aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 23: Now Descendeth Out Of Heaven A City

Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.
— Obadiah 1:4

Afternoon, May 12, 2017
San Francisco

Even though she could no longer hear it with her ears, it still rang in the back of her mind. A note, a single impossibly pure note that seemed to overpower everything else. But it grew fainter and fainter and finally faded away entirely. She didn’t miss it. She knew a minute longer up there and she would have lost herself, lost even the ability to know what losing herself entailed, lost the ability to think or feel or know or question anything ever again, turned into a perfect immobile crystal that was blindingly beautiful and totally inert.

“Oh God,” said Ana. They had brought her aboard the ship and helped her onto a bed in one of the cabins. “I almost felt transcendent joy. It was awful.”

None of them laughed. There were three of them. An older man with a short white beard. A military-looking fellow with bright eyes and closely cut hair. And an Asian man wearing a necklace. Ana’s addled brain searched for relevant memories and came back empty.

“I’m John,” said the older man. “These are James and Lin. Welcome to Not A Metaphor.”

Memories came crashing in. The Comet King’s old yacht, converted into a diversion for the idle rich and renamed to head off questions from annoying kabbalists. Fastest ship in the world. Ten million bucks a month for a cabin, sold to rich people who wanted to talk to God, not in a pious prayer way, but in a way that maybe gave them the chance to punch Him in the face depending on what He answered. Traveled the world. Docked at weird out-of-the-way places to avoid the attention of the Other King, who was supposed to have a personal grudge against it. She tried to remember if she’d ever heard anything about the crew, but there was nothing.

“I’m Ana,” said Ana. “What happened to me?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say you drank from a water fountain in San Francisco.”

Ana nodded.


1971. Ken Kesey was taking LSD with his friend Paul Foster. Then things got weird.

Paul tried to stand. He took a second to catch his breath. Kesey – the thing in Kesey’s body – seemed content to let him. It just stood there, hovering.

“W…who are you?” asked Paul.

“NEIL,” said the thing in Kesey’s body.

“But…who…what ARE you?”

“NEIL,” said the thing in Kesey’s body, somewhat more forcefully.

Quivering from head to toe, Paul knelt.


Paul just stared at him, goggle-eyed.


Mutely, Paul rose to his feet and took a Bible off his shelf, an old dog-eared King James Version he thought he might have stolen from a hotel once. He opened it somewhere near the middle and read from Psalm 89:12-13:

The north and the south Thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name. Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is Thy hand, and high is Thy right hand

William Blake described mystical insight as “seeing through the eye and not with it”. Stripping away all of the layers of mental post-processing and added interpretation until you see the world plainly, as it really is. And by a sudden grace Paul was able to see through his eyes, saw the words themselves and not the meaning behind them:

arm strong is Thy hand

For a moment, Paul still doubted – did God really send His messengers through druggies who had just taken monster doses of LSD? Then he read the verse again:

high is Thy right hand

For the second time in as many minutes, he fell to his knees.


“But…if I put LSD in the water supply…if the whole city…are you saying we, like, secede from the United States?…you don’t understand. We’ve been trying to spread a new level of consciousness for years. It never…if the whole city tries to become some kind of…if they don’t pay taxes or anything…we’re going to be in the biggest trouble. You don’t know Nixon, he’s ruthless, he’d crush it, it’d never…”


Paul Foster opened his Bible a second time, to Isaiah 62:8:

The LORD hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength: Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured. But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness. Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord: and thou shalt be called, sought out, a city not forsaken.

A few minutes later, Ken Kesey was on the floor, his eyes were back to their normal color, and Paul Foster was shaking him. “Ken,” he was saying. “Ken, wake up. Ken, we are going to need to find a lot of LSD.”


“That’s why you never drink the water in San Francisco,” John told Ana. “It’s not some mystical blessing upon the city. It’s just a couple milligrams of LSD per liter of drinking water. A single swallow and you end up partaking of the beatific vision as mediated through Neil Armstrong. They keep the LSD around to maintain the trance and induct anybody else who comes in. I’ve been here half a dozen times and it still creeps me out.”

“Okay,” said Ana. She looked out the window again. The iridescent sphere was starting to pulsate.

“John’s too humble to say so,” said James. “But he saved your life. We saw that thing you did with the winds, and went up to investigate, but by the time we got up there you were way gone. He was the one who brought you down.”

“Dragged you out of the Ein Sof and into the created world,” said John. “That’s the only way to do it, remind you of all the dichotomies and tradeoffs and things that don’t apply up there.”

“You’re lucky John and Lin are educated men,” said James. “Me, I would have just been shaking you and shouting profanity.”

An angel walked into the lounge. “Oh,” he said. “She’s awake. I’m Amoxiel. Did you decide to join our crew?”

“Join the crew?!”

