aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 47: For He Beheld New Female Forms

February 1984
Citadel West

“Evening,” the Comet King said from across the table, stifling a yawn. “Why don’t you tell me something about yourself and why I should marry you?”

Her name was Jessica. She was twenty-three and beautiful, long dark wavy hair, curves to die for, deep brown eyes, et cetera. She bit her lip in a way the Comet King assumed was supposed to be seductive.

“I graduated from University of Colorado with double degrees in physics and political science,” she said. “I’ve been reading about you ever since you won that battle at Silverthorne. I always thought you were a real hero, like out of some fairy tale. The day you became King of Colorado was one of the happiest days of my life, because I know we had someone wonderful here taking care of us. I think I’ve been in love with you ever since I saw the coronation on TV. If you let me be your Queen, I will try to be an inspiration to young Coloradoan women everywhere. I’ll serve you well and give you lots of babies.”

“You’re very beautiful,” said the Comet King, in the same way a judge at a dog show might pronounce a certain poodle to be very beautiful. “Thank you for your time. My staff will get back to you within three to five days.”

“That’s…it?” asked Jessica. She tossed her hair seductively. “But I thought we would be able to spend…you know…more time together.”

“I am very busy.”

“I wouldn’t have to wait until our wedding. Even if you’re not interested in getting married, we could still…you know.”

“I appreciate the offer and my staff will get back to you in three to five days.” He got up from the table, gave her a little bow, and walked out to the atrium of the palace. Nathanda and Caelius were fighting over a toy. He gave them a quick glance, and both of them tried to push the toy at the other, then stood to attention. He smiled and found Father Ellis, sitting alone beside one of the big targeting computers, looking annoyed.

“That was four minutes! You can’t say you gave her a fair hearing!”

“She wanted to have my babies,” said the Comet King. “She knew about the curse, she knew they would die screaming and cursing their father’s name, and she still wanted to have them.”

“She loves you,” said the priest.

“They all love me,” said the Comet King. “Can we give up now?”

“It is not good for man to be alone,” quoted Ellis.

“I am only half human. Whatever I am, it’s fine for it to be alone.”

“You told me you wanted my help being human, and I’m giving it to you! You need to get married. I don’t make you meet a new girl every day. Just dinner Saturday and Sunday. Two nights a week. Two dates. Is that too much to give your old friend, and a nation anxious to have a Queen?”

“Another one of these tomorrow night? No. Cancel. Tomorrow night I am holding annexation talks with east Oregon.”

“You can’t just cancel on her! She’s here already! She’s come all the way from Utah to see you.”

“The Oregonians have come all the way from Oregon. That is farther.”

“Look, Jala. These people are infatuated with you. When I announced that you had given your permission to meet two women a week, I got so many applicants it takes half my time now just to sort through them for the good ones. This is probably going to be the highlight of this poor woman’s life, and all she wants is ten minutes with you over a dinner table.”

“What about tonight? Can I just get both of them over tonight, and then have the rest of the week free?”

“I’ll see if she’s around. But you better give her a full ten minutes. You hear me, Jala? Ten! Now you go back in the dining room, and I’ll find her and send her in, and you give her ten minutes and not a second less.”

“Yes, Father. Whatever you say.”

Five minutes later, a young woman walked into the dining room beneath Cheyenne Mountain. Stick thin. Boyish body. Light brown hair. Simple tan dress. She introduced herself as Robin Allison Minstrell. Something something philosophy Ph. D something something whatever.

“Good evening,” the Comet King said from across the table, playing with an olive on his fork. “Why don’t you tell me something about yourself and why I should marry you?”

“I’m not sure why someone like you would get married,” said Robin, “but I would assume you’re being pressured or feel some obligation to do so for the sake of the kingdom. A relationship would probably take up a lot of your time and distract you from your work, which of course is vital to the future of humanity. Whatever good I could do with my own life is probably less than the amount of good you could do with the time you save by not having a demanding wife, and I wasn’t sure you realized the option existed, so I decided the morally optimal thing to do would be to offer to marry you so you could have the public relations benefits of marriage without the time-related costs. Of course, I could help your mission in other ways too; as your Queen, I’d be a natural choice to take over a lot of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and press photo ops you have to do. All of this time saved would be time you could devote to your primary mission of fighting back against Hell.”

“Who told you to say this?”

“What? Um. Nobody. I studied philosophy. Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher. He believed that only the course that most effectively eases suffering is morally permissible. I…I have a book I can give you.”

