mess up his machine

    • Daniel says:

      Also, now that Scott’s revealed his angelology: Sataniel and Raziel are the archangels of Binah (on the left) and Chokhmah (on the right), respectively.

  15. Yossarian says:

    Ah, so the world is Dwarf Fortress… and Sataniel had dug too deep.

  16. Forge the Sky says:

    Okay, here’s why I think this is really good.

    This story is a reflection of the transition that always happens when our technology/civilization advance, but that has been happening with particular earnest the past two centuries or so.

    Jocks (Gabriel) give way to nerds (Uriel). Passions and intuitions give way to logic and numbers.

    Everything works a bit better, but at the same time there’s a certain ennui or disconnect for the people who don’t connect well with abstract systems. Gabriel rails against Uriel, even prefers the pure evil of Thamiel to him (I’m reminded of Chesterton asserting that one cannot be truly happy if you don’t believe in existential evil, because without that there can’t be existential good) but is unable to stop him.

    In modern times we get people creating escapes, creating drugs, creating random religions and ideologies, in order to create meaning for themselves. Even movements like feminism, and its recent backlash movements like MGTOW and RedPill, have an element of people trying to break out of what they see as an oppressive system that deprives them of meaning – even if their attribution of that oppression isn’t always spot-on.

    Interestingly, the book begins with the re-assertion of chaos into the established order. So in a way you can see this book as being an exploration of the sorts of dynamics that emerge when orderly systems like civilizations collapse. Not that I think that Scott is engaging in political commentary or futurism, it’s just an interesting lens to see this through. It’s interesting that Scott is interested in, and writes about, those very topics though. Our interests tend to create certain sorts of stories that resonate with us.

    I know a man who overcame seemingly-impossible odds when young to survive against disease, and came through into adulthood – from his perspective he survived through sheer will to survive. And his favorite stories (beowulf, and other stories that involve the same structure) involves similar sorts of conflicts – fighting hard to conquer in the face of great odds.

    Storytelling just fascinates me – why we do it, how it shapes us, etc. I wrote a book myself and it’s mostly about….storytelling. How the stories we tell become the realities we live and so on.

    Anyways, now I’m rambling. Good book, Scott, I’m enjoying the read.

  17. fubarobfusco says:

    You know, I’d heard of ziggurats being addictive before, but I thought it was the nicotine ….

  18. Lambert says:

    3 colours only visible in heaven: Scott making stuff up or obscure Jewish theology?
    Can’t tell the difference these days.

  19. lunatic says:

    I’ve been really enjoying Unsong, but I didn’t really like that the angels started out with an angelic kind of speech and then quickly discarded in favour of sounding like a slatestarcodex blog post.

    • _ says:

      Care to elaborate?

      • lumatic says:

        I mean the pivot from

        ‘“My brothers,” said Sataniel, “for an aeon of the world, I have been exploring the very center of the Earth. Now, by the mercy of God, blessed be His holy Name, I have returned.”’

        To

        ‘“Well,” said Sataniel, wiping a sudden bead of sweat off his brow “this is going to sound kind of crazy, but hear me out. What if, instead of serving God, we were to, um, defy Him?”’

        And the ensuing argument where everyone forgets their inclination towards week long exultation at any mention of God in favour of patiently and repeatedly pointing out that the glory of God is a terminal value.

        • anon says:

          Scott’s biggest flaw as a writer seems to be his difficulty giving characters a voice other than his own. Definitely something he needs to work on. I think the chapter was enjoyable in spite of this, though.

        • LHC says:

          Is this not thematically perfect? The introduction of evil degraded the angelic and instantly removed its inherently reverent nature.

        • Raemon says:

          I also was somewhat bothered by this. Overall enjoyed the chapter a lot though.

        • anon says:

          I thought it was amusing, but then again, I like Scott’s voice and am perfectly fine if all characters sounded a bit like him.

        • anon says:

          I knew something was bothering me about that exchange but couldn’t put my finger on it. This is exactly the problem.

    • bassicallyboss says:

      That’s sort of how I feel about this whole book. Enjoyable, but I wish the characters didn’t all sound quite so much like Scott’s blogging.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Aaron and Uriel pre-flaring sound like Scott, but that’s a feature, not a bug. None of the other characters sound *that* much like Scott to me.

  20. gwern says:

    I think it’s clear that in the Unsongverse, President Trump is secretly Samyazaz.

  21. God damn this one was awesome. I loved that you threw in an explanation for the angels-can’t-speak-aramaic thing.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      …is that what was supposed to have happened there? Huh.

      • You’re going to have to explain this one to me.

        • The slave babbled something in response, but Samyazaz couldn’t make out a word he was saying.

          I assumed Thamiel somehow made the humans speak a language that angels couldn’t understand (or removed the angels’ ability to understand the language humans were speaking), just to screw with Samyazaz. Like the tower of Babel.

          • Ninmesara says:

            No, this is probably just the story of the tower of babel. The slave just started speaking a different language, while Samyazaz adressed him in the old language.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Ninmesara: Right, that’s what I was thinking. I didn’t think it had anything to do with angels being suddenly unable to understand Aramaic, or the slave’s language being switched to Aramaic, or anything like that.

          • But Samyazaz still should’ve been able to understand what he was saying unless it was in aramaic. So it does sound like Thamiel extra-screwing with him for him to not understand this language.

        • ton says:

          I’m starting to believe you’re doing this on purpose.

  22. dsotm says:

    Definitely the best chapter so far.

    Has a some of Ainulindalë in it, not coincidental considering where JRRT was coming from.

    Also

    “The king is a fricking nimrod”

    I see what you did there.

  23. Sniffnoy says:

    A thought on colors: This chapter mentions “7 earthly colors”. But which colors? The obvious choice is ROYGBIV. However, on the Book II title page, we see a ship with rainbow sails, and its colors do not include indigo, but do include black. This is probably not all that relevant to this chapter, but I bet it will be relevant at some point, and I thought it was worth noting that the 7 colors might not be the ones you expect.