“I was just getting to that, dammit!” said James. He turned to Ana. “I’ll be honest. We didn’t save you because we’re nice people. We saved you because we’re still working on using this ship to its full capacity. Captain says that the yellow sail needs some kind of special kabbalistic Name to work. You seem to know a Name that can summon winds. Sounds like it’s worth a shot. You want to join us? Pay is…well, you’d be a full partner. A few years and you’d be set for life.”

Ana thought for a second. It was almost too perfect. Escape San Francisco, escape UNSONG, go somewhere nobody could find her. She tried not to sound overly enthusiastic. “What’s the work, exactly?”

“Sail the world,” said James. “Lin does his calculations, tries to figure out where Metatron’s boat will appear next. We grab some rich people, head for that spot, try to chase it. You man a sail. Do your incantation, whatever works, sail goes up, we go a little faster. Doesn’t matter. Never catch Metatron. The rich people pay anyway, because they’re desperate and they figure that unlike everyone else they have a pure heart and God would never turn a pure heart away. When you’re not manning your sail, you’re pretty much free. Only two rules. Don’t bother the rich people. And don’t go into the Captain’s quarters. You follow those, you’ll be fine. You need to bother someone, bother me. I’m the first mate. It’s my job to get bothered.”

“Is it just the four of you?”

“Six,” said James. “Us, Tomas, and the Captain.”

“Oh! I thought John was the captain!”

James laughed. “The captain is the captain. You’ll see him eventually. Big guy. Not a lot of facial expressions. Impossible to miss. He’s a very private man.”

“What’s his name?”

“He is,” James repeated, “a very private man.”

“So private he doesn’t have a name?”

“If you have to you can call him Captain Nemo.”

“Nemo? Like the – ”

“Exactly like the,” said Lin. He sounded resigned.

“You have,” said John, “about a half hour to decide. After that, we’re heading up to Angel Island to pick up our three passengers, and then we’re headed south so we can make it around Cape Horn before Metatron’s boat is scheduled to surface off Long Island in a few days.”

“Forget the thirty minutes,” said Ana. “I’m in.”

“Good,” said James. “Welcome to Not A Metaphor. Start thinking about what you’ll ask God if you ever catch Him.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Ana.

James, Lin, and John looked at her as though it was by no means obvious.

“The whole problem of evil! Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a perfectly good God create a world filled with – ”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” said James, and left the cabin.

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145 Responses to Chapter 23: Now Descendeth Out Of Heaven A City

  1. The Comment King says:

    “A couple milligrams of LSD”
    That’s WAY, WAY more than the standard dose. Is that intentional?

    • The Comment King says:

      Actually that would make a couple sips from a drinking fountain a pretty normal dose

      • Magnap says:

        Most people drink more water than a couple of sips a day, though. Still, spending one day in San Francisco would give you less than a thumbprint dose, so definitely survivable if absolutely insane.

        • PDV says:

          My understanding is that the overdose of LSD is “unknown but high”, because there are no recorded fatalities of any species from LSD overdose. (Suicide and “behavioral fatalities”, i.e. “You don’t understand how the world works and accidentally do something that is in fact lethal” induced by LSD are real causes of death, but the difference between a fingerprint dose and a megadose probably doesn’t make much difference there.)

    • Magnap says:

      Most likely, considering Scott is a psychiatrist and would be expected to know that. And also since “monster doses of LSD” is mentioned in the text.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      The LD50 of LSD involves eating enough of it to burst your stomach through mechanical pressure, so if you don’t care about people coming down off it again, there is no particular reason to be conservative in dosage.

      • Psycicle says:

        False. According to Erowid, , there was a reported death with a bit over 300 mg IV LSD, and the LD50 in monkeys is around 5 mg/kg. Scaling up to a 70 kg human, that’s around 350 mg LSD.

        The human LD50 is estimated to be from 0.2 to over 1 mg/kg, because larger animals tend to have lower LD50’s, so from 14 to 70 mg would have a reasonable shot at killing you.

        Assuming 2-3 mg/L, and 2.5 L/day of water, that’s 7.5 mg/day.

        So yeah, that’d definitely cause some transcendent brainwashing, but it’s a bit short of death.

        • Decius says:

          At a few mg/L, the LD50 is still mechanical pressure.

        • Chris says:

          You also have to bear in mind the relative fragility of the LSD molecule. If you’re just drinking the water, the vast, vast, vast majority of the LSD is getting destroyed by stomach acid and most of what remains is getting destroyed by first-pass metabolism. Pretty much all you’d absorb is what directly touches a mucous membrane. Still going to be tripping balls, but relatively safe from reaching an LD50.

    • Mark Dominus says:

      It says “A couple milligrams per liter”.

  2. LHC says:

    “What’s his name?”