She reached into her purse and handed the Comet King a book. He looked at it for a second, then took it and placed it beside his plate.

“You knew this man?”

“No. He died before I could meet him. Killed. In Salt Lake City, February of ’74. But I read everything. I did my thesis on him. I wrote dozens of papers. And every time I submitted another paper to the journals, to get thrown in the wastebasket or read by a couple of academics, I thought, things have gotten too bad, I just can’t keep doing this. So I quit and joined the military. Administrative work, supply management, that kind of thing. But now there’s peace. Thanks to you. And I thought, given the extent of your genius, helping you would be a more effective use of my time then anything else I could do. I considered joining your government, but since I’m pretty and charismatic I thought it would be more effective to offer my hand in marriage instead.”

“I accept,” said the Comet King. “My uncle Vihaan is in the third floor library. He manages my schedule. Ask him when a good time for the wedding would be.”

Without a word, Robin got up from the table and headed towards the stairwell.

Jalaketu toyed with his olive for another moment, then popped it in his mouth and walked out the door into the atrium. Father Ellis saw him and rose to his feet in a rage.


“Father, I need your help.”

The anger evaporated from the priest’s face. “What’s wrong, Jala?”

“The girl. Robin. She told me that marriage and relationships were a waste of the time I should be spending planning my war against Hell. She offered to marry me, serve as my public face, and leave me alone completely in order to free me from the burden. I said yes. She and Vihaan will plan the wedding. You’ll need to officiate, of course.

“God damn it, Jala! I wanted to humanize you, and instead you found somebody just as defective as yourself. You’ll get nothing out of it, she’ll get nothing out of it, and you’re going to miss your chance at something natural and important just to get someone who will pose for photo ops once in a while.”

“No, Father, I need your help.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Father, I think I’m in love.”

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121 Responses to Chapter 47: For He Beheld New Female Forms

  1. Metacelsus says:

    Still better than my dating life.

  2. Cake&spoon says:

    Your fixing speed is impressive.
    The chapter feels entirely too short, and the result is a bit expected (in that a few words into her intro, the end result is expected), but still managed to subvert expectation. I expected some kind of a saintly mary sue, and got a deconstructed saint instead…

    • Cake&spoon says:

      And since his time is so important, she should refuse to marry him (once she finds out he’s in love with her), since his love will distract him and make him spend more time with her (and might make him emotionally unstable).

    • Ninmesara says:

      I agree that it was too short. In general, I’ve felt that recent chapters have been too short and I don’t know if this is objectively true or just my perception.

      I didn’t have any expectations regarding TCK’s wife, but I like how it played out. Maybe it is a little rushed, though.

  3. Alsadius says:

    Okay, I think that might be the nerdiest romance I’ve ever seen.

  4. Normal Anomaly says:

    I’m glad at least one of them knows they’re perfect for each other.

  5. Angstrom says:

    A minstrel is somebody who tries to do good in a court setting.

  6. YumAntimatter says:

    Is it bad that I find this adorable and not disturbing?

    Also I am now feeling sad thinking about what probably happened to her and the effect it must have had on him. (It’s too late in the story to add more characters, so unless she is secretly Malia Ngo or sometging, she’s dead)

    • Sunday says:

      This is absolutely adorable. Also, poor Father Ellis. He does his best.

    • She is dead, as mentioned in Over the Dark Deserts (unless she’s secretly alive anyway somehow?).

    • Error says:

      I think this is my favorite romance ever. Zero artifice and everybody gets what they want.

      • Autolykos says:

        Yep. You gotta hand it to the Comet King, whenever he does something, it’s efficient.
        Why can’t humans be a bit more like that?

    • Murphy says:

      I find it cute too.

      Love how similar her speech is to his own earlier in the story.

      I know the feeling of suddenly realizing that the person across the table sees the world the way you do, not just that they empathize but that they actually think like you.

      My mental image was of the Comet Kings eyes widening as he realizes.

    • Warren Peace says:

      Scott has said he still has major characters to be introduced late

  7. Deiseach says:

    Okay. So the Comet King already has two children by this point – Nathanda and Caelius. We know he ends up with four – so there are another two children to be born. Presumably Robin is the mother of at least one of them.

    But since he’s free to remarry, what happened the mother(s) of his first two children? Have they all died? Does having a child by the Comet King kill you, and is that why he’s worried now about Robin – if she gets pregnant there’s a good chance she will die?

