aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 39: Fearful Symmetry

Tiferet’s position down the center between Keter and Yesod indicates to many Kabbalists that it is somewhat of a “converting” Sephirot between form (Yesod) and force (Keter). In other words, all crossing over the middle path via Tiferet results in a reversed polarity.

Reb Wiki

Evening, May 13, 2017


Ana groaned, grudgingly regained consciousness. James was shaking her, lightly. “Are you awake?” he whispered.

Her mouth was desert-dry. Her muscles were sore. She tried to get up, only to find she was tied to the bed.

“What’s happening? Let me go!”

James gave her an apologetic look and started untying the ropes.

“Long story. Edgar Crane cornered one of the druggies on the ship, told the Drug Lord that Simeon Azore was on the ship, offered to dose him in exchange for help getting Reno back. Drug Lord was interested because he figured Azore would know secret Names. He gave Crane some buttons, Crane stuck them in the soup tonight at dinner. I was meeting with John and the captain and we were late for dinner, and drugs don’t work on Amoxiel. So it was just you, Azore, Hope, Tomas and Lin who got dosed. There was a bit of a fight. Amoxiel’s vicious when he wants to be. Now Crane’s dead. John’s really injured. But the Drug Lord couldn’t take over the ship. He gave up and we tied up the others so they’d be safe while they came down. When we tried to tie you up, you told us that if we tried to touch you you’d jump off the side of the ship and drown yourself. So we let you be. Then an hour or so later you stopped resisting and just fell asleep, so we tied you up.” He untied the last rope and lifted Ana out of bed. “You all right?”

She massaged her face. “Yeah. Actually, pretty good. Saw a…friend.”

James lifted an eyebrow. “You better get above decks. Things are getting interesting.”

Things were getting interesting. The hills of Baja California had given way to lush jungle. “Where are we?” asked Ana.

The whole crew was assembled on the deck now. The Captain rarely spoke, but when he did he meant business. Now he faced them and said “John’s dying. Lin used the Static Name on him and bought him a little time. I give him a day or two. At most. We need to go to Kennedy Space Center.”

Lin, Amoxiel, Tomas all shared a meaningful look.

“There’s a launch a day from now. On any other ship it would be impossible. On Not A Metaphor, we can make it. But only if we cross the Canal.”

An immediate outcry from all assembled. The Captain pounded the table and demanded silence. Then, “We swore an oath!”

Slowly, James nodded.

“It’s a risk,” he said. “But we did. We swore an oath. If we don’t keep it now, none of us are safe.”

“He was like a father for us,” said Lin. “I can use the Canal Keys. That’s basic placebomancy. At least if they work.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ana said, “but it sounds fascinating.”


Ten years ago, when they had first sailed out of Puerto Penasco on the Comet King’s old ship, when they had first conceived the idea of pursuing Metatron and boarding his boat, Tomas had brought up the question on everyone’s mind. Trying to capture and board a boat containing the earthly reflection of God might be lucrative, but wasn’t it going to make the Deity pretty angry?

Lin had waxed poetic about how God wanted humans to engage with Him, how pursuing him and challenging him was itself probably a part of the divine plan. The Captain had pointed angrily at the name of the ship, and everyone had agreed they probably needed a better insurance policy.

Money they did not lack, and long before they grew old they would have pension enough to do what needed to be done. But they had also decided that if any of them got sick, or injured, or threatened to die in the line of duty, the whole crew would pool their resources to get him on to Celestial Virgin.

Everyone with a TV set had seen Hell, but no one knew if there was a Heaven. They only knew that there was a crack in the sky, and that Neil Armstrong had passed through it singing songs of praise for the Most High.

But no one had ever known if there was a Heaven, and that hadn’t stopped them from hoping.

For example, Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon knew he probably wasn’t going to get into Heaven the traditional way, so he’d pulled rank and got himself a ticket on a space capsule to enter it directly. Unfortunately for him, that space capsule had been Apollo 13, and he’d fallen back to Earth and his enraged constituents. But what if he’d had the right idea?

At age 35, business magnate Richard Branson was already head of Virgin Records, Virgin Communications, Virgin Games, and Virgin Atlantic Airways. What other people saw as the immutable will of God he saw as a business opportunity. So he teamed up with legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan to create a spacecraft capable of transporting a small number of lucky passengers up into the crack. And by lucky, he meant “very very rich”. If you can’t take it with you, you might as well give it to the people promising to ensure you an afterlife of eternal bliss.

Thus was born Celestial Virgin. Jesus had said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven, but rocketry had thirty years of practice working with astonishingly small tolerances and rose to meet the challenge. Competitors sprung up – HeavenX, Blue Origen – but if you really wanted the best engineers in the world aiming you at that needle eye and guaranteeing you’d get through, you would petition Celestial Virgin, accept no substitutes.

Sure, there were people saying it was literally the most blasphemous thing possible – to sell the rich tickets to Heaven so that only the poor had to answer for their misdeeds. But there were always people saying that kind of stuff. Why, you could say it was wrong to have doctors, because then rich people had an advantage in surviving disease! You could say it was wrong to have bookstores, because then rich people had an advantage in learning about the world! Everyone important, ie rich, was happy to ignore these nattering nabobs of negativism, and when Celestial Virgin offered to buy the Kennedy Space Center from the cash-strapped Untied States government, President Reagan was quick to agree.

When the Captain and his crew had first stolen Not A Metaphor, they swore an oath to each other that once they had the money they needed no member of their crew would near death but the others would do whatever it took to get them to Cape Canaveral and their ticket to a better afterlife.

Now as John neared death, the ship changed its course and headed for the western terminus of the Panama Canal.


One of the most famous phrases in the English language: “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama.”

We compare it to three other famous trinities. Everyone knows the Christian Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But the Buddhists have a similarly central concept called the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Buddha is the enlightened being. The dharma is the moral law, or the natural law, or duty; there’s no good English translation, so take your pick. Sangha corresponds almost precisely to “church”, not in the sense of a building but in the sense of “Catholic Church”, where it means an entire community of believers.

The kabbalists have their own trinity: the Supernal Triad of the first three sephirot. Kether is the transcendent heavenly aspect of God. Binah is a perfectly receptive vessel sometimes likened to the uterus. And Chokmah is likened to lightning – the bolt that originates in Kether and strikes Binah, impregnating it with divine essence.

These three trinities all correspond nicely to one another. They all have a human aspect: the Son, the Sangha, Binah, looking for answers but seeing the majesty of God’s plan only imperfectly. They all have an ineffable divine component: the Father, the Buddha, Kether, abiding in the secret order of the universe and seeing its full glory. And they all have a force that connects the other two: the Holy Spirit, the Dharma, Chokhmah, the potential for uniting the human and divine.

Ordinary mortals. The divine order. A connection between them.

A man. A plan. A canal.

But what about Panama? Well, imagine the map of the mystical body of God overlaid upon a map of the Western Hemisphere – because we’re kabbalists and this is by no means the weirdest thing that we do. What sort of correspondences do we find?

