aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 34: Why Wilt Thou Rend Thyself Apart, Jerusalem?

He said, Go and utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which were not defiled with women; for they are not very good for implementing high-performance floating-point calculations or calculations that intensively manipulate bit vectors.

October 31, 1991

It was the second day of the Madrid Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the interests of fitting in the conference room, Uriel had shrunk to a mere ten feet tall. “AREN’T HUMANS USUALLY SHORTER THAN THAT?”, he had asked Sohu. “Yes,” she had told him, “but in order to succeed at diplomacy, you need to be intimidating.” She hadn’t mentioned how uncomfortable it was trying to sit in the chairs provided without his legs jutting out at an awkward angle. He had finally settled on leaning back in the chair, which kept his mind pleasantly occupied with the second-to-second task of maintaining his balance without breaking any physical laws.

“The question of Jerusalem can be settled later,” Archbishop Tauran of the European Communion was saying. “For now, we need a bare-bones agreement on whether the Israelis can stop their settlements.”

It had been going on like this for hours. The Israelis, led by a short old man with a mustache, kept insisting that the Palestinians were violent terrorists. The Palestinians, led by various people with no power who kept sneaking out to consult with unsavory figures whom the Israelis refused to confront directly, kept insisting the Israelis were greedy imperialists. Occasionally they would start shouting at each other, and then the Europeans and Americans would have to step in and calm everyone down. Protesters outside were shouting even louder, and twice they’d been forced to stop for security breaches, real or imagined. It didn’t seem like a very effective way to make peace.

And then there was Thamiel.

“With all due respect,” said the Prince of Hell, “there’s no reason to think that the issue of land can be separated from the issue of Jerusalem that easily. Israeli incursions into traditionally Muslim areas of Jerusalem are no different from those in any other part of the West Bank.”

It would be too easy to say he was trying to sow dissent. Sometimes he would make a good suggestion that helped bring people closer together. Other times he would do the opposite, raise objections that dissuaded one side or the other from a seemingly promising strategy.

The only theory Uriel could come up with was that he was toying with them.

“I agree with the delegate from Hell,” one of the Palestinian negotiators – Uriel couldn’t remember anybody’s name – said. “Jerusalem isn’t just something we can put off. The Zionist entity wants to get a framework together so that they can accuse us of holding up an otherwise-settled plan when we object to their continued occupation.”

No one had liked any of his own ideas. He had mentioned that there were several results in auction theory useful for dividing up scarce resources, and everyone had just stared at him like he’d grown a second head – worse than that, Thamiel had a second head, and nobody stared at him like that. He had gone on to discuss the revenue equivalence theorem, and how the various parcels of land involved could be split up according to a minimum district-to-convex-polygon ratio system and then auctioned off in a token currency corresponding to the population of both sides, but he’d sensed that he had lost his audience. He had tried to recover with some hand-wavey proofs that this was demonstrably the optimal way to do things, but instead everyone had listened to Thamiel when he’d switched topics to some suicide bombing that had happened on a bus recently. Uriel couldn’t see what somebody bombing a bus had to do with optimal methods of distributing limited resources.

“Maybe the archangel Uriel would have something to say about that,” said Thamiel.


“I was saying,” said a short man with a heavy accent who might or might not have been the Prime Minister of Israel, “that God promised the land of Israel to our people.”

“And I was saying,” said a man in thick rimmed glasses, “that God promised the land of Palestine to our people.”

“And I was saying,” said Thamiel, Prince of Hell, “that if anyone here knew what God promised to whom, it would be the archangel Uriel.”


“So,” asked Ambassador James Baker of the Untied States, “you’re saying the land of Israel was never promised to the Jews?”


“You see?” said a man with a very impressive beard, pounding the table triumphantly. “No promises!”


Now it was the Israeli Prime Minister’s turn to pound the table. Yitzhak something, Uriel vaguely remembered. “Our people were ordered to settle the Holy Land by the Archangel Uriel himself, speaking in the name of the Most High!


“Aha!” said the man with the impressive beard. Ali something, maybe? “I see the month of Jew-lie never ended this year! The archangel clearly said he promised nothing of the sort!”

“There’s no need to call anybody a liar,” protested Baker. “It sounds to me like Uriel has confirmed he did indeed promise the territory to the Jews. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to continue to hold it, but it’s certainly something we need to build upon in any settled solution.”

“People!” said Thamiel, literally buzzing with excitement. A single flick of his bident, and he had everyone’s attention. How did he do that? For that matter, how did he keep getting treated as an elder statesman? It wasn’t just that he had betrayed half the people in the room; that was expected in diplomacy, countries that murdered each other’s civilians one day ended up allies against a common threat the next, America had gone from nuking Japan to being Japan’s best friend in less than a decade. But wasn’t anyone concerned that his explicit goal was the destruction and suffering of humankind? Were they really so short-term in their thinking that a little bit of good advice here or a favorable vote there was worth giving him a spot at the table?

“People,” said Thamiel. “There’s a very easy solution to this problem. We don’t have to rely on what Uriel may or may not have said three thousand years ago. We can just ask him now.”


“Which group does God want to have the Holy Land? The Israelis or the Palestinians?”

All right. Think. This is a trap. The reason everyone keeps Thamiel around is that they all think that he’s on their side. Not cosmically, but at least for the moment, at least in their current conflict with whoever they’re in conflict with. He wants to trick you into telling people you’re not on their side. He had to come up with some answer that would thwart that. What had Sohu said about diplomacy? “Figure out what people want and explain to them why doing things your way will get it for them better than doing things the other way.” So if he just…

No, he actually had no idea how to handle this one.

“I DON’T KNOW,” said Uriel.

“We’re not asking you for some kind of grand judgment. Just when you talked to Moses, did you mean to promise him the land of Canaan to him, or not?”

Think! If he said yes, then the Israelis would like him, but the Palestinians would hate him. The Americans liked the Israelis, so they probably wanted him to say yes. The people with the beards liked the Palestinians, but he couldn’t remember who they were. Wait, maybe they were the Palestinians. The other people with the beards, the ones dressed in green, were probably on the same side as the first set of people with beards – Palestinians? – otherwise their beards wouldn’t look so similar. Was that a good heuristic? It seemed like a good heuristic. The Cyrillic Union hated the Americans, so they probably wanted him to say no. The Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire hated both the Americans and the Cyrillics, so maybe they would be angry at him no matter what he said? Maybe they would would be happy with him no matter what he said?

“Trouble with your memory?” asked Thamiel.

It had just been a vague comment – GO TO CANAAN. How was he supposed to recall the exact wording? It had been three thousand years! Had he mentioned something about milk and honey? Maybe he’d said he was sure it would be all right with the people who lived there, they seemed like reasonable folks. He hadn’t realized it was going to be so important. If he had known it was going to be important, he would have written it down. Not the Bible, that didn’t count, it was all symbolic.


“Don’t remember?” The short Israeli man seemed livid. “Our fathers and our fathers’ fathers died defending their belief that God had given their forefathers them the land of Israel forever, and you can’t remember whether you actually did or not?”


“Well,” said Thamiel, “why don’t you just figure it out now? Suppose I’m Moses. Do you promise me the land of Israel or not?”

“UM,” said Uriel.

The leaders and diplomats of the Untied States, the Cyrillic Union, the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, Multistan, Iran, the European Communion, Neu Hansa, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine all sat with their eyes fixed on the archangel. Staring at him. Drilling into his skin. He shouldn’t have come here. He knew he shouldn’t have come here. Why had he let Sohu convince him to come here? The word “Madrid” meant “evil” in his own language, how had that not been a warning sign?

Figure out what people want and explain to them why doing things your way will get it for them better than doing things the other way. That was what Sohu had said. Convincing arguments. Intimidating yet trustworthy. Forceful. Harsh but fair. What would the Comet King do?


One of the bearded men stood up, shouted. “That is all we ever wanted! Our own state on our own land in the West Bank!”

The Israeli delegation was outraged. “Absolutely not!” shouted a man holding a briefcase in the back. “We cannot give up a centimeter of the Holy Land!”

Suddenly, Uriel had an idea. An idea just crazy enough to work.


Silence enough to hear a pin drop.


It is somewhat hard to strike a gathering of diplomats speechless. Diplomats are by nature diplomatic; they nod their head, act as if what you said was very reasonable, and then if they have to, they stab you in the back later. They are very good at it. They can listen to Kim Jong-il discuss how he got six holes-in-one during a single round of golf, or Idi Amin go on about the time when he ate a guy, and they will nod sagely and get back to discussing lucrative trade agreements.

The room was nevertheless struck silent by Uriel’s comment.

Finally, Cyrillic foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev said: “That’s really dumb.”

Then everybody started speaking at once. America was demanding order. Israel was insisting this had nothing to do with their actual claim, which was firmly based upon centuries of glorious [mumble]. Palestine was discussing how outraged they were. Iran and Egypt were insisting that if Palestine was outraged, then they were also outraged. The Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire’s interpreters were giving each other awkward looks and refusing to translate.

Somehow Minister Ali Velayati of Iran ended up with what could charitably be described as the floor.

“This is absolutely typical!” he thundered. “For years, Arab nations and the rest of the world outside the global First World elite have been marginalized by Anglo-European governments, by the international finance industry, by the diplomatic community. And now, what a surprise to learn that Heaven itself also thinks we’re not worth their time, not real human beings who get to be taken seriously. Is it a coincidence that all the most productive agricultural regions are in First World countries? Is it a coincidence that all of their industries are the most productive? Or is it because the archangel who controls the weather and the laws of nature has just admitted he is firmly on the side of the imperialists?”


“I’m starting to realize,” said Ahmed Moussa, of Egypt, “exactly why Uriel has refused to attend these conferences before. I remember our conference on helping the Ethiopian famine victims. Uriel could have attended, could have helped, could have caused the rains to fall there. He didn’t care. He’s so in bed with the global neoliberal elite that the death of a couple million black Africans meant nothing to him.”


For the second time in as many minutes, the global diplomatic elite was suddenly rendered speechless.


More pandemonium. The ambassador for the European Communion had gotten down on his knees and started praying.

“That is the most disgustingly racist thing I have ever heard,” said Shulka of Multistan.

“He is literally saying Africans don’t have souls!” said al-Shafi. “He is literally that hateful!”


“This is an outrage! This is a disaster!” Moussa of Egypt was shaking now. “I call on everyone here to repudiate this – this bullshit – and jointly declare that the victims of the Ethiopian famine had souls just like you and me!”


For a third time in as many minutes, and so on.

“I! I absolutely! How can you! Of course I!”


“The Untied States condemn everything about this in the strongest possible terms,” Ambassador Baker was saying, as Tauran of the Communion was mumbling something about Nazis. Moussa of Egypt was shaking Shulka of Multistan, demanding that the latter agree he had a soul, and Shulka was awkwardly affirming that Ambassador Moussa definitely looked like the sort of person who experienced qualia, as far as he could tell. The Israelis and Palestinians were conversing furiously with one another, animosities apparently temporarily forgotten in the stir.

