aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 53: Lover Of Wild Rebellion

Morning, May 13, 2017
New York City

Alvarez’s apartment was so packed with books, bomb-making supplies, and extra people that somebody had to sleep in the closet. Erica had volunteered. She figured the former Lord High Magician of the Midwest deserved the sofa more than she did. Any sacrifice for the Revolution.

Knock knock. Erica rubbed her eyes and opened the door. Light streamed in from outside.

“Can I come in?” asked Mark McCarthy.

“In the closet?”


Erica sat up and shrugged. The older man closed the door, turned on the light, and sat down beside her. He had to almost contort himself not to touch her, not to give any hint of impropriety.

“Why are you in here?” asked Erica.

“Want to talk,” he said. “Where he can’t hear us.”

She thought, then nodded.

“Wait, can he hear us? That thing with your mind…”

“Doesn’t do anything unless I’m sending it at him. I think. Still new to this. What’s the problem?”

Mark sighed. “Look. I’m doing this because I promised, because it’s his condition for springing me out of prison. Which he got me into. But you could just go invisible right now, vanish, never see him again. Listen. I know he’s charming, I know he’s fascinating, heck, I spent my college years getting caught up in one of his hare-brained schemes after another, but listen, Erica, all that stuff about Mexico, it’s total lies, for all I know he grew up third-generation immigrant in the States. There’s no reason. He doesn’t care. He’s a narcissist, he’s a psychopath, at the bottom of all the flowery words and wisecracks there’s nothing there, just blankness. If you stick with him he’ll grind you up and use you in some way that looks hilarious from the outside but will leave you dead or broken. You should never have linked your mind to him, you should never have come here, but please, listen to me, it’s not too late for you to get out.”

Erica rubbed her eyes. “I just woke up,” she protested.

“I shouldn’t have tried to do this,” said Mark. He started to get up. Erica put a hand on his knee. He sat back down again.

“I don’t know Dylan,” Erica said. Not in the way you would say ‘I don’t know that man over by the corner,’ but in the way a stoner might say ‘I don’t know my own hand, like, not really.’ “I’m not doing this for Dylan. I’m doing it for me.”

“You think you’re doing it for you,” Mark said. “He’s like a black hole. Everything ends up in his orbit eventually.”

“No,” she said a little more forcefully. “You’re thinking I’m this small-town girl who’s arrived in the big city and is too innocent to know how much danger she’s in. And yeah, I never did anything more radical than edit a newspaper before. But I spent my whole life waiting for a revolution, and I’m getting tired of waiting. When I was little, I read William Blake, and he said that all things that can be annhilated must be annhilated so that the children of Jerusalem can be saved from slavery. Then I read Marx and he said the same thing. Then I read Stevens and he said it too. So yeah. I’m dumb. I’m new to all this. I’m not safe here. But I’m in my element. And I’m having fun. I feel like Abraham, smashing the idols.”

“Smashing idols? Abraham was only comfortable smashing the idols because he knew there was a true God hidden behind them waiting to take over.”

“Isn’t there?”

“Rise and shine, lovebirds!” Dylan Alvarez said, flinging open the closet door. “We’re having a breakfast meeting in the living room. Everyone’s there! Absolutely not to be missed!”

Exchanging awkward glances, the two of them made their way into the kitchen.

“May I present,” Dylan declared to the faces seated around the room – some on couches, some on chairs, the overflow on the floor – “the two newest members of BOOJUM. Ms. Erica Lowry, and Lord High Magician Mark McCarthy.”

Several terrorists applauded politely.

“And I’m sure the newcomers must be waiting to know who all of you grizzled veterans are! Names known to legend! This man here on my right side is the incomparable Clark Deas, my trusted lieutenant. Comes to us all the way from Ireland, where he used to engage in ‘republican activity’ up in the parts where that means something a little more decisive than voting. Had his own splinter group for a while, the Deas IRA, which like all good splinter groups spent 95% of the time fighting people on its own side and the other 5% catching unrelated people in crossfires. With His Majesty’s finest breathing down his back, he joined millions of his countrymen in crossing the Atlantic to a promised land of wealth and freedom where all the policemen are blind and deaf and the streets are paved with plastic explosives.”

“Total fecking lies,” Clark said cheerfully. Erica giggled.

“The lovely ladies on your left,” continued Dylan, “are the Burns sisters. Started off as cat burglars. Whenever Lydia here would be arrested, she’d have an ironclad alibi. Finally some enterprising prosecutor realized she was using the oldest trick in the book – the old identical twin switcheroo. So in front of a packed courtroom, he declared he’d solved the mystery – it was her twin, Brenda, who had the alibi, and Lydia had been criming it up in the mansions of Long Island’s rich and famous. Broke his heart when Brenda also had an ironclad alibi for the same night. I almost feel bad for him. Honestly, what are the odds that a set of identical triplets would go into crime?”

