aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 22: Whose Ears Have Heard The Holy Word

Object gods have meta gods
Up in their skies to smite them
And meta gods have meta gods,
And so ad infinitum.
Steven Kaas

January 30, 2002
Puerto Penasco, Mexico

With a look of mad determination, the big man marched to the center of the crowded bar. “I’ll say it,” he said. “The Other King is a bad man.”

A dozen conversations went silent. The bartender stopped pouring mid-glass. Several people eyed the door. Only the mariachi music from the stereo in the corner carried on regardless.

“No want trouble,” said the bartender in heavily accented English. A few people slunk out the door before things got worse. Others laughed nervously, decided the safest course was to return to their drinks, started mentally rehearsing the phrase “I didn’t hear nothing”. But the big man wouldn’t be cowed. He stood up from his stool, faced the tables in the back. “The Other King is a bad man.”

James sighed and put his hand on the big man’s shoulder. “You’re drunk,” said James. “And you’re saying things you’re going to regret. Lemme walk you back to the barracks.”

“Not drunk,” said the man. “The Other King’s a bad man and you’re not going to shut me up about it. All those people crucified. Isn’t right. Crucifixion. Horrible way to die.”

“Should leave now, por favor,” said the bartender, but the man was bigger than he was. And probably a soldier to boot; everyone here was soldiers, James was a soldier, his companions over at the table were soldiers, Puerto Penasco was rotten with soldiers. The Other King’s soldiers, who had taken over the city. The loyalist soldiers, who were mostly dying painfully on crosses erected upon the road north.

“Not leaving,” said the man. “You all know what I’m saying’s true. You ought to – ”

“Zip it and come have a drink with us,” said James, and dragged the big man over to his table as the bartender watched helplessly.

This was mind-bogglingly stupid. Saying bad things about the Other King or even hanging out with the sort of people who said them was a good way to end up charged with sedition and crucified. But James didn’t want the big man to die. All he’d done was get drunk enough to say what all of them were thinking. James had been thinking it ever since he’d signed on in Vegas. It had seemed like a good deal. Good wages, good benefits, and not a whole lot of risk; anybody who could kill the Comet King in single combat was probably the winning team. Sure enough, James and his battalion had taken over Phoenix, Yuma, and Puerto Penasco in quick succession without any losses. Except their innocence. The big man was right. The Other King was a bad man.

Lin shot James a questioning glance when he and the big man sat down. Amoxiel was too intent on his bottle to notice. When James said nothing, he extended his hand.

“Lin,” Lin said. “Ritual magician with the 5th platoon. Nice to meet you.”

“James,” James continued. “Sergeant in the 5th platoon. Likewise.”

“Amoxiel,” said Amoxiel, distantly. “Angel. 5th platoon.” He took another swig of holy water.

The big man just called over a waitress and asked for a beer.

“What’s your name?” asked James. “Which unit you in?”

“Me?” he said. “I’m nobody. I’m with nobody.”

An obvious lie. He was here; that meant he was a soldier. And he was still alive; that meant he was with the Other King.

“How do you do it?” he asked. “How do you sleep at night? And keep serving him?”

“With copious amounts of alcohol,” said Lin, and took another gulp of his tequila.

“The holy water,” said Amoxiel, “washes cares away.”

“It’s not like we have a choice,” said James. “We didn’t know when we signed up. By the time we figured it out, our names were on the contract. Leaving’s desertion, desertion’s punishable by death, and I get the feeling you can’t run from the Other King. Not forever. We don’t like this any more than you, but we got no choice, you know?”

“There’s always choice,” said the big man.

“Our choice is twixt our conscience and our lives,” said Amoxiel. James sighed. Amoxiel’s bottle of holy water was empty, and his eyes were glowing a lambent silver. He was drunk, and since he was an angel that pretty much meant he spoke in blank verse and sounded like the King James Version.

“Moxy’s right,” said Lin. “We refuse an order, we get crucified. We try to run, well, I dunno what’s worse than crucifixion and I don’t wanna find out. How many miles you think we could make it in this desert anyway?”

“Why the desert?” asked the big man. “Why not steal the All Your Heart?”

The mariachi music played blithely in the background.

“First of all, if the All Your Heart is even still in the harbor – ”

“It is,” said the big man. “I checked. This afternoon.”

“Holy God,” said Lin. “You’re serious.”

” – even if it is still in the harbor,” James continued, “none of us know how to sail a yacht.”

“I do,” said the big man.

“Who are you?”

“I’m nobody.”

Five years ago, the Comet King had set out to find God. Not in the way where you live a life of humility and prayer. In the way where you need a really fast boat.

It was the height of his power, the age when he held sway over the whole American West and parts of Mexico. His ambitions soared to the conquest of Hell itself, to break the power of the Devil and release his victims from their eternal torture. But defeating Hell would take more than mortal weapons. It would take the Shem haMephorash, the true explicit Name of God, the Name which allowed the speaker to destroy and remake worlds. It was the Name that God had spoken during the Creation, the Name that would blare from the Last Trumpet, the Name about which Khayyam had written:

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

But it was also unplumbable by mortal cleverness. The only way to learn it was from the lips of God Himself.

The Sepher Hekhalot states that when the patriarch Enoch died, God “turned his flesh to flame, his veins to fire, his eye-lashes to bolts of lightning, his eye-balls to flaming torches, and placed him on a throne next to the throne of glory.” Then He imbued him with the Most Holy Name, and thenceforward he was called Metatron, the “Measure of the Lord”, the “Prince of the Divine Presence” and “the Lesser God”. All of these titles are blasphemous as hell to call anybody who isn’t God, and the sages speculated that Metatron had received a certain investiture, becoming a viceroy or a regent or even a sort of emanation of God into material reality. If you needed to hear something from the lips of God Himself, Metatron was the one to talk to.

The angels said Metatron had been with them in the early days of the world; that he used to dwell hidden in a whirlwind in the center of their angelic councils. When the angelic hierarchy shattered during Satan’s rebellion, he floated down into the sea and was seen no more.

Since the cracks appeared in the sky, word had come from sailors of a mysterious boat, all purple with golden sails. They would see it on the horizon, but when they tried to approach it vanished at impossible speeds. Sometimes atop the boat they would spot a light, brilliant shining white, like an angelic figure. And the angels said ah, yes, it is Metatron risen from the deep, but you will not catch him, for he keeps his own counsel. And none see him and live.

The Comet King sought Metatron. High above the world, his spy satellites sought the telltale golden sails of his boat. From sea to shining sea, his submarines and destroyers kept watch. Nothing.

So he decided he was doing things wrong. Finding God wasn’t the sort of thing you did with a spy satellite or a submarine. It was the sort of thing you did on a quest. So he built himself a ship. A superfast yacht with seven sails, six from the colors of the rainbow and one jet-black. Every beam and mast built with strange magics only he knew. He called it All Your Heart, because it is written in Jeremiah: “You will seek God and find Him when you seek with all your heart.” Then he left the kingdom in the hands of his daughter Nathanda and left from Puerto Penasco in search of Metatron.

Six months later, he returned. When they asked if he had found Metatron, he said yes. When they asked if he had learned the Name, he said yes. When they asked for details, he said no. A few years later he died, and the details died with him. And all that time poor All Your Heart sat anchored in Puerto Penasco, doing nothing.

“I’m just drunk enough to want to hear more,” said Lin.

“The Other King hasn’t even posted guards yet,” the big man said patiently. James was starting to think that maybe the man genuinely wasn’t drunk. “We walk into the harbor, walk right on, and sail away in the middle of the night. We can be round Baja before anybody notices we’re gone. Nobody can catch the All Your Heart. It’s the fastest ship in the world. We can make it to the California Republic by noon tomorrow and nobody can stop us.”

“By legend, each among the seven sails / requires magics hidden to unfurl,” said Amoxiel.

“Not that hidden. The first sail, the red one, catches normal wind. The second sail is ritual magic; you – ” he gestured toward Lin ” – say you’re a magician. The violet sail is angel magic, and you’re an angel. The green sail is music. You by any chance able to sing?”

“If I try to sing, boat would probably sink like a stone,” said James. “And how do you know so much about this?”

“I sang in a church choir for twenty years,” said the bartender. He spoke with only a hint of a Mexican accent. “They said I was very good.”

“Hey!” said James, cursing himself inside for letting them be overheard. “I thought you didn’t speak English.”

The bartender leaned on the table, leaned in very closely. “Look,” he said. “A third of the population of this town got massacred, another third has fled. I’m stuck serving soldiers and pretending not to understand English so I don’t get tortured for overhearing the wrong thing. And All Your Heart! The greatest ship in the world! My friend, I would give my arm to ride that ship for one hour. I am a poor man, I have no family, I have nothing left here. But to be on All Your Heart, that would be something! If you are going to hijack the ship, I am with you.”

“Hold it!” said Lin. “Nobody’s trying to get out of here! Mystery man over here just sat down and started giving us his hare-brained plan, and we’re all drunk enough to listen. Nobody here is serious about this.”

“I’m serious and wish to leave tonight,” said Amoxiel.

Lin and James stared at him.

“You humans are inured to wrongs like these / I cannot bear them; I would rather die / beneath the breakers of the thunderous main…”

James elbowed Amoxiel. Amoxiel stopped.

“So what happens if we reach California?” James asked, still barely believing he was taking this seriously. “They’re scared to death of the Other King. They’ll probably extradite anyone he tells them to extradite.”

“We could go further,” said the bartender. “Hawaii. Tahiti. The Malabar-Zanzibar Consortium. Sell the boat and live on a beach eating coconuts the rest of our lives.”

“Who’s going to buy the All Your Heart if the Other King wants it?” asked Lin. “It’d be suicide. Picking up contraband from the scariest guy in the world.”

“You want to get rich,” said the big man, “here’s what you do. Sell cabins on the ship. Most elite cruise ever. Sell cabins for ten million dollars, then go off and do the same thing the Comet King did. Try to find God. You don’t think there are billionaires who want a chance to talk to the big guy face to face?”

“Like a whale-watching trip,” said Lin. “But for archangels instead of whales. Well, I’m sold. And by sold, I mean super drunk.”

“Hold on a minute!” said James. “We don’t even know these people! We don’t even know their names!”

“I’m Tomas,” said the bartender. “Tomas Castro. Now let’s go before somebody tells internal security what your friend here was shouting.”

James took another sip of his beer. He could probably rein the others in, he figured. A couple hours and they’d be a little more sober, a little clearer thinking. Lin was a smart guy; he would see reason. Amoxiel had always been a wild card, but when he was off the holy water he could barely get out of bed, let alone do crazy plots.

The question was whether he wanted to. He hadn’t gone out to see the crucifixions, but the news had hit him hard. He’d thought the Other King was just another warlord. A very lucky warlord, to kill the Comet King and take over half his kingdom. But in the end, no different from anybody else. Now he figured the guy was a psychopath, at least. He’d tried not to think about it too much because there was no other option. But the big man, for all his drunken bluster, was right. No guard posted over the All Your Heart. The most beautiful ship in the world, just sitting in port, waiting to be sailed off.