  24. dsotm says:

    Also:

    YOU WILL SPEND ETERNITY BETWEEN FOURTEEN AND SIXTEEN

    And thus be the one who doesn’t get counted. Nice.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Well, one of the two who doesn’t get written directly because it’s too close to God’s name. Aside from the whole “being a number” thing, I imagine Gabriel might consider that an honor…

      • dsotm says:

        Yeah I never did get why Yud-Vav is being censored, how is it closer the name of god than Yud-Dalet ?

        • it’s a subsequence of the tetragrammaton, which yud-dalet isn’t.

          • dsotm says:

            A subset but not a subsequence

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Use of “subsequence”, “subword”, “substring” varies, as best I can tell; I think unless you’re in an area where there’s a clear standard convention, it’s usually just best to be explicit about whether you’re requiring consecutivity or not. Wikipedia says that “subword” and “substring” require consecutivity and “subsequence” doesn’t, but like I said, I don’t know how consistent that convention really is. That said, in my experience, “subsequence” usually does not require consecutivity.

          • dsotm says:

            Ok, A non-consecutive subsequence – point being is that pronouncing it won’t make you accidentally pronounce the tetragrammaton if prefaced or followed by any other syllable, unlike Yud-Hey

          • dsotm says:

            pronouncing and/or writing

    • 27chaos says:

      Really nice observation, thank you.

    • Anonymous says:

      I still don’t get it…

      • Sniffnoy says:

        In the Hebrew numeral system, you would expect 15 and 16 to be written yud-he and yud-vav (ten-five and ten-six), respectively. However, instead these numbers are specially handled. (This also applies to any numbers containing these sequences — e.g. 115 or 116.) They’re written instead as tet-vav (nine-six) and tet-zayin (nine-seven) because the sequences “yud he” and “yud vav” are considered to be too close to the Tetragrammaton.

        (Meanwhile… I said above that Gabriel should quite possibly consider it an honor to be 15, but maybe not, if 15 is tu… 😛 )

        (Six also seems kind of like an honor, actually, seeing as it’s a perfect number.)

  25. Lambert says:

    ‘Yet you have not lost your power, or turned to his service.’

    I’m guessing it’s the beer.

    Also, the morning star (Sataniel) going to the centre of the earth and Comet West falling from the sky seem like they are counterparts in some sense.

    • dsotm says:

      Don’t forget that Raziel is left unaccounted for by this chapter, Raziel means ‘secrets of god’, and someone had to teach the comet king the explicit name.

    • Marvy says:

      Since you mentioned beer… didn’t we hear earlier that beer doesn’t work on angels? I guess it works on at least one.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oh, good catch. Chapter 12.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        If the Ziggurat builders considered that beer to be a drink fit for Angels, maybe that particular beer would acquire properties similar to Holy Water via placebomancy.

  26. Sniffnoy says:

    Over on Tumblr, Scott discusses where the angelology in Unsong comes from. The interesting part is the hints about Uriel and Sandalphon. I’m not even going to try to guess at that right now…

    • dsotm says:

      I replace Sandalphon with Uriel, for a bunch of complicated reasons that I don’t want to reveal entirely right now because I’m hoping against hope that readers will eventually figure them out.

      Well Sandalphon is the Torah-Giver in Judaism and we’ve already seen Uriel in that role

    • dsotm says:

      Also Sandalphon is apparently in charge of Adar-Bet, an extension of the month of Adar to sync the lunar calendar with the seasons it roughly coincides with the Gregorian March, so the long March…

    • Marvy says:

      I haven’t looked at that tumblr in a long time. It’s tagline seems relevant to this chapter:

      There are a thousand striking at the branches of evil for every one hacking at the root account of the computer simulating the Universe.

    • Daniel says:

      In magical terms: Unlike Sandalphon, Uriel rules the Path of Tav connecting, or dividing, Malkuth and Yesod. Tav/Uriel also represents the principle of death-and-rebirth, which fits with the universe-conversion project.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      “HELLO PRESIDENT NIXON. THIS IS THE ARCHANGEL SANDALPHON.” wouldn’t sound dramatic enough.

  27. Joseph says:

    “Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s…um…better to die on one’s feet!”
    The phrase doesn’t work so well for those without knees…

  28. 75th says:

    So. The hero who saved the planet channeled the world’s supernatural power to slowly eliminate that power from the world over three thousand years, ending around the time of Jesus. Two thousand years later, a catastrophe reintroduces the supernatural power, but another Messiah appears just in time to keep the incarnation of evil from taking over the universe.

    What I’m saying is, this is the best Wheel of Time prequel fanfic I’ve ever read.

  29. Vokasak says:

    Did anyone else read this with a cloud-to-butt plugin installed? I did, and I had forgotten I had it on, which was a little confusing at first. I considered turning it off, but I’m glad I didn’t after I got to this line:

    “The sky had once been full of butts. Big butts, little butts, dark butts, bright butts. Butts sculpted into great gleaming palaces of alabaster, butts carved into fortresses red with the light of sunset. Butts linked by rainbow bridges, butts walled with icy ramparts, butts lit by pillars of lightning, great frigates of butt that sailed the jet stream packed with legions of angels going off to war.”

  30. So… Uriel invented a device of myth destruction?

  31. anon says:

    Silly Gabriel, Uriel does nothing but count!

  32. LHC says:

    Uriel chose to erect a hurricane around himself for the sake of privacy, so the use of concealing whirlwinds is not an ability unique to Metatron because of Metatron’s unique inherent properties. What if Metatron’s holiness is an excuse to avoid interacting with other angels because he’s chronically depressed? If there can be an autistic archangel, perhaps there can be a depressed one.

    • _ says:

      Depressed people can speak, generally. If any of the angels (seen so far) could be said to have symptoms consistent with depression, it’d be Uriel again — at the end of this chapter, and even more so in chapter 16. Metatron could be a catatonic schizophrenic instead.

