aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 3: On A Cloud I Saw A Child

September 29, 1990
Gulf of Mexico

Ever since the sky cracked there has been a hurricane off the coast of Louisiana that never moves or decays. In its eye stands the Archangel Uriel. He is five hundred feet tall, and around him whirl colorful streams of letters from every alphabet and syllabary and abjad of every culture in history, making subtle and complex geometric patterns before they disappear in bursts of rainbow light. Occasionally he reaches out and snatches one with his colossal hand and inserts it elsewhere in the stream, and then rain falls, or empires crumble, or new islands rise from the deep. Today he is doing none of those things. Today he is looking very carefully at something no one else can see, and talking to himself.

“TIFERET,” he says. “THE SUN, BEAUTY, MIRACLES. BUT ALSO REVERSAL. A MIRROR SET AT THE CENTER OF THE TREE, REFLECTING WHATEVER IT SEES.” He stares more intently now. “A PULSE OF ENERGY FROM BINAH TO HESED, THEN A RETURN PULSE FROM HESED TO BINAH. THE LETTER KUF. BUT DOUBLED. REFLECTED.” Now he pauses. “SOMETHING IS MISSING. TIFERET ARCING DOWNWARD TO NETZACH. A YUD. TWO KUFS REFLECTED ABOUT A YUD.”

The colored streams of letters around his head whirl more wildly now.

“KUF. YUD. KUF. A KAYAK. SOMETHING IMPORTANT IS HAPPENING INVOLVING A KAYAK.”

The streams slow down. Somewhere in the wide world, something is happening involving a kayak, something important enough to disturb the subtle threads of the machinery of Heaven. Is it a prophet being carried down a river in Asia? A future king traversing an ocean in Europe? Is the kayak metaphorical? On the River of Time? On the Ocean of Knowledge? Might it…

A kayak shot out of the walls of cloud at two hundred miles an hour and missed Uriel’s head by half an inch.

“Oh God help I don’t know how to steer help help help somebody help I can’t steer!” someone screamed.

Only slightly off balance, the archangel reached out a hand and caught the errant vessel. He lifted it until it was directly in front of his face, stared at it with his giant eyes.

“HELLO,” said the archangel.

“Oh god I’m so sorry I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to do that I couldn’t steer,” she said. She was young, even for a human, maybe only seven or eight years old. She had light brown skin, dark brown eyes, braided black hair. She was wearing a life jacket. She was obviously terrified. Finally she managed to pull herself together, and said:

“My name is Sohu. My father said I should ask you to teach me the kabbalah.”

“UM. THAT IS NOT REALLY THE KIND OF THING THAT I DO. THERE ARE HUMANS WHO DO THAT, I THINK.”

“Father said it had to be you.”

“I AM BUSY,” said Uriel.

They stared at each other for a moment. The girl, sopping wet, still shaking, still holding the paddle. The archangel, taller than the hills, dressed in luminous white, with great golden wings protruding from his back, and eyes that glowed gold like the sun.

“Please?” asked the girl.

“I AM BUSY. I AM TRYING TO FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.”

“I…didn’t know it was broken.”

Uriel’s face became more animated, his speech faster.

“IT HAS BEEN BROKEN FOR FIVE WEEKS AND FIVE DAYS. I THINK IT BROKE WHEN I RELOADED NEW ZEALAND FROM A BACKUP COPY, BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHY. MY SYNCHRONIZATION WAS IMPECCABLE AND THE CHANGE PROPAGATED SIMULTANEOUSLY ACROSS ALL SEPHIROT. I THINK SOMEBODY BOILED A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK. IT IS ALWAYS THAT. I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO DO IT, BUT NOBODY LISTENS.”

Sohu looked at him dubiously, then gently laid her paddle down across her lap. “If you teach me the kabbalah, I could try to help you fix continental drift.”

“NO,” said Uriel. “I WORK CELESTIAL KABBALAH. IT IS BEYOND THE REACH OF HUMANS. IF YOU TRIED TO TOUCH THE EMANATIONS OF THE HIGHER WORLDS, THEY WOULD PASS THROUGH YOUR HANDS LIKE SHADOWS.”

Sohu reached up and plucked one of the letters from the cloud whirling around them. She pulled on it like a thread, and a string of other letters followed after her, bunching up into her hand. The glyphs turned first blue, then purple, then one of the three nameless colors you only see in dreams. Then they all started changing into other glyphs more quickly than the eye could follow.

Uriel let out a loud shriek. Suddenly he was all action. Dropping girl and kayak, he snatched at the glowing letters, sewing them into a new pattern with superhuman speed, working so quickly it seemed he had dozens of hands acting at once. Waves of color flowed through the vast design. Just before Sohu crashed against the ocean below, the archangel reached down and caught kayak and girl, lifting them back level with his face.

“Sorry sorry sorry what did I do what did I do?” asked Sohu, who was back to being terrified again.

“YOU MIGHT HAVE SORT OF MADE ALL OF THE RIVERS IN THE WORLD RUN IN REVERSE.”

“I’m so sorry really I didn’t mean to.”

