aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 67: The Night Of Enitharmon’s Joy

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied.
Leonard Cohen

Evening, May 14, 2017
Fire Island


Only a few minutes before sunset now. The sea blazed orange. Fire Island rose as a dark line to the north.

“James,” said Ana. “We need to talk.”

The first mate glanced toward the east, where the calculations said God’s boat would soon appear.

“I’ll be quick,” she said. “It’s about the Captain.”

“No,” said James.

“I’m sorry, I promise I’ll be quick, but it’s the end of the world, James, please just hear me out. Simeon thought the Captain was the Comet King. He’d gathered all this evidence. John was…”

“Tomas,” James called, “keep a lookout.” He checked his watch, then turned to Ana. “We have eleven minutes before all of this starts in earnest,” he said, “and in that time I’m going to take you down to the cabin where we can talk properly and we’re going to have a discussion about this.” He motioned Ana down the ladder. Then:

“Listen. Most of the rich bozos who sign on here want to find God for one or another boneheaded reason. But the rest – a fifth? Maybe a tenth? – want to find the Comet King. Every single one of them eventually shouts at the Captain and gives a stirring speech about how he needs to reclaim his throne and lead the nation. The Captain listens patiently, then orders them sent off the ship. This happens four, five times a year? If the Captain is the Comet King, and I don’t have the slightest interest in knowing whether that’s true, then it is always a safe bet that the Comet King knows what he’s doing. He is not one stirring speech and a reminder of his dead wife away from reclaiming all he has lost. He’s here for a reason. Simeon didn’t respect that, so he’s out. If you don’t respect it, you’re out too, no matter how good you are with winds. Do you understand?”


“No buts. If you can fathom the mind of the Comet King, you can talk to him as an equal. Until then…”

Ana sighed. “The world’s falling apart,” she said. “He’s got to do something.”

James glanced at his watch. “It’s time, Ana.”

They climbed back upstairs into the last light of the setting sun. At the very moment it dipped below the horizon, Amoxiel cried “Sail ho!”, and they all turned their heads east to where a solitary purple light shone against the dimming grey sky.

“That’s it!” James shouted. “Let’s go!”


The red sail flapped in the wind. Mark McCarthy traced pentagrams on the orange. Ana spoke the Zephyr Name, called the winds to the yellow. Tomas sang to the green. Father O’Connor prayed before the blue. Amoxiel drank a flask of holy water and the violet sail opened. “Once more to give pursuit upon the sea!” he said joyfully.

The black sail stood silent and alone. Ana tried not to look at it.

Not A Metaphor shot east, like a bullet, like a rocket, like a comet. The sea became glassy and weird. The cracks in the sky seemed to glow with new vigor. Strange scents wafted in on the rushing winds.

Erin Hope stood alone on the bow of the ship. Crane was dead. Azore had forfeit his ticket. She was the only passenger left. She stared into the distance at the purple light that she hoped would mean her salvation, the light of God. Then she retched off the front of the boat.

Faster and faster went Not A Metaphor. The wind became almost unbearable, then stopped entirely as they crossed some magical threshold. The ship shook like a plastic bag in a hurricane. Ana wondered if the autopilot driving them on had thoughts, and if so what it was thinking right now.

But still the light of God grew dimmer and further away.

“This is bullshit!” said Father O’Connor, who kept praying in between expletives. Ana wondered exactly what kind of a priest he was. Apparently the type who would agree to join an expedition to hunt down God if they paid him enough. Probably not Pope material.

“This is the usual,” said James. He’d been through it all before. Sure, this was a special run. They had Ana and the yellow sail for the first time. The autopilot was steering, so James could stand outside and help coordinate the Symphony. And the fall of Uriel’s machine was a wild card. But in the end, James had chased and failed to catch the sacred ship a few dozen times. He expected this to be another such failure, and it bothered him not at all.

Erin Hope left the bow, walked over to the green sail. She was still shaking a little bit; Ana was half-surprised she hadn’t gotten off in New York to pick up some heroin, but who knew? Maybe she really believed. “You say this runs on song?” she asked Tomas. The Mexican nodded.

Then Erin sang. There was something shocking about her voice. Her face was lined with premature wrinkles, her arms were lined with track marks, she looked like some ancient witch who’d been buried a thousand years, but when she sang it was with the voice of America’s pop goddess, sounding a clear note among the winds and darkness. She sang an old Jewish song, Eli, Eli, though God only knew where she learned it. It went “My God, my God, I pray that these things never end. The sand and the sea. The rush of the water. The crash of the heavens. The prayer of the heart.”

The seas surged. The sky seethed with sudden storm-clouds. But the green sail opened wider than they had ever seen before, a great green banner in the twilight, and emerald sparks flashed along the rigging.

Their quarry ceased to recede. But it didn’t get any closer either.

“This is bullshit,” Father O’Connor repeated, in between Confiteors. “Why can’t you guys get the black sail open?”

“Less braying, more praying,” said James, who had taken a quick dislike to the priest.

Ana shot it a quick glance, then upbraided herself. If Simeon was right, this was the end of the world. Why shouldn’t she look at the black sail? She stared straight at the thing. It hurt, the way looking too close at an Escher painting hurt, but worse. What was it? How did it work?

The Comet King, John had said, would stand beneath the black sail and raise his magic sword, and the sail had opened to him alone. So they needed either the Comet King – which if Simeon was right, might actually be a viable plan – or his sword.

But who was the Comet King? He was angelic, and his sword was angelic, but angels powered the violet sail, and no two were alike. If the secret of the black sail was just angels or their artifacts, Amoxiel would have opened it long ago. Think like a kabbalist. Seven sails for the seven sublunary sephirot. The red sail for the material world, that was Malkuth. The orange sail for ritual magic, that could be Netzach. The yellow for kabbalah, that was Yesod, the foundation, the superstructure of the world. The green sail for music, that was beauty, Tiferet. The blue sail for prayer, that was Hod. The violet sail for angels, that was Chesed, righteousness.

That left Gevurah. Severity. God’s goodness dealt out in a form that looks like harshness. The judgment all must fear.

The Comet King’s sword was fearsome. A dangerous weapon. But was it really…

Then Ana thought about what was on the sword.

Something opened in Ana’s mind. New memories. Knowledge she shouldn’t have. A deep loss. She didn’t cry, because time was running short, and she knew how she was going to open the black sail. She told the winds to stay for her, then ran fore, where Mark McCarthy labored beneath the orange sail. “Mr. McCarthy!” she said over the howling winds, holding out her hand. “I need your opal amulet!”

“How did you…,” but something in her face spooked him. He looked at the orange sail, considered his options, and decided it wasn’t worth a fight. He unclasped his necklace and handed it to her.

Ana Thurmond advanced on the black sail, and something was terribly wrong. She wanted to avert her gaze, but she kept looking, even though something was terribly wrong. She reached the final mast, saw the ship’s wake behind her, a wake of multicolored sparks spiralling into the void, but she held on to the mast and didn’t run, even though something was terribly wrong.

“Black mast,” she said. She felt silly talking to it, but she wasn’t sure how else to get it working. It didn’t recognize her like it did the Comet King. Forty-odd years ago, young Jalaketu had stood below Silverthorne and defended the pass against an army of demons. Before the holy water had washed them away, he had faced Thamiel in single combat and drawn blood. Blood like that, she figured, never washed away. It was still on the great sword Sigh. Ready to be used. The final facet of God.

“Black mast, this amulet contains the blood of Malia Ngo. She’s the daughter of Thamiel and Robin West. His blood runs in her veins. Just like on the Comet King’s sword. This is the blood of Thamiel, and I call you to our aid.”

The seventh sail opened, and there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.


Psalm 107: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.”