And then there was the rather high chance that he would be executed very painfully just for hanging around with these people and holding this conversation.

“If we’re going to do this,” said James, “then by God, let’s do it now, before we get sober enough to think it through. And you,” James said, pointing to the big man. “None of us know anything about sailing. If we’re just supposed to trust you to pilot this ship on your own, I think we at least deserve to know your name and how you got here.”

“I’m nobody,” said the big man. “I’m with nobody.”

“Great,” said James. “Captain fucking Nemo.”

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244 Responses to Chapter 22: Whose Ears Have Heard The Holy Word

  1. Daniel Blank says:

    Could the Other King be Sataniel or Samyazaz?

    • Kiya says:

      Sataniel got… discombobulated… in chapter 20 (“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.”) and probably does not exist as an entity at this point.
      Samyazaz did not seem like a particularly bad man. I don’t think he would slay the Comet King in single combat; as of his last lines in chapter 20 he was opposed to Thamiel, which puts them on the same team. I admit Thamiel has black-box “convince angels to join the dark side” powers but does not seem to have used them since Sataniel and his third.
      I’m leaning towards Other King being someone more parallel to the Comet King, an Antichrist sort of guy. Or just Thamiel.

    • Deiseach says:

      Doesn’t sound like Samyazaz; if he conquered a city, he’d put the people to work on building his improved ziggurats and worshipping him, not kill them in a cruel and prolonged manner. I know it’s been a very long time and he may have changed, but he struck me as someone who wants admiration and praise and at least the semblance of willing service, not someone who rules by fear and being ruthless.

    • LHC says:

      I’m tentatively guessing it’s DA.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Alvarez seems to be still leading a small terrorist group in New York as late as 2017, so that seem pretty unlikely.

        • Deiseach says:

          I agree Dylan would crucify his enemies and laugh about it, but as Sniffnoy says, he’s not in the area and is busy with other things.

          In 2001 he was putting together BOOJUM (after warming up with a political assassination) so I don’t think he was amassing an army as a warlord in 2002 to run around in Arizona and Sonora.

          • boris says:

            I agree Dylan would crucify his enemies and laugh about it

            No way. Torturing people would be suicide as far as staying on the right side of narrative tropes goes.

          • hnau says:

            This must have something to do with Dylan, though. Puerto Penasco is at the base of the Baja California peninsula, homeland of Dylan Alvarez and the boojum tree. It sounds like the Other King is headed south from there, so maybe he’s planning to attack Alvarez’s base of operations?

          • Galle says:

            Is he going south, though? What about the siege of Colorado Springs?

          • Deiseach says:

            He’s managed a successful series of assassinations and yet stayed on the right side of the narrative trope. If blowing someone to kingdom come with a bomb is not enough to do that, I think a few crucifixions aren’t going to hurt much more: he could cast himself in the role of the Roman Empire bringing the Pax Romana, or Caesar keeping his word to punish the pirates who held him for ransom.

            It just struck me that, for a placebomancer (and so basing his theory of magic on “the actual words don’t matter, it’s your belief and what you can get Reality to believe that counts”), he is very, very careful about words: re-reading the attack on the American Board of Ritual Magic where he talks with his ex-friend Mark about the assassination of the Senator and says something to the effect that he sent a bomb squad; if the senator had asked for a bomb removal squad, that would have been different.

            Given that in common usage, and the Senator would have been no exception, people assume “bomb squad” to mean “bomb disposal squad”, then by the rules of Reality governing placebomancy that belief and usage should have governed how the “assassination by bomb” worked – either the bomb should have been a dud or the assassination squad should have put Dylan on the wrong side of the narrative rules.

            But clearly it did neither, so I think Dylan is the kind who could rules-lawyer his way around “so I crucified some rebels, if that makes me a Bad Guy then so is Julius Caesar and everyone thinks he’s one of the Great Men of the world!”

            Anyway, I didn’t so much mean that Dylan would be running around crucifying people (probably he would be cautious about staying on the right side of narrative tropes as you say) but that rather he strikes me as the kind who wouldn’t mind doing it if he thought it necessary or could get away with doing it. He set up his old friend Mark to take the fall for killing the other members of the Board, after all. No moral or ethical objections, wouldn’t be upset about doing it or find it physically repulsive and distressing, probably would find it funny (“hey, I’m creating a whole set of Messiahs, just like Christ!”), so would only avoid it on pragmatic grounds.

          • Broggly says:

            Yeah, if Alvarez is involved, he either is, or is behind, the Man with No Name who shows up in a small town near the Mexico-US border, which has been taken over by some obvious villain, and walks into a crowded bar loudly saying the villain is a bad man.

            It’s possible the Other King is some BOOJUM member acting as a supervillain who conquers America only for our hero Dylan Alvarez to come in and save the day. It depends on how easily the universe can see through kayfabe.

    • Jokeel says:

      He’s probably not a good guy, or if he is, he wants to bring about the end of the world.
      That last bit has to be a reference to John, because nothing is a coincidence: “The man was nobody, and the man was with nobody.”
      That’s directly setting him up as to be the opposite of God/creation.

    • Joseph says:

      Isn’t it Thamiel? If the Comet King was pushed back when he tried to invade Hell, wouldn’t that mean Thamiel defeated him?
      Also, the whole Other King thing sounds like the sitra achra, the Other Side, a phrased used in the kabbalistic literature to refer to hell. It makes sense that the Other King would be the leader of it.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I don’t think the Other King is Thamiel himself, or, well, they’d call him Thamiel. It’s not like there’s some taboo on saying his name. The characters openly talk about Thamiel in Chapter 5, for instance, and Aaron in his role as narrator does so all the time. But in Chapter 12 he talks about “The Other King”. It would seem they’re distinct entities. The Other King would seem to be on Hell’s side, yes, but that doesn’t make him Thamiel.

        (Also, the Other King is a bad man. That would seem to suggest that he is a man. 😛 )

  2. DM says:

    So… have we given it long enough to say that Unsong isn’t very good? The plot is non-sensical, the puzzles don’t matter, and there are no interesting characters. The rules of the universe are totally capricious and change week to week, which prevents the audience from engaging with the story. The writing is clunky. The universe is based on the Talmud, which is just about the least interesting and most impenetrable source material out there. I realize that the set of people still reading book 2 of this fic are probably depleted of those who agree with me, but what’s the consensus among the current audience? And, do you have any suggestions for how to make Scott’s next big fiction project better?

    • cl says:

      Way to much world building for my taste. Still hoping all this spagetti story makes sense in the end but I’m starting to lose my patience.

      • Deiseach says:

        ‘Kay, cl, I’ll give you the condensed version.

        Aaron and Ana are of course the heroes THEIR LOVE IS SO EPIC. Aaron right now is a bit of a wuss but he toughens up, learns to be A REAL MANLY MAN and LEADER OF MEN and shoots huge big guns with unlimited ammo as he and the band of RESISTANCE FREEDOM FIGHTERS, that Erica has gone to make contact with, invade the headquarters of the SECRET GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY where Malia Ngo, the VILLAIN, is orchestrating her sinister plans to RULE THE WORLD.

        Fortunately for the world, this all takes place in America as per usual so the rest of us have electricity and public transport and can make a nice cup of tea and complain about the weather while the heroic U.S. OF A. fights the EVIL ALIENS and frees the rest of us.

        Of course they’re aliens – what, you didn’t really think angels and demons and God were real, did you? Of course you didn’t! They are using SUFFICIENTLY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY to interfere with TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE and pretend they were supernatural entities to be worshipped. All that bafflegab is a smokescreen and you are right to skip over it until you get to the GOOD PARTS – THE CLIMACTIC BATTLE.

        I’m not a good enough story teller to be able to adequately describe THE CLIMATIC BATTLE but trust me, it is WAY AWESOME AND COOL AND THERE ARE BIG EXPLOSIONS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND LOTS OF DEAD MOOKS. Think of how J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek to be all ‘space explosion space battles in space with really big ships over San Francisco’ – there you go, that’s the connection with San Francisco!

        Anyhow, long story short (I know worldbuilding is boring), Malia Ngo is unmasked as the EVIL REPTILIAN QUEEN LEADER OF THE ALIENS and killed in the BIG BOSS FIGHT by Aaron who saves America, saves the world, is invited to the White House and gets awards from the President and the Nobel Prize and a big important well-paying job with the tech company of his choice like he always wanted and is now rich and famous and he sails off into the sunset on the luxury yacht All Your Heart with Ana, who falls into his arms and stops fighting her attraction to him and is his HOT GIRLFRIEND.

        THE END.

        • cl says:

          Nice way to satirically dismiss me as a shallow reader. My criticism is valid, we are like 70k words into this novel and we are yet to understand anything at all. Yes I kind of get the world has changed a lot and hence it has to be shown and exposed. Also yes, so many characters have to be introduced, this is no simple story, I can tell. But we have no clear anything to grasp while we are being shown these things. No overarching story yet. I like Scott and I can see he has put a lot of detail and a lot of attention to the world he’s created but the characters don’t give you enough to care about them and as such it is getting boring. I’ll stick around for now just because I like Scott’s ideas usually so he’s earned enough trust for me to stick around. But please for god’s sake give us a plot.

          • Deiseach says:

            But please for god’s sake give us a plot.

            I did. You seem to be asking for a simple conventional plot where we can easily identify the good guys, the bad guys, the problem, and how the good guys will overcome the bad guys and save the world. So I fixed you up one.

            What do you consider a plot? What do you want and not want? “Dump the extraneous worldbuilding, concentrate on Aaron and Ana, give us A to B to C of their adventures against Malia Ngo”?

            Is it too symbolic for you? Too much mysticism? You’d prefer “so okay magic works but it’s all on the same principles as technology works, i.e. there are natural laws of the universe that once you understand them enable magic to work just like we get the electric light to work, but no gods or fairies or anything like that, those are just silly”?

            Maybe the overarching story is not the one you are thinking of.

            I say this because I have a high tolerance for, and find great enjoyment in, stories that use fantastic/mythical/theological elements and discuss ideas and are generally playful about throwing in the kitchen sink as well when it comes to references. I don’t mind that we’re not getting “Aaron, Ana and Erica link up with the BOOJUM to fight UNSONG and Malia Ngo” straightforward plot line.

            In fact, that interests me least of all, apart from who or what Ngo is and the ultimate purpose of UNSONG – as bad as the UU cells think it is, as good as it presumably perceives itself to be, or something else?

            I can see if you don’t like that kind of thing why you’d dislike the way this story is going. But really, it’s rather like sitting down to a fish dinner and then complaining that the salmon is not steak.

          • murphy says:

            I’ll grant you that some of the characters are a bit thin and occasionally get possessed by the author but the plot is being introduced fairly well. It’s just in many threads weaving together. Iain M Banks used to do something similar with his books. You’d feel a bit lost for the first quarter of the book until it came together do you.

          • Vamair says:

            I like my books to be looong and heavy on worldbuilding. Plot? Meh.