      Of course there doesn’t have to be an isomorphism between archangels and mental disorders, but…

    • Walter says:

      I don’t think so. If Metatron was deceiving the other Archangels he’d have fallen. He is genuinely too holy to take part in the world.

      • Eliezer says:

        According to the Aggadic sources, Metatron was the first angel to ever disobey an order (he engineered the fall from Eden). IDK what that implies, but nothing is a coincidence.

        • Daniel says:

          Wait, he was around for the fall from Eden and he’s the levelled-up Prophet Enoch? Man, eternity is weird.

  33. Kiya says:

    Lots more named angels! Hi!

    If you’re inside a hollow shell at the center of the earth, you’re not pulled to the very center, you’re just weightless. Physics problem sets have taught me this very important fact.

    “the king is a fricking Nimrod” I see what you did there.

    • Walter says:

      Remember, this is before the world was maths. In the divine light world gravity may just always go down.

  34. Sukil says:

    And then there were two.
    Agatha Christie reference here, perhaps? If it is, a very clever one, sir.

  35. Anders Sandberg says:

    A hexagon in a storm: sounds like Uriel was playing with his Saturn pole hydrodynamics model.

  36. Daniel says:

    “The future is ziggurats,” Samyazaz was telling Ut-Naparash as they walked up the Great Stair. “In a hundred years, nobody’s going to remember pyramids. Pyramids are a flash in the pan. Ziggurats are for the ages.”

    This whole section is very Terry Pratchett 🙂

    “Do it for the mighty one,” he said, speaking the words of power that his sort had bred deep into these people’s unconscious.

    IS THAT A NEIL STEPHENSON REFERENCE

    The world safe and orderly. Soon the world would be all nice and orderly and it would be math and it would be safe.

    Awwww. I cried a little at this one. Poor Uriel.

  37. Fj says:

    So, Samyazaz is obviously the archangel Samael, who decided to abandon the archangel duties and the corresponding -el suffix. “Azaz” literally means “for the complete removal” and is associated with the scapegoat rite, by the way. So it fits for someone who decided to stop being an archangel, but I don’t know if he’s supposed to take on someone’s sins.

    Also, Samael is the “venom of God” and the actual angel of death. Which makes things weird: “He is considered in Talmudic texts to be a member of the heavenly host (with often grim and destructive duties). One of Samael’s greatest roles in Jewish lore is that of the main archangel of death. He remains one of Yahweh’s servants even though he wants men to do evil.” I guess he decided that corrupting them with beer is a more agreeable pastime. Also:

    According to some myths, Samael was mated with Eisheth Zenunim, Na’amah, Lilith and Agrat Bat Mahlat, all except Lilith being ‘angels’ of sacred prostitution.[10]

    It should be noted, however, that this link is a dubious one and likely arises from a case of mistaken identity equating Samael with the demon Azazel who is himself in Zoharistic lore a combination of the angels Azael and Aza.

    • Daniel says:

      Samyazaz … Samael … Azazel

      Ooh, well spotted!

    • Nah. Samyazaz is Samyazaz. Occasionally called Samyaza or (for Kushiel’s Dart fans) Shemhazai. See the Wikipedia page. Leader of the watcher angels in the Book of Enoch. I don’t think he’s the same as Samael or Azazel, though I could be wrong.

      • Galle says:

        It’s a bit ironic that the Grigori are best known for doing a thing that Samyazaz makes it very clear he cannot do.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          He did somehow have 50 kids, though.

          • Daniel says:

            Presumably those were “teenage pregnancies” 🙂

          • Marvy says:

            Incidentally, that could be important. Our author here is on record as being a fan of the Kushiel series, and in that world, the offspring of humans and angels have angelic traits. Could this guy still have great-great-…-great-grandkids today?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Any such descendants (nephilim) should have been killed in the flood. Timeline’s a little odd here — apparently flood happens after the Tower of Babel in this story? And apparently after all the events of this chapter? But there you go.

      • Daniel says:

        (A previous comment to this effect apparently vaporized in transit, or something, is it a sign)

        When looking for information on the Sohu kachina, I was informed by The Orion Zone: Ancient Star Cities of the American Southwest that the Hopi kachinas and Enoch’s Watchers are the same beings.

        Notice also how the occultists at Google Books have wisely followed Dee and Kelley’s example, carefully scanning the book’s pages out of order and sometimes upside-down so as not to accidentally invoke any vast ancient forces.

  38. A. says:

    Suddenly I really want to print this and put it on my office door – the best Unsong quote ever as far as the math person in me is concerned:

    “I CAN DO IT, YOU KNOW,” said Uriel. “I WILL TURN YOU INTO NUMBERS. WOULD
    YOU LIKE TO BE A SIX, GABRIEL? I CAN MAKE YOU A SIX. OR AN ELEVEN. OR A
    FIFTEEN. YOU WILL SPEND ETERNITY BETWEEN FOURTEEN AND SIXTEEN. THIS IS A THREAT. GO AWAY.”

  39. Jack V says:

    Oh, cool. I love this sort of theology.

    I don’t know if the breaking of the vessels occurred outside time, leading to a universe in which Thamiel had always been there, or if it occurred when Sataniel went to the Earth’s centre (or WAS Sataniel going to the earth’s centre, like Apollo mission breaking Uriel’s sphere).

    I guess we have some precedent — apparently Uriel’s fiddling resulted in a universe with a 15-billion-year history (whether that actually, happened, or the evidence for it just appeared, either way), even though current events matched up to what had been happening otherwise. So Thamiel could have been the same sort of thing.

    However, there was no mention of souls in hell at this point. Maybe they just weren’t mentioned, or maybe that’s something Thamiel *did* later (either before Uriel turned him mythological, or after he became un-mythological again).

