For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing
And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King
And the bitter groan of the Martyr’s woe
Is an Arrow from the Almighty’s Bow
— William Blake, The Grey Monk
December 21, 1999
No analogy suffices. They came in like what they were, the greatest army ever collected, marching back home in in a frustrating mix of victory and defeat.
The people acted like it was otherwise. They lined the streets. They threw flowers. Songs were sung about the Conquerors of Yakutsk, the Vanquishers of Demons. Many even believed it. For them it had been another war. Our country hated their country. Now their country was gone. That was victory, wasn’t it?
A few knew better. The whole war, even the conquest of Yakutsk, had been a means to an end. An end to suffering. The destruction of Hell forever. They had failed. They had completed every step except the only one which counted. Those who knew better joined in the street-lining and flower-throwing, because the alternative was to sit inside and become lost in their thoughts.
And for the same reason, the Comet King accepted their praise. He rode in a big black car, with his generals beside him, and people threw confetti and held up banners and some of them even ran up and hugged him. He accepted it gracefully, lest he become lost in his thoughts.
Robin came to meet him as the parade crossed Uintah Street. There was a cheer as she climbed into the black car and kissed the King. He raised his fist in a gesture that could be interpreted as some form of positive emotion. Everyone cheered again.
The parade broke up as they crossed Fountain Creek and the 140, and they began driving home in earnest. Robin looked at the sky. It was high noon.
“I have something to tell you,” she said.
He heard fear in her voice. “Yes?”
“Not now,” she said. “Wait until we get home.”
He stopped the car with a screech, grabbed her in his arms, flew into the air, turned to lightning. He shot southwest, burning through the sky like a meteor. The great blast doors of the bunker-palace opened before him as he landed, changed back. Before she even knew what was happening, she was seated on the bed in their bedroom, her husband beside her.
“I’ve never heard you sound so afraid before,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
She looked around. The familiar objects of their bedroom. The spruce desk. The woven blankets. The painting of the Rocky Mountains. And now he was here with her. She started to cry.
The furrows on his brow deepened.
“Jala, I’ve done something terrible.”
“We can fix it.”
“I know we can.”
“Then don’t cry. Tell me.”
She gulped, took in a deep breath. “I sold my soul to Thamiel.”
He didn’t react. If, as the psychologists say, our brain works by fitting data to plausible models, his thoughts stopped for lack of any model to fit it to. He just stared. Finally he said the only thing he could.
“What did you sell it for?”
“Nothing in particular. I didn’t want anything, that was the problem. I had to make something up. He didn’t believe me in the end, but it was all right, he took the deal anyway. I had to give you a chance.”
“What do you mean?”
“The great work! The destruction of Hell! The end of suffering!”
“I know! If it wasn’t impossible, you would have done it, I believe you, I swear.”
“That’s the thing, Jala. You did everything possible. So I had to give you a chance. It’s like you always say. Somebody has to and no one else will. But you couldn’t. But you love me. I don’t know why but you do. While I’m in Hell, you’ve got another reason, you can cut through the paradox…”
It hit him. It hit him like an asteroid hits a planet, killing all life, boiling away the seas, a giant sterilizing wave of fire. “Robin…you…no…how…no…” and just like that the human part of him disappeared, was consumed, his eyes flashed with white fire, what had once seemed like hair stretched out behind him like the tail of a comet, the air turned cold, the room turned grey, the lights turned off, he stood there, raw, celestial, enraged.
“THIS IS NOT HOW IT ENDS!” he shouted, less at her than at everything. “NO. YOU CAN’T DO THIS. THIS. IS. NOT. HOW. IT. ENDS.”
“No,” she said. “It ends with you rescuing me from Hell. After however long it takes. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but I know it will be something wonderful.”
“THIS! IS! NOT! HOW! IT! ENDS!”
“Jala,” she said, “come off it. I have until sunset tonight with you. Don’t shout. Don’t say anything. Just sit here and be with me.”
The light came back to the room. The flames trailing behind him settled into snow-white hair. The unearthly light almost left his eyes.
“Will you stay with me for the next,” she looked at her watch “hour and and forty minutes?”
He hugged her.
“I’ll stay,” he said.
For an hour and forty minutes, they lay there on the bed. They held each other. They talked about Nathanda, and Caelius, and Jinxiang, and Sohu. They talked about the time they met, in the dining room of the palace, and how confused Father Ellis had been when Jalaketu asked him to officiate their wedding.