        • cl says:

          I love how you have to be so condescending to me because I find the story slow. You are too invested to even consider my mild criticism. Anything but extremely positive feedback is wrong to you because I should’ve known that I was ordering fish. Do not worry I will not post again in “your” type of story. I’ll stay in the sides hoping I can find the story enjoyable and, honestly, just to avoid your toxicity.

      • Iconochasm says:

        I love the worldbuilding. The main characters, on the other hand, can go take a long walk off a short pier. Maybe they’ll find inspiration for more whale puns at the end.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, it’s not flawless (I find the incessant punning extremely irritating). But it’s not a steaming pile of nonsense with no coherent plot that changes the rules from week to week and doesn’t have any characters that aren’t flatter than cardboard.

          I mean, I’m enjoying that Aaron and Ana are finding their ambitious plans going “poof!” pretty damn quick, and I wouldn’t enjoy their discomfort if I found them completely uninteresting.

          But this is not quite a conventional story of “the good guys, the bad guys, and ‘more dakka’ will solve the problem”, even if we think we can identify which side is right and which side is wrong, and it will take the scenic route to the resolution.

          Someone who is bored by occult tradition or religious references or mythology will hate this and want all that cleared away, but this story is not at the bones of it “unexplained natural phenomena turn out to be new applications of known scientific laws of nature”. The Laws of Nature ain’t any such thing.

          • Iconochasm says:

            Eh, I probably oversold my discontent with Aaron/Ana. I like Aaron best as the omniscient narrator explaining the jokes to those of us who were too gentile for Hebrew school. There’s still a lot of room for them to grow as characters, but I do feel that Uriel and the general backstory are seriously stealing the show.

    • Willy says:

      Criticism is useful but telling someone to write something else is very rude. Don’t do that.

      I’m enjoying Unsong quite a bit as long as I treat it mostly like a Disc world story.

      • Rob K says:

        The Pratchett comparison is apt. Reality seen from 5 degrees askew, so that different rules apply but the result still resembles the original enough to allow for humorous coincidences. The specifics of how that works are very different, but I think I enjoy the two for similar reasons.

        Also, I’m really liking it.

      • There’s a fundamental difference though: Discworld is made to be funny with serious bits tacked on, and this seems made to be serious, with (a lot of) funny bits tacked on.

        • falenas108 says:

          I disagree with the claim that this story seems made to be serious.

          • anon says:

            Yeah, it seems terribly silly. I think getting too invested in any of the characters or plots may be setting oneself up for a letdown. Me, I’m I’m resolved to just treat it as a ride, and enjoy the puns and ridiculousness.

          • Desertopa says:

            I disagree with the notion that a story must be at least primarily one, with elements of the other.

            If you do it right, a story can be very silly and very serious, without either particularly detracting from the other.

        • Matthew says:

          This is definitely written to be funny.

          Richard Nixon is comedic gold.

          Hell, I’d love to watch a series that’s just the Nixon parts from this series.

    • Deiseach says:

      All of which is to say, this is not to your taste. And that’s fair enough. The plot being nonsensical? We’re only just starting to get into the plot!

      People who like this kind of stuff will like this kind of story. I have no doubt you’d hate with a passion the novels of Charles Williams. This story is probably too fantastic and not “reality based in the kind of near-future scientific progress manner I can engage with and enjoy” for those inclined to “I don’t really read non-fiction, I don’t get anything out of it”.

      I think UNSONG is very good for what it is, and what it is plainly is not the kind of thing you think it should be.

      • I think the problem that a lot of people might be having is that we’re something like 80K words in and just now getting to the plot. It doesn’t personally bother me, but I can see where it would grate on people.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          It’s possible. I’m someone who likes long buildups before the plot gets started, so… 😛

        • Fj says:

          80k words is not a problem, as such. Now the fact that this installment marks exactly six months since the prologue was published is bothering me a little bit.

          Six months is a long time, and it’s kinda weird how the main protagonists have been a day and a half into their first adventure and experienced exactly zero character development, Aaron at least.

          • That’s unusual for a book. It’s definitely *not* unusual for a fic, in time or word count.

            There’s also the perennial complaint of pacing from people who don’t understand how serial fiction works, and that everything feels *much* faster when read straight thru. Pacing a serial fic so that it feels similar in excitement level to a normal book results in a whiplash-inducing pace when read in a single go. I despair of this complaint ever going away, tho, as every single serial fiction writer I’ve ever followed (including webcomics) still receives them.

          • Ninmesara says:

            @Tab Atkins Jr.
            I don’t really understand your point. If the author is publishing the text as a serial, shouldn’t he optimize the pacing for a serial instead of a book?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Well, its serial nature is necessarily a temporary phenomenon…

        • Held in Escrow says:

          We’ve gotten several books worth of world building but only a chapter or two of story. The world building is great but it really throws off the pacing

    • The Comment King says:

      I really enjoy the Unsong universe, but I agree that the overemphasis on world-building gets in the way of the story.

      I like that it’s based on the Talmud, but that might just be because I spent 3-4 hours a day studying it for 6 years and now I get to use that knowledge to appreciate in-jokes.

      • Deiseach says:

        But the world-building is a necessary part of the story, the foundation and scaffolding upon which it is built. This is not merely “our world with a few cosmetic changes”, it’s a parallel world. History did not run the exact same way here and fundamental concepts of physical reality turn out to be very much mistaken.

        Then again, I devoured all twelve volumes in the History of Middle-earth as they were published over the years, even when they got down to “grocery list” level of detail of minor and petty changes, so I have a high tolerance for world-building setups 🙂

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yeah, I like worldbuilding. 🙂

      • boris says:

        I really just wish there was a giant Unsong World Wiki I could spend hours reading instead of reading the worldbuilding chapters. I kind of like the serialization but when weeks pass without visiting the main (I gave a computer a soul so that I could become omnipotent and kill the devil) storyline, it gets frustrating.

        • PDV says:

          Have you considered the possibility that that isn’t the main story?

        • I don’t think Aaron was really planning on killing the devil when he did it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Aaron wasn’t planning on “killing the devil”, he was planning on “Woo-hoo! This will make me obscenely rich! And also my Daddy Issues are cropping up here so I’ll show them, I’ll show them all!” It was Ana and her theodicy interest which shifted the emphasis to “So if we really can find the Name of Names, we could do what the Comet King failed to do”.

          I don’t think Aaron’s story is the main story – apart from “And this is how I fucked up and caused the apocalypse because I got too damn cocky and started messing around with Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot Of”. Aaron is the introduction to the story, the character who tells us “As you know, Bob, kabbalah really works”.

          But the real story is what is this world? how did it get to be like this? what happened, given that Aaron is talking about the apocalypse? Where is God in all this? Is there even a God, or is Thamiel the nearest to God we’re going to get (if we’re headed down a quasi-Gnostic route and who can say we’re not)?

    • Blue says:

      It’s pretty good. Gotten better since mid book 1 IMO.

    • vali says:

      I have been enjoying this story immensely, but it’s not for everyone. If you don’t like it, my advice is that rather than trying to find other people to support your views you should just quietly stop reading.

    • B_Epstein says:

      I genuinely don’t agree with you.

      Characters – love Uriel and Sohu. Aaron’s annoying but engaging, for me. Would want to learn more about God (the blasphemy!) and Comet King.

      Puns – mind-blowing. Whether it’s “In Soviet Russia, demons shocked by atrocities of you”, the Long March, “Immigrants are stealing my Job” or a hundred others, it gets me laughing every time. I’m a sucker for an intelligent pun, what can I say.

      Plot – certainly non-linear. A matter of taste, and yes, I can see how it can bother you. But for me, not being able to get a grip on an obvious plot line is a positive feature of web serials, published a portion at a time (as opposed to a book, say).
      Certain parts of Worm and HPMOR felt like that, too.

      Do rules actually change? Not “surprise you with something not yet stated”, change.

      Puzzles don’t matter? I’m not sure I even get that enough to offer an alternative view. Matter to whom? In-universe, the only thing on the line is the existence of all there ever was, is or will be. For readers – perhaps you can consider what you call “changing rules” and “non-sensical plot” as the big puzzle. I have no clue what’s going on, but I trust Scott to make it work in the end.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I think this is much better than HPMOR plotwise. Unsong has a number of plot threads going on, but what’s happening in each one is generally pretty clear. HPMOR I could barely follow.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I like it quite a lot. It could use an editor — Scott has admitted that a number of the things that appear to be continuity flubs actually are — but call it a draft and I think it’s great.

      The plot and the worldbuilding — well, I trust that Scott knows what he’s doing with those. So far it does not seem like it changes from week to week, just like there’s a lot going on; and what actually does change week to week can probably be ironed out if there are ever later versions. The writing I like, I don’t find it clunky at all.

      I will second the complaint (if this is the complaint that you are making — I’m not sure) that taking information that the characters all already know (e.g. the relation between Sohu and the Comet King, I assume this is well-known in-world), and stringing it out puzzle-like, gets annoying quickly.

    • DanielLC says:

      I think it’s awesome.

    • Anon. says:

      I don’t expect it to make much sense or operate on fixed/explicit rules like a hard SF piece, so I haven’t been disappointed in that respect. It’s just fun riffing on kabbalah/Blake/etc + puns.

    • LHC says:

      Fuck you, I love it.

    • Alexander Leaking Pen Hollins says:

      Just because you can’t see the pattern or keep track of the characters, doesnt mean others agree with you. Personally, Im finding it easier to follow than IT, and a HELL of a lot more straightforward then Focault’s Pendulum. I’m enjoying it, which is why I read it. if you arent enjoying it, just stop reading it, rather than trying to get people to agree with you.

    • MF says:

      I’m enjoying it quite a lot, personally. The writing is consistently clever, most chapters are quite funny, I enjoy the worldbuilding (disclaimer: I am a fan of Brandon Sanderson), and the plot is fine and makes sense as far as I’m concerned. I don’t bother working on “puzzles” – this isn’t a Sanderson novel. I’m just here for the ride; I have no real expectations or hopes of it being a typical narrative. It’s sort of like a book by Douglas Adams.

      It sounds like it’s not your type of book though, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personal preference is not really something you can debate.

    • whywhisperwhy says:

      I don’t think it’s fair to say it isn’t good. It’s sprawling because of all the interludes and worldbuilding, but for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing it works out. I’ll admit I’d prefer more from the main plot line, but it’s still very enjoyable overall.

      I would also disagree with most of the rest of what you said- it’s not non-sensical at all, and even when an interlude reveals a whole new slice of time or characters, it’s clearly related to the worldbuilding/main plot. The puzzles are excellent and will get clearer with time. The characters are fun and their dynamics even better- Aaron/Ana, Uriel/Sohu, the dialogue builds on itself.

    • Argent says:

      It’s like he’s working out the backstory for a novel. Just needs to raise the shade of Robert Anton Wilson to help him throw it all together.

    • lin says:

      De-lurking just to say: I wouldn’t change a thing about this story. Not one thing.

