Morning, May 12, 2017
A ray of early morning sun beat on my face. Clouds flew by me like trucks rushing down a highway, and the heavens seemed to sing. It’s weird. You spend your entire adult life searching for Names of God and hanging out with angels, and the closest you come to a spiritual experience is paddling a flying kayak thousands of feet above San Bernardino County. I was flush with excitement at my close escape and at my other close escape and frankly at being pressed up against Jane so closely and of course at the view where I could see all of Southern California stretching out around us, lines of crumpled mountains one after another, and then…
There’s an old California joke. What happens when the smog lifts? The answer is the name of one of the state’s top colleges: UCLA.
I saw LA.
There was something very precious about the California coast from this perspective, a narrow strip between the foreboding mountains and the endless oceans, a little wire of humanity trapped between the desert and the deep blue sea.
California had come through the last few decades very well. Of all the Untied States, it had been least damaged by the sudden shattering of the neat physical laws of reality into a half-coherent delirium. I think part of the reason was that in a way California had never entirely been a real place. It was impossible to live there for any amount of time and think it was just another state, like Nevada or Ohio or Vermont. It was a state like joy, or exaltation, the ultimate west, part of the world only by a technicality. Named for an Amazon queen in the terrestrial paradise. Colonized by fortune-seekers who were told the rivers were strewn with gold nuggets the size of your fist.
The beach bums and the wannabe actresses and the hippies and the venture capitalists, all alike in that they had one foot on that little patch and the other in some fantasy of their own imagination. From that tiny winding wire of precious flat ground had come John Steinbeck, hippies, gay rights, the computer revolution, Ronald Reagan, every Hollywood movie, blue jeans, Barbie dolls, Joe DiMaggio, fortune cookies, popsicles, lap dances, hula hoops, the Beach Boys, Disneyland, an entire continent’s worth of positive affect scrunched up into a coastline and paved over with Mission architecture.
“How much further?” I asked my mysterious benefactor.
“Not far,” she said. “We’ll land in the outskirts of the city. It should make us harder to notice.” The kayak was a bright white, making its bottom almost invisible from the ground. I wasn’t sure what was keeping the Marines on the cloud above from spotting us. Some kind of enchantment? Stealth technology? Were stealth kayaks even a thing?
“Who are you?” I asked her.
I’d been turning the evidence over in my mind ever since we’d left the citadel. She was young, though I couldn’t say how young. Asian-looking. Perfect English. Tall and thin. Very long hair. Fast. Wore a leather jacket and black pants, like some kind of action movie heroine. Able to decode exotic numbering systems on the fly. Had a flying kayak. Knew her way around an angelic bastion but apparently wasn’t supposed to be there. Tough enough to consider leaving me stuck there, but decent enough to decide against it.
My top guess was spy. If I had to guess a country, Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, but not going to rule out the Great Basin Empire either.
“Loose lips sink ships,” she said, which was either a reference to the old adage about not giving up secret information during a time of war, or else some kind of warning that the spell holding our kayak in the sky was sensitive to noise in the same way as the invisibility spell. By the precautionary principle, I shut up.
Somewhere south of Santa Barbara the dreaminess of California starts to become oppressive, to execresce and take physical form, giving the sky itself a hazy softness like an opium trance. Where the relaxation becomes frantic and the fantasy becomes feverish; a city somehow congested in its sprawl.
Do I even need to discuss the kabbalistic meaning of the name “Los Angeles”? Kabbalah deals with the hidden, but Los Angeles wears its allegiance on its sleeve for all to see. Here Los, the Blakean archetype of the fires of creativity, has his foundry; the iron smith-storyteller god forging dreams for an emotionally starved world. Here, in this city of angels.
Well, one angel. Mostly still an angel. I could barely make out the hilltop compound of Gadiriel, la Reina de los Ángeles, somewhere to the west.
“And who are you, anyway?” Jane asked as we neared the outermost tendrils of the megalopolis. “Sits alone in an angel bastion. Solves locational arithmetic problems. Knows secret Names.”
It could have been a compliment, but it wasn’t, not the way she said it. It was more like chewing me out for daring to be mysterious in her vicinity. Complicating her plans. And the entitlement! Demanding my secrets just a moment after refusing to give up her own!
