aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 30: Over The Dark Deserts

You don’t truly understand necromancy if you can’t explain it to your great-great-great-grandmother.
Steven Kaas

Evening, May 12, 2017
Mojave Desert


California shifted around us. Plains, then mountains, then taller mountains sloping down at last into a mind-boggling flatness of desert. And there we were. I had spent my entire life in that tiny strip of California coastline between the mountains and the sea. Now I was in the real West, a Biblical wilderness of scrub and harsh rocks unlike anything I had seen before. The land where the great dramas of the late twentieth century had played out, the twin stories of the Comet King and the Other King. In the blazing sunlight it felt more real and solid than the dreamland I had left behind.

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the Wall Drug signs began to appear.

Before the sky cracked, Wall Drug had been a shopping center in South Dakota. There aren’t a lot of things in South Dakota, so the owners of the shopping center had tried to turn it into a tourist attraction. They put up billboards along the highway – “Only thirty miles to Wall Drug!” – “Only twenty miles to Wall Drug!” – “Only another ten miles to go before WALL DRUG!” Presumably the expectation of getting ever closer would turn an ordinary shopping center into some sort of transcendental recreational/commercial experience. The radius had grown. “Only fifty miles to Wall Drug!” “Wall Drug, in just another hundred miles!” Finally, it metastasized through the entire Midwest, becoming the omphalos of its own coordinate system: “I don’t know what state we’re in, but it’s only another two hundred eighty miles to Wall Drug.” Some wag at US McMurdo Station had briefly planted a “9,333 Miles To Wall Drug” sign at the South Pole.

After the sky cracked, the Wall Drug coordinate system started to impose itself more and more upon the ordinary coordinate system of longitude and latitude. Worse, the two didn’t exactly correspond. You could be driving from New York to New Jersey, and find a billboard promising Wall Drug in only thirty miles. Drive another ten, and sure enough, WALL DRUG, TWENTY MILES. Drive ten more, and you’d be promised a South Dakotan shopping center, only ten miles away. Drive another ten, and…who knows? No one has returned from Wall Drug in a generation. It’s become not only an omphalos, but a black hole in the center of the United States, a one-way attraction and attractor fed by an interstate highway system which never gives up its prey. Some say it is in Heaven, others in Hell, others that it remains in South Dakota, from which no word has been heard for thirty years.

Interstate travel is still possible, but it follows a very specific pattern. You go forward until you see a Wall Drug billboard. Then you hastily switch directions and go back to the previous city, transferring you back to the normal American landscape. Then you tentatively go forward again. After enough iterations, you can make it from Point A to Point B intact. But if ever you see a Wall Drug billboard and continue to travel, the land will start looking less and less like where you came from, more and more like the grassy semi-arid plains of South Dakota. Once that happens, you can still turn back. But if you turn back too late, you may find that Wall Drug is in that direction too, that every point of the compass brings you closer to Wall Drug, with no choice but to remain in place forever or go boldly towards that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

This was what had happened to the Midwest. That close to the omphalos, even a few feet down a side street would be enough to lose yourself forever. Automobile travel became impossible between the Mississippi and the Rockies. Thousands of small farming communities lost their lifelines to the outside world. Large cities dependent on food shipments starved, right in the middle of amber fields of grain. Then came the Broadcast to finish them off. A few small farms survived here and there, but otherwise the Plains were as empty as they had been when the buffalo roamed.

Jane cursed, and we started looking for an exit. We turned back to Barstow, then turned back around. We’d only gone about ten miles before another Wall Drug sign made us repeat the whole cycle.

“I’m tired,” said Jane. “You drive.”

“I don’t know how,” I said. I’d grown up in Oakland, which wasn’t very car-friendly. And by the time I turned sixteen, technology had declined to the point where only the more expensive models with the Motive Name were still working.

“You put your foot on the pedal, and if something is in your way you turn this big wheel here,” said Jane. “It’s the Mojave Desert. There’s nothing for a hundred miles. You’ll live.”

So I drove. It was a nice car. A white Cadillac. The scholars tell us that God drives a Plymouth Fury, for it is written in Jeremiah 32:37: “He drove them out of the land in His Fury”. But the Twelve Apostles shared a Honda Accord, for it is written in Acts 5:12: “They were all with one Accord”. The commentators speculate this may have been the same car Jesus used when he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, though if there were more than four or so moneychangers it might have required a minor miracle. My mother used to have a really old beat-up Honda Accord. For all I know maybe it was the same one they used in the New Testament. It gave up the ghost after a year or so and we were back to taking buses.

I wondered what she would think seeing me now, behind the wheels of a Cadillac. Cadillacs were from a different world, the world of CEOs and Silicon Valley theonomics. I’d read the history of the company once; it was named for Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the man who founded Detroit. His name comes in turn from the French words “ca du lac,” meaning “house by the lake”. A man named “house by the lake” founded the city of Detroit. This was not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

LAS VEGAS, 141 MILES, the sign said as it whizzed past.

Las Vegas comes from Spanish “vega” meaning “meadow”, but we Anglophones have a different association. Vega is the brightest star in the summer sky. Its name comes from the Arabic word “waqi” meaning “falling”, because they thought its constellation looked like a bird falling from the heavens. You know who else was the brightest of stars before falling from Heaven? Right. That’s who you named your city after. Good going, Spaniards. And so of course it became the sinfulness capital of the world.

Las Vegas means “the meadows”, but it also means “the fallen ones”. Kabbalistically, we were traveling from a city named “the angels” to a city named “the fallen ones”. We were doing this even though the power of nominative determinism was so strong that a man whose name meant “house by the lake” had just so happened to found the biggest American city on the continent’s biggest lake.

We were not clever people. I hoped that Ana would get here sooner rather than later.


Beyond Barstow was Yermo, whose name meant “wilderness”, and Nebo, named for the tomb of Moses. On we drove, over the Hollow Hills, through the Yarrow Ravine Rattlesnake Habitat, past the Alien Jerky Store. We passed Zzyzx – a name made for kabbalistic analysis if ever there was one. We sped through the dishonestly-named dingy border town of Primm, then the honestly-named dingy border town of Roach. We saw the Spring Mountains, crossed to the far side of Paradise.

I had hoped Jane would fall asleep so I could escape, but of course no such luck. She took out the book we had stolen from the angels and leafed through it, going back to read the same few pages again and again. Finally I’d had enough.

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Mind your own business,” Jane told me, but without anger. More in a dreamy, distant way as she watched the scenery speed past.

So I pressed my luck. “I’m falling asleep here. You can at least give me some conversation.”

Jane nodded. “Fine,” she said. “A riddle for you. How is Rhode Island like a falling bird?”

I answered without even thinking. “There is Providence in both.”

Jane smiled a tiny bit. Maybe I had passed some kind of test? But she just said: “Explain”.

“It’s a line from Shakespeare. ‘There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.’ But he’s paraphrasing Matthew 10:29, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.'”

“Yes,” said Jane. “But what does it mean?”

I’d never heard a kabbalistic gloss on those verses before. The top rabbis wouldn’t even touch the New Testament. But the basic point was clear enough: “During Jesus’ time, little birds like sparrows were used as a cheap sacrificial offering for people who couldn’t afford bigger ones. People at the marketplace sold them for a pittance, so they became a metaphor for anything insignificant or worthless. Jesus said God nevertheless watches over each one. And so we should be heartened, for if He watches over these birds He must certainly watch over us.”

“Anything else?” asked Jane.

“The Shakespeare quote is from Hamlet,” I recalled. “Horatio predicts Hamlet will lose a fight and suggests he bail. But Hamlet doesn’t care about the odds. He says ‘We defy augury’, then paraphrases the verse from Matthew. If everything happens according to a divine plan, he’s got nothing to fear.”

“Anything else?”

“There are a bunch of verses from William Blake that say pretty much the same thing. Um. ‘A Skylark wounded in the wing / A Cherubim does cease to sing.’ Some others along those lines.”

“Anything else?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“It might be the secret of the Other King.”