    I’m presuming he didn’t do a Henry VIII and marry/divorce/marry/divorce (or even marry/behead/divorce), so what happened the first two queens/wives?

  8. R Flaum says:

    I’ve gotta say, I don’t really like these Comet King chapters. The thing is, I love it when people are talking about the Comet King — this huge, world-shaking figure who scared Thamiel and all that — but when we actually see him I feel like he doesn’t really live up to the hype. He’s just too… small.

    • vanillafog says:

      This might just be inherent to the nature of legendary figures. When all you know about someone is from stories and hearsay, they seem larger-than-life. It’s easy to put them on a pedestal, to see only the legend and not the person behind the legend. When you actually meet them, those illusions tend to disappear. You realize that they don’t live up to the hype because it’s impossible to live up to the hype.

      The Comet King – the world-shaking, indomitable legend who strikes fear into Thamiel’s heart – doesn’t really exist. Jalaketu does.

      • duckduckMOO says:

        If any Jaleketu is the “real” one then it’s the one who entrusted his fate to a priest and faced down thamiel as a kid.

    • I liked the ones about him as a child/teenager. The ones about him as an adult are more hit-or-miss.

  9. Gazeboist says:

    Robin Allison Minstrel. RAM.

    This has some relation to Jala and his kids and the Other King, but I can’t quite fit it all together. Some parts of the story seem to point towards the royal children, but some seem to point towards TOK. The small horn that grows strong, for instance, seems to be both Sohu *and* TOK, at different times. If Robin is the ram, is Jala the goat? He does come from the west, and if he’s the false messiah, it seems appropriate that his empire ultimately be corrupted in the manner described. But it seems strange that Sohu would wind up leading an army, much less that his children would ultimately form an antagonistic faction.

    Very strange.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Also worthy of note: Robin has thus far gone unmentioned, I believe.

      • Peter says:

        Not by name, but Chapter 30 mentions in the lead-up to the fight with TOK “His wife was dead” but doesn’t give any more details than that, apart from TCK acting very broken-hearted.

    • hnau says:

      More to the point, Genesis 22.

      I’m pretty sure the Comet King is going to have to kill Robin at some point (or allow her to die, which from a Singerian point of view is the same thing), in order to save one or more of his children (most likely Caelius). What’s more, I predict that it’s going to be her idea– he isn’t going to want to do it, and she’s going to insist on it.

      • Why Caelius?

        I was expecting the sacrifice to happen for the fight against hell (but that wouldn’t explain how he lost it anyway).

        • vanillafog says:

          In Genesis 22, Abraham is told to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. This is a test of his faith; he’s not really supposed to kill his son. Right as he’s about to sacrifice Issac, an angel appears and tells him not to harm the boy, and that he passed the test of faith. Abraham then sees a RAM caught in a thicket, and sacrifices the RAM as a burnt offering instead.

          Caelius, being TCK’s only son, is the closest parallel to Isaac.

          • Decius says:

            Clearly that story is about the evil deity offering Abraham power in exchange for being willing to sacrifice his firstborn son.

            I mean, if he hadn’t had the murder cancelled at the last second and still got the reward, it would obviously be a deal with evil. Why should information not available to Abraham at the time exonerate him from the consequences.

            Thamiel is not the one credited with making the bargain for power- is that because the accreditation is inaccurate, or because it is?

          • Joline says:

            Decius, your exegesis is extremely biased.

            The text says:

            And he said, “By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one,” [snip, series of blessings of increasing scope]

            There’s a lot of latitude in “done this thing”. And moreover, the key isn’t that Abraham is doing this to get anything.

            There’s a midrash on the beginning of the portion.

            “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac,”

            The midrash says that YHVH keeps getting interrupted by Abraham.
            “..your son”
            I have two sons, Master
            “your only one”
            Each is the only child of his mother, Master
            “whom you love”
            I love them both, Master

            Remember, the text itself emphasizes that Abraham is quite distraught at having been told by YHVH to go along with Sarah’s demand to put Hagar and Ishmael out in the desert to die. That even though as far as he knows, he is only trusting YHVH’s word that somehow, they survived.

            The interruptions imply that whatever YHVH intends, Abraham is saying if it is good, he will in principle search for and find Ishmael to bring it about (if Ishmael be the son referred to). And if it is bad, likewise he will not spare any effort to find Ishmael and do whatever, even though it’s clear from the text, Abraham thinks Ishmael and Hagar are getting treated poorly here.