This is maybe not true in general. Cruise passengers, for example, mostly see the wonders of a buffet table. But if you were to arrange all your seafarers from least-seeing-the-works-of-the-Lord-and-His-wonders to most-, with cruise passengers on one end and Coleridge characters on the other, the poor crew of Not A Metaphor would be several nautical miles off the right-hand side of the chart.

The seven sails shone in the dusk like the banners of psychedelic armies. The sea and sky dissolved into one another. The sun and moon were both clearly visible, but it was neither day nor night. The bubbles they traced in their wake shot from the end of the ship like fireworks celebrating an apocalypse. They sailed a sea outside the world, and they sailed it really fast.

They started gaining on the blob of purple light.

James shouted commands at the crew with military efficiency, but Ana could see fear in his face. He had been happy, she realized, living quietly at sea, talking about hunting God. Actually catching Him hadn’t been part of his plans, and beneath the well-practiced orders she could sense his reluctance.

Erin wouldn’t stop singing. It was that same song, Eli, Eli, and she was going at it like a madwoman. Green sparks flew out of her mouth with each word, but it didn’t even seem to faze her. Ana remembered the rush when she had first called the winds to the yellow sail. She wondered if it was better or worse than heroin.

Amoxiel was talking to himself almost too quickly for her to make out. She strained to hear him over the din, and caught the phrase “Sir Francis Drake, the Tudors, Duke of York”. Enochian. The language of angels. He was so far gone he couldn’t even ramble in English anymore.

Tomas was at the bow, holding James’ binoculars and trying to make out features of the purple speck ahead of them. Ana delicately lay the amulet on the ground before the black mast, then headed fore to join him.

“Do you see anything?” she asked.

He handed her the binoculars.

They’d always said that the boat of Metatron was royal purple with golden sails, and she could sort of see it. A purple splotch, and golden blobs above it. But the shape was wrong. Too squat. Too round. The sails were too short. She strained to see better, then gave up, rubbed her eyes, and handed the binoculars back to Tomas. He placed the cord around his neck and let them dangle, just staring out ahead of them. Even with the naked eye, they could see the purple ship making weird zigs and zags that shouldn’t have been possible.

The sky looked like a hurricane had taken LSD. The sea looked like a coral reef had read Lovecraft. The sails were too bright to stare at directly, and the deck was starting to bubble or maybe crawl. Erin still sung Eli, Eli with demented ferocity amidships.

The boat in front of them began to take on more features. The purple deck at first seemed formless, then revealed fissures like gigantic scales. The golden sails had no masts, but stuck up ridged and angular like huge fins.

Ana and Tomas figured it out at the same time.

“That’s not a ship at all!” Ana cried.

“It’s the Leviathan!” Tom said superficially.

Erin heard the shout, stared at the huge bulk before her, and yelled at James. “The harpoon, man! Get the harpoon!”


The first time I saw Ana was on a ladder outside a pawn shop. But the first time I really felt Ana – heard her in her element and knew her mind – was around the dinner table in Ithaca, listening to her read the Book of Job. I remember the chill that came over me as she read the exquisite poetry describing Leviathan, the monster with whose glories God terrified Job:

His eyes are like the eyelids of the morning
Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.
Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.
His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.
In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.
The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.
His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.
When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.
The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.
He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.
Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear

So no spears, no darts, no habergeon (whatever that is), no iron, no arrows, no slingshots, a second reminder about the darts, and a second reminder about the spears.

But nothing about harpoons.

James was not happy. He stared at the harpoon in obvious discomfort. Harpooning the Leviathan seemed like the worst idea. But they were a business outfit. They had made a promise. If we find God, they’d said, we’ll bring you to Him. If God was on a sea monster, then there was only one way to do that.

But the most important reason to use the harpoon was the same reason people climbed Everest: because it was there. If the Comet King had a harpoon on his yacht, it was because he expected to need it. If James refused to shoot, then it would be obvious to the world what was now obvious to Ana: that the whole thing had been intended as theater and that none of them had had any intention of winning the chase.

“Amoxiel!” James called the angel, and the angel flew to him. “You’re our expert on this kind of stuff. What’s your assessment?”

“Earl of Leicester religious settlement Westminster Abbey,” said Amoxiel. It wasn’t entirely clear where his mind was, and it wasn’t entirely clear where the ship was, but it seemed pretty certain that the two weren’t the same place.

“You would have to be a goddamn idiot,” said Father O’Connor. The sails were pretty much self-sustaining now. Maybe the crew could stop them if they wanted to, maybe not. O’Connor had stopped praying and joined the growing debate by the harpoon stand.

“What about the Captain?” asked Mark. “Where is he? Of all the times not to be on deck…we should get the Captain and make him decide.”

“The Captain is not to be disturbed for any reason,” said James, “and that means any reason.”

He looked at the Leviathan. The monster was almost entirely submerged. It was impossible to tell how big it was. Rabbi Johanan bar Nafcha said that he had once been out at sea and seen a fish three hundred miles long. Upon the fish’s head was written the sentence “I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea, I am three hundred miles in length, and today I will enter into the jaws of the Leviathan.” This story raises way more questions than it answers, like who had enough waterproof ink in 200 AD to write a three hundred mile long message on a fish, but if it was to be taken seriously the Leviathan was really, really big.

On the other hand, James was a military man, and he had backed himself into a corner, and now he had to do his duty. “Everyone hold on,” he said. “We’re doing this.”

He aimed the harpoon and fired.

The thing that came out the other end was neither spear nor dart nor arrow. I don’t know what a habergeon is, but I doubt it was that either. It looked more like a meteor, a seething projectile of light, trailing a shining silver thread behind it. The weapon zipped through the boiling air, leaving a violent purple linear afterglow, then struck the Leviathan right on its back.

The line gave a brutal jerk, and the ship plunged forward like a maniac water-skiing behind a rocketship. Murderous pulling feelings in dimensions not quite visible. The silver thread looked too thin to support a falling leaf, but somehow it held.

“Structural integrity down to NaN percent,” said a voice. It was the ship.

“You can talk outside of the bridge?”

“Yes. Structural integrity down to NaN percent,” the ship repeated.

“Um. Is there a device on that harpoon to help us reel the thing in?” James sounded like he was hoping there wasn’t.

“Yes, this is the primary purpose of the ship’s power supply.”

“I thought going fast was the – ”

“Yes, that is the secondary purpose.”

“Well, uh, reel away.”

The ship lurched more. “Structural integrity now down to NaN percent,” said the pleasant synthetic voice.

“Well, uh, tell me if it gets any lower than that,” said James. He wrung his hands.


“Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?” asked Ana, that night at the dinner table. “Or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? Canst thou put a hook into his nose? Or bore his jaw through with a thorn?”

Erica idly brushed her leg against Eli Foss’ under the table.

“Will he make many supplications unto thee? Will he speak soft words unto thee? Will he make a covenant with thee?”

Bill Dodd was trying to think of a suitably witty way to make fun of the passage.

“Wilt thou take him for a servant for ever? WILT THOU PLAY WITH HIM AS WITH A BIRD?”

“Sheesh,” said Ally Hu, who was reading ahead. “God is so obsessed with this whole Leviathan thing. First He is talking about the earth and the stars and the clouds, and then He decides no, I’ll just drop everything and focus on Leviathan for three chapters.”

“You know,” said Bill Dodd, “what is Leviathan, anyway? Like a giant whale or something, right? So God is saying we need to be able to make whales submit to us and serve us and dance for us and stuff? Cause, I’ve been to Sea World. We have totally done that.”

“Leviathan is a giant sea dinosaur thing,” said Zoe Farr. “Like a pleiosaur. Look, it’s in the next chapter. It says he has scales and a strong neck.”

“And you don’t think he really existed, we’d Jurassic Park the sucker?” asked Bill Dodd.

“It also says he breathes fire,” said Eli Foss.