    “He is,”


  3. LHC says:

    Anyway, bahahaha, “Not A Metaphor” was apparently intended as “seriously, the name of this ship wasn’t intended to be a metaphor, guys, fuck off”, but it is also interpretable as “this isn’t just a metaphor for the real thing, this IS the real thing”.

    • Yossarian says:

      Now, the question is, “Not a Meta For” what?

    • Ryan W. says:

      Not a metaphor, but a metatron? What’s the difference between phor and tron? Fortran. Which is a low level programming language that functions close to the hardware.

  4. Daniel Blank says:

    Now that the whole RHOG thing has been revealed:

    Why is the Captain nameless?

    How did the Other King manage to kill the Comet King, and is he in league with Thamiel?

    What/who is Malia Ngo? Is she a risen demon?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It’s been suggested pretty explicitly that the Other King is in league with Thamiel, because the Other King killed the Comet King, and it’s supposedly the Comet King’s war on Hell that got him killed somehow.

    • Daniel says:

      Verne’s Captain Nemo is an Indian prince. The Comet King is an Indian-American prince. Maybe he’s undercover? But then: why does he need a team to power his own boat? Maybe he lost his powers in the fight with TOK? Maybe this is a roundabout way of training anti-Hell commandos??

  5. 271 says:

    “The whole problem of evil! Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a perfectly good God create a world filled with – ”

    I wonder if this will come up……

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I’ll say the same thing I said last time this came up: I sure hope not. It would be boring, Scott’s written about it already, and in general parallel universe stuff like that tends to make for bad plots, it drives the stakes of a story way down.

    • Jack V says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something like that, but only if it fits the story.

      OTOH, I thought the canonical answer in unsong universe was “the divine light needed to be watered down so it didn’t burn the world up, N vessels, imperfect world”. But I can’t remember if that’s commonly believed *now*, if it’s just Aaron’s zohar-based speculation, or if it’s from his future writings.

      • That’s the answer to why God doesn’t get directly involved, not to why he created a breakable system in the first place.

        • Jack V says:

          Hm. I’m not sure if I have the chronology correct. I thought the vessels system already lead to a flawed world, but when they broke, that led to a anthropomorphic manifestation of the flaws, Thamiel, followed by Uriel’s restructuring.

          But the original flaws were because “if it were less flawed than that, it would have been burned to a crisp by divine light”.

          But now I’m not sure I have that right. Other people?

          OTOH, that could be seen as a metaphorical description of the philsophical problem in the Job story.

          • Aegeus says:

            You’re right that the vessels already existed. Uriel described the Sephirot as “God’s machine,” which he hacked to run a different physics engine. And when Uriel starts his machine, he says he has a script “crawling the universe at the level of Yetzirah.” So the Sephirot definitely are God’s creation, as is Thamiel. But there’s no answer as to whether the flaws were deliberate.

            I can’t find anywhere that says “if it were less flawed than that, it would have been burned to a crisp by divine light.” However, Aaron does speculate that God deliberately created evil, because a truly perfect universe would have nothing besides God in it.

            That said, God is not directly present in this story, and the Bible is not completely accurate, and the canonical answer to Job was probably given by Uriel, who’s neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent. So nobody really knows enough to answer that question.

          • Daniel says:

            “Nothing has ever been wrong, anywhere. The cosmos is like a flawless jewel, each of whose facets is another flawless jewel… The vessels didn’t shatter, they rearranged themselves into shapes that only become apparent from a pleroma beyond any dimensions but containing the potential for all of them. Houston, is this making sense?”

  6. wubbles says:

    So no water chlorination in San Francisco. Is Hetch Hetchy still connected, or has someone tried to cut it off to end the tripping?. How does the BART from Milbrae run to the East Bay, or have the made it go around the other end entirely to avoid the city?

  7. Sniffnoy says:

    So this explains how Neil Armstrong is “in two places at once” — he basically isn’t. Unlike the LHOG, the RHOG doesn’t seem to be sticking around on Earth running things, just delivering a one-time message. The right-hand side doesn’t seem much for active intervention, huh? OK, more so than Metatron, but still not so active as Thamiel. We still don’t know where Raziel might be. (I do have to wonder who’s maintaining the LSD in the San Francisco water supply. And how the crew members know about this, and how to shake someone out of it, when most people don’t and have barricaded off the city in case it’s contagious.)

    (The one-time message kind of conflicts with Uriel’s deism — Neil says he was invested and sent back, which would, y’know, suggest an active force doing those things. Though Neil could be mistaken. And of course he speaks of the same happening to Metatron; and Chapter 20 does mention that God did, rarely, speak to angels. Not sure what’s up with that.)