            Searching for one mother and child in the area the story takes place in, even with Abraham’s resources, isn’t a small thing. And Abraham has no reason to expect he’ll necessarily be told where Ishmael is. YHVH is very stingy with information shared with all the principle characters in Genesis.

            More modern midrash (which admittedly isn’t technically midrash by Orthodox lights) tells that Abraham undertakes the trip to Moriah in a spirit of “I must have done something wrong. YHVH sent one of my sons out to die, now the other one is going through the same. If this is my punishment for hidden wrongdoing, I accept it.” (Or even possibly he feels guilt for having accepted Sarah’s plan with Hagar, realizing it showed distrust of YHVH which might have offended…)

            What’s telling about this passage is that Isaac is a grown man (Greek translators suck). The text makes it clear at each point Isaac is absolutely cooperating with Abraham (“And they went together” is repeated three times). Even though he’s scared of the omininous direction of the errand and Abraham’s refusal to explain what’s going on.

            Jewish tradition says a child should have yira (a complicated word usually translated as fear but also implying wonder and a sense of reverent helplessness) toward their father.

            Isaac is seen as the most spiritual of the patriarchs. The culmination of the daily offerings in the Temple are seen as corresponding to Isaac’s daily prayers to YHVH. (And he was the only patriarch who prayed daily to YHVH.)

            It’s clear that Isaac was both traumatized and yet also strengthened by his experience at Moriah. At being asked wordlessly by his father “I have yira for my celestial Father, so I have brought you here. Do you have yira for me, that you will allow me to fulfill the command put upon me by my father?” That’s a very intense experience to go through.

            The fact that Isaac goes on to be the patriarch closest to God shows it accomplished something worthwhile that may well not have been possible by any other route.

            (re: trauma: beyond the obvious, Isaac never speaks to Abraham again and his behaviour is pretty timid compared to Abraham. There’s a joke in Jewish circles that there’s three patriarchs: Abraham, Rebecca and Jacob (because Isaac is so withdrawn and passive).)

            (incidentally, the child should have ahava (love, but the etymology is it’s constructed from the phrase “I give”) for their mother.)

            The prayers in the morning service make no bones that Abraham is having to do something unnatural. “Just as Abraham suspended his compassion to do Your will, YHVH, please suspend your wrath toward us”. (it’s prayed right after they recite Genesis 22 every morning in some traditions) Generations of exegesis stress that this passage teaches that human sacrifice is not desirable to YHVH. And that what Abraham is being rewarded for is unconditional obedience as an expression of yira and ahava.

            Decius’ characterization of the passage is that Abraham’s recognizing time’s come to pay YHVH for all his gifts, and if the payment is Isaac, oh well, what can he do?

            I hope it’s obvious given Jewish tradition this isn’t at all the meaning that’s meant to be taken away from the passage. And, getting this back toward the story, it will be interesting to see what Isaac like role Allison plays with the Comet King.

            Like Abraham, the Comet King knows he’s somewhat forcing fate, insisting on making things happen because he feels an urgency that won’t let him just wait for further guidance or providence. And like Abraham he feels the future is at stake, so idleness is impermissible. Like Abraham, he needs the cooperation of Allison to do something that normally would not be possible.

            Setting things up like that, there’s a lot of ways for the story to echo, subvert, avert, or toy with the currents in the original text of Genesis 22 and the associated Jewish exegetical tradition.

            Also, it’s worth noting Abraham receives these effusive promises of reward? He’s silent. His last words to YHVH in the passage are a (possibly bitter) echo of the first “Here I am”. He returns to where he made a treaty with the Phillistines, to Beersheba. He establisehd Beersheba after casting Ishmael out (but not killing him), and he finishes his spiritual journey (as far as Torah’s tale of the ten tests of Abraham) there after going through the motions of casting Isaac out (but not killing him).

            (The phrase “lech l’kha” occurs when it says to take Isaac to Moriah. The same vigorous emphatic phrase that YHVH directs Abraham to leave the land of his forbears and follow YHVH. While some dwell on how here at the end of the active part of Abraham’s life, his final deed mirrors his first, it’s also true that Isaac’s start in life is with that same vigorous directive “Get out, take yourself, go!” )

            The impression left is that Abraham is exhausted emotionally by these dual trauamas. There there is nothing more he can reasonably do for YHVH, and YHVH being merciful, refrains from asking.