“So,” proposed Erica, “if we can find a fire-breathing whale with scales and a neck, and we bring it to Sea World, then we win the Bible?”

“What I think my esteemed cousin meant,” Ana had said, “is that God argues here that we’re too weak and ignorant to be worthy to know these things. But then the question becomes – exactly how smart do we have to be to deserve an answer? Now that we can, as Bill puts it, send lightning through the sky, now that we can capture whales and make them do tricks for us, does that mean we have a right to ask God for an explanation? Discuss!”


“Where is Metatron?” asked Erin, that final night on the Not A Metaphor. “Is he riding Leviathan? Is he in his belly? Will he come out to meet us once we’re close enough?”

“Lady,” said James. “We don’t know any more than you do. We’ll…all find out soon enough.”

Amoxiel gibbered softly. For some reason Erin started to cry. James and Father O’Connor got into some argument, and Mark McCarthy wouldn’t stop drawing pentagrams around everything. Ana realized she was shaking. She very deliberately extricated herself from the assembly around the harpoon and went midship to the yellow sail. The yellow sail was her safe place, she told herself, as swirling stars sputtered overhead.

When she was very young, she read the Book of Job for the first time and was so confused that she had resolved to study theodicy for the rest of her life. Here she was, at the end of the world, a nationally recognized expert, and she had to admit it made no more sense to her than it had the first time around. Could she draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Empirically, yes. So what? Erica had asked exactly the right question. So if you can defeat a really big whale, you win the Bible? Why? Why had God said so in Job, and why had the Comet King himself been so certain it was true that he’d built the world’s fastest ship and the world’s most fabulous harpoon? She started going over the Book of Job again in her mind, line by line. Job suffers. Job complains. Job’s friends tell him everything happens for a reason. Job complains more. God arrives in a whirlwind. God asks if Job can defeat the Leviathan. Job has to admit he cannot, and therefore he does not deserve to know the secret order of the world. God accepts his apology and gives him free things. Not the most satisfying narrative.

Think like a kabbalist.

She thought with all her strength, and with strength beyond her own. She felt oppressed by a terrible cleverness and a wild rebellion. Finally she came to a decision.

“I’ll be gone for just a moment,” she told James. “The yellow sail knows what to do. If you need me, come get me.”

The first mate’s eyes didn’t leave the Leviathan, but he nodded.

Ana climbed belowdecks and knocked on the door to the Captain’s quarters.

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216 Responses to Chapter 67: The Night Of Enitharmon’s Joy

  1. The coment king says:

    Current theory: The captain is Metatron, but may only be approached after you have proven yourself by catching the leviathan.

    • Sillence says:

      Are there any clues in the text that support this theory?

      As far as I can tell, the clues point towards TOK being TCK in disguise:

      – TCK is the only one to have openly discussed killing Uriel if/when needed
      – TOK apologized to Uriel before annihilating him; Acher did not seem to have any relationship with Uriel
      – the fact that “TOK = Acher” and “Captain = TCK” as theories were revealed relatively early; we should expect both of these to be subverted in final plot twists
      – (an even weaker hint:) the Captain did not seem to try to protect the Cometspawn from the prophecy the way Father Ellis (and possibly Uncle Vihaan?) wanted to

      So at this point it might make more sense to think of the Captain as a golem, a placeholder put in place by the Comet King. Or maybe he’s a real person, but I have no good guesses who. The clues are not conclusive and I might be missing more of them…

      • My reasoning was that the book of Job goes on about catching Leviathan because it’s a test – it’s not that catching the leviathan is catching God, it’s that catching the leviathan is what gives you the right to talk to God. We have the captain, who anyone can talk to but refuses to answer or be bothered, just like God at the end of Job. Ana suddenly realised something, and I figure it’s that she now has earned the right to talk to God, and that’s where to find him.

        This also makes sense along another dimension – we saw that Metatron can talk to anyone when he pleases, when he possessed father Ellis to talk to Jala. So the real issue can’t be finding him, it has to be proving yourself worthy to talk to him.

        Finally, there’s the bit where the captain turned into a dog in the Panama canal, which maybe we should just interpret the obvious way.

        • Ninmesara says:

          I thought the right interpretation was “NEMO” – “OMEN”, but the one with GOD is also possible

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Hm, I had just interpreted the idea that “catching Leviathan gives you the right to interrupt the Captain in his cabin, even though you can ‘never’ interrupt the Captain in his cabin” as being analogous to “catching the Leviathan gives you the right to talk to God”, as per everything just being a reflection of Adam Kadmon. It hadn’t occurred to me to actually identify the Captain with God (or Metatron).

        • Sillence says:

          Agreed, the dog/god clue is intriguing. After all, according to Uriel, Acher’s main sin was saying that Metatron was not one with the original God. It’s hard to believe (though certainly possible) that Scott didn’t intend this correspondence.

          Do we have reason to believe that Metatron is now the Captain? The evidence is discouraging:
          – presumably Metatron rides on Leviathan, or otherwise appears in conjunction with him (in Chapter 22 it is said that the angels recognized Metatron as the light on the purple/gold apparitions)
          – there’s no indication that the Captain was present on TCK’s trip on All Your Heart, or that he even existed at the time. If Metatron twice met TCK without the Captain, why is he necessary on Not A Metaphor?
          – If no one is worthy of hearing Metatron’s voice, how come the Captain talks at all?

          I agree TOK could also be a placeholder, btw; it’s just that it seems that whatever TOK is, it is operated by TCK. Perhaps it’s a similar situation with the Captain.

          • Gradus says:

            The captain isn’t Metatron, the captain channels Metatron the way others have channeled Armstrong

          • Intriguing piece of evidence: God spends a quarter of his time playing with the leviathan. The captain spends a lot of time playing catch with him.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            Chapter 5:

            “God is canonically really obsessed with Leviathan,” I said. “In the Talmud, Rav Yehuda says that there are twelve hours in a day. God spends three of them studying Torah, three judging the world, three answering prayers, and three playing with Leviathan. That’s a quarter of God’s time, which you have to imagine is pretty valuable.”

            Assuming the Captain is Metatron, he seems to spend all his time playing catch with Leviathan. But there are three facets of God! Maybe we’re missing one.

            In this hypothesis, it seems likely that Thamiel is the three hours spent judging the world, while Neil Armstrong is the three hours spent answering prayers.

            So who is the fourth facet, the one that spends all its time studying Torah? Raziel? The ascended Moshiach? The mysteriously-absent Sandalphon? Uriel, in his role as demiurge?

            Or I could be totally wrong about how to interpret this passage.

          • anon says:

            The most likely explanation is that Rav Yehuda is a silly person who presumes to know too much about God.

          • Andrew M says:

            Yes, but the judgements of silly people who presume to know too much about God are still kabbalistically relevant, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

            The possibility – no more – of an aspect of God not appearing in this story is, I believe, deliberately left open, because we are never told what happened to Gabriel.

        • Deiseach says:

          The part about Leviathan is like the reverse of “Universal Love, Said The Cactus Person” where the vision-beings are trying to communicate universal truths and the dreamer is insisting “No, first, you have to solve this maths problem. Then I’ll listen. But first do the test question!”

          You can see the ridiculousness of it when it’s swapped around like that – Job would be perfectly entitled to say “Why are you asking me if I can catch a whale? I’m asking you for the reason of the meaning of my life, and you’re going on about fisheries!”

          And if we answer, as Bill does, “Actually yeah we can totally catch whales and make them dance for us”, then God can go “Great! So why do you need me, anyway, and if you have all this knowledge why are you asking me questions?”

          Maybe there are some questions maths problems and recombinant DNA technology can’t solve 🙂

          • Doug S. says:

            The whole “If you can do all that, then you don’t need m me, go make your own justice” was part of God’s reply to Job, too…

          • Decius says:

            A master Kabbalist apologist might just be able to extract justice from God.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            But it’s not ridiculous at all. If someone tells me that my reasoning process is broken and I should replace it with a process that looks broken to me, I want really strong evidence that they know what they’re talking about. This is doubly so when I think the person I’m talking to might be a figment of my imagination.