I was tempted to bargain, knowledge for knowledge. But truth was, I was feeling pretty entitled too. Sure, I was curious what she was doing, what book we had just stolen. But my secrets were more important than hers. I needed to relax somewhere dark and quiet and re-establish full telepathic contact with Ana. Then I needed to get a book on name error correction. Then I needed to get myself a good computer. Then taking over the world and becoming the next Comet King could continue apace.
Sure, it was flattering for her to ask who I was. Wasn’t that what I’d always wanted? “Who is this man, this Aaron Teller, who breaks impossible codes in mere minutes, and knows the hidden holy things?” But going any further with Jane was way too much of a risk.
“Man of mystery,” I said as nonchalantly as I could.
Jane was quiet for a second. Then she grabbed the paddle from me. We hung motionless. She jumped onto the front of the kayak, spun around, took out her pistol, jammed it right into my head.
“You can become invisible,” she hissed. “You know locational arithmetic which means you’ve been doing work that requires locational arithmetic which means you’ve used Friedman’s Conjecture which means you’re a passable kabbalist. Sometimes passable kabbalists get very, very lucky. Maybe one is lucky enough to discover a secret Name that grants invisibility. If he were to do that, the only question is who would get to him first. A nice person, who asks him politely to accompany her to somewhere very far away where he can be debriefed and kept safe? Or a not so nice person, who would torture all his secrets out of him and then kill him to make sure he didn’t tell anyone else?”
“Um,” I said.
“I’m neither,” said Jane. “I’m a practical person. I will ask you politely to accompany me someplace far away where you can be debriefed and kept safe. And if I detect the slightest hesitation in your answer, then I will switch tactics and do the other thing.”
“Um,” I said. “Let’s go to the place.”
“Good,” said Jane. “Now, who are you?”
“My name is Aaron Smith,” I said. “I studied kabbalah in Stanford. With the help of a prophetic dream, I discovered a Name that granted invisibility. I used it to go sneaking around places I shouldn’t, and finally I got cornered, and I spoke the Vanishing Name, and ended up in that library with you.”
“You’re not telling the whole truth,” she said. But she shrugged. “I guess I can’t blame you. Let me give you an offering of goodwill. I work for the Dividend Monks in Colorado. The book we’ve taken records a prophecy given by them in secret and since forgotten, which I was asked to retrieve. We will land, go to the hotel where I am staying, and make contact with our transportation back to Colorado. Once you are there you will stay in the monastery and be questioned further. What happens then is for you to decide. But you seem to have enemies here, and there are worse places for fugitives than the Divide.”
I nodded, mutely. Actually, she was right. There were worse places.
There was a theory that the shape of the Tree of Life corresponded to the shape of the American continent. That would mean that the perfectly balanced center of the Tree, the Pillar of Harmony, corresponded to the Continental Divide. Some mystics claimed that standing exactly on the Continental Divide allowed them to balance the energies, achieve strange powers, and see into the future. They had straggled into Colorado and formed the Dividend Monks, becoming some of the earliest and strongest allies of the Comet King and his children. Colorado was a civilized country, and I could expect better treatment from the Cometspawn than I was likely to get from Malia Ngo or any of the other warlords in what was left of the West. And the Dividend Monks, notwithstanding whatever book they’d needed to send Jane to go steal, had a fantastic library probably filled to the brim with name error correction references. Sit tight on a mountain somewhere, wait for Ana to become powerful enough to rescue me. It sounded like a plan.
We landed on the outskirts of Los Angeles, hid the flying kayak under a pile of wood, then took the bus into town. Jane insisted I hold her hand the whole way; presumably you can never be too cautious with a prisoner who can turn invisible. I didn’t mind. She was pretty, in a scary way. Rich, too, apparently. She was staying at a penthouse suite in the Biltmore. The Dividend Monks must pay well.
When we finally reached her room, she made a beeline for the dresser, opened the third drawer, and retrieved six purple sparkling Beanie Baby dragons.
Then she panicked.