            So the point is, Chapter 22 isn’t about some metaphysical quid pro quo. It’s about the frailty of human vessels to do divine will. How Abraham tries and tries to do the right thing, but has to conclude on a very personally and objectively unsatisfactory note. Yet his son loyally takes up the legacy of trying to continue the same overall mission. Invoking this as the framing device for the struggle with Hell is very appropriate.

            I am sure there is some repeating cycle that the arc with the Comet King is fulfilling. It’ll be interesting to see what it is.

    • gradus says:

      nice reference to daniel.

      the goat does seem to be TCK, and I would have assumed the four horns that spring from the central horn were the cometspawn. it does seem strange that the “small horn” seems to reference Sohu but also TOK. However, it says the corrupted horn grows “out of” the 4th horn. This could mean that Sohu’s actions in some way LED to the other king, not that they share identity.

      • Ben Cass says:

        Pure conjecture, but I think that section could also refer to something that’s already happened, the whole episode with Sohu getting Uriel to go to Madrid.

        > 10 It [Sohu] grew as high as the host of heaven [Uriel]. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them. 11 Even against the prince of the host [Thamiel] it acted arrogantly; it took the regular burnt offering [political influence] away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary [Madrid]. 12 Because of wickedness [Thamiel’s prodding], the host [Uriel] was given over to it together with the regular burnt offering [Uriel having political influence]; it cast truth to the ground [p-zombies, etc.], and kept prospering in what it did. [destroy Madrid] 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one that spoke, “For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?”[How long will Sohu be with Uriel?] 14 And he answered him, “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

    • Warren Peace says:

      What are you talking about ?

  10. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    I now see a potential parallel between Comet King/Robin Minstrell and Aaron/Ana. Both men infatuated (partly intellectually) with women who care for them but show no sign of being a conventional romantic partner. We don’t know here if Robin is asexual like Ana, which undercuts the parallel. We are also, incidentally, seeing the first indicator the Comet King might not be asexual. (I think I was kinda assuming he was, so far.)

    On a different note, what odds do we give that R.A.M. somehow becomes Malia Ngo?

  11. Weirdly parallel to How I Met Your Mother, another story about how a guy who already had his kids ended up getting with a woman named Robin.

  12. Some more thoughts:

    – Like Miss American Pie, this is another example of someone who wasn’t the type to fall in love suddenly meeting someone who thinks the same way he does (and also isn’t really the type to fall in love), and then those things you always hear about love suddenly make sense. This was pretty close to my experience growing up – Scott’s described himself as being (partly?) asexual, so I wonder if it was like that for him too.

    – An extension to the theory about the Comet King fragmenting: At some point during either the invasion of Hell or the search for Metatron (either way, ~2000), shards of his divine heritage fell out and infused various random people, turning them into borderline-superpowereds (e.g. Dylan, Malia Ngo?). The Other King is Acher, but was originally only a mildly powerful necromancer – remember TCK dealt with him pretty easily – and only gained the power to come back and challenge Colorado after being infused by this power. This theory would make sense in terms of story construction – We’ve had a whole chapter about Acher, so he has to be relevant somehow, but having him be TOK would still be kind of an out-of-nowhere. If TOK is a mix of Acher and Jala’s powers, that would fit better into the story development.

    Also, check out the Facebook page.

    • Stib says:

      Why would having TOK be Acher be an out-of-nowhere? I feel like it’s sufficiently foreshadowed with the sparrow thing and the name. Just like I thought having the Drug Lord be Samyazaz was perfectly foreshadowed.

      • Because he’s a fundamentally important part of the narrative. Both Samyazaz and the Drug Lord were roughly equal in importance before we found out they were the same person. Foreshadowing suggests TOK as a major part of the story’s finale (Aaron: whatever fate had spared me for, it had something to do with this guy), while the drug lord was more a villain-of-the-week kind of thing.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Robin […] Minstrell

    So… she’s going to be eaten at some point, with much rejoicing?

    (I have heard this narration is a reference to these.)

  14. Sukil says:

    Typo thread!

    helping you would be a more effective use of my time then anything else I could do.

    It’s than, not then.

  15. jzr says:

    Still a better love story than Twilight.

  16. Anonymous says:

    God damn it, Jala!

    To hell with the Second Commandment, I guess. Though I’ve heard he’s supposed to be a Catholic priest or something…

    • Gonzalez says:

      First hypothesis: priests are fallible and therefore capable of forgetting to follow certain prescriptions.