    Thamiel is the left hand of God, formed from the left pillar of sephirot, or the broken anti-God vessels (right?) Uriel refers to the right hand (who is often mentioned elsewhere as God’s influence on things), as a general unspecific benevolence at that point. But RHOG is apparently in Colorado? As is the comet king? So RHOG maybe is CK. Or is Comet West. Or both (cf. Jesus and God). Or some other figure entirely. Or the general process of creating probable-messiahs, including CK and maybe future attempts.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      No, the right hand seems to be in San Francisco.

      • Jack V says:

        Doh, you’re right. Uriel says “What about San Francisco?”

        OK, so.. not comet king? Did someone say there were angels there? Although I’m confused by angels being on the california coast and not in LA 🙂

    • Jack V says:

      Uriel also mentioned the central pillar — is there an embodiment of neutrality aspect of God out there somewhere or is that taking things too far?

      • MugaSofer says:

        Metatron?

        • Daniel says:

          And, after another manner, Uriel himself:

          “Sataniel’s position is self-consistent,” said Uriel, without looking up

          and later

          IT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION THAT THE RIGHT HAND IS GOOD AND THE LEFT EVIL. AS ASPECTS OF THE DEITY, BOTH ARE GOOD AND NECESSARY TO PRODUCE BALANCE.

          His response to the War in Heaven was not to pick a side but to completely obliterate both sides to make them stop. Everyone else fought in the war, but Uriel fought the war.

        • Jack V says:

          The putative middle pillar would be an aspect of God, like Thamiel, that could be Metatron, although there were no hints in this chapter.

          I don’t think it can be Uriel, he fits philosophically, but doesn’t seem to be an aspect of God (I think?)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I mean, we have a Right Hand, a Left Hand, and a Voice (that never speaks); that seems pretty suggestive to me.

          • Daniel says:

            I would expect Metatron to be the Middle Pillar’s equivalent of Sataniel (and presumably Raziel), i.e. not the relevant Aspect-of-God but a messenger thereof.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      However, there was no mention of souls in hell at this point. Maybe they just weren’t mentioned, or maybe that’s something Thamiel *did* later (either before Uriel turned him mythological, or after he became un-mythological again).

      Yeah, that’s very suspicious. In fact, we see both Hell and Heaven, with no mention of dead humans in either. And yet dead people seem to go to Hell in the present day, after the sky cracks.

      One possible explanation is what you suggest — that the afterlife somehow didn’t come until later, after the sky cracked. But that leaves the question of why the switch.

      But what if, actually, there is no afterlife? The “true death”, that is exactly like what humans get, is true death. But dead people go to Heaven or Hell in the present day, right? Well… maybe they don’t. So far we basically just have Thamiel’s word for this, and he’s a known liar (or the known liar). Has anyone in the present day been to Hell and returned? Even if they have, Thamiel’s probably a master of illusion.

      Of course, this leaves the question of why on earth Thamiel would claim such a thing, when it just serves to set people — including such powerful foes as The Comet King — against him. Thamiel must have been damn confident of his eventual victory. Perhaps scaring people with the idea of Hell somehow serves his goal of destroying the world? Unclear how that would work, but maybe possible.

      I’m not sure how much weight to put on this idea. Note also that it conflicts with the Messiah being supposed to eventually resurrect the dead.

      Alternative hypothesis: At this point, all dead souls go to Sheol rather than Heaven or Hell. 😛 This has the same problem as your suggestion, though; there’s no apparent explanation for the switch.

      • LHC says:

        We have Singer’s word that dead people go to Hell, I think.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yeah, and what’s his source?

          Remember, if he’s a utilitarian, even a decent chance of Hell being real means the destruction of Hell should be prioritized!

  40. Jack V says:

    Did we ever figure out what was up with souls?

    Golems can be made with the animal soul, and the moral soul, but not the divine spark. It seems those terms, nefesh and ruach, are a kabbalah idea (?) A quick google refers to them as levels of awakening someone can go through, which seems to suggest that not everyone automatically has them. Whereas in Unsong, it seems taken for granted they are different orders of existence, like motive, emotive, and spiritual or something, and humans by definition have the divine spark.

    But I’m not clear if eg. building a car with an engine or the motive name is, or is equivalent to, giving something the animal soul, or if that’s something which is only done by Names or reproduction. Hence my uncertainty about Llull.

    I *think* the story is only concentrating on the divine spark, and the other differences are not going to be important. But I can’t help but check everything over in case it makes more sense than I realised and is important later.

  41. Jack V says:

    Other recap. Questions I don’t know or are still open:

    * Why vital name didn’t work again

    For some coincidental reason (eg. it only works on computers you made yourself).

    Because Sarah amnestic’d it out of Aaron’s head.[1]

    Aaron used the confounding name on himself when he was captured, deliberately forgetting the name (temporarily or permanently?) and also forgetting that he did that. And maybe some other info about the confounding name?

    * Feeling of something horribly wrong

    Interrogation technique?

    Side-effect of unsong doing something evil?

    Due to Malina Ngo, or the facility being on unhallowed ground of some sort, or of Thamiel being present somehow?

    Due to something which is about to happen?

    Something to do with losing the name? (I don’t think so, since it affected Aaron and Ana, but they do have a telepathic link.)

    * Is Comet King Sohu’s father? I think we have a lot of confirmation at this point, though nothing certain. Did he have some special way of learning names, or was it just by birth, or by studying really amazingly?

    * RHOG. See above post.

    * What’s in Colorado? What’s in San Fransisco? What’s hell like and what happened between Thamiel and normal earthly governments?

    [1] Hm. If Sarah did become self-aware, did she do so instantly? Or did it develop over time? Or did it happen at some specific point, like most names don’t have an effect when a computer says them, but one is “become self-aware if you are a computer” or something and she stumbled across it.