I almost drove the car into a cactus.


In the mid ’90s, Las Vegas was on edge with rumors of some kind of necromantic cult. The Comet King had come to the city, smoked out the cultists, and personally executed the leader. There it should have ended.

As the century drew to a close, the rumors started up again. Killing the leader had only made him stronger. Now he was regrouping. Those who died in the fight against him became soldiers in his armies. He wore a deep scarlet robe with a hood covering his head. No one had ever seen his face.

The Comet King had other problems now. His great crusade had failed. His wife was dead. He kept to his room, leaving the day-to-day work of governance to his Cometspawn. They were less confident than he was. They stayed out of Las Vegas, delegated the problem to subordinates, hoped it would take care of itself.

In March 2001, the necromancer seized control of Vegas in a spectacular coup. There was no bloodshed. Black-robed figures with skeletal faces and inhuman strength came from nowhere and demanded the allegiance of the city’s governor and garrison. The necromancer declared himself a king and took up residence beneath the great black pyramid of Luxor. He didn’t provide an origin story or even say how his subjects should address him. The partisans of the Comet King began calling him “the other king”, and the name stuck.

The Comet King, still brokenhearted, at first refused to leave his mourning chamber. But when his children begged and cajoled him, he rose from his bed, gathered his armies, and took up the great sword Sigh for the last time. He marched west. The Other King and his undead legions marched east. On July 29 they met in the Never Summer Mountains near Fort Collins, and the two armies fought each other to a stalemate.

Then the Other King himself took the field, ripping through the Comet King’s troops with secret Names of fire and night. The Coloradan line began to buckle. And so the Comet King, looking terribly old with his white hair and lined face, strode to the front of his ranks and challenged the necromancer to single combat.

They fought high above the earth, darting in and out of clouds, their attacks shooting like lightning to the barren ground beneath. The mountains shook. Some cracked. The air thundered with the sound of forbidden magic.

The Comet King’s body dropped lifeless to the ground.

The Coloradans fell back in horror and rout, but the Cometspawn moved among them, rallying their troops. The Cometspawn broke through the enemy ranks to rescue their father’s body. The undead seemed timid, offering only token resistance. Finally, the dark armies retreated back to Las Vegas. Spies reported that the Other King had been gravely wounded, a Fisher King wound that never healed, his mind intact but his body hopelessly mangled.

From then on, he stayed underneath his pyramid, directing his armies from afar. If Colorado had hoped his injury would slow his conquests, they were disappointed. First Nevada fell. Then Arizona, and all New Mexico west of Santa Fe. The Cometspawn lost battle after battle. They retreated behind the Rockies, abandoning the rest of their empire. And when the Other King had finished, he sent his armies into the Rocky Mountains, where over the span of years they advanced mile by bloody mile, growing over closer to the last redoubt of Coloradan power.

If Jane really was a Dividend Monk, then she was part of that last redoubt. The secrets of the Other King would be more important than anything else she could bring back to her besieged people.

“How is it the secret of the Other King?!”

“Back in ’01,” Jane told me, “when the Cometspawn first started worrying about the Other King, they sent their advisor Father Ellis to the Dividend Monks in Taos to get an oracular pronouncement on who the King was and where he’d come from. By the time Ellis returned to Colorado Springs, the Comet King was back in the game, Ellis told him the pronouncement directly. Then the Comet King died, Ellis disappeared, and now even the Cometspawn don’t know what the oracle said. But the Dividend Monks meticulously record all their prophecies because the trance never tells them the same thing twice. Whatever they told Father Ellis went straight into their archives. When Taos fell to the Other King six years ago, the monks brought their relics and archives to Angel Fire, and from there the relics were flown up to the angels themselves for safekeeping. That’s what we got there. The archives of the Taos monastery. And that was the monks’ answer to Ellis. That riddle.”

“Las Vegas’ name means fallen bird,” I blurted out.


“The name of the star Vega comes from the Arabic word waqi, meaning ‘fallen’ or ‘falling’. They named it that because the constellation looked like a bird falling from the sky. So Las Vegas could mean ‘the fallen birds’. And the Other King’s secret is that not a bird falls to the ground without God’s decision. There is providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

“Huh,” said Jane, and upon her features flashed very briefly that look I had seen when I figured out the angels’ filing system. As if briefly remembering I was a human being instead of a pet or object, and seeming a little uncomfortable with the fact. “That’s…interesting.”

“But not very actionable,” I said.

“No,” Jane agreed. I imagined she’d been hoping for some secret weakness that Colorado could use to turn the tide of combat. A kabbalistic connection between the Book of Matthew, the city of Las Vegas, and divine providence didn’t seem immediately helpful.

“Will you be safe in Vegas?” It wasn’t a good place to be a Coloradan operative.

“No,” she said. “Neither of us will be. I’m sorry I had to bring you here, Aaron. Really, I am.”

And then we passed out the belly of the last little valley, and before us loomed the towers of Las Vegas, capital of the Great Basin. Jane looked more nervous than I’d ever seen her. We switched places; she took the wheel. Beggars and prostitutes and drug dealers started knocking on our car windows at the stoplights, making their respective pleas.

The sun set behind the Red Rock Mountains as we checked into the Stratosphere Hotel. I repeated Jane’s secret to myself, like a mantra. Even in a falling bird, there is providence. Even in Las Vegas, God is with us. Somewhere.

Night fell upon the city of the Other King.

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292 Responses to Chapter 30: Over The Dark Deserts

  1. LPSP says:


    • LPSP says:

      I made that post thinking I could edit it to include more content, but a self-reply will have to suffice. So it turns out necromancy is serious business, and if William Blake is to be believed, Las Vegas embodies the suffering of the entire universe. Crikey.

      I wonder how tall the Comet King got before he died.

      • I wonder if his attempt to grow up faster caused him to age faster later, too.
        Also, I’m giving this a +1 to the probability of TOK being the Acher.

        • LPSP says:

          Oh that’s almost explicitly the case. I’m wondering whether he is a Nephil (someone pointed out last thread to me that Nephilim is plural) and so not only grew faster but taller over all. Spess Mehreens in my Unsong, really.

          • Almost but not quite: It mentions that his white hair and lined face made him look old, but his hair was always white. (The face probably does imply that he’s old, though).
            I wonder who his wife was.

          • LPSP says:

            Bah, I forgot his hair was white. (or was it blonde?).

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Sudden thought on that idea: What if it’s all a big pun? “Oh, you thought it was Elijah who never actually died, and was supposed to come back to herald the Messiah? No, it was Elisha.”

          I don’t think this is actually the case — this has the big problem that Elisha lived much later than Elijah, and also if we’re doing Elijah/Elisha swaps there’s also an actual prophet Elisha.

          In supporting evidence for it, though, it would explain Uriel’s failure to account for where Acher might have gone.

          (Would that make The Other King Sandalphon, then? An evil Sandalphon? Yeah this idea is just too weird I think. Although having Metatron and Sandalphon be opposites of a sort does have a certain ring to it, perhaps? But it doesn’t quite match up, especially when you try to factor in Neil Armstrong and Thamiel.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Argh, runaway italics. Uh, only the initial “Elijah” was supposed to be italicized.

          • dsotm says:

            Somewhere (author note ?) Scott wrote that Sandalphon was rolled into Uriel and that makes sense since we saw him as the Torah-giver.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Did he write that? The only thing I recall on the subject is this, where all he says on the matter is “Second, I replace Sandalphon with Uriel, for a bunch of complicated reasons that I don’t want to reveal entirely right now because I’m hoping against hope that readers will eventually figure them out.” I don’t think that implies Sandalphon has been rolled into Uriel. Sandalphon could be rolled into Uriel; or he could just be demoted from archangel; or he could be gone entirely; or something else.

          • LPSP says:

            It certainly adds a sort-of square balance to our current pantheon of prime powers.