      Second hypothesis: I’ve been told that the original meaning of the Second Commandment was more in the context of not taking oaths in the Lord’s name, or not claiming the Lord was backing you when in fact that was not the case. A simple “God damn it!” wouldn’t be going quite that far.

      • gradus says:

        Or, for an in-universe interpretation, not using Names in vain.

      • Autolykos says:

        Yep. The Interpretation I know is not that it forbids using curse-words (that misunderstanding can pretty much only develop if you speak English). It’s more about cursing someone in God’s name, like some shaman would do with ancestral spirits.
        If you did that, you’d either make it look like you could order God around (if it happens), or make God look powerless (if it doesn’t). Both would be blasphemy.

      • !ealR says:

        The first hypothesis is true, because we see this Catholic priest attempting to have Jala marry someone without the intent to be open to having children, which is not permissible for Catholics (with the exception of a Josephite marriage).

  17. Grort says:

    Oh that poor good woman. That poor poor good good woman.

  18. Eneasz Brodski says:

    Coloradans say Coloradan, not Coloradoan.

    • Bassicallyboss says:

      We do for the most part, but not exclusively. I’ve heard Coloradoan before, though it occurs to me that it might have been from a new arrival. I know the Fort Collins newspaper is called the Coloradoan; apparently, the “Coloradoan” was originally the more popular form.

  19. Quixote says:

    I liked this chapter. It felt short, but I think this wanted to be short and the chapter was the length it’s supposed to be.

    • After thinking about it, I agree with you. It really was pretty effective.

      OTOH, I wish the Comet King chapters weren’t all so short. Also, the last few have all been about council meetings and diplomacy, and I really want to see more fighting hell/sailing to find God/adventures. It reminds me a bit of book 6 of Wheel of Time, when things slowed down and the characters all stop walking around and start politicking all day.

      • Bassicallyboss says:

        It does me a bit, too, but if this were Lord of Chaos, we’d have to read 100 pages to get this much story.

      • gradus says:

        >I really want to see more fighting hell/sailing to find God/adventures.

        I’m not sure that I do. Sometimes the imagination is better at this than explicit narrative. Having the battle with Hell be this vague, legendary event that is talked about by others, but never seen, actually lends it gravitas.

        • Ninmesara says:

          I would normally disagree, and I’d love if the battle were described in full, but I have found all Unsong’s battles a little underwhelming (e.g. the battle for New York City), and maybe the story should focus on other things.

          The setting is not described in enough detail to be believable. How broken is technology? Bullets still work (and so do rifles or guns). But do machine guns work? What about anti-aircraft guns (demons have been described flying). Do tanks work? Can you power a tank using the Motive Name? Can you use airships for reconnaissance? Can you bomb enemy positions with airships? How vulnerable are demons? They defeat the combined might of the US and Canadian armies, only to be temporarily stopped by Mormons (?). In the battle for NYC it is said that:

          The New York Guard would have none of it. Inspired with sudden new courage, they leapt into pursuit, swarming around the giant golem, picking off with their guns and nightsticks what she couldn’t with her lance and fire, until demon after demon disincorporated.

          So, uh, demons defeat professional armies and are picked off by NYPD with “guns and nightsticks” (although after being dispersed by a giant golem)? What kind of foes are these? This is war running on placebomancy alone…

          The general problem with battles against demons is that after a certain disparity of technology (demons with tooth, claw and sword against post WWII weaponry) you have a total victory for humanity, like in the Salvation War (a bad story with realistic depictions of the effects of modern weaponry). Without the technological disparity, you get humans running around helplessly with no effective weapons. Unsong’s universe seems to be a little undecided between these two positions: human tecnhology is of no use, but demons are so weak that they can be “picked off” with nightsticks.

          In the particular case of this story, I’d prefer if battles weren’t described at all, as so far they haven’t been convincing.

          • So, uh, demons defeat professional armies…

            If you look at the timeline, it took the demons several years to get through the professional armies in Canada. The story summed it up in a line or two, but it probably wasn’t easy for them. (And remember, the broadcast wrecked hell on army morale and organization by that point).

          • Peter says:

            So, uh, demons defeat professional armies and are picked off by NYPD with “guns and nightsticks” (although after being dispersed by a giant golem)?

            “Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the theatre?”

            There are lots of factors in war. Consider the Bush Jr Iraq War – getting to Mission Accomplished – by fighting pitched battles in fields – was pretty straightforward, defeating all of the irregulars who liked streetfighting in cities was a lot harder. Saddam’s professional armies went down very fast, the irregulars held out a lot longer.