I propose, ” said Dietrich of Neu Hansa, loud enough to get everyone’s attention despite his apparent frailty, “that we table our discussion of the Middle Eastern peace process, and demand that Mr. Uriel resign as Archangel and hand control of the fundamental kabbalistic nature of reality over to a United Nations team until we have a better idea what to do with it.” There was general assent.

“This is why,” said Velayati loudly enough to get everyone’s attention, “we are so thankful to have Ambassador Thamiel of Hell with us in the diplomatic community. He has been warning us about Uriel behind closed doors for years now, but I regret to say that I never listened to him until this moment. I think we all owe him an apology and our sincerest gratitudes.” The delegates from Multistan started to clap, and even Ambassador Baker of America was nodding along.

A security breach. Somehow the proceedings had leaked to the protesters outside. Now they overwhelmed the guards, rushed into the room. “Death to imperialism!” somebody in a mask and declared. “Death to capitalism!” Then “Death to Uriel!” the others joined in. Everything started closing in. The air became thick with cries of “Death to Uriel!” and “Soul-stealer!” and just plain “Kill!” The protesters kept pouring in, until it was far too crowded for anyone to leave or even move. Still the cries rang out. Death! Death! Death! Death! Death! Death!

“KNOCK KNOCK,” said Uriel, suddenly.

The chanting stopped.


A confused, offended silence. Then finally, Archbishop Tauran: “This is hardly a time for – ”


The silence was somewhere between “awkward” and “indescribable”.

“Who’s there?” Ambassador Hans-Dietrich Genscher of the Neu Hansa finally asked.

“ALEPH,” said Uriel.

“Aleph who?” asked Ambassador Genscher.


Then there was light.

Beautiful, multicolored light, ten colors, the seven colors of the earthly rainbow and the three extra colors you only get in Heaven. Ten colors corresponding to the ten sephirot and the ten fingers and the Ten Commandments and the ten digits of the number system and the ten pip cards of the Tarot and all the other tens in all the correspondences of the world. For a moment all of the ministers and diplomats and protesters were awestruck by its beauty. Then they were consumed. The wave of light annhilated the conference room, shattered the palace, destroyed Madrid city center, blasted the first ring road, scorched the second ring road, burnt the third ring road, seared the fourth ring road, spread out into the suburbs, scalded the surrounding countryside, faded into a light toasting somewhere around Guadalajara, and died off in a faint glow by the time it reached Tarancon.

In the center of the crater where Madrid had once been located, Uriel turned into a bolt of lightning and vanished back to his hurricane.


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295 Responses to Chapter 34: Why Wilt Thou Rend Thyself Apart, Jerusalem?

  1. David says:

    Taracon – should this be Tarancon?

  2. He can’t restore them from backup?

    • Murphy says:

      huh, good point, if he can restore entire continents from backup you’d think he could restore one city.

      on the other hand he’s stated that Thamiel can screw with things he’s trying to do so would probably block the restore process.

      • LPSP says:

        Yeah, the last time something heavenly-yet-associated-with-evil tried to recover and recoalesce in Thamiel’s prescences, demonkind was born.

      • LPSP says:

        Surely the souls are being kept safe in some other location, right? That would mean the poor peoples of North Africa were spared of earthly suffering by Uriel’s actions?

        • LPSP says:

          (now why is that post over here? the comment section is very glitchey, and the ability to delete mistakes like this would be much appreciated)

      • OTOH, since this episode hasn’t been mentioned before, it wasn’t widely known. Presumably, everybody in Madrid woke up the next day thinking it was a day earlier.

    • OTOH, when people are restored from backup are their souls yanked out of Hell/Heaven?

  3. fubarobfusco says:

    It turns out the word “pizzazz” has too many Z’s.

    • LPSP says:

      It’s a pretty good word kabbalistically. PZZZZ starts with Splendour entering Sharpness/Severity, and then just slashing (geddit) back and forth along the paths between there and Wisdom. It starts with glitter and glamour and then really hammers in something wise, yet hard – just like Uriel’s explosion.

    • dsotm says:

      It’s also simillar to ‘Pitzutz’ which is Hebrew for ‘explosion’

    • Share says:

      Pazuzu. Pazuzu. Pazuzu

  4. David says:

    typo report: annhilated -> annihilated

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Missing quotation mark and extra space in the paragraph beginning

      I propose, ” said Dietrich of Neu Hansa

      • stavro375 says:

        Neu Hansa

        If that’s supposed to be Germany, then german wikipedia says that the German spelling is “Hanse” with an e at the end. I also think that “Neu” should have an adjective ending of some sort (-e? “Neue Hanse”?) but I think a native German should weigh in on that.

        • Theo Promes says:

          Can confirm.
          if it is supposed to be a re-creation of the hanseatic trade union (or some kind of political union involving the large northern cities of germany and perhaps some more along the baltic sea), in german it would be “Hanse”. However, latinized its “Hansa”, and this way of spelling is also used even today (for example “Lufthansa”). In either case, it would be “Neue” though.
          Not sure if that is a mistake or some kabbalistic misspelling however, as scott is aware enough of german politics to throw in hans-dietrich genscher – props for that, by the way.

          • Anders Sandberg says:

            Agreed. Although NeuHansa might be an attempt at CoolSpelling for the league, showing that it is not just about herring quotas?

            Jean-Louis Tauran also makes sense for the Communion.

        • Autolykos says:

          Jep, “Neue Hanse” would be the correct spelling (“Neu-Hanse” might also work, although it sounds less “right” to me). But nowadays, I’d half expect them to call it “Hanse 2.0” or similar BS.

    • Daniel says:

      I think this probably-a-typo should just be accepted into the canon:

      “Absolutely not!” shouted a man in a briefcase in the back.

      (A tiny kabbalist in a briefcase is the UNSONG equivalent of a suitcase nuke)

      • Aran says:

        On a more serious note, I’d think the UNSONG equivalent of that would be a tiny scroll with the Wrathful Name on it.

        (Which is currently my favorite hypothesis for “who blew up Madrid if it wasn’t Uriel”. I suppose he certainly *could* do it if he got flustered enough, but he would also have just enough premonition – “something is happening involving a kayak” – to predict it going off in a few moments.)

        • Ninmesara says:

          I have proposed this before, and I really hope this is the correct hypothesis. I’m not keeping my hopes up, though…

        • Ninmesara says:

          As a point in favor, we know from Scott that the Wrathful name “destroys a city”, which is more or less the radius of destruction we are shown here (a city plus suburbs). Maybe it is a clue?

    • anon says:

      “Death to imperialism!” somebody in a mask and declared.

      Extraneous “and.”

  5. Daniel says:

    If Uriel took away some peoples’ souls, that means they definitely won’t go to hell when they die, right? That’d be a relief.

    • mellonbread says:

      You’d think people would be lining up to have them taken out. Oblivion is vastly preferable to being tortured for all eternity.

      Uriel did nothing wrong.

      • Walter says:

        I think he stopped giving souls to certain people, not killed them and somehow destroyed their souls.

        • G* says:

          He did say that he “REMOVED” their souls. Left their bodies (and ability to reason, apparently) intact.

        • Hunter Entwistle says:


          Uriel states explicitly that he removed the souls of people in Northeast Africa after the sky cracked, which happened in 1968. This chapter occurs in 1991, 23 years later. For Moussa of Egypt not to have had his soul removed, and instead just not been given it, he would have to be under 23 years old at the time of this chapter (born after the soul-not-giving). I am fairly confident he would not be at the UN as a 23 year old diplomat.

    • Monday says:

      It means that “they” don’t exist.

  6. flame7926 says:

    So what’s the advantage of having a soul in here?

    • Factitious says:

      The ability to use Names.

      • Alex Godofsky says:

        But surely they would have noticed then?

        • bdeanemachine says:

          Really good points from everybody in this chain! You’d think they would have noticed by now.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          I think the theonomic companies did notice. Remember people were wondering why they don’t open sweatshops in Africa, and why they won’t let Ethiopians use the fertile name.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Theonomic companies don’t want people to know that the names don’t work in Northewst Africa because people would acuse them of producing racist technology.

          • Maybe the real purpose of Unsong is to keep names unaffordable in Northeast Africa to hide the lack of souls there.

            BTW, if someone moves out of the area, would he acquire a soul or vice versa? Given population expansion, would the soul shortage get worse?

          • MugaSofer says:

            The Egyptian ambassador wasn’t currently in Egypt and he didn’t have a soul.

      • Murphy says:

        hmm… slight plot hole. you would expect people to notice a large group of people who can’t use names at all.

        • Anonymous says:

          Maybe they just lack the ruach, not the neshamah that lets you speak Names.

          • Joline says:

            That doesn’t make sense. Ruach is the basis of having life itself, I thought? it’s the “animal soul” which the neshamah is put on top of …?

            Though admittedly, the idea there would be next to no overt sign a human lacks a neshamah does some serious violence to Jewish mystical modeling of life processes anyway so….

          • Eliezer says:

            According to the Tanya, the nefesh is the basis of existence, life, and mobility. The ruach is the basis of intellect, and the neshama is the basis of the ability to connect to the Divine. The neshama is unique to Jews(and MAYBE a few Rightous Among the Nations(who are technically gilgulim(reincarnations) of dissenters from when non-Jewish nations rejected the Torah at HarSinai)) though, so if all humans can speak names, it’s based in the ruach, which is the highest soul available to most humans. Since that is also the soul for sentience and therefore probably also moral standing, that’s probably the soul that Uriel took away.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Eliezer, we have explicit confirmation from chapter 4 that Llull doesn’t work because computers lack souls and from chapter 1 that the Vital Name creates the neshemah. It seems highly likely that Names are connected to the divine spark, especially since it is probable that someone (a theonomic, TCK, whatever) would have tried giving a Llull-running computer the nefesh and ruach, which chapter 1 seems to confirm are known.

            A weirdness I’d either forgotten or not noticed before: why is Sarah a person? Three different names were used on Adam, while Aaron only incanted the Vital Name on Sarah, so she presumably only has the neshemah. Her circuitry wouldn’t enocde a personality or humanlike reasoning abilities, unlike the diplomats, and yet she is capable of learning and social manipulation. Either this is a plot hole (unlikely), or those aren’t capabilities of the ruach (probable), or somebody used another Name on her (unlikely but possibly a plot clue).

    • alkatyn says:

      Qualia, delicious qualia

    • Galle says:

      Actually existing, presumably.

    • Walter says:

      Consciousness? Like, the difference people and recorded images of people?

    • Quite Likely says:

      Existing and having experiences in the usual fashion rather than being a philosophical zombie.

  7. grort says:

    Oh, Uriel. 🙁

  8. Alicorn says:

    Guadalajara is in Mexioc.

  9. Marvy says:

    He should have taken Sohu with him. Either she could have helped, or at least she would have seen his first good knock-knock joke.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Why the hell did Uriel just nuke the entire city? Surely he has enough fine control to just destroy the diplomats, unless I’ve forgotten about something from an earlier chapter? Or is he supposed to have panicked and overreacted so badly that he didn’t even try to control it?

    Also, how much divine light did he use doing that? Thamiel was trying to tempt him to waste it before.

    • Walter says:

      “Why the hell did Uriel…”

      He’s a nut job. Do not taunt Happy Fun Archangel. The angels could have told you that, if he hadn’t math’d them out of existence because they weren’t nice enough to him.