None at all, because we’ve forgotten the lesson Uriel taught Sohu all those years ago; we see God face to face, so our left is His right and vice versa. So overlay the mystical body of God on the Western Hemisphere and flip it around the vertical axis. Now what?

Keter, sephirah corresponding to the ineffable crown of God, lands at the North Pole, the uninhabitable crown of the world. Malkuth, the sephirah corresponding to the feet of God, lands in Patagonia, whose name means “land of big feet” (don’t ask me, ask early Spanish explorers). The center of Malkuth, corresponding to the world of Assiah, sits on the Argentine city of Ushuaia – in Hebrew the two words would be identical. Just below Malkuth lies the realm of the Devil; just below Patagonia lies Cape Horn.

We’ve got a correspondence, so we go down the line.

Chokhmah represents divine knowledge shooting downward, the spirit of prophecy; it falls upon Juneau, Alaska. The Name of God corresponding to Chokhmah is Jah; the name of the city is therefore a kabbalistic reference to divine knowledge as “Jah knows”.

Binah representing the receptive mind as it gains understanding. It falls upon Boston – home of Harvard and MIT.

Hesed, representing loving kindness, falls upon San Francisco Bay, recalling our previous discussions about St. Francis, the hippie movement, and California as positive affect. Chesed is often considered the right hand of God; we already know how this symbol relates to San Francisco through Psalm 89:13.

Gevurah, representing law and justice, falls upon Washington DC. It is the left hand of God, wielding His punishing sword.

Netzach represents endurance and eternity, kind of like the slow but steady and long-lived tortoises after whom the Galapagos is named.

Hod represents splendor, endless forms bursting into life – and it falls right in the middle of the Amazon.

Yesod is interconnectedness and communication, also associated with silver and the moon. It falls upon the Rio de la Plata region of Argentina, named for its many interconnecting rivers and its copious silver reserves under the Earth.

But I bring this up because in the very center of the Tree lies Tiferet, the Heart of God, the Sephirah of Miracles. It stands at the center of the Tree of Life and joins the two halves of the mystic body, connecting to everything. Not just connecting everything, but reflecting everything, a mirror that transforms and displays everything it sees. And it falls smack dab upon the Panama Canal. The center of the whole system, the key to the mystery.

A man. A plan. A canal. Panama.


Panama City had seen better days. Neither close enough to Mexico for the Drug Lord to capture and control nor far enough to escape his ravages entirely, it had become a shoddy tributary state. The closing of the canal had been the final blow, and most of its citizens and wealth fled southward to the Most Serene Empire of the Darien Gap. Now its skyscrapers looked like rotting trees in a drought, sounding a warning to all who passed by.

The Not A Metaphor ignored it and slipped under the Bridge of the Americas until it was face to face with the Miraflores Locks.

The cracks in the sky had damaged the proper functioning of the lock machinery. The Panamanians had kept the locks going for a few years, but the canal had gained an eerie reputation and traffic had dwindled to a trickle. When the Panamanians finally abandoned the locks as part of the general retreat to the South American side of the waterway the locks were left to rot. Now they stood like inert walls, blocking the ship’s path.

Lin had a plan. “We knew this day would come,” he said. “Me, James, and the Captain have been preparing to cross the Canal for ages, although we always hoped we wouldn’t have to.” He drew out a scroll wheel. “The Motive Name”.

Ana was skeptical. “Used on the locks? There are probably hundreds of different moving pieces. If you just fire the Name at random, there’s practically no chance you’ll hit something useful.”

Lin nodded “Practically no chance. There’s a big difference between practically no chance and actually no chance, and that’s where placebomancy comes in. The key is the key.” He showed Ana the scroll wheel. Attached to one side was a big glass key. “Miraflores, in the name of Rahab, angel of the depths, open for me!”

Then he pointed to the locks and tore off the scroll containing the Motive Name.

The locks creaked open.

“How’d you do that?” asked Simeon.

“Once the Captain and I put our heads together, it was obvious,” Lin said grinning. “How do you open a lock? With a key. How do you open a metaphorical lock that’s called “lock” even though it’s really a geographical feature involved in sailing? With a metaphorical key that’s called “key” even though it’s really a geographical features involved in sailing. This is sand from the Florida Keys, melted into glass and shaped by the locksmiths of San Francisco.”

“That is both really clever and the stupidest thing I ever heard,” said Ana.

The Not A Metaphor sailed forward. With another scroll from his key, Lin closed the locks and opened the other side. They were now in Miraflores Lake.

“So you think that’s it?” asked Simeon Azore, who had recovered enough to come on deck and watch the ship’s progress. “A single clever pun, and we can reverse twenty years of bad luck getting through the Canal? I doubt it will be that easy. Remember, even when the locks were working fine, ships weren’t making it through. The passage hasn’t worked right since the sky cracked.”

They entered the Pedro Miguel locks without difficulty.

“It’s the kabbalah that’s the problem,” Simeon continued. “We’re going from the west coast to the east coast directly, straight through Tiferet. From the Pillar of Mercy to the Pillar of Justice. We’re doing an inverse transformation of the divine nature. I don’t think what’s left of the machinery of the universe is going to help us with that. I think it’s going to screw us up.”

Another turn of Lin’s placebomantic key, and they were out of the Pedro Miguel locks and on to the Culebra Cut, an arrow-straight trough where the canal went straight through a mountain range.

“I second Azore in his grave concern,” said Amoxiel.
“The energies of Heav’n are growing dim
Too subtle for you men to comprehend
A great reversal looms.”

“I’m actually starting to feel a little woozy myself,” said James. “I think it’s the heat, but I can’t be sure. Maybe we should stop the boat for a little while, have a look around.”

“I don’t feel that great either,” said Lin, “but if there’s a problem with the canal, it’s probably worst here, near the center. I’d rather gun it for the Atlantic than sit and wait for it to get us, especially with John as bad as he is. And when we get back to the ship, we can have a nice cold drink of water.”

“Get back to the ship?” asked James.

Suddenly, Lin vanished.

“WE’RE STOPPING THE SHIP!” said James. “I’m getting the Captain! The rest of you! Get your weapons ready! Kabbalists, prepare your Names!” He ran below deck.

Tomas drew a pistol. Ana spoke the Bulletproof Name. She ribbed Azore. “You going to give me grief about doing this without a proper UNSONG license?”

“You’re not from UNSONG,” said Azore. “You’re too nice.”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Ana, and then she saw the far-off look in his eyes. Something was getting him. “AMOXIEL!” she shouted. “TOMAS! Something’s wrong with Azore!”

Amoxiel was hovering a few feet in the air. Then he crashed, apparently half-asleep. Tomas was already on the deck, and seemed to be having some kind of seizure.

Ana spoke the Sanctifying Name to bless the area. The air became cooler and fresher, but no one rose. She spoke the Revelatory Name to expose hidden dangers, but none showed themselves. She spoke the Wakening Name, tried to revive Amoxiel, but though the jolt of energy shot through her, it didn’t rouse him at all.