            Morale is a huge factor in war; the demons needed The Broadcast to break North American morale before invading, and there’s nothing like supernatural aid coming in the form of one of your most beloved national symbols being fused with a holy name of God and blasting demons away to bring morale back. I’m not sure how morale works for angels and demons, but I wouldn’t mind betting they can be literally strengthened or weakened by the ebb and flow of morale.

            Demons who are tough-but-not-invincible aren’t exactly hard to imagine – consider for example, the ones in Doom, who might need several shotgun rounds to take down, but they go down eventually. Consider demons that are fast but not Kefitzat Haderech fast – their ability to close with a firearm-armed enemy and engage in hand-to-hand combat could easily depend on the tactical situation. Such forces could easily fit into the gap between your two positions. I mean, there have been successful bayonet charges as late as 2004 – add in demonic toughness and speed and an aura of terror and I can well see the charge making a comeback as a military tactic.

            Also, the Russians had managed to put up a pretty good fight, even before they adopted Marxism-Lurianism.

            The usefulness of nightsticks is a bit more of a question – however, if the demons are scattered and disorganised, and have a lot less local knowledge than the cops, then ambushes and the like might be a factor. One cop facing off against a demon, nightstick vs hellsword might be an easy win for the demon, one demon being beaten up by several cops in a dark alley might be another matter.

          • Autolykos says:

            Depends a lot on how one fights demons. If it works like the rules for fighting (non-materialized) spirits in Shadowrun, this could be plausible: There, it doesn’t really matter what weapon you use (unless it’s magical), you attack them with your will. Using a big honkin’ sword with a lot of skill would be no more effective than swinging your fists at it furiously while screaming “I hate, Hate, HATE you!”.
            This would explain why NYPD with nightsticks, handguns and good morale was more effective than modern armies with the best weapons money can buy (but some morale issues due to the Broadcast).

          • Ninmesara says:

            @The Comment King: I didn’t look into the timeline in detail, but apparently the NYC battle was such a setback that the city was saved until the present day. Maybe that’s because people discovered names and all that, but still I find it hard to believe that professional modern (1970s) armies couldn’t deal equivalent blows to demons regularly, enough to keep them away from Canada for a long, long time.

            The point about morale (and even organization) is a good one, though, as the US was divided at that point from the Broadcast. In my opinion, it is unlikely that the country would fall apart because of the Broadcast (I can just as easily imagine the US uniting against Thamiel and carpet bomb the shit out of the demons for as long as airplanes still work), but given that it happened, then yeah, morale would have suffered and armies would have become less effective.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Demons who are tough-but-not-invincible aren’t exactly hard to imagine

            It’s not that hard to imagine, indeed. You just have to imagine something like a lion with very thick skin.

            one demon being beaten up by several cops in a dark alley might be another matter.

            But this is. Either demons don’t obey the laws of physics (perfectly possible given the setting) or you can’t hurt with a nightstick something that takes multiple rounds to bring down. A spear maybe, but not a nightstick. Can you imagine hunting a lion (a normal lion, not a mythological lion with very thick skin) by ambushing it with nightsticks? (I have to admit I have no experience hunting lions myself, with or without nightsticks). If you took away the part where the police dispatches demons with nightsticks, I’d say that the setting would be almost consistent. They could simply be described as executing wounded or disabled demons with a shot to the back of the head or something.

            You’d still have to explain demons could win against tanks, airplanes or artillery. How does a demon destroy a tank? Or an airplane? Or you could handwave it by making it clear that these technologies not functional at that time.

            My point is not that demons must obey the laws of physics, but if you’re describing a fight in any detail, it better be convincing given he rules of the setting. This story does not make a good job out of making fights convincing. We don’t know the rules according to which battles are fought, and as such the result seems arbitrary.

          • Ninmesara says:


            This is an intriguing possibility, and if it were confirmed in the text it would explain a lot. It’s not a possibility I like, but I would accept it as an explanation. It would probably mean that ensouling tanks and general army equipment would be extremely effective, as has been discussed, because the in that case, the tank would not only kill, but also long to kill, and lust over the blood of disincorporated demon corpses. It seems extremely effective in a setting where battles run on willpower 🙂

          • Peter says:

            We can speculate all day, so let’s look again through the text. It seems that the big issues are a) morale – almost certainly including supernatural morale-depleting effects and b) numbers.