Erica couldn’t stop giggling now.

“Mr. Brian Young,” Dylan moved on. “A graduate of the fine people at the Stanford chemistry department. Gandhi said ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’, and Mr. Young decided that he wished for a world with more loud noises and piles of rubble.

“And who could forget Mr. Michael Khan, our Lebanese computer whiz kid. Best known for redirecting all emails from an online dating advice columnist to the Director of the CIA and vice versa. I hear young ladies asking what to do about insensitive boyfriends were given solutions involving cluster bombs, and H. W. Bush got told to sort out his problems with Saddam over a nice candlelit dinner while wearing something sexy – both of which worked wonders, by the way. Now he’s moved on to bigger and better things. The Bush assassination? That was me, Mike, and a whole fridge full of energy drinks.

“On the comfy chair we have Mr. John Murran, the ex-Secret Service man. You know he was there when Hinckley shot Reagan at point-blank range, and watched the bullet go right through the Gipper without even making him blink? True! Then he started saying crazy things like that the Secret Service protected the President from the people, but where was the organization to protect the people from the President. Well, you start speaking like that, they sentence you to thirty years in the can – I mean, the time he grabbed the President, yelling that he was going to find and erase the kabbalistic rune that bound his life-force to his material body didn’t help. As far as anyone knows he died in there. Anyone but us!”

Murran stared at them impassively through his dark sunglasses.

“What about Magdebuena?” asked Lydia Burns. “Where’s he today?”

“Standing right behind you,” said Alvarez.

Burns turned around, then jumped and gave a little shriek. Magdebuena grinned disconcertingly.

“Mr. Magdebuena, born to a Nigerian animist couple working for a multinational in the Israel-Palestine Anomaly. The Anomaly knows how to treat Jews, knows how to treat Muslims, even has some fail-safes for Christians and Hindus and atheists. But it was completely confused by a Nigerian animist, deposited him unceremoniously between planes, and ever since he’s had a complicated relationship with the spatial dimensions which we are happy to exploit for our own sinister purposes.”

“Well, if that’s all over,” Clark began.

“Oh no,” said Dylan. “Introduce me!”

“First of all, we all know you,” said Clark, “and second, if I were to introduce you, you’d…”

“Not you,” he snapped. “You. McCarthy.”

McCarthy’s expression was hard to read, but a careful observer might have noticed him very slightly clenching one fist. Finally he said, “Mr. Dylan Alvarez. On our first day of college, he hung up a big poster in our dorm room that said COMFORT THE AFFLICTED AND AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE – ”

Dylan beamed.

” – and since then it’s been twenty years and I have never once seen him comfort the afflicted.”

“Comforting the afflicted sounds super boring,” Dylan said. “This is why the Sumerians invented specialization of labor. We know what we’re good at. Which brings me to our next point. We are going to assassinate Malia Ngo.”

He listened for questions or objections. There were none.

“We’ve had a good couple of days. Ms. Lowry here has given us a very new Name, so new the Shroudies don’t know it exists, that lets us become invisible. Mr. McCarthy here is one of the top ritual magicians in the world and will be a stupendous boon to our efforts. So I decided – why not think big? We’ve already killed a president; killing another would be boring. But Ms. Lowry’s sudden appearance has me feeling all Stevensite. So let’s kill the head of UNSONG, who also happens to be the only halfway-competent leader the organization has had in its twenty-something-year history. Let’s free the Names.”

“How are we going to get into the UN?” asked Brenda Burns. “That place is heavily guarded day and night.”

“We are BOOJUM,” Dylan said. “Our specialty is making people softly and suddenly vanish away. This really shouldn’t be too hard. A nice stroll through some corridors, then bang bang, then get out.”

“I heard Ngo has freaky mind powers,” said Khan. “Everyone’s scared of her.”

“That is why we have a Lord High Magician with us, Mr. Khan. We are getting some freaky powers of our own. I do not have the slightest idea what is wrong with Ms. Ngo, but I have confidence in Mr. McCarthy to determine a good way to neutralize it.”

“What do we do after we’re done?” asked Young. “Leave New York?”

“I’m sick of New York,” Dylan said. “We’ve been here, what, three months now? If I never see another cockroach again, it will be too soon. Let’s go to Florida. Lots of things to bomb in Florida.”

“Like what?”

“Beaches, cocktail bars, pretty girls. But that’s for later! Now we need to talk about who’s coming on the Ngo mission. McCarthy, you’re coming. Young, you stay. Clark, I can’t get rid of you. Brenda, you’re coming. Lydia and Norma, you’re too old and too young, respectively.”

“We were born six minutes apart!”

“See, practically a grandmother. Khan, you stay here. Murran, you’re staying. Erica, you’re coming.”

“Hold on a bloody minute,” said Clark. “Why are we leaving Murran behind? That guy could hit a rat from fifty yards away.”