      “Also, how much…”

      Probably a lot. No way to know for sure, but it seems like a good bit.

      • wubbles says:

        Uriel sacrificed his own life to ensure that we would the masters of our destiny and capable of eternal life! Everything we sing at the Seder of the 7th night is due to his protecting us from malevolent entities, some of which want us dead. And it’s not about taunting: everyone in that room was being manipulated into doing something incredibly stupid. Thamiel is the enemy, whose sole goal is to torture and maim all of us forever and we let him into negotiations to reduce the amount of violence in the world. Yes, an Uriel better informed about humans would have realized what was happening and not nuked Madrid. Uriel is not a very good archangel, but he’s the only one who has come close to ending eternal evil. And when we learn that he has spared millions from a fate beyond death, we go so far as to curse him! I’d happily accept nonexistence over an eternity of torture.

        Uriel wasn’t just mathing them out of existence because they weren’t nice. He was mathing them out because that was the only way to defeat Thamiel forever, and ensure that the forces of good would reign eternal. If Uriel is doing something wrong, it’s not adding humans to the ranks of those trying to mathematize the world. Then again, those of us with the neurology for it are hated already.

        • Walter says:

          “Uriel sacrificed his own life”

          He murdered his entire race. When he revealed his plan to one of them the reaction was to call him worse than Thamiel and try to stop him.

          I get that he has a tough time. I bet *insert human everyone agrees is bad, who hasn’t done half of what Uriel has, any genocidal dictator will do* had headaches. The asshole who canceled Thailand doesn’t get my sympathy for how hard it is that people don’t respect him. No one in that city (including Thamiel) was a threat to Uriel. He said it himself, he’s hogging all the divine light, he is invincible. He killed them, and he joked while he did so. He’s a fiend.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            I feel this is kind of unfair to Uriel. True, no one there could possibly pose a physical threat to him, but humanity turning against Uriel (and likely to Thamiel) certainly is a bad thing to be prevented. Blowing up the entire city really doesn’t seem like a very good way to go about this, but I’m not defending what he did, just saying that I think he had a better reason than irrational fear for personal safety. The joking is, at best, very bad optics.

            That said, I think the other stuff you mentioned is actually fairly reasonable. The angels were clearly doomed, probably to a fate worse than becoming metaphors. Uriel’s cosmic coup seems to have been the only way to prevent Thamiel from taking over the world, which, from my perspective as a human, seems really awful. Given a choice between hell and the absence of God, I’m pretty sure I’d take the latter. Angels might disagree, but they don’t exactly seem to have interests entirely aligned with ours.

            Uriel’s difficulties as basically the Demiurge certainly produce some bad results, but those should be measured against what’s even possible. If Uriel’s machine fails, we get Thamiel back at full force, which is pretty maximally bad. Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether Taiwan’s erasure was necessary, but given all the bizarre stuff that happens around then, it seems like Uriel is just doing everything in his power to prevent that worst-case scenario. He genuinely does seem to be trying to hold the world together, though the scale he’s working at, the magnitude of the task before him, and the limits of his competence mean that he’s not able to save everyone. Obviously, that’s not applicable to what happens here, but I think this is very different than Taiwan.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Looks like Thamiel succeeded in tricking Uriel into using up his divine light reservoir.

    …But at least Uriel finally did a knock-knock joke properly. Yay!

  12. Kurt Reisender says:

    Uriel is not good at diplomacy.

  13. Anders Sandberg says:

    OK, seems like Dietrich might have seeded the idea of UNSONG right there. Although given what happens moments later it is a bit unclear how anybody but Uriel would have known.

  14. bdeanemachine says:

    HA! Love the philosophical zombies. My heart goes out to poor Uriel. Politics is hard 🙁

    Nerdiness follows:
    I might be pushing on this too hard (work of fiction, rules of physics etc.), but it seems that if souls were epiphenomenal (like Uriel says) then you can’t really have qualia. Normally you only get one or the other; qualia is what people talk about when they don’t want to attribute consciousness to epiphenomena and vice verssa.

    In the Unsong universe, apparently, qualia are real and therefore philosophical zombies are consistent. (Recall that qualia are kind of non-physical units of conscious experience; they’re normally associated with the consciousness-is-non-physical camp ie., Uriel and co.)

    Normally, materialists (the, uh, non-soul people) are the ones who claim that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, an emergent property of brain-physics, and not a product of qualia. Uriel probably meant to say something like


    The upshot is that, in Unsong, consciousness is probably not in fact epiphenomenal; it can be bestowed or removed without regard to our normal physical machinery.

    This is, of course, only a snapshot of the whole debate. There are almost certainly philosophers who think qualia emerge from epiphenomena, but they are far from mainstream.

    … sorry.

    • David Xu says:

      Your comment seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what an epiphenomenon is. In particular:

      Normally, materialists (the, uh, non-soul people) are the ones who claim that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, an emergent property of brain-physics, and not a product of qualia.


      The upshot is that, in Unsong, consciousness is probably not in fact epiphenomenal; it can be bestowed or removed without regard to our normal physical machinery.

      This is not at all the definition of an epiphenomenon. In fact, what you describe is more or less the exact opposite of an epiphenomenon. An epiphenomenal view of consciousness would actually hold that it is not an emergent property of physical processes, the opposite of what you claim; moreover, that consciousness “can be bestowed or removed without regard to our normal physical machinery” is completely consistent with epiphenomenalism.

      Your comment mischaracterizes epiphenomenalism to the extent that you’re actually attributing to it claims that contradict its actual claims. It’s fine to talk about a particular philosophical view, but before you do, make sure you’re using the terms the same way everyone else uses them.

      (Incidentally, I should note that I personally think that epiphenomenalism is bullshit. But then, I think that about roughly 50% to 90% of the philosophical ideas I encounter, so I may be disfavorably disposed.)

  15. LHC says:

    “First as tragedy, then as farce.”

    I’m reading Worm, and I just read the last interlude of arc 26. It was stunning. It made me very scared and very sad.

    This chapter happened to come out immediately thereafter. It feels very parallel, but it mostly just made me laugh, a lot. Stunned-“holy shit is this really happening” laugh, but still. I really needed this. Good night.

  16. Dirdle says:

    There’s only so many people you can vaporize while still being a sympathetic character, sadly.

    • Anonymous says:

      His body count was quite high already.

      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.

      What difference should a bunch of diplomats make? (Or even a whole city.)

    • Galle says:

      Uriel is in the unfortunate position of being bad at dealing with people and unspeakably powerful. This is the archangel’s equivalent of a nervous breakdown.

    • Marvy says:

      Well, at least he realizes that he did something really bad.

  17. Rob says:

    …in before the simultaneous removal of all of the middle east’s ideologue leaders finally allows the peace process to actually work.

    • Monday says:

      Even if it doesn’t, it’s still sorta useful to Uriel to kill everyone who heard that he took the souls from everyone in Northwest Africa, because that did not go over well.

      But beyond that, blowing up Madrid is definitely imposing.

  18. dsotm says:


    looks like an is missing there.

    Also both the Israelis and the Palestinians tend to take their land title claims all the way back to Abraham and Uriel would have to explain what is it about the male foreskin that couldn’t be accommodated by his machine.

  19. Ninmesara says:

    I am totally puzzled by this chapter, and not exactly in a good way…

    Uriel is supposed to be smart, even if a bit autistic… Here he is a complete idiot with no redeeming qualities (The land goes to the one party the least willing to compromise because of old discussion involving babies? Seriously?). He can’t memorize the names of people or even their country of origin? That’s just too much… When he loses an argument he just kills everyone else? And THEN acts as if he regrets it?! Could anyone for the love of Him whose name is only known by Metatron explain why?

    Maybe the explosion was not caused by Uriel (someone could have said the Wrathful name or something), but then why would he act all regretful afterwards?

    • Murphy says:

      it has been repeatedly stated that he’s really bad with people, he’s only marginally more interested in the individual humans than in the individual butterflies he has to manage. He’s destroyed entire nations plenty of times before when it looked like someone might boil a goat in it’s mothers milk.

      He starts off well giving logical suggestions which are utterly ignored in favor of soundbytes. When he gets maneuvered he gets more and more flustered until everything goes bad and he lashes out.

      • Ninmesara says:

        He has killed specific people who might boil a goat’s milk (not entire nations, if I remember correctly), but your point stands.

        My biggest issue with this chaoter is that he is supposed to have started caring for humans (why would he go to the conference otherwise?) and in the end he just kills everyone because he has lost an argument. This means he actually cares, I guess.

        • Arandur says:

          Well, he cared for Sohu, at least.

        • stavro375 says:

          He started the Black Death to see if he could. So there’s that.

          And it’s not just that he was losing — it’s that the UN was proposing taking over the running of the universe and hundreds of people were chanting “Death [to Uriel]!”. And stupid Thamiel managed to manipulate all this into happening.

        • Anonymous says:

          How is Taiwan not an entire nation?

          • LHC says:

            Oops, Ninmesara accidentally started a major war by misremembering something. Oops.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Was taiwan destroyed because someone tried to boil a goat in its mother’s milk? I thought it had been just Kabbahlistic rearangement or something like that. I do not dispute that Uriel has destroyed nations (which is obvious), it’s just that I didn’t think he has destroyed nations because someone did the thing with the milk. I might be misremembering it, though. This is a very minor point anyways.

    • Aran says:

      I’m not convinced he did it – even if he completely went off his rocker and vaporized the summit, he probably would have kept enough control to keep the rest of Madrid standing, especially considering how much of his limited power that must have cost.

      If it *was* a human with the Wrathful Name, he’d probably still blame himself for making everyone angry.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Using industrial amounts of charity toward Uriel, maybe there was a terrorist among the protestors who said the Wrathful name, Uriel did not intervene and now he blames himself for that.

    • dsotm says:

      Madrid is evil in Enochian so it could have been an accident – trying to run the ‘smite evill’ command while having his default input language set to ‘human’.

    • Galle says:

      Uriel’s behavior in this chapter is perfectly normal and consistent with his previous characterization. This is Uriel completely out of his element – dealing with messy, complicated people, instead of nice simple and cooperative numbers. Not to mention that the people seem to hate him no matter what he says or does. And for some reason consider the advice of the physical manifestation of evil to be more useful than his.

      As someone who’s also a bit autistic, I can emphasize with Uriel a lot here. I can barely deal with a room full of strangers who aren’t paying any attention to me, for fear that I’ll mess up and call down unwanted judgment. The situation Uriel was in at the end of this chapter was absolutely chill-your-blood terrifying. I’m not surprised that he lashed out. It’s just unfortunate that he had so much power to lash out with.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Since you empathize with Uriel here, can you imagine making a Knock-knock joke before lashing out? I’m genuinely curious. I’d imagine that someone lashing out due to stress/fear/social anxiety would just blow up the city. Having the self control to tell a knock-knock joke before just makes him seem sadistic. It feels strange to me, but it might be just the typical mind fallacy speaking.
        What do you think?

        • LHC says:

          He saw the opportunity to apply his lesson from Sohu about being more human, and he took it. Then at least something will have gone right.