    Meanwhile questions remain: Where’s Elijah? With the Comet King, apparently, or at least he was back in 2001 (or alternatively he was the Comet King), but it’s still fairly mysterious. And how come Thamiel was waiting down in Hell as some primeval being, but the RHOG didn’t come about until Neil entered Ein Sof some 5-6000 years later?

    Also of note: John’s emphasis on “dichotomies and tradeoffs” as distinguishing Creation from Ein Sof. Those are what you buy goats with, right? 😛

    • dsotm says:

      The story is told in such a way to make it dismissable as a drug trip, for all we know even in that universe Kensey hallucinated the whole thing and Paul bought it – after all there seems to be no persistent presence of Neil Armstrong in San Francisco, only LSD in the water so the RHOG would still be Enoch/Metatron.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Uriel doesn’t consider Metatron to be the RHOG, though. Metatron is the Voice of God.

        “What about San Francisco?”


        “What about Metatron?”


      • Vadim Kosoy says:

        Something supernatural is going on there, otherwise how does a city full of stoned people survives, much less maintains some sort of superluxury appearance?

        • dsotm says:

          well, LSD could have real cabalistic effects similar to names.

        • They’re able to pay for because LSD kabbalistically causes British currency to appear.

          • Lambert says:

            From the 60s and earlier, mind. IIRC, shillings are still given to the crown by the City of London, along with 2 knives/billhooks in an ancient yearly ritual.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Decimal Day was 15 February 1971. Interlude He is dated June 20, 1970 (but section II. of this chapter says 1971).

        • Murphy says:

          people do still appear to be doing work, they’re just sort of in a blissed out zombie-trance while doing so. Which is a bit difference from a simply acid trip. Throw in some crop-related names of god to allow them to grow enough on their limited farmland and they very well might be able to feed themselves materially.

      • dsotm says:

        There’s that, and also the bible passages – but still nothing as present as Thamiel, so it could be that Neil Armstrong decided he was the RHOG himself during his adventures in the einsof, or Uriel just taking a charitable interpretation to the SFians claims.

      • Doesn’t explain why SF was fenced off (rather than just fixing the water supply) though, or why there’s a giant eye on the transamerica pyramid.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          It seems pretty clear that most people don’t know that what’s going on in SF is due to LSD in the water supply (and hence it was fenced off for fear of contagion). What’s not clear is why the crew of the Not a Metaphor does know that.

    • Jack V says:

      I wasn’t clear Neil’s vision was a one-time thing, I assumed he filled in more details when other people became sufficiently stoned, to arrange SF how it ended up. I don’t know for sure, but it does seem like in unsong universe (or at least SF), getting sufficiently stoned ACTUALLY connects you to heaven somehow, not just makes it feel like it.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I think it is pretty obvious that anything that seems to connect yout to heaven really does in this universe 🙂

    • Peter D says:

      Just noticed : “dichotomies and tradeoffs” = “CONTRARIES AND NEGATIONS”

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    Also, obviously the reason the crew can’t catch Metatron is because they renamed the ship. 😛

  9. B_Epstein says:

    high is Thy right hand

    I propose this as the most horrible pun in all of Unsong so far.

  10. Sniffnoy says:

    Anyone get the feeling that the names of the crew members are going to be significant, like the names of the dinner guests back in Chapter 5? “John”, “James”, and “Tomas” suggest aspostles of Jesus to me, but “Lin”, “Ana”, and “Amoxiel” don’t seem to fit.

  11. Zippy says:

    Hmm, the sailors seem similar in name to the apostles.
    Amoxiel = “Moxy” = Mathew
    James = James
    Ana = Andrew
    Tomas = Thomas
    John = John
    Lin = …Simon? Maybe if we knew his full name.
    The captain, the “Big Man”, is God/Jesus. Perhaps he was speaking from personal experience when he said, “Crucifixion. Horrible way to die.”

    Apply further pareidolia for improved results.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      “Lin” is a Chinese word meaning “forest”; maybe it’s a petrified forest? 😛

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Or, now we’re getting pretty tenuous, but… “Lin” means “forest”. Forests are made of trees. Greek for tree is “dendro”. In English, “dendro” sounds kind of like “Andrew”. Nothing’s a coincidence, right? 😛

    • Daniel says:

      Jesus’ apostles stopped working on a boat to follow him. The captain’s apostles started working on a boat to follow him.

      Q: Why are there are only six, when Jesus had twelve apostles? A: The other six are with the Left-Hand Messiah.

    • Daniel says:

      “Lin” is also a Chinese word meaning “Chariot”, which is obviously a reference to a certain apostle.

  12. Will LSD still work after technology stops?

    What is the kabbalistic significance of the abbreviations of pounds, shillings, and pence?

    • Wren says:

      Well, when technology stops, that means further collapse of Uriel’s structure-based framework for the world — as opposed to a Holy Light-powered world of metaphor and such. If LSD stops working, my guess would be they’d have reached the point where drugs would no longer be necessary to maintain the spiritual connection with Armstrong.