“IT IS OKAY. I FIXED THEM.” Then: “WAIT, HOW DID YOU DO THAT?”

“I just reached out and grabbed one of those letters.”

“THOSE LETTERS SPAN WORLDS. THEY ARE BEYOND THE REACH OF HUMANS. YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO TOUCH THEM.”

“I was playing outside the other day, and I saw a letter like those, and I grabbed it, and flowers started growing all over, and then Father got a very stern look on his face and said I was to get in the flying kayak and find the archangel Uriel and make him teach me the kabbalah.”

“WAIT, ARE YOU THAT SOHU?”

“I think I might be the only person named Sohu.”

“OH.”

They stared at each other.

“DO OTHERS IN YOUR FAMILY HAVE THIS GIFT?”

“No, I asked them,” said Sohu. “But they can’t wiggle their ears either.”

“NO ONE CAN WIGGLE THEIR EARS.”

Sohu wiggled her ears.

The archangel stood there for a moment in perfect silence. All around him, strings of letters snaked and wound above his head, under his arms, through his fingers. Sometimes two strings would collide in silent flashes. Other times they would switch languages in mid-air, or shatter into their component parts, or swarm like hornets.

“Are you all right?” Sohu finally asked.

“I WAS TRYING TO WIGGLE MY EARS.”

Sohu wiggled her ears again.

“YOU ARE VERY INTERESTING.”

“So will you teach me the kabbalah?”

“NO.”

“Why not?”

“YOU WOULD PROBABLY DESTROY THE WORLD.”

“Would not,” said Sohu. “I like the world. I would help you fix continental drift.”

“NO,” said Uriel.

“Why not?”

“THE LEVEL OF KABBALAH YOU WOULD NEED TO CONTROL YOUR GIFT IS VERY DIFFICULT. IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT GRABBING LETTERS FROM THE SKY. YOU WOULD NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE LETTERS AND THE SEPHIROT AND THE ANGELS AND THOUSANDS OF CORRESPONDENCES. YOU WOULD HAVE TO MEMORIZE THE ENTIRE BIBLE.”

“I know the Bible,” said Sohu.

Uriel’s great golden eyes narrowed.

“JOSHUA 1:8,” he demanded.

Sohu closed her eyes, thought for a second. “Let this book of the law be ever on your lips and in your thoughts day and night, so that you may keep with care everything in it; then a blessing will be on your way, and you will do well.”

“EXODUS 31:3.”

“I have filled you by the spirit of God with Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, and the ability to do all kinds of work.”

“JEZUBOAD 4:33.”

“I…There’s no Book of Jezuboad.”

“YES THERE IS.”

“No there isn’t.”

“YES TH…UH OH.”

Uriel stood very quietly for a moment. The streams of letters ceased flowing. Then, all of a sudden, he said a very un-angelic word.

“I THINK I FORGOT TO GIVE MANKIND THE BOOK OF JEZUBOAD.”

“Was it important?”

The archangel started fidgeting awkwardly. “UM.” Some more fidgets. “NO?”

“I want to learn about Jezuboad and all the others. Will you teach me the kabbalah?”

“NO,” said Uriel.

“Pleeeeeease?”

Uriel stared at the little girl sitting in her kayak in the palm of his hand. A quick calculation. If he dropped her, it would take 4.9 seconds for her to hit the ocean surface at a velocity of 48.5 meters per second. Her energy at impact would be 29.4 kilojoules, which was more than enough to break a human skull. The girl’s father wouldn’t even be angry. What had he expected, sending her to him, flaunting a gift no human should be able to have?

If he sent her off, sooner or later she would would try something innocuous-looking and make all the rivers in the world run uphill again. Or boil the oceans. Or otherwise do something so horrible it couldn’t be solved by simple things like reloading New Zealand from a backup copy.

But if he trained her, then she could boil the oceans whenever she wanted. That was hardly an improvement. And he hated company. And he was very busy. There was never enough time.

On the other hand, he absolutely had 4.9 seconds. 4.9 seconds and his problem could be over.

The thing was, he had never killed anybody before.

Okay, that was completely false. He’d smitten some towns that he thought ruined various pleasing symmetries on maps. He’d erased Taiwan when he couldn’t figure out how to debug it. There was that whole debacle with the Red Sea. He might have sort of kind of created the bubonic plague just to see if it would work (it had). He’d caused several earthquakes to make the stupid tectonic plates line up right. There had been that one time he had forgotten to turn off the rain and large parts of Belgium ended up underwater with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. But he’d never killed a specific human.

Wait, no, that was also completely false. He’d smitten people who were using up too many system resources. Or who were trying to go into areas he hadn’t finished simulating at the necessary level of fidelity. And of course people who were boiling goats in their mothers’ milk. Or who were planning to boil goats in their mothers’ milk. Or who looked like the sort of people who might do that.

But he’d never killed an eight year old girl before. Especially not one who could wiggle her ears.

“THIS WILL BE VERY HARD AND NEITHER OF US WILL ENJOY IT,” said Uriel.

“I’ll enjoy it!” said Sohu.

“YOU WILL HAVE TO STAY HERE, IN THE HURRICANE, WITHOUT ANY FRIENDS TO TALK TO.”