        • Muskwalker says:

          He still doesn’t understand the humor in it. All he knows is that knock-knock jokes go before THINGS THAT ARE SURPRISING AND SUDDEN AND HAVE PIZZAZZ.

          (hopefully that’s a disjunctive ‘and’, since describing it as having pizzazz would bring the wrongness back up for a whole other set of reasons)

        • Galle says:

          Yeah, the knock knock joke part does ring a little false to me.

    • Walter says:

      You are trying pretty hard not to get this. It isn’t complicated.

      Uriel isn’t “smart”, he is good at math. He is good at systems. He can learn every language on earth, but he can’t grasp that humans can’t. D&D terms, int 20, wis 5, cha 3. Tv terms, rain man. Uriel has never bothered to learn what humans dress how. It would take him ten seconds, just like the guy at the comic shop could learn the basic rules of “sportsball” in a half hour. He never will. It isn’t a thing he is interested in, so he doesn’t spend that time.

      Last time Thamiel tried a jock’s temptation on him. Use your power to save the girl. Uriel rolled his eyes. This time Thamiel hit the nail on the head. Nerd’s temptation. Use your power to get revenge on the circle of cool kids pointing and laughing.

      • dsotm says:

        It doesn’t look like Uriel thinks of the diplomats as the cool kids much less the mob, they hold as little status for him as apparently all the other humans – what gets him is the fact that they, just like his ex-angel ex-colleagues are falling for Thamiel’s tactics all while ignoring his sound advice.

      • nope says:

        Intelligence is general. Saying someone is good at math but isn’t “smart” is nonsensical. Also, your comments in this thread have been generally antagonistic. I suggest you cool it.

        • Walter says:

          The term “smart”, isn’t helping us here. Nim’s puzzlement is that a person who is good at one thing is bad at another.

          I suspect that the author disagrees with you about intelligence being general. At least in this story being good at manipulating Names of God is not being portrayed as being identical to being good at doing diplomacy. Uriel is well trained in one skill, but not in others.

          • nope says:

            There is semantic confusion with the term, yes. There is also with “intelligence” – most intelligence researchers use it to mean g, or general intelligence (Scott seems to approve of this construct). It is a good practice to separate that meaning from the quality of being good at a thing, which we already have a word for: “talent”. Just like any other talent, diplomacy requires some measure of both natural ability and skill. You suggested that Uriel lacked diplomatic skill due to a lack of interest, but, as Uriel is being characterized here as something close to autistic, it’s likelier that it’s simply much harder for him to learn social adeptness than we would expect from his intelligence.

          • teucer says:

            In specific, it’s described as orthogonal to sanity, right in chapter one.

            Uriel is CelestiAI – his goals align well enough with human values that he usually seems benevolent, but sometimes they miss the mark.

  20. Murphy says:

    “why don’t you just figure it out now? Suppose I’m Moses. Do you promise me the land of Israel or not?”

    I think Urial missed his chance to say


    • Ninmesara says:

      This surprised me too… Not that people would actually listen, but it’s the answer he should have given. A baby is not divisible, while a country most certainly is.

      • Marvy says:

        If they wouldn’t listen, why should he have given the answer? In diplomacy, unlike math, the right answer is useless if no one believes you.

        • Murphy says:

          Sometimes a complex answer that nobody understands enough to even get upset about is better than a simple one that they can get angry about. Also both sides probably have some geekier analysts who might start telling their leaders “that thing the angel said might be a good idea”

  21. Aran says:

    This bit about souls has raised an interesting point: If souls are that expensive (which is consistent with the relation between power and length, the shortest (Mortal) name being one of the last to fade, and the Vital name being the longest ever discovered by far), could the reason the Vital name stopped working be that either (a) its first use drained too much light for it to work again, or (b) Uriel noticed what he was doing and somehow blocked it?

  22. multiheaded says:

    As 4chan would say… that’s some next level spaghetti.

  23. stavro375 says:

    oh my god this entry is a train wreck and i can’t look away
    Oh hey cool, more worldbuilding!

    the Untied States, the Cyrillic Union, the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, Multistan, Iran, the European Communion, Neu Hansa, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine

    1: “Cyrillic Union”: Cyrillic is the alphabet of the USSR, so did that recover from being invaded by the legions of hell? And it seems to be a confederacy of mostly-independent (communist?) republics like the USSR claimed (to an extent) to be? And does this mean that Thamiel has withdrawn from Russia?

    2: “Multistan”: “-stan” is the stereotypical suffix of a middle eastern country’s name. But I know too little about the middle east to even guess what “Multistan” could be. My view as an outsider says that “Multi” + “stan” is a lazy way to imply a middle-eastern superstate, but then for all I know there might be some famous leader named Multi Stan this is based off of. And how does this nation include neither Iran nor Egypt? Maybe Egypt is too far away (whatever that means), and Iran is too Shia? Or it isn’t even in the middle east at all?

    3: “the European Communion”: From Chapter 31:

    Given what’s happening with the Communion and the League over in Europe, NATO’s dead in the water otherwise

    The reference to communion means my instinct is that the Communion is the catholic superstate mentioned earlier, but I might be wrong. But what happened to the League that TCK mentioned? Did it collapse? Just not show up?

    4: “Neu Hansa”: As in the “New Hanseatic League“? What could have possibly happened to East/West Germany that the proposed resolution is modeled on a centuries-old defunct merchant union? Is the whole region mostly-independent city states? And does said resolution include other territories influenced by the Hansa, such as most of the Baltic coastline and the Low Countries?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      2: “Multistan”: “-stan” is the stereotypical suffix of a middle eastern country’s name.

      More precisely, Central Asia.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      “Cyrillic” is weird here because it’s never in our world named a political identity — although various nations adopted or rejected the Cyrillic alphabet on the basis of greater or lesser association with Russia, Orthodoxy, or Pan-Slavism. (Serbs use Cyrillic; Croats use Latin alphabet.)

      Here, I’m guessing that the Cyrillic Union is an Orthodox Christian alliance, with the name being a callback to St. Cyril as missionary rather than as linguist … and the name “Orthodox Union” being already taken by an Orthodox Jewish group. If so, this somewhat suggests that Eastern Orthodoxy has turned more towards evangelical Christianity and is no longer the most staunchly liturgical Christian community.

      “Multistan” seems like a play on “Pakistan” more than anything else, since Pakistan is a contraction of multiple regional names: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan.

      “European Communion” seems like the European Union reformed as a Catholic group. There may be other Catholic and European bodies; after all, look at the complexity of European institutions in our world.

      There is a new Hanseatic League in our world, and it has expanded out from Lübeck as far as Russia in one direction and England in the other! In the story though, I’m guessing this is a more secular German/Baltic group. The historical Hansa fell apart during the Protestant Reformation, so I doubt it is a Protestant group.

      • stavro375 says:

        I’m guessing that the Cyrillic Union is an Orthodox Christian alliance, with the name being a callback to St. Cyril as missionary rather than as linguist

        Nice catch. But between that, the Communion, and “Multistan” I am concerned that everywhere but the USA seems to be devolving into large, geography-simplifying superstates… strikes me wrong. But maybe it looks this way only because we know so little about the unsongverse.

        “European Communion” seems like the European Union reformed as a Catholic group.

        Wikipedia says the EU was formed in 1993. But a predecessor, the European Economic Community
        was founded by the Treaty of Rome mentioned a few updates ago. Maybe that’s where the name came from?

        I’m guessing this is a more secular German/Baltic group.

        I kinda doubt that it includes any of the Baltic region, because the only thing it really shares with northern Germany is Protestantism. Although who knows, maybe during the chaos Lufthansa (founded 1953) literally bought northern Germany and parts of Sweden/Finland/Lithuania/Latvia/Estonia.

  24. Monday says:

    Are we going to talk about how this chapter is completely insane and also wasn’t actually published on Sunday?

    I know what it feels like to put out a chapter just so that something is out there, and I’m pretty sure that’s what this was. I think ditching the breakneck chapter-a-week pace would be a good idea.

    • Monday says:

      Is there anyone who thinks that Uriel nuking an entire city because he’s flustered and autistic was not only a good idea, but one that was actually executed well here?

      Look, Scott should have recognized that he overshot his deadline already and held off until next Sunday to publish.

      • David Xu says:

        Is there anyone who thinks that Uriel nuking an entire city because he’s flustered and autistic was not only a good idea, but one that was actually executed well here?

        Ahem… me.

        (See, this is why you don’t ask rhetorical questions that can be answered with existential quantifiers–it’s way too easy to actually answer those kinds of questions, which kind of defeats the point of making them rhetorical.)

        • Marvy says:

          Okay, why is this a good idea? I’m starting to think Uriel’s original idea was right: skip this conference.

        • Monday says:

          Thanks for the advice. I posted a comment further down that’s a more specific and constructive criticism of how the scene was handled.

      • Walter says:

        Dude, the plot isn’t changing because of when he updates. It’s all worked out ahead of time, yeah? Uriel was always going to nuke Madrid.

      • Aris Katsaris says:

        I felt this was among the best and funniest chapters in Unsong that I’ve read and enjoyed it utterly

        Perhaps you should remember that your personal tastes are not a law of nature, that “liking is a two-place word”. I don’t like what you’re attempting to do by behaving as if we must all be secretly sharing your opinion of the chapter. We don’t.

    • Ninmesara says:

      The story is already written, Scott is just foeshing the details for each chapter. I think destroying Madrid has always been part of the story

    • LHC says:

      Fuck. You.

      • LPSP says:

        I disagree with Monday but I dislike LHC.

        • LHC says:

          Yup, I’m a really fucking terrible commenter for pointing out that criticisms of the story are mostly bullshit. It’s very important for you to establish that you dislike me for respectability.

          Jesus fucking Christ, please don’t let the principle of charity evolve from “people we seriously disagree with should be able to post here and be taken seriously” to “people we seriously disagree with should go unquestioned no matter what the fuck they say; we should be totally submissive to people we disagree with at all times”.

          • Anonymous says:

            And you’re standing for what, a principle of anti-charity where every criticism of the story is met with a “fuck you”? Because that’s what it looks like and it’s quite obnoxious, as several commenters have already pointed out.

          • LHC says:

            I’m sorry that my thought process aren’t wholly transparent, but I do not always feel like making an argument just because i have one. In any case, I did go into more detail on my complaints just a few minutes later, so I’m not sure what you’re going for here?

          • Monday says:

            I’ve generally agreed with you in the past. I like Unsong a lot, don’t mind the fact that the chapters are all over the place, and would be heartbroken if it were cancelled.

            But I still don’t think this chapter felt quite right.

          • LHC says:

            I’m glad you feel that way about Unsong as a whole.

            Had you forgotten that Scott writes these chapters a long time in advance?

    • LHC says:

      For the record, this is the reason I hate certain criticisms of Unsong. It’s not merely that I suspect they either have the power to demolish the story or are at least targeted with the intent to do so, but they’re consistently really terrible opinions projected with an air of authority. Obviously this is what everyone really thinks but is just too nice. Obviously the Emperor has no clothes.