            Up – Metatron, the utterly passive Mouth of God.
            Left – Thamiel, evil-maximizer
            Down – Sandalphon, who just wants to party
            Right – Neil Armstrong, a mortal arisen to holy heights
            Centre – Uriel, just trying to make the numbers add up

          • dsotm says:

            That’s the one, I took it to mean Sandalphon will not be making an appearance.
            We already have Neil Armstrong as another human being elevated to divine levels

          • dsotm says:

            Re: the Elija/Elisha pun

            So Elisha is anglicized as Elisseus, which may or may not be the same as latin Ulysses, which is in turn the latinized name of Odysseus, of the Odyssey fame which in turn goes to theodicy and the other Elisha.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Also I guess if Acher made a point of breaking all the laws, he must have practiced necromancy. Admittedly more likely in the “speaking to dead people” sense rather than the “zombification” sense, but…

          • LPSP says:

            >of the Odyssey fame which in turn goes to theodicy

            Now THAT is brilliant.

          • dsotm says:

            That was already spotted with the group house being named Ithaca

          • LPSP says:

            I don’t get it, what’s the significance of the name Ithaca?

          • dsotm says:

            It’s the hometown of Odysseus, where the Oddisey begins and ends

          • Decius says:

            The Oddissy begins in Troy, doesn’t it?

          • LPSP says:

            And now I know. Decius, nope, the Trojan War/Iliad and the Odyssey are seperate chapters of the Greek Epic Cycle. Think of Troy as the prequel to Odysseus’s wanderings.

          • If the Trojan war is the prequel, shouldn’t the Odyssey begin at the end of it, when Odysseus is in Troy?

          • boris says:

            @The Coment King: The short answer is that both were only two of a number of epic poems about the Trojan War. They weren’t composed as prequel and sequel, per se; they’re just two related works, the only ones that survived the centuries intact (though fragments of others exist).

          • Andrew M says:

            The Odyssey does indeed begin in Ithaca, because it starts with Telemachus’ search for this father. (And when we finally catch up with Odysseus, in book 5, he’s on Calypso’s island. We don’t get to Troy until book 9, where it turns up as part of a flashback.)

          • Andrew M says:

            Grrr – his father.

        • Psmith says:

          Who’s the Acher again?

      • LPSP says:

        Oh and I knew I forgot a though: what’s X/0? Wall Drug.

    • LHC says:

      In the beginning, God created the Heavens and Earth. And God said “FIRST”.

      • Alsadius says:

        And God saw that he was first, and it was good, and God divided the first from the subsequent.

        • LPSP says:

          The fact that my username is a contraction of a pseudo-Greek literal description of something that pretends to be God is making this thread extra-delicious to me.

          • What is the meaning of your username? I was wondering about that.

          • LPSP says:

            The short answer: Tee hee, commentor’s secret.

            The long answer: I’ve pretty much revealed as much as I can without making it explicit. I’ve used the full version before as a handle, but it’s very unwieldy, and makes people think I’m some kind of rare bacteria that infects lions, which wasn’t intentional but can’t be blamed. The being to which it refers wouldn’t be unknown or unobvious to anyone who follows this sort of fiction, involving god-like beings with flaws. I’ve made content for another webcomic of the sort under the handle.

            That said, the pseudo-Greek bit is almost-arbitrarily difficult to guess, but it could be deduced from principles if the source were known. It’s composed of four words, and the total character count is 18.

  2. Utilitaria says:

    The more the military actions are described, the more it seems like 19th century style combat with very slow moving infantry armies that set up fortifications and artillery and kill each other with attrition. I’m not sure if I’m imagining any of this right, but in a world where aircraft fail to work, where computers and internal combustion engines are unreliable and where resources are very difficult to move, you would probably get millitaries rather like those in the 3rd world. I.e. soldiers riding on technicals and a few tanks, along with occasional heavier weapons like artillery. It still seems like fronts would shift rapidly as armies can still transport themselves using cars, and automatic weapons definitely still work.

    • Utilitaria says:

      I’d still be interested to hear how the actual US army fights these days. Tanks, rockets and artillery should all still work unless there are new random technology failures I haven’t heard about, and seem like they’d be enough to turn the tide of battles (at least, battles between human-ish factions).

      • Cars are apparently expensive and difficult to get to work, so tanks may not be too useful. Rockets may also be much more expensive.

        • Utilitaria says:

          Power tanks with the motive name! The military always gets the best resources in times of conflict.

          • Beavis says:

            For example, less than 100,000 tanks were used by Germany during world war 2, as compared to 2.75 million horses. Germany used many more horses than tanks in world war 2. The most used car I’ve been able to find used by Nazi Germany in World war 2 has been the volkswagen kubelwagon, only about 50,000 were used. Other vehicles I’ve seen were used in the tens of thousands.

        • Utilitaria says:

          Remember that trucks and cars were used to move troops around even in WW1, and they were very expensive and unreliable then

          • Beavis says:

            Technically yes, but most of the stuff used in World war I and most of world war 2 were actually horses. You wouldn’t believe the amount of horses that were used to carry supplies and other tasks in World war 2.

        • Ninmesara says:

          There are still spy satellites. The Comet King uses them to look for Metatron. Either they are reusing the old ones or there are still rockets.

          • bean says:

            They’d have to be ones launched later. The first American recon satellites with real-time capability were the KH-11s, the first of which launched in late 1976. Before that, it was all film (which also limited the life of the satellites in question).

      • Utilitaria says:

        Rocket artillery should still be able to kill everything for square kilometres from hundreds of kilometres away, tanks and IFVs could mash their way through deamon/zombie hordes discorporating rapidly. Antiaircraft guns should still work against anything that can still fly, and if trains still cross the US and the economy still exists there should be resources sufficient to build some world war 2 level weapons.

      • Subbak says:

        I think it’s already been established that the universe makes no sense. It’s impossible to predict that technology X will work from an example of technology Y working, no matter how close they are, or how necessary X is for Y in the real world, or how they are literally the same.

        I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m just here for the puns.

        • Decius says:

          Among the sciences that don’t work any more are the military sciences, and the disciplines of economics.

        • Utilitaria says:

          I know what you mean about economics. Given all the insanity I’m finding it hard to believe that enough of a technology base and global market exists to make Silicon Valley possible. I’m sure global trade is blown to hell (excuse pun) after all the wars and technology failures. But there’s too much clever world building for me to want to give up on everything.

        • stavro375 says:

          The Internet still worked, but for reasons no one had been able to figure out it couldn’t handle video or audio, even though the programmers swore back and forth that it ought to be easy. The only visual technology that still ran consistently – besides old-fashioned film reels – was VHS tapes.

          Tellin’ it like it is.

    • Beavis says:

      2.75 million horses were used by Germany in World war 2 to move artilerry and other supplies among other tasks. For more information read my comments below.

  3. a man whose name meant “house by the lake” had just so happened to found the biggest American city on the continent’s biggest lake.

    Nitpick: Lake Erie isn’t america’s biggest lake. Unless you mean to count all the Great Lakes as one lake. But the Chicago (and Toronto) are both bigger than Detroit. Unless they were both destroyed in Unsongverse, I guess.

  4. Chydenius says:

    Grammar remarks thread here.

    “No one *in* has returned from Wall Drug in a generation.”

  5. dsotm says:

    We defy augury

    That’s a fairly large bird to defy

  6. Anders Sandberg says:

    Hmm, the joke gives me Lovecraft associations – his tombstone says “I am Providence”. We have cultists, somebody sleeping/staying in a pyramid.

  7. The Wall Drug thing raises the question of causality again: Unsongverse seems to have two main magic systems, Kabbalah and Placebomancy.
    Kabbalah implies that the hidden laws of the world conspire to create drama – The impressive-sounding names of God cause magical effects, nominative determinism, etc. Placebomancy implies that drama in itself creates special effects. This is kind of the opposite of Kabbalah – which letters you put in a name doesn’t matter so long as you make it sound dramatic.
    I’m not sure which of these is Wall Drug. Did Wall Drug mess up the midwest because its founders, in treating it like a marketing black hole, made it so? Or was it treated that way because it was built on the site of a weird rode nexus, which came into effect once the sky cracked?