            “I was there for the first half of the battle in Albany,” said the Governor. “The demons aren’t even an army. They’re a swarm. You try to resist them, and they just cover you, and it feels like everything good is sucked out of the world, and then you run. The veterans from the Canada campaign said it happened there too. There are hundreds of thousands of them. Millions.”

            The effect sounds similar to the effect that Thamiel’s bident has (see – “All the light vanished from the world. Everything stable, everything comprehensible”) but not as strong. It seems that armies don’t always automatically crack, but nevertheless morale will be a lot weaker than against an otherwise-equivalent-power mortal army.

            And the police having success at last:

            The Liberty Golem lifted her lance, formerly the spire of the Empire State Building. She loosed the imprisoned lightning of her terrible swift torch. From her crown the Rebbe flung warlike Names that sputtered and sparkled and crashed into the hellish hosts and disintegrated them like fire melts ice. They shrieked and began a retreat.

            The New York Guard would have none of it. Inspired with sudden new courage, they leapt into pursuit, swarming around the giant golem, picking off with their guns and nightsticks what she couldn’t with her lance and fire, until demon after demon disincorporated and the entire army that had set forth from Albany had been blasted back into the hell from which they came.

            It’s a pursuit operation. For once the morale issue is pointing the other way, the NYPD etc. are mopping up an already defeated enemy. Pursuits rarely go well for those that are being pursued. It’s not clear what the full effects of Golem lightning and all those Names are, but breaking any supernatural effect the demons might have on people seems like a possibility; alternatively the demons could be too busy panicking to project any sort of doom aura.

            The supernatural is a huge issue in Unsong, and the remainder of the NYC chapter makes clear that the supernatural works on its own timescale with its own logic. Yes, people have sort-of tamed Names into something that works like technology, but it’s hardly the only thing out there.

          • Ninmesara says:


            I think you’re right, and the morale depleting effect seems like the most logical explanation for demons’ “unreasonable effectiveness” (and unreasonable ineffectiveness in the battle for NYC). But this doesn’t change the fact that the “rules” are not clear and (in my opinion) the story would benefit enormously if they were made more clear.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I also wish they weren’t so short. They should have been merged into fewer chapters, which would leave more space for the most interesting story lines (in my opinion). These chapters feeding us bits of TCK’s life aren’t contributing much to the story in my opinion, except delaying the resolution of conflicts in the stories lines I care about.

        But even if TCK’s chapters were very interesting to me, I’d like a bit more meat in them.

  20. nipi says:

    I imagine if Sohu ever talked talked Uriel into having a date it would end the same way.

  21. Error says:

    So here’s something I’ve been thinking about unrelated to this chapter, re: Sarah.

    Much earlier in the story Aaron distinguished between the animal soul, the moral soul, and the divine spark. He gave Sarah the divine spark. She doesn’t have the animal soul, so she can’t move about (in her own form).

    What about the moral soul? I seem to recall it doesn’t mean what we conventionally mean by “moral”, but what exactly is she missing there?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Presumably by now she’s found Names to give herself the kinds of souls she lacked via Llull, or Gadiriel gave her such souls.

  22. nipi says:

    Still a better love story than Twilight!

  23. Aran says:

    Best ship since All Your Heart.

  24. Yossarian says:

    About sacrificial RAM – I recall that in the chapter describing Uriel giving commandments to the Jews, it was sorta mentioned that Uriel didn’t really want ram (a male sheep) as a sacrifice, he just mentioned not having enough RAM (memory) to run his Universe Server. Maybe that will be her ultimate fate – being inserted into Uriel’s matrix as some sort of a calculating device – maybe like a Sentient Rationality Calculator or someting.

  25. Anonandonandon says:

    Clearly, if Robin is the sidekick, TCK is the Batman.

  26. Elspeth says:

    In 1970, the name Jessica accounted for only 0.13% of female births in Colorado.

  27. rudy says:

    “Whatever good I could do with my own life is probably less than the amount of good you could do with the time you save by not having a demanding wife”

    Misogyny, Utilitarian edition

    • Irrevenant says:

      She probably could have used the word “spouse” rather than “wife” to make it clearer that the decision had zero to do with their respective genders.

  28. ABZB says:


  29. Lee Daniel Crocker says:

    Why kill off Peter Singer?

    • Irrevenant says:

      Probably because stronger movements tend to form around dead people than live ones. It helps that death puts a serious crimp in people’s ability to undermine things by turning out to be fallible human beings…

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