      Yes, I thought that Uriel nuking a city because he’s flustered and autistic is a fucking excellent idea (and in-character with what has been thus far established for him) implemented exceedingly well here. I’m pretty sure most of the other people who comment here feel the same way. And you don’t even know what you’re fucking talking about re: Scott writing too fast to catch up. I don’t know why this chapter came out early Monday morning, but it’s been established over and over and over again that Scott has this written very, very far in advance.

      And before anyone else gets on my fucking case again for defending this story, please keep in mind that reversed stupidity is not intelligence and the principle of charity doesn’t mean “never stand up for what you believe in because what if you’re wrong?”

      • FeepingCreature says:

        jesus christ man, calm down

        Yes, I thought that Uriel nuking a city because he’s flustered and autistic is a fucking excellent idea (and in-character with what has been thus far established for him) implemented exceedingly well here

        this does not make you look serious, it makes you look either sarcastic or doubling down due to defensiveness.

        • LHC says:

          Ah, yes, literally all of my opinions are illegitimate and unworthy of respect, no matter how well-founded they are, because they’re not very edgy and don’t make you seem clever for considering them. However could I forget.

      • Nick says:

        (Sorry for the out of nowhere rant here, but I’ve been a lurker and occasional commenter from the beginning and this is just driving me crazy.)

        People are getting on your case because the quality of said “pointing out” is, in this case:

        Fuck. You.

        I know you’re astounded that people have a problem with that, but understand that you’re letting go of all sense of propriety here based on assumptions your fellow commenters clearly don’t share.

        A number of commenters here evidently believe “Story mistakes should be criticized with some force,” while you believe “Criticism applied to Unsong should be criticized with FIREBOMBING.” Do you see the apparent disconnect? If you want anything other than confused rage from others, you need to first convince people why what you’re doing is even a proportionate response. Which, hey, you have indeed attempted to do in the past, with arguments to the effect that criticism of that nature will discourage Scott from finishing the story, but unless and until anyone is willing to grant you that, they won’t grant that their criticisms deserve “Fuck you”s.

        The problem here is not their lack of charity but yours. You keep accusing them of acting in bad faith: “I suspect that they … are at least targeted with the intent to [demolish the story].” Has anyone you’ve argued with admitted as much? No. Instead a number of them have said exactly the opposite, that they value the work as a whole and in many cases the very same chapters they’re criticizing, but believe that their criticism is constructive. Others have argued that criticism doesn’t have to be constructive* when it’s self-expressive, provided Scott is fine with that, which by all indication he is. If your opinion about criticism is different, that’s okay and we respect that—but if that opinion implies treating other people the way you have been, that’s not okay at all.

        *For the record: I believe most criticism is minimally constructive anyway because the author at least learns what people didn’t like. This is not true if their criticism amounted to “I didn’t like the story, so fuck you.” but no one has been doing that.

    • LHC says:

      Why are you reading Unsong if you care about it this little?

      • Monday says:

        I’m a bad person, obviously. I thought you had already established that.

        • person says:

          To be fair, your initial criticism was pretty fucking full of yourself. You know, arrogant. Like you had special insights into the workings of things which allowed you to conflate facts and opinions and wildly speculate in an authoritative manner. But, it’s not your fault. Comments like that seem, to me at least, to be disproportionately commonplace in the Rationalsphere.

          • David Xu says:

            Your last sentence does not (seem to me to) imply your second-to-last sentence. Just because something is bad but common doesn’t mean that it’s not someone’s fault when someone does it. I do agree that arrogance/condescension/etc. seems to occur with some frequency around these parts (and I have my own hypothesis as to why this is so), but this neither excuses nor mitigates their impact. (Assuming, of course, that you agree there is an impact, and that this impact is negative–but denying this is difficult.)

          • Monday says:

            Yes, you’re right. I posted a more modest, specific, and helpful comment downthread explaining my main issue with the chapter, which is that there’s no clear buildup to Uriel killing a few million people.

  25. LPSP says:

    Surely the souls are being kept safe in some other location, right? That would mean the poor peoples of North Africa were spared of earthly suffering by Uriel’s actions?

    • teucer says:

      That wouldn’t reduce the computational costs.

    • Galle says:

      There aren’t any souls to be kept safe. Uriel has a limited supply of soul-stuff to make souls out of, so there were always going to be some p-zombies, it was just a question of which human meatpuppets got souls and which ones didn’t.

  26. Quixote says:

    At first read this was hard to take seriously and easy to laugh with since Uriel is very funny (if you take take nuking the site from orbit seriously). I really do feel for the guy.

    On second read, I have a bit more sympathy. The whole diplomatic core and the diplomatic process was compromised by Thamiel. We can’t know for sure what would have happened next, but we know it was orchestrated by Thaniel and optimized to produce a maximally evil outcome. Nuking the whole site means that no finely calculated outcomes or long term plans of Thamiel from this event could possibly bear fruit.

    • LHC says:

      Thamiel discussing politics with world leaders should basically be considered equivalent to the Simurgh touching down on a meeting between world leaders.

      • teucer says:

        Agreed – except that, since Thamiel either has other functions or can convincingly pretend to, they are easily persuaded to view him as “just another diplomat” and so take none of the precautions his intervention should inspire.

        • Sean says:

          The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing everyone he was just-another-diplomat.

          • teucer says:

            I’m increasingly convinced that’s why he made the Broadcast tape.

            Even if its content is 100% reliable, I think the reason for sharing it (and in particular with Nixon) is that it presents a non-Simurgh version of his motives, which, horrible as he seems, makes negotiating with him desirable – and that in turn lets him be a better Simurgh.

            (The possibly better similar analogy is the Cthaeh.)

      • PedroS says:

        You do mean the Simurgh from Worm ( rather than the one from Persian folklore ( , don’t you?

    • Walter says:

      I don’t think that was what he was thinking. I think he lashed out because nobody puts baby in a corner, and now he feels terrible about it.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      Well, we don’t know how good Thamiel is at what he does. Certainly, he’s doing great at manipulating people and angels, but he sure seems to have faced several things he hadn’t planned on. I suppose it’s possible that Uriel thwarting his imminent victory by turning the universe into math and the destruction of one of his armies by the Statue of Liberty and the Comet King destroying the other somehow results in the eventual maximization of evil, but it seems reasonable that Thamiel can’t see the future and is just doing his best at doing the worst.

      In that case, his skills may be sufficiently superhuman that he can do a decent Cthaeh/Simurgh impression in the short term, but without future sight, the whole “kill everyone causally exposed to the blight!” that’s used for those two seems, er, overkill. Besides, if we assumed Thamiel’s powers extended that far, wouldn’t it already be too late? After all, a pretty good chunk of the population has already seen the Broadcast. Surely that’s enough bits of information disseminated to orchestrate the end of the world?

      • teucer says:

        On the one hand, Thamiel probably can’t see the future any more than Uriel can.

        On the other, he’s so good at what he does that he can talk somebody into completely inverting their entire value system.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          That took a year, and Sataniel didn’t seem to end up fully inverted, just more in Thamiel’s camp than not
          . Although we’re talking about an archangel here, so one would assume he’d be pretty set in his ways (if also bad at logic).

        • Gonzalez says:

          It’s conceivable that inverting someone’s value system is actually easier than shifting that person to a system with a different structure. Not sure how I’d go about demonstrating that, though.

  27. LHC says:

    I find it odd how many people seem to be siding against Uriel here, when he’s still written very sympathetically and the people arguing with him are presented pretty clearly as wrong. While reading, I was unsure if it was realistic for anyone to be so breathtakingly stupid as to say “That’s really dumb.” after Uriel finishes explaining a Biblical parable-based approach to settling an international dispute (which seems clearly applicable). But apparently some other readers sided with the Cyrillic foreign minister! I find that pretty interesting.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      IME Russians can really be that blunt in public. (Well, at least Russian physicists; dunno about Russian diplomats.)

    • Galle says:

      It is really dumb, though. Countries are not babies.

      Of course, Uriel’s problem here is that he’d already tried the smart things and got shot down, so he was trying things he thought were dumb in a desperate attempt to make these people happy.

    • Pedro Silva says:

      Uriel’s solomonic solution does not make sense within the parameters of the original parable: the baby was not given simply to the woman who did not want to split it. The baby was given to the one who would rather give the baby up than having half a (dead) baby. Uri should have taken the cue from the parable and proposed to give the Israelis and the Palestinians each one half of a Cobalt-60 poisoned Holy Land instead.

    • PedroS says:

      “I find it odd how many people seem to be siding against Uriel here”

      For a consequentialist (like Scott), nuking Madrid might not be as big a deal as for many reader here, as he may (in-story) show how that act sets in motion a sequence of events that leads to an increase in total utils.

      In my philosophical tradition, however, neither intent nor consequences are enough to override deontological imperatives, though they might provide extenuating circumstances. Therefore I don’t find it odd that people side against Uriel here: sympathetic-looking people are as capable of perpetrating atrocities as obvious villains. One might even argue that killings/massacres done by sympathetic people are more dangerous, as they may shift the “Overton window of acceptable behavior” towards evil in a more effective way than similar killings/massacres performed by “villains”. Moreover (as wisely observed by CS Lewis) “The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

      In this moral outlook, outrage about the moral failings (or outright immoral behavior) of apparently-benevolent characters seems to me to be absolutely necessary.

      PS: I enjoyed this chapter a lot, precisely because of the shocking nuking of Madrid: it reminds the reader to remember that being on “the good Team” is not, in itself, a guarantee of moral behavior. Scott may have a totally different point , like showing how “evil” means may become praiseworthy when done for a “good end”, but I don’t need Scott to cater to my philosophical/ethical/aesthetical preferences, and that is not why I read him. I read him precisely because, while holding several views completely antithetical to mine (e.g. on metaethical theories, the moral stature of Peter Singer, on the moral necessity of the legalization of euthanasia, etc. ) he is one of the most intelectually honest writers around, and engages opposite viewpoints with civility, i.e. without assuming that those who hold opposite views are necessarily evil/stupid/deluded/mis-informed.

      • teucer says:

        My flavor of consequentialism also finds Uriel unambiguously blameworthy, but that’s because I unhesitatingly bite the moral luck bullet. If this proves to have been the lesser evil, it was nonethelessv every bit as evil as nuking a city always is.

    • R Flaum says:

      I… don’t actually think they are “presented pretty clearly as wrong.” I in fact had exactly the opposite reaction to the baby-splitting thing that you did, in that it seemed to me that Uriel was missing the entire point of Solomon’s decision (viz., that the real mother would be concerned about the baby’s life). Since the land, unlike a baby, wouldn’t be killed by being split, the analogy really isn’t applicable. And his earlier thing about the virtual currency being proportional to population size is screwy — One of the big issues here is that they’re arguing about who has more moral authority — more “currency,” if you will — and Uriel’s just assuming that it should be proportional to population without really making an argument to that effect. Also, you can’t kill people for being annoying. That’s a big one. I probably should have led with that.

  28. Monday says:

    I’d like to apologize to Scott for my uncharitable assumptions about how this chapter was written. Upon rereading the chapter, the sequence of events makes more sense and feels much less arbitrary.