      • lin says:

        Also, as far as popularity goes, I’m having a shocking amount of success spreading it to my friends, even by accident. Much more so than is typical for stuff I like and want my friends to also consume.

    • Aside from completely disagreeing with you on pretty much every point (the one exception is the comment that we keep changing perspective – but the bigger this is the more of it there is, which I consider a positive), I can’t help but wonder how you got this far if you don’t like it.

      (Also, the characters are all great. Except Ana, who’s just okay, and that I don’t quite see what Aaron sees in her).

    • Miriam says:

      Speak for yourself! Unsong is easily my favorite web serial ever, and I look forward to every Sunday when new chapters are posted. I enjoy the plot, characters, puns, everything. I completely disagree that there’s too much world-building; to me there is just the right amount, and it is all necessary to understanding the story, especially for someone with little Jewish background. I also find the style pretty in line with what I would expect based on the other fiction Scott has written, so I doubt any of this is something he could just change for your benefit in some future writing project so that you would find it “better”.

      What I guess I don’t understand is why you’re still reading it if you hate it so much? Scott deliberately made a whole new website so that people who like his nonfiction writing on his blog wouldn’t have to read this if it wasn’t up their alley. Sometimes people have recommended me authors that they thought I would love, but I just didn’t, or authors I previously liked branched out in new directions that I didn’t enjoy as much. And that’s ok! It’s not required to like every author, or everything a certain author writes.

      It’s great that we get to interact with Scott in the comments like this, and I thinks he appreciates getting the occasional constructive criticism. But to come on an author’s site just to basically say that you hate the premise, plot, characters, and style of his book and to ask him to write something totally different next time just seems kind-of rude and unproductive to me. If you want to read something completely different from Unsong, read one of the many, many other fantastic books out there.

    • I’m sorry you don’t like it.

      If it helps, I did say in the second authors’ note: “I have two more chapters and one last interlude planned for Book One, so that should be wrapped up by mid-April. After that there will be a Passover bonus chapter, then onward to Book Two. I can’t promise that “then everything will finally start coming together”, because I actually have more exposition and plotlines to introduce, but by the middle of Book Two there should be a notable change in speed as some larger-scale designs start to make themselves known.”

      This is still the plan.

      I do worry my decision to publish it as a serial instead of all at once wasn’t a great fit for the format.

      • Miriam says:

        Just as a counterpoint, I was pretty surprised when I read that author’s note because I genuinely thought the plot moved along at a pretty good pace in Book One and had no problem whatsoever with the pacing. I’m looking forward to reading Book Two as well, of course, especially if it gets even more exciting!

        Also, Ana is my favorite character.

        Which is to say, you can never satisfy everyone, but you have plenty of fans, so please, please don’t take peoples’ criticisms too much to heart and just keep writing what you enjoy writing.

        • Barbara says:

          I also think the pacing is good. Arbitrarily speeding it up to suit that commenter’s whims would be a negative.

      • ChazV says:

        please don’t regret it. if this was published in one go, I would have been done with it in two days tops. I appreciate it more when it’s not there waiting for me.

      • roystgnr says:

        I do worry my decision to publish it as a serial instead of all at once wasn’t a great fit for the format.

        Serialization chapter-by-chapter works well enough. Each chapter has been individually well-paced, and with only a week to wait between updates I don’t feel too cheated when a particular subplot is left open or even when it takes too long for the subplot’s next “turn” to come up.

        Releasing the entire story all at once would probably have been even better.

        Anything in between would have been a travesty. If I’d just finished Book One and had to wait several months for Book Two then I’d probably spend those months upset at the spiderweb of plot threads dangling around me.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I’m sure a web serial wasn’t a great fit for the format, especially one that updates once a week. Serials must keep you engaged by making you wonder what will come next, which your story does. The problem is we’ve got at least 5 plot threads depending on how you count. If we get one thread per week, we’ll be 5 weeks waiting for the resolution of a chapte’s tension. 5 weeks is a long time, and it’s getting a little frustrating. If this were a normal book, I’d be reading it at a faster pace, which would shorten the time between tension and resolution. Also, it is not very pleasant to wait for a new chapter an entire week, only to read a chapter one doesn’t really enjoy. for example, after the awesome “man on the sphere” interlude we got a chapter about a comet? spirit? impregnating a virgin in the woods, in which the plot advanced exactly zero. The kabahlistic interpretation of ten court case was great, though.

        The worldbuilding is great, and the amount of it appropriate. The problem is again the sparseness ofit. You’re teasing too much, hiding details crucial for understanding the setting. I have a lot of faith in your capacity to have a coherent setting in which all will be revealed and make sense, but the teasing is just to sparse

        There is one advantage of the web serial format, which is the fact that we get to think of and discuss the solutions to the puzzles instead of blindly following through, but then again, waiting 5 weeks on average to see if our guesses were confirmed is just too much. Again, were there a single thread (Aaron’s one, for example, which is just amazing), possibly with a second one in the interludes for variety, and the web serial format would be a great fit.

        Unlike, DM, I urge you to please finish this book, as the world is clearly a better place with it than without it, but unfortunately I have to confirm your worries regarding the inadequacy of the format. In any case, don’t take our criticism too harshly, as we’re the lazy people who didn’t write a full length novel and published it for free on the internet!

      • Ninmesara says:

        In case my previous comment sounds too negative, just a restatement fo the final part: I urge you to please finish this book, as the world is clearly a better place with it than without it. In any case, don’t take our criticism too harshly, as we’re the lazy people who didn’t write a full length novel and published it for free on the internet!

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        I actually preferred the pacing early on. In the first 10 chapters, seven of them focused on the main characters and two focused on Sohu/Uriel, with only one focused on a tertiary plot. In the rest of Book 1, we have four chapters with the main characters, two with Sohu/Uriel, and no others.

        In Book 2, we’ve gotten two chapters with the main characters, three with tertiary characters, and one (the Passover chapter) with a mix. While I’m still enjoying the story, I’m becoming somewhat less invested due to the longer gaps between main character chapters.

      • Joachim Schipper says:

        Fwiw, I’m just happy to be along for the ride. Thanks!

    • FeepingCreature says:

      I think the problem is that the arc structure doesn’t quite work.

      This is supposed to be Book 2, but Book 1 didn’t actually conclude anything much? I think what’s there is good, and it’s entirely possible it will all pay off in a satisfying manner, but that won’t change my opinion that this story frontloads way too much.

      Halfway through book 2 is not the point to start in on a new set of characters, in a new location, with a new quest. Unsong is not tight.

    • LHC says:

      I certainly think we’ve given it long enough that if you think Unsong isn’t very good, your opinion isn’t going to change.

    • DM says:

      Of course, not everything that is good is popular, and vice versa. But, in the absence of other data, you might expect that the readership of a good internet fic would grow over time, as early readers re-post it or tell their friends about it? Conversely, if people don’t find the story enjoyable, then readership may decrease over time. The average number of upvotes/comments on the reddit Unsong threads have slightly decreased over time, suggesting (though not proving) that the story is failing to attract new readers.

      Scott – how has the number of hits on the first day that a chapter is posted changed over time?

      • So wait, you follow this closely enough to track changes in reddit upvotes on its threads despite not liking it? Why?

        • LHC says:

          He’s not really a human. He’s a force of evil trying to spoliate as many good things as possible.

        • DM says:

          Search “Unsong” on the SlateStarCodex subreddit. Takes about 15 seconds : ).

          And while I’m not a big fan of the fiction, I am a big fan of Scott, which is why I care so much.

          • LHC says:

            No, you’re not.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            LHC, you’re being obnoxious.

          • LHC says:

            This is a person who is intent on destroying a good thing, for no particular reason. It is imminently obvious that they should be treated as harshly as possible.

          • Galle says:

            Uh, DM is clearly not intent on destroying Unsong. They are, at absolute worst, intent on making Scott’s next work of fiction different from Unsong. This is not something that merits an identity-denial attack.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            To counter the hostility, have my hugs, even though I don’t agree.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            DM, I mean. LHC does not have my hugs at this time.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            The hell are you talking about, LHC? All DM has done is said that he doesn’t like it and listed why. In what way is that trying to “destroy” it? Meanwhile you’re making wild accusations and generally being hostile and obnoxious. This isn’t the first time, either — back in interlude Gimel you went after the commenters who suggested the story should draw more from Islamic tradition if it was going to include such Christian elements along with the Jewish base; and not only did youd do so, but did so in a way that would predictably lead to a flame war. Between the flaming and the flamebaiting, I am honestly surprised that Scott hasn’t banned you yet.

            I mean, seriously. If people don’t like the story, they can say that. They also don’t have to read it. I can’t imagine that DM’s comment is going to drive anyone away from Unsong — unless, like, they actually don’t like it but were too caught up in the what-happens-next to stop reading, in which case, they should stop reading, and good for DM for breaking them out of it. (I’ve been in that state before… it’s not a good one.) But I don’t expect that’s going to be a common case, because, y’know what? Unsong is an excellent story. It can stand on its own merits. It doesn’t need enforcers shouting down dissenters. That’s really not something we should be doing in pretty much any context.

            There is a word for what you are doing. It is called “fanboyism”. It is not a good thing. Please stop making a mess everywhere.

          • LHC says:

            He wants Scott to scrap the whole thing and start writing something else from scratch. Scott is such a sensitive person I’m concerned he might actually do it, benefiting nobody.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            That does not justify your response.

      • Or, you know, this is just something that has niche appeal.

        Seconding any statements to the effect of, “Fuck off, DM.”

    • Sly says:

      Personally, both my girlfriend and myself are loving it.

    • Sean says:

      Sure, I’d say you’ve given it long enough, though I disagree with you on all counts. I think this is a matter of “maybe just not right for you,” since the things you don’t like about it are pretty in line with the things I like. This isn’t a straightforward narrative story with a few characters that have a goal and go through obstacles and a couple of try-fail cycles before they reach it. It’s a sprawling tangle of characters and plots and ideas, that’s enjoyable as an experience rather than as a constantly moving trail of plot. If that’s not what you’re looking for (or if you’re simply not enjoying the experience), then yeah, probably best to hop off.

    • Timothy Johnson says:

      I think Unsong is fascinating because it addresses the question, “What if the fundamental nature of reality were completely different from what we believe because of modern science?”

      The world-building is the point. I do think I would understand more if the plot had been arranged more linearly (and if someone’s keeping a timeline, I would be interested), but the plot doesn’t actually matter to me very much in the end.

      I find many of the characters extremely interesting, but so far my favorite is Uriel.

      My only worry is that the story will wrap up with some point about super intelligent AI, by having Llull take over the world. That kind of story has been told plenty of times in much better ways; I’m reading this because I want something completely different.

    • anonymous poster says:

      The universe is based on the Talmud, which is just about the least interesting and most impenetrable source material out there.