    • dsotm says:

      I think it might be for the same reasons Uriel complained that the ancient egpytian pyramids messed with the divine light flow in the world, both being huge stores of food which relied on cheap labor for construction and maintenance ?

    • LPSP says:

      Cause and effect is somewhat ouroborean in this instance. No-one said Unsong was a complete universe.

      In other news: Radavir-Lorn! Sprigorastanithon-Moir. Let’s test the theory and watch placebomancy work it’s magic.

      • Anonymous says:

        We already know it’s inconsistent and now it turns out it’s not even complete? Dammit.

      • expletive deleted says:

        Bidirectional causality needn’t be exlusive or conflicting.

        UNSONG is nebulous, yet patterned.

        • LPSP says:

          Ain’t saying it isn’t. Although what you’re essentially proposing is that Unsong is Complete, Consistent yet Aformalised, yet Scott has made a lot of effort to lay down the rules of the setting in detail.

          • stavro375 says:

            I want to be completely clear that I am serious in saying: A good indication that a fictional universe has consistent, well thought rules/laws of physics is when one of those rules is “drama alone can cause things to happen.” Not in a handwavey sense, that is — but as one of the fundamental forces of nature. It takes a very self-aware author to admit something like this, and is a sign they are very in-tune with what makes their setting tick. It’s it’s rare to see a setting where this doesn’t break the 4th wall, unfortunately.

            Another encouraging sign (again, not sarcastic!) is when another rule is “numerical quantities are to be determined by plot convenience.” Unfortunately, Unsong seems to lack this. (The only time I have ever seen it spelled out is, ironically, in a multi-page outside-of-canon explanation of exactly how a character’s new magic power works.)

          • LPSP says:

            I’d say the author of One Piece did some fittingly-jokey examples of the number-fudging you describe in FAQ sections earlier in the comic’s run.

            I can’t think of any other forms of absolute fictional consistency at the minute, besides creating a universe so tiny that it’s mechanically trivial to keep its laws tight. So I’m sort-of agreeing for now.

          • anon says:

            stavro375: So, Erfworld then?

        • stavro375 says:

          Not the intention, but…
          I dunno. Erfworld is a very details-first (to borrow Shamus Young’s terminology) but I don’t think it’s ever been established that drama is a law of physics.

          I think in the first book it was established that the intention of Parson’s wargame (nothing the players do within the rules will work; they must surprise the GM to win) was controlling the action, but that hasn’t come up in a while. I think.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Wall Drug is kabbalistic. From chapter 12: “It had taken a kabbalistic rearrangement of the Midwest’s spatial coordinate system that rendered roads there useless, plus a collapse of technology so profound that airplanes were only able to fly if Uriel was having a really good day, plus the transformation of the Panama Canal into some sort of conduit for mystical energies that drove anyone in its vicinity mad – but America had finally gotten its act together and created a decent rail system.”

      This also seems to give us a good guess at why Mexico is dangerous, and the start of the chapter has an interesting discussion of the meaning of directions.

  8. Any guess for how many chapters are left in book 2? If the whole thing is 72 chapters and five books, we’re already a chapter overdue. If it’s of similar length to book 1, about two left. Plotwise, it seems like we’re nearing a breakpoint, with Aaron’s arriving in Vegas and Ana arriving in Mexico. We started this bookwith the birth of The Comet King, and we had his rise to power last chapter (and now the story of his death).

    • In-story, there are apparently only two days left.
      Also, new theory: When the story ends Scott will, as a prank, speak the Shem Hamephorash and transform our universe into unsongverse.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Where’s the “two days” bit from? I don’t remember that.

        • the seventy-second chapter is set to come out May 14th, 2017.

          • Ninmesara says:


          • seventy one weeks after chapter 1.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            So basically you are speculating that the final chapter will be set on the day it comes out.

          • seems like a reasonable speculation. So far we’re about two days and thirty chapters in, so the timeline is just about right. What are the odds that Scott planned this story so that the last chapter comes out just almost, but not quite, on the date it occurs? It’d be like Dylan Alvarez getting shot by a security guard.

            And why would he set the story in 2017 in the first place, if not to do something like that? 2017 is a fairly strange time-setting for an alternate-history world, all things considered.

          • 75th says:

            Wait, how did we get to 72 chapters over 71 weeks? My own theory is 71 chapters over 70 weeks. “70 weeks” is a Biblical reference to Daniel, and that places the date Chapter 1 takes place on the Wednesday (Interlude day) after the 71st chapter.

          • 72 chapters for 72 letters of the Shem Hamephorash – someone noticed that chapter k starts with the kth letter of the Shem Hamephorash for all values of k we have so far (from the title pages for books 1 and 2).

          • 75th says:

            @The Coment King:

            someone noticed that chapter k starts with the kth letter of the Shem Hamephorash for all values of k we have so far (from the title pages for books 1 and 2).

            D, do you have a link to that? I can’t figure out how that works just by looking at it.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            See here; the observation is due to TR and Daniel.

            Note that it’s the first letters of the chapters, rather than the first letters of the titles, as I initially mistakenly thought. And of course this is assuming that the letters in the book-cover song do indeed spell out the Explicit Name. But given the match, this is too good to ignore.

            The only real question seems to be how English letters are being related to Hebrew letters, because obviously there’s not a unique way to do that (indeed, we don’t even know if it’s a consistent Hebrew -> English mapping, or vice versa). A Hebrew letter could notionally be related to an English letter by its present pronunciation, by its past pronunciation, or by them being descended from the same Phoenician letter. (At least with that last method, the Hebrew alphabet is descended one-to-one from Phoenician, otherwise it would be even worse!)

          • 75th says:

            Thank you very much for the link, and HOLY FREAKING CRAP at that entire thread

            The only real question seems to be how English letters are being related to Hebrew letters

            I believe the word for this concept is “transliteration”, if that helps any passers-by construct helpful Google queries

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    Clearly what the oracle meant is that the Comet King should have set up shop in Providence, Rhode Island! Or that this Other King is just a decoy, and the real one is in Providence, Rhode Island! Or that he’ll be able to defeat the Other King if only he drops a giant bird on him! Or… yeah, I got nothing. 😛

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Ooh, there’s a Providence, Nevada County, California. Given the story’s California-centric nature, clearly that’s where our heroes need to go. 😛

    • Daniel says:

      I looked up Rhode Island history and found this:

      During King Philip’s War (1675–1676), a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth militia under General Josiah Winslow invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett Indian village in the Great Swamp in what is now South Kingstown, Rhode Island on December 19, 1675. The Indians referred to this as a massacre. The Wampanoag tribe under war-leader Metacomet, whom the colonists called “King Philip”, invaded and burned down several of the towns in the area—including Providence, which was attacked twice.

      Furthermore, the Metacomet King’s brother, when speaking English, used the pseudonym Alexander. Clearly, none of this is a coincidence.

  10. Ninmesara says:

    1. Aaron is officially crazy. One thing is to talk about clever puns on the true name of God in underground magazines or in conversation with other characters. Something else is speaking as the narrator about cars in the Old Testament without a hint of humor. The whole paragraph is quite disturbing from the point of view of his mental health and if that is not the original intention then I would suggest a substantial rewrite to that part to make it clear that those are supposed to be jokes.

    2. I don’t speak much French, but home in French is “maison” and I am not aware of the use of “ca” for that meaning. “House or the lake” is “maison du lac”. Google doesn’t find the sentence “ca du lac” (well it does but only with CA as an acronym for “communauté d’agglomeration”, which is more or less a multi-county organization), so I guess I’m right here. Is this a mistake (possibly Aaron’s)? Or am I wrong?

    3. Aaron is driving into the realm of the Other King with an agent that works for the cometspawn, and he doesn’t even consider giving her the purple dragon (which he presumably has kept)? Does he intend to escape inside the city of the Other King? Again, I question his mental sanity at this point and add this to the evidence that he might be mind controlled.