Finally, Robin said: “Promise me.”
And Jalaketu said: “I promise.”
An hour and forty minutes later, Thamiel swaggered through the big spruce wood door with a gigantic grin on his tiny face, “Well!” he said, “It looks like we…”
The Comet King had his hands around the demon’s neck in an instant. “Listen,” he said. “I know the rules as well as you do. Take her. But as God is my witness, the next time we meet face to face I will speak a Name, and you and everything you have created will be excised from the universe forever, and if you say even a single unnecessary word right now I will make it hurt.”
The grin disappeared from the demon’s face.
“You can’t harm me,” said Thamiel. “I am a facet of God.”
“I will recarve God without that facet,” said the Comet King.
Very quietly, Thamiel shuffled to Robin and touched her with a single misshapen finger.
The two of them disappeared.
Is book 4 going to be Job or Jezuboad?
Off-the-board suggestion: Love
(I prefer Job to Jezuboad, though)
I’m guessing Job. We’re getting to the end of the series, so this applies. (Also, last chapter talked about him a lot, and this one is kind of Jobby).
Which gives rise to the hypothesis that TCK is Job – tempted by the devil, wife and kids taken away, but returned in the end.
Job never lost his wife, though. May be important?
I don’t have any real opinion on your conclusion, but I’m skeptical of the logic. On of Scott’s most distinguishing traits as a writer is his ability to mix goofy and serious elements without either losing their impact.
I don’t know, I still cringe at the goofiness whenever Enochian gets brought up.
Yeah, I think pointing out the goofiness of OTL!Enochian and then using it, rather than dialing it up to about 12 1/2, would have worked better. But that’s literally the only time when the jokes have gotten in the way of the serious stuff IME.
Maybe book 4 will be Job – and book 5 will be Jezuboad. 🙂 I certainly hope so! Our esteemed host does seem willing to stretch things out; it’s not like the next episode is gonna be “and then the world was over, God won, the end^H^H^H eternity”.
Book 6 could be Godzilla, see below.
I suppose we can take Jala at his word, but that was pretty unexpected. Time for the book of Jezuboad?
“I will recarve God without that facet.”
As threats to the devil go, that’s pretty badass.
Sounds like some light blasphemy…
At least, for once, something made Thamiel just shut up without having to discorporate him. I count that a major win for the forces of Light.
So Robin is trying to use placebomancy to defeat Hell? I think the might be punching way above her weight… From an outside observer it looks really stupid. On the other hand the Comet King is not shocked at her stupidity (and he’s really genre savvy), so in universe it’s not as stupid as it looks…
Crackpot theory: Dylan, together with the rituals he sent her also performed some rituals on his own and gave her a ritual that would lead to Malia’s conception, thus ensuring his ritual sacrifice at Unsong’s headquarters 18 years later at the hands of a half deamon for inexcrutable reasons. Nah, just kidding. Dylan probably sucks to the bone.
On the other hand the Comet King is not shocked at her stupidity
Yes, but neither is he going “What a wonderful idea, darling! This is why I married you!”
Generally selling your soul to the Devil is a stupid idea because you’re never as clever as you think you are, and here (for instance) Robin is wrong; she did want something – she wanted the Comet King to overthrow Hell and since he couldn’t do it himself, she did this as a work-around. Partly it is out of genuine principle (compassion for the damned) but you’d have to say (and I’m sure Thamiel will say to her) that there is a selfish element too: she wants her hero to win, she wants to be part of the victory, she can’t accept that all their planning and power isn’t good enough and she rushes into this without waiting (because she knows the Comet King would never agree). So even with good intentions, she starts off with deceit and trickery and yeah, that’s not going to end well.
I agree 100%, it’s not going to end well, but from TCK’s point of view it’s not as stupid as it should be…
>Generally selling your soul to the Devil is a stupid idea because you’re never as clever as you think you are
The odds of it working are not high, but given the sheer importance of the goal here, it’s absolutely worth it.
Alternatively, given the sheer magnitude of the stakes on both sides, it’s even more important than usual to get as much good advice as possible on your plan.
On one side, the stakes are infinite. On the other, they’re not. I don’t think any amount of calculus can get around that. And that means that anything that has any nonzero chance of destroying Hell is worth trying. If anything, calculus will help Robin appreciate what “infinite” really means… 🙂
Uh…Robin will learn what “infinite” really means in Hell. This was a dumb plan.