            It’s not “solve the maths problem to prove yourself worthy of talking to me”, it’s “solve the maths problem to prove that you are far cleverer than anything I know of, and far cleverer than any delusion I could dream up”. Being able to solve the maths problem is strong evidence that you are a very superior reasoner who might actually know universal truths, rather than a reason for me to see a psychiatrist ASAP.

            “Catch the whale” is only parallel if catching Leviathan is necessary for becoming the kind of person Metatron can profitably talk to, or if Metatron isn’t omniscient and needs a test to establish whether talking is worthwhile. “Catch the whale because I say so” is not parallel at all.

          • teucer says:

            I don’t think the test is “catch the whale” – I think it’s “become somebody who is able to catch the whale and has the confidence to speak to Me as one who can.” God never asks Job if he has caught Leviathan, merely if he can.

      • Ninmesara says:

        Well, in that case, the placeholder should be TOK and not the Captain. Aaron has seen TOK and it looks like a disembodied robe. This is probably even easier to fake than a full human body.

      • VK says:

        Another piece of evidence – on occasion, people approach the Captain, tell Him that people are suffering, and beg Him to retake the kingdom. And He refuses. Theodicy in one sentence!

      • Droid says:

        I wonder if the beings WHO SPEAK IN ALL CAPS are able to not speak like that. Metatron spoke like that the only time he spoke (through Father Ellis), Neil did when he spoke through Kesey, and Uriel has been consistently all-caps since he channeled the divine light.

        • stellatedHexahedron says:

          Huh, I actually view this as a point in “Nemo is Metatron”‘s favor. Kabbalistically, CAPITAL => CAPTAIN is quite the trivial transformation.

          (I’m sure the mystery is probably already resolved in future chapters, but I don’t think being late to the party should mean I lose out on speculating.)

    • dsotm says:

      The fact that there was a Dog on the ship when it went through the panama canal and everything reversed would support that

      • haplodiploidy says:

        Isn’t god omnipresent? Even if the ship went through the canal on autopilot, there should still be a dog on deck when she gets reversed.

      • dsotm says:

        Perhaps, though we shouldn’t expect the omnipresent aspect of god to be reversible – just the literal projection as represented by Metatron, otherwise the entire canal lock area would be shrouded in a mist of dog.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I endorse this theory. If all archangels have shiny eyes, it makes sense for Megatron to always hid his eyes with sunglasses. The only unanswered quastion is: “How did father Ellis get on the boat?” Why would Metatron want Father Ellis on board?

  2. B_Epstein says:

    With so many gems like “NaN percents”, the black sail, the largish mackerel etc., I feel bad – but not bad enough to stop – as I pick a nit:
    “Eli Eli” ends with “the prayer of man” – “tefilat haadam”. Less significant, but while we’re at it – “rishrush” means “rustling” or “murmuring”, and “berak” means “the lightning”. Finally, though some motives in the song are taken from the Bible, I’d be very curious to get a source for the claim it’s an old Jewish song – unless 1942 is old.

    • The version I used is the accepted English singable version, or at least the one I’ve always heard. See eg here. I’m going to assume Erin learned it from the same source I did.

      • B_Epstein says:

        Let us hope that the sails of the ship learned the same version.

        Incidentally, isn’t there a kabbalistic reason to avoid singing about a never-ending journey alongside water during a maritime chase?

        • Simon_Jester says:

          The world is coming to an end very, very soon, so it’s entirely possible their chase will last for the remaining duration of reality as we know it, without that even being a bad thing.

    • Kolya says:

      All right, I give in, I just don’t get NaN percent. Can someone explain it to me?

      • Ninmesara says:

        NaN means “Not a Number” it is a type of number used by computers when you do things like divide by zero. It means that any operation using a NaN is not using an actual number and the result will be NaN. Think of it as something like “infinity” or “minus infinity”.

        • Glenn says:

          Well, in IEEE floating point, you have NaN, +Inf, and -Inf, as separate entities.

          I would say the best description of NaN in terms that feel relevant here would be “what you get when you divide zero by zero.”

          • Borealis says:

            Dividing infinity by infinity also gives NaN, as every computer will tell you. Those who do not carry a holy relic such as Cantor’s bones, cannot answer “what is the quotient of two infinities?” with anything more specific than “NaN”.

            Perhaps that is what feels more relevant for “shields at NaN percent”.

            At least if we assume that a shield level of plus infinity might be helping them more than a shield level of zero. Not to mention how this also conveniently avoids kabbalistic complications with two different zeroes.

            Many an acolyte of Zerodicy holds that “the Zero is One”, and puzzles why floating point has Two zeros — positive zero and negative zero.

            Why has a concept as pure as Zero been infested with such devilish duality? It is because +0 is the quotient of 1 and positive infinity, while -0 is the quotient of 1 and negative infinity.

            (I’m not kidding. IRL computers had been infested with two zeros several decades before they started being infested by daemons)

        • coreyyanofsky says:

          Typically divide-by-zero will get you Inf or -Inf depending on the sign of the numerator. For NaN you give a negative number to a function not defined on negative numbers (like square root or logarithm); also 0/0.

          • Decius says:

            Or do a math operation on a string. Add(“Cat”,5) might get you Cat5 depending on the systems in place. But Subtract(“Cat”,5) should get you NaN.

        • dsotm says:

          In particular the ship appears to be using *signaling NaNs*

        • Eric says:

          NaN – AnA

  3. kechpaja says:

    Well, it figures that a story with so many references to whales would feature a Nantucket Sleighride.

    Also: does anyone else think there might be significance to the fact that we suddenly shifted to Aaron’s perspective for a section? Or is that just due to the fact that he’s the one ultimately telling the story?

    • The coment king says:

      I think it’s because we’re linking this chapter back to the chapter with the Job debate, which was in Aaron’s perspective.

    • gradus says:

      it’s all been from aarons perspective as far as I know. he’s the narrator. he just sometimes is more present than others.

  4. Deiseach says:


    Also, Roger Zelazny’s The Doors Of His Face, The Lamps Of His Mouth

    Also also, the Erin’s Hope, another sea voyage that didn’t end the way it was intended to go.

    • scherzando says:

      Yeah, now that the sails/seals thing has been established I’d be curious to try and establish a correspondence between them. I don’t think just taking the sails and seals in order is going to work, though – conquest/(wind-powered) sailing isn’t bad; war/ritual magic or placebomancy kind of works if we think about Dylan Alvarez but I’m not inclined to generalize, and then it breaks down completely with famine/kabbalah and death/music as far as I can tell.

      Since this is a story about the apocalypse, though, maybe we should be paying more attention to Revelation. In particular, the opening of the seals is done by the Lamb of God. Ana completes the process and sets up the pun by opening the black sail, so maybe we should identify her with the Lamb. On the other hand, the lamb has seven horns and seven eyes (Rev. 5:6), while the ship has seven sails sticking up out of it and … eight beings on board, assuming the ship is not a being. Maybe one of them doesn’t count as an “I”, though? The Captain is Nobody, Amoxiel is an angel and as such is busy praising the Lamb rather than constituting it, or maybe someone’s a p-zombie. Of course this ignores that the ship is Not a Metaphor – but what if instead it’s literally true?

      Also, the book with the seals is held in the right hand of God (Rev. 5:1). If I recall correctly, this is Neil Armstrong. Other than Ana having joined the ship’s crew in San Francisco, I’m not sure how these are related, but it seems like they should be.