      I didn’t think it was possible to be this wrong

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      I actually think there has been a pretty good pace of questions being answered and threads starting to come together. Book I ended with Uriel explaining how Apollo 8 broke the world, showing the uneasy stalemate of Uriel with Thamiel, seeing the leader of Unsong, and Niel Armstrong being illuminated, overcome, and kinda destroyed by an overdose of the divine light. Then book 2 opens with the siring of the Comet King, material set on either side of of his downfall, a full accounting of the War in Heaven and what Uriel did to the universe. Even San Francisco wasn’t left hanging too long (though I notice Scott is still playing cool about who/what the RHoG is). That’s keeping things reasonably tight, especially if (as seems likely) this series will be a pentateuch.

      I am still suspicious about authors who can weave a great web, but can’t deliver at the end. But Scott’s doing a pretty good job so far.

      Also [glassy, dazed eyes] “Universal love!” “Transcendent joy!”

    • Anaxagoras says:

      I’m kinda mixed on Unsong, personally. I really like the setting and the worldbuilding, but Aaron and Ana aren’t very interesting so far, and the pacing has some issues. It feels both too fast and too slow. Because there’s so many different plot threads going on at so many different times, it takes several chapters for the core plot of Aaron and Ana to advance, but during those chapters, things seem move forward with tremendous speed. It doesn’t help that in those chapters, much space is taken up with Kabbalistic explanations, which, while fun to read, further shift the progress/description ratio. This doesn’t really apply to the other arcs, especially the more self-contained ones like the war in heaven.

      Again, there’s a lot I like — the webs of pseudo-meaning are exactly my thing, but I feel like the storytelling itself suffers.

    • Sophie says:

      I just kind of feel like this is the kind of book that would never be published, but, each chapter is just kind of epic and highly enjoyable.

    • Argent says:

      Actually, you know what this is? It’s the literary equivalent of Heavy Metal magazine in the early days, particularly loaded with lots and lots of Moebius with occasional interludes of Paul Kirchner’s “The Bus”.

    • Jack V says:

      I basically agree with all of the criticisms. But I absolutely love it anyway.

      I think it is frustrating that there’s SO MUCH worldbuilding, that getting 1 chapter a week means it usually takes AGES to find out what happens next to any particular historical or current character. Or sometimes, even to find out who they ARE. But I love the worldbuilding, so I’m very ok with that.

      In a way, being frustrated is equivalent to “wanting more”, which is a very good sign in a story — many of the best stories leave me saying “that was amazing, but what about…” about a million things.

      I would be interested to see if a story with a more linear narrative works better or worse for Scott’s style. But really, I want more of Ana and Aaron’s meeting and the passover gatherings, where the characters argue with each other about halacha 🙂

    • Peter says:

      It’s grown on me. I started off just reading the interludes, and then found that plenty of the worldbuilding goodness that was in the interludes can be found in the main chapters too. To a certain extent it feels like a collection of same-universe short stories nominally bound together by a plot, but then again, I like that sort of thing.

      So the main plot is not (yet) the strong point, but still, I’m finding it a good read.

    • Quixote says:

      I think its good. I like it. I think at its best its very very funny, while still being clever and smart.

    • Lorenzo S says:

      Isn’t very good? I’d read Unsong just for the whale puns! Things I really like about the book include:

      1) A loving parody of Talmud and Kabbalah. The world structure veers into the ridiculous (OK, mainly hangs out in the ridiculous), but the distorted reflections of real religious arguments show an underlying respect for the original.
      2) Really funny jokes. The comparison of SF and Jerusalem had me in stitches, as did “an immigrant is stealing my Job”.
      3) Fun characters. Uriel and Sohu above all, but also Aaron . Maybe not fully developed characters, but hey, it’s only Exodus.
      4) Puzzles that have me racking my brain to remember the relevant bits of bible or biblical commentary or historical parallel.
      5) Underlying themes that really do matter.

      So keep it up, Scott. Take your time stitching the different plot threads together. I, for one, am enjoying the ride.

    • anon says:

      Don’t troll.

    • Max says:

      I disagree. I think the uziel appearance in part2 and his idea about rewriting universe made up for a lot of
      spaghetti style mishmash

      I do agree that there are too many disjointed story-lines though. I honestly dont care for ana, the main guy or whoever else human there is though(except the interest for Comet King). I do care about cosmology, find it highly interesting , thought provoking and the book is worth reading for that part alone. With a lot of ironic references which are metaphoric reinterpretations. But remember “nothing is coincidence”. It tickles puzzle recognition center of the brain in right way

    • Sean says:

      I take it you’ve never read Malazan Book of the Fallen.

    • LPSP says:

      So yeah, I followed a recent post link and, not knowing what the topic was about scrolled up to find the source post. This took about an hour, leading me to wonder what post could possibly have spawn about 80% of all the comments in this thread.

      And it’s this, a basic troll. My god, Unsong commentariat, you would not last 5 seconds on 4chan.

    • anon says:

      I kinda agree. There were some decent bits in the beginning and some exciting cliffhangers, but it’s starting to get tiresome.
      I might give it a few more chapters but I’m mostly slogging through it at this point in hope.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    Actual tweet link for the title quote: https://twitter.com/stevenkaas/status/167380970503286786

  4. Deiseach says:

    Yes! About the third time the guy said “I’m nobody”, I was thinking “Odysseus? Nemo – ah feck it, Captain Nemo!”

    This chapter seems to me to resemble very strongly Stephen King’s “The Stand”, where Randall Flagg has his compound out in Las Vegas and is more than just another warlord. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not.

    And the Comet King went down surprisingly easy – as far as we’re hearing here. Is he really dead? Who is the Other King? Is this all part of some convoluted plan after learning the most sacred Name? After all, it’s not much good harrowing Hell if you destroy the material universe first by speaking the Name to give you the power to do so.

    There is definitely something going on here – a prize like that ship left sitting unguarded where anyone can sneak aboard? Too good to be true!

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The Other King doesn’t seem to be going by a name, so I was worried that he was actually The Other King and this was a trap. But I find it unlikely that Scott would leave that out were this the case. (Yes, presumably everyone knows what The Other King looks like, but he beat The Comet King, so presumably he has some serious magic; disguise magic is not out of the question.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t think this is The Other King, but setting up a trap with an agent provocateur to find five guys (a magician, an angel and OH BOY HERE WE GO AGAIN a singer!) to fulfil whatever plan or prophecy or condition* to sail the ship and find Metatron? Perfectly feasible.

        Nobody in his army is going to volunteer for this, it’s probably too top-secret even to reveal enough of it to ask for volunteers, but a small group of saps who think they’re running away to freedom? Yeah, make them the catspaws to do his dirty work for him.

        Escape vessel left sitting unguarded for anyone who feels like deserting to make a run for it? Suuuure I believe that! Guy who makes the kind of announcement in public that gets you hauled away by the Kommissars tells you all about this escape plan? Plants the seed of “go off and do the same thing the Comet King did. Try to find God”, even if couched as “sell tickets to millionaires” into their heads instead of “run the fuck to Australia and hope that’s far enough away”?

        Something is fishy here!

        (*A condition might be that anyone willingly working for The Other King can’t come close enough to Metatron to find him, for example).

    • John Sidles says:

      Who is the man who self-identifies as nobody?

      That’s easy. It’s Reacher. Jack Reacher.

      “Who are you?” the older one asked.
      “I’m nobody,” Reacher said.
      “Nobody?”
      “Not a cop, not FBI, not ATF, not anybody.”

      Reacher is “nobody” because, by creator Lee Child’s explicit design and intent, “nobody” is universally Jack Reacher.

      “Tell me about yourself. Who are you, Reacher?”

      I shrugged at him. “I’m nobody,” I said. “Just a guy passing through. I’ll be gone on Monday.”

      “Nobody’s nobody,” he said. “We’ve all got a story. Tell me.”

      The upshot is, it sure looks like Odysseus, no make that Prince Dakkar, no make that Jack Reacher, is going on a boat-trip.

      For sure, there’s some d*mnably good reason why Reacher wants to be on that boat. And sooner or later, Reacher’s going to tell us what that reason is. 🙂

      • John Sidles says:

        Not to mention, Reacher’s big in stature, physically strong, courageous in action, emotionally fearless, strategically ingenious, verbally laconic, and morally just.

        Note too that Reacher-reality spans universes. Not only Lee Child, but Stephen King and Diane Capri commonly write about Reacher.

        “Who’s over Reacher? Truth hath no confines!”
          — a celebrated sea-captain

        So of course Reacher’s is destined to REACH Metatron. In Unsong there are no accidents. Neither does injustice, even eternal and immortal injustice, triumph.over justice — especially Reacher-style mortal justice.

    • I’m guessing it wasn’t nearly as easy as the guys here think, and we’ll hear more about it later.
      This chapter is after his depressing Seder, but it’s still unclear whether the Seder happened before or after his “death”. If after, he didn’t really die, but was imprisoned/handicapped somehow. If before… why was he so depressed during the Seder? And does that mean he lost some of his power prior to the fight with the other king (or, possibly, was so depressed he threw it away?)

      • 75th says:

        Clearly he was depressed during the Seder by whatever he learned when he found Metatron. He learned the Shem haMephorash, which he thought would let him save the world, but maintained a stony silence ever after. Clearly, invoking the Explicit Name comes with catastrophic side effects he couldn’t (figure out how to) avoid.

    • Jokeel says:

      I posted this in reply to discussion on the Other King by accident, rather than the big man:

      He’s probably not a good guy, or if he is, he wants to bring about the end of the world.
      That last bit has to be a reference to John, because nothing is a coincidence: “The man was nobody, and the man was with nobody.”
      That’s directly setting him up as to be the opposite of God/creation.

  5. LHC says:

    Calling it now that “Nobody” is Thamiel in disguise and he’s gonna kill Metatron and it’s gonna be a huge mind-blowing twist.

    • B_Epstein says:

      Why would Thamiel need the rest? And why would he need the ship? Sure it’s fast. But he’s Thamiel.

  6. Sniffnoy says:

    So… Metatron spoke (apparently). What on Earth is one to make of that? I have to wonder how Uriel reacted on finding that out! (It seems like all the Uriel chapters so far took place before The Comet King’s quest.)

  7. Jon says:

    As a gamer, every time I read “Metatron”, I can’t help but map it to “Mettaton” in my head. And now my mental image of God is a comedic robot with two arms and one wheel.

    • anon says:

      As a gamer, you should consider branching out a bit from Undertale, and maybe even read more books. Perhaps the His Dark Materials trilogy?

      • Or Transformers. Then you’ll mentally map it to Megatron.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Imagine if somehow the Comet King had gotten Metatron to come to him instead of vice versa.

          Nobody summons Metatron!” “Then it pleases me to be the first.”

      • Jon says:

        Read and enjoyed it a long time ago growing up! Totally forgot most of the characters’ names, so I didn’t catch that reference until looking it up just now.