“This is Manhattan,” said Dylan. “You’re never fifty yards away from a rat. And breaking into an international organization is a delicate endeavour. We can’t bring along an entire expedition.”

“If you’re worried about numbers,” said Clark, “take Murran and drop Lowry. The girl gave us invisibility. I get that. It’s great. But she’s of no help on a mission like this.”

“On the contrary,” said Dylan. “Erica has to be the one to fire the killing shot.”

“What?” asked Erica, at the same time Clark and Brian asked “What?”

“It’s simple,” said Dylan. “Erica, what’s your name?”

“Erica,” said Erica.

“No no no no no. Say it in a complete sentence.”

“My name is Erica.”

“No no no, wrong! Say ‘I am Erica.'”

“Uh…I am Erica.”

“Perfect!” said Dylan. “You hear it? America! This is our narrative! I can’t be the one to do the deed. Soy un Mexicano. But her? She has America right in her name! This is how we’re going to do it. We, the lovable terrorists of BOOJUM, are not going to kill Ms. Ngo. America is going to kill Ms. Ngo. This will be true literally, symbolically, kabbalistically, placebomantically, and several other ways-ically. That is how everyone needs to understand it. America started UNSONG. And America is going to end it, and let nobody call it unjust. This is why we fight!”

A few cheers. Clark rolled his eyes. Mark McCarthy mouthed He’s crazy at Erica, who carefully ignored him.

“Now,” said Dylan, “everybody who’ll be participating, get something to eat, catch up on your sleep, call your parents. Tomorrow we fight. But tonight…tonight is our last day in New York. Tonight, we are going to Broadway!”

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79 Responses to Chapter 53: Lover Of Wild Rebellion

  1. Deiseach says:

    If Clark Deas is really [unknown first name] Clarke Deasy, he would be named at least in part after one of the signatories of the Proclamation, which is very appropriate.

    I don’t think “Clark Deas” is his real name, though; perhaps Dylan gave him a different name, perhaps he’s using an anagram of his real name. Maybe it appealed to somebody’s sense of humour to use a name one of the meanings of which is “nice, agreeable, pretty”.

    I feckin’ knew Dylan was going to make Erica the patsy. He’s protecting himself once again – to kill Malia Ngo would be the biggest thing any revolutionary (mar dhea!) could achieve, and he should be anxious to be the hand that strikes her down. But no. Throwing Erica to the wolves. Just in case Malia has protections that could rebound very badly on anyone trying to do away with her.

    Erica and Mark are the disposables, and I think less and less well of Erica’s intelligence the deeper she gets into this. Unless she is being very, very, very smart and has wheels within wheels going on, I don’t think she has any chance against Dylan. What is even worse, if she knows he’s merely a nihilist and is only going along because whee, I get to smash some windows in this glass house!

  2. Holomanga says:

    This definitely isn’t going to go well, and that obviously means America is going to lose.

    • Cake&spoon says:

      And to the forces of evil, no less. After all, she’s even got mal in her name.

      • R Flaum says:

        Huh? How do you get “Mal” out of either America or Erica Lowry?

        • brainiac256 says:

          Malia Ngo, is the forces of evil to which America/Lowry will be losing.

          • Psy-Kosh says:

            “I am Malia Ngo”

            “I am alien… go”?

            Did she drop a d from her name maybe?

            “I am alien god”?

          • moridinamael says:

            The “Mal” in “Malia” could be a red herring Kabbalistic connection.

            Malia means “spell” or “enchantment” in Italian. A spell is functionally equivalent to how “song” is used in Unsong. It’s evocative that the head of UNSONG is named “Song”.

            Although it could just be that she is actually Lilith (or “Lamia”) is “enchanted” to look different and thus “Malia”.

            Ngo is a Vietnamese name, but Aaron can’t place her ethnicity “at all”.

  3. Aran says:

    I have a bad feeling about this.

  4. Evan says:

    I am way too excited to see a list of pun musicals running in the Untied States.

  5. stavro375 says:

    H. W. Bush got told to sort out his problems with Saddam over a nice candlelit dinner

    An earlier chapter mentioned Bush leading us into the desert without an exit strategy, but given everything we’ve learned since then I call BS on the idea of Bush doing anything at all involving the middle east. The man is president of a broken country in the middle of two different civil wars — the fallout of the 2000 election and the Other King’s war on Royal Colorado! What could possibly convince him to send thousands of soldiers to the middle of nowhere when a rebel army is camped out in West Virginia?

  6. They don’t have an Insecticide Name?

    • Simon_Jester says:

      Assuming they do, it’s probably known by the big multinational Name companies, which means that UNSONG is watching for people who use it. They can detect unauthorized Name use, which means that if you’re a real international terrorist, the last thing you’d want to do is randomly use Names to exterminate the roaches in your apartment.