      • Deiseach says:

        Because this is the kind of idiot I am, I am going to shoehorn the Seven Sails = Seven Virtues metaphor in here or bust 🙂

        Erin Hope and the green sail – Erin = Ireland which is associated with green, and the theological virtue of Hope is also associated with green

        Three theological virtues – Faith (white), Hope (green), Charity (red)

        Four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude. Ana has already linked Justice with the black sail, and Fortitude is sometimes associated with yellow. So that leaves Temperance and Prudence.

        Seven sails – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, black

        Red is charity and nobody is associated with that – it’s the ‘ordinary’ sail of the material world.
        Orange is not a colour traditionally associated with a virtue, so we have a spare colour here.
        Green is hope.
        Yellow is fortitude.
        Blue can be either prudence or temperance. I’m wibbling a bit on this, but I’m going to go with blue = prudence for the reason I’m assigning violet to temperance.
        Violet then is temperance (I know Amoxiel isn’t anyone’s idea of temperate, but he’s the fallen angel which links heaven and earth, and temperance is the mid-way between two extremes).
        Black, as has been established, is justice.

        We don’t have a white sail, so the Not A Metaphor is running without faith, which may be why they’re having trouble catching up with Metatron. Or white is the opposite of black, and black (Justice, Thamiel) has replaced white (Faith, The Comet King?) On the other hand, we do have a spare – the orange sail – which if we take ritual magic to be associated with religion (in the sense non-denominational, Evangelical/Fundamentalist American Christians mean it), then ‘religiosity’ has replaced faith – the old “substitution of works for faith” that so exercised Luther and the Reformers.

        And we have James on board, which links to the Epistle of James, Luther’s (in)famous “Epistle of Straw”, which annoyed him by saying “faith without works is dead”.

        • Anonymous says:

          There is a super-strong kabbalistic reason to associate violet with temperance:

          from the ancient Greek ἀ a- (“not”) and μέθυστος méthystos (“intoxicated”), a reference to the belief that the stone protected its owner from drunkenness

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Orange is not a colour traditionally associated with a virtue, so we have a spare colour here.

          Narrative importance is a virtue

          • David Marjanović says:

            Orange, obviously, is the color of trumpiness. While perhaps a vice rather than a virtue, it trumps a lot of things, no doubt including all virtues.

    • Pedro Silva says:

      seven seals = seven sails seems too much of a stretch to me. Do those words sound the same in some English dialect?

      PS:I would not put it past Scott to make a seven seals =seven pinipeds connection , though

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I didn’t notice it either, but the connection is confirmed via the “silence in heaven for about half an hour”.

    • Sigivald says:

      Why are there just over half a dozen mammalian sea-predators on this ship, sir?

  5. Daniel Blank says:

    Was he named Tomas just for ‘ “It’s the Leviathan!” Tom said superficially ‘ ?

  6. Nicholas Weininger says:

    “‘It’s the Leviathan,’ Tom said superficially.”


    could not resist, could you?

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    • AlexTFish says:

      I got to that point and burst out laughing for a solid minute. Because yes, very clearly Scott has been setting up for this Tom Swiftie right from the very start. The chapter on Job was not just setup for a load of magnificent puns within that chapter, it was also very deliberately setting up for this moment. As was the choice of naming one if the crew Tomas. The revelation is shocking and exciting and the pun is magnificent and hilarious and the juxtaposition between the two is the best part of reading Unsong.

  7. Sonata Green says:

    If for some reason they need to make Leviathan to open its mouth, they could recite Shakespeare at it to make it laugh.

  8. B_Epstein says:

    The ship’s musical voice and what it says seem to be a reference to The Heart of Gold. How fitting – an improbable ship operating on a novel principle, built to find a remote person in charge of the universe. Not to mention the whale.

    • Ana will walk into the captain’s quarters and find only a bowl of petunias.

    • Did I screw up again and actually literally copy someone else? Does Heart of Gold use the “Structural integrity at NaN percent” formulation?

      • B_Epstein says:

        link text -wasn’t around when The Guide was written.

        • The guide has Trillian read improbability measures, which are increasingly implausible numbers until we reach infinity minus one at the end, while bizarre things are happening due to the improbability. That scene has a similar feel, but it’s not *that* close.

      • Pretty sure it does not. A lot of “2 to the power of [large number] to one against and falling”. Also Trillian does most of the intercom reading out.

      • Jason Green-Lowe says:

        No, you’re fine.

        The Hitchhiker’s quote is:
        “Five to one against and falling…” she said, “four to one against and falling…three to one…two…one…probability factor of one to one…we have normality, I repeat we have normality.” She turned her microphone off—then turned it back on, with a slight smile and continued: “Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.”

        Star Trek does frequently say:
        “Structural integrity at 30% and falling”

        for various arbitrary values of percent, but so far as I know, they’ve never made a Not a Number joke.

        I like the Heart of Gold parallel, though. 🙂

      • Decius says:

        I’ve never heard NaN spoken in a non-programming context.

        • Autolykos says:

          That is only because you have never seen an immovable object meet an irresistible force.
          A reading of NaN is the only possible answer in that case…

  9. not_a_linguist says:

    > Something opened in Ana’s mind. New memories. Knowledge she shouldn’t have.
    Is Ana drawing knowledge from Sohu via Aaron using SCABMOM? (Perhaps if Sohu was connected to the Comet King, from the Comet King?)

    • Also from Erica, since she found out what happened in Malia’s office. Unless Mark told them the whole story, including the details, between chapters.

      • not_a_linguist says:

        Good point! Mark seems surprised that she knows about the amulet (“How did you…” [know?]), so he probably didn’t tell them.

      • Ninmesara says:

        This confirms that the opal actually contains Malia’s blood, so apparentlybDylan is also capable of telling the truth sometimes.

      • gradus says:

        yeah this is what I assumed. also weak evidence that erica is still alive.

    • Ninmesara says:

      She is probably drawing it from Erica. She also feels “a great loss”. Is this Erica’s death? The timing is a little weird, though… Erica would have died quickly from the flames, but mark fell from the window quite a bit early, so I guess it fits

  10. Ninmesara says:

    Unreliable telepathy saves the day again! Now, seriously, these are too many coincidences… Not only is Mark on board, he also carries an opal containing Thamiel’s blood. The reason Mark and the opal are on board the boat is because of Dylan’s schizo reasoning: “we need a placebomancer, so let’s free the guy I betrayed years ago”, “we need help killing middle-aged lady with freaky mmind powers, so let’s get her blood and perform a crazy placebomantic ritual”. And all of this was probably planned months ago, so he’s had Malia on his sights for a long time. My question is: can he see the future or something? Apparently Sohu can see the future, so it is possible in this universe.

    • It’s been suggested before that there’s someone else (possibly Raziel, or The Comet King in hiding) running things behind the scenes, since there’s way too many apparent coincidences (starting with Aaron discovering the vital name in the first place).

      • Ninmesara says:

        I know, I was the one who suggested it :p (someone else may have suggested it too, I don’t remember)

      • Ninmesara says:

        The vital name coincidence is much more interesting becaus no one mentions in-story how big a coincidence it is the fact that the Vital Name was given to someone who is probably the pnly sweatshop worker capable of memorizing it after seeing it written once. Aaron manages to avoid saying “I’ve practiced for months to earn this! I’m literally the chosen one!”, which would be the most Aaron sentence possible. He never treats receiving the name as somethin he deserved, which is curious. I wonder if this is the author destracting us from this fact, until it comes the time to reveal everything…

        • I think he mentioned somewhere that he was too excited about getting it to stop and think, and missed something obvious. In general, Aaron misses some things he shouldn’t because he’s in a high-pressure situation running from one disaster to another practically nonstop since the story began.

          • Ninmesara says:

            I think he mentioned somewhere that he was too excited about getting it to stop and think, and missed something obvious.