Holding my hand was forgotten. Keeping track of me at all was forgotten. I could have walked straight out the door and spoken the Vanishing Name if I’d wanted to. Maybe I should have. She ransacked the room, slamming open every drawer, looking under the covers, under the bed, tearing open her suitcase and flinging various mysterious objects in every direction. It was like she was having a fit.
“Aaron,” she said to me, when she finally remembered my existence at all. “Somebody has stolen the seventh dragon.”
Now the collection is incomplete, and she will be unable to sell it on eBay for mucho dollars.
Typo thread: “Named an Amazon queen in the terrestrial paradise.” should I assume be “named after” or “named for”.
“It was a state like like joy” – > “It was a state like joy”
“Of all the Untied States” -> “Of all the United States” (unless this is a deliberate commentary on the geopolitical realities…)
How long are people going to keep point this one out like it’s a typo? How many chapters? How many fucking chapters? How stupid do you people think Scott is? How stupid are you people?
Dude, no need to be so mean.
That said, I agree with the basic thrust that if you’re going to be posting in the comments section, you might, y’know, want to be reading them too.
Or, like, reading the previous chapters, where this same “typo” occurs almost a dozen times.
Seven dragons — can anyone recognize where that might be coming from? Doesn’t ring any bells. (Possibly it could be any number of things, given that “seven” and “dragons” are both common.) Now seven dragon balls, on the other hand…
Well how else are you supposed to collect dragon balls if you don’t first have dragons?
You could get seven dragon balls with only four dragons. Three and a half depending on the cut.
Only need three and a half dragons for that.
CAN BE DONE WITH TWO DRAGONS AND A CABALISTIC APPLICATION OF BANACH-TARSKI.
That only gets you two copies of four dragon balls.
The actual algorithm can rearrange any finite solid body to any other body (or union of bodies). So you need only one dragon, actually. Or half, depending on cut.
You can get by with just one dragon, if it’s big enough.
Hmm, a pretty woman in apocalyptic times with seven dragons? Sounds a bit like Rev 12:1, although she is not pregnant. Then there is the other lady in Rev 17:3, who is riding the seven-headed dragon.
Not pregnant yet?
If you’re implying what I think you’re implying, I ship it.
Not known to be pregnant.
Rev 12:6 also has her fleeing into the wilderness, which the Continental Divide definitely is.
Let’s see… seven colors of the rainbow on the Not A Metaphor, but one of them is black instead. Seven dragons in Jane’s drawer, but only six are left. Kind of looking like a pattern. Definite echoes of Revelations there, which does a lot of things with 7 = good, 6 = evil. I’m also continuing to feel the Here There Be Dragons vibe, though I don’t know how likely it is that Scott would intend the reference. More likely it’s just a side effect of both stories being literature/philosophy/history/mythology/language/theology mash-ups.
Well, there 7 days in the week, but one is Shabbat. Obviously Shabbat is good, and to remove it from the week would be evil.
On the other hand, some say that God created the world in 6 days because 6 is a perfect number. Really, 6 can’t be that bad, or else God would have chosen a different number of days to create the world in. But maybe it’s those two zuzim again…
6 is a good, whole, number for regular, 3d nature, and signifies whole-ness. 7 is the icing on the cake that gives it meaning and purpose, something to aim for- a partial edge into the fourth dimension, but not quite yet 8, for a whole new level of understanding.
A glimpse, or a revelation, that there is something bigger out there. Losing your 7 and going back to 6 is losing your purpose…
7 made me think of 7 sails, but the dragons are all (or all but one) purple, so maybe not.
I’m hoping it’s a reference to the Seventh Dragon from the Might & Magic games, but probably not.
Then taking over the world and becoming the next Comet King could continue apace.
The more we learn of the Comet King and his history, the more this is looking like the worst possible thing you could want to become.
Especially the part where CK finds Metatron and largely gives up on his plans. I wonder who could possibly ignore the advice of the highest angel himself in pursuit of glory, whatever the consequences?
What good is a story if the hero isn’t tragic?
I think Brecht wrote about Aristotelian tragedy not inviting the audience to change society for the better, or something.
Another great one!