    • LPSP says:

      I think you’ve got a different sense of humour to Aaron, or Scott, or probably a lot of people who like this sort of fiction, and further have a hard time appreciating that others can find coincidences and word games *intrinsically* funny. The humour is perfectly obviously to myself, presumably Scott and every other commenting reader who has had no issue thus-far.

      In a stressful situation like he’s in, Aaron would find it calming and helpful to take his mind off the gravity of his situation and note a few funny patterns he’s picked upon in text. Or, morely likely, to simply muse upon old observations he’s made that are becoming relevant to his present circumstance. OR, even more likelier, this is Aaron’s thought process narrating the story back after the event, or outside canon, and is only loosely tied to his thoughts and actions at the time, and to judge his mental health off of it is folly. To go so far as to find it “disturbing” may speak more to the beholding eye than the beauty.

      (ps. “mental sanity” is redundant, there is no other kind of sanity)

      • Ninmesara says:

        Maybe I didn’t explain myself well. I like puns and other kinds of wordplay and find them inherently funny, but this particular paragraph strikes me as wrong somehow, in a way that the one about Palo Alto from chapter 1 (for example) didn’t. I can’t explain exactly why, and as you say it is probably just me.

        Thanks you for the correction about sanity.

        • LPSP says:

          That’s fine, but it’s just your opinion if you haven’t an explanation (something to give us the shape of a better alternative). In any case I’m glad we cleared that up, and you’re welcome on the sanity thing. Scott isn’t perfectly sane as Anon points out in any case, but he’s not dysfunctional; not yet in any case.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Anon points out that Aaron, not Scott might be less tham sane. I guess the sentence in your comment is either a typo or a way for reality to betray the mental state of the Author 😉

          • LPSP says:

            Lel, nice catch.

          • 75th says:

            I think he explained well in the original post why that paragraph stuck out to him, and it did to me for the same reason: It’s delivered with complete seriousness in the narration, instead of being banter between people. Most of the other puns so far have been delivered in a context where other characters can groan at them.

            It kind of works as a funny intro to the “serious” following paragraph about Cadillac, but even for that purpose it goes on a little long.

            (Note: I do not necessarily endorse OP’s “I would suggest a substantial rewrite” statement)

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, we already know Aaron’s crazy. Chapter 1:

      It would be a lie to say I stayed sane by keeping my mind sharp. The sort of mental sharpness you need for the kabbalah is almost perpendicular to sanity, more like a very specific and redirectable schizophrenia. I stayed functional by keeping my mind in a very specific state that probably wasn’t very long-term healthy.

    • “Huh,” said Jane, and upon her features flashed very briefly that look I had seen when I figured out the angels’ filing system. As if briefly remembering I was a human being instead of a pet or object, and seeming a little uncomfortable with the fact.

      I can see why he doesn’t trust her enough to implicitly assume she’s one of the good guys.

      • Ninmesara says:

        He now explicitly assumes she is working for the cometspawn, which seem like the closes we have to the “good guys”, and instead of trusting her enough to allow her to bring him to the Monks, he is getting himself into the capital of The Other King, who is a known bad guy the controls the undead, in the company of someone who works for the cometspawn

        • Marvy says:

          You know, I think you’re right: this seems like a dumb move on Aaron’s part.

        • Dunno. Explicitly assuming it doesn’t mean he’s confident enough to trust her.
          In our world, imagine a similar situation where LA is replaced by Damascus, TOK by ISIS, Jane by some guy who pulls a gun on you but claims to be a Turkish secret agent working for NATO, and the purple dragon by what you suspect are nuclear codes. I wouldn’t jump to hand them over.

          • Ninmesara says:

            I’d take my chances with the supposed Turkish nato agent who has already saved me from a secret Iranian military facility to which I had teleported myself by mistake, instead of leading him to ISIS headquarters in order to escape there.

            Even if I decided against giving him the nuclear codes, I would at least ponder the possibility, which Aaron doesn’t do. I know the narrator doesn’t need to tell us about everything Aaron ever thinks about, but this is a highly relevant thought.

            The fact that Aaron doesn’t think about giving her the dragon makes him a less believable character, no matter how tired he might be from driving and lack of sleep.

            Has he forgotten about it? If so, then it reminds me of that scene in which Sohu forgets the story of Acher just after Uriel tells her (and she is someone who has memorized the entire Bible!).

            Has he decided that trying to escape in the city of the necromancer from someone that looks like an agent of the Cometspawn is a good idea? It is certainly possible, since he can turn invisible at will and walk on air as if it were soil, and since he wouldn’t want to give the ensouling name to the monks. If so, he should reiterate his choice at this point.

            In my opinion, Aaron’s silence about the possibility of giving her the dragon is either not very good writing writing or a plot point.

          • Aaron M says:

            How does Sohu forget the story immediately after Uriel tells her?

    • Kniffler says:

      Cadillac the car is named after Cadillac the man who took the title of sieur de Cadillac from Cadillac the place in France, which le Wikipédia claims means “city of Catilius”.

      But, in the spirit of Unsong, I’d read Cadillac as a contraction of caisses-du-lac. “Caisse” is literally “box”, but also anything boxy, perhaps like a cabin. Or “crate”, like the trading containers of the early voyageurs. Or, latterly, “cash register”, and synecdochally, the trading house itself. Or slangily, a car, particularly one in poor condition.

      • “Box on the lake” actually sounds like a pretty good description of Detroit.

      • Subbak says:

        Damnit, I was beaten to it. I don’t know where Aaron/Scott got that etymology, but yeah, if you want to pretend it comes from “house by the lake”, at least write it as “casa du lac” (like in Spanish, “casa” means house in Occitan, which was spoken in Gironde when Cadillac was founded). It’s not a very plausible etymology but at least it means what you say it means.

        • Ninmesara says:

          I stand corrected.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Well, it’s certainly out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. Seems fixable, though — just add a “sometimes said to” or a “reportedly” or something? (Note btw that that line (not actually a definition!) was removed from Wiktionary this past July 2 by one Erutuon, noting, “that’s not a definition, and ca doesn’t seem to be a word for house”.)

          • Musky says:

            Their objection to the etymon doesn’t seem to be well-founded—the word cited was the contraction ca’ with an apostrophe, not ca, and they’ve had an article for ca’ with the meaning ‘house’ since 2005.

            (It is, however, an Italian word, not a French one, so the etymology is still unlikely in our world—though in the unsongverse it’s probably fine as a kabbalistic breakdown.)

    • Timothy Scriven says:

      Disagree- completely.

      Not because I think Aaron is joking, but because I think we’re looking at a universe where in some real and deep sense, god does drive a Fury. Does that mean he has a physical body and drives around a physical car? No- it’s not true in that sense. But it might be true in a more important sense, in the sense that we can take the proposition “God drives a fury” and make valid inferences using it. I don’t know much about cars, but I suspect in this universe Fury’s are simultaneously reliable, seemingly temperamental at times etc. etc.

      Nothing is ever a coincidence especially when it comes to names. That means even whacky puns like this are pathways to infinite comprehension.

      So Aaron’s not crazy because he is right. There is a real sense in which god drives a fury and the apostles drove a Honda accord. Also, only god is worthy of warship. You’ve got to grasp how deep the unsong rabbit-hole goes. Everything is names and nothing is ever a coincidence.

      • Timothy Scriven says:

        Another way to look at it. Almost all fantasy changes reality, but this is fantasy which changes the laws of ontology and metaphysics- something only a handful of other fantasy does.

    • Quixote says:

      re 1, I thought it was pretty clear. Consider that rather than the book being re written you should work on power leveling your reading comprehension skills with a focus on humor and nuance detection.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Nah, thanks for the tip, but I prefer to assume my skills are perfect and any book that does not conform to them is baddly written. More fun this way.

        • LPSP says:

          To be fair, that is basically the only way to live if speed and personal reach are uncompromiseable factors in your life. It offers dynamicity at the cost of blind spots.

    • alkatyn says:

      Re 1 that was my thought as well. I am pretty sure its deliberate given what I know of Scott’s writing in the past. Aaron is on the borderline of some sort of timecube guy style obsessive connection making/pareidolea/schizophrenia. He genuinely believes the mantra we kep hearing half in jest that nothing is a coincidence.