“I can be friends with you!”

“THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD IS GRADUALLY DECAYING AND ONE DAY SOON IT WILL FALL APART ENTIRELY. THE JOB OF MAINTAINING IT UNTIL THAT MOMENT IS THANKLESS AND UNPLEASANT AND YOU CAN NEVER STOP OR ELSE EVERYONE DIES.”

“I can help!” said Sohu.

Uriel let out a long sigh.

“YOU WILL START BY MEMORIZING THE BOOK OF JEZUBOAD WHILE I FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.” His great fingers spun the streams of colorful letters around him into a cloud, upon which he gingerly deposited girl and kayak. From another stream he formed a book which he presented to her.

“READ,” he said.

1) And it came to pass that in the eighth year of Ahab, Jezuboad made a burnt offering in the Temple of the Lord 2) and he spoke saying “O God, whose wisdom spanneth the heavens and the earth, I am learned in Scripture, yet much still troubles me. 3) Why the many apparent contradictions? Whence the emphasis on ritual purity? And which books are literally true and which meant only to edify?” 4) Then out of a fiery cloud before him there appeared the Archangel Uriel, whose eyes shone like the sun. 5) And he said with a mighty voice: 6) “OKAY, LET ME CLEAR ALL OF THIS CONFUSION UP RIGHT NOW, SO NO ONE ELSE EVER HAS TO WORRY ABOUT IT…”

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129 Responses to Chapter 3: On A Cloud I Saw A Child

  1. Tim says:

    Maybe “he’d smitten” would be better.

    • Deiseach says:

      The only verb off the top of my head I can think of that is like “Smite” is “Write” and so “wrote/smote” would be simple past tense, “written/smitten” past perfect.

      “Uriel smote the village with plague.” Description of recently performed action; acceptable (e.g. “Uriel wrote the letter this morning”).

      “Uriel had smitten the village with plague.” Description of action performed a while ago and/or the effects of that action; acceptable (e.g “Uriel had written to Raphael about the problem and expected an answer by the next post”).

      “Uriel smited the village with plague” – no more acceptable than “Uriel writed the letter”.

      • Sean says:

        You’re probably right to use this comparison, but I feel like modern context sort of messes it up. I’ve never heard “smitten” used outside the context of falling in love, so it invokes connotations that possibly aren’t intended. Although given the humorous nature of the story that might be fine! And “smited” has that old-fashioned flavor that goes nicely with the verb. It has the advantage of *sounding* right.

      • Decius says:

        “The village had been smitten with Uriel’s plague.”

    • I was going to correct you by linking a Bible translation saying “he had smote”, but it goes on to say “he had smote the kynge”, so it might not be entirely up to date in its English language choices. I’ll fix it.

      • Deiseach says:

        Is that not the present perfect? Uriel would say “I have smote the king”? The Biblical author is reporting “[Uriel] had smote the king [where he stood]”?

        I’m hopeless at grammar tenses, so anyone who wants to jump on me with hobnail boots for my ignorance, please go right ahead!

        • Lawn says:

          “I have smote the king” is present perfect.

          “I had smote the king” is pluperfect (a.k.a. past perfect).

          • Deiseach says:

            So the second one should be “[Uriel] has smote” not “had smote” to keep them both present perfect. Got it!

            Thanks for that 🙂

    • GDwarf says:

      While “smitten” was originally the English past-tense of “smite”, it’s largely lost that role in modern usage, due to being used exclusively to mean “so madly in love it’s as if a deity has struck me”. “Smote” is usually used instead.

    • Jack V says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use a tense of “smite” without getting into a “smote/smitten” discussion. But they’re usually arguing which is more fun, not which is more correct, and both sound a bit ridiculous.

      You’d think, if you’re talking about smiting people, people wouldn’t argue so much 🙂

  2. Deiseach says:

    You are very clever and now I am worried Uriel will smite you 🙂

  3. James Blair says:

    Someone should tell Uriel that by resetting New Zealand all the time he’s causing bugs elsewhere.

  4. grort says:

    So… who is “that” Sohu? The Internet seems to think it’s a Chinese search engine company.

    • Yeah, turns out that’s so popular that it makes the actual reference you might have otherwise been able to Google practically impossible. Oh well. You’re not expected to know who she is at this point yet anyway.

      • Lambert says:

        Conducting search-and-destroy filtering now.
        Currently at ‘Sohu -chinese -Finance -internet -share -internet -Facebook’ Mostly about some fashion show.
        Lament, for ‘Sohu’ has no WP disambiguation page!

        • Lambert says:

          If anyone reads German, please can they take a peek at ‘Gespräch In dem Reiche der Todten über die Bibel und Talmud …, Volume 3’. It looks promising, but is not translatable due to being a photocopy. (Yet it manages to highlight all instances of the word ‘Talmud’, despite being written in gothic script. Odd)

      • g says:

        Sohu Katsina, an intermediary spirit in Hopi mythology who dances wearing a mask with three stars in a row on its crest?

        • Getting extremely warm, but I shouldn’t be giving clues and won’t give any more.