      Can’t help you on the coinage issue, I’m afraid.

    • Daniel says:

      The British government of 1971 hurriedly converted from L.s.d. to a 10-based system representing the whole Tree, restoring balance.

  13. Grort says:

    So, the last time we spent a lot of time wondering who somebody was, it was Sohu’s father, and he turned out to be the Comet King. This was not surprising in retrospect, because we don’t have that many powerful human male characters named in the story.

    I’m not necessarily suggesting a heuristic of “any unnamed male NPC is the Comet King”, but I do want to point out that it’s worked pretty well in the past.

    • B_Epstein says:

      …and of course, he’s looking for Metatron, acts aloof, has a plan for CKs yacht and so on.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The Comet King didn’t need a crew to find Metatron. This seems kind of silly, really — the Comet King is looking for Metatron again? And taking so long to do it, when there are other things that need doing?

        While I seriously doubt this, it could explain the ship’s presence in San Francisco; if the captain is indeed the Comet King, maybe he’s finally resorting to the fallback plan of bringing dying people to San Francisco, with the original plan of destroying Hell now out of reach.

        • B_Epstein says:

          Maybe he needs a special sort of crew to get what he wants from Metatron.

          Other things that need doing – he seemed pretty resigned about doing many of them.

        • Jack V says:

          I don’t know… it does seem strange the CK would be hanging around the Other King’s army anonymously.

          But OTOH, having FOUND metatron and got an answer to the question about the name of God, kind of failing to understand it and need to ask a follow-up question sounds EXACTLY how lots of mythic quests go…

          For that matter, do we KNOW he did alone the first time? Maybe assembling an adventuring party was part of his quest?

      • Mike says:

        Why is the Comet King renting out space on his boat to rich people?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Do we ACTUALLY have confirmation that the Comet King is Sohu’s father?
      Couldn’t she be his sister, niece or something else (they are related of course)?

      • rossry says:

        Chapter 16 began with a long epigraph about TCK, and:

        “Well, I think you’re wrong. Father believes God will save us.”

        In Chapter 13, Thamiel is also worried that harming Sohu would summon her father, and took countermeasures. The list of people Thamiel would be concerned about summoning…is not a long list.

      • grort says:

        Chapter 17 features a scene with Sohu and the Comet King. At one point it says: “Sohu looked at the other Cometspawn”, meaning the Cometspawn other than herself.

        Technically nobody has asserted directly that a “Cometspawn” is a son or daughter of the Comet King, but I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          Or “Cometspawn” = children miraculously conceived during the passage of Comet West (including Jalaketu himself) and “the other Cometspawn” = Cometspawn other than Jala.

          (We know Jala = the Comet King because this.)

    • yomikoma says:

      Kind of the inverse of the female characters in the Illuminatus trilogy 🙂

      • Deus Ex says:

        What do you mean?

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Spoilers, obviously:

          Near the end of Illuminatus!, it’s revealed that the major female Discordian characters (Mavis, Stella Maris, and Mao Tsu-hsi) are aspects of the Goddess Eris, as summoned by Hagbard Celine and Marilyn Monroe.

  14. dsotm says:

    A ship on a quest in sea with the captain having a secretive agenda, I predict a white whale pun.

  15. eigenrobot says:

    This put me in the mind of Les Copains d’abord Lyrics translated here.

    It’s a song with anticlerical overtones from a movie about the deep friendship of some friends on a boat–John, Peter, Paul, and company. Here is an essay by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry that discusses it in the context of la chanson française, whose kabbalistic meaning is probably something like “honest attempts to be good.” The end of the essay contains links to a “psychadelic mass” called LUX AETERNA.

    Safe to assume this is not a coincidence.

  16. Psycicle says:

    Alright, the sails are in place, and now the ship will find Metatron.

    Red Sail: Normal Wind: James
    Orange Sail: Ritual Magic: Lin
    Yellow Sail: Zephyr Name: Ana
    Green Sail: Music: Tomas
    Blue Sail: ???: John
    Purple Sail: Angel Magic: Amoxiel
    Black Sail: ???: No-name

  17. John Sidles says:

    This episode provides further evidence that the unnamed God-seeking captain is Jack Reacher (as postulated previously):

    “The captain is the captain. You’ll see him eventually. Big guy. Not a lot of facial expressions. Impossible to miss. He’s a very private man.”

    Heck, the All Your Heart’s crew even talk like Jack Reacher: factual; terse; hardboiled. The way crews talk when the captain’s a Reacher-type leader.

    I will mention too that Reacher’s creator Lee Child (Jim Grant) is very well respected in writing circles, because of Child’s undoubted writing skill, and his immense book sales (7×10^7 and counting), and his commitment to teaching the writing profession.