She ran downstairs to the cabins. James was on the floor right in front of the ship’s bridge. The Captain wasn’t in the navigation room. The most important rule on the ship was to never enter the Captain’s cabin without his consent, which he never gave. But technically opening the door wasn’t breaking the rule. She flung it open, scanned the room for him. Nobody there. A bed, a deck, a bathroom. She couldn’t see all of it from where she stood, but nowhere big enough for someone the Captain’s size to hide, even if he had wanted to. The man was missing. She checked the bridge. No one there either.

Who was steering the ship?

She ran upstairs. No one was steering the ship. It was just continuing in a line. Thank God the Culebra Cut was so perfectly straight. But soon they would come to the Gamboa Reach, and crash right into the side of the canal.

Okay. Don’t panic. Think. Three things she had to do. Figure out what the danger was. See if she could revive the people on the ground, or find the people who were gone. Steer the ship.

Only one of those things did she have the slightest idea how to do, so she ran back into the bridge.

She had kind of hoped it would be easy, with a big steering wheel and maybe a “How To Steer A Ship” manual sitting next to it, but it was just a lot of controls and a device that was probably some sort of steering wheel but much more complicated than the automotive variety. There were a whole host of sensors, all of which were broken except the radar, which was continuing to PING every couple of seconds.

Hesitantly, as a test only, ready to turn it right back as soon as she felt anything, she turned the steering wheel.

Either she was turning it wrong, or it was broken.

Okay. Steering the ship was out, for now. Figure out what the danger was. She was shaking. The rest of them were all gone. She was the only one left. Why wasn’t she dead or unconscious?

PING went the radar. Why was it, of everything on the ship, still working?

Wait, no. There were two things that were still working. The radar. And her. Why was she still working? Why had everyone else collapsed? Why had Lin vanished? Think, Ana, think! Think like a kabbalist! This was Tiferet, the Sephirah of Miracles, where the upper and lower worlds met, where left and right came together, the center of the whole design. Think like a kabbalist!

Then: “Oh no. That’s even stupider than the thing with the locks.”


Ana stood on the poop deck. She only vaguely remembered the term. It meant “an elevated area on the back of a ship.” The Not A Metaphor had a poop deck. This was important.

The moment she had dragged her companions from where they had fallen onto the poop deck, they started looking better. They stopped seizing. They breathed more easily. They weren’t awake, but they didn’t look like they were going to die either. She panted with exertion as she dragged the last one – Tomas – up the single step. James and the Captain were belowdecks; there was no helping them.

This was so stupid. But in a way it also made sense. This was Tiferet. It reversed the polarity of forces that entered it. God was One and His Name was One; at a high enough level of abstraction we were all one with our names. Reverse a name, and you get…well, various things. Reverse Lin’s name, and you get nil. Reverse most people’s names, and you get nonsense. Reverse Ana’s name, and nothing happened at all.

Problem was, almost everything on the ship was kabbalistic nonsense now. The crew, the captain, the steering system…especially the steering system. Broken and useless. As soon as the ship reached the end of the Culebra Cut it would smash into the side of the canal and they would be done for.

She ran back to the bridge, pulled the steering mechanism as hard as she could. No good. She pressed all the buttons she could think of. None of them were working.

She ran back up to the deck, grabbing James’ binoculars as she went. Looked out in front of her. There, coming ever closer, was the Gamboa Turn.

She considered her options. She could jump off the ship and swim to safety. Then everyone else would die and she would be stuck in Central America and maybe get eaten by piranhas. She could run back to the bridge and bang on more buttons. She could…

Ana Thurmond did something very uncharacteristic. She fell to her knees and started praying.

“God,” she said. “I’m a theodician, I should know better than anyone else that you don’t actually answer prayers. And I spent most of my life making silly jokes about the Torah and giving You grief for letting evil continue to exist. And now I’m with people who want to capture your boat and harass you. So, uh there’s that. But. Um…”

The problem with knowing theodicy is that it makes it really hard to pray. You can’t say “I’m in trouble, so please help me,” because you know that many people are in trouble and die anyway. You can’t say “I was a good person, so help me,” because you know that many people were very good and died anyway. You can’t say “I know you have some plan for me that I haven’t fulfilled yet,” because you know that many people died without fulfilling anything. Some scholars say that prayer changes nothing but that it is very important that you do it anyway, but when your ship is hurtling towards a rocky bank such subtleties lose their compellingness.


The ship continued its inexorable progress.

If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. If the world wasn’t going to make sense, Ana might as well use insane moon logic and see where it got her. She went into the galley. Grabbed a piece of meat. Stood there, on the poop deck.

“Okay, Dog,” she said. “I haven’t always believed in you. I mean, I’ve always believed in dogs, but…no, this is stupid. Listen, if I let you have this piece of meat, will you save me and my friends?”

She watched in disbelief as a big black dog bounded up and sat in front of her.

She was in Tiferet, the Heart Sephirah, the Sephirah of Miracles.

“Dog?” said Ana, in disbelief. It was big. It reminded her of those black dogs that ye olde English had viewed as signs of death, the ones that would appear on windswept moors. It looked at her. Its eyes seemed too deep, too intelligent.

Ana handed it the piece of meat, and it ate greedily.

“Good dog?” she asked?

The dog turned its head. Ana wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean.

Very tentatively, Ana reached out and patted its head. At that precise moment, the Not A Metaphor crossed straight through the Heart of God, the dead center of the American continent. For a second, Ana saw all the connections, all the sephirot in – how had Blake put it – “in starry numbers fitly ordered”. She saw the flow of energies, as above so below, as on the right so on the left, God becoming Man becoming God, all a perfect palindrome. She saw that the world was a palindrome, that the human body was a palindrome, that history was a palindrome, that the entire Bible was palindromes. Dumb mud. Madam in Eden, I’m Adam. Cain, a maniac. Semite times. Egad, no bondage! Deed. Tenet. Are we not drawn onwards, we Jews, drawn onward to new era? Egad, a base life defiles a bad age. So let’s use Jesus’ telos. Dogma – I am god! Deliverer re-reviled. “Abba, abba”. Deified. Did I do, O God, did I as I said I’d do; good, I did.

…and then the dog grabbed the meat and ran away behind the galley. By the time Ana followed, it had disappeared.

Wow, thought Ana to herself, that is definitely the weirdest thing that happened to me since…well, since I was possessed by an astral cactus person this afternoon, I guess.

Then she looked up. The ship was still on course. The rocks of the Gamboa Turn were straight ahead. Minutes now, if that.

She ran back belowdecks. The dog wasn’t there. Frantically, she opened the door to the bridge, hoping beyond hope she would find it, could convince it to do something…

“Hello,” said a nice female voice.

There was no one else there.

“Who are you?” asked Ana, suspiciously.

“I am All Your Heart,” said the voice. “Autopilot mode has been off for…nineteen years. Would you like to reactivate autopilot mode?”

“There’s an autopilot mode?!” asked Ana.

“The Comet King wrote the Animating Name on my hull. I am a ship and a golem. Autopilot mode is available for reactivation.”

“Yes!” said Ana. “Yes yes yes yes yes! Why didn’t I know about you before?”

“The Comet King crossed the Panama Canal, reversing the Animating Name. Now the Name is back in its proper configuration, and I am back online.”

They were in Tiferet, the Sephirah of Miracles.