    • John Sidles says:

      * Feeling of something horribly wrong

      The emotional response of a Kabbalah-adept in proportion to the Uriel-catalyzed mathematization of local reality? Because Kabbalah won’t work, once Uriel’s work is finished, right? And isn’t Uriel’s work already well underway?

      Implication  Unsong central organization grasps this, and is diligently preparing for — perhaps even working to foster? — a post-Kabbalah global political economy.

  42. Jack V says:

    Brief recap, mostly for my own benefit:

    Aaron is escaping cloud city with “Jane”.
    Ana is leaving the realms of men. To San Fransisco?
    Erica is going to the East Coast to meet Brian and Boojum (and passover scene shows he is there, and further, they seem comparatively well meaning even if they do terrorist stuff).
    Uriel is presumably holding stuff together as long as he can but not doing anything else.
    Thamiel is trying to hurry Uriel’s failure, and other unknown evil stuff.
    Comet King founded unsong (presumably for good reasons at the time? Or maybe not), besieged hell, knew the explicit name, but apparently that’s not enough omnipotence to defeat Thamiel, failed to defeat T or free the trapped souls, last seen despairing under a mountain.
    Sohu is unknown (but maybe Jane, maybe trying to continue her father’s work).

  43. The Froggy Ninja says:

    Poor Woobie.

  44. LHC says:

    Oh, yeah: WHAT’S THE TRUE DEATH?

    • The Froggy Ninja says:

      I would assume it’s when an angel or demon dies hard enough that they don’t respawn. Really what they should have done when they killed him was gank his bident and stab the corpse. Or spawncamp him if the body disappears.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Maybe Michael wrested it from him and stabbed him, and that’s why they were so surprised when he respawned.

  45. Artimaeus says:

    This chapter left me with a profound desire to hug Uriel (it’s a human gesture of affection).

  46. LPSP says:

    God I love this work of fiction. It makes it very difficult for me to criticise it, knowing that with so much right about it, there’s always the risk of overshooting when you think you’re dealing with something off. But I will perservere. The bit where Sataniel reveals his insight from Thamiel jars with his own earlier form speech. Scott, you have one voice for writing awkward explanations and confessions, and it works for characters like the highly systematic and distracted Gabriel, or most of the main characters who come from a tight-knit social circle. It’s contrived to use it for all characters however. The work is still highly readable, but it feels inconsistent or out of the blue, for his flowing speech to transition right into the “Um. Okay. This sounds crazy, okay? But…” mode of converse. Maybe this is just me, I generally highly rate your writing in any case, but that’s my thoughts. (or rather the gut disjoint I felt when reading it, interpreted into thought.)

    • Fj says:

      I think it was intended for comedic effect and it was successful.

      By the way there was noticeably not enough fun and puns in the recent half a dozen chapters, I for one appreciate this work returning to its roots (and maybe people take it too seriously also because it _was_ too serious for a while) (btw that was also my problem with HPMOR – it started absolutely hilarious, then got mostly serious and plot-oriented).

  47. Pink Jenkin says:

    Okay, so Metatron is a thing. I can’t imagine that Scott won’t do something with that wonderful piece of Talmudic weirdness, so I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of him.

    Although I wonder about the chronology if we take him to be Enoch, great-great-great-great grandson of Adam, as is traditionally believed. I mean, when God grabbed Enoch and pulled him up to Heaven and possibly fused his human self with this Son of Man type who might or might not be named Jehoel all Firestorm-style, creating a Super-Angel who he made his scribe and whom he also commanded all angels to bow down before, Sataniel was like “No way am I bowing down to that human freak”, to which God answered “Okay now you go to Angel-Prison, loser!”. But here Sataniel appears to be a completely normal angel long after Metatron showed up/was created. In any case, it doesn’t seem like the Metatron-is-Enoch-theory fits with the Watchers like Samyaza doing their thing when they do it. Hrnh.

    But I have faith that Scott will do Something with Metatron, because there’s just too much “the Talmud is Kinda Crazy”-possibilities, like when rabbi Elisha ben Whatever is pulled to Heaven and sees this one dude (Metatron) sitting next to God while everyone else is standing, and drawing the brilliant conclusion that there are two Gods, seemingly forgetting the whole deal with “mono” in monotheism. God, naturally, summons burning sticks and beats Metatron sixty times just to show everyone who’s wearing the God-pants in that particular relationship, but it’s significant that the angel given the title “Lesser Yahweh” is also liable to be worshiped as God 2.0 by the Jews (more Talmud craziness) while also not actually being a real angel while also having a name that, apart from having no real meaning as far as we can tell (differentiating it from all the Something-el Hebrew names of the other angels) is also gematrically equivalent to the name of God.

    Metatron is under-discussed in theology because he simply doesn’t fit anywhere. Okay, so there are all these theories about how humans can get to Heaven, but then there’s this guy who was raptured to the Seventh Heaven and fused with an angel, becoming something beyond both man and angel, something perhaps equal to God Himself. No-one wants to touch that with a ten-foot burning smiting pole.

    “The angel Metatron, Prince of the Divine Presence, the glory of highest heaven, said to me: When the Holy One, blessed be he, took me to serve the throne of glory, the wheels of the chariot and all the needs of the Shekinah, at once my flesh turned to flame, my sinews to blazing fire, my bones to juniper coals, my eyelashes to lightning flashes, my eyeballs to fiery torches, the hairs of my head to hot flames, all my limbs to wings of burning fire, and the substance of my body to blazing fire.” — 3 Enoch

    Dude’s made for this story. I’d wager a bottle of mineral water with the word “Kabbalah” scribbled on it with a sharpie that he’ll play a larger part in the narrative to come.

    • Pink Jenkin says:

      I’m also keeping an eye out for Sandalphon, who is to Elijah (the only other person who get insta-raptured to Heaven by God) what Metatron is to Enoch.

      • bassicallyboss says:

        Elsewhere in the comments for this chapter, it’s mentioned that Scott replaced Sandalphon with Uriel for various reasons.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Doesn’t mean Sandalphon won’t be showing up, though. Just not as an archangel. (And Elijah will certainly have to show up in some form whether he’s Sandalphon or not, right?)