Depends on whether eternal suffering is countably or uncountably infinite, I suppose. I don’t think Robin makes dumb plans.
Sorry, it doesn’t. I was right the first time: on the one side, the stakes are infinite; on the other they’re not.
The point of the “don’t sell your soul to the Devil” isn’t that it may or not be worth it, it’s that the Devil is better at value calculus than you. No matter how much you think it’s worth it for you, you’re wrong, because you’re a mortal human, and the Devil is the Devil. So the only way out is to precommit to never selling your soul to the devil so you don’t get tempted, exactly like Robin utterly failed to do.
There’s an old Mexican saying: The Devil isn’t the devil because he’s the Devil, he’s the devil because he’s old. (There’s a more literal variant – “The Devil knows more for being old than for being the Devil” – but I like the other one better. It depends on the fact that “devil” is also a colloquial word for “clever.”)
Thamiel has been in this business since before the sky cracked, since before he and all the angels became metaphorical, since before the war in Heaven, since before Sataniel came to see him. He is more experienced at it than anyone else can ever be; even if he had a merely human mind (which he doesn’t), *Thamiel wins.*
And yet, Christian theology of an older sort, before the popularity of the morally-bankrupt notion of penal substitutionary atonement, gives a refutation in the notion of Christus Victor. There is one person, and only one, Who can defeat the Devil at a game where the God makes the rules but the Devil can cheat. That person is the Christ; that’s understood by Christianity to be Jesus of Nazareth, but “Christ” is just a Greek calque of “Messiah.” In the Unsongverse, we know who a Messiah is (he may or may not be the first of two), and it’s not Jesus – it’s Jalaketu West, the Comet King.
The Devil cannot be beaten. But the Comet King can do what cannot be done.
I’m with Robin. Her plan will work, eventually. (Although it might work unexpectedly: if he’s the Messiah ben Joseph only, another will come, the Messiah ben David, and rescue everybody from Hell, including Robin West.)
…If you mean Jesus dying for everyone’s sins, that’s the oldest part of Christian theology.
By “penal substitutionary atonement”, I mean.
There are a number of different understandings of exactly how Christ’s death brings salvation. Penal substitutionary atonement, the dominant notion today, was developed mostly by Anselm; there are other theories, such as ransom theory and Christus Victor (which are closely related to one another) that date back to the early church.
Curiouser and curiouser… in particular this contradiction in the Wikipedia article you link to: “The ransom theory of atonement in conjunction with the moral influence view was nearly universally accepted in this early period. Christian theologians, particularly from the fourth century AD onward, began to hold a variety of other atonement ideas in addition to this view, particularly the Ransom theory of atonement.”
Yeah, Wikipedia is *terrible* at writing on soteriology.
(As I understand it, the real answer is that it isn’t very clear what people believed about Christ before ca. 400, at which point the answer is either ransom or something like it.)
But Robin is working on “I thought you weren’t motivated enough to solve the problem, so I set up some extra motivation for you” which only works if the problem is that The Comet King isn’t working hard enough or considering all the possibilities, or rejected that billion-to-one chance because it was too unlikely.
If the problem is “Nobody outside of God Almighty can end Hell”, then an extra jolt of motivation to work even harder isn’t any use; she’s damned herself, given birth to a demon daughter, and drove the Comet King to despair for nothing.
Let’s say, though, that she’s right: the Comet King needs that one little bit of a push more to think the unthinkable and do the inadvisable; it may be that he needs to strip himself of all his humanity (as we see in the scene here with Robin where he partly assumes his celestial or demi-angelic form) in order to access and control the power needed to do the job. Well, there’s nothing to say that even if this works and he manages to release Robin and all the other damned souls back to earth that he will continue to love her or have any feelings at all for her. That’s bad enough (from her point of view) but hey, they saved all the suffering humanity, sacrificing personal romantic love is a worthwhile price?
Maybe by losing his humanity, the Comet King will no longer be motivated to end Hell; he’ll see the cosmic place of it, or see that in X however many billion trillion years it will end of itself, or whatever the facet of Divine Justice that mortals can’t see, and though he now has the power to end it, he no longer desires to do so (being free of all desire with his lost humanity).