      Luckily for him he happens to live in a universe where a reasonable number of these random connections turn out to be useful. But his underlying belief structure is fundamentally broken.

      • Vamair says:

        I don’t think it’s luck. I think he deliberately trained himself to think like that exactly because he lives in such a universe.

    • Jack V says:

      That paragraph seemed clearly slightly tongue-in-cheek to me. Like, just from making those puns. If he plays with that sort of stuff, I’d expect exactly that sort of musing.

      • Jack V says:

        But also, yes, Aaron is over-obsessed with this stuff, partly because of who he is, partly because the universe seems to actually work this way (at least according to evidence Aaron claims to have seen, like Armstrong’s voice saying “open you bible”, seeing the verse about a “strong arm”.)

        But that para didn’t stand out for me. Aaron always *thinks* like that (witness the conversation where he meets Ana) even if he’s sliding back and forth on how much he believes it…

  11. DancerWithout says:

    “We were not clever people.”

  12. LHC says:

    Wow, Las Vegas being the Other King’s residence massively increases the stupidity of Aaron’s purple dragon shenanigans.

  13. Fermion says:

    Small nitpick: McMurdo Station is about 850 miles from the South Pole. The base at the South Pole is called Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

  14. Another nitpickL The south pole Wall Drug sign says 11,568 miles to Wall Drug.

  15. Necarion says:

    Does anybody know what car St. Patrick used to drive the snakes out of Ireland?

  16. Anon. says:

    Blake keeps popping up, but where’s Swedenborg in all of this?

  17. Aran says:

    Holy shit, the Wall Drug thing is creepy. It’s got an SCP feel to it.

    • David Xu says:

      Definitely agree. It also reminded me of City of Angles.

      • anon says:

        Thanks for mentioning City of Angles. You led me to it and I’m quite enjoying it.

        However, I am uncomfortably aware that taking fiction suggestions from this community will likely end up with me reading Worm.

        • LPSP says:

          I dunno. Reading and enjoying Unsong, and reading Unsong commentary and enjoyings with others that also enjoy Unsong, has led me to many a recommendation of Worm. But the first chapter is putrid, and so I am comfortably disincentivised.

        • Ninmesara says:

          I tried to read Worm. It had some mildly interesting fight scenes. Otherwise, didn’t like it. I quit in the middle of part 5.

  18. Ninmesara says:

    Someone said that ten Other King could be Jesus back with a grudge. This chapter does not disprove it: a cult leader who raises the dead and has come back from the dead after being executed by a King, more powerful than when he was alive? And who lives in a city full of despised people, such as prostitutes and beggars? I don’t think he is really Jesus, but it is certainly an intriguing possibility

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I guess he can’t be both Jesus and Acher…

      • Unless Jesus was the Acher! They were around at roughly the same time, but I don’t recall any accounts of them meeting. Coincidence?
        (AFAICT from the timeline of rabbis, EBA appeared just around the time Jesus died and came back. Fits pretty well for rebellion number 1, I say).

        • Moshe Zadka says:

          This is an intriguing possibility!

          There are Jewish traditions that Jesus was a “bad kabbalist” who used kabbalah tricks to simulate miracles. This would also explain both why the NT has a lot of kabbalah hidden in it, and why the rabbis wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

          • Other pieces of evidence: When the Acher went to the orchard, he burned the plants. When Jesus went the temple, same story. And “Ben Abuyah” literally means “so of God the father”.

          • Moshe Zadka says:

            Well, it literally means “Son of the Father”, but I agree that this is exactly a redundancy that a rabbi would read into “it means God” 🙂

          • Moshe Zadka says:

            Oh, I guess it depends how you parse “Abu-Yah”, but yes, you can parse it to mean “God the Father”

          • 75th says:

            Also, the original Elisha came after Elijah. Jesus came after John the Baptist, who he said was a reincarnated/metaphorical Elijah.

    • 75th says:

      He also wears a scarlet robe!

  19. Aran says:

    took up residence beneath the great black pyramid of Luxor

    Of course.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I wonder if given pyramids’ diversion of the divine light, this might have had a practical purpose in addition to just being appropriate/stylish.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Maybe Uriel can’t channel the divine light to smite The Other King from orbit if he is under the pyramid :p

  20. Diggle says:

    Has anything been made about the angelic archives, Angel Fire, being in the clouds? All our knowledge is stored in the clouds, or is it just coincidence?

    Most notably, Scott references Angelfire which has archives of older websites. It was like the rich man’s Geocities. I am sure some still exist in the wild.

  21. Gerald says:

    The Other King is definitely Acher

    • Peter D says:

      How so? So far, the only thing we know of Acher is that he started breaking Uriel’s weird hacky rules in response to the percieved God’s injustice. Where do you get your certainty from?

    • Peter D says:

      Is it because Acher is supposedly driven to his sinning by the fall of a sparrow, so to speak? Which could be part of the secret of the Other King (=Acher).. Hm, why doesn’t Aaron put two and two together then? Does he not know the story of Acher at this point?

  22. Anders Sandberg says:

    Where does the title “Over the dark deserts” come from?

    Doesn’t seem to be Blake, and the three hits I get on Google are (1) a Warhammer 40K fanfic, (2) “p.148-9. The Tabernacle: Or the Gospel According – Forgotten Books” that has the very promising sentence “This will ensure your light to shine forth over the dark deserts of a sinful world, and to direct the weary feet of many a wanderer into the path that shineth more” but the page is not found, and (3) a memoir from a fighter pilot trying out the Tornado ground following system in the US southwest. The fact that there are only three hits is kind of creepy.

    Of course, it could be abut dark desserts, but I think the kabbala of mämmi would be beyond humans.

  23. hnau says:

    between the mountains and the sea

    I was tempted to write off the LOTR reference as unintentional… but then I read the rest of the chapter. So it’s the story of a good king who died trying to stop an evil necromancer from gaining power but only succeeded in wrecking the necromancer’s body? And now two good guys are sneaking into the heart of the necromancer’s wasteland domain on a very sensitive mission? What was I thinking… nothing is ever a coincidence.

    • XerxesPraelor says:

      Other evidence of a connection:

      -Sauron was called “the Necromancer” in The Hobbit.
      -The Other King lives in a black Tower.

    • Aaron M says:

      Aaron can turn invisible by speaking a name (instead of putting on a ring).

    • dsotm says:

      Sauron was Morgoth’s lieutenant, it could be the that Acher or whoever TOK is were in a similar position for Thamiel at some point.
      Also Thamiel hasn’t directly been heard of after his encounter with Uriel and Sohu, maybe it is he himself ?

      • It’s mentioned that he had a diplomatic meeting with president Cheney (so probably after TCK’s death).
        My impression is that after TCK’s death, Thamiel made some sort of truce deal with president Cheney. TOK, however keeps conquering stuff.

  24. lumatic says:

    If the sparrow doesn’t fall unless god wills it, then can you imagine how much more he wishes misfortune upon man?

  25. Anders Sandberg says:

    Incidentally, does it matter that there is a Providence, Las Vegas too?

    Also, the gematria of Providence is 956 in Jewish gematria (=vaccination, singularity and “prophecy fulfilled”) while in English gematria it is 666. Hmm.

    • Galle says:

      And what Kabbalistic significance is there to the fact that most of Las Vegas isn’t actually in Las Vegas?

  26. Miëtek says:

    We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the Wall Drug signs began to appear.

    I’m guessing bats weren’t mentioned, because there’s no point in mentioning bats. We will see them soon enough.