    That’s why Childs-play is fun. More fun, maybe, than dictating patient notes? Like writing A Study in Scarlet was fun for Arthur Conan Doyle.

    So maybe Unsong is about finding this out.

    • Ray says:

      Interesting hypothesis. What probability would you assign to its truth?

      • John Sidles says:

        It’s more likely than the captain is Reacher than Ahab.

        Because Reacher’s most recent novel is Make Me (2015).

        Coincidence? No way.  🙂

        • Ray says:

          Care to assign a numerical P between 0 and 1?

          • John Sidles says:

            For you, Ok. One-in-three that the captain’s persona is crafted with finite conscious regard to Jack Reacher. Two-in-three that Scott Alexander has reflected, at least once, along the lines that a 21st century MD-writer, who was possessed of Conan Doyle’s level-of-skill, could reap Lee Child’s level-of-rewards, while personally enjoying more creative scope, and having more fun, than a career spent dictating medical records could feasibly supply.

          • Ray says:

            One-in-three that the captain’s persona is crafted with finite conscious regard to Jack Reacher.

            That’s quite a different proposition than the one you advanced in your top-level comment:

            the unnamed God-seeking captain is Jack Reacher [emphasis added]

            It seems that, upon being gently pressed, you’ve retreated from your original position, which, absent some Clintonesque equivocation on what the meaning of “is” is, was that Unsong is in fact a Jack Reacher fanfic. The claim that the captain character was, in some sense, inspired by Jack Reacher – a character who himself embodies a number of familiar tropes – is disappointingly unremarkable in comparison.

          • John Sidles says:

            LOL … do you mean, comparable to the degree that Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels are Le Morte d’Arthur “fan-fics”?

            Well, heck yes! 🙂

    • aaaaaaa says:

      >[Lee Child created] Reacher ‘as an antidote, to all the depressed and miserable alcoholics

      • John Sidles says:

        The full quote derives from Claire E. White’s “A Conversation With Lee Child” (Internet Writing Journal, 2001), and the description of Reacher is White’s (not Child’s):

        Reacher is not an alcoholic, a drug addict or dysfunctional in any way, unlike many modern protagonists. Instead, he’s more like a mysterious knight errant, riding into town, and serving up justice when and how its needed. And if a little violence is called for, it doesn’t unduly upset him.

        White’s 2001 assessment pretty accurately describes the Reacher’ character development during the next fifteen years of Reacher novels: Reacher becomes ever-more-chivalrous, and concomitantly pays an ever-higher personal price for his chivalry.

        Jack Miles writes similarly about character development in his theology book G*d: A Biography (1995), except that Miles (a resigned Jesuit priest) argued that the Old Testament is the story of G*d’s character development.

        In Miles’ telling, Job wins his argument with G*d. Seriously.

        It’s natural to foresee: as first with Miles/Job, then with Child/Reacher, so with Alexander/Unsong. Meaning that mortal humans can hope to win their argument(s) with divine forces.

        Jack Miles’ and Lee Child’s narratives say “yes” … and perhaps Scott Alexander’s Unsong will continue this tradition?

  18. anon says:

    Didn’t Ana have something she was supposed to be doing?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      With Aaron seemingly (to her) out of trouble, Ana seems to be just trying to 1. escape from anywhere UNSONG might find her, and 2. find some resources on name error-correction on the hypothesis that she has the Vital Name slightly wrong. And obviously (1) is a priority. This seems like a good way to accomplish (1) without giving up the opportunity to accomplish (2).

  19. Is anyone else reading the Interface Series on Reddit and wondering whether the author was inspired by Unsong? Their first post came out a month after Interlude ה, and I can’t help but connect Scott’s LSD -> meets RHOG to their LSD -> builds flesh interfaces.

    The way they write each post is also similar, with many different perspectives from many different locations and time periods, stretching all the way back to the Stone Age. I guess it could be a coincidence (LSD as a narrative element for introducing anything supernatural is probably common, and there’s nothing special about polyphony), but even the writing style seems similar in some way I can’t pinpoint directly, and also there’s a thing people say about coincidences here…

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      Yes, I also thought of that story, though I doubt there is any real connection.

      I’m having a hard time trying to guess where the Interface story is trying to go though, the properties of flesh interfaces don’t seem to have any obvious connections to each other that I’ve noticed yet.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        Not that that’s at all a bad thing.

        Though its pretty clear where the story is probably heading thematically, as a metaphor its pretty easy to figure out whats going on. But that direction is pretty lame and cliche if it turns out to be the case.

    • anon says:

      I wish to leave a warning to future readers of these comments: the Interface Series goes nowhere. It’s trippy but in the end none of the many plotlines are resolved. Read only if you enjoy surreality without point.