  7. Sniffnoy says:

    Hm, we still don’t know what the Shroudies are, or the Shrouded Constitution…

  8. Stib says:

    Had his own splinter group for a while, the Deas IRA,

    Ha. I get it. Dies irae.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Wow, I really didn’t get this one…

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh geez, I missed that…

    • Warren Peace says:

      This is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be explained! This is why I will never vote for this story on TWF. It doesn’t deserve the #1 spot there by any stretch.

      I didn’t even know it was a pun until it was pointed out AND I googled what was pointed out. This is the first time ive encountered anything called a dies irea in my life, so how would I know to even look for it

      • Irrevenant says:

        There’s no way you’ll get every pun in UNSONG, but fortunately there are tons of them – you’ll get some and it doesn’t matter if you miss the others. Scott’s good at pointing out any that are plot-critical – the rest are just bonuses for those readers in a position to appreciate them…

  9. Daniel Blank says:


    “and extra people that somebody had to sleep in the closet. ”
    Should be “and so many extra people …”

    • Daniel Blank says:

      Scratch that. Missed the word “so”. Move along, nothing to see here.

    • ChronoMager says:

      The entire sentence is “Alvarez’s apartment was so packed with books, bomb-making supplies, and extra people that somebody had to sleep in the closet.”
      Adding “so many” would sound weird.

      “When I was little, I read William Blake, and he said that all things that can be annhilated must be annhilated so that the children of Jerusalem can be saved from slavery.”
      annhilated –> annihilated?

  10. Timothy Scriven says:

    This is a chillingly accurate depiction of a sociopath which I guess isn’t that suprising because the author is a psychiatrist.

  11. Ninmesara says:

    My pet theory (inspired by someone else’s comment) is that Malia Ngo is Lillith. If Acher is still around, I don’t see why Lillith shouldn’t be too. Lillith is a vampire. Vampires don’t usually have “freaky mind powers” and I guess Malia doesn’t have them either. If she had, Aaron’s klipot tricks wouldn’t have worked.

    On the other hand, vampires are similar to bats. And many bats can do two interesting things: 1) echolocate and 2) see light outside of the visible spectrum (UV for fruits and flowers, infrared for warm mammalian bodies). She also has “weird eyes”. Any of these two abilities can potentially be used to bypass the spectral name. Echolocation involves emitting sounds (or ultrasounds, which are better and have higher resolution). Maybe the “wrongness” around Malia is because of the ultrasounds she emits which can’t be accurately perceived by humans but which can trigger come kind of weird physiological response. But it is probably because she is an ancient creature that kills babies.

    Speaking of babies, just before the Apollo mission, an obstetrician describes “blood curdling screams” in Morse code in unborn babies, and I wonder if it is related. Mayby someone released Malia before the simulation broke down, or she was able to “peek beyond the veil” like Gadiriel says she’s done.

    The main problem with this theory is that Malia (unlike TOK) seems to have a well known biography, which is probably hard to fake if you are an immortal vampire from ancient times. She wold have to fake a family, a childhood and documents. After all, to become the head of UNSONG you must have a paper trail that can be audited.

    In any case the terrorists are being very stupid in trusting the name so much. They should have tested if the invisibility works against animals (guard dogs? birds on the ground which you might scare was you walk by), cameras (including infrared cameras, night goggles and UV cameras), alarm sensors (the fact that you can see an invisible person doesn’t mean the alarm can! the name may work on people’s perceptions and not physics). If you get yourself dirty, does the dirt become invisible? Or does it cover your body? What about water? Can you carry invisible bombs who will remain invisible when you deploy them? If you scream (because you were shot for example) does it break the invisibility?

    Proceeding without trying to answer these questions is very, very careless. Their plan is doomed anyway because Malia can see them, but they have no way to know that (If only telepathy were not as conveniently random as it is…).

    • Ninmesara says:

      Plot twist: Dylan is in league with Malia and this whole assassination plan is a way to deliver the invisible girl to her (Malia is looking for an invisible girl, and Dylan is getting her her cousin, who is also invisible; seems valuable).

      If timing issues didn’t make it impossible, I’d say that he had released Mark only to “sell” him to the Not a Metaphor crew. This is not possible because Mark’s rescue happens before the Not a Metaphor calls for a placebomancer in NYC.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Echolocation involves emitting sounds (or ultrasounds, which are better and have higher resolution). Maybe the “wrongness” around Malia is because of the ultrasounds she emits which can’t be accurately perceived by humans but which can trigger come kind of weird physiological response.

      Interesting! Isn’t infrasound often said to have such effects? Much worse resolution and less bat-like, obviously — I don’t really know how to explain the use of infrasound rather than ultrasound — but still…

      • Ninmesara says:

        Infrasound has a lower resolution than ultrasound but I believe that it might have other advantages, namely penetrating solid walls and such. Once past the wall I’m not sure it would be able to detect a human target, but it’s certainly a possibility.