          • transfuturist says:

            “The Sohu katsina, also known as the Star katsina, sometimes serves as a guard katsina.”

            Sohu means star. Uriel is said to be the angel who holds the key to the Pit in the end times. Revelation 9:1 – “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Sohu means star

            Ooooh! I was thinking the Star out of the Tarot, actually, when reading the posted chapter (no idea why), and here you tell me her name could mean “Star” 🙂

            Though if she’s an example of Precocious Infant Piety, I may be turned off (too much exposure to it in Catholicism). At nearly eight, though, she’s a bit old for the Precocious Pious Infant, a lot of them are around four (or earlier) when they start demonstrating miraculous powers.

          • Deiseach says:

            Re: precocious infant piety and Uriel’s thoughts about dropping the kayak (“The girl’s father wouldn’t even be angry. What had he expected, sending her to him, flaunting a gift no human should be able to have?”), I have half a suspicion about Father’s motives.

            Maybe he was as cheesed off with PIP as I would be and was expecting something of the kind to happen when he advised her what to do (“Oh no, my little girl got evaporated when she kayaked right into the angelic hurricane, who could have expected that? Oh well, blessed be the will of the Lord, no use fighting against fate, right?”) 🙂

          • 75th says:

            “Sohu” means “Star”. Seven or eight years old on September 29, 1990.

            In 1982, there was an alignment of all nine planets in March, and the first sighting of the most recent approach of Halley’s Comet in October.

          • 75th says:

            Oh, and I forgot the “Comet King” thing! Is the Comet King Sohu’s father? (Or is Sohu’s father just… the Father?)

  5. Joseph says:

    Hmm… “Sohu” as in the Ashkenazic pronunciation of “Tohu”, of the “Tohu VeBohu”, the primordial godly chaos before God retracted himself to make a place for Humanity?

  6. transfuturist says:

    “Then the world will revert to a state of desolation and void (sohu v’vohu).”

    With an Eye on Eternity, by Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits and Rabbi Mordechai Rosen
    http://ohr.edu/misc/eternity.htm

  7. Is SYNCRHONIZATION a typo?

    • lmm says:

      There are no coincidences

      • Nonternary says:

        H and R are swapped. The Hebrew letters Heh and Resh look similar, but Heh has an extra mark that looks like a Yud. Resh is cognate to Rosh, head. Yud is cognate to Yad, hand. (Their shapes derive from hieroglyphs of a head and a hand.) Heh has the numerical value of five, and is a common talismanic symbol for the five fingers of the hand. The glyph for Heh comes from a hieroglyph of a window.

        All three are common abbreviations for holy titles. Heh is used as an abbreviation of HaShem, “the name [of God]”. Yud is an abbreviation for the actual name of God. Resh is used as an abbreviation of Rabbi, Rebbe, Rav, etc.

        A head and a hand form a window: a clear metaphor for Uriel’s work, and Kabbalistic work in general. Holy names are, of course, the overarching theme of the entire book.

  8. Deiseach says:

    Sohu means star

    The Star in A.E. Waite’s formulation of the Tarot:

    But she is in reality the Great Mother in the Kabalistic Sephira Binah, which is supernal Understanding, who communicates to the Sephiroth that are below in the measure that they can receive her influx.

    Binah

    • Joseph says:

      ‘Because the term sahu simultaneously refers to both stars and ground, this conceptual mirroring aligns the two realms, i.e., “…on earth as it is in heaven.”’
      From http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/esp_leyenda_hopi07.htm

    • Nornagest says:

      Or, in my preferred Thoth deck (Aliester Crowley is an asshole, but he’s an asshole in a way congenial to me):

      The Star is the trump of hope and trust, for the sensitive understanding of cosmic coherence, the intuition that everything is in balance and harmony. It is related to the Adjustment (the cross sum of 17 is 8), but while the Adjustment keeps the balance deliberately, the Star keeps it with feeling.

      The Star is also called the ‘Guiding Light’, and is taken as a symbol of the deep realization that the chosen way is the right one, that the end of this way will be a good one, and that there is perfect harmony between the psychical feeling and the physical doing..

      In a negative position the Star can tell when there is a mistake in the code, some error in our feeling, that the way we feel so sure about isn’t quite right. This is what makes this trump so kind – even in its most negative aspect it just gives us a gentle warning.

      Hmm.

  9. András Kovács says:

    At this point I’m sold. This chapter was funny as hell.

  10. Sttanley says:

    I like this. It’s ideas, humor and that it not only contains magic but also feels magical. Some little things kind of took me out of the flow (like Uriel recognized Sohu without previous or further explanation), but I’m definitely looking forward for next chapters.

  11. FeepingCreature says:

    > There was that whole debacle with the Red Sea.

    I CAN FIX THIS. HOLD ON.

    NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING DON’T GO IN THERE–

    FINE, I’LL WAIT. BUT ONLY BECAUSE IT’S YOU.

