aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 57: Now Taking On Ahania’s Form…

The word of the LORD is a great deal of research activity in this area, and probabilistic algorithms have been fruitfully applied.

Evening, May 13, 2017
Citadel West

Sohu asked whether I wanted to help her with the error correction process. It was the highlight of my life thus far. It was like getting asked to debate philosophy with Aristotle, or play one-on-one against Michael Jordan. Did I want to study the kabbalah with Sohu West? My heart leapt at the thought.

So we walked through sunless streets until we reached a building on the perimeter, right up against the stone wall of the mountain. Sarah came with me, of course, I couldn’t help that, and Sohu led us up a staircase and down a long corridor to her study. Everywhere in the citadel seemed equally dreary, lit by fluorescent lights and built to exactly the sort of utilitarian specifications you would expect of a bunker, but Sohu’s study was full of books and a big oak table, and for a moment it reminded me of a hundred libraries and synagogues and classrooms I’d been in. The life of the mind was the same everywhere.

We started working. Usually the hardest part of these things is to add up the gematria value of all the different subsets of letters, but of course Sarah did it instantly. The second-hardest part was figuring out which chapter of the books had the equations you needed, but Sohu had a photographic memory and would think for a second, pull a volume off the fourth shelf on the far wall, open it up to chapter sixteen, and put her finger halfway down the first page.

“Um,” I said, trying to think quickly, “maybe if we see which Goldblum subsets are invariant under a temurah transformation, we could…” But Sohu interrupted. “For a non-supernally based Name like this one, that’s equivalent to a basic transformation of phonetic triplets,” she said. “Maharaj, 1992.” And before I could ask how she even knew that applied here, Sarah announced to us that all of the phonetic triplets checked out. By that point Sohu’s attention had been lost, and on she went to the next book, the next theory. “Any corresponding Psalms?” she asked, and before I could even remember exactly how many psalms there were Sarah shook her head and said that none of them corresponded.

“Sarah,” Sohu finally said, “how carefully did you confound Aaron’s memory?”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“I mean,” said Sohu, “that if someone randomly went in and switched a few letters, we would have corrected the Name twenty minutes ago, the first algorithm we tried. If someone really skilled in Kabbalah very carefully altered the Name to make sure that their victim could never correct it again, well – ” she gestured to the growing pile of books abandoned on the table ” – then it might be a little harder.”

“I knew Aaron was a kabbalist,” said Sarah. “I didn’t want to make it too easy for him.”

Sohu groaned.

“Okay,” she finally said. “We’ll reconfigure the sephirot into partzufim and try it that way.” She started calculating furiously. “Lose the ayin,” she muttered to herself, “carry the tav, and…”.

Sarah interrupted. “And it just stays the same.”

“You know,” said Sohu. “If I wanted to confound a Name this badly, I’m not sure that I could.”

I thought I saw a sort of triumphant grin flash over Sarah’s face, but it disappeared quickly.

“We need some of the original building blocks back,” Sohu said. “Aaron, will you let me read your mind?”

“You can do that?

“I’m not good at it. What happened to you with the Drug Lord, I’m sure he was better. My father was better still. But it’s worth a try. I have a little training in chashmal.”

The overt meaning of “chashmal” is “electricity”.

The kabbalistic meaning is also “electricity”, but it’s complicated.

The prophet Ezekiel described certain angels as being chashmal, or surrounded by chashmal, or radating chashmal. Nobody entirely knew what he meant, but the translators of the Septuagint ventured a guess of “amber-colored” or “amber light”. Fast forward eighteen hundred years, and the original Zionist Jews were trying to reinvent the Hebrew language and needed a word for electricity. One of them, probably a kabbalist, pointed out that the English word “electricity” is generally believed to come from the Latin word “electricus”, meaning “amber”, because amber gave off a sort of static electric charge. But other etymologists believe it comes from the Phoenician word “elekron”, meaning “shining light”. Well, Hebrew already has a word meaning both “amber” and “shining light”, and that word was chashmal. So they stuck it in as “electricity” in the first Hebrew dictionary.

I once read an atheist tract that asked why God didn’t prove His omniscience by putting predictions about science or technology in the Bible. The answer is that He did and they’re just not thinking kabbalistically enough to notice. Any Israeli schoolchild can open up the Book of Ezekiel and see a 6th century BC prophet describe the angels he encounters as “glowing with electricity”.

Maimonides put a different gloss on these chashmal angels. He said that it was a compound word made of “chash”, silence, and “mal”, meaning speech. So these angels were actually radiating “silent speech”. Even more specific: “chash” is the root of “chashva” meaning “thought”. So the angels were radiating “thought-speech” at Ezekiel. No wonder that when future generations of kabbalists discovered the secrets of telepathy, they called it “chashmal”!