      • Ninmesara says:

        In any case I don’t really believe this. UNSONG would never settle for a merely physical/real world explanation when it could have a kabbalistic one.

        • OTOH, the explanation for San Francisco turned out to be LSD in the water supply.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Yes, but it is a weird version of LSD that allows for communication with the divine and bears little relationship to the real LSD. Knowing about LSD in real life doesn’t really help you predict interesting things about the situation (except that LSD must be continuously added to the water supply for the city to work).

            Now imagine Malia is using echolocation with ultrasound that works using known physics. That places some constraints on her abilities (according to my very incomplete knowledge about ultrasounds; I might be severely mistaken!). Malia can’t detect an invisible person behind a glass, because the glass reflects the sound waves as a solid wall. She can be inconvenienced and maybe even deafened using a very loud dog whistle (or better yet, several dog whistles). If she becomes invisible herself, her use of echolocation can give her away to someone with a sonar. This is what I mean by a “real world” explanation.

            A non-realworld explanation would be something like “she is a demon so she can sense people’s souls using demon magic”. In this case the author is free to decide if it works behind a wall, if it decreases with distance, etc.

            Personally I prefer when stories stick closely to the laws of physics because it allows you to try to second-guess the author based on what is possible. Magic systems are fair game too, as long as they are logical and consistent, and explained as early in the story as possible.

            In any case, this is entirely subjective, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to second-guess the author based on kabbalistic deductions anyway, which I appreciate.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      The only people who know Ngo can see people who use the (invisible name, I forget the name of the Name) are Aaron and Ana. And they found this out rather later than they found out the names themselves.

      I may be missing something, but it’s possible that the (shaky) telepathic bond created by the (shaky) kabbalistic marriage of Erica and Ana was erased when Erica created such a bond with Dylan Alvarez?

      • Ninmesara says:

        It’s not likely that a new kabbalistic marriage erases the old one because the marriage between Ana and Erica appears to be working. After all, Ana appears to have transmitted some names to Erica.

        My worries about telepathy is that the way it works AND the way it fails seem tailored to the plot the author wants to write. Some examples where I feel this happens:

        1) Chapter 1: Aaron wants to talk to Ana to distract himself from the boredom of his job and from the fact that he has just lost a day’s wages… Telepathy fails, and he is so angry/desperate/lost that he says “Meh!” not one, but times… Great coincidence! And even then, this is one of the few coincidences that Aaron does not highlight!

        2) Aaron has also received the Spectral Name (the invisibility name) from the telepathic link. At the time I thought this was extremely suspicious and raised the possibility of someone meddling with the telepathic link. The link is described as transmitting whole thoughts and even emotions… Why would it transmit some random syllables? Are names special in respect to the kabbahlistic link? Aaron acts like it is totally normal to receive a name devoid of further context. It is also totally normal to Ana when they compare the memories of the day, so maybe this happens frequently. However, if this is the case, it should be told specifically in one of the flashbacks. It is a very important detail that Aaron is obvious to Aaron but not clear to the readers. On the other hand, if this is not common, then neither of them remarks on the astounding coincidence (!) that the link who had been malfunctioning earlier transmitted exactly the name that Aaron needed to escape the Angelfyre reserve.

        3) Same with the marriage between Ana and Erica. The marriage barely works at all (they can only transmit unclear shadows of feelings and emotions) and all of a sudden it transmits crystal-clear syllables encoding names?! And Erica, the paranoid conspiracy theorist presumably targeted by UNSONG, finds this totally normal and is totally on board of using these names to try to kill the leader of UNSONG? For all she knows, the names may have been implanted in her head by UNSONG… She might “feel” that it is Ana talking to her, but still… Doesn’t she find it a little bit suspicious that the link that has never worked properly has just transmitted some Names?

        So, either telepathy is a thinly disguised plot device to take the story where the author wants it to go or there is something fishy going on. If this is the case, the points above (especially points 2 and 3) suggest that something might be sending false messages through the link in order to manipulate the characters. Or maybe this is what the author wants us to think and it’s just a red herring.

  12. hnau says:

    “Am Erica”… overtones of Redwall.

  13. Anders Sandberg says:

    If William Blake was right about everything and “all things that can be annihilated must be annihilated so that the children of Jerusalem can be saved from slavery”, and everything in the world is perishable, then maybe causing the Apocalypse by annihilating the world *is* the right move to save everyone from slavery.

    Shades of the end of The Invisibles where the solution is to go outside the system into the supercontext and end the sentence.

    • Decius says:

      Annihilating everything will not save us from the fire. It will at best save us from the frying pan.

    • kjkw says:

      The Invisibles’s eschatology is interesting in that the last issue, “Issue #1”, happens after the climax of the “Manichean war between good and evil” (Spoilers: they turn out to be merely two sides of the same spectrum that will get absorbed into the supercontext).