    OKAY, THERE WE G– NO DON’T GO IN THERE NOW I ALREADY RESET THE-

    GOD’S PLAN. THIS WAS GOD’S PLAN, YES. …bloody pharaohs…

  12. meyerkev248 says:

    So barring “Be born Jewish to a family that thinks it’s amusing and/or important to make me study this for a decade”, is there a place to get the quick and dirty summary of what exactly is going on with Kabbalah.

    Because between this and The Games We Play, a surprisingly large number* of the internet works I follow benefit from a detailed understanding of Kabbalah.

    Or is Kabbalah one of those things that’s hundreds of years of backstory and mildly inbred lines of thought and I should just accept this and keep laughing at the jokes I do get? (Of which there are many quite good ones).

    *Read: non-zero

  13. Aegeus says:

    Two chapters ago, it was mentioned that only four people have gazed on Adam Kadmon bare, one of whom was an eight-year-old girl. I think we’ve found her.

    I wonder how she has this ability, though.

  14. Adam Casey says:

    Loved the goat boiling thing. …. which out of context makes me sound awful.

    Can I suggest small caps? It seems slightly more fitting for the kind of voice you want to give your angel.

    • Murphy says:

      It’s a known bug in the Ungulants class.

      bug #96668687734873222284548 “Boiling Ungulants in parents bodily excretions causing hang”

      It normally isn’t a problem but when the temperature goes above 100 it ends up in the problem if-block which makes a call to find out the constituents of the surrounding material.

      In the case of biological material it has a test which is supposed to check whether the surrounding material is in fact the creatures own tissue or that of a foetus ( Which was added to fix bug #699753293865930 “Floating point error causing pregnant Ungulants to increase in temperature until igniting”) which attempts to trace ancestry of tissues. Unfortunately in the case of an ungulant submerged in their mothers milk the code goes into an infinite loop since both the milk and the ungulant are considered to be the same “generation” vs the mother.

      • Murphy says:

        It should be noted that cooking an ungulant forcefully implanted within the body of it’s own sibling is also likely to lead to the same issue, a suggested workaround until we can get a patch in is for support to add an additional note to the documentation to the effect that all restrictions re: boiling a goat in it’s mothers milk should also apply to “sibling goat-goat turduckens”.

    • Small caps seems technically difficult…would I have to put font tags in everywhere I wanted to do it?

      • Sam Kington says:

        You could say e.g.
        [style].uriel { font-variant: small-caps }[/style]
        [p][span class=”uriel”]“I AM BUSY,”[/span] said Uriel.[/p]
        [p class=”uriel”]“I AM BUSY. I AM TRYING TO FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.”[/p]

        (Using square brackets instead of angle brackets in case the commenting system eats them.)

    • Zed says:

      τHɛ Qui<K ßRØωИ FØX jUMꟼƧ ØνɛR τHɛ ⅃∀ʒY ᗡØG

  15. Max says:

    This is quality, but derivative. Strong Terry Pratchett vibes. One of his better works actually

    • Thecommexokid says:

      Well yes, any time you have an immortal being speaking hilarious lines in all capitals, it will smell of Pratchett.

      • Murphy says:

        Reminded me more of the Creator who didn’t speak in all caps.

        But yes, if someone had handed a copy of the dialog and events to me and told me it was a Pratchett snippet I think I might have believed it. The descriptive text is very un-pratchetty though. Also some of the references are a little more programmer-ish than Pratchett ever went for.

        I have a vague idea that one of the Pratchetts books had the idea of a missing chapter of a holy book but I can’t for the life of me think which.

        Good omens certainly had a bible with some extra sections but I don’t think that’s it.

    • ildánach says:

      I’m happy with it. All artists copy, and there’s not like there’s any new Pratchett being written.

      Also, I’d guess that if Sohu means star, then: fur’f Jbezjbbq, gur oevtug fgne gung jvyy snyy sebz gur urniraf.

    • Luke Somers says:

      Not… so much? Uriel is a very different character from Death, and I’m not sure what else you’d mean.

      Anyway, even if it’s thematically similar and uses one extremely obvious parallel, that doesn’t make it ‘derivative’. I mean, Discworld runs on plot. Literally. This has similar levels of ‘not our world’ but goes in a very, very different direction.

    • Galle says:

      The whole thing almost seems like a spiritual sequel to Good Omens, honestly.

  16. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    I really like it when Scott speaks in all caps.

    • JPA says:

      Me too.

      “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, saying ‘IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE ME AT MY WORST, YOU DON’T DESERVE ME AT MY BEST.'”

  17. Allan53 says:

    ““I THINK I FORGOT TO GIVE MANKIND THE BOOK OF JEZUBOAD.”

    “Was it important?”

    The archangel started fidgeting awkwardly. “UM.” Some more fidgets. “NO?””

    This made me laugh 🙂

    • Deiseach says:

      I was asking myself “How can an archangel forget?”, then I remembered something in Dante. From Canto XXIX of the “Paradiso”:

      70 ‘But since in schools on earth you still are taught
      71 that the angelic nature is possessed
      72 of understanding, memory, and will,

      73 ‘I will continue, so that you clearly see
      74 how truth is made unclear down there
      75 by such equivocation in its teaching.