There are deep connections here. The brain runs on electricity, each thought producing an electric impulse that jumps from cell to cell, inspiring further sparks, creating a computational web. Our minds are electric machines just as much as Sarah’s; to speak by thought is to speak by electricity. The Hebrew language encoded all of this thousands of years ago. So did the English, for that matter: our own word “speak”, derives from an older German word sprech, and the further backwards you go, the more alike “speak” and “spark” start to sound, until finally at the root of all things they converge into the primal electricity.

I let Sohu look into my eyes, felt my defenses slowly weaken. It wasn’t the sort of overpowering invasion of the Drug Lord. A gentle teasing-apart, quiet, humble, but pushing forward like an explorer penetrating a jungle. I don’t know how long we waited there, staring at each other awkwardly, but after an indeterminate time in a pleasant trance, I was awoken by Sohu snorting. “I’m really not good at this,” she said.

Sarah seemed just a little too happy. I started to wonder how honest she was being with me. Had she really just not bothered remembering the most important Name ever discovered? Or was she holding out?

“Sohu,” I said, casting the dice, “there’s a way to get you into my mind easier.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“It’s called Sacred Kabbalistic Marriage of Minds,” I said. “Uh, SCABMOM. My friend Ana discovered it hiding in the later additions to the Gospel of John. A combination placebomantic-kabbalistic ritual. First you draw a magic circle, then you say a Name you derive from John, then you say these vows about how God is one and we are one. After that you can…”

I wasn’t prepared for Sohu to start laughing.

“Sacred kabbalistic marriage?” she asked, in between giggles. “Really?”

“That’s just what my friend Ana calls it!” I said quickly, trying to defend myself. “There were parts of the text that simplified into the word ‘marriage’, but you can think of that as symbolic! It’s just this brief ritual – ”

Sohu quieted down. “I wasn’t laughing at you,” she said. “And I already know the ritual.”

“You do?!”

“Yes. I, uh, I’m familiar with it. I should have thought of it myself. I’ll get supplies so we can draw the circle.”

My head spun. She knew about SCABMOM? Then another thought. “Wait,” I said. “I’m already kabbalistically m – I’ve already done the ritual with somebody. Does that complicate things?”

“Doubt it!” said Sohu. “Solomon had seven hundred wives, remember?” She giggled again. “Kabbalistic marriage…I’ll go get supplies.”

She vanished in a flash of light.

“YOU CAN’T MARRY SOHU!” Sarah shouted at me the instant Sohu disappered, tears running down her face. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MARRYING ME!”

Oh, right. I should have predicted this. I put my arms around her, kissed her cheek. The longer I put this off the harder it was going to be, but I wanted all four Cometspawn around when I broke the bad news. “Sarah,” I said, “this isn’t real marriage. This is just a kabbalistic ritual called marriage. It’s like how how the doges used to marry the sea, or how a businessman says he’s married to his work. It’s just a word.”

“If it doesn’t matter, if you’ll do it with anyone, then do it with me first. Do it with me now, before she comes back.”

“We don’t even have a magic circle.” It was the best excuse I could think of, but I didn’t want her in my mind forever. Now that I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I wanted Sohu in my mind forever either, but that couldn’t be helped.

“When we get a magic circle, you’ll marry me, right?”

“No, Sarah. I’m not going to perform a dangerous kabbalistic ritual with you just because it has ‘marriage’ in the name.” I barely avoided adding “get a life”. She already had – thanks to me – and look how that had turned out.

Sohu mercifully chose that moment to return with the supplies. Sarah turned her face into a mask, better than any human could have. We cleared out of the way as she started drawing the magic circle from memory. It was the same one I had seen Ana draw. I took a piece of chalk and joined in. No help for it, I figured.

“I, Sohu West, in full knowledge of the consequences, call upon the symbols and angels of the world…”

“I, Aaron Smith-Teller, in full knowledge of the consequences, call upon the symbols and angels of the world…”

And so we went, with Sarah staring at us motionless outside the circle.

“For God is One”

“For God is One”

“And His Name is One”

“And His Name is One”

“And we are One.”

“And we are One.”

“And it is done.”

“And it is done.”

The circle flared brighter and higher than I’d ever seen before, probably because Sohu had constructed it ten times better than the quick job Ana and I had done back in her bedroom. Sarah still just watched, but looked like she might snap at any moment. I sat down at the table, rubbed my temples.

“We’ll try this again,” said Sohu. “Look into my eyes…”

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111 Responses to Chapter 57: Now Taking On Ahania’s Form…

  1. So… SCABMOM is a method of putting together Albion?

    • Anonymous says:

      Forget SCABMOM. By the revelation in the Obama interlude, Unsong is now a time-travel story! Do you think Sarah is going to go back in time to prevent Aaron from meeting Ana?