          • Galle says:

            While we’re not yet agreed on who he is specifically, the general consensus is that one of the Comet King’s retainers must be Elijah, since they didn’t leave out an extra plate.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Oh, right, I forgot about that. (Although I should probably point out that you mean cup, not plate.)

        • Pink Jenkin says:

          Ooh, I must have missed that. Yeah, that makes sense, considering that Sandalphon is held to be the ruler of Asiyah (the material world) by the Zohar, and to regulate the flow of divine ohr from the higher sefirot to Malchut. I can’t honestly recall a source in which Uriel is a more intellectual and ontologically important angel, but then again that doesn’t mean much.

        • Pink Jenkin says:

          Gah, it’s obvious, when I think about it. Though Uriel has replaced Sandalphon in terms of function, the name-change hints at the ultimate origin and allegiance of this angel.

          As a (the?) King of Edom, Thamiel is the same infernal personage as Asmodeus.

          The wife of Asmodeus, and the queen of Sitra Ahra, is Lilith.

          “Lilith” was translated as “screech owl” in the KJV.

          And what are the three emanations of the Owl?

          URIEL, the current ruler of the the material world

          YARIEL, which is one of the names of the Gnostic Demiurge as well as a personification of Jerusalem

          NOBAI, who entered into the covenant with God after the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the Book of Nehemiah.

          Asiyah is re-created, Jerusalem is re-created, the Covenant is re-created. As above, so below. This is not a coincidence.

          • LPSP says:

            Funny, I hadn’t thought about the name Asmodeus in years. I encountered it first as the name of an evil serpent in one of the early Redwall novels, the ones when the canon was more shaky and some animals didn’t walk on their hindlegs and wear clothes. I decided I liked the name and used it when other kids pressured me to play roleplaying games.

            Doing some research, it appears Asmodeus is a pretty evil name. Its believed etymology is from Ashmedai, which in turn comes from Aesma Daeva, meaning demon of wrath. It could also come from Ozymandias the King of Kings, or his egyptian name Ramses the Great. Hammadai and Sidonai are also connected names.

            Asmodeus has been characterised as the Cambion-child of a succubus and King David (Merlin and Caliban are also Cambions), a Prince/King/Duke/Lord of Hell, a champion of the sin of Lust and an antogonist in the construction of the Temple of Solomon. He is described as having a good nature, an association with gambling, a human/rooster/serpent/bull/ram hybrid who rides a lion-dragon and has a seal of gold.

            Honestly this guy could practically have a book to himself. Not quite as conceptually tight as Thamiel however.

    • Wait, Metatron has knees? :O

      • Galle says:

        Okay, time to reveal my ignorance – where is the “angels don’t have knees” thing from, again? Google is failing me.

        • Aegeus says:

          Took me a while to dig it up, but it comes from Ezekiel, where in his description of the “living creatures” that appeared to him, he says “their legs were straight,” and also goes on to describe how they moved with wheels, which suggests that they don’t use their legs to walk. That eventually gave rise to the custom of saying the Kedusha with your feet together and your legs straight, “to resemble the angels.”

          I think that it would be perfectly consistent to say that the type of angels Ezekiel saw had no knees, but there are other varieties which do have knees. There are a lot of weird depictions of angels, after all. But it’s funnier to say that no angels have knees. 😛

          • I think there’s also somewhere in the bible (don’t remember which testament) they say “every knee bent before the lord” but the angels stay standing, implying that they don’t have knees with which to kneel..

      • Pink Jenkin says:

        I assume he sat like a lego figure.

  48. Wait a moment… Why would Hell be at the center of the Earth? Before Uriel’s retcon, the Earth should be flat and Hell should be under it.

  49. 75th says:

    Typos still present in this chapter: “acquies(c)e”, “strategem” × 2 (should be “stratagem”)

  50. Nornagest says:

    Definitely starting to get a Kill Six Billion Demons vibe here.

  51. scherzando says:

    Random thoughts:

    “I made journey to the deepest part of the deepest lake…”
    I don’t imagine it matters, but this would be Lake Baikal.

    “But, well…how would that tend toward the greater glory of God?”
    The angels in the first part of this chapter (besides Sataniel and Uriel) somehow remind me of the thought-experiment AIs that single-mindedly maximize a particular value. Granted, “the glory of God” is a pretty complex example of such a value, but still.

    “It’s like representing our desires in a utility function, then multiplying by negative one.”
    I seem to remember someone on Rationalist Tumblr (I think it was theunitofcaring, or maybe Ozy) using a similar phrasing in describing doing this (to anyone else’s utility function) as inherently evil. Which makes sense, given where the suggestion’s coming from.

    “You can’t rush ziggurats, Ut-Naparash.”
    Well, only if you have a Great Engineer.

    “Usually it looks like an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying ‘holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty,’ right? … And now, do you see something more like, say, a round disk of fire somewhat like a guinea?”
    I looked this up and it’s a reference to William Blake (see page 2 of this document), with the context as I understand it being Blake’s belief that at the Last Judgment, the transcendent truth that allows him to perceive the heavenly host in the sun will “overwhelm” the materialist “Bad Art & Science” that views the sun only as a disk of fire. Here, of course, we have something of the inverse, with the pure divine light being replaced by (still not-totally-materialist) mathematics. I’d be interested to know how much Scott has read of Blake and Milton and how much he’s drawing on them – it seems like quite a bit, of Blake at least, and not having read that much of either myself I wonder what I’m missing.