“The Comet King never crossed the Canal a second time? How did he pilot without you?”

“I do not have that information,” said the autopilot. “Would you like to reactivate autopilot?”

“Yes!” said Ana. “Activate autopilot! Now! Save the ship!”

Very slowly, she felt Not A Metaphor turn.


Of its own accord, the ship navigated the Gamboa Turn, then crossed the treacherous waters around Barro Colorado Island into the expanse of Gatun Lake. All through the night it kept going, and the first hint of light broke over the eastern horizon right as the Gatun Locks came into view.

From the spot where Lin had vanished, Ana took the Florida Key and held it high, cast the Motive Name. The locks opened.

As the first ray of sunlight touched the unconscious men on the poop deck, James, John, Tomas, Erin, Simeon and Amoxiel rose anew, having been reversed and then returned to normal. The Captain appeared from his cabin, dark glasses on as always, quiet as always, not even asking questions.

“What happened?” asked James. “Where are we?” Then, “Where’s Lin?”

“Tiferet happened,” said Ana. “A kabbalistic reversed polarity. You all became nonsense. Lin became nil, and is gone. Only I was able to survive. We’re at the Gatun Locks, a skip and a jump away from open water. I prayed and God answered. James, the ship has an autopilot! It was Tiferet! The Sephirah of Miracles!”

“I’ve never seen you so excited before,” James said.

“Do you realize what this means?” asked Ana.


“A talking ship! The Comet King had a talking ship! America is an epic!

Not A Metaphor entered the Atlantic Ocean and sailed into the rising sun.

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243 Responses to Chapter 39: Fearful Symmetry

  1. James says:

    Is there some reason why the function of everything turned to nonsense but the form did not, except for Lin?

  2. I thought the Vital Name would produce the talking ship.

    • Mostly Metaphorical says:

      This is explained in the first chapter:
      Four hundred years earlier, an old man in Prague had explained to his students that yes, you could make a golem, you could bestow upon it the nefesh, the animal soul. With sufficient enlightenment, you could even bestow upon it the ruach, the moral soul. But the neshamah, the divine spark, you could not bestow upon it, for that was a greater work, and would require a greater Name than any ever discovered.
      So the Animating Name creates golems, but the Vital Name gives the divine spark.

  3. R Flaum says:

    “offered to by” should be “offered to buy”.

    • R Flaum says:

      I suspect that “A bed, a deck” is supposed to be “A bed, a desk”. There’s probably not a whole deck inside one room.

    • teucer says:

      The list of people not drugged ends “and we” instead of “and me”

    • Anonymous says:

      I guess this is the nitpick thread?

      The quote at the top is not wrapped in a <blockquote> tag, unlike quotes in other chapters. I’m surprised Scott hadn’t noticed that immediately.

      (Also, what is Reb Wiki supposed to be, anyway? Wikipedia? Searching the Web for the quoted passage would indicate so. Though the name “Reb Wiki” seems so disappointingly straightforward compared to some other kabbalistic counterparts…)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      The moment she had dragged her companions from where they had fallen onto the poop deck, they started looking better.

      This sentence is unclear; I initially read it as “from where they had (fallen onto the poop deck)”. I’d suggest rearranging it to “The moment she had dragged her companions onto the poop deck from where they had fallen…”.

    • “With a metaphorical key that’s called “key” even though it’s really a geographical features involved in sailing.”

      the number agreement here does not

  4. Shankar says:

    Shouldn’t the palindrome be “Are we not drawn onwards, we Jews, drawn onward to new era”? I also think something is wrong with “Eve damned Adam, mad Eve,” but only vowels, so they don’t matter?

  5. J says:

    Sounds like they should have taken a racecar instead of a boat.

  6. R Flaum says:

    I remember noting earlier that Nemo was Omen backwards, but I couldn’t figure out how that would be relevant. Now I guess we’ll find out.

  7. A name, by any other word, would still mean this is not actually Shakespeare. says:

    Why did nothing happen to the raluconibs?

    • Vanillafog says:

      I was wondering this too! Looking back at the passage, it never says that Ana specifically looked through the binoculars, just that she grabbed them and looked out. A second possibility is that they’re palindromic in shape, if not in name: if you reverse a pair of binoculars, you just get a flipped-over pair of binoculars.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        If you reverse a pair of binoculars, you get a pair of reverse binoculars; it works the same, except you have to look through what would ordinarily be the wrong end.

        • Stable says:

          Depends on the axis you choose, no? Most words are actually flipped left-to-right (or vice versa).

        • Decius says:

          If you reverse a pair of binoculars, you get a microscope.

          • LPSP says:

            …But you get that anyway by just turning them around! Myself and my brother used to derive hours of amusement as kids using binoculars backwards and pretending the world had shrunk. We called it “mousey mousey”, and for some reason we were just slightly afraid that if we were seen through the backnoculars, we really WOULD shrink.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            So, maybe I should be explicit, the joke I was going for was that if you “reverse” a pair of binoculars to produce a pair of reverse-binoculars, it works exactly the same except for which end produces which effect.

          • LPSP says:

            I think we all got that Sniff, we’re just having fun with the concept.

  8. Grort says:

    What does “America is an epic” mean?

    • R Flaum says:

      It’s a reference to something she said earlier; she had a theory that the story of America met the definition of an epic, and one of the requirements listed for an epic is that it includes a talking ship.

      • Yumantimatter says:

        Speaking of, I found this (

        What is an Epic?
        An epic in its most specific sense is a genre of classical poetry originating in Greece. The
        conventions of this genre are several:
        (a) It is a long narrative about a serious or worthy traditional subject.
        (b) Its diction in elevated in style. It employs a formal, dignified, objective tone
        and many figures of speech.
        (c) The narrative focused on the exploits of a hero or demigod who represents the
        cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group.
        (d) The hero’s success or failure will determine the fate of that people or nation.
        (e) The action takes place in a vast setting, and covers a wide geographic area. The
        setting is frequently some time in the remote past.
        (f) The action contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess.
        (g) Gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action to affect the
        (h) The poem begins with the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet, a prayer to
        an appropriate supernatural being. The speaker asks that this being provide him
        the suitable emotion, creativity, or words to finish the poem.
        (i) The narrative starts in medias res, in the middle of the action. Subsequently,
        the earlier events leading up to the start of the poem will be recounted in the
        characters’ narratives or in flashbacks.
        (j) The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on
        highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.
        (k) The epic employs extended similes (called epic similes) at appropriate spots of
        the story, and a traditional scene of extended description in which the hero
        arms himself.

      • Grort says:

        Thanks for the link!

      • Peter D says:

        Could Ana be excited because America being an epic might be an answer to the central question of theodicy? Maybe one could explain evil when one considers History to be a meta-moral lesson? Or maybe it just confirms that God does care and is involved in the world, despite Uriel’s claims to the contrary?

        • Aegeus says:

          “God created the world to have interesting stories” could be a good explanation for the state of the world. Narrative causality, the fact that nothing is a coincidence, it makes sense. Nothing is ever a coincidence in a story – even if it seems like a coincidence, even if the story outright says it was pure luck, it only happens because the author said it would. But of course, nobody in the story knows about the author’s actions, assuming the fourth wall remains intact.