    That being said, I’d like to highlight one bit where I think some extra focus on Uriel would be helpful, and it’s this paragraph:

    A security breach. Somehow the proceedings had leaked to the protesters outside. Now they overwhelmed the guards, rushed into the room. “Death to imperialism!” somebody in a mask and declared. “Death to capitalism!” Then “Death to Uriel!” the others joined in. Everything started closing in. The air became thick with cries of “Death to Uriel!” and “Soul-stealer!” and just plain “Kill!” The protesters kept pouring in, until it was far too crowded for anyone to leave or even move. Still the cries rang out. Death! Death! Death! Death! Death! Death!

    The description is kind of fuzzy here (which is not uncommon with scenes like this in Unsong) but that’s not the main problem. We’re not told explicitly what Uriel is thinking or feeling here. It’s probably reasonable to assume that he’s acutely uncomfortable with it, but there’s no indication that he’s in a smitin’ kind of mood. Just one sentence hinting that Uriel is freaked would be a huge improvement to the chapter as a whole.

    • LHC says:

      This seems like a much more reasonable criticism to me, though I personally disagree. The reveal-via-knock-knock-joke really stunned me last night, to the point that it left my mouth hanging opening, silently laughing (as did a few other moments, including the reveal that Uriel had removed the souls of the Ethiopians and the various failures on the parts of attendees to respect Uriel). I would hate to lose it.

    • Anony says:

      I feel like it’s a good show-don’t-tell moment, actually. We know Uriel well enough to understand how stressful a situation like that would be for him; personally, I was having intense sympathy-stress that peaked with the protestors coming in and adding screaming to an already awful situation.

    • LPSP says:

      I can agree with this. It’s sort of like a reverse corrolary to the “show, don’t tell” rule. We know after the fact that Uriel was prepared to smite away, and completely giving that away prior would’ve been foolish. But a sense that Uriel was veering towards something extreme wasn’t really imparted; frustrated and in need of a solution maybe, but not *that*.

    • David Xu says:

      There is constructive criticism and there is non-constructive criticism. This is constructive criticism. Your previous comment was not.

      • Monday says:

        Well, in case I haven’t made it explicit yet, I will now: I apologize for my prior comments, which were unhelpful.

        • David Xu says:

          And I, in turn, apologize for the combative tone of my previous comments. I was in a poor mood when I posted them, but of course that’s no excuse.

    • Tempo says:

      I think that change would sort of kill the punchline, though; we’re supposed to be in the dark there because otherwise the joke isn’t half as funny.

      • Monday says:

        Completely in the dark, though? Look, I’m not saying that we need to know even that Uriel is going to do something big, I just think it would have been better if there were a couple more dots to connect.

    • Shoefish says:

      Mind you, you could say that the fuzziness of the description just gives credence to the theory that it was not Uriel that did the bombing.

      On the one hand, it’s very in character for him to wipe out large numbers of humans. OTOH, that’s exactly the reason that saying “I JUST DID SOMETHING REALLY BAD.” doesn’t mesh with the action, unless he’s not referring to all the murder but to expending divine light to wipe out Thamiel which he’s been trying to avoid.

      A weaker support for that theory is consistency, if i’m not mistaken usually when Uriel makes something happen we get a description of the action he’s taking, here the explosion just sort of happens as he finishes a joke (that can be taken as an announcement rather than a threat).

      • LPSP says:

        Or the joke itself could be the Wrathful Name.*

        *using a reeeaaally weird definition of 52 letters/characters/syllables

        • Ninmesara says:

          Angels can’t say names. Maybe archangels can? Not that Uriel needs to say any names, of course.

          • The coment king says:

            Can’t they? I thought they could.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Chapter two, just before Aaron starts singing rhe Vanishing name in pig latin. Given that they can’t sing names, it is kind of weird that Gadiriel is so excited to about the names discovered by whatever is hidden in hidden the Ark of the Covenant (probably Sarah). Maybe she can ask humans to write them for her and use them in a scroll or something like that. Or maybe she is just curious.

          • LPSP says:

            Pretty sure archangels can invoke names. Even if they can’t say them, they can wield them in deeper kabbalistic senses, plucking the letters out the air and such.

        • Daniel says:

          Chapter 1 says the Wrathful Name is actually 50 letters, so we can safely conclude that it is “ANDHAVEPIZZAZZKNOCKKNOCKALEPHALEPHYOUAREGOINGTODIE”.

          The Internet informs me that this phrase is also gematrically equivalent to “And The Angel Was Clothed In Clouds With A Rainbow Over Its Head”, which can’t possibly be a coincidence.

          • LPSP says:

            I could swear it was 52. Aaron specifically commented that his discovery, the Soul name, was 58 characters long and “six longer than the Wrathful name”. I can be wrongle, I nearly typed 50 when I made the post tbh.

  29. Yossarian says:

    Well… there are things you shouldn’t ask of an overworked sysadmin. Like deciding whether some area should belong to the Alliance or the Horde. And especially not if there is someone present there who just thinks the whole server should be shut down and/or given over to him to torture all the inhabitants…

    • Dima says:

      That’s how I interpreted the chapter too. To me, it feels like a very accurate description of Uriel’s attitude towards humanity: he has no ill will towards people, but their lives hold very little value to him (lower on his list of priorities than aligning tectonic plates and maintaining pleasing symmetries).
      When user (dis)satisfaction does not affect you, you’re probably going to only be corncerned with making the system run as designed.

      My impression is that Uriel wasn’t as much freaked out by the social pressure, as he simply got fed up with the annoying idiots. Hence the joke: “I’ve had enough of your nonsense. Guess what happens next?”

      (When the mob barged into the conference room chanting “Death!”, these were propably Uriel’s thoughts: “That’s it. I’m getting rid of Madrid.”)

  30. So… In this universe, northeast Africans cannot use strikeout and underline?

  31. cl says:

    Uriel is obviously pretty much inept with social situations, but to loose lt like that it’s just incredible and feels a bit out of character I do have to agree. Quite a shock to be honest.

    On the other hand, it is nice to see the toxicity of the white knights of Unsong being alive and thriving. Never accept any mistakes were made, never consider other viewpoints, and above all feel proud of not being of the unwashed masses who dare not to worship every word of this novel!

    PD: I like how this is shaping, eversince the introduction of Commet King and that we stopped being name-bombarded I’ve liked it much more. But the toxicity of this comment section is baffling.

    • Walter says:

      I mean, fundamentally, NPCs can never solve a problem, yeah? Gandalf can’t take the ring to Mordor.

      So if Aaron is our guy, Uriel is basically an Elminster/Gandalf kind of character. He can’t be entirely on his rocker or he becomes the answer to all the problems. We need a reason to be reluctant to involve him in the present. “He killed everyone in Madrid because they hurt his feelings” works.

    • Tempo says:

      loose lt

      I can’t tell if this is a typo or a hilarious pun. I’m leaning pun.

  32. Immanentizing Eschatons says:


    I’m not entirely convinced P zombies are metaphysically possible, I’m not sure though.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      At least it is odd that on p-zombie-Earth the zombie philosophers go to consciousness conferences… why not to conferences about any other of the infinitely many properties they lack?

  33. dsotm says:

    ‘Let people know that they and their loved ones will be tortured for eternity and nobody panics*, because it’s all “part of the plan”, but accelerate the process infinitesimally for one city and a bunch of diplomats and everybody loses their mind’

    So yeah this is unflattering to Uriel, but as people here have noted above – not uncharacteristic because Bubonic plague, Taiwan, etc. (preventive smiting as part of a counter-maternal-milk-goat-boiling program doesn’t count because trolley ?).

    Also we don’t know yet exactly what has happened and whether it’s reversible/retconnable by him, I suspect that the major consequence of this indeed has to to do with using up a strategic amount of divine light reserves and that this, rather than the demadridization is what Uriel thinks of as ‘something really bad’.
    (more) Speculative: usage of names draws on the divine light reserves, Unsong was founded with the goal of regulating their use for conservation purposes, that would be at odds with Simeon Azore claimed motivation of stockpiling names for the day the machine breaks down.

    Also in this universe the Madrid conference takes place on Oct 31 which is known in some cultures as Dec 25 – this cannot be a coincidence but a good excuse for a bug.

    *Ok some people panic, but apparently most get over it quickly enough

    • Monday says:

      We don’t know that everyone goes to hell. I find it perfectly believable that most people don’t believe (or at least don’t want to believe) that they themselves will.

      • dsotm says:

        True, it is also not clear whether atonement works in that universe so possibly by eliminating Madrid we take away the opportunity from all the sinners there who were gonna repent and live righteous lives starting Nov 1, but still once something like the broadcast exists it basically introduces a negative infinity in every utility calculation in that universe.

    • Aegeus says:

      It happened on that date in our universe too (the Madrid Conference ran from October 30 to Nov 1, and this is the second day). Frankly, I’m amazed they got to the second day before getting nuked from orbit.

  34. John Sidles says:

    How many Unsong fans perceive a homologous connexion between three ultra-rationalist punchlines:

    • “Mr. President, we must not allow … a mine-shaft gap!

    • “We’re not going to make it, are we?”


    To belabor the point, all three works consider the compatibility (or not) of strictly deductive ratiocination — Dr. Strangelove’s ratiocination, SkyNet’s ratiocination, and Uriel’s ratiocination — with the human condition.

    In this light, if we apply Bayesian logic to the first two cases, then prior probability of the long-term compatibility of Unsong’s Uriel-modified universe with viable human cognition can be estimated as one-in-two.

    Perhaps this episode is a deliberate parable (on Scott’s part), regarding a certain Presidential candidate who on the one hand, seeks to be entrusted with unrestrained nuclear launch authority, yet on the other hand, cannot recall from his 70 years any occasions for personal regret?

    This leads us to appreciate a crucial respect in which Uriel’s cognition is unlike the cognition of Dr. Strangelove, SkyNet, and a certain US Presidential candidate. The crucial difference is simply that Uriel is able to appreciate (albeit only dimly) the occasions upon which he has done wrong.

    Thus in Uriel’s evolving post-rational cognitive capacity we find Bayesian reason for hope! )

    • “a certain Presidential candidate who on the one hand, seeks to be entrusted with unrestrained nuclear launch authority, yet on the other hand, cannot recall from his 70 years any occasions for personal regret?”

      Seriously, I cannot understand the mental processes of people who are afraid that Trump will start a nuclear war but are not concerned about Clinton doing the same. Clinton is far, far more hawkish than Trump, and as secretary of state repeatedly pushed for actions (Syria, for example) that exacerbated tensions with the Russians. Trump, in contrast, seems to have no interest in bear baiting; if anything, he’s a little too chummy with Putin for my liking.

      (BTW, I can’t think of a single occasion when Clinton has expressed regret over her actions. Actually, it’s extremely uncommon for anyone in U.S. politics to ever admit they were wrong.)

      • LHC says:

        Furthermore, the president literally doesn’t have the ability to start a nuclear war from a brief temper tantrum or mood swing. There are multiple people who need to be convinced to press multiple buttons, and that deliberately exists so that they can refuse to comply in the case of an ill-advised launch.

      • John Sidles says:

        From journalist and arms expert William J. Broad:

        Is there any check on a president’s power to launch nuclear arms that could destroy entire cities or nations?