I’m sorry, but Robin’s gambit is about as useful as the spouse of an Olympic high jumper, who is going for the gold and just missing to clear that last bar, holding a gun to their own head and saying “Unless you make it this time, darling, I’m splattering my brains all over the arena!” in order to give them that last little bit of motivation to get the job done.
Which is exactly how deals with the Devil go – you give up everything for nothing.
I think from their conversation it’s pretty clear that that’s not what’s happening at all. It isn’t to give the Comet King more motivation. It’s to give him selfish motivation, i.e., the only kind that can get you into Hell. He was doing everything possible, given the circumstances. He couldn’t think his way through the paradox that the only way for him to get into Hell, which he only wanted to do for unselfish reasons, was to act out of selfishness. But any action taken for that end goal becomes unselfish.
But if his motivation is love, well now he has a fighting chance. Plenty of people get into Hell acting on love.
Interesting! That seems like a more robust plan than the SCABMOM-based plans people had suggested. Except, of course, that Robin didn’t know that Metatron would come to take the name away.
I think you’ve got the reasoning a little wrong.
The comet king cannot get into hell because his motives for doing so are too pure. Even if he killed himself or did something terrible and then killed himself it would be an act of self sacrifice to save others and he wouldn’t be able to get through the final gates.
She’s giving him an impure, somewhat selfish reason. She’s cutting through the gordian knot and breaking the paradox. He can get in because his motive isn’t purely to help everyone, he now have a selfish reason that can get him through the door.
Selfish motivation! That makes sense!
Not sure what placebomancy has to do with it… pretty sure Robin just knows he loves her and will stop at nothing to save her.
I feel like placebomancy has turned into the quantum physics of UNSONG and encourages overreading…
“Going on a quest to rescue your lover from the underworld” is a tale as old as time. Of course, these have mixed results, so it’s questionable whether this was a wise decision.
They have pretty consistent results, I would say: you find your lover, but rarely actually get to bring them back.
This exchange seems to channel Dylan. This is clearly her treating reality as a story and trying to control the narrative. I don’t think it will work out as she expects (and I don’t even know whether placebomancy really works)
, but I think the intent is clear.
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case; I think it works perfectly well if you read it as she says it — that she believes the Comet King is an extremely powerful optimizer, and, given proper motivation, he will find a way eventually (and that the billions of people already trapped in Hell weren’t quite motivation enough).
Unsong is not rationalist fiction, but it is fiction by a prominent member of the rationalist community. We should not be surprised if “shut up and do the impossible” sometimes works, not for placebomantic reasons, but for reasons related to Scott’s view of nonmagical reality.
It’s very romantic (in all senses of the word, including Romantic) and it’s stupid. The one time you need some cold, clear reason – honestly, Robin thinks that all that is needed is that amor vincit omnia?
If desperate love and longing and determination were enough to conquer Hell and suffering, not one person would have died untimely or gone to the bad, and there would be no loss or sorrow in the world. It’s not.
If we’re talking about “descents to the Underworld to rescue a consort”, the story of Inanna and Dumuzid is a good cautionary example; Inanna descends of her own will to the Underworld and is held in torment there unless a substitute is found to take her place, eventually it is her husband Dumuzid who has to do so. Robin’s rescue may require a price she never expected.
Robin’s not Aaron. If it comes down to a choice between her crush and the world, she’s choosing the world.
Tying into what I said above, it’s not that love conquers all. Love warps pure motivation. Love damns those it afflicts. We know this is important and on our author’s mind because he ended an interlude (and broke his framing narrative device by addressing the audience directly) to harp on exactly that note: “I tell you this story as an apology. So that when we get to the part in the next chapter where I had to decide between dooming the world and dooming Ana, you understand why it was such a tough choice.”
The point isn’t that love is “How you conquer unconquerable forces.” It’s that love is “How you send a good man to Hell.”
Please read my reply above. Whether placebomancy works or not in this universe, Robin is probably trying to use it (badly).
If it didn’t look like a stupid impossible task, the placebomancy wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
But as God is my witness, the next time we meet face to face I will speak a Name, and you and everything you have created will be excised from the universe forever
Yeah, and then the next time they meet Thamiel says with a big grin on both faces “Excellent! So as you may remember, you swore an unbreakable vow to excise everything I created from the universe forever, right? Well, that includes humans: so you came to save them from Hell and you’re going to do that by ending every single one of them, living and dead, and utterly expunging them from existence in any form. So, you know, congratulations on that and by the way, I win”.