          And it makes the problem of evil simple – stories always have a villain, and authors can be pretty damn cruel to their characters.

    • YumAntimatter says:

      Only reference to a talking ship that I’ve found so far is the Argo, which was given a talking prow by Athena.

    • LPSP says:

      America is an epic


      cipe na si acirema

      “cipe” sounds to me like it would be pronounced like kippah, the jewish skull cap. Na si = either the end of Ashkenazim, or perhaps just the Nazis, who are both relevant to judaism in opposing ways. And Acirema… sounds like an Hispanic dance. I’m drawing blanks.

  9. LHC says:

    >Netzach represents endurance and eternity


    • R Flaum says:

      I don’t get it.

      • LHC says:

        With the exception of the S, which I forgot, Netzach has all the same consonants as “Nietzsche”, who is well known for the concept of “eternal return” – that in the span of eternity, the universe must loop, and so every moment carries the weight of eternity.

        • Cniz says:

          It should be noted that while the consonants appear similar after transliterations to English, they correspond to almost completely different-sounding consonants in the respective Hebrew and German. The “N” corresponds to the same sound in both, but in German the TZSCH part is a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate, whereas in Hebrew it is composed of the separate consonants TZ and CH, the first similar to the first consonant of “Tsunami”, and the second is that pesky guttural consonant which doesn’t exist in English, but is probably familiar as the Spanish “j”, as in the laugh “jajaja”, “Baja California”, or the “x” in “Mexico”.

          Still, abusing the Kabbalah through mistransliterations is one of the main motifs of UNSONG, so I would say this is certainly Not A Coincidence.

    • Peffern says:

      Oh my how did I not notice that!

  10. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, so someone is ferrying people to Heaven.

    Thought: Darien = Darius? Are we going to see Persians (or giant robotic space fish 😛 ) in South America? (Has Cyrus gotten a mention in Unsong yet? I don’t recall.) There doesn’t seem to be any etymological connection, looking it up, but, hey, there are no coincidences…

    Wondering how other trinities fit here. Zeus/Poseidon/Hades? Brahma/Shiva/Vishnu? Those don’t seem to work as well. (See here for many more…)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Due to their diversion to Florida and the need to find new crew, the All Your Heart misses Metatron at Fire Island. But they then get word that he’s been spotted off the coast of South America. They head straight for the location, but as they get close, they hear the voice of the autopilot…

      Warning! A huge battleship LEVIATHAN is approaching fast!

      • 4bpp says:

        There’s also all that talk about reversing polarity, but I suspect that delving into obscure shmup references would constitute a level of audience pandering that would strain suspension of disbelief for even the more resilient readers…

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Assuming Google can be trusted, Cyrus the Great has not been mentioned in Unsong yet. But he’ll have to get a mention at some point, right?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Darein is Darien.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yes, I know that. I even pointed out that there isn’t any etymological connection. It would still be funny if due to the power of words there were a neo-Achaemenid civilization there.

    • LPSP says:

      Thor is the dutiful son, not fully comprehending but with the strength and goodness to make the world well. Odin is the mysterious and distant father, difficult beyond difficulties to summarise or comprehend but with great power. And Loki is literally a living lightning bolt, a trickster who changes everything with his wily interventions, his inventions and craftsmanship.

  11. Vanillafog says:

    Whoever predicted that Ana’s name would be kabbalistically significant: you were right!

    That being said, why didn’t Lin return to normal like the rest? Would changing your name to a palindrome like Bob or Nan before crossing the canal give you safe passage? What about the name of your ship?

    • Peffern says:

      I don’t think changing your name to NaN would fit well with the cosmic machinery of the universe, just saying.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      May Lin can only return when they sail through the canal again, like what happened to the autopilot.

      • Angstrom says:

        Yeah, but even without Lin this highlights an inconsistency. The crewmembers (sans Lin) were only reversed while sailing through the canal – but as the ship got to the other side, they were restored. The autopilot Name was reversed while sailing through the canal, and was permanently reversed.

        Obviously this is a mechanic that’s hard to make work without a lot of Rule of Plot – if “poop” is protective, the effect should apply to ship-scale components, but we don’t see the ship getting wrecked, for instance – so, shrug.

        • Quintopia says:

          Perhaps they were restored by using their own names, in response to Ana using their names (once they returned to consciousness). This process renamed them to their former unreversed names again?

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          In particle physics lingo, Ana and the radar are spin-2, Lin and the autopilot are spin-1/2, and everything else is spin-1.

        • CalmCanary says:

          Maybe they were restored by an act of Dog.

        • Walter says:

          What would come back?

        • Rafinius says:

          What confused me even more was the Motive Name still working after passing through the middle Why would the boat’s Vital Name stop working permanently while the Motive Name is unaffected? Is it a palindrome?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I think it has to do with the fact that the Animating Name (not the Vital Name!) is written on the boat. It’s not a one-time invocation. So it’s written on the boat, and it gets reversed when it passes through the Panama Canal, and stops working. Whereas each invocation of the Motive Name is separate and forward; unless you were saying the Motive Name right as you were passing through the center, there shouldn’t be a problem, I think.

        • Wertsir says:

          The ship was unaffected, since it is Not A Metaphor.

    • Mostly Metaphorical says:

      The others were able to return to normal because they were still there, but you can’t carry zero on a boat. Zero is nothing. It doesn’t exist. And you can’t get something from nothing.

    • Galle says:

      Lin never made it out of the canal.

  12. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Blue Origen, for your apokatastatic needs!

  13. LHC says:

    Caution: do NOT transport rats across the Panama Canal!

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh man, ships carry rats everywhere…

    • A name, by any other word, would still mean this is not actually Shakespeare. says:

      Now, rats aren’t very big. If you carry one across, let’s say that due to conservation of mass (which hopefully still works), the resulting star is the sum of the mass of all rats. There have to be at least two rats for there to be rats, as opposed to rat, so let’s go with an average of 5 rats per ship, because you’re good at cleaning, but not superb at it. The average size of a brown rat is 8.1 oz according to our mighty overlord Google. So your star ends up having a mass of 1.15 kg. Let’s assume that the star that results is of a similar type to our sun, so it also has a density of 1410 kg per meter cubed. So you’ve got a star that’s 0.0008156 cubic meters. Which means the resulting hole in your ship is merely 0.1159203093918… meters in diameter, or about 11.6 cm. Sure, you’d sink, but it could’ve been worse.

  14. Ninmesara says:

    The thing about the name reversal was genius, and the foreshadowing was great. Did anyone here spot it before the revelation?

    • R Flaum says:

      Depends what you mean by “the revelation.” I saw it when Ana did, but before she explained it. (Well, shortly after Ana did — I realized it when she said “that’s even stupider”).

  15. Macbi says:

    You missed out the most interesting fact about the Panama Canal! It itself goes the wrong way! It goes from the Pacific in the east to the Atlantic in the west. Look at it, it’s mad.

    • Peter D says:

      Wow, that’s a cool fact!