      • Stib says:

        Which revelation?

        • stavro375 says:

          Malia Obama = Malia Ngo

        • Anonymous says:

          Blah, it was the Shrouded Constitution interlude. That the name ‘Shroudies’ appeared in 2004, after the events of chapter 8, which refers to them, but happens in 2001. Since the anachronism hasn’t been fixed by now, we should probably assume it’s canon.

          • LHC says:

            I took it that the Shroudies were some kind of group that existed before Cheney implemented their desires as president.

          • Ninmesara says:

            There is a more serious anachronism in the Drug Lord chapters which hasn’t been fixed yet even though Scott has explicitly said it is an anachronism. I think his priority is to finish the story and tie the loose ends when it’s over.

  2. grort says:

    Dammit, Aaron.

    …I mean, if we had to choose between “Sarah turns evil because of a series of coincidental misunderstandings” and “Sarah turns evil because Aaron mistreats her like a total idiot”, I guess there are reasons to prefer the latter.

    My headcanon is always going to be that Sarah received affection and attention and eventually became less whiny and possessive.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sarah is a small child. She’s at the toddler stage still. Aaron is everything to her and she doesn’t want to share him with anyone. Her fit over ensouling the other computer is the same nature of thing as a small child not wanting a baby brother or sister to take away mommy and daddy’s attention.

      Aaron is doing a lousy job of parenting, but that’s in part because he had bad parenting himself and in part because he doesn’t think of himself as Sarah’s parent. He didn’t want to create an independent sapient and sentient being with a mind and life of its own, he wanted a servant and he expected it to be a thing, not a person. He doesn’t want to be bothered with Sarah because he didn’t plan on having a child. Well, too bad, because he does and the sooner he realises that that is what Sarah *is*, then he can decide what to do. Simply hoping that the Comet West offspring can protect him when he tells Sarah “I created you and I don’t care a straw about you, go away and I don’t care what happens to you” is not good enough.

      So when Sohu and Aaron are both saying “in full knowledge of the consequences”, Sohu may but Aaron certainly doesn’t. If he doesn’t get a clue *fast* things are going to end badly – oh yeah, they already are going to have done, aren’t they?

      • Anonymous says:

        Why is it such an important insight that Sarah Is A Small Child™ and Needs To Be Parented™? What follows from it? That saving the world from impending apocalypse can wait, because Aaron has a Small Child to Parent, and who cares if she won’t live to enjoy the fruits of that Parenting?

        Also, do you really think Sarah would enjoy being Parented? Have you never seen a Small Child kicking and screaming because their parent wouldn’t buy them a toy they liked? Now imagine that Small Child instead casting a whole gamut of magical spells capable of annihilating you within an instant, at a rate of thousands per second.

        Also, from chapter 50:

        I knew I liked her. I knew I wanted the best for her. I wanted her to be okay. But she was a three-day old computer suddenly wrenched into sentience and stuck in a golem-body, and I wasn’t sure she had any emotions besides clinginess and rage. Did I love her?

        That doesn’t read like a paraphrase of ‘I don’t care a straw about you, go away and I don’t care what happens to you’. Given the circumstances he’s in, I don’t think he is acting so unreasonably, or selfishly, as you like to portray him.

        But you know what? Whatever. Enjoy your smug feeling of moral superiority over a fictional character.

        • Swimmingly says:

          It’s important because this Small Child happens to be able to pronounce the Wrathful Name several dozen times per second.

          • Senjiu says:

            After reading this comment was the first time I actually thought about how combat between sentient AI cabbalists would look like.
            And after imagining it for half a minute I realised that I had already seen something resembling what I imagine, the fight between Yuki Nagato and Ryoko Asakura in the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.


        • esran says:

          Its worth noting that even when Moses was sent by god to meet Aaron and speak to Pharoah, he was interrupted (and almost killed!) because parenting is more important and he was neglecting it.

          • Psy-Kosh says:

            If you’re talking about what I think you are, it wasn’t about “parenting.”

            It was specifically about circumcision.

        • Deiseach says:

          If your small child can bring about the apocalypse, yes, I think Aaron or someone should take ten minutes to teach Sarah “Okay this is how we behave nicely”.

          The same way in ordinary life it’s not good enough for a parent to say “Sorry kid, I’m way too busy with my own interests to teach you how to tie your shoelaces, hey isn’t that what the schools are for?”

          The point is that Aaron is reproducing the bad parenting he received: his father had no interest in him, his mother considered him a money-making Child Prodigy and it was very obvious her love was conditional, and when Aaron didn’t turn out to be able to make a fortune from his brains, can we take it her reaction wasn’t good?