        The short answer is no, though history suggests that in practice, there may be ways to slow down or even derail the decision-making process. No one disputes, however, that the president has an awesome authority. […]

        “There’s no veto once the president has ordered a strike,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear specialist who held White House and Defense Department posts for 31 years before leaving government service in 2005. […]

        In 1974, in the last days of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon was drinking heavily and his aides saw what they feared was a growing emotional instability.

        His new secretary of defense, James R. Schlesinger, himself a hawkish Cold Warrior, instructed the military to divert any emergency orders — especially one involving nuclear weapons — to him or the secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger.

        It was a completely extralegal order, perhaps mutinous. But no one questioned it.

        The nuclear yes-or-no coin toss isn’t one that rational people want to flip too often, is it?

        • teucer says:

          Yet we flip it every four years.

          We believe the coin to be heavily biased in favor of no nuclear war. This time, we believe both coins far less biased that way than typical, and we have imperfect information about which coin is better. (And they both come with other baggage to be considered also.)

          The choice is not “flip or don’t flip,” but which coin.

  35. Vladimir N says:

    Is it somehow clear that Uriel destroyed Madrid because he was freaked out? I get the impression he was just containing the damage before it got utterly out of control.

    • Indubitably says:

      Well, he immediately regrets it, or at least knows that it was a bad thing. That doesn’t sound like someone acting calmly and with clear judgment to me, it sounds like someone coming down from being freaked out and realizing that they shouldn’t have acted how they did.

      • Vladimir N says:

        The bad thing is the combination of the original damage, that he caused by mistake, and the subsequent destruction of Madrid, which was perfectly reasonable damage control.

        • Indubitably says:

          That could also be it. What he considers to be the “bad thing” is ambiguous. I was just explaining why it came off the way it did to me and other commenters.

  36. Gonzalez says:

    Uriel’s behavior mirrors a lot of real-life bullying situations. It’s not that he’s losing an argument (he’s not; losing an argument requires that the arguments are actually engaged, and no one is actually engaging his arguments)—it’s that he’s on the receiving end of a fuckton of negative social pressure. This sort of thing sucks way, way worse in person than it does in writing. That probably explains why we have a lot of commenters who can’t grok why Uriel would act this way while the rest of us are over here having sympathetic panic attacks.

    There’s a conversation to be had about whether a piece of writing should be intelligible to those who haven’t directly had the experiences depicted within, but on a purely functional level I want to push that, for those of us (conditional on certain neurotypes, perhaps) who have had this experience, this scene makes sense. If I’d had Uriel’s access to the Divine Light, for example, there would be a big chunk missing in my home state.

    For those who legitimately don’t understand why Uriel would act this way, I’ll sketch out the moving parts. First, because he’s a character in human fiction, Uriel is operating with a functionally human psychology. There have been objections in the form of “Why didn’t he think about the millions of other people in the city?” We might abstract these objections into “Why didn’t he consider the consequences?” In humans, the consequence-considering part of our brain doesn’t function well while our fight-or-flight responses are running. The brain doesn’t care about long-term consequences; it cares about not getting eaten by the bear or whatever that triggered the fight-or-flight response. This is what happens in a bullying scenario, and if you’re not great with social interaction to begin with, it makes it that much harder to handle the cognitive processing required.

    In this situation, Uriel’s (functionally human) brain thinks it’s surrounded by bears, so he lashes out with decisive force. As an archangel, that’s enough to level a city.

    • Walter says:

      Yeah. The reason that bullying nerds is safe is because we are weak. Do not bully a nerd with a grenade launcher.

      This doesn’t make Uriel’s behavior ok, by the by. He killed thousands, maybe more, because he’s got a garbage mind. It DOES kind of explain why Thamiel knew how to push his buttons. Uriel is one of a type, and that type is allergic to contempt.

      • TheAncienGeek says:

        “Never laugh at someone for looking like a Martian. They might actually be a Martian” — MAD magazine.

      • Autolykos says:

        Well, a surprising number of nerds will eventually pick up martial arts (guess why). Bullying older nerds you don’t know well is very decidedly _not_ safe, and I could name a few people who had to learn that the hard way…

    • not_a_linguist says:

      That probably explains why we have a lot of commenters who can’t grok why Uriel would act this way while the rest of us are over here having sympathetic panic attacks.

      I’d like to posit the existence of a third group — people who have been subjected to intense and overwhelming negative social pressure, but who still can’t really imagine themselves lashing out, as their normal reaction to such pressure is to close in on themselves (even if lashing out would be healthier and probably more constructive) and hence who don’t really grok someone lashing out, despite understanding it on an intellectual level.

    • LPSP says:

      I think there’s something of a false dichotomy/overly black-and-white assumption going on here. I’ve seen a fair few commenters of the “sympathetic panic attack” variety here, but I haven’t seen anyone who didn’t understand the reasoning behind Uriel’s lashing out. The puzzlement some have expressed has been centred on the execution – some feel Uriel’s mentally state wasn’t particularly expressed and thus the sense that he was about to react desperately wasn’t telegraphed prior to the incident. I talked about the detail of this in an earlier chat in the thread, so I won’t repeat myself here.

      Of course, you may then argue that to readers who have experienced sic “fucktons of negative social pressure”, no more detail is needed. I find this somewhere between naive and patronising. The latter because it makes a judgement of readers based off a lazy assumption, and the former because of that assumption: that the universal human reaction to hard negative social pressure is to develop panic attacks. The truth is that different peoples is different; some people are natural adapters and some are natural unadapters. For some, painful experiences leave traumatic scars and memories; for others, the experience is shocking the first time, but becomes more predictable and tolerable each time thereafter and eventually becomes an annoyance at worst. The idea that individuals who endured bullying and came out stronger, somehow didn’t TRULY experience bullying, I find objectionable

      • Gonzalez says:

        I was too black and white with the description, yes. That said, I seem to remember a couple comments along the lines of “How could Uriel possibly justify his actions?” or other approaches that implied a belief that Uriel thought this through. One such comment was something along the lines of “Why would he kill these people just because he’s losing the argument?” My comment was (explicitly) addressed more to that section of the comments, who just don’t get what’s going on, than to commenters like you who have moved on to the next couple steps of the discussion.

        I’d also like to point out that I did attempt to qualify my comment on possession of certain neurotypes. Apparently I did not succeed, but the intent there was to avoid making the very implication you bring up—that everyone reacts the same way to intense social pressure—because I disagree with that implication as well.

        • LPSP says:

          Glad we could clear that up. Honestly, the thing about Uriel is that we don’t know all that much about him. Incidents like this are filling in what are pretty crucial gaps in our understanding of the guy, like his response to horde pressure. I’m definitely looking forward to Sohu’s reaction.

  37. Indubitably says:

    I thought this chapter was great. Uriel’s actions here truly make a lot of sense given the background we’ve seen in previous chapters. We know that he has killed people both en masse and individually many times throughout history for terrible and childish reasons. We know from his interactions with Sohu that he really doesn’t understand how humans work or how to talk to them. I think some people were caught off guard simply because he hadn’t yet done anything that bad *on-screen* and so they had half-forgotten his off-screen but equally Bad murderous tantrums.

    I do agree with the criticism that the paragraph “A security breach… Death! Death!” is weirdly fuzzy. The rest of the chapter, such as the description of the explosion soon thereafter, is so meticulously detailed that this paragraph of action feels rushed and cloudy. On the other foot, I have to suppress a snicker every time someone says something like “I agree with the delegate from Hell,” it took me ’til my second reading to understand and laugh at “What would the Comet King do?”, and I must say that I felt genuinely proud when Uriel finally managed to crack a workable knock-knock joke. Keep it up.

    • Monday says:

      I didn’t read the description of the various times Uriel killed people as tantrums, never mind terrible and childish. (Admittedly, wiping towns off the map because they’re ruining pleasing symmetries is a bad thing to do.) They were all purposeful in some sense; people were screwing (intentionally or not) with his system, so he got rid of them. Given that boiling goats in their mother’s milk causes horrifying disasters like Pompeii, I think Uriel is justified in a lot of his smiting.

      • Indubitably says:

        You’re right in that “tantrum” is not quite the word I mean, but I stand by “terrible/childish reasons.” I mean:
        Creating bubonic plague – just to see if it would work;
        smiting towns – for the sake of symmetry;
        hundreds of thousands dead in Belgium – because he forgot to turn off the rain;
        smiting people – because he thought they LOOKED like the sort of folks who MIGHT at some point boil a goat in its mother’s milk…
        I’d say that the reasons behind those losses of life are generally terrible and/or childish. Maybe the disagreement here comes from you reading “terrible” as “evil” instead of the intended “completely unnecessary and unhelpful.”

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I do agree with the criticism that the paragraph “A security breach… Death! Death!” is weirdly fuzzy. The rest of the chapter, such as the description of the explosion soon thereafter, is so meticulously detailed that this paragraph of action feels rushed and cloudy.

      Yeah, I have to agree with this unfortunately. Similar to the fuzziness in Interlude Lamed.

  38. Wait a moment… When Sarah was ensouled, she asked an angel for an improved body, which isn’t exactly part of the normal behavior of a Macintosh computer. In that case, the soul had an effect, which would imply that p-zombies are not part of this universe.

  39. ascerel says:

    Uriel: Problematic Fave, Precious Murder Baby, Sinnamon Roll.

  40. Good Burning Plastic says:

    1) I hoped the new chapter would be about Erica. We haven’t heard of her since Chapter 15. What became of her?

    2) Am I the only one to whom the Uriel character reminds of Curtis Guy Yarvin?

    3) The least believable part of all this is where non-native English speakers Tauran and Genscher are both familiar with knock-knock jokes.

    4) I’m bracing myself for when Sohu will teach Uriel Tom Swifties.

  41. Ezra says:

    Great chapter. Uriel felt kind of shallow to me before this. Leave a reply field is way at the bottom and only at the bottom so I had to scroll all the way down here. Keep up the good work.

  42. Seth says:

    Uriel is now my favorite character, though it’s painful how relatable this chapter is.

  43. Pablo says:

    Is the joke actually funny in and of itself, or is the funny bit the fact that Uriel finally at least got the format of knock knock jokes correct? Because unless the funny part is Uriel, I don’t get it.

    (I do like the fact that Uriel tries knock knock jokes, so this isn’t an aspersion on the story, this is an announcement that I may be too stupid to get the joke.)

    • Monday says:

      It’s also funny because it’s wildly inappropriate.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Aleph = all of. Maybe this is the part ypu’re not getting

      • Pablo says:

        @Ninmesara – Thanks, somehow didn’t notice the homonym until about five seconds after reading your response. I must be dense. You da man.

        • Marvy says:

          This was already explained: Aleph my jokes are terrible.

          • Anonymous says:

            The problem is, it is way too easy to read Uriel’s line as “Aleph[,] ((you) are (going to die)).” rather than the intended “(Aleph you) are (going to die).”

            I think an ellipsis between “you” and “are” would fix that.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I think it’s fine as-is. It’s a knock-knock joke. You should be reading it looking for a pun. “Aleph, you are going to die” doesn’t even make sense.