      • Eneasz Brodski says:

        Or Vellum

      • Dirdle says:

        Yeah, I also had the opposite case of mental mis-stepping – we may assume that was the intended outcome of the game’s choice of name, of course. It’d be a sad world if we were all alike, though. Then again, I think anon’s suggested reading is a very amusing choice. I can see absolutely no obvious way it could backfire =D

        My initial thought was “god damn old-fashioned interneters and their book-chauvinism, surely there’re some JRPGs with regular-old Metatron in or something” but it looks like not really very many? Certainly nothing that I can use to justify saying “actually the problem is limited range of gaming.” For now, at least, books are just better. you should watch Spirit Science’s videos, which are deeply enlightening.

        It does raise the question of what Unsong’s Metatron actually looks like. I want to imagine some combination of faceless angel, statue, and part of something like a Julia set – a fractal pattern with a lot of fernlike curled-up structure. But mostly I just think of one of those blind angels from Zendikar. Stupid path-dependent mind.

      • Brent Royal-Gordon says:

        I can’t be the only one who thinks of Alan Rickman, can I?

    • Peffern says:

      I’m not the only one, then 😀

    • Sophie says:

      Can’t stop seeing the face of the Metatron from Supernatural, smiling benignly, badly superimposed onto a raging whirlwind.

  8. Philosophical speculation:
    When Uriel converted the world to math, it seems like, aside from his actual math skills, he also got some genuine insight into the mind of God. And while Uriel may have a monopoly on math skills, I’d guess Metatron, Raziel, and possibly TCK and Thamiel have more insight into the mind of God than he would, and may show capabilities beyond his when they show up.

  9. A. says:

    Any guesses as to what powers the remaining two sails? At least the black one seems like it might be a problem.

    • LHC says:

      I’m guessing one of them is powered by something to do with Ana.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oh, yeah, duh, Ana. Why did I not realize the obvious connection to last chapter?

        But that means these guys have been sailing around in the All Your Heart for 15 years. What have they been doing all that time? (Well, we’ll probably find out soon.)

      • Yossarian says:

        There must be a sail powered whaly and entirely by biblical whale puns. Horrible biblical whale puns.

        • Jack V says:

          If the “engine” is powered by the horribleness of whale puns, I think Ana would cause it to blow.

  10. hlynkacg says:

    Scott, I’m having flashbacks to a bar in Nairobi and I don’t know whether I should thank you or kick you in the nuts.

    I’m leaning towards thanks.

  11. hnau says:

    Something about the sail colors isn’t adding up for me.

    The Book 2 picture shows them in ROY G BIV order, and I would have expected black to replace violet since it’s the last in line. But Nemo says that angel magic powers the violet sail… so I guess the indigo sail was the one turned to black instead?I guess that’s consistent with the picture. What might the exclusion of indigo signify?

    Also, Nemo seems to be skipping over some sails. Red is normal. The second one (Orange, I assume) is ritual magic. Green, the fourth one, is music. And assuming that the violet angel-magic sail is legit, it’s the sixth one. That leaves yellow, blue, and black. I assume one of them is powered by kabbalah (Ana’s “calling the winds” ability, anyone?) and if we go with one crew member per sail it’s pretty likely that Nemo has something up his sleeve, probably for the black sail (I’m assuming James takes the red one). What might the other sails require? A Cometspawn maybe, or a demon?

    By the way… this whole setup so reminds me of the Dragonships in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series. Please tell me someone here’s read it?

    • hnau says:

      Looked at the picture again and the fifth sail actually seems more indigo than blue. So it’s the (light) blue that’s excluded. Huh.

    • Galle says:

      Well, for one thing, indigo is really only considered a distinct color from violet because damnit we must have exactly seven of everything. The other color divisions are much more natural to the human eye.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I agree with Galle. They also fit into a nice system (subtractive color). Indigo doesn’t; as far as I know it’s just something Newton introduced so there could be 7. (Interestingly, Wikipedia mentions work that suggests that by “blue” Newton meant what we’d call “cyan”, and his “indigo” was more like our “blue”.) Black isn’t in the rainbow, but it fits better to make a nice system — it’d be better if there were white as well, but (as I said in the Book 2 cover comments section) maybe that’s being ommitted since it’s “zero”. So instead of affine 3-space over F_2 (the 3-cube), you get projective 2-space over F_2 (the Fano plane). 😛

      • Azure says:

        Ironic, given my username, but…

        The seven colors of the rainbow were assigned by Nasty Old Newton. Given his fondness for mysticism of all sorts it would not be surprising if he picked them just to get seven.

        However, it is not the case that the difference between blue, indigo, and violet is not one naturally seen by the human eye. You know what violet looks like. Indigo is the color of (non-faded) blue jeans. (Indigo, the plant dye, or some synthetic version thereof, is exactly what blue denim is dyed with.)

        The differentiation on the spectrum is easier to see if you think of it as Red, Orange, Yello, Green, Cyan, Ultramarine (or ‘royal blue’ if you don’t know what ultramarine is.), and Violet.

        This difference actually shows up in the Russian language. For them, lighter blues (including spectral Newton’s Blue/Cyan) and darker blues (including sepctral Newton’s Indigo/Ultrarmarine) are separate catagories, analogous to English red and pink.

        If you want to go pick on a color, go pick on orange. It’s width on the spectrum looks way narrower to me than any of the others.

        • Argent says:

          _If you want to go pick on a color, go pick on orange. It’s width on the spectrum looks way narrower to me than any of the others._

          The M and L cones (red and green or green and red, I forget which) are really close together, so the whole red/orange/yellow/green part of the spectrum is naturally pretty cramped.

          Incidentally, different people have peak response in slightly different places, so they’ll see different “widths” to bands like orange, and red/green color blindness can be due to people not missing cones so much as having cones that are too close together. There’s a scheme that someone came up with that puts a notch filter between L and M and gives red/green color-blind people some color vision again.

        • LPSP says:

          Orange is significant because it’s the colour associated with maximal lone natural stimulus of the low-frequency cone. Because that cone overlaps very closely with the mid-frequency cone, the colour is orange and not red, which we can only see with such low frequencies of light that the receptor isn’t very stimulated.

          Now what IS odd – really odd – is that orange gets a seat, but lime green doesn’t. Or why green hasn’t been split up into multiple words for lime/grass/olive green and moss/teal/jade green.

          (also, yellow is defacto the narrowest colour on the spectrum, although orange isn’t far behind. yellow is extremely fragile as a colour, which fits its role in human perception.)

      • hnau says:

        Fair points. I had no idea this division came from Newton. However, the text specifically calls out “colors of the rainbow”, and it would be just like the Unsong universe for the seven-color scheme to have significance even though it’s totally arbitrary.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        The other color divisions are much more natural to the human eye.

        Orange doesn’t seem particularly more natural than cyan to me.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          Though, if as people suggest by “blue” and “indigo” Newton meant what we would call cyan and blue today, there’s almost nothing particularly unnatural about his choice.

          The only weird thing is his inclusion of orange even though it wasn’t a very common color term back then (people just said “yellowish red”) and even though he didn’t include e.g. crimson below red, chartreuse/lime between yellow and green, or teal between green and blue. That was probably in honor of the House of Orange-Nassau, which is also the reason why carrots were bred to be that color (they were usually purple before then).

          (Honestly, the transition between red and yellow doesn’t look much more gradual than that between yellow or green, and it annoys me that there’s no commonly used term for the color in between, forcing me to choose between calling it yellow, calling it green, sounding like a dork, or sounding like a fag.)

      • Argent says:

        But the number seven was already important before Uriel turned the world into math, so the laws of physics are derived from the seven colors rather than the other way around.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Sure, but it could be a different 7 colors than we’re expecting (with black replacing indigo).

          • Vamair says:

            The black sail should be three-colored, as there are three invisible colors. Well, sure, it can be just one of them or even neither. But I like the three-colored.

          • Azure says:

            How do you get Three Invisible Colors?

            There are Forbidden Colors if you happen to be gay in Japan. (♪ It’s easy when you’re gay in Japan… ♪)

            (Forbidden Color was a punning reference to homosexuality since the word for color sounded like the word for erotic love. Mishima wrote a story with this title once. I only know about it because I adore Philip Glass who did the soundtrack for a biography of Mishima.)

            There are three Imiagnary Colors: Imaginary Red, Imaginary Green, and Imaginary Blue. These are the result of cones having frequency response curve that overlap somewhat. An imaginary color is what you would see if the appropriate cone were stimualted in isolation. As Argent said above, the Long and Medium cones are closer together and so Imaginary Red and Imaginary Green are much more pronounced than Imaginary Blue.

            Short cones have their peaks further away than the other two peaks. However, the Long cone also has another, much less intense, range of sensitivity even shorter than the short cone’s peak, so that for extremely short wavelengths both Long and Short cones are stimulated. This is why violet and purple look the same to humans. It also gives rise to the line of purples which is a super-awesome sort of ‘bonus spectrum’ born entirely out of evolution being half-baked and hacky.

            I can think of lots of things i Might call Invisible Colors (colors seeable by tetrachromats, or all the hues of radio waves, infra-red, ultra-violet, X-ray, and gamma rays combined) but nothing else I can think of has three of them.

          • Argent says:

            Oh, yes, that’s the other cool thing. Bright purples are not a real color, they don’t exist in the spectrum, they’re the result of two sets of cones both being strongly stimulated which requires two separate peaks. THERE IS NO PURPLE.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Azure: The “three invisible colors” are mentioned in Chapter 3 (“The glyphs turned first blue, then purple, then one of the three nameless colors you only see in dreams.”) and in Chapter 20 (“Ten streams of light flowed into him, light in the seven earthly colors and the three colors you only see in Heaven.”). As the Comment King pointed out, it’s presumably 7 earthly colors and 3 heavenly colors for the 7 broken and 3 unbroken sephirot.

          • LPSP says:

            Azure, have you heard of hyberbolic orange and stygian blue? You get them by staring at opposing colours for a long time and then switching to stare at a white or black object respectively. The eye’s sensors adjust to seeing the respective colour’s opposite, and so it’s relevant sensors are stimulated. But at the same time the rod receptor is highly or not at all stimulated. This causes the brain to think it’s seeing an orange brighter than white, or a blue darker than black, which should be impossible.

      • LPSP says:

        No, indigo would be a rich/royal blue colour, while in Newton’s times violet would’ve covered magenta, tyrian and fuschia purples.

    • LWNielsenim says:

      Saturated orange is out-of-gamut for CMYK color printing (so that special inks and 5+-color presses are required to print this color).

      The subject of color gamuts is arcane-yet-sometimes-important because every subject is arcane-yet-sometimes-important. 🙂

      • LWNielsenim says:

        PS: try the color matching challenge (harder than usual color tests). Easy for a few, challenging for many, impossible for some.

        • LPSP says:

          I remember doing this years ago, I think I might get some friends to have a go at it. I got 100% on this and several other tests easily; apparently I have exceptional colour acuity, which makes sense given that I fucking love colour.

    • Azure says:

      As to what losing Indigo might symbolize…

      In the Green Lantern universe it’s Compassion.

      In the New Age movement it’s connected to the Third Eye which is…I don’t know. Wisdom and Perception or something? Also that whole Indigo Children thing which, for all we know, might actually work now that the Divine Light is shining in. Sohu certainly has mystical affinity.