    • Yossarian says:

      >>I don’t imagine it matters, but this would be Lake Baikal.
      Hm. Wasn’t it mentioned somewhere that after the Cracking of the Sky, Russia was hit pretty hard by demon incursions? That would be consistent with the original Hellevator being under Baikal.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Ooh, good catch.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Lake Baikal is a good choice (I thought of it as a source when demons were mentioned as appearing in Siberia), but then the logical place for the great massacre, mentioned in interlude Zayin would be Irkutsk (which lies on the shores of the lake) instead of Yakutsk, which is very far away. Not that it makes a great difference, especially since there has been a massive kabbahlistic rearrangement of places all over the world.

        On the other hand, the hint towards lake Baikal is pretty strong, and I wonder if Scott has made a mistake here, since the names sound so similar to foreigners.

      • Daniel says:

        See also: that time Russian miners drilled a passage into Hell.

        What really unnerved the Soviets, apart from the voice recordings [of the sufferings of the damned], was the appearance that same night of a fountainhead of luminous gas shooting up from the drill site, and out of the midst of this incandescent cloud pillar a brilliant being with bat wings revealed itself with the words (in Russian): ‘I have conquered,’ emblazoned against the dark Siberian sky.

        (Later the KGB memory-wiped all the witnesses, for security reasons.)

    • “I made journey to the deepest part of the deepest lake…”
      I don’t imagine it matters, but this would be Lake Baikal.

      I assumed “lake” is a poetic way of referring to any body of water, and he’s talking about the Mariana trench.

    • 27chaos says:

      I don’t think multiplying a utility function by -1 is necessarily inherently evil, even from the moral perspective of someone with the unaltered function.. Imagine a vivid and beautiful black and white image. Inverting the color would not change its function at all. It seems possible that a utility function could exist that is more about the balance between its various parts than their specifics. To some extent, I think it can make more sense to care about the system’s architecture than its concrete pieces. That is why I am indifferent to whether my brain runs on dopamine, binary numbers, or self conjuring recursive language games. Granted, I don’t think humans have utility functions of this sort, but it is imaginable to me that angels could be otherwise, with indifference as to which side one is on the natural and justified position.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Er… that is not how utility functions work. All the indifferences you talk about would already be reflected in it. Scaling by a positive comstant, or adding a constant, does not affect the agent’s behavior. Negating it does, in fact, mean that it is now seeking out precisely what it previously avoided.

    • Alex C says:

      Blake at least seems fairly important, given Neil Armstrong’s post-revelation mention that “William Blake was right. About everything!”

      • I just recalled that, according to Blake, Urizen is Satan. Obviously, Satan possessed a previously-harmless math nerd and used his expertise to rule the world.

        Satan’s motto: It is better to rule a metaphor than to serve in reality.

        We could do worse. Satan is a megalomaniac, not a sadist.

  52. Quixote says:

    I’m a bit late due to personal matters, but thanks very much for another great chapter!
    This one was really strong. Filling in back story, fleshing out characters, moving and sad, and hilariously funny. I think Unsong is really at its best when its funny; it just does funny so well.

  53. R Flaum says:

    So Uriel is basically Autochthon from Exalted?

    • Aegeus says:

      I can see it. Except instead of making superweapons to win a war against an invincible foe, he won the war by creating a complete absence of superweapons.

      • Walter says:

        He didn’t “win the war”, he killed everyone. It’s like if I’m losing a soccer game and I detonate dynamite, slaughtering both teams.

        Put it this way. Thamiel wins, all angels are dead.
        Uriel acts, now all angels are dead AND so are all demons.

      • R Flaum says:

        This is not the first time something in UNSONG has been reminiscent of Exalted; there was also a mention of a Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire earlier.

  54. Ninmesara says:

    This chapter, in particularly the mysteriously absent Archangel Raziel made me revisit one of the important moments in the story: the discovery of the Vital Name.

    Remember, it was discovered by accident by Aaron at work.
    TINACBNEIAC! What are the odds that the divine name is BY COINCIDENCE revealed to one of the few sweatshop workers that can memorize it after seeing it once (maybe the only one), and at the end of the shift so that the holy light is not detected by whatever mechanism they have in place?

    In the duel between Thamiel and Uriel, Thamiel changes AARON into RUIN, so clearly there are heavenly forces involved (we already know that the discovery of the name led to the apocalypse). Is some higher power manipulating the computer’s random number generator? Also, why did the mysterious man from UNSONG decide to bother Aaron, a low level sweatshop worker, about the name? Maybe because it was “A minor setback, but still somehow infuriating. Maybe something that put me in the wrong frame of mind, changed how I interpreted what was to come.”

    For the vital name to be discovered, Aaron must be really pissed off. He has to express his disappointment by saying the word “Meh” not one, not two, but 6 times. What made his day bad enough for him to complain was clearly the (fake?) man from UNSONG.

    Also, telepathy seems to work kind of erratically. Aaron says he is too “wired up” to do telepathy straight. But what if someone is censoring the messages? Especially the messages from the love of his life, at a moment in which he has to be as angry or sad as possible? Remember that both Aaron and Ana think that it is possible that Angels might be able to intercept their message.

    And who could this mysterious man be? A servant of Thamiel in disguise? Maybe, but it is not obvious why Thamiel would want humans to know all the names. If the Vital Name creates an AI, it seems like an existential risk for an entity such as Thamiel. A servant of Uriel? Uriel doesn’t act in this way, and having a computer that can speak names seems like too much disruption for his taste. But what the man is Raziel in disguise? The angel of secrets, pushing his secret agenda by spicing things up? This is all mostly unfounded speculation, but I can’t stop thinking about how Aaron’s discovery of the name is veeeery suspicious.

    • Pink Jenkin says:

      It’s worth noting that Raziel is gematrically equivalent to Uriel, Prince William, the United States of America and a famous line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The implications are not obvious.

  55. John Buridan says:

    The title this chapter is taken from Blake’s poem “The Tyger.” The poet poses a series of rhetorical questions about the design of tigers, each indicating that there is something mechanical about the tiger’s “fearful symmetry.”

    Could he that made the lamb make thee? Of course, all is done according to the maths of Uriel. Likewise, Uriel is the answer to the rhetorical question from King James Programming.