          • Anonymous says:

            Uriel’s jokes didn’t make much sense before this chapter.

            “KNOCK KNOCK.”

            “Who’s there?”

            “I AM NOT SURE.”

            “Say a word! Any word! The first thing you think of!”


            “Okay. Aleph who?”

            “I AM STILL NOT SURE.”

            “A pun. Some sentence that includes a pun on the word aleph. Something that sounds like it.”


            “KNOCK KNOCK.”

            “Who’s there?”


            Why should one assume they will now?

  44. adssd says:

    Is the European Communion vs Neu Hansa vs Cyrillic Union pretty much Catholic vs Protestant vs Orthodox, and what differences would there be if this is roudhly right? How much of the Former Soviet Union and just Eurasia in General does Hell have? Do they have all of Canada? What’s going on with Japan?

    Tibet is supposed to be independent, but otherwise does the Harmonious Jade Empire have the rest of the current borders of China, and possibly more or less added in areas?

    What’s going on in SOutheast Asia, Northeast asia besides China(korea japan), Latin America, most of Africa, Australia, the pacific?

    How much of this has been mentioned already that I have forgotten? Would appreciate observant commentators to tell me if they know anything.

    • stavro375 says:

      Is the European Communion vs Neu Hansa vs Cyrillic Union pretty much Catholic vs Protestant vs Orthodox, and what differences would there be if this is roudhly right?

      I don’t think Neu Hansa is a protestant superstate, because the original Hansa was a merchant union, not religious like communion or Saint Cyril; in Foundation Of Empire TCK mentioned some sort of “League” forming in Europe — maybe a Protestant League?

      What’s going on with Japan?

      Way back in Man On The Sphere, Uriel commented:
      So I think it’s safe to assume that Japan had to be cancelled due to lack of system resources.

      [Lots of other questions about Unsongverse geography]

      I too would like to know all this. Some sort of official map would be cool. But I’m not expecting any Word of Alexander to clear things up.

  45. Sniffnoy says:

    Is anyone else surprised that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists in a recognizable form in 1991 in this world? Or that, like, Israel still has a Prime Minister? You’d expect the whole area to have been overrun with Messiah claimants. They’ve cropped up in conditions much less end-of-the-world than these!

    And yeah the Comet King’s existence is going to put a slight damper on them; but probably not by a huge amount, especially given that he’s set up base in America, and isn’t even properly Jewish…

  46. This might be the explanation of how Uriel turned into Urizen.

    • Samuel Millerick says:

      Hasn’t Uriel always been Urizen?

      • LPSP says:

        Heh, I just noticed a/the pun. Zen is the understanding of nothing or true neutrality/null, so it fits that as Uriel strays further from God’s light, the el in his name becomes zen. Light of God ==> Light of Null.

        Uriel is the most interesting good demiurge I’ve ever seen in fiction.

    • Peter D says:

      I keep telling you, people, Uriel is kind of an asshole… Not sure why we keep thinking he is some naturally good guy.

      • Roman Davis says:

        He saved the world from Thamiel. He turned physics into an API for technology. He’s probably done more good for humanity than any single human (or angel) in this fictional universe, including the comet king.

        • Peter D says:

          So, maybe, he’s not a supervillain bit he’s not too benevolent either. He had his motives for saving the world from Thamiel that possibly have nothing to do with the good of the humans. I am still leaning towards not-too-competent demiurge view but after the destruction of Madrid I am not so sure.

          • teucer says:

            I see him as basically Haber, the enthusiastic war criminal who also gave us all of modern fertilizer. He’s the best, and the worst, and the bad does not wash away the good or vice versa.

      • Murphy says:

        I think he’s nominally on the side of good.
        He seems to be generally sort of against torture and suffering.
        He works constantly to keep the world going and effectively destroyed himself (or at least made himself metaphor) in his previous attempt to keep the world going for humans.

        he can get angry, he can be an asshole and largely he just doesn’t understand others preferences but he’s not particularly evil.

  47. lumatic says:

    An 8 year old girl’s earnest advice ending in the death of millions is terrible placebomancy.

    • lumatic says:

      Perhaps following this event Israel and Palestine sort out their differences.

      Maybe people begin respecting Uriel as well. I mean, how else should you treat someone with so much power?

      • “Perhaps following this event Israel and Palestine sort out their differences.”

        That means, of course, that Hell has finally frozen over.

        • Aegeus says:

          It occurs to me that this takes place less than a year before Yitzhak Rabin takes office in our timeline, generally considered the man who got the closest to making peace in the Middle East (until he got assassinated).

          The fact that his opponent, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, got struck down by an Archangel might give him enough political capital to survive the peacemaking process this time. But the Unsong timeline is surprisingly resilient when it comes to political events, so I’m betting he still got assassinated and the Middle East is still a quagmire.

          I don’t know what the impact of having the Madrid conference (it was a real thing in our timeline, too) fail so spectacularly would be. In our timeline, its impact was mostly symbolic – getting diplomatic recognition for Israel and laying the groundwork for further treaties – rather than resolving any disputes. It’s possible that nuking that groundwork from orbit would prevent further attempts at peace, but it’s also possible that Rabin could make the negotiations happen anyway. He was very dedicated to peace, and I think he would be smart enough to keep Thamiel far, far away from the negotiating table.

          • The coment king says:

            Now I remember when Shamir died a couple of years ago. The universal response in Israel was “wait, he was alive?”

    • LPSP says:

      If it was late in the story, and represented the 8-year old admitting a vulnerability and in doing so forcing someone older to follow the example, I’d agree. But early or in the climactic middle of a story (as its being told), or in the past/setup/prologue to the story (in-universe chronology), the idealistic child’s impulse foisted on the beleaguered adult trying to hold the world together one day at a time – that’s a placebomantic recipe for a nasty backlash.

  48. batin says:

    It said earlier that the traditionally catholic countries of the south and east rallied to church support. What about the ones in the central, west, and north of europe?

    It also said there became a bunch of friars in latin america

  49. Ninmesara says:

    Crackpot theory: Remember last Sohu/Uriel chapter:

    [After Uriel catches a minuteman missile with a message]
    “What if somebody actually tries to bomb you?!”


    Uriel bases his actions on what The Comet King (TCK) tells him. They probably have some kind of telepathic connection so that TCK can warn him about missiles and stuff. I don’t know how TCK is supposed to know if someone wants to bomb Uriel, but lets assume he has some way to do it. Any other method of communication would probably be too slow.

    Now, here in Madrid, Uriel tells a bunch of people they are going to die. Afterwards, there is some kind of explosion, which kills those people and “destroys a city”, like the Wrathful Name is supposed to be capable of. Maybe, someone has actually tried to bomb Uriel using the Wrathful Name. Whether it would have been effective without TKC’s warning (maybe Uriel only survived because he was able to shield himself somehow) we can’t know, but the sequence makes sense and fits better with the joke than if Uriel is merely lashing out due to pressure.

  50. The coment king says:

    a) Slightly annoyed that people assume Uriel was just randomly blowing his fuse. He was acting to stop Thamiel’s plan from succeeding (people wanted him removed from controlling the divine light, and maybe could have done it with Thamiel’s help). This seems consistent with him killing large numbers of people before in order to stop the world from ending.
    b) Supporting evidence for the wrathful name being used by someone (else) here – Aaron said about it “when spoken, it leveled cities.” Not “It could have leveled cities” or something like that.
    c) The “really bad thing” seems more likely to be “using the divine light” over “blowing up a city”, considering their last encounter. And it seems likely that he did make the morally right choice except for the fact that he was using up the divine light – Uriel can react strangely to all sorts of things, but he’s always had a method to it (he’s never committed random acts of violence in anger). If this were purely a response to people shouting at him, seems like he’d just fly away instead of blowing things up.

    • Ninmesara says:

      a) the main reason I assume he might be just blowing his fuse (I hope he isn’t though) is that he seems regretful afterwards. As I said, this seems inconsistent with the character, but as this story advances, I’m losing my faith in consistency as a guide for what’s happening in this story. Hebrew is the language of the names, and Enochian is the language of the angels, but somehow reading the English bible in space resets the Universe?

      b) That’s a good one, but remember how Sohu managed to speak in such a contrived way in order to make it look unlikely that the Comet King was her father. Also note that she managed to mention dining with her father in the presence of the President (Gadiriel’s puppet) without mentioning her mother (which hasn’t been revealed in story yet). I think the lesson here is that you shoudn’t read too much into the character’s exact words, as they seem to be optimized to reveal only what we are supposed to know.

      c) some people here have said that they identify with Uriel “lashing out” (except for the joke, which seems forced). I don’t, but I believe his actions might fit the author’s conception of an autistic Angel.

    • Aran says:

      “when spoken, it leveled cities.” Not “It could have leveled cities” or something like that.

      I wonder if that means it’s safe to say when you’re not near any city.

      (Safe from explosions, that is; not safe from Unsong sentinels coming after you. They must watch out for that one pretty carefully, especially people writing a scroll.)

  51. Timothy Scriven says:

    I think people saying Uriel is evil are missing the point. Uriel is basically good intentioned in some vague sense, but he’s utterly incapable of moral reasoning- rather than evil per se. Reading him as a ‘monster’ is like calling your dog or a toddler a monster, he’s at that level of moral reasoning.

    • The coment king says:

      He’s not “utterly incapable of moral reasoning”, he just does it differently than humans. From a consequentialist perspective, all of his actions were pretty reasonable and most had good consequences, which he knew. His reasoning is different from normal social reasoning but not necessarily worse, especially compared to the typical human in history with his level of power.

      • R Flaum says:

        I… dunno about this. It’s not clear to me what good consequence killing all these diplomats is supposed to have; this really just seems like a hissy-fit. And he kills people because they look like the sort of people who might seethe a kid in its mother’s milk, which doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying that there’s no morality at all to his actions, but it doesn’t really seem like he’s living up even to his own ideals. (Though of course if you know for a fact that there’s an afterlife then killing people might well seem like not such a big deal.)

  52. Marvy says:

    The following article is about fair division:

    I am posting it here because of one off-hand quote, relevant to this chapter:

    “If something like [the Arab-Palestinian conflict] could be mediated by computers, that would be truly wonderful,” he says. “I think we are a far way from that utopia, but I think that’s definitely the end game.”

    Uriel would approve.

  53. From Interlude ו: There’s A Hole In My Bucket:
    “We learned that Uriel, the only entity keeping any of this even slightly functional, has some serious issues of his own and does not entirely inspire confidence.”

  54. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    Uriel should just have reiterated his optimality results.

  55. Some late typo fixes:

    to promise him the land of Canaan to him

    One ‘him’ too many.

    their belief that God had given their forefathers them the land of Israel forever

    Either ‘given their forefathers’ or ‘given them’.

    I propose, ” said Dietrich of Neu Hansa,

    Missing opening quotes.

    “Death to imperialism!” somebody in a mask and declared.

    Stray ‘and’.

    Feel free to delete this comment after you’ve seen it! 🙂 Thanks for the awesome web serial. I’m caught up but I also read it to my primary occasionally, and this is what we read today. He loves your book very much, so thank you very much for writing it!

  56. Edward Dodds says:

    Absolutely hilarious!

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