      The Tuareg dye cloth indigo by taking powdered indigo and beating it into the cloth with sticks. Their indigo is wealth and prestige.

      Indigo is the color of blue jeans and could symbolize hard, physical labor.

      Indigo’s name comes from India (because that’s where they used to get it from.)

      • LPSP says:

        The Green Lantern universe posits green and yellow as opposites. While there is some basis in this – yellow is the most fragile colour on the spectrum, green the most robust – ultimately it’s hard to respect a system that posits two neighbourly hues at odds like that.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I was just assuming that the discontinuation of one of the colors was mentioned offhand in a Uriel chapter.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      “By the way… this whole setup so reminds me of the Dragonships in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series. Please tell me someone here’s read it?”

      Not only have I read it (well, the first book of it), I’ve been trying to remember what it’s called since I was in high school! Thank you very much indeed.

    • LPSP says:

      At some point earlier in the story (I can’t remember), five or six colours are used symbolically instead of seven, so this fits. Somewhere red, yellow, green, blue and purple are used as a group.

      Also, colour words were used differently in Newton’s time. Indigo was the word they used for pure RGB-space blue today, and the blue they used was a sky blue azure/cerulean, which would’ve included cyan.

  12. 75th says:

    Hypothesis: The Other King is Jesus come again, with a massive grudge.

    I’m not yet sure how serious I am about this.

    • 75th says:

      After reskimming the chapter, I’m going to say this is my serious current best guess. “He is a bad man” only makes sense as a terrible insult against the historically alleged perfect man. And crucifixion is the other big clue, naturally.

      • 75th says:

        …in addition of course to the double-meaning with which it imbues the name “The Other King”.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          …that actually makes a lot of sense. As well as fitting with Scott’s foreshadowing about a punishment-focused Messiah earlier.

          • 75th says:

            Hahahahahahahaha, check THIS out:

            James and his battalion had taken over Phoenix, Yuma, and Puerto Penasco

            “Yuma” means “Chief’s son” in the Native American. “Peñasco” means “large rock” in the Spanish, which ties into the conversation where Jesus names Peter “Peter”. And “Phoenix” is obvious.

          • 27chaos says:

            Nice.

          • 75th says:

            AAAAAAND, “Puerto” means “Port” and “Port” means “left”, so “Puerto Peñasco” => “Port Large Rock” => “The lefthand Christ”

            Scott, you are a mad genius

          • K8 says:

            I mean…Peter’s not the same as Jesus, though.

          • 75th says:

            No, but the reason Jesus names him “Rock” is his correct answer that “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

            The Protestant interpretation of this story (that I learned, anyway) is that Jesus names Peter the form of the word that means “small rock”, but when he says “on this rock I will build my church” he uses the form that means “massive rock”, and therefore that the church is being built on that correct answer, not Peter himself.

            I have no idea if any of that holds up linguistically or historically, but that’s the reference I think Scott was making.

          • Aris Katsaris says:

            75th, though I’m no expert, I don’t think what you said holds up linguistically. The passage reads as follows in Matthew 16:18:
            “κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν”

            It’s the same word both times, except the name “Πέτρος” is in masculine form, as the guy is a dude, and the other “πέτρα” is the normal feminine form of the word.

            So there’s no distinction made there between small rocks and big rocks.

          • Daniel says:

            Interpretations differ. From a dictionary of Biblical Greek:

            some interpreters regard the distinction (generally observed in classic Greek…) between πέτρα, the massive living rock, and πέτρος, a detached but large fragment, as important for the correct understanding of this passage; others explain the different genders here as due first to the personal then to the material reference.

            Wikipedia attributes the version that 75th heard to “some Protestant evangelical groups”, with essentially everyone else agreeing that Peter is the rock.

          • 75th says:

            Very belated reply to this, but yeah, even if Peter is the Rock, “Rock” still seems to be strongly related to “[Jesus is] the Christ, the son of the living God”, because uttering that statement is what earned Peter the name.

    • A. says:

      About 15 years ago, I had a very detailed and very striking dream, which, unfortunately, did not make much logical sense to me at that time, and which I was not able to identify the source of. The dream was about a powerful magician and two boys showing up to rudely and randomly interfere with his work. He manages to get rid of one but cannot get rid of another no matter how hard he tries; he ends up identifying the boy as Jesus. The dream ends with the magician touching the magic books on his shelves and talking to the authors and the publishers, warning them about the menace, telling them to flee and hide, so that they can save whatever magic can still be saved.

      I’d find it amusing if your guess is right.

  13. Sniffnoy says:

    Here’s another question — in what way is the Comet King’s death related to his grand plan, and what about it is “better left unsaid”? Going by chapter 6, which implies the former and states the latter.

    One possibility is that the Other King kills him specifically because the Other King is on the side of Hell — which makes sense with the hypothesis above that the Other King is, in fact, the punishment-focused (Left Hand) Messiah. This doesn’t answer the second question though.

    Also notable implications of this chapter: Even if our heroes learn Shem HaMephorash, they may not find solving all their problems with it so easy. Apparently the Comet King didn’t.

    • 75th says:

      To be clear, you’re saying that Thamiel is the LHOG, and The Other King is Thamiel’s Messiah?

      So, are there three Messiahs? TOK for left hand, KNEEL guy for right hand, Sarah for head?

      • LHC says:

        oh no i’ve gone trinity-eyed

      • Galle says:

        If the Other King is the Left Messiah, then that implies the Comet King was the Right Messiah.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Well, Thamiel’s already been referred to as the Left Hand in-story, so I think that’s pretty definite.

        I was going to say that per Scott’s foreshadowing we only get a left-hand Messiah (“KNEEL guy” is the RHOG, remember) but now I realize he actually foreshadowed something different:

        Still other texts say the Messiah will come in a generation that is both the most righteous and the most wicked. I don’t even know what to think of that one.

        If the most righteous generation brings about a right-hand Messiah, and the most-wicked generation brings about a left-hand one… then yeah, two Messiahs seems a definite possibility.

        I don’t see much reason to expect a third at the moment. I agree there’s some left hand / right hand / head parallels, but not enough to suggest that the head is completely symmetric with the left and the right (it is in the center, after all).

        But yeah, I’d expect that we have both a Left Hand and a Right (Thamiel and “KNEEL guy”); a corresponding “discovering archangel” for each (Sataniel and Raziel); and a Messiah for each (The Other King and… unknown, probably hasn’t shown up yet). For the head both the initial roles seem to be fulfilled by Metatron, possibly, and I think there won’t be a Messiah role (he shows up in the most neutral generation? 😛 ).

        (Now how about Elijah? I assume there can only be one Elijah, he’s a pretty specific person. Of course, there’s only supposed to be one Messiah too, but at least that is a role rather than a name…)

        • 75th says:

          Hmm, hmm.

          First:

          per Scott’s foreshadowing we only get a left-hand Messiah

          Which foreshadowing are you referring to here?

          Still other texts say the Messiah will come in a generation that is both the most righteous and the most wicked. I don’t even know what to think of that one.

          My working hypothesis here has been that the true Messiah is Sarah, that “righteous”/”wicked” is a metaphor for “smart”/”stupid”, and that it refers to humanity being smart enough to build an ensoulable machine / individual humans being stupid enough to actually ensoul one on a whim.

          If the most righteous generation brings about a right-hand Messiah, and the most-wicked generation brings about a left-hand one… then yeah, two Messiahs seems a definite possibility.

          This is a very interesting line of thought. I’m not sure, though. What we’ve seen of the Right Hand of God is actually not exactly good; it’s all love and mercy everywhere, but in a way that renders useless everyone it touches.

          I read once long ago that someone said (paraphrasing) “Christianity emphasizes mercy too much; Islam emphasizes justice too much; Judaism has them both in balance”. I feel like that’s kind of what we’re getting here. Right Hand is destructive love, Left Hand is destructive punishment. They may each have their own Messiahs, but that still leaves a vacuum for an *actually good* facet of God and *its* Messiah.

          There have been a couple of references (haven’t there?) to God being divine nothingness; that the only perfection is God, and as soon as any stuff is actually created it is by definition imperfect. This is why I think Sarah is the actual Messiah: she is the Divine Spark imposed onto a completely blank, neutral slate.

          (“KNEEL guy” is the RHOG, remember)

          It seems that way, but this won’t sit well with me until we see it explicitly. First of all, isn’t there speculation that “KNEEL” guy was actually saying “Neil”? That he is Neil Armstrong’s spirit sent back? Neil ascended to a higher plane, but I do not quite think he got promoted all the way to “facet of God”. He seems to fit the “RHOG-Messiah” role much better, according to my current model.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Which foreshadowing are you referring to here?

            See author’s note 2, where he declared my comment about the wickedness route bringing about a vengeful Messiah to be “official foreshadowing”.

            This is a very interesting line of thought. I’m not sure, though. What we’ve seen of the Right Hand of God is actually not exactly good; it’s all love and mercy everywhere, but in a way that renders useless everyone it touches.

            I read once long ago that someone said (paraphrasing) “Christianity emphasizes mercy too much; Islam emphasizes justice too much; Judaism has them both in balance”. I feel like that’s kind of what we’re getting here. Right Hand is destructive love, Left Hand is destructive punishment.

            Yeah, there’s a reason I’m saying “right-hand” and “left-hand” rather than attempt to use any apparent synonyms.

            Note also Uriel touches on this in Chapter 13.

          • Jack V says:

            Huh. Yeah, RHOG being equally problematic in a different way fits the story really well, actually, given how the LHOG’s relationship to justice was described.

          • 75th says:

            Yeah, there’s a reason I’m saying “right-hand” and “left-hand” rather than attempt to use any apparent synonyms.

            Gotcha. My only point was that I feel like an RH Messiah and LH Messiah would not constitute the Messiah the world needs, either alone or together.

            The Chapter 13 thing is way more relevant than I remember:

            THE RIGHT HAND BECAME AIMLESS IN ITS BLESSINGS, AND THE LEFT SWITCHED FROM THE CAREFUL DIRECTION OF A LOVING FATHER, TO PUNISHMENT FOR ITS OWN SAKE. THE MIDDLE PILLAR REPRESENTS THE COMPROMISE BETWEEN THESE TWO EXTREMES. BALANCE. UNION.

            I feel like that raises the probability of there being three Messiahs rather than two.

            Also, back in Interlude Bet, when it talked about the A-N-A and R-N and M-S-S patterns, there was a whole conversation about how “Messiah” didn’t fit, because it’s phonetic and there’s only one S sound in the English. But “Messiahs” plural fixes that problem.

          • 75th says:

            Also, I forgot to say that Scott said once (on Tumblr?) that he generally approves of the actions of the Messiah throughout the book. I doubt he approves of either The Other King or what’s going on in San Francisco.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Oh right, I forgot about that. Good point.