I really enjoy the story, but there is a lot of stuff that should be well known in-universe that we don’t know, which I find frustrating. Like, is Sohu a famous person who Aaron would recognize? Quite a lot of things pertaining to the Comet King and Cometspawn. And how does the world feel about Thamiel? I’m fine for a world with secrets, but the fact that the characters know things and refuse to tell the readers is the one frustrating thing about this book.
Sohu is famous enough to recognize instantly. The Cometspawn are the children of the Comet King. The world is against Thamiel, but only in the same sense they’re against Putin or North Korea, eg inconsistently and not when he is a useful ally.
This does make it unlikely that Sohu would have a unique name, since, as with any famous person, you would expect many people to name their children after her.
For some reason this comment reminds me of Age of Em
(by the way, we missed you at the Michigan meetup last night. Someone said you have moved away, is that true?)
Yes, I moved to Madison back at the beginning of March. It took you so long to notice? 😛 Meanwhile seems the old meetup group here is defunct, unfortunately, despite still being listed as having regularly scheduled meetups on LW.
Does that mean Jane is NOT Sohu despite coming from Colorado? (Or, alternatively, is disguised somehow?) I mean, the canoe is evidence she’s tied to the cometspawn, now confirmed, so there’s no evidence she is, except conservation of characters.
We know Jane is not Sohu because Sohu is almost certainly still eight.
Unless Uriel has been aging her up at every birthday.
I think the story has overall suggested that this has not been happening. For instance, we know that as late as 2001 she was still eight years old. It’s still technically a possibility, yes.
(Also Scott has said that Aaron would recognize Sohu; I mean, unless Sohu has amazing disguise magic, but given that people in the story do not act as if amazing disguise magic is a known thing, I think we can say that is at best unlikely.)
Hm. I agree it makes sense that’s not happening. But honestly, even if she IS that famous, if it turns out (1) she was being aged-up (2) she doesn’t normally dress like that and Aaron just doesn’t recognise her, I wouldn’t feel cheated, so I don’t feel it’s definitively ruled out.
Not to dispute the meaning of Scott’s comment or anything, but is North Korea *ever* a useful ally? I mean maybe to China, but I feel like the Chinese just kind of see them as a liability at this point.
The DPRK sells quite a lot of raw materials to China, which would probably be more expensive if SK had the entire peninsula.
My guess is that the DPRK needs the backing of China for its continued existence and if the DPRK were not an asset to China, China would not back it.
Maybe not really, but I think the point is that countries WOULD deal with them if they WERE a useful ally.
Yeah, that’s how I feel. I don’t necessarily want Scott to change anything, because it’s hard to find the right balance and what he’s doing now seems to be working. And I do love figuring these things out as we go along. But I do feel frustrated when things are a mystery when it seems they would be common knowledge to anyone in the world.
But Scott, also, thank you for clarifying those particular questions.
Come to think of it, it reminds me a bit of roleplaying, when the GM *thinks* something is obvious, but it’s occasionally not clear to the players what’s supposed to be obvious and what isn’t.
It’s a case of transparency illusion. It’s not so much that Scott thinks they’re obvious, it’s that he doesn’t realize he never explained them. I’m suffering some of the same frustrations with the text that I do with some GMs, because all the characters know a lot of things that I don’t know, which means I can’t properly model them and I get somewhat disengaged from the story.
I note that Scott is being criticized both for too much and too little exposition. This suggests that at this point, the amount of exposition cannot be changed without trade-offs, and so is at least not trivially incorrect in either direction.
Not to comment on the story (I think it’s doing fine), but this argument is fallacious. “Exposition” is not a linear quantity; it’s colored by what it reveals. Too much useless exposition and not enough useful exposition can both be true at the same time, and each can be separately corrected to make a story better.
The solution that seems obvious to me that I’m surprised isn’t used more often is to have a low exposition main story with an extremely detailed appendix for those of us with large appetite for background information.
I disapprove of people who would demand this separation.
IIRC Scott originally said that the chapters would contain the main story and the interludes the background information, but I’m not seeing it.
There’s some of that at work, but even to the extent that the segregation exists the way the interludes are interleaved with the chapters doesn’t really give the same “you can skip this if you don’t care” vibe an Appendix would.