      It’s in a weird liminal space of being outside of canon, and thus self-critical of the very themes espoused towards the denouement. It’s prophesied that humanity will eventually become reborn out of their larval stage as some kind of timeless, 4D entity (“Like the old ones!”), but the last issue of the comic features a narrator that turns out to be a rebellious school girl that decides to kill herself because “your ‘education’ system is retarded and rooted in an 18th century production ethic”.

      I like these series of articles: www tcj com/hauntology-and-the-invisibles-part-ii/

  14. SilasLock says:

    Is it bad that I’m in favor of preserving UNSONG?

    I’m not sure if that’s the position that Scott’s trying to push us toward, if he doesn’t want to steer us to any position, or if he wants us to oppose UNSONG. I honestly can’t tell. But I ended up supporting international magical copyright law nevertheless.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      UNSONG as an organization isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the question is exactly what it does, and how, and why. After all, I figure the Comet King wouldn’t have helped found UNSONG if he thought it was a bad idea altogether, and the Comet King was a fairly smart cookie.

      The catch is, UNSONG *is* an obstacle to the effective use of Names to cause good in the world, and its leader At the same time, some of its enemies are clearly unsavory, or misguided.

      Which is, well… a lot like real world government and international institutions. They serve useful functions, it’s probably better to have them than to not have them… but they do get in the way of some of the things that enlightened people might want to accomplish. And yet, when we look at their enemies we often find that said enemies are not people we really want in charge.

      So congrats to the author for realism!

    • Deiseach says:

      If the choice is between Malia Ngo and Dylan Alvarez, I really don’t know. Between UNSONG and BOOJUM, I’m leaning towards UNSONG. They may be the epitome of Sinister Government Organisation That Will Disappear You, but they do seem to operate under some rules. Dylan will blow you up if he can make a funny pun out of it, or it’s Tuesday, or it’s been too long since the last time he murdered someone.

      • Susebron says:

        The scale of BOOJUM’s operations is dramatically smaller than the scale of UNSONG, though. The main thing that Dylan has done is assassinate a few politicians, compared to the entirety of UNSONG. Also, I don’t think the kabbalistic implications of the name UNSONG can be ignored. Do you really want an organization with that name having that much power?

  15. R Flaum says:

    So let’s kill the head of UNSONG, who also happens to be the only halfway-competent leader the organization has had in its twenty-something-year history.

    I do want to point out here that while this is technically correct, it’s highly misleading, since according to Chapter 14 UNSONG has only had two leaders.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Dylan has never been one to refrain from saying technically correct things just because they’re highly misleading (see the bomb squad vs bomb removal squad thing), and anyway that isn’t a terribly unreasonable way of expressing how weird it is that someone as incompetent as Ngo’s predecessor could stay in office that long.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Leaders” include the other levels of management below Malia Ngo; she must have a deputy, for one thing. Presumably she worked her way up to being Director-General, so she was a lot better than her colleagues, and if you take her out, her deputy/other department heads aren’t half as effective as she is.

    • Lambert says:

      Crazy hypothesis: Assuming other leader is TCK, UNSONG was founded in order to be ineffective, lest an effective organisation be created, thereby preventing use of names. Malia Ngo ruined everything by enforcing the laws well.

  16. The coment king says:

    Preliminary shirt survey!
    I’m trying to see how many people would be interested in a shirt. Price will be somewhere in the 5$-20$ per shirt range (probably about 10$), depending on demand.
    I temporarily put the unsong logo on the back, but I’ll take it off if it seems like people don’t like it.

    • Malia says:

      The probability of me ordering a shirt will increase significantly (from 0 to 90%) if women size/style was available.

      • The coment king says:

        The shirt website doesn’t seem to have a women’s option, so I was assuming that meant they were generic non-gendered. Is there a significant difference between those and women’s size/style? I can probably add that option, if it helps. (I think there’s a minimum quota for that, but we have more than enough demand to pass that already).

  17. R Flaum says:

    There is a twitter bot called @MagicRealismBot that tweets auto-generated plots for magic realism stories. Back in November, it tweeted this:

    A Caribbean princess marries the International Space Station. They have one child: A daughter who is made of comets.

  18. I haven’t seen anyone suggest this before, but maybe they have: Malia Ngo = Robin?

    I have no evidence for this proposition, except conservation of characters, but the conservation law does suggest it pretty strongly. We don’t know what happens to Robin, nor where Malia comes from. Oh, also, Robin does seem like the only non Cometspawn female character in a position to take over UNSONG.

    If this theory seems plausible to someone with more free time maybe they can find some non coincidences to support it.

    • OK I see it’s been mentioned a few times before on other chapters so I’ll give one piece of evidence in support: a Malia is a kind of passerine bird, as, of course, is Robin. Also, the Corey image for this book is of Malia Ngo, which suggests the book is about her, but she’s hardly been mentioned—unless Robin is she.