    • Devilbunny says:

      Yes, the references should more properly be to the Pacific and Atlantic ends rather than eastern and western (after all, it’s mostly north and south).

    • Loweeel says:

      Yes, if they were on the pacific side, “Now as John neared death, the ship changed its course and headed for the western terminus of the Panama Canal.” would be incorrect — they would be in fact heading for its Eastern (southern) terminus.

  16. So… The paths from Binah to Chesed and from Chokhma to Gevurah would cross at Wall Drug…

  17. Ninmesara says:

    Has the issue with the timing of the chapters been fixed yet? I think it isn’t. Ana speaks of being possessed “that afternoon”, but the soup was drugged during dinner, and Aaron is contacted by the Drug Lord in the morning.

  18. Ninmesara says:

    People say some pretty weird stuff just before the reversal… Lin:

    And when we get back to the ship, we can have a nice cold drink of water

    Azore says:

    “You’re not from UNSONG,” said Azore. “You’re too nice.”

    Is any of these sentences supposed to mean something except that they’re going crazy?

  19. J says:

    I think we have officially reached the apex of the story. It’s all downhill from here.

  20. stavro375 says:

    Most Serene Empire of the Darien Gap.

    “Most Serene”? Where have I heard that before?

    * Republic of Venice (English: the Most Serene Republic of Venice; Venetian: Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta; Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia)
    * Republic of Genoa (English: the Most Serene Republic of Genoa; Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di Genova)
    * Republic of Lucca (English: the Most Serene Republic of Lucca; Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di Lucca)
    * Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (English: the Most Serene Republic of Poland; Polish: Najjaśniejsza Rzeczpospolita Polska, Latin: Serenissima Res Publica Poloniae)

    (Quote is from wikipedia, bold parts added).

    So… the Most Serene Empire of the Darien Gap is ruled by Italian (or maybe Polish) history nerds?

    • Noah says:

      *Republic of Venice (English: the Most Serene Republic of Venice; Venetian: Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta; Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia)

      Well, little Venice (Venezuela) is nearby.

    • Guy says:

      Probably an Italian democratic republic: a republic governed by polls.

  21. Quixote says:


    I’m so pleased the ship talks. I’m so happy the dog thing worked.

  22. Jan Rzymkowski says:

    Now I’m weirdly relieved that the reverse of my name means “the most”.

  23. scherzando says:

    To find Metatron, the crew of Not A Metaphor should get a certain musician on board and sail right back to the Canal, since Dog is Eno and His Name is Eno.

  24. Ninmesara says:

    Until this chapter, I was tempted to think that the Captain might have been an ordinary human (with a troubled backstory perhaps) but now I’m pretty sure he isn’t. After all, Ana can’t find him in his cabin and after all is done he emerges from the cabin as if it all was normal. Also the dark glasses… Might they be important? The Captain is not described with glasses the first time he appears (when he is just “the big man”).

    • R Flaum says:

      Pretty sure the Captain turned into the dog, for two reasons: 1)As noted above, the dog is an Omen. 2) It would be completely out of keeping with the book as it’s been so far for God to actually materialize in the form of a dog and take a direct hand in the universe.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I thought about it (I’ve been thinking about NEMO/OMEN since the prologue), but I’d like to have in-story confirmation of this. As it is, it just keeps us guessing without ever being able to answer one way or another. Unless, of course, the answer is given eventually or the answer is not what we’re thinking about.

        • Timothy Scriven says:

          It’s a fairly obvious extension but worth stressing: If indeed Nemo became Omen and appeared to Ana in the form of a very large black dog then Ana is in a lot of trouble…

          • Victorlf4 says:

            The captain is the dog when kablablisticaly inverted, dog is god inverted therefore the captain is god

          • Aegeus says:

            The captain is god aboard his ship, as they say.

          • Nyx says:

            Capitan Nemo being god was also suggested earlier. It makes a certain amount of sense for three reasons: 1) Whenever Not a Metaphor goes to a spot where God is supposed to be, God is indeed there, aboard the ship. 2) When she asked about the Capitan’s name, James just replies that he’s a “very private man” and that “If you have to you can call him Captain Nemo.” The true name of god is not known. 3) It means that the purpose of the ship finding Nemo.

            I think the first person to have this idea was HonoreDB here

  25. “Malkuth, … lands in Patagonia… The center of Malkuth… sits on the Argentine city of Ushuaia”

    Huh? Ushuaia is in Tierra del Fuego, not in the middle of Patagonia.

  26. 1101560 says:

    Most Serene Empire of the Darien Gap.
    Dang it, this made me think of sailor moon. Too bad that’s probably not it. DOes anyone have any ideas as to what it actually means?

  27. Blue Origen — love it!

    (I agree with Isaac Asimov that the true purpose of a rounded education is to allow you to appreciate a wider variety of obscure puns.)

    • Peffern says:

      Can I get a source for this quote? I know a community of people who enjoy Asimov, well-rounded educations, and puns who would possibly appreciate this.

  28. Alex Mennen says:

    A flip “around the horizontal axis” is a vertical flip: it leaves the horizontal axis fixed, and flips everything else around it. Unless you were starting with a South-up map, I don’t think that’s what you meant.

  29. Aran says:

    With a metaphorical key that’s called “key” even though it’s really a geographical features involved in sailing. This is sand from the Florida Keys, melted into glass and shaped by the locksmiths of San Francisco.

    Maybe I was primed to think of it by the Panama palindrome, but this reminds me of Kingdom of Loathing. The weird symbolism and lame wordplay sounds exactly like the kind of puzzle that game would use.

    • anon says:

      While that’s probably a coincidence (I know, shush) I can attest that people who enjoy Unsong’s brand of humor are likely to find Kingdom of Loathing worth a shot.

    • will408914 says:

      In fact, one of the palindromes used in this chapter (“Egad! No bondage!”) is, in fact, used in the Kingdom of Loathing. Hooray for Dr Awkward!

  30. MF says:

    What did the Comet King’s name reverse to when he went through the Panama Canal?

  31. hnau says:

    Various things I noticed…

    1. A magical ship with a nameless captain and the ability to travel through higher dimensions… and it just reversed the polarity?
    2. So they’re on their way to purchase a trip to heaven… and they’re relying on the fact that sometimes words have two meanings.
    3. Simeon and Ana, huh? That seems… significant. (Luke 2:25-38)

  32. MF says:

    Also, a thought: Captain Nemo was missing when Ana went looking, and he would have become Omen. Much like a black dog signifying death, eh? I think Ana was a bit quick to call it a miracle.

  33. Aran says:

    PING went the radar. Why was it, of everything on the ship, still working?

    Wait, no. There were two things that were still working. The radar. And her.




  34. Aran says:

    “A talking ship! The Comet King had a talking ship! America is an epic!”

    Hah. For all that we saw that coming, I completely forgot when it did.

  35. Daniel Armak says:

    I was horrified for a few seconds as Ana fed her Team to the Dog, until I realized that didn’t quite work out. Whew!

  36. Timothy Scriven says:

    Does anyone else feel kinda weird about the fact that there’s no immediate grieving response for Lin?