          Treating Sarah as an means to an end, lying to her, misdirecting her and only waiting for the first chance to safely dump her – you don’t think this is going to come back to bite Aaron – and more importantly, the world – in the backside? Sarah has already messed with his mind so he can’t properly remember the Vital Name, which means the big plans to ensoul the supercomputer are all on hold. Suppose Sarah decides to throw in her lot with UNSONG if they agree to let her have Aaron and they’ll kill get rid of Ana in return?

        • Deiseach says:

          But you know what? Whatever. Enjoy your smug feeling of moral superiority over a fictional character.

          Anonymous, you seem to be taking this rather personally. Could it be something here is striking a chord with you and it’s not very comfortable?

          It’s precisely because it’s fiction I’m doing the usual thing of “How dumb are you, Character? Can’t you see this is a bad idea?” It’s the same way you’d shout at the screen “Don’t split up!” when the group of teenagers exploring the dark haunted house where the axe murders happened ten years ago decide it’ll be more fun if they all split up.

          Would I give a real person parenting advice? No. Would I tell a fictional character “For a smart guy, you’re sure dumb! This is a bad idea and you should know better because this will/i> blow up in your face!” Yes.

  3. Simon_Jester says:

    Yeah, that’s… impressively stupid on Aaron’s part. Especially with Sarah legitimately trying to help (even if maybe she’s holding back, she’s still providing computer support).

    • Mikko Rauhala says:

      Theoretically if she were holding back, she could also give false answers in the hopes of hindering the work. It would be a big risk though if somebody double-checked (or immediately saw through) one of her deceptions, and I don’t think it’s likely that she’s doing that.

  4. Lux Sola says:

    Huh. Sohu is now linked to Aaron. Who is linked to Ana. Who is linked (weakly, but not weakly enough) to Erica, who is linked to Dylan Alvarez, insane terrorist. This will end poorly.

    Also Aaron married an eight year old. Pervert.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, she isn’t. The Name didn’t work, and we can all guess why.

      • Lambert says:

        Doesn’t Ana have a back-up copy of the name in her mind, though?

      • Arancaytar says:

        Why do you think it didn’t work? The glowing circle implies it was effective…

        • Anonymous says:

          Because Sohu says they are going to try again?

          Now here’s a crazy thought: could it be possible for Sarah to confound Aaron into doing the ritual with her instead of Sohu?

          • R Flaum says:

            You’re misunderstanding what “this” refers to in Sohu’s last line. She means that they’re going to try the psychic exploring again, not that they’re going to try the marriage ritual again.

          • Warren Peace says:

            This ^. I thought it was clear that the ritual marriage was successful.

    • Deiseach says:

      All this kabbalistic marriage keeps irresistibly bringing to mind Shakespeare’s “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”. I certainly *hope* there are impediments to how much Dylan, via Erica-Ana-Aaron-Sohu, can pick up from the mind-marriage but I really doubt it. Nothing has worked as Aaron and Ana hoped or thought it would work so far, why should the SCABMOM ritual go any differently?

    • Leith says:

      She’s older than most 8-yr olds.

  5. R Flaum says:

    I keep reading Sarah as Sohu and vice versa.

  6. R Flaum says:

    The brain runs on electricity, each thought producing an electric impulse that jumps from cell to cell,

    Is this true? I thought the electric impulse was only within a given cell, and to convey the information to the next cell it uses chemicals rather than electricity?

    • svalbardcaretaker says:

      Nervous system uses ions, eg charged chemicals. Moving charges are by definiton electricity.

    • Mio says:

      Oh yeah. As far as I understand it, waves of charged ions travel along the length of axons and dendrites, but for a signal to travel across cells, it has to use neurotransmitters. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that the signal jumps from cell to cell chemically rather than electrically.

      If this is wrong, I’d also like to be corrected on it.

      • jzr says:

        But chemistry is by its very nature a study of electricity. All chemical compounds are held together by electric charges.

    • TheLethean says:

      You are correct. The electrical impulse is generally contained within a single cell, which sends chemical messages to the next. In this context the “jump” between cells could be that chemical message. Also, though chemical transmission between cells is more common, a surprising number are actually electrically connected by something called gap junctions. So either way, it could work given the wording.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Neural signals inside cells occur as a wave of membrane voltage depolarization where ions flow through opening channels in it (think an electrical version of a domino fall), or, if the part of the neuron is myelinized, as a direct voltage shift spreading out inside the cell caused by the previous process. The latter effect is much faster than the first but declines in strength with distance, so myelinized axons have regularly spaced Nodes of Ranvier where channels bump up the signal strength again.