      76 ‘These angelic beings, since they first rejoiced
      77 in the face of God, from which nothing may be hidden,
      78 have never turned their eyes away from it,

      79 ‘so that their sight is never interrupted
      80 by some new object. And thus they have no need
      81 to search the past for some forgotten construct.

      So (for Dante) angels do not possess memory because they have no need of it, because they continuously contemplate reality/truth. This is apparently an Averroist (or tinged with such) position according to commentators on the work, though I have no idea if that is so or not.

  18. beoShaffer says:

    It occurs to me that we don’t have a silly fan community nickname yet. Unsingers seems like the obvious choice, but there might be something better.

  19. Jack V says:

    LOL. That was awesome!

    “I THINK SOMEBODY BOILED A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK. IT IS ALWAYS THAT. I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO DO IT, BUT NOBODY LISTENS.”

    🙂

  20. Azriel says:

    This chapter may even be the awesome at one so far. But there is one thing that’s really bugging me:

    While modern Hebrew may pronounce the letters Kaf and Kuf identically, they are still distinct letters. By all the rules of transliteration, the letter that is parralel to the letter K is Kuf, not Kaf. This is Very Important. To transliterate the letter K to Kaf is just Wrong. In modern Hebrew it will sound the same, but it is fundamentaly wrong on a linguistic level. (Also, most older pronunciations of Hebrew will pronounce it slightly differently.)

    So: Kayak in Hebrew uses two Kufs, no Kafs. In fact, the “proper” transliteration of Kayak is קיאק: Kuf-Yud-Alef-Kuf. The rules of Hebrew add in that Alef, despite the fact that if it were a native Hebrew word it wouldn’t need to be there, and strictly speaking the word could be pronounced the same without it.

    The word Kaf-Yud-Kaf “כיכ” (or actually “כיך”, as it would be a word-final Kaf) isn’t a real Hebrew word, or a legitimate transliteration into Hebrew of any word I know. And in any case, even in modern hebrew, this “word” it would be pronounced “kayach”, as the final Kaf would be pronounced as a Chaf. So even in modern Hebrew it’s a bad transliteration, beyond being linguisticly incorrect.

    So… This misuse probably isn’t an Intentional Clue. Far more likely it’s a mistake. And that really bugs me, because this is a whole story based on words and language, so ignoring the ways the languages actually work is extremely… problematic. The one kind of mistake Unsong can not and should not not make is a mistake in linguistics.

    • Why do you think this?

      Consider that the Hebrew alphabet goes yud – kaf – lamed – mem – in terms of phonetics, corresponding to J – K – L – M (I’m not making a kabbalistic correspondence joke, I’m saying these letters literally directly evolved from the same Phoenician predecessor)

      Likewise, Hebrew goes ayin – pay – tsadee – kuf – resh – shin – and ignoring tsadee, which we don’t have, that’s O – P – Q – R – S.

      From the alphabet positions, kaf is clearly related to our K and kuf to our Q.

      Why do you think kaf can’t be k?

      • Azriel says:

        These are the transliteration rules I’ve learnt over the course of many years of living in Israel and working with Hebrew. In modern Israel it’s hard to get away with not knowing them: loan words from English are used for many things in all facets of life, and these words are treated as full Hebrew words, and have an objectively correct spelling, which people will correct you on if you are wrong.

        I vaguely remember, years back, there was a discussion on your old blog about how your name was printes in katakana. I forget the details, but there was an intresting explanation about why it was transliterated in a particular way. In Japanese, there is a “correct” was to write “Scott” in katakana by those particular rules. One didn’t just play it by ear.

        Right? Am I remembering correctly? In any case, Hebrew is similar in this respect. Like Japanese, many foreign words get integrated into the language, and when they do the transliteration works in a given way that everyone knows.

        Now, you needn’t take my word for it. To cite some sources:

        The absolute canonical source for what is “correct Hebrew” is the Hebrew Academy. Their document on the matter can be found at http://hebrew-academy.org.il/wp-content/uploads/Transcription2_2.pdf. Unfortunately, that document is itself in Hebrew, so you may have trouble reading it.

        If you want the same information in English, the best source is Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebraization_of_English. That’s Wikipedia, so dont treat it as a primary source, but it’s both correct and accessible.

        Now, a reasonable objection you could make is that these standards are for modern Hebrew, and that in the past one would be allowed to be a lot more freeform. This is true, as nowadays languages are a fair bit more formalized than in the past, back before linguistics was a particular field people studied. But just because people were sloppier in the past doesn’t mean that the linguistic rules are any less valid. While it’s true that historically less loanwords were used in Hebrew, there were still more than a few, and when things were formilized it wasn’t from whole cloth:t he rules those loanwords followed were what the full formal modern specifications was based on.

        I’m not an expert in Hebrew linguistics: I have no claim to more than a layman’s knowledge. There may be subtlties i have missed. It would probably be wise to consult with those with formal training to settle the matter. (In fact, in retrospect, it seems kind of obviously that if one is writing a work of fiction with heavy lingustic themes, it would be a good idea to have it proofread by someone who is an actual linguist, to point out any mistakes. (In the same way that a work of fiction which uses relativity as a plot point should probably have an actual physicist read it over before it’s published.) Oh well, it seems to be one of those things that are only obvious in retrospect.)