  20. Yossarian says:

    Hm. Seems like we have some strange asymmetry here – both the RHOG and the Voice of God seem to be ascended humans (Neil and Enoch respectively), but the LHOG kinda doesn’t follow the pattern. Though, it still could be that Thamiel originated as a human as well – chapter 20 places the finding of Thamiel somewhere around the Babel Tower events, so there was some time for some human to become Thamiel. My biblical memory is not at its best at the moment – was there any human in the Bible, pre-Babel Tower period, that was maybe swallowed alive by earth for his sins, or banished as far away from God as possible? Because, if Enoch and Neil ascended up into heavens, then the proto-Thamiel would have to descend (as far away from God, which would be to the center of Earth, considering how God is everywhere Outside). Maybe Cain (though he was banished, but there were no mentions of him physically going down). Or maybe the first soul that went to Hell became Thamiel (so that would mean the descent of the soul, not physical descent), and that could mean Cain as well…

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I don’t think there’s anyone that early. Some people get swallowed up by the earth and sent to Sheol in Leviticus, IIRC, but that’s obviously too late. I agree this asymmetry is weird. Cain does seem vaguely a possibility. That does raise the question of what the relation is between Thamiel and the serpent, though. In Christian tradiditon the serpent is usually identified with the devil, but that’s not necessarily the case here. That said, given that Thamiel exists in the story, it would be strange for him not to have any relation to the serpent. Again, the asymmetry is weird.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oops, that was Numbers. I was conflating the story of Nadab and Abihu with the story of Korach’s rebellion. And the latter involves a lot of people getting swallowed up by the earth and going down alive into Sheol.

    • LHC says:

      Trans Man Lilith?

  21. ReversionOfTime says:

    “Six,” said James. Us, Tomas, and the Captain.”

    Missing quote sign

  22. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    I’m not used to one of my crack-headed speculations paying off. Granted, it was the least out-there one. I’m still holding to my guess that the Captain is CK.

    I’m getting the idea that Book 2 is significantly about the Comet King. Ana’s on his boat (past and/or present), we see his conception narrative. We see the aftermath of his death. We even see him in the action for the first time. We see his state of despair, apparently not long before he falls at the hand of the Other King. We might be seeing him take back the ship, ostensibly trying to track down Metatron. We see a flying kayak used by an operative, which is at least suggestive of a connection to the CK household.

    One more observation: Aaron is the Teller of the story. That means he at some point ends up in a position to know things like the Seder under the mountain, Sohu and Uriel, and the War in Heaven.

    • LHC says:

      It’d make sense for book 3 and/or 5 to be about Malia, seeing as she’s the sort of figure to lay down the law.

    • Subbak says:

      Uh. I personally thought it was completely obvious that the seemingly-unconnected story about people stealing a magical boat was the prequel for the people who showed up to rescue the protagonist in a magical boat. But on the other hand there are probably things I thought were obvious that turned out not to be true, so I deserve no credit.

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Right. I’m actually right about something, and it was the most obvious, least-risky one I posted. I’m used to my predictions falling flat, and my sense of humor likes dry irony almost as much as bad puns.

    • hnau says:

      Aaron is not just the Teller of the story… he is the Smith (creator) of the story.

  23. Nadav says:

    Just pointing out something pretty obvious here, but, why has no one talked yet about how the person the right hand sent to spread his message and build the earthly heaven is named Paul?

  24. Aran says:


    Ha! I didn’t see that coming, but I remember someone called it.

  25. Jack V says:

    Wait, do we know anything about who John is?

    • hnau says:

      Only what this chapter tells us. He’s older, educated, analytical, and humble. He might have some ability that let him get Ana out of the Ein Sof; he almost certainly has some ability that let him work the blue/indigo sail (which is not any of: practical skills, ritual magic, divine Names, music, or angel magic). His age rules out him being a Cometspawn as far as I can tell.

      My best guess is that he’s an actual public figure, like an intellectual or writer (which would make sense if his sail was powered by pure reasoning or imagination). “Older” suggests “born before the sky cracked” (which was not quite 50 years before these events) and pre-crack events appear to follow the known historical continuity. Proposals for his identity are welcome!

  26. Jack V says:

    FWIW, Captain Ahab seems to have been compared to Milton’s Satan, along with Prometheus and a host of other mythological figures.

    • John Sidles says:

      Academics deconstruct Jack Reacher pretty thoroughly too. So vigorously, that Jack Reacher’s Wikipedia entry already is longer than Ahab’s.

      Question 1: Reacher’s most recent novel is Make Me. Deconstruct this title Unsong-style. Coincidence? Of course not.

      Question 2: Is ‘Ahab’ the Pequod-captain’s first name, last name, or full name?