      When a neuron signals to another one, the most common process is a synapse where neurotransmitter chemicals are released due to the voltage shift and then cause a response in the next neuron. However, there are electrical synapses where the neurons are just electrically welded together using gap junctions: the voltage shift causes the postsynaptic neuron to change, so there is electricity all the way.

      In short, yes, neurons do most of the work using electrochemistry.

  7. Keri says:

    Typo: In the first sentence of the paragraph beginning with “The prophet Ezekiel described…”, “radiating” is missing the first letter ‘i’.

  8. Allan53 says:

    At the risk of saying something stupid, why would they rely on Sarah’s calculations so heavily? I mean, she already doesn’t want them to have the Name, she’s made that pretty clear. So how do they know she isn’t lying?

    • Deiseach says:

      So how do they know she isn’t lying?

      They can’t know, which is why Sohu is being clever in teasing out what Sarah may or may not have done. ‘Wow, only somebody really smart and really good at this could have done something so clever and complicated!’ If Aaron can see the look on Sarah’s face, so can Sohu. By these little reactions she can tell what direction to steer in. Win Sarah’s trust, flatter her enough, and she’ll let something slip that Sohu can use.

  9. fakersaddition/consomme says:

    “It’s just a word.”

    How horribly do you guys think this lie will go? That’s a horrifically blatant mistruth, to say the very least, and I can’t imagine this going anything but wrong.

    • Anonymous says:

      We’ve already had this conversation, have we?

      “If you’re going to grab dinner, why not call it a date? It’s just a word.”

      [Ana] shut her book with great force. “Did you really say ‘just a word’? You call yourself a kabbalist! Words have power! Words are the only tools we have to connect the highest levels of our intellect to the mysteries of reality! Once we describe something with a word, things happen! It’s been given a life of its own! The angels are on notice, working their secret little works around it, starting reverberations that echo across the entire structure! Words are the vestment of divinity, the innermost garments of Juan!”

      Sohu doesn’t find the ‘marriage’ name significant either, so maybe it really is just a word. On the other hand, this universe runs on placebomancy, so the very fact that Ana came to call this ritual ‘marriage’ endowed it (!) with some kind of essence of marriage. Either way, it’s all the more striking that she agreed to perform this ritual at all.

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, horribly horribly at the very least. Aaron of all people should know that a word is not simply or just a word; as a kabbalist, he’s dealing with the values of letters to make words not alone instruments of power but actually corresponding to the reality they describe, in order to affect that reality. Call it marriage and it’s marriage. Downgrade marriage to “it’s just a word” and you make it meaningless. Make it meaningless and you saw away the branch you’re sitting on as regards kabbalah.

      (That’s not even trying to consider “does marriage create an ontological change in the spouses?” because that’s not even properly worked out in Christian theology, but if it does, then Ana and Aaron and Sarah and Erica and Dylan and Sohu are all messing about with something they don’t understand. Maybe not Sohu – she laughed about what Aaron was saying and she probably does really know the full consequences of the ritual).

      • David Marjanović says:

        My mind to your mind, your thoughts to my thoughts…

      • Ninmesara says:

        she probably does really know the full consequences of the ritual

        Says you 🙂 I think it’s obvious by now that Unsong’s “magic system” is probably ilogical enough that not even Sohu can figure it out… She’s way too sane for that. Remember, even Uriel was defeated by the multi-layer security of the gates of Hell.

        • Deiseach says:

          Remember, even Uriel was defeated by the multi-layer security of the gates of Hell.

          This is why he should have paid more attention to what was going on in the angelic hostings instead of working on his mathematical systems 🙂

      • Lambert says:

        On the theology regarding marriage, I suppose SCABMOM can’t contact the dead, since marriage is only between 2 living people.

  10. Arancaytar says:

    “Um,” I said, trying to think quickly, “maybe if we see which Goldblum subsets are invariant under a temurah transformation, we could…” But Sohu interrupted. “For a non-supernally based Name like this one, that’s equivalent to a basic transformation of phonetic triplets,” she said. “Maharaj, 1992.”

    This captures most of the masters thesis conversations I’ve had with my advisor.

  11. Arancaytar says:

    I thought I saw a sort of triumphant grin flash over Sarah’s face, but it disappeared quickly.

    why are they letting her help again? Given her motives, I think it’s a bit naive to trust any of her contributions.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I’d think of putting her in a coma until I had the Vital Name again. From what I think we know about the Cometspawn, they would have done it too.

      • Arancaytar says:

        Oh shit, I wasn’t even thinking of that. I just figured that they can’t rely on stuff like “all of the phonetic triplets checked out” or “Sarah shook her head and said that none of them corresponded”. But you made me realize there’s nothing stopping her from trying to confound him again (or worse) if she thinks they’re too close.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Maybe Sohu is having a hard time getting into Aaron’s mind because Sarah keeps confounding her… Apparently confounding is very subtle, the affected person doesn’t know it’s happening and she even has some control over how hard she can confound the victim.