In all seriousness I’m hyped to see how the Cometspawn deal with Aaron.
I do have to wonder what’s going on in Colorado. The Cometspawn have regained control from the Other King? Or what?
Maybe I mispoke somewhere, but the Other King captured the western 75% of the Comet King’s empire (Arizona, Utah, Nevada, parts of Mexico), and the Cometspawn held the eastern 25% (Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs)
I see! Yes, I don’t recall that ever being clarified earlier.
Will we get to see a world map at some point?
That would be great.
A map would help immensely.
I’m pretty sure I remember a reference to the West children being under siege, which gave the impression they controlled very little territory.
See, I had understood it as the Other King having taken all of the Comet King’s territory, and the West children being in the one holdout fort.
They’re under siege in the sense that they only hold a couple of cities and are being very gradually pushed back.
Hmm, so at least going by names, that would make the Great Basin Empire either the Other King’s territory or a successor state.
If the former, that adds an important subtext to Aaron’s suspicion that Jane might be a spy for them.
It is worth asking why the version of the vital name in chapter 7 is the same as the version in chapter 1.
My theory is that it doesn’t do what he thinks it does. Possibly it moves souls instead of creating them. If we consider his “marriage” to Ana as combining their souls into one, then perhaps it doesn’t work for her either because she no longer has one either, and the computer got both.
Of course, this is presuming that you can survive without one, and I don’t think we have evidence either way.
Or, going out on a limb, perhaps there’s two systems of intelligence: the biological brain and the soul. If physics is still working enough, then he and Ana might be living without their souls because they have functional brains.
Why can Aaron only get error correction algorithms from books? this plot is in 2017. He has internet. Every important algorithm for cabbalistic error correction would presumably be one Google search away. Even if he can’t find already-made programs and tutorials, he should still be able to get the papers.
I think Aaron should recognize Sohu. From chapter 1: “Gebron and Eleazar’s classic textbook says that only four kabbalists have ever gazed upon Adam Kadmon bare. Rabbi Isaac Luria. The archangel Uriel. The Comet King. And an eight year old girl.” Given that the Comet King is her father and that she was learning from Uriel, I doubt that it’s someone else. Though it’s quite possible that that is the only way in which she was ever famous, with no picture in the book. The timings seem to work out, though.
Book 1 seemed to be going somewhere, but now there seems to be no direction or conflict or any of the typical story things. I’m starting to lose interest, simply because it’s not obvious what the conflict or the goal is. The vital name plot was good, but now this entire thing feels like some sort of side story where they all go off and have random adventures before getting back to it for the end. I would love to start seeing what the point is, but so far I’m not–all we have is some sort of threat to the world in 30 years or so when the divine light powering Uriel’s machine runs out. Am I missing something I should be getting?
Maybe the algorithms are partially restricted because they’re used in Kaballistic research and the big corporations and unsong don’t want anyone else playing with that. Or maybe the internet is somewhat broken because the laws of physics changed. Or maybe a quiet place with an internet connection would just as good, but Aaron is concentrating on getting somewhere safe, and thinks of “library” because he’s a massive nerd. I mean, post-hoc justifications don’t really help, I don’t think it’s a plot hole per se, but I agree it’s not clear to the reader and could be more specified.
Yes, with the introduction of the seven dragons, I am a little wary of just how wandering the plot has gotten. I’m hoping that the coming explanation might tie things back up a bit. If not, well, at least that’s probably all there’s going to be, since we’re probably something like halfway through book 2.
I dunno, doing math there’s a fair amount of papers I’ve only been able to find in printed collections and have had to go to the library for. It wouldn’t be my first place to look, certainly. But I assumed he was trying to avoid internet searches to avoid suspicion mostly.
Yeah. It doesn’t seem like he’s fixated on books as if the internet wouldn’t work – He went to the Stanford library when it was convenient (and presumably he wanted to avoid the internet), and since then he hasn’t really had the opportunity for either.
I would also bet that the internet isn’t as much of a thing as it is in our world. The fact that UNSONG can tightly control the use of Names, when in the real world software piracy is basically unstoppable, suggests that there isn’t a huge thriving online community for sharing information.