            When does he do it? Yes, he’s spent the whole story running from disaster to disaster, which is something I don’t like. It sounds like a way of making a character look more stupid than he is… I prefer when Aaron is solving puzzles with Eunochian notation, when he figures out how UNSONG caught them or when he escapes from Malia.

          • The coment king says:

            The line I was thinking of was just before discovering the vital name, where goes

            And now all that was seventy dollars further away. A minor setback, but still somehow infuriating. Maybe something that put me in the wrong frame of mind, changed how I interpreted what was to come.

          • Ninmesara says:

            @The coment king

            Oh, that part. I remember, yes. I thought that specific part might be hinting to the fact that someone was carefully playing with his feelings to make him say: “Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh” and set in motion the event that led to the rest of the story. It would be a very Dylan thing to do: disguising himself as a police officer and hacking into Countenance’s computer to give him the right prefix and make him discover the name. On the other hand, there is no reason for Dylan to have the name, except TIME TRAVEL MOTHERFUCKERS!!! Well, maybe, I don’t really know.

          • Ninmesara says:

            @The Comet King

            PS: We have another hint pointing toward time travel, which is when Sarah says that “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL GO WRONG” and then proceeds to give her two useful names (the Airwalker Name and the Spectral Name) plus a completely useless name (the Zephyr Name), which turns out to be essential for the story. Now that I’m writing this, I notice something else: TCK has operated the yellow sail, which runs on kabahla, which means he must have known a name quite similar to the Zephyr name, or the Zephyr name itself. Might he be feeding Names to Sarah?

      • Name says:

        NIEAC. In the world of unsong, nobody has to be arranging things for “coincidences” to happen.

        • Ninmesara says:

          While we have proof that placebomancy is a real thing, I think you need a placebomantic ritual for that to work. The universe wamts to tell a story, sure, but why this one? I think there mus be a mind arranging for all this to happen.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think there’s an error here that everyone in-story as well seems to be running on; Mark is not a placebomancer, he’s a ritual magician (the last Lord High Ritual Magician of America, in fact, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Dylan set it up exactly that way as part of his manipulation of the narrative of reality). Dylan did his best to blur the distinction by not alone being a ritual magician but inventing placebomancy, but Mark’s background and training is as a ritualist not a placebomancer, and I think this is an important distinction – it’s like conflating Éliphas Lévi’s very complicated and thorough rites from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie with “it doesn’t matter if you chant in Latin or sing the Oscar Mayer Wiener song, what matters is the intention behind the incantation and the will of the magician” (an example I’m taking from a story).

      • gradus says:

        Eh, TCK arranging Aaron’s adventures seems implausible. More likely this is just the “rhythm of the world” — the placebomancy of the creator himself.

    • Decius says:

      Dylan Alverez used placebomancy on the plot contrivances. It’s super effective.

    • Sigivald says:

      Now, seriously, these are too many coincidences

      There are no coincidences.

  11. Quixote says:

    Vote for unsong!

    Its one of the best ways to raise visibility and attract new readers [citation needed]

  12. I thought the ideal song for Not A Metaphor would be “Blowing in the Wind.”

  13. Kolya says:

    This is nitpicky, but in Chapter 65, Mark fell out of the window before Malia revealed her parentage, so how does Ana know about it – so is this supposed to be SCABMOM?

    • Yeah. See above – we think she got it through Erica. Alternatively maybe Sohu knew and she got it from her, or Sohu was linked to her father and this is straight from him.

  14. Quixote says:

    This whole chapter is great. Its great to see development and action. Its great to learn the truth of the black sail. So many things are great. Leviathan is great. But greatest of all is the Tom Swifty.

  15. g says:

    Erin heard the shout, stared at the huge bulk before us, and yelled at James.

    Before us? Whose PoV is this bit meant to be from?

  16. Sniffnoy says:

    Apparently a habergeon is… a sleeveless coat of armor? How would that even help?

    (Interpreting it instead as a type of rough garment worn as penance, or as a beetle’s forewing, doesn’t seem to help matters.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I think the translation is a bit askew; the meaning is “your weapons cannot pierce the hide of Leviathan and your armour cannot protect against him” but the way it’s phrased it makes the “coat of mail” (which is what a habergeon is) sound like one of the weapons.

      A slightly different translation may be a bit clearer in the meaning (but it’s undeniable the KJV has powerful language):

      When a sword shall lay at him, it shall not be able to hold, nor a spear, nor a breastplate.

  17. lunatic says:

    “You had one Job”


  18. Stib says:

    Wow, nice. I got the nature of the black sail when the Comet King’s sword was mentioned, and I got Leviathan when the irregularity of the sail shape was first mentioned. I still haven’t figured out what Ana’s plan is now.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Ana thinks the Captain is Metatron, the voice of god. Now that seh’s caught the Leviathan, she is worthy of taoking to Him.

      • Decius says:

        Ana thinks about how she spent her life studying theoidicy, then wants to speak to the voice of God?

        Everyone figured the captain was The Comet King, and implored him to do something about all the bad stuff in the world.

  19. Sillence says:

    Since we know Scott likes Worm, here’s hoping that the Simurgh will get a shout-out too in the remaining chapters!

  20. lunatic says:

    Also, the boat’s baseline hull integrity is 0?

    • Decius says:

      No, the hull has taken “minor” damage and has e.g. 100 hull points, so integrity is at “minor”/100. Your math library agrees that “minor” divided by 100 is NaN.

  21. ransom says:

    I’m expecting one or both of two biblical scenarios to play out here. The lesser is Mark 4:37-41– “And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

    The greater is Jonah 1:8+. When last we saw The Comet King, he was searching for a back door into hell. What better way than to enter the Belly of the Beast?

    And really, it’s another version of Chekhov’s Harpoon. Why bring a mysterious crazy Captain-cum-Fisher-King if you’re not going to sacrifice him to the Great Purple Porpoise?

  22. Angstrom says:

    I wonder if we’re in for another interpretation of American Pie, considering that we are driving the seven (shiva) sails to the LEVIathan…

  23. Lorenzo Sadun says:

    So all those biblical whale puns weren’t just comic relief or coincidence (because nothing is ever a coincidence).

  24. Elizabeth says:

    Missing word: ““And you don’t think he really existed, we’d Jurassic Park the sucker?” asked Bill Dodd” had “think if he really existed” in the original, ch. 5

  25. ludichrisness says:

    Darn, I was really hoping the black sail would be powered by Erin’s depression – the sigh of a fallen star. This was pretty great too, though 🙂

    So uh are Dylan and Erica’s minds inside Ana now that they’re dead? Is that what SKABMOM *is*?

    She felt oppressed by a terrible cleverness and a wild rebellion.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh huh. I take it those are references to particular parts of Albion?

      • R Flaum says:

        Orc (the Zoas corresponding to Erica) is at one point described as a “Lover of Wild Rebellion, and transgressor of God’s Law”. Not sure about terrible cleverness, but it does seem to fit Dylan.

    • Matthias says:

      I think this is from Dylan and Erica, but to me it seems like a hint that they’re still alive. I just struggle a bit with the immortal Sohu being kind of flippant about SKABMOMing with people if that involved permanently hosting their minds once the others died.

      • I thought telepathic contact with someone who had died would mean you could find out what in Hell is going on … literally.

      • dsp says:

        On the contrary, it seems obligatory that the chain still connects to souls that have died: how else do you think Shem haMephorasch gets from here to Hell?

        • Matthias says:

          True, but I’d also say in that case, I doubt they’re being “hosted” in Ana’s mind. It just means the SKABMOM link persists after death because their souls still exist. (Which bothers me less still, because it doesn’t really set up Sohu for a unique disadvantage she hadn’t thought through, despite knowing significantly more about SKABMOM. If SKABMOM persists after death through the souls, even the mortals are eternally linked because souls aren’t destroyed by dying.)