        • Ninmesara says:

          PS: She can also make herself invisible and walk on air, which is inconvenient.

  12. R Flaum says:

    It’s interesting that we’ve now got confirmation that Sohu is in fact Ahania. That means we’ve got three of the four Zoas and all four of their emanations settled. We’re still missing Luvah/Orc (Thamiel would be the obvious choice, but there’s no name similarity, not even the weak one present with Sohu/Ahania).

    • Pat says:

      Admittedly I’m not super familiar with Zoas or Blake’s mythology in general, but Wikipedia describes Ahania as “the representation of pleasure and the desire for intelligence” which sounds more like Sarah, since Aaron lusts after Sarah Michelle Gellar and and Sarah-the-Computer is basically a conscious intelligent computer.

      • R Flaum says:

        Three issues: first, as an NE-1 computer, Sarah is pretty clearly supposed to be Enion. Second, Ahania is Urizen’s emanation, and Sohu is far more directly connected to Uriel than Sarah is. Third, the title of this chapter.
        As I see it, the equivalences are:
        Aaron – Los, Ana – Enithurmon
        Uriel – Urizen, Sohu – Ahania
        THARMAS – Tharmas, Sarah – Enion
        ??? – Luvah, Malia Ngo – Vala

        • Anonymous says:

          Luvah is one of the four Zoas, who were created when Albion, the primordial man, was divided fourfold. He represents love, passion, and rebellious energy.


          (Or maybe Erica? But Luvah is supposed to be a he.)

          • Dindane says:

            I agree; Luvah/Orc = Dylan and Vala = Erica is my highest-probability guess. You know the chapter title “Lover of Wild Rebellion”? In-Blake, that’s a description of Orc; and the chapter is about Dylan. Second highest-probability is Luvah/Orc = Dylan and Vala = Malia Ngo.

          • R Flaum says:

            Wait wait wait wait! It’s the other way around! Look at their names! Erica sounds like Orc, which is Luvah’s other name, and Alvarez has Vala in it!

          • Dindane says:

            Aha! Interesting!
            Why might this be? Why are the genders switched in this one? Idk but note that this also fixes the “marriage should be between a woman and a man” for Ana + Erica’s marriage.

          • R Flaum says:

            One odd thing about this is that it means Sohu’s the only one without a punny/referencing name, unless I’m missing some subtlety. The only letter that “Sohu West” and “Ahania” share is H. If we were going by pure name similarity, Nathanda would be a better match for Ahania.

          • Dindane says:

            “…A sign that the structure has failed? No. Confucius gave the laws, but they did not achieve prominence until they were recorded and interpreted by his successor Mencius. The narrative and phonological aspects have been split into two closely related people.” Sohu really seems like she has to be the counterpart to Uriel — look at how similar Ana and Aaron are, and to some degree how similar Erica and Dylan are. (And I guess how Sarah and Tharmas are both computers.) But maybe this kind of narrative/phonological split occurred with her sister?

        • Peter D says:

          Scott says that Tharmas corresponds to Thamiel:

          There are connections between everything.

          Uriel/Thamiel = Urim/Thummim = uranium/thorium = uracil/thymine = Urizen/Tharmas = Uranos/Tellus = Aaron/Teller

    • Dindane says:

      Who’s thought to be Vala?

      • Dindane says:

        Oh, Ngo? Why (other than the slight name similarity)?

        • R Flaum says:

          In addition to the name, I’m convinced that Malia is Lilith (mostly because Aaron spent like half a chapter telling us about Lilith, so she’s sure to appear sooner or later), and Lilith’s legend has a lot of similarities to Vala.

  13. sadropersi says:

    So let me get this straight… the first known example of ensouling a computer (an old macbook) resulted in a fully autonomous, non-human, super-powerful baby intelligence, with no empathy or common sense, whose first act was to turn against its human creators by messing with their minds. They all know that.

    And somehow the wise offspring of the Comet King still think that ensouling the world’s most powerful military computer is a good idea? While letting loose-cannon-Sarah be part of the process, no less?

    It very well seems to me that the only responsible thing to do at this point would be to terminate the Sarah experiment (golem, macbook, soul and all — yes, this means killing; it shouldn’t be beyond Sohu’s abilities), and thanking God (or Uriel) that the Name is very well forgotten…

    • Given the fact that Hell exists for eternity and the majority of people go to it, isn’t destroying the world the morally correct thing to do? Especially if it has a chance of healing the world instead.

      • Arancaytar says:

        “Everything that can be annihilated must be annihilated”?