    • Ninmesara says:

      We have some scenes told by the omniscient narrator that strongly hint that Robin’s death was NOT faked. This theory doesn’t seem likely…

      • Was Obiwan Kenobi lying with he told Luke that Darth Vader killed his father? Whether you think my theory compatible with the narrator’s saying Robin has died depends on your answer to that question.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Was Obiwan Kenobi lying with he told Luke that Darth Vader killed his father?

          Yes, of course he was lying… Do you think he wasn’t?

          Whether you think my theory compatible with the narrator’s saying Robin has died depends on your answer to that question.

          I don’t believe the these two things are connected at all. First, my beliefs about “omniscience” in this story: There are two narrators: the “fallible” narrator which is the same as “Aaron the character” (he inserts kabbalistic musings in the narration, makes jokes about which card jesus would drive, etc.) and the “ominiscient” narrator, which is also Aaron but who tells things not directly witnessed by Aaron (the War of the Angels, the Sohu chapters, etc.). I believe the “fallible” narrator might tell falsehoods (when he believes in them) but the “omniscient” narrator always tells the truth. Having the “omniscient narrator” lie would be very dishonest to the reader and very confusing too, and I don’t believe Scott would do it. For example, I believe that when the “fallible” narrator says that “the lifeless corpse of TCK fell from the sky and was retrieved by the Cometspawn” (paraphrase) what he really means is that “witnesses at the scene said that the corpse of TCK fell from the sky and was retrieved by the Cometspawn”. This means that something that looks like TCK’s corpse fell from the sky and was retrieved by the Cometspawn, who at least acted as if it were their Father’s body. This opens the possibility that TCK is still alive, which given the story so far, appears possible.

          So, answering your point: I believe that Obiwan Kenobi as a character in a story might lie (and in this case he did). I don’t believe that any of the narrators of this story would lie deliberately, but the “fallible” one might be mistaken. AFAIK it is only the “fallible” one that tells us that Robin is dead, which really means that Aaron has reasons to believe she is dead, but it is possible that she might be faking her own death. On the other hand, the “omniscient” narrator describes scenes in which TCK acts as if he is visibly broken and has lost faith. In one of these scenes, the archangel Metatron possesses Father John to tell TCK that he is no longer worthy of the name because he is not pure anymore. I believe these scenes are being described truthfully, and from these scenes I conclude that Robin is really dead.

          • The coment king says:

            I like your distinction between fallible and omniscient narrator.
            That said, I don’t think either one directly confirmed a dead robin in a way that wouldn’t be covered by, say, something analogous to Neil Armstrong’s death (or Obi Wan Kenobi). For example, the meeting with Metatron mentions that TCK is broken, but I don’t think it directly says Robin died.

            If there is a twist in Robin’s death, though, I suspect it’ll be more along the line of it turning out TCK killed her (either because it was necessary for the greater good, or because she turned out to be an agent of Thamiel).

          • Right I should have said “depends in part.” I don’t think Obiwan was lying; he was talking about spiritual death. Given that in this story the spiritual is the literal, I don’t think it’s so implausible that the comet King would say “she died” when he meant “she went to the dark side”, though yeah it would be controversial. Scott probably didn’t do it.

            But here’s a more plausible theory: Malia could easily be Robin even if Robin did literally die. Death in this universe means, as far as I can make out, that you go to hell, where you are given your body back and subjected to endless torture. What would prevent a damned person from leaving hell, if thamiel let them, or TCK broke them out, or whatever? And wouldn’t you expect a damned person to give off an aura of unspeakable evil, just like Malia does? So maybe Malia is dead Robin, somehow set free. She’s still a good person, and TCK leaves her in charge of UNSONG, but she’s also still noticeably dead and damned. Maybe this is a sign that you can’t actually empty hell (wherever I am I myself am hell, etc), but TCK refuses to believe it and that’s why he gets so desperate and depressed at the end of his life—he’s trying to do something literally impossible. Also he can’t be with the one he loves because, even though she’s still a good person and not in hell any more, she’s irreversibly damned.

            I don’t think this second theory has that high a probability of being true, but it would be a twist that actually made thematic sense (tying together TCK’s despair over his broader goals with the fate of Robin), so maybe. I think it’s NOT likely that TCKs attack on hell failed just because he wasn’t powerful enough; there has to be some thematically interesting explanation.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Obiwan was talking about “spiritual death”? Is this somehow confirmed in canon? It sure seems like lying anyway. You’re using words in an obscure metaphorical meaning instead of the literal one in a way you know will deceive the listener. I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of semantics though. Do you believe that Obiwan said the sentence in good faith, as if “being dead” meant the same as turning to the dark side?