  27. Ninmesara says:

    Are the dead risen by The Other King saved from hell? Suddenly dying and serving The Other King doesn’t sound so bad…

  28. Angstrom says:

    First Nevada fell. Then Arizona, and all New Mexico west of Santa Fe. The Cometspawn lost battle after battle. They retreated behind the Rockies, abandoning the rest of their empire. And when the Other King had finished, he sent his armies into the Rocky Mountains, where over the span of years they advanced mile by bloody mile, growing over closer to the last redoubt of Coloradan power.

    is preceded by

    He marched west. The Other King and his undead legions marched east. On July 29 they met in the Never Summer Mountains near Fort Collins

    This is … quite near Denver, and much more north than west of Colorado Springs. It seems really bizarre and out-of-place for the battle to have happened in the Never Summer Mountains. We’re to believe that the Other King moved his armies that far before the Comet King bothered to raise a resistance? And that in the 16 years since then, the Cometspawn have successfully defended much of Colorado even though he was already east of the Rockies in 2001?

    I have a hard time imagining the way that the meeting-of-armies happens so far away from TOK’s domain, especially since TOK is just getting established…

    • dsotm says:

      The (loose) translation of “never summer” to Hebrew is spelled the same as a synonym for infinity a.k.a. the Ein Soph

    • dsotm says:

      oooh apparently Colorado means ‘reddish’ in Spanish, that would be kaballistically equivalent to the Edom mountains

    • Angstrom says:

      While we’re on the subject of geographical nitpicking,

      This was what had happened to the Midwest. That close to the omphalos, even a few feet down a side street would be enough to lose yourself forever. Automobile travel became impossible between the Mississippi and the Rockies.

      I know I’m on shakier ground here, because definitions of “the Midwest” vary a lot based on who you talk to, but the Midwest and the Great Plains seem to be being used, if not interchangeably, then at least suggestively of each other, and that doesn’t seem right. The capital of the Midwest is Chicago, and Chicago is twice as far from Wall Drug as Colorado Springs. Presumably automotive traffic between Denver and Colorado Springs is still possible. Presumably it is the Great Plains which has become a giant sinkhole, and the Midwest is, if not fine, at least not much worse off than Colorado.

      • Nemo says:

        Unfortunately, the exactly location of the Midwest is the single most controversial topic I have ever come across. I will say, however, that those living in the American Breadbasket / Tornado Alley think of it as being synonymous with the Midwest. That is to say, north of Oklahoma, east of the Rockies, west of the Mississippi plus Wisconsin and Illinois.
        If I had to pick a “Capital” for the Midwest, I’d say (ugh) Omaha.

    • Note that the cometspawn drove TOK back to Vegas in the aftermath. And TCK was pretty depressed, and took his time in gathering his forces to respond, so they could have met at Never Summer even though it was well within TCK’s realm.

      • Angstrom says:

        OK, fair. But then how could it end up so far north? Does TOK have no need for highways, highways that even Thamiel himself used? Are the (presumably restored) Mormons really going to let a necromancer army pass through their territory? Is he not heading for Colorado Springs? Am I expecting too much internal consistency for a world of pun?

        At the very least, Colorado Springs -> Never Summer can hardly be described as “marched west”.

        • Hmm. It’s slightly strange but not super weird: The mormons are probably concentrated around SLC and don’t want to mess with a necromancer army TCK has declared he’s going to deal with. The natural highway path goes through southern Utah and Grand Junction. If TOK turned north to avoid a trap or as some other strategic maneuver, it could be believable (Though “marched east” is still weird).
          Compare the battle of Gettysburg happening significantly west of the Richmond-DC corridor, as you might naively expect. – sometimes wars turn out geographically weird.

          • Bassicallyboss says:

            As someone who knows the area decently, here’s how I like to think it played out. Not sure if it’s plausible from a military theory point of view, but it makes geographic sense.

            The natural path for an advancing from Las Vegas to Colorado Springs would probably be I-15 to I-70 and then south to CO Springs. If I were facing an army trying to advance across the mountains, I’d probably try to destroy sections of the highway to slow them down. The two most obvious places I can think of for this are Glenwood Canyon and Eisenhower Tunnel.

            Glenwood Canyon is ideal, but given the location, the weather over high passes in May/June, the available roadways, there isn’t any reason that justifies passing the Never Summers that couldn’t be better accomplished by another route. So I’m assuming TCK’s depression (or else his secret knowledge) meant the Other King’s army made it through the canyon.

            Eisenhower Tunnel is less ideal, but it could work. The Comet King blocks the tunnel, destroys the route over Loveland Pass, and posts large troop regiments at the top of it and other southward-leading passes. The Other King decides not to attack head-on and decides to try to go around. Since he’s probably near Lake Dillon and Silverthorne at this point, he’s at the south end of a large valley, so around means north and then west. Maybe he decides to take Highway 9 up to 40 and then 34 west through Estes Park. It’s not a terrible idea–it’s out of the way enough that it’s probably unguarded and the pass there is very wide and perhaps less easily fortified, but there’s still a paved road.

            However, it’s a miscalculation It’s a lot easier to move armies over flat, plains roads than through the mountains, and the Coloradoans are waiting at Grand Lake when the Other King arrives. They charge, push forward at first, then the two Kings begin their duel in the sky. As they fight they dart all about, slowly drifting westward over the Never Summer Mountains. When the Comet King falls, he’s west of the armies and therefore behind the Other King’s lines, as Scott mentions.

          • Bassicallyboss says:

            Alternatively, I suppose maybe the Other King was trying to get to Fort Collins via La Poudre Pass and sweep down the Front Range from the north. If they had the battle at the pass (which is plenty wide enough to accommodate such a thing), then it could actually be a Battle of Never Summer, and not a misleadingly named battle of Grand Lake or of Kawuneeche Valley.

  29. Decius says:

    Surely if nobody returns from the condition where they approach Wall Drug, turn around, and find that they are approaching it still, there would be no reports of such a thing happening. There’s obviously a way for the stories to get out.

    • Maybe there were a few people who did it once or twice, but managed to find their way out at the last second, and Aaron’s guessing the rest? But yeah, this is a bit of a mystery. Kinda like the cave of no return.

    • SoundLogic says:

      It says no signals get out of South Dakota, but that doesn’t mean no signals get out when all paths lead to Wall Drug.
      Just imagine it-you are on the phone with a friend, and they distractedly drive past a few signs. They turn around and find their way back leads forward, and they keep trying to get out until you are suddenly disconnected.

    • Aegeus says:

      If going towards doesn’t work, and going away doesn’t work, clearly you need to go sideways. Get out of the car, and go off-road. After all, it only seems to happen on the interstate.

    • beoShaffer says:

      Radios and cell phones still work in unsong.

  30. Blue says:

    According to the Comet King was at a Seder in April of 2001. This is either a typo (unlikely but not unheard of) or he didn’t die and is doing things in a new more-lightning-like body.

    Father Ellis was there too. Which would make Jane’s quest weird if nothing else. (I don’t know if she’s a Cometspawn or not, though I had guessed she was because of her kayak.)

  31. aphyer says:

    So, I mean, the most obvious interpretation of this chapter is that the Comet King willingly sacrificed himself. I mean, he received a prophecy about the Other King, which he would have been intelligent enough to interpret, and which said in its entirety ‘the Other King is part of God’s plan’. Then he fought a battle and died offscreen (which is in itself suggestive).

  32. Yossarian says:

    Well, as they say, killing a necromancer is not that hard. Getting rid of him for good, on the other hand…

    • So maybe he deliberately gave him a nonfatal crippling wound, so that he wouldn’t just come back stronger.

      • LPSP says:

        +1. This is the third time Warhammer has come up in this comment thread, as pretty much the exact same thing was done to the The Emperor in that setting to keep him from re-incarnating.

      • Yossarian says:

        There would still be a “suicide and respawn” kind of a solution to the crippling wound situation though, unless suicide would be somehow particularly harmful to TOK.

        • LPSP says:

          In the Emperor of Man example I mentioned above, the Emperor is in a catatonic state, kept alive by a “life support” machine deliberately designed to stop him from healing. His underlings use his power as a psychic battery to fuel their empire, and have every motivation to not let him fully reincarnate. A similar thing could happen with the Other King; he is too weak to suicide, and his underlings can exploit his power in his current state and reign in his stead, his name being more of a figurative power.