My guess is that all the techies who would have gone into computer science instead started working for theonomics corporations. And with advanced technology breaking down, it might not even be possible to build the modern internet. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wikipedia doesn’t exist or the only search engine available is AltaVista.
I believe the story doesn’t give the full name, only the beginning and end. Aaron might have made a mistake in the middle part, there’s no way for us to tell. Though my working assumption is that he hasn’t, but that it only works on things you own. When it failed, he was trying to use it on a borrowed computer. The real answer is probably more complicated than that. 🙂
I’m currently assuming that the vital name only works once per class of object. Further living computers have to be created from a part of the first one’s frame or something.
As per Adam and Eve? Very clever. And very much in keeping with the tone of the book.
…oh! That would make a lot of sense.
Consider: the whole point of giving the computer a soul is to allow it to use Names. Aaron and Ana are still able to use Names. Therefore they must still have souls.
Huh, true. That hadn’t occurred to me. I could stretch my theory to fit it, but any theory can be stretched to fit anything if you add enough terms.
I think Aaron knows exactly what it does but can’t interpret it well.
The ensouling name ensouls objects. Not “an object”, just “objects”.
I love this story. It is occasionally incredibly silly, and I love it all the more for it.
Now that Gadiriel has reappeared, I’d say it’s pretty likely that we’ll see Samyazaz again as well. I wonder what he’s getting up to?
Incidentally, where is Scott getting these spellings for the angel names? I looked them up, and Wikipedia has:
I could not find any results at all for Scott’s spellings.
Took me a bit, but is apparently a typo of excresce. (Today, I learnt a new word!)
Why is Gadiriel important enough to warrant being *the* LA angel? I don’t think he (she?) was an archangel, and the likes of Pirindiel don’t seem to be particularly important to anyone.
Well, presumably she’s set up shop as some sort of ruler or protector or advisor here. We’ve already seen back in chapter 20 that there seems to be a difference between the ordinary angels and the Watchers; angel vs. archangel doesn’t seem to be the only relevant distinction. The Watchers are usually called “fallen angels”, but there would appear to be more than one mode of fall. Note also this chapter refers to her as “mostly still an angel” — part demon? Apparently demons exist, and have overtaken much of Siberia, but nothing’s been said so far about where they come from.
Gadiriel fell alongside Samyazaz and the other Grigori because they were sent to watch humanity in the pre-Thamiel days, and then ended up going native. So she’s been at this much, much longer than any of the newly fallen angels have – she has both angelic power and human flexibility.
(S)he seems to have claimed the title Queen of the Angels, so presumably if there are enough fallen angels wandering around, maybe they have some loose kind of system of trying to set up a society, or some of them at least are trying to establish a hierarchy or self-goverance or something.
Or (s)he could be emulating Emperor Norton and have declared (her)self de facto Queen of the City of Angels by virtue of being an angel 🙂
I’m glad you mentioned the Beach Boys and Mission architecture as elements of positive affective culture. These are two of my favorite things!
Okay so can someone clear something up for me? Did Aaron and Ana actually forget the exact wording for the Divine Name, or is there something more at play here? Because it seems very convenient for the forces of evil that they would lose the name and Sarah at such a crucial juncture. Almost like a coincidence. And nothing is ever a coincidence.
We don’t know yet. Aaron is assuming he forgot the name, but it’s entirely possible – even likely – that some other force is at work.
Like, the kind of force that knows NOTHING WILL GO WRONG when trying to mess with Malia Ngo herself; the kind of force that knows names that call the winds and who knows what else, the kind of force that steals everything from laptops to dragons from right from under your nose.
Aaron created a god, and there was this whole chapter with the Unitarian meeting in which God being a singleton is emphasized over and over. There can be only one God.
And when are going to get back to the whole Vital-Name loophole God Emperor plan. I liked that, and it feels like we’ve been on a side quest for like the last 15 chapters. This feels less… Rationalist-y. I dunno, it just feels more like a conventional story and less like a rational fic about a clever man taking over the universe using recursion.