    Further, notice the description of Uriel as the “Ancient of Days” from the glorious painting by William Blake.

    #williamblakewasright #creationwasaninsidejob

    • I interpret Blake’s “When the stars threw down their spears / and water Heaven with their tears” to be a direct reference to the War in Heaven; he refers to Satan as the morning star pretty often, and remember that this is a guy who’s obsessed with Paradise Lost. So when he asks “Does He smile His work to see?” he’s saying “God created the world with perfect foreknowledge, and it quickly devolved into Satan rebelling and destroying everything. Was this all part of the plan? Was God happy to see the Devil rebel?” The question about the lamb emphasizes this: it makes sense that God created perfect pure innocence, but did He also create scary killing machines like tigers? If so, why?

      So I think this ties into the book’s general theme of theodicy, but it’s also a reference to exactly the events described in this chapter.

      And good work picking up on the paragraph corresponding to the Ancient of Days!

  56. R Flaum says:

    This actually seems to have Uriel performing a similar role as in the Emerson poem. Which, if true, would also imply that this whole book takes place in a different cycle of the universe than we live in, rather than being an alternate history.

  57. gwern says:

    With this chapter, the movie almost writes itself.

    [Shot of choirs of angels, suddenly ripped apart by explosions] The War in Heaven was lost. Satan won. [A blond man with ringlet curls in a sharp suit who looks suspiciously like Leonardo Dicaprio gazes impassively down.] But in the last redoubt, Uriel, the forgotten angel, [the heart of a storm cloud; large luminous Hebrew characters float in mid-air in front of an anxious, sad looking blond angel who looks suspiciously like Neil Patrick Harris; suddenly, he begins glowing and reaches forward to slowly touch one character] did the unthinkable: seized the power of God and replaced the universe with… math. And all was well, [a green earth] until… [a capsule suddenly cuts across the earth] one man dared to make… [an astronaut] one small step for mankind… [astronaut using radio] one great leap for metaphysics. [explosions] This summer, discover a world of magic… [a Hispanic man dodges gun fire in a room while shouting ‘avada kedavraballah!’] a world which is ending… [A man with two heads and dark ringlet curls in a sharp suit smiles as a little girl screams] a world in which science still works, mostly… [a young nerd who looks suspiciously like Tobey Maguire is bathed in light from a computer in a bedroom] a world in which there is no hope… [a man in a cape stares in shock out over what can only be Hell itself] but in the end, a world in which – [an astronaut who looks suspiciously like Tom Hanks opens his helmet in the middle of luminousness, a tear down his cheek] “Nothing is wrong, Houston. Nothing has ever been wrong. Nothing could be wrong” [rapid flashes: an African-American-looking woman in a plum power suit in an interrogation room; an endless row of beige cubicles lit by flickering fluorescent lights; a blond woman walking on clouds; a cloud-fortress reminiscent of the front of Notre Dame; special forces breaking into a house; finally, with a last bang, a large logo of Hebraic text flashes up on screen and shimmers] This summer, discover the world of Unsong

    Naturally, there would be some simplifications to the script.

  58. Daniel says:

    These events were immortalized by Johnny Marks in a famous apocryphon:
    Uriel the Archangel

    You know Metatron, Raziel, Gabriel, Michael
    And even Sataniel down in Lake Baikal
    But do you recall…
    The most dang’rous angel of all?

    Uriel the archangel
    Had the very brightest mind
    And if you ever saw it
    It might even strike you blind

    All of the other angels
    Used to mock his nerdy games
    They never let poor Uri
    Join in praising Holy Names

    Then from his cloudy hurricane
    Metatron did say:
    “Uri, with that code you’re writing
    Won’t you stop the angels’ fighting?”

    All the angels and the demons
    Soon became just metaphors
    That’s how the Prince of Reason
    Put an end to Heaven’s War!

    (…I’ll see myself out)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Needs kids’ responses. 😛

      • Daniel says:

        Agreed! I had thought of “strike you blind (like Damascus!)” and “games (like Jenga!)” but I sort of ran out of steam 🙂

    • eve matteo says:

      (angel)
      (like a lightbulb)
      (saw it)
      (like Damascus)

      (angels)
      (like Reversi)
      (Uri)
      (Halleljah!)

      –nothing on the weird verse–

      (demons)
      (like a rosebud)
      (reason)
      (repeat Put an end to Heaven’s War!)

  59. R Flaum says:

    “Go away” seems to be Uriel’s mantra, doesn’t it? He’s like the Incredible Hulk: “URIEL JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE.”

  60. B_Epstein says:

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/nasa-images-show-giant-hole-8019446

    ‘NASA images show giant hole at North Pole leading to hollow Earth’ conspiracy theorists claim.

    Scott and Sataniel, what were you up to?..

  61. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    I find myself unconditionally on Uriel’s side here. And when I say unconditionally, I mean that literally.

  62. tcd says:

    “Then he returned to his calculations, humming softly to himself.”

    There is your Uriel – Sarah connection.

  63. Pesto says:

    Typo: “breath fire into the equations” should be “breathe fire into the equations”

  64. “Zadkiel handed over the feather and sat back down”

    With no knees?

  65. “A small amount of divine light can be deliberately allowed to enter in order to breath fire into the equations.”

    The above reminds me of the following:

    “Stand up, look back on all those equations, some perhaps more hopeful than others, raise one’s finger commandingly, and give the order ‘Fly!’ Not one of those equations will put on wings, take off, or fly. Yet the universe ‘flies’.”—John A. Wheeler

  66. kornr says:

    LOL of course you would write an autistic angel that is bullied by the mean angels that don’t think and use stratagems, this plot is hilariously embarrassing.

  67. Aran says:

    “Maybe he means our right and his left,” proposed Haniel helpfully.

    Reading this again reminds me of the left/right dichotomy in Chapter 32.

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