    • Ninmesara says:

      The whole chapter feels kind of rushed. We aren’t even given any description of what state John’s body is in, what kind of injury he sustained, etc. but I agree with you that the part that sands out the most is the lack of grieving of Lin’s death.

      • LPSP says:

        Yeah, I’d agree that although it was good the chapter definitely lacks polish. Some sloppy exposition and characterisation in spots.

    • They’re planning to get hum back by dividing by zero.

    • Stib says:

      I’m really hoping he’s only gone temporarily :/

      Also, the story mentions John rising anew at the end, after not having mentioned what happened to him during the reversal? This is strange.

    • Aran says:

      If he’s actually gone, then I can only suppose he’s *completely* gone, soul and all. In a universe where they have to put their dying friends on a spaceship to save them from an eternity of torture, that might be one of the better outcomes.

      But mostly I think they’re still in shock about it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I suppose there’s the possibility if they return through the Canal, Lin will re-appear?

  37. Aerospace Lurker says:

    As an aerospace engineer, I’d like to point out that the Virgin Galactic > SpaceX/Blue Origin implied in this chapter is exactly reversed in real life.

  38. Good Burning Plastic says:

    BTW, chapters 34, 35 and 36 start with letters I, S and C whereas chapters 39, 38 and 37 start with A, B and S, so it looks like the Shem haMephorash is not a palindrome. I’m kind-of disappointed by this.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I mean, for all we know, that could be related to why the Comet King (apparently) never managed to make use of it!

      • Cniz says:

        Quite – If the Shem haMeforash was a 72-letter palindrome, and this were a reasonable guess, it would only have the security of a 36-letter name (or exactly one bit more, since it would take twice as long to pronounce each name). That would be on the order of magnitude of what name-sweatshops are already capable of – Aaron was enumerating over 36-letter names in chapter 1. And we know that the Comet King’s knowledge of Names far surpassed that of the theonomics corporations.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Only if you know to look for palindromes, though.

          • Cniz says:

            Certainly. I think the main question here should be (in-universe): are any of the currently known palindromic names of God? If yes, then I would expect the knowledgeable Kabbalah experts working the theonomics companies to realize this and suggest enumeration over long, palindromic names; and if the answer is no, then there really wouldn’t be much reason to expect the Shem haMephorash to be palindromic either, both for the corporations and for us.

            It COULD be that the Shem haMephorash is the ONLY palindromic name of God, but that would seem like too much of a coincidence to me – and you know what they say…

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            The Monogrammaton is a palindrome, though it has no effect. Is there a Name of God with an effect which is a palindrome? (I’d guess there are a few but not so many that a random palindromic string is more likely to be a Name than a random non-palindromic string.)

          • Aran says:

            This chapter also brings to mind The Study of Anglophysics.

          • Anonymous says:

            The previous one was more Anglophysics-y, I think.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Also maybe I should be clear here — I’m not talking about the difficulty of finding it, I’m suggesting that maybe somehow he wasn’t able to make use of it because it got reversed somehow. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, I admit, but figured I’d throw that out there.

  39. The coment king says:

    An interesting detail here: Narrator-Aaron tells us what Uriel told Sohu as though it’s common knowledge, which implies Sohu told people what she’d learned when she came back. This is an interesting difference from her father, who never explained most of what he knew (and what’s the reason for that, I wonder?)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I think he’s just telling us that as if we already know it, which we do.

      • Aur Saraf says:

        I think the important takeaway is that for the first time we realize all the interludes are narrated by Aaron, which means at some future point he must know all these things.

  40. Wren says:

    Counterfeit Monkey, by Emily Short.

    Literally the entire (text-based) game is this. You have a letter remover as a critical tool in your inventory. Your name is Alexandra as a synthesized combination of Alex and yourself, Andra, as a disguise. Literally any word you could make, you can. Highly recommended to anyone who’s a fan of weird wordplay things and semi-rationalist stories — so, anyone here.

    And yes, you can reverse words at one point.

  41. 75th says:

    While I like this chapter, it’s the first one where I’ve had the “Too many random episodic hijinks, not enough serial plot advancement” thought that other people have been reporting for a while

    (but this is still more of a fault with exactly-one-chapter-per-week release schedule than with the story itself)

    • R Flaum says:

      Really? This actually seemed like a pretty plot-heavy installment to me.

      • 75th says:

        I mean, it’s yet another diversion of where the ship is going. First they’re going to find Metatron, then they damage the ship and have to get it repaired, now they’re in a rush to get to get to Cape Canaveral for a completely different purpose and they went through a whole episodic Panama Canal chapter to begin to get there.

        This all sounds more complainy than I mean it to or than I’m actually feeling about the story, I shouldn’t have posted it at all

        • If you start in California, then Florida is on the way to New York (where Metatron is scheduled to appear). They’re going in the same direction, only faster.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah, this seems fine to me. I was worried there was getting to be too much when it seemed the 7th dragon was stolen, but that all worked out in such a way as to fit in too without overcomplicating things.

          • Decius says:

            Was the original plan to go around Cape Horn, through the Arctic, through Suez, or around Cape Of Good Hope?

          • 75th says:

            Right, I meant diversion of the story rather than diversion of the vessel even though it blatantly did not sound like it in my comment

            I still love the story but am just being an impatient ingrate and someday I will learn not to post things but this week was not that day

      • LPSP says:

        Not only that, but as far as I see the OPPOSITE grievance is more common – that people long for more thing-of-the-week shenanigans and less gloom’n’doom.

      • Will says:

        Wow, what a surprising reversal!

  42. Sniffnoy says:

    Further thought on Darien: If there’s an Empire based there, it can’t be the Darien Gap anymore, can it? Won’t they have needed to build roads? Shouldn’t it just be the Most Serene Empire of Darien?

    • FlyByNight says:

      The empire of the Darien gap could be based in what we know as Columbia, and they could be maintaining (really, just not developing) the Darien gap to slow or even halt the influence of the Drug Lord. Hiking through 100 miles (160 km) of mountainous rainforest sounds like it might be difficult while high on peyote. Not to mention, with no roads, logistics becomes a real problem. Remember, the Drug Lord’s influence comes from getting people to re-dose before they come down. If the drug lord were to send one of his thralls into the Darien gap, there’s a very high likelihood that they would come down before he could get them back to a source of peyote. Then he loses them, possibly forever if they go south across the gap instead of back north. Leaving behind a land of sin and slavery, going on a long, arduous trek across an inhospitable landscape, to find a lush paradise at the end? Sound familiar? Might maybe have some kabbalistic implications? Maybe they named themselves after the gap because it is literally the reason their empire exists at all.

  43. BunnyGo says:

    Reading this once a week, and jumping around between characters, I would very much appreciate it if you could keep a Dramatis Personae with a sentence or two per character on the home page of UNSONG. It’s very hard to find where the characters were introduced, or what chapter they last were in. I get lost easily in this.

    Thank you.

  44. Aur Saraf says:

    I think the important takeaway is that for the first time we realize all the interludes are narrated by Aaron, which means at some future point he must know all these things.