  14. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    So the Comet King was probably not yet dead at the Passover scene, since that was a year before. I still wonder if his part-celestial nature (he turned into a lightning bolt, for Pete’s sake, just like how Michael and Gabriel made an appearance!) makes him hard to kill dead-dead. We see that, around the time of his death, the Comet King was depressed and disillusioned.

    Three guesses:
    1) The guys who rescue Ana in San Francisco? This is their origin story, even if their merry band has had some personnel turnover during the following decade and a half b

    2) The Comet King, whatever he saw on the journey, did not actually gain the Explicit Name. This might be connected to his shift from planning to win and give God credit, to saying,”today we lie.” Either he sailed in hope of bolstering his faith, or he faced some bitter disappointment on the way. But I am now doubting that he even learned the Name. Or if he did, he learned of some kind of limit or rules that meant his plan wouldn’t work.

    3) (crazier) Maybe the Comet King didn’t fully die. Maybe he faked his death. Maybe he re-coalesced. Maybe only one half of his nature was killed. And this stranger, who is no one, who knows all about the All Your Heart, who the soldiers don’t know. What would the Comet King be trying to gain? Maybe an escape. Maybe to keep The Other King from getting his grubby paws on the ship. Or maybe he is trying again, to find God for real this time. Or to tell Metatron what he can to with that smart, fiery, and silent mouth of his.

    • Galle says:

      4 (crazier than that) Maybe the Comet King not only faked his death, but then posed as his own killer? I can’t begin to speculate on what could cause such a thing (prolonged interaction with Thamiel? It’s actually the divine plan? Getting a head start on the “West” part?) but it’s the kind of twist I would use.

    • hnau says:

      (1) looks very likely to me at this point. Sure, it’s a 15-year gap, but if Ana’s calling-the-winds powers are needed to get the All Your Heart up to top speed, it makes total sense that they’d show up at this point in the story.

      (2) also looks very likely. I’m betting on the “learned the name but also learned a very good reason not to use it” branch of the dilemma. The Comet King doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would lie about discovering the Name. Most likely he discovered what Uriel already knew: namely, that killing Thamiel with kabbalah isn’t going to work very well and that remaking the world isn’t as easy as it sounds.

      (3)… yeah, that’s crazier. I expect we’ll see the Comet King come back into the story somehow, but I don’t see why he’d be back this soon after supposedly dying, or what he would hope to gain by taking the All Your Heart again.

      Bonus prediction: The Comet King’s death has something to do with 9/11/2001.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      (1) seems pretty clearly true. We have a picture of the All Your Heart in SF on the book cover, after all. It’s possible for it to be false, but that would require some incredible coincidences.

      Possible idea as to why TCK doesn’t use the Explicit Name: The only function of the Explicit Name is to create the world — or, if it already exists, recreate it. Invoking it is simply no use if you want to actually fix the world as it is rather than kill everybody and start over. (Hm, shades of Order of the Stick there.)

      • hnau says:

        +1 for the OOtS comparison! I can definitely see the Comet King (and maybe Uriel too?) finding himself in the same position as the OOtS pantheons (with Thamiel being analogous to the Snarl, probably).

      • Argent says:

        The only function of the Explicit Name is to create the world — or, if it already exists, recreate it. Invoking it is simply no use if you want to actually fix the world as it is rather than kill everybody and start over. (Hm, shades of Order of the Stick there.)

        More like a Discworld reference. Rincewind was a lousy Wizard because he had one of the 8 great spells that created the world lodged in his brain. Nobody wanted to know what would happen if he actually cast it.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      I’m pretty confident that TOK did not kill TCK in a no-nonsense, non-tricksy-hobbitses way: it was TCK faking his death, or a deliberate sacrifice, or some such.

      I am also rather tempted by the idea that the Other King is the Comet King. This may be why TCK was so depressed. Maybe TCK realised that he had no chance of making the world good enough to get the Nice Messiah and decided to be the Nasty Messiah instead.

      I’m also tempted by the idea that the nameless man is TCK. Maybe the whole thing is a plot to set up the conditions under which he can actually catch Metatron. (I’m not sure why he’s trying that, given that Metatron never speaks, but maybe he’s out of other options or thinks he’s got some sprecific way to make Metatron talk to him.) I’m very much unconvinced that TCK actually got Metatron to tell him Shem HaMephorash. That would clearly violate the rule that Metatron never speaks and I would expect TCK to be a *lot* more powerful than he appears if he could derive Names directly from the Explicit Name. (I suspect that Shem HaMephorash is just Adam Kadmon written explicitly, or the seed that produces Adam Kadmon, and I have a tentative hypothesis that God and Adam Kadmon are identically equal.)

      I’m still moderately confident that TCK is Elijah/Sandalphon, not the Messiah, but this chapter has lowered my confidence. It might be that he is unaware of being Elijah and is trying to be the Messiah, or that he’s trying to set up the conditions for the coming of the Messiah.

      • Dindane says:

        I’d like to point out that, technically, the Comet King never claimed Metatron spoke to him, just that he found Metatron and learned the Explicit Name. The possibility that these claims are true yet Metatron did not speak should be considered, although it leaves the question of how TCK learned the Name wide open.

  15. Nemo says:

    I like the sound of this guy! I guess I really just identify with his character.

  16. Jai says:

    I just wanted to say that I’m really, really, enjoying this. Every Sunday my girlfriend and I sit down to read Unsong together – and she’s a faster reader than me, so I’ll hear her laugh or groan at some particularly atrocious pun and know that I have that to look forward to, and it’s great. Thank you for writing this, thank you for giving it away for free.

  17. Aran says:

    I love the part that holy water makes angels break into iambic pentameter.

  18. Aran says:

    Also, is The Other King literally Thamiel?

  19. dsotm says:

    It could be that while on his quest the comet king had some kind of a transformative event which caused a crisis of faith, throwing him into the kind of despair and cynicism reflected in the Seder story.
    That would be compatible with the other Other
    – some explain his heresy as a result of witnessing Metatron while in the pardes while others attribute it to theodicy-based doubts, but why not both ?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Ooh, interesting connection.

    • dsotm says:

      So on one the hand despair or not the Comet King would probably not crucify people for deterrence and lay siege to his own children, on the other it could be that given the infinite torment expecting people in hell crucifying them would nearly be quickening the inevitable and negligible in the grand utility accounting as far as he is concerned and the siege could be a cover for protecting his close circle underground while they try to come up with some plan ?

      I think we should expect an explanation on who exactly goes to hell after they die, is it universal because noone is free from sin ?

      Also note the “A third of the population of this town got massacred”, is the other king supplying hell with souls with the same ratio as Sataniel took from the heavenly host ?

      • drocta says:

        I am reminded of in revelations, among the many other things that it says , it says that a third of the earth and trees were burned up, a third of the sea turned to blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, a third of the ships were destroyed, etc, including the moon and the stars and the sun.

        (See Revelations chapter 8 )

        I do not know if this is what is being referenced, but I am reminded of it.

        If this is what is being referenced, I’m not sure how well it matches with, like, what that is actually supposed to mean.

        So…

    • dsotm says:

      A somewhat different but related explanation: The Comet King decided that since the left side of God is just as real as the right side he needs to get himself more “balanced” to be able to bring on the Lurianic Tikun so he deliberately allowed himself to be influenced by Thamiel believing he would be able to resist and control it.

  20. R Flaum says:

    Okay, but in this continuity does Metatron transform into a gun or a tank?

    • Aran says:

      “That’s the Cosmic Megatron. I had one, but the head fell off. I think this one is different.” -Good Omens

  21. Mike says:

    Couple things weirding me out. First is the Amero-centrism. If we make a list of the most powerful entities in the Universe (Thamiel, Uriel, Sarah?, Comet King, Other King, RHOG, Metatron, Sohu?), all except Thamiel and Metatron are clearly North American. Not sure if that’s an important facet of the universe, or just because the author is American.

    The other thing is the crucifixions. In a book based primarily un Judaism, it seems strangely out of place. I think Jesus was at one point referenced as a ‘would-be Messiah.’ Are these crucifixions an attempt to make a new Messiah? Is TOK just Jesus, and he came back pissed? Is there some deep Talmudic thing I’m missing?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It’s very California-centric in particular. But I assume we’ll have to go to Israel at some point at least, right?

      Note that if you look upthread, 75th has assembled a fair bit of evidence for the “TOK is Jesus and he came back pissed” hypothesis.

    • 75th says:

      Christianity is already established to be divinely significant in this universe. Not only have there been offhand references to the kabbalistic implications of Revelation, but the SCABMOM Name (telepathic marriage) was derived not only from one of the Gospels, but from an apocryphal addition to it!

    • Daniel says:

      Well, the Americans did kind of break the Universe. The least they can do is host the repair crews!

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Not sure if that’s an important facet of the universe, or just because the author is American.

      The out-of-universe reason is probably the latter, and normally that would bother the hell out of me as a non-American, but I 100% forgive Scott for this because I trust him to have a very good in-universe reason for that.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Remember this is a world where TV and air travel have stopped working. It is entirely possible that weird stuff is happening all over the place, and the (American) characters only know and care about what’s happening in the US.

  22. wr4ith0 says:

    Just want to thank scott for this story. I read 200+ webcomics and I can tell anyone reading that he runs through more plot than really anyone in that profession (andrew hussy’s homestuck being possibly the most prolific, and thanks to the fact <50% of the content was text it honestly moved slower). And that ignores the insane amount of research and plot machinery that goes into each posting. Also keeping a schedule this well is a rarity.

    Honestly Scott has made a very large effort to allow these chapters to stand on their own (as many of the best webcomickers learn to do). While the wait time can be hard to endure, the speculation and enforced digestion adds something that will be lost to anyone who shotguns the completed work. I personally enjoy the work in this format as much as, if not more than I would a collected and edited novel (even allowing for the occasional continuity error).

  23. Broggly says:

    I, for one, was genuinely relieved that the Big Guy wasn’t trying to get caught as part of his master plan.

  24. When I read the chapter quote, it made me think it really ought to read “Object gods have class gods / Up in their skies to smite them / …”, even if that doesn’t really allow stacking to infinity. Congratulations – this is absolutely the result of too much kingjamesprogramming exposure.

  25. quintopia says:

    Strange theory: angels are being named after medications. Pirindiel after perindopril, Amoxiel after amoxicillin…

    • Anonymous says:

      I had the same thought after I searched the web for Amoxiel’s name. I also searched for Pirindiel’s, but couldn’t find any likely origin; your guess looks plausible enough.

      Now I’m waiting for Modafiel to appear.

  26. Andrew M says:

    Has the significance of the name ‘Tomas Castro’ been discussed at all?

    • Andrew M says:

      OK, I should explain this. To me the name ‘Tomas Castro’ recalls the Tichborne claimant. His real name was, in all likelihood, Arthur Orton, and he claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, but in Australia before launching his claim he called himself Thomas Castro, which is also the name under which he was later imprisoned. While he spelt it with an ‘h’ in the English manner, he apparently adopted that name because he had known a Tomas Castro (no h) in Argentina. (There’s also an essay by Jorge Luis Borges which refers to him by this name.)

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