          • Here’s some lines from Return of the Jedi; you can read Obi-wan’s explanation as after-the-fact rationalization if you like, but I tend to think that we’re supposed to accept it:

            LUKE: Obi-Wan! Why didn’t you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
            GHOST OBI-WAN: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.
            LUKE: [incredulously] A certain point of view?
            GHOST OBI-WAN: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

            Does this mean that Obi-wan’s original claim was “in good faith”? I’m not sure we’d agree on what that phrase means, but I’d say that Obi-wan told Luke *a* truth, even if not the whole truth, and did so not to deceive him, but to get him to think about things in a more spiritual way. I don’t think we’re supposed to take the “a certain point of view” stuff as a cop-out; rather, it’s in line with all the other vaguely mystical aspects of Star Wars. Which means it’s not a lie, and probably isn’t even equivocation.

            I don’t know if I’d expect the UNSONG narrator to do anything like this—UNSONG tends to literalize spiritual ways of talking, rather than itself speaking spiritually—but I’m quite willing to believe that *something* weird is going on with Robin/Malia.

          • The coment king says:

            Alternatively, if Robin was a mole, she could be a demon, and have died but then recoalesed (or been coalesed into a different form, like Sataniel)..

          • Ninmesara says:

            So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.

            In the context of the current chapter this is hilarious xD I have a really hard time believing Obiwan, especially after the most Alvarez sentence ever.

          • Ninmesara says:

            PS: I didn’t mean to bellitle your reading, which is of course valid. I disagree but I see your point. I was just remarking on the similarity between Obiwan and Alvarez here.

        • David Marjanović says:

          Ah, but when that episode was made, the next hadn’t even been imagined yet – so he wasn’t meant to be lying. Then, surprised by their success, Lucas & friends made the empire strike back and had the brilliant idea to dub “Obi-Wan has killed your father” by “I am your father”. Obi-Wan lied in retcon. By the time the Jedi returned, it dawned on Lucasfilm that they had made a Jedi a liar, so they put in that awkward scene where Obi-Wan declares “I’m the one who gets to decide what’s a lie and what isn’t, from a certain point of view”. That was probably also when they changed the originally intended name “Revenge of the Jedi” into “Return of the Jedi”, because surely Jedi are above petty revenge, except when they aren’t, from a certain point of view.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Nitpicking: While your essential point is correct that Vader being Luke’s father was a complete retcon and not at all intended in the original Star Wars (or even in early versions of the ESB script) I’m pretty sure it’s not the case that this decision was only made in the dubbing. The bit about having Prowse say “Obi-Wan killed your father” and then overdubbing it was in fact for secrecy reasons, not because they hadn’t yet decided that Vader was Luke’s father. Also, I’m pretty sure the title of RotJ wasn’t changed until really late; I doubt it would have been around the same time they filmed that scene.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, if we’re going for crazy theories about Malia Ngo… maybe she isn’t Robin, but a daughter of hers and of Jalaketu, abandoned or kept in secret, away from the other Cometspawn? Because that would explain a lot about her. Kabbalistic powers? Check. Ambiguous ethnicity?

      Even her face was something terrible. I couldn’t place her ethnicity at all. Her face looked like it came from one of those weird nightjar birds whose eyes are in the wrong place and don’t look even look like real eyes.

      Check. Also, this story seems to have a theme of fathers abandoning their children (Adrian Teller and AST, God and humanity); maybe The Comet King is guilty of that too. (Not to mention that this being true would in my eyes redeem chapter 51 as something more than mere filler.) Of course, this contradicts the narration at the end of chapter 35 (though who’s to say that it’s infallible?) and probably also The Comet King’s dialogue with Metatron in chapter 49.

      (By the way: ‘don’t look even look’.)

  19. David Marjanović says:

    all things that can be annhilated must be annhilated


  20. boris says:

    Wait, so was Mark McCarthy Lord High Magician of the Midwest, Archmage of the West, or both? In Laughing to Scorn Thy Laws and Terrors, he was referred to as the LHMM, which as far as I can tell was corrected to Archmage of the West when someone asked if it was an error.

    • boris says:

      Damn my propensity to add unnecessary commas.

      I’m sure the members of the American Board of Ritual Magic probably climb the ladder with the usual bureaucratic toadying and whatnot, but are the best magicians essentially the best actors, the ones who can most theatrically and convincingly pretend they have real power? I suppose grandiose titles are very helpful in this regard, so the Board can strengthen or weaken a given magician by promoting or demoting him–if I’m reality, an Archmage (or Lord High Magician) sounds much more powerful than a Deputy Assistant Novice.

  21. Optiprism says:

    Ms. Ngo = MissingNo, thus the freakish wrong feeling that people experience.

  22. Maybe it will turn out to be a plot point, but Dylan can’t get away from cockroaches by going to Florida. Florida has *flying* cockroaches.

  23. Evariste says:

    In chapter 42 Magdebuena was called Maduegbuna. I guess it is a typo.

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