  26. Yossarian says:

    I’ve ‘shopped the Not A Metaphor harpooning Leviathan (although badly)

    pow pow

  27. Would NaN mean that the autopilot’s floating-point co-processor is no longer working?

    Could it be made to work by throwing points overboard and letting them float?

    • Decius says:

      Jetsam point processors won’t do the job. But if they go overboard by accident, the flotsam points just might.

  28. Shannon Alther says:

    “And you don’t think if he really existed, we’d Jurassic Park the sucker?” asked Bill Dodd.


  29. Azure says:

    Given the acquisition and rebranding, will Tetragrammaton to be renamed to Covenant?

  30. quintopia says:

    “But if you were to arrange all your seafarers from least-seeing-the-works-of-the-Lord-and-His-wonders to most-, with cruise passengers on one end and Coleridge characters on the other,”
    I think you mean “the left” instead of “one end” and “the right” instead of “the other”. Otherwise, the significance of “several nautical miles off the right side” is an ambiguous extreme.

  31. Stib says:

    So section V, minus some random added detail, is almost exactly a repeat of part of chapter 5, but with a few more typos. This makes me wonder if the version of the story in this chapter was written first, and later Scott decided to put a copy of the account in chapter 5 too? If the chapter 5 version were written first, I see no reason for the typos (e.g. “plesiosaur” -> “pleiosaur,” “don’t think he ever existed”) to appear in copying. The structure of this chapter, with roman numeral sections, also more resembles one of Scott’s earlier chapters that he had more time to plan.

  32. K25fF says:

    “If you can fathom the mind of the Comet King, you can talk to him as an equal. Until then…”

    Has a parallel to the whole “you’re too dumb to understand why God does things”.

    And, of course, a fathom is a unit of nautical distance.

    • Decius says:

      No, a fathom is a unit of depth. To fathom a mind would mean to plumb its depths, as with a weighted rope, or with active SONAR, which is just making a noise at that which one intends to measure, listening carefully at the response, and precisely interpreting the results.

  33. HonoreDB says:

    Is this our final exam? Thinking like a kabbalist, finding the ultimate whale pun that will explain why catching Leviathan is the key to everything? Possibly involving a close reading, “line by line” of Job?


    * We’ve been referencing the King James Version the whole time, but maybe all of the America-is-the-promised-land stuff is a sign we should be using the New American Version.
    * On the other hand, the KJV includes the string “Comet” a lot as a substring of “Cometh.”
    * What whale terms haven’t been used in puns yet? A porpoise is a kind of whale. The Leviathan is the greatest porpoise that lives in the deeps. The Leviathan is the deepest purpose.
    * Illuminatus! also has a climactic confrontation with Leviathan, and it does reveal the true purpose of their universe.

    • HonoreDB says:

      How can we find God? From Chapter 17:

      Rabbi Reuben Margolis relates the song to a Midrash. King Nimrod of Sumer demands Abraham worship the Fire God. Abraham refuses, saying that rain extinguishes fire, so if anything he should worship rain. Nimrod says okay, fine, worship the Rain God. But Abraham refuses again, saying that wind drives away the rain clouds, so if anything, he should worship wind. So Nimrod commands he worship the Wind God, and then other things happen, and finally Nimrod tries to kill Abraham and God saves him. The lesson is that all hierarchies end in God, who is above all things.

      So we can find God by playing the “what is greater” game until there is apparently nothing greater, and that thing must be linked directly to God. Indeed, we see that Leviathan must be on that path, from its name Le-Via-Than, which may be glossed as “God by way of finding that which is greater”. (Le is standing in for El, here, but we should be unsurprised to find such reversals from the Fish (Hebrew Dog).)

      Two things are described in Job as being unique: Job (“Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth?”) and Leviathan (“Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.”). Job is uniquely humble, while Leviathan is uniquely great. Only the latter provides a path to answers. To place ourselves on that path, we must become greater than Leviathan.

      Also, I can’t help but notice that there are 10 references to “paths” in the Book of Job, and they sure look like they could correspond to the Sephirot (two are associated with feet, one with a crown, one with a right hand, etc.).

    • benzrf says:

      Hobbes’s Leviathan relevant?

  34. David Marjanović says:

    the exquisite poetry describing Leviathan

    Perhaps so. The King James version of it reads like a really bad translation.

    “Structural integrity down to NaN percent,” said a voice. It was the ship.

    This is the Crowning Moment of Awesome.

    The ship is the Enterprise!

    Could she draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Empirically, yes. So what? Erica had asked exactly the right question. So if you can defeat a really big whale, you win the Bible? Why? Why had God said so in Job, and why had the Comet King himself been so certain it was true that he’d built the world’s fastest ship and the world’s most fabulous harpoon?

    I have long held that there should be a fourth book, a postapocalyptic one: Jezuboad.

  35. Doug S. says:

    Just how long has Scott been setting up that Tom Swifty?

    I have the horrible feeling this is going to end up as a shaggy dog story. Or would that be a shaggy god story?

    • HaltingProblem says:

      I just discovered today that he had the basic idea of Unsong in 2012 and talked about it on his LiveJournal:

      • David Marjanović says:

        From there:

        Rare is the spell as dangerous as the common fertilizer-bomb

        *lightbulb moment*

      • I’m still waiting for a sorceror who becomes omnipotent by giving a puppy to every orphan.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        BTW, that post used to contain an extra sentence that was deleted shortly after Chapter 1 of Unsong was posted.

        • The coment king says:


          (For anyone wondering, the line is “And one of the characters would basically be Voldemort leading the RIAA, and he would end up being the good guy.” Presumably it’s a reference to Malia Ngo ending up being good).

          • Ninmesara says:

            Yes, Malia is good, for a certain value of “good”. But remember she’s tried to kill Ana with a gun while telling her they were supposed to be friends.

            Also, knowing that she’s a half demon with super powers makes that scene look kind of stupid… How is it possible that she can’t race Ana on foot? Is it just an attempt to keep her cover? If so, I have to admit it works great, because I stopped thinking of her as a supernatural being based on her failure to catch Ana, but it seems unrealistic. Given the stakes (an invisible girl who’s probably friends with someone who has the Vital Name), she could have run a little faster and confound the minds of the soldiers or something like that.Maybe even go full demon with flaming sowrd and everything. Especially given the fact that the confounding name is really overpowered and allows you to surgically confound certain memories.

    • Arancaytar says:

      Wait, where is…

      “It’s the Leviathan!” Tom said superficially.

      DAMN IT

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, and, plesiosaurs didn’t have scales. Try a mosasaur.

  37. Arancaytar says:

    he laugheth at the shaking of a spear

    Quick, put on a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  38. Arancaytar says:

    Whatever Ana just thought of, I am 110% certain it involves an atrocious whale pun.

  39. I think this is Unsong at its best. We get the puns and the jokes and the Kabbalah and the cleverness, but we also get the hints of a hidden, deeper order and meaning, and use what tools we have to deal with it. Another example is the end of book 2, with Aaron escaping the Other King with a pun and a bitter joke, only glimpsing a hint of his deeper meaning.

    I’ve been a bit reluctant to read new chapters lately. I thought it was just because we’re nearing the end and each chapter read is one less chapter left, but now I realize that it’s also been a while since we’ve had Unsong at its best. Not that it’s ever been bad, and we have had some great chapters lately, but it’s been a while since we’ve had one like this.

    • Ninmesara says:

      Do you think the pun and the joke Aaron tells the Other King is somewhat meaningful? How so?

      • Gamzee Makara says:

        It’s got a good emotional pop, whether or not it ties into the broader plot’s central themes.

      • The coment king says:

        It had emotional context, and it fit into the pattern of the story (where Jinxiang and Hershel had made it before) while also being plot-significant (in that he was leaving). That chapter also had the teleportation method, which is a more direct (if nonemotional) example.

    • Gamzee Makara says:

      I also think this is one of the best 5 or so chapters so far.