Thou shalt not try to classify/pigeonhole this story. It is in a category all its own.
Misread this as “It is a category all the way down”, which amused me greatly.
I don’t think this story was ever supposed to be that. Aaron’s not exactly a rational guy.
Agreed (and I’m very grateful it isn’t trying to be a rational fic).
It constantly astounds me how many people expect a story where the number eight gets taken down for repairs to be rational.
Every chapter of this gets posted on /r/rational. I’ve tried to make the argument that it’s not trying to be rational and shouldn’t be judged as such, but I have a feeling that’s going to get brought up right up until the end and maybe even after that.
But if it is not rational fiction, how does it glorify God?
+10 Also, that was a favorite moment for me in that interlude. 🙂
I found this under tvtropes/RationalFic is all.
It’s certainly the most rational story possible where that happens, I’d say.
I thought the number eight was already an integer?
Used to be. Then it was broken for a while.
Don’t worry, it’s an integer again now.
I think it’s less a “a rational fic about a clever man taking over the universe using recursion” and more a “rational fic about a clever man who is indeed clever but not quite as clever as he thinks he is, and how trying to take over the universe has been attempted before him, and the ways it goes wrong” 🙂
Most of my favorite stories are about clever people proving slightly less clever than they think they are. This is no exception.
I occasionally see people in these comments gripe about how your story is bringing in new plot arcs, or has some other flaw that the person doesn’t like.
I just wanted to be a counterweight against those complaints. I’m loving this story. You could world-build for another 100 chapters and I’d still be here every week.
Though I don’t mean to bash on the commenters – I’m quite sure we’ll reach a point where I won’t be able to properly figure out what’s going on without you all. Unless that’s already happened.
Please don’t change story based on commentors.
+1 to this.
I occasionally complain about something or other, and I worry that makes it seem like I’m critical of it.
But it would probably be a good idea (for PR reasons) to emphasize to fans that there’s no promise of rationalfic style.
This is clearly not rational fic at all… I don’t think readers should need to be reassured about it 🙂
Gadriel, LA = Galadriel, this is probably deliberate. I bet he’ll see the future somehow.
It’s Gadiriel, with two i’s. Otherwise I’d be so totally on board with this.
Just add “I,” the word.
It’s probably just a typo on your part, but Gadiriel is female in this story.
This is as good a place as any to bring up something that’s been bothering me from the start…
What are the odds of Aaron getting an exact prefix for the Ensouling Name as his last word of the day, such that he can complete it just by saying “meh” a bunch of times? Already Chapter 1 had mentioned that the names the computer was giving him at that point were suspiciously long. Given what we know about coincidences, I’m strongly inclined to think that there was a conspiracy afoot to *get* Aaron to say the Ensouling Name. For someone who wanted it discovered and used (but not by a theonomic corporation) and couldn’t say it themselves for some reason (see below), Aaron would be basically the perfect person to give it to. He’s a kabbalist who would understand the Name’s implications, he’s had experience keeping secrets from UNSONG and the theonomics, he’s with the Unitarians, and he’s just clueless enough not to realize that he’s a pawn.
As for who would be giving Aaron the name, I’ve got two guesses. First, maybe the Comet King worked out some way to communicate from… wherever he is, and has the ability to manipulate computers, and is trying to upset the balance of power. Second, maybe there’s already a sentient computer program out there that somehow got the animal and moral souls mentioned in Chapter 1, but not the divine spark. If it developed genius-level kabbalah ability and worked out the Ensouling Name, it would still need to get a human to speak that name over a computer so it could get the ability to speak names itself.
TL;DR: There must be a reason why Aaron found the Ensouling Name… BNIEAC.
Huh. That last one actually seems pretty plausible, given the happenings with Sarah.
I can’t find the, right now, but I have made more specific predictions, namely that this entity might be raziel (angel of secrets). I think the man from UNSONG might have been raziel in disguise. Also, you’ve forgotten something: aaron is probably the only sweatshop worker that can memorize the name after speaking it once. How does raziel know it? Because he is using a telepathic channel he can eavesdrop (“the angels might be powerful enough to edit the bible”) and probably manipulate. Also, remember raziel might be able to cross beyond the crystal sphere, and imprint thoughts on people who are high on LSD. Where did Ana’s idea of climbing the tower and calling the winds come from?