      Bonus Questions: (1) Explain the mysterious two-plateau shape of the Google Ngram for ‘Captain Ahab’. Why the 70-year lag? What happened circa 1918?  (2) The ‘Reacher’ Google Ngram surpassed the ‘Captain Ahab’ Ngram starting in 2004. At the present rate-of-increase, how many decades remain before the English-language literature consists solely of ‘Reacher Reacher Reacher Reacher Reacher Reacher …’?  (3) In light of these facts, should we assign a futurological likelihood of ‘certainty’ to Reacher’s objectives and a Bayesian prior of ‘unity’ to Reacher’s beliefs? If not, why not?

  27. Murphy says:

    This does somewhat suggest that transcendent/divine beings can actually be manufactured in large quantities.

    Grab a few thousand fairly nice people and shove them through the crack in the sky, a few months later you get back a host of divine powered beings.

    Though given that rather than fighting thamiel Armstrong just drugged a city it probably wouldn’t help much.

    I wonder what happens if an angel is shoved through the crack. Or a fallen angel.

    • B_Epstein says:

      And can Thamiel stop by to say “Hi” and grab a cup of coffee at the Ein Sof?

    • Galle says:

      What makes you think Armstrong isn’t fighting Thamiel? If anything, he’s fighting Thamiel in the most direct way possible.

  28. Deiseach says:

    “The whole problem of evil! Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would a perfectly good God create a world filled with – ”

    I think Ana just answered her own question:

    She knew a minute longer up there and she would have lost herself, lost even the ability to know what losing herself entailed, lost the ability to think or feel or know or question anything ever again, turned into a perfect immobile crystal that was blindingly beautiful and totally inert.

    “Oh God,” said Ana. They had brought her aboard the ship and helped her onto a bed in one of the cabins. “I almost felt transcendent joy. It was awful.

    • Brian says:

      Can you elaborate on how Ana is answering her own question? Plus, I’m really interested to hear your take on the problem of evil.

      • Murphy says:

        possibly that she demonstrably doesn’t want to be something like what a version of herself in a perfect world might be and is glad to have avoided that fate.

        • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

          That doesn’t make any sense though. Not wanting to be wireheaded =/= wanting suffering to exist.

          And by definition a world you wouldn’t want to live is is not a perfect world.

  29. The Tzelem says:

    Just gonna repost a comment I made on “Theres a whole in the bucket” chapter; it goes over Ein Sof. I like what you did there with Ein Sof Scott.

    Who would have known that fluency in Hebrew, and a college Kabbalah course would pay off. Thank you Scott, for this Jewish Kabbalistic inspired fiction! Truly enjoying it so far! I would also like to add that I wrote a nice paper a couple years back covering, among other subjects, the Kabbalistic explanation of the Sephirot and why the universe would be “destroyed” if God merges with it fully (in other words why the universe exists in the first place). It’s quite a long paper but I’ll post a small excerpt of it which I think explains the destruction (or creation, depending on whether or not you’re a cup half full kinda guy) part simply:

    “Is God not infinite if the only way to connect to Him is indirectly through his nine manifestations? Absolutely not, God is infinite, moreover one of his names widely used in the Kabbalah is En Sof, which literally means no end in Hebrew. Although God is infinite, there is a distance between En Sof and the finite world. When He manifests, “He projects nine brilliant lights that throw light in all directions” (Heschel, “Moral Grandeur” 169). We can find and connect to these nine light that appear and disappear and are the way the “Infinite assumes the form of finite existence [and are] called Sefirot” (Heschel, “Moral Grandeur”, 169). These spheres of divine emanation are the way God reveals himself and channels through. But if there is distance with the Infinite and the world and He needs the divine emanations in order to function, is God not all powerful? In short, why does He need to rely on anything to function at all?
    The answer to this mystery lies in kabbalah. It is the very base of creation, the beginning of our universe. In the beginning there was the infinite light of God “within which there was no place for anything at all to be” (Freeman). This can be thought of as an infinite ocean. If one was to take an individual drop and drop it into the ocean it is then part of the infinite ocean and cannot be retrieved back in its entirety. if one was to do the opposite, to extract many individual drops, he would need to isolate them from the infinite ocean. This is exactly what En Sof did, “Before creating any worlds, He withdrew that energy completely, resulting in a total void within the infinite light” (Freeman). Only after the void was created did God send a metered light to the void creating our universe. This metered light is his emanations. This creation of a void is called tsimtsum, which literally means reduction.”

    So pretty much that void between En Sof and our world is breaking in this story, and the universe faces and existential risk of being flooded by En Sof and merge completely into infinity (a drop into the ocean). Thinking about it rationally, it is impossible to retrieve the same H2O molecules once they dilute into the ocean. Reduction (tsimtsum, צמצום) is our friend here. If the the crack at “the bottom of the fountain” breaks open, well we can only imagine what an infinite tsunami of godly energy will do to our universe.

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