    • Travis says:

      Generally, I think the Ana / Not a Metaphor chapters are the best.

    • Quixote says:

      Yeah. Agree that those are some of the best moments.

  40. teucer says:

    So I know American Pie is the song to analyze, but right now I’m wondering if Scott is a Buffett fan – because nobody speaks to the Captain.

    • Decius says:

      I went down to Captain Tony’s
      To get out of the heat
      I heard a voice call out to me
      “Son come have a seat”
      I had to search my memory
      As I looked into those eyes

      Our lives changed like the weather
      But a legend never dies
      He said I ate the last mango in Paris
      I took the last plane out of Saigon
      Took the first fast boat to China
      And Jimmy there’s still so much to be done
      I had a third world girl in Buzios
      With a pistol in each hand
      She always kept me covered
      As we moved from land to land
      I had a damn good run on Wall Street
      With my high fashion model wife
      I woke up dry beneath the African sky
      Just me and my Swiss Army knife
      We shot the breeze for hours
      As the sun fell from the sky
      And like the sun he disappeared
      Before my very eyes
      It was somewhere past dark-thirty
      As I went back to the head
      I read upon the dingy walls
      The words the old man said:
      (Emphasis mine)

      Clearly Captain Tony is Captain, and SCABMON is the narrator; getting out of the heat means evading pursuit.

      “I had to search my memory…” refers to trying to reconstruct the vital name; the IKBM changed the hurricane and everyone’s lives, but the legend (Uriel/TCK) ‘never dies’.

      The chorus is quoting the Captain: I don’t recall mangos or Paris ending, so that’s more metaphorical. The ‘last plane out of Saigon’ refers to the exit from Thamial-Controlled Aisa and ‘first fast boat’ has to be All Your Heart.

      Then we see the discussion of the captain’s partners: I’m missing lots of significance here, including why the army of pikemen is named ‘knife’, and how he and that Levy are going to end up dry under the African Sky, while good old boys are drinking whiskey and rye.

    • teucer says:

      So, given this theory, the Captain is probably SCABMOMed to Uriel, hence having given his mind up into a hurricane.

      His glory days as king are gone. Although we have never seen him playing a saxophone, it’s a kabbalistically interesting choice – SKFN: tiferet to hod, hesed to netzach, hod to gevurah, netzach to yesod, which sounds to me like two parallel journeys, one from miraclulous beauty to the severity of God (judgement that seems harsh) by way of an understanding of God’s splendor, and the other from God’s kindness to the very foundation of the world, by way of an understanding of eternity. The instrument embodies the Comet King going from optimism to a deeper, truer sense of despair after receiving the Shem HaMephorash.

      In another place, in another time, he sure as hell made history on the battlefield, and many died for his destiny as Messiah. Now? He certainly has a lot to cry about, and meant to keep promises involving the eradication of Hell. And nobody talks to him about the War.

      We learn that the SKFN still plays the scales – not song, for he is not much of a singer anymore, but the very rudiments out of which others will be able to build one.

      • teucer says:

        This also sheds some light on how good it would be if we had SKFNs

      • David Marjanović says:

        But… it’s a SXFN, and X is related to Samech.

        • teucer says:

          I considered interpreting the first two (which clearly contrast) as shin-samech, but I support my interpretation on the basis of a) /x/ as a pronunciation of kaf sometimes and the instrument is named for Sachs, and also b) I can’t make the other way into a good metaphor for the Comet King.

  41. The coment king says:

    Happy Passover, everyone!

  42. The coment king says:

    Weird thought I should have had a while ago: what if the comet king found God by taking a dog on board and crossing the Panama canal? It feels very much his style.

    (Also, is it significant that the not a metaphor is an ai? It does imply Sarah wasn’t the first, which may be important).

    • gradus says:

      yeah I thought of this, though the captain was only a dog IN the canal, it didn’t stay that way after.

    • Gazeboist says:

      The second of the three ensouling names can create a rudimentary AI which lacks personhood, a la Unsong-Reagan. Sarah is (or appears to be) the first AI with person – the first AI with the divine spark, which is greater than the moral soul (the name for which has been known for quite some time to the enlightened).

  43. gradus says:

    > I don’t think the test is “catch the whale” – I think it’s “become somebody who is able to catch the whale and has the confidence to speak to Me as one who can.” God never asks Job if he has caught Leviathan, merely if he can.

    also, look at what you have to do to catch it — pray, study kabalah, work with placebomancy (or Fate), appreciate song and beauty, befriend Angels, harness the sciences of material world, and take blood from Thamiel.

    These are non-trivial tasks that will produce wisdom/growth in the seeker.

  44. A. says:

    Life imitates Unsong: Burglar says he broke into churches to `get back at God’.

    Best part? He was charged with hate crimes (against God, I assume).

  45. Rand says:

    But the most important reason to use the harpoon was the same reason people climbed Everest

    The Comet King is chasing Leviathan, why is he chasing Leviathan?
    The Comet King is chasing Leviathan, why is he chasing Leviathan?
    The Comet King is chasing Leviathan, why is he chasing Leviathan?
    The Comet King is chasing Leviathan, why is he chasing Leviathan?
    To hug Leviathan
    To envelope Leviathan
    To hug Leviathan
    To envelope Leviathan
    Why is he chasing Leviathan?
    Because he’s in love.

  46. Cake&Spoon says:

    It’s a nitpick, but I’m bothered by a part of the interpretation of the sails as sephirot:
    You describe Chesed as Righteousness, but it would be better described as Grace. More over, Righteousness would be a better translation/description of the black sail/Gevurah.

    Oh, and this is my favorite chapter of the book (Revelation, not Unsong)

  47. linkhyrule5 says:

    She saw a flag on the highest mast
    She saw a dream that couldn’t last…

    I wonder if she’s going to see Metatron give TCK the haMephorash? And in doing so learn it for herself?

  48. Andrew M says:

    Someone should create a playlist (if they haven’t already) of songs featured in Unsong:

    Hallelujah/HaMephorash (Leonard Cohen)
    American Pie (Don McLean)
    There’s a Hole in My Bucket (Traditional)
    Had Gadya (Traditional)
    Eli, Eli (Hannah Szenes/David Zehavi)

    What else? The Hymn of Breaking Strain has a musical version, though I think it features in Unsong only as a poem. I’m sure there are more.

    • Andrew M says:

      Anthem (Leonard Cohen)
      Who can Retell (Traditional)

      Come to think of it, there is also a musical version of ‘Once to Every Man and Nation’. We used to sing it in school, to the tune ‘Ebenezer’. But I don’t think it worked that well; it had to be altered quite a bit to fit the tune, and the line about ‘They enslave their children’s children…’ was one of the bits that was lost.

      • Andrew M says:

        OK, here is my Unsong playlist. For kabbalistic reasons it has ten songs in it. There are others I could have included, e.g. the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but these seem the most significant. I have not included sogs mentioned only in epigraphs, except ‘Do you hear what I hear?’, which is used several times, so is presumably especially important.

        HaMephorash (Cohen) – passim.
        There’s a hole in my bucket (Trad.) – Interlude Vav.
        Do you hear what I hear? (Regney) – Ch. 17
        Had Gadya (Trad.) – Ch. 18.
        My country ‘tis of thee (Smith/Trad.) – Interlude Lamed.
        Who can retell (Trad.) – Ch. 31.
        The Hymn of Breaking Strain (Kipling/Fish) – Ch. 36.
        American Pie (McLean) – Interlude Mem.
        Anthem (Cohen) – Ch. 58.
        Eli, Eli (Szenes/Zehavi) – Ch. 67

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  50. cw says:

    I’m not learned enough to appreciate this book on every level, but when Ana opened the black sail, I said aloud to myself, “That’s so fuckin’ cool, man” three or four times.

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