      • Lambert says:

        The Comet King had the ability to destroy the world using Shem HaMephorash. It’s likely Uriel could have unleashed the Ein Sof unfiltered into the world. It’s unlikely omnicide is the optimal course of action.

      • Deiseach says:

        Destroy the world and everybody in it (apart from the tiny minority who will go to Heaven) go to Hell right away for eternal suffering. That’s seven billion that you have personally damned.

        Let the world continue existing while working on the problem of Hell, all you lose is the annual global death rate, which has to be something under seven billion. If you solve the problem of Hell next year, you have saved (seven billion + those born in the interval) – those who died in the interval.

        Which is more moral?

        • Arancaytar says:

          I think the assumption is that hell would be destroyed along with the world. Otherwise it’s probably pointless.

        • JJR says:

          What make you think that most people go to hell though?

          The only person in the story who knows explicitly avoided saying what the percentages were to maximize the uncertainty and fear.

  14. Jack V says:

    First question, what is this ritual really and why hasn’t Sohu told Aaron before doing it?

    Second question, Aaron kabbalistically vowed that he understood the consequences of this ritual without knowing them AGAIN?

  15. So now there’s a chain of kabbalistic marriages connecting Sohu West and Dylan Alvarez. Sounds like fun.

  16. Hummingbird says:

    I don’t really see a problem with this “marriage” “link” between Sohu and Alvarez. If Solomon is married to his wives, it doesn’t mean that, by extension, they are married to each other.

    • Deiseach says:

      If Solomon is married to his wives, it doesn’t mean that, by extension, they are married to each other.

      But the wives of Solomon do have a relationship to each other that they don’t have to someone who is not a wife of Solomon. Even if Ana, in this example, is Solomon (because she is the originator of the ritual) and all those she has ‘married’ by this ceremony are her ‘spouses’ who are not married to each other, nevertheless, the ‘spouses’ undergoing the ‘marriage’ to others does add further links to the chain and makes connections between the various parties that don’t exist between them and others not in this particular line.

      Dylan may not be directly ‘married’ to Ana, but Erica is, and Dylan is ‘married’ to Erica, so the danger is that he can get into or get at Ana’s mind via this linkage in a way he wouldn’t be able to infiltrate her mind without it.

  17. Ninmesara says:

    So… When will Aaron ask about the mysterious Unsong leader Malia Ngo who can see invisible people? The Cometspawn might know who/what she is and how she can do it. He will not reveal anything very sensitive, since the Cometspawn already know he has the Spectral Name.

  18. The coment king says:

    A reminder that Shirt Ordering is still open until Wednesday for the unsong/watchmaker shirts, and until next wednesday for the theodicy-con shirt.

  19. R Flaum says:

    Wouldn’t the simplest, most unbreakable way of hiding the Name be to just replace it entirely with something completely unrelated? Why are they convinced that the confounded form has any relation to the original name at all?

    • Arancaytar says:

      From the outside perspective, I think we can rule that out: Aaron explicitly quoted parts of the name in the first chapter, and later wrote the same after confounding (… or not? I think someone would’ve noticed otherwise). Assuming that narrator-Aaron is no longer confounded, those bits should be accurate.

      From the inside perspective, if Sarah thought the name was unrecoverable, she wouldn’t have panicked like she did earlier.

      • R Flaum says:

        Okay, but… from Sarah’s perspective, why didn’t she do that?

        • JJR says:

          It might just be that the confounding name does not allow for arbitrary substitutions in memory. And it just so happens that the constraints are exactly what is needed to make the story work.

  20. Greg T. says:

    “To figure out a strange plot, look at what happens, then ask who benefits.”

    Perhaps Sohu *wanted* Sarah to confound the marriage-ritual name. That way, they could look at another example of how Sarah confounds names (where they already have the name written down elsewhere) and use that to error-correct the ensouling name.

    Maybe that’s why Aaron was brought along in the first place; maybe Aaron was influenced in Sohu’s mindreading to remember the marriage ritual; maybe Aaron’s not completely to blame for being a jerk.

    The biggest problem to this theory is that Sohu doesn’t seem to think of it as a “marriage” ritual so might not have known Aaron would even call it something Sarah would want to stop. My counter is that Sohu is just that good and even a convoluted plot is straightforward when you’re at that skill level of Kabbalah.

  21. JJR says:

    The thing I’ve been wondering is, why don’t they just go back to Aaron’s workplace and grab the list of names that he was assigned that day. They should all still be in a computer file somewhere marked as failures. And I’m sure Sohu has a name that she could trade for the information.

    • The coment king says:

      They can’t just teleport to California though, and there’s no easy way to travel there through the Great Basin Empire. And even if they did, it’d be proprietary information Countenance would probably have secured. It’s not impossible to get to it, but they haven’t spent enough time trying other retrieval means for it to be the best idea yet.