          Or Necromancy is Placebomantic, and as such only a particularly dramatic suicide would be up to snuff resurrection-wise. That’s probably more fitting, likely and original, although it would mean the Other King lacks the nouse to devise a touching suicide scenes for himself. Getting a idealistic young kabbalist to kill him, or threaten him to commit suicide, however…

      • TheAltar says:

        Essentially, yes.

        See: Hafgan from Welsh Mythology

  33. Does this mean we won’t see Mt. Rushmore in action?

  34. hnau says:

    Theory: The Wall Drug effect is a placebomancy effect caused by everyone on the coasts believing (incorrectly) that the Midwest is just a bunch of boring farmland with nothing interesting or worthwhile.

    • In this universe, the fact that “flyover country” didn’t go for Trump in the Republican primaries should cause some re-evaluation of that.

      OTOH, it probably won’t.

    • Chrysophylax says:

      Chapter 12 says it’s kabbalistic.

      “It had taken a kabbalistic rearrangement of the Midwest’s spatial coordinate system that rendered roads there useless, plus a collapse of technology so profound that airplanes were only able to fly if Uriel was having a really good day, plus the transformation of the Panama Canal into some sort of conduit for mystical energies that drove anyone in its vicinity mad – but America had finally gotten its act together and created a decent rail system.”

  35. A. says:

    It occurs to me that for many people driving towards Wall Drug would actually not be such a crazy thing to do.

    Outside Wall Drug: chaos, demon armies, undeads, stuff of nightmares, and a lot of really bad ways to die. Towards Wall Drug: grassy semi-arid plains with a few small farms here and there, but mostly empty. If I was escaping from something bad and had no ties to the outside, I’d keep driving.

    Sure, there is a chance that something very evil lives within that black hole, and that you would be trapped with it. But evil seems to prefer densely populated places. I’d take these odds.

  36. Ninmesara says:

    Just a thought: in a story called Unsong, the in-universe organization of UNSONG seems more and more as a small inconsequential little band of thugs. While it started as a huge ominous presence looming over the characters, it has now faded into the background, at least when compared to stuff like a flying Messiah that used to rule over the midwest with a magical sword from space, Hell literally invading the earth and a Necromancer king that has come back from the dead to take over the midwest. Will UNSONG become relevant again, or was it really just a minor plot point to place Aaron in the Angelfire reserve?

    • I’m guessing the story pivots back to them soon enough. We started in the middle of the plot, jumped back to explore the background, and soon we’ll start moving forwards again.

    • LPSP says:

      Unsong was founded by the Comet King. The post-CK world, the grey dystopia that Aaron is seeking to destroy, is ultimately dominated by Unsong. CK is actually only relevant in his founding role, which goes to show how even a mighty messiah’s works can become perverted into Moloch.

      (that and we have yet to learn much of anything about the oddly-named and -ethnicised Malia Ngo, down to her unnerving, soul-shriving aura)

    • Unsong is also the phrase used by Ana to describe the problem of evil (good vs. neutral vs. evil is analogized to music vs. silence vs. unsong), and has been implied to be an important part of the theodicy problem. That’ll probably come up again too.

  37. Peter Drubetskoy says:

    A Fisherking Wound – boy, there seem to be clues aplenty in this legend. When is Grail going to appear in Unsong?

  38. scherzando says:

    A Wall Drug theory: We know that Uriel is primarily a Ruby on Rails developer, but apparently he’s written some malfunctioning C code here which is being compiled with gcc -Wall, leading to warnings all over the place. (A slightly different implementation of GCC in the Unsongverse makes “Wall” appear in the warnings themselves.) Note also that Wall Drug is less than 70 miles from the North American Pole of Inaccessibility near Allen, South Dakota; thus, the code in question is nearly as far from C/sea as it is possible to be.

    “Drug”, meanwhile, is an anagram of “R U G-D?”, analogous to the “Are you root?” error message given when trying to run apt-get without the necessary permissions. So Uriel is trying to perform some action that only God can properly perform. Alternatively/additionally, “drug” is a transliteration of друг, Russian for “friend”, and the signs are saying, “Turn back, friend; in this many miles you will encounter an error from which you cannot return”.

  39. LPSP says:

    An idea that formed from reading the comments this afternoon. I started thinking about way to “live” in the Wall Drug bubble, deliberately getting trapped in it so no daemon can find you and then persisting. Supplies are the hardest thing, and so I think about ways to provided electricity, which lead to thoughts of laying down cables or pipes.

    But then it simply occured to me – why not go full-Theseus and just trail string behind you as you approach Wall Drug? You can then look where the string already-lain is going and use it as a navigational beacon. Even if this fails, the visual effect of spacetime-warped string patterns it’ll create will be worth your while.

  40. Decius says:

    How is Rhode Island/Road Island/Rode Island like Las Vegas?

    Prostitution is illegal in both.

  41. Moshe Zadka says:

    So necromancy is a thing.

    Could it be that this is what powers the black sail?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Interesting idea! Calling the spirits of the dead to power the sail, I guess?

      On the one hand, necromancy is definitely halachically prohibited. On the other hand, The Comet King isn’t Jewish, and also the blue sail exists. The gripping hand might be the notion that the Messiah is not bound by the laws — not sure where this comes from, exactly, but it’s definitely out there; Shabbetai Tzvi famously claimed it.

      Probably not it, I think, but certainly interesting…

  42. Sniffnoy says:

    A thought: The Comet King’s wife is so far shrouded in mystery, though we can infer from chapter 6 that she was unusual somehow. Also, she died not too long before the Comet King confronted the Other King, seemingly in connection with the war against Hell.

    Now, the Comet King is trying to be the Messiah. Which is kind of like a new Moses. Who was Moses’s wife? Tzipporah. Which means “bird”. Is the Comet King ignoring something important about his wife’s death?

    OK, probably not, but, y’know, there are no coincidences…

  43. TheAltar says:

    “(I’ve sometimes heard this called Lovecraftian parochialism, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s philosophy that the universe is vast and incomprehensible and anti-human, and you’ve got to draw the line between Self and *Other* somewhere, so you might as well draw the line at 1920s *Providence*, *Rhode Island*, and call everywhere else from Boston all the way to the unspeakable abyss-city of Y’ha-nthlei just different degrees of horribleness.)”

    -“HOW THE WEST WAS WON” post on SlateStarCodex by Scott Alexander (July 25th, 2016)

    Now he’s just messing with us.

  44. jrayhawk says:

    Las Vegas was also partially built as a tourist destination for nuclear bomb test viewing.

    A place where a Teller can shine brighter than the sun.

  45. The coment king says:

    “My chinese friend borrowed the comet King’s sword”, Tom said silently.

  46. gwern says:

    Typo: “No one in has returned from Wall Drug in a generation.”

  47. The Comet King seems strangely analogous to Yitzhak Rabin: He was killed when I was at about the same age as Aaron was when TCK was killed. He was known in his time as a general of great ingenuity, and it seems like he was the one guy who offered hope for the resolution of the conflict that’s been plaguing us for the last twenty years. He wound up failing shortly before his death, and was assassinated by one of his people, instead of by the enemy he’d spent his life fighting.
    Needless to say, none of this is a coincidence.

  48. Alex says:

    Nobody’s pointed out Stephen King reference yet? OK, here it goes for posterity: the idea that the good guys are based in Colorado and the bad guys are based in Vegas is a clear allusion to The Stand.

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  50. Cake&spoon says:

    I don’t think anyone posted this possible connection to the riddle
    As the other king made luxor his base, this can’t be a coincidence.

  51. Caprico says:

    WALL DRUG is my favorite Pink Floyd album

    “Even in Las Vegas, God is with us. Somewhere.” Atlantic City on the other hand is entirely devoid of God.

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  67. sransh says:

    Your journey through the shifting landscapes of California paints a vivid picture of a world transformed. The tale of Wall Drug’s expansion into a mythical attraction is a surreal twist on the American roadside experience. And the unfolding saga of the Comet King and the Other King adds a layer of mystique to your narrative.

  68. payal says:

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