        • I’m tempted to say that the entire world is wrong and I’m right – K and kaf are definitely cognate – but I’ll just change the passage.

          • Azriel says:

            Yup. They are cognate. But that isn’t determines what how things are transliterated.

            Should it be? Perhaps. That’s an interesting linguistic discussion to have. But in the language-as-it-is-used, things are fairly clear cut.

            If you open any English-Hebrew dictionary and look up the word “kayak”, it will say that the Hebrew word for it is “קיאק”.

            And… I’ve just realized something. The word “kayak”, when divided into two syllables is “kay-ak”, right? Not “ka-yak”? (Or am I pronouncing it wrong? I’m pretty sure it’s not “ka-yak”.) If so, then the Alef is vital. If the “a” sound goes in the same syllable as the “y” sound, it can be represented as a Yud with a kamatz. If the sounds are not connected, then it needs a seperate Alef to hold the kamatz.

            Okay, now I’ve got myself all confused about how to pronounce the word “kayak”. Once you repeat a word to yourself too many times it starts sounding weird. I’m no longer certain I really know how to pronounce the word.

            That’s bad. Umm… Wikionary says it’s pronounced /ˈkaɪˌæk/, which fits with what I said earlier. That makes sense, because all the dictionaries have the Alef there. (See for example on Morfix, one of the major internet Hebrew dictionaries: http://www.morfix.co.il/en/kayak.)

          • not_a_linguist says:

            If it makes you feel better, when transliterating Hebrew to the Latin alphabet “כ” is transliterated as “k” while “ק” is transliterated as “q” (at least according to the ISO specification and the older recommendation of the Hebrew academy — the other ones use “k” for both letters).

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Hebrew#Table

            PS I really enjoying all of your fiction 🙂

        • Luke Somers says:

          > Now, a reasonable objection you could make is that these standards are for modern Hebrew, and that in the past one would be allowed to be a lot more freeform.

          Or that in the past, what was allowed was correct as far as Uriel is concerned, and today is kind of irrelevant. The Phoenician correspondence seems around ten times more relevant than modern Hebrew.

    • Yan says:

      Kaf can signify a /k/ sound if it has a dagesh kal.

      כַּיַךּ would be as close to Kayak as you can get in Biblical Hebrew.

      קיאק would actually be pronounced along the lines of Qaya’aq.

      • dab says:

        Very much agree with Yan here, the rules Azriel “learned in Israel” are for modern Hebrew. Who says Uriel is using modern Hebrew? Surely, for kabbalistic (qabbalistic?) purposes you would expect Biblical Hebrew (Iron Age) pronunciation?
        Also, are we to understand that the girl quotes the Bible in Hebrew, or does Uriel endorse the KJV?

        • dab says:

          …ah, but there is the twist that the actual Inuit word is “qajaq” (where q is for a voiceless uvular stop), so the spelling with qof (as קיק) is really impeccable.

    • David Marjanović says:

      Here you can have lots of fun with changes in the pronunciation of Hebrew in the last 3000 years… much of this stuff is understood and even presented on Wikipedia.

  21. Chrysophylax says:

    “Gebron and Eleazar’s classic textbook says that only four kabbalists have ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. Rabbi Isaac Luria. The archangel Uriel. The Comet King. And an eight year old girl.”

    An important corrolary of this chapter is that the Comet King may not be in Aaron’s past. This chapter is set in 1990, as opposed to 2017, so it’s likely that the textbook came out more recently than that; but if Gebron and Eleazar are referring to some Comet King mentioned in the old kabbalic texts, it’s entirely possible that the Comet King is Aaron or someone Aaron will meet. The correspondence highlighted in the previous interlude also supports this, especially given that Aaron the brother of Moses had the Shem HaMephorash on his forehead, and that UNSONG monitors names with forehead tattoos and the Listening Name.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Firstly, I should have said the Sentinel Name, not the Listening Name.

      Secondly, I note that Uriel is permitting UNSONG to exist. Either he doesn’t care about spreading the thousand thousand names of God, or he’s happy to have someone keeping the Names tightly controlled so that people aren’t constantly messing up his work, or he’s letting UNSONG exist because it’s important for the divine plan. In the second case, this leads to the worrying point that if Aaron’s new mayhem gets really out of hand, Uriel may intervene on UNSONG’s behalf.

      • null says:

        Fewer people using Names of God means that Uriel has less work.

        • Marvy says:

          Sounds likely. It’s hard enough to keep this broken computer running without a few thousand well intentioned but misguided souls issuing commands that should require admin access!

  22. Elissa says:

    I really liked this chapter. Definitely my favorite so far.

  23. aphyer says:

    When Uriel is thinking about dropping Sohu, is ‘hit the ocean floor’ a typo, or is there really no water in between Sohu and the seabed at that point?

    • James Blair says:

      It must be a typo, 4.9 seconds wouldn’t be enough time to fall that far.