      • JJR says:

        But Sohu can teleport! Uriel taught her how in I don’t remember which chapter it was. As far as it being proprietary info, sure. But Sohu probably has some names she could use to barter it away from them.

        • The coment king says:

          Oh right. Me Dumb.

          • JJR says:

            Nah. Easy to forget details sometimes.

            That being said, now I’m wondering why Sohu wasn’t the one sent to retrieve the book containing the prophecy. Teleport in, grab teleport out. Idk, I am kinda confused though.

          • The coment king says:

            Well it is an incredibly visible form of teleportation, and the angels in the fort were told to shoot on sight.

  22. Murphy says:

    I sort of dislike how dismissive he is of Sarah.

    Emotionally she’s like a kid…. (well.. one who is also a computer who wants to take part in her creators fanfiction-sex) but it’s also clear that she’s become extremely knowledgeable extremely quickly and is extremely capable. I’d sort of expect him to at least try asking her for advice too.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      What sort of *trustworthy* advice could she give, that pertains to their present situation? The entire problem (that Aaron believes they face) is entirely of Sarah’s making. The only reason they’re not actively hostile towards Sarah is because she appears to have acted without clearly identifiable malice- she’s just clingy and jealous.

      Notice how much of the commentary here revolves around “what if Sarah is deliberately sabotaging their attempts to un-confound Aaron’s memory of the Vital Name?

      Sarah is immensely capable, but she is also unreliable, due to how immature her motives are and how little of the big picture she really understands.

      [Honestly, Aaron isn’t very impressive by those standards either]

  23. Mengsk says:

    Typo in this:

    “It’s like how how the doges used to marry the sea”

    • The coment king says:

      But is it a typo, or just Scott sneakily inserting these to see how long it takes us to notice?

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, game over folks. I’ve finally used grep. (pcregrep '\b(\w+) \1\b', to be exact)

        Chapter 3:

        If he sent her off, sooner or later she would would try something innocuous-looking and make all the rivers in the world run uphill again.

        Chapter 13:


        Chapter 15:

        We Bay Arians […] tend to to think of the Central Valley as a nightmarish stretch of endless farms inhabited by people who, while not exactly dead, could hardly be called living.

        Chapter 18:

        He started to stand, but Nathanda put her hand one one of his shoulders, Father Ellis on the other, and they gently guided him back to his chair.

        Chapter 19:

        I couldn’t find anything that looked like like modern Arabic numerals.

        Chapter 19:

        Have you ever stood on the plains on a summer day, watching a thunderstorm roll in, seeing the the clouds grow, […]

        Chapter 27:

        Lin seemed to to grow bigger.

        Chapter 28:

        When the sky cracked and and some of the holy light returned, most of them stayed in hiding. Being a neutral angel was not a popular choice.

        Chapter 31:

        “I’m sure it will be delicious!” said President Reagan, laughing. “And I’m sure our guest here is starving as well. We’ll be in in a moment.

        Chapter 34:

        Maybe they would would be happy with him no matter what he said?

        Chapter 37:

        Part of me even wanted to walk back on the the plea for help I’d given Ana, tell her that things seemed sort of under control, that I was with a genuine Coloradan who was showing me the world, luxurious hotel by luxurious hotel.

        Chapter 38:

        Jane somehow took Teotihuacan, lopped off the Teotih, and somehow analogized it to TOTAKH, the the Hebrew word “cannon”.

        Chapter 48:

        It was a vicious cycle. Simeon was old, he’d been hurt in the scuffle with the Drug Lord, and he’d been seizing pretty bad during the worst parts of the the Panama crossing.

        Chapter 57:

        It’s like how how the doges used to marry the sea, or how a businessman says he’s married to his work.

        Interlude ‫א‬:

        Today today, Nixon hadn’t bothered.

        Interlude ‫ק‬:

        Absent a winner to step down in favor of, President Clinton continued to to govern.

  24. Marvy says:

    The chasmal = thought-speech stuff is lovely.

  25. “I once read an atheist tract that asked why God didn’t prove His omniscience by putting predictions about science or technology in the Bible.”

    The Ezekiel reference is cool, but more explicit (in terms of the experimental method underlying science) is this from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:19-20 (emphasize mine): “… what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood FROM WHAT HAS BEEN MADE, so that men are without excuse.” What has been made = physical phenomena.

    That certainly doesn’t touch on technology, but it’s not a bad 1st century prediction of the scientific method (and the perils of reducing it to materialism, q.v. the following verses 21-23).

    Sidenote: A debate between Aaron, Ana, and Erica on the kabbalistic implications of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Electricity” would be fascinating.

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