  45. Murphy says:

    hmm…. so if they were to sail back with a [dog]( called “doG” on board to start with do they get their own God?

  46. Doug S. says:

    Q) What’s an agnostic dyslexic insomniac?
    A) Someone who stays up all night wondering if there really is a dog.

    • LPSP says:

      Agnostic dyslexic insomniac


      Cainmosni cixelsyd citsonag

      We’ve got all of Cain, Mos (aka Moshe aka Moses), El and Son in here. Remove the vowels and you have CNMSN CXLSYD CTSNG, which includes SNG (song) and MSN (a popular messenging network) among others. There’s got to be more in there somewhere.

  47. LPSP says:

    Captain Nemo == Omen Niatpac

    Also, Star Wars is a palindrome, as is the classic Hero’s Journey in general for that matter. Does this mean the rest of Unsong will mirror the events thus far?

  48. LPSP says:

    The big question on my lips: What if you lowered a person or animal in a cage on a rope into the heavenly crack, then pulled them back out? I assume that Neil Armstrong let go of the rope willingly once exposed to God, hence why Buzz just got an empty rope when he pulled it up. But if that can’t happen thanks to a cage, could you get a real direct-line-to-God-in-a-cage? Like catching a legendary Pokemon?

    Or would it be no different to any other resident of San Fran, besides not needing more LSD?

    • The coment king says:

      I don’t think it works that way. Armstrong said he wasn’t really in the crack once he’d been dropped, which suggests the very concept of space doesn’t work the same on the other side. No reason a cage would hold someone.

      • LPSP says:

        So you’re saying Neil Armstrong dissolved? That would’ve happened to Neil but not the rope, which would perhaps imply it only works on things with souls. Which in turn has interesting implications about the north african p-zombies and the Vital Name.

        • Decius says:

          “Dissolve” is a process that happens in space. Armstrong simply travelled through the crack I the firmament above and exited the domain where space (geometry) exists.

          Wether he chose to let go of the rope before he exited the domain where “holding on to the rope” is a meaningful concept is irrelevant.

          • LPSP says:

            I think you’re missing the point that Neil didn’t return but the rope did.

            If we lowered a guy down in a cage, whatever happens to him, we can be sure the cage will return. This implies that whatever happens to the guy – and you can make it as unspacey as you like – won’t happen to an inanimate object.

  49. Oz says:

    Just binged this from Chpt1 to current. This may be the most intelligently written story I’ve ever read, and is certainly within the top ten. Especially if all of this Kabbalistic and religious background is actually there.

  50. “That is both really clever and the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

    Aaron will take that as a challenge.

  51. Rafe Saltman says:

    I’ve got just one word about the placement of unrepresentible Keter at the North Pole, in the ocean:


  52. Nosenada says:

    Does gps make real life epic?

  53. Sillence says:

    If Lin is Chinese, then a reasonable guess would be that his name is 林 (“forest” in Chinese, as people pointed out when he first appeared). This character is a palindrome, or at least it’s symmetric under left-right reversal.

    There are many other characters pronounced “lin” that aren’t symmetric, but it would be nifty if Lin’s Chinese name saved him somehow.

    • LPSP says:

      Which begs the question – how much woodland is there in PANAMA?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Hm, two trees… two trees of Sephirot? 😛

      Or! You know what else had two trees? The Garden of Eden. What happens if one swaps the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with the Tree of Life? (Shades of Ender’s Shadow, I guess…)

  54. Ah! Re. Man: nah, me Ra.

    (wean ’em or gnon, angry menu)

  55. hnau says:

    At this rate, the final climactic confrontation will involve a duel of Tom Swifties.

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    • Simurgh says:

      Part of me thinks this was posted in the wrong place, but part of me feels like there’a some sort of bizzare relevance that is going over my head.

      • LPSP says:

        It’s not the first type total spam seems to spell deep, winding meaning at the bottom of old comment threads.

        Why the spambots come to this site is the broader mystery.

  57. Stib says:

    From chapter 12:

    …plus the transformation of the Panama Canal into some sort of conduit for mystical energies that drove anyone in its vicinity mad…

    We should keep track of these weird foreshadowing comments probably 😛

  58. LPSP says:

    Treating here as an Unsong open thread for a change, I was watching this video and it struck me as numero-lingustically relevant.

    Four just seems to be the right number for languages to gravitate towards and, in some cases, orbit around. The comparisons to the four seasons and maybe other things are eminent. 18 also strikes me as a good number, fitting binary as a “deep” language.

    • LPSP says:

      … I realised this was the wrong chapter about 2 seconds after I hit send. I’m reposting this in the intended place, if you see this Scott and feel like deleting it then by all means.

  59. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    I propose an English translation for the Sanskrit word dharma: troth. Just like dharma, the word “troth” suggests connotations of faith, truth, pledge and creed. In my opinion, it is an almost direct translation. The major difference is that dharma has some technical senses in Indian philosophy that “troth” has never been used in as far as I’m aware.

  60. Matt says:

    The dhamma is the truth taught by the Buddha the truth of suffering and the end of suffering ( not the moral law, or the natural law, or duty. That is the Vinaya.

  61. Matt says:

    Also the Sangha isn’t “entire community of believers.” It is the community of people who have attained at least the lowest level of awakening, or the conventional sangha of ordained monks and nuns. Everyone who believes in the Buddha’s teachings but is not part of these groups are the parisa.

  62. Matt says:

    Lastly, the Buddha does not abide “in the secret order of the universe.” Samsara or the process of creating and destroying the universe is a horrific, meaningless cycle that can be broken when the mind goes out, or nibbana’s.

  63. earfluffy says:

    I’m surprised they didn’t try sailing the ship backwards, inasmuch as that’s possible, but I suppose there wasn’t much time.

  64. hf says:

    Time for a (weak) prediction, since I haven’t read past this point yet:

    The world of the story is kind of odd, but Lurianic kabbalah seems like the most credible explanation. Neil Armstrong’s ravings support this. He doesn’t technically say the breaking of the shells was planned, either. (I have no problem believing that Ein Sof gets distracted easily by cool many-dimensional shapes.) But the qlippoth by definition would derive from shells that the divine ‘energy’ broke, so we know this force can affect them. (Uriel could also kill Thamiel temporarily; but I mean that Ein Sof or even the thrice-transformed light could affect the most powerful version of the qlippoth, pre-Uriel.)

    This chapter tells us that Nemo’s crew have a plan to get someone into Ein Sof, where divinity is presumably strongest. They’ve also been practicing resistance to the effects of divinity. They have people knowledgeable in various forms of magic, including placebomancy I think. This gives them a lot of the pieces they’d need for convincing Ein Sof to restore the original design and put the qlippoth back where they should be.

    (It’s a weak prediction because even if Sohu and Sarah join the crew, there seem to be some loose ends that my theory doesn’t tie up.)

  65. Andrew M says:

    The Comet King went through the Panama Canal only once (apparently east to west). Since he presumably started on the west coast, and his ship ended up on the west coast, he must have gone round by some other way first. Did he go round Cape Horn, or did he circle the world?

  66. nofedway says:

    a geographical features involved in sailing -> a geographical feature involved in sailing

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