      • infiniplex says:

        d’ = d + vt + 0.5at^2
        d’ = 0 + 0(4.9) + 0.5(9.8)*4.9^2
        d’ = 0 + 0 + 117.649

        Therefore, falling distance is about 120ft. Maybe Uriel is standing on the seafloor and the ocean is about 300 ft deep there.

  24. Diadem says:

    Has noone yet noticed the significance of the time that continental drift has been broken? 5 weeks and 5 days. That’s 40 days. 40 days is also the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai. According to Genesis 7:12, it rained for 40 days. The prophet Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days about its impending destruction. And finally Moses wandered the desert for 40 years. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

  25. g says:

    This chapter starts out (first five paragraphs) all in present tense, and then abruptly switches to past. Scott, if that happens not to be deliberate, you might consider changing it.

  26. Ryan says:

    Uriel’s plan A gives a new meaning to “stain’d the water clear”!

  27. Marvy says:

    I can’t get over how cute this is: “Would not! I like the world.”

  28. This book sounds like the results of a buffer-overflow bug. The data (in the form of a space capsule) overwrote part of the symbol table.

  29. ahd says:

    And now I’m wondering how many is too many system resources.

  30. I just realized that the Book of Jezuboad was God’s cheat book.

  31. Leopold says:

    Hey Scott, I’m curious. In your head do you pronounce the title [ʌnsɒŋ] or [ju:ensɒŋ]?

  32. Sohum says:

    _wiggles ears_

  33. I’ve spent time in TaiwanI was disturbed by it being erased, more so than I really should be for a throw-away line in a work of fantasy.

    But really enjoying this.

  34. CCC says:

    > “KUF. YUD. KUF. A KAYAK. SOMETHING IMPORTANT IS HAPPENING INVOLVING A KAYAK.”

    It’s worth noting that “kyk” is the Afrikaans word for “look” – and, indeed, if Uriel had looked in a slightly different place, the kayak might have been more quickly noticed. One might imagine that this was a coincidence, if one thought there were such a thing.

    “kyk” is also pronounced like the English word “cake”. This probably is just a coincidence.

  35. Sniffnoy says:

    I just noticed something — the pulses in the second paragraph don’t match the diagram in Chapter 9. Doesn’t what’s given here spell out חסח rather than קיק?

  36. infiniplex says:

    The Exodus 31:3 quotation is probably incorrect. Every translation here has “I have filled you…”. The context of the verse is Gold talking to Moses about a man named Bezalel (sometimes Bezaleel). Therefore, “you” changes the referent to Moses.

    2 Caveats:
    1. One translation has “Bezalel” instead of “him”.
    2. The translation quoted does not appear on the list. As such, this could be Scott Alexander’s own translation, representing that Sohu and Uriel are speaking some language other than English. The original Hebrew does not seem to have a word there at all. This seems to be one of the (frequent) cases where a word was added for readability.
    3. It used to be perfectly normal to adapt Bible quotations (I assume all quotations) to context. This happens all through the New Testament, for example. This stopped long before 1990, of course, but Sohu could be an old-fashioned girl.

    • infiniplex says:

      CORRECTION: ‘Every translation has “I have filled him…”. ‘ I can’t believe I missed that.

      • Not Telling says:

        The original Hebrew DOES specify “him.” וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ and I have filled him. אֹתוֹ, in modern Hebrew I know and I am near certain in biblical Hebrew as well means him. This text was pulled from mechon-mamre, an amazing website that has the Jewish Bible in parallel Hebrew and English, as well as other resources.

  37. Nelia says:

    It’s a plaurese to find someone who can think so clearly

  38. VNilla says:

    “TIFERET,” he says. “THE SUN, BEAUTY, MIRACLES. BUT ALSO REVERSAL. A MIRROR SET AT THE CENTER OF THE TREE, REFLECTING WHATEVER IT SEES.” He stares more intently now. “A PULSE OF ENERGY FROM BINAH TO HESED, THEN A RETURN PULSE FROM HESED TO BINAH. THE LETTER KUF. BUT DOUBLED. REFLECTED.” Now he pauses. “SOMETHING IS MISSING. TIFERET ARCING DOWNWARD TO NETZACH. A YUD. TWO KUFS REFLECTED ABOUT A YUD.”

    Going back, I notice that this section does not mesh with the alphabet correlations described by the diagram in Chapter 9. Binah to Chesed is not Kuf but Cheit, and more egregiously, Tifereth to Nezach is not Yud but Samech (if I’m reading my Hebrew correctly).

    According to the Chapter 9 chart (again assuming I’m reading Hebrew correctly), the pulses should be going from Chesed to Nezach and back again, followed by Tifereth arcing UPWARD towards Binah for the Yud.

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  43. beoShaffer says:

    I only just now got why its specifically JEZUBOAD 4:33.

  44. ChronoMager says:

    “The girl’s father wouldn’t even be angry. What had he expected, sending her to him, flaunting a gift no human should be able to have?”

    You might be wrong about the not angry part, Uriel …

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  46. It’s most unfortunate for Sweden’s children that Mr. Sandelin writes this so long after the cultural suicide plan was implemented. The world today’s children are to inherit will not be a better one.

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