In addition, just look at how telepathy seems to work according to the needs of the plot: in chapter 1, when aaron needs som pe human contact to get away from the drudgery of his job, it fails to work (so that he is so frustrated that he says “meh” 6 times after he’s free?), it fails during the UNSONG raid, and it misteriouly works just well enough to transmit a name.
In the context of Book I’s Chapter 9, it seems like a plausible explanation to me that Aaron found the name simply because Reality likes a good story 😀
Oops, of course I meant Chapter 8. I guess the number 8 was down again briefly 😛
Long-time lurker here. I feel as though there are a disproportionate number of critical (helpfully or unhelpfully) comments that I wanted to help balance out – I love this story, I love how many threads there are and I’m so excited to see them all eventually tied together, I think the pacing and style are great, I love how complex the worldbuilding is because it reflects the real world, which is complicated! The way that you’re gradually giving readers bits and pieces of information is working well, at least for my reading experience, and it makes the story very natural- and organic-seeming, as opposed to those amateurish stories where two characters have stilted conversations “reminding” each other of things and events that they both already know for the sake of exposition. Also, it’s impressive how regular and speedy your update schedule is, so many kudos for that. Keep up the good work.
>the iron smith-storyteller god
Nice catch. Does the phrase have another meaning though? It kinda confused me.
presumably it refers to a god who’s both an iron smith and a storyteller
Try pronouncing ‘iron’ like ‘aaron’.
Theory: This has absolutely no relevance to the rest of the story. Scott noticed an opportunity for seemingly-meaningful wordplay and took it, without plans to follow up on it. Many of the patterns we notice in Unsong are of a similar nature.
Are you suggesting that it’s a coincidence?
Umm… This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a- but doesn’t it follow from I just said that… Um… *explodes*
“I think part of the reason was that in a way California had never entirely been a real place. It was impossible to live there for any amount of time and think it was just another state, like Nevada or Ohio or Vermont.”
We New Yorkers resent the insinuation that New York is a real place.
Which reminds me… What’s Samyazaz up to?
I’ve been to New York and agree with you, there’s too much New York there to possibly fit into the space it occupies.
That’s just because Peter Minuit was a Time Lord. What did you think the Daleks wanted with Manhattan?
Agreed; spent a season in New York last year and I’m pretty sure it’s some type of Hell.
I thought that’s only true of Thamiel’s embassy.
OTOH, New York is the headquarters of a nasty bureaucracy (Unsong) and a nasty terrorist group (BOOJUM). According to Alfred Bester, it’s also the headquarters of BBDO (Beelzebub, Belial, Devil, and Orgy).
I should have been able to predict that Jane was going to threaten Aaron into coming with her and answering her organization’s questions. Malia Ngo was going to do the same, and Aaron spoke the Vanishing Name.
Good point! This also implies that she isn’t as friendly as she seems — at the moment, it appears that she doesn’t want to hurt Aaron but sees threatening him as the only safe way to keep him under control. Perhaps that’s just a ruse.
Alternatively, that Malia Ngo isn’t as unfriendly as she seems
I consider this to be quite likely.
We’ve already got a villain(?) who succeeds because he frames his actions as heroics; maybe Malia is a hero who succeeds (or endures) because she frames her actions as villainy.
Considering that a very significant portion of this story is built on puns, I am surprised that no one made THAT ONE so far… so I guess I am going to make it, even if it gets me banned from the comments here and sent off to shovel snow on the vast plains of Siberia. So, yeah… why dost thou come to angels’ eyes? I’ve heard it kinda stings!
I hope you dye horribly and it won’t wash out.
That’d be “on”, but I still snickered.
Something happened that gave humans superpowers (Divine Names), hints that someone knows the future (“ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG”), entropy taking over the universe (the divine light is running out), people who want to talk to God (those who board All your Heart/Not a Metaphor). We’ve been here before. Shoo out those sissy wissy Jewish nerds, BRUTE STRENGTH IS THE ANSWER.
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