I’m basing this on the kind of things I’ve skimmed over online from Luciferians and the like, as well as Philip Pullman’s argument in His Dark Materials; that the Fall of Man was necessary in order for us to be liberated and free and to grow up. Without it, we were only beasts living a simple life, or robots, or like he angels – mindlessly obeying a deity we did not understand. But Lucifer/Satan/Thamiel made us free by waking us up and giving us a choice and teaching us that we could control our own destiny. We could choose our path, we could change and grow and decide to say “No” to God and all His restrictions! We will be as gods!
(A beast kills another beast, you do not say there is hatred there, only the necessity of nature. A human can kill with hatred. Thamiel gave us that, woke us up and made us what we are today, not simple primates but humans. God created us along with the rest of existence, but Thamiel, by his temptation, made us in his own image and he re-cast us in a new mould as humans).
And this is why you don’t swear binding oaths in the heat of the moment without considering all the ins and outs. Like the Oath of the Feanorians, which twists and binds them to carry it out even if they don’t want to and in ways that eventually sicken and horrify even them; the Comet King has just sworn by God Himself to destroy everything of Thamiel’s making and (for instance) he doesn’t yet know that that will include Robin’s daughter Malia. He doesn’t know what Thamiel has created, that’s the problem, and he has called the Almighty as witness to bind him to this inescapable course of action (maybe he realises that later when he cools down, which is why he’s in the state we later see him: apathy and detachment).
Traditional stories of selling your soul to the Devil, as well as getting wishes from djinni, emphasise how the bargain turns on the letter and not the spirit of the agreement. Like the joke about “Make me a sandwich” and hey presto, you’re turned into a sandwich. A bit like Dylan Alvarez and his placebomancy, come to think of it. Are we entirely positive Dylan isn’t another one of Thamiel’s kids?
Of course, all this hinges on the idea that the vow really is unbreakable, and that’s not really supported in the story.
(And if it does count as a vow and not just a rhetorical flourish, there’s this little Jewish thing called Kol Nidre…)
Which is the most powerful piece of ritual magic in all of Judaism…
Do we have reason to think these words from Jala are really a Harry Potter-style *Unbreakable Oath*? Even the angels are deists, so “God as my witness” might not have quite the punch you’re implying.
I think it would be pretty unsatisfying if the major plot impact of Robin’s horrible martyrdom is to goad Jala into an unwise exclamation, and I doubt that was Scott’s intent.
I’d say instead that since Jala doesn’t lie or bluff, Thamiel knows that the spirit/intent behind the declaration is true. And, though it’s normal for regular folks to rage against God under stress, for Jala to do (something like) it is unexpected/awing.
We don’t. We also don’t have reason to think that this universe is operating on His Dark Materials theology or that Thamiel played a part in creating humankind.
And more than that, I can’t imagine Scott writing anything like the above. There will be a better ending than that.
In this universe Thamiel is described as a facet of God. He is playing the role of the Accuser, the Prosecution, as we see in the Book of Job where he too is in the service of God (as distinct from the Christian theological development of the Devil).
I’m not saying this universe is planned on His Dark Materials style philosophy, but I am saying that this is something that I see all over the place as part of humanism/free thought (look at the original series Star Trek episode “Who Mourns For Adonais?”) – humanity has no need for gods because we have outgrown them, belief in deity is a relic of when we were in our childhood as a species but now we have science.
Thamiel can argue that as the Tester, by giving humanity the choice to make up their minds would they obey or disobey, he gave humanity the impetus to growth; when they took their destiny into their own hands and decided to break the taboo, then they became real humans for the first time. Had they refused and stayed in their state of childishness, they would be puppets or robots, not free, not really human.
So Thamiel in his defence can say that he ‘created’ humans by opening up possibility to them; without him, without the ‘temptation’, there would have been no fall, and without the fall no humanity as it exists today.
To destroy all he created means destroying his children, humanity. And by taking God as his witness that he would destroy all Thamiel created, Jala has bound himself (there are no casual ‘only joking/using a figure of speech’ ways of using the name of God in this universe because God is real, His Names have real effect, and so the Person of God is also powerful when you call God as the witness that you will do something: this means you will do it because you have asked the Omnipotent and Truth Itself to be the guarantor that you will do it. In the same way that we don’t have to personally make an agreement with gravity that we will fall if we jump off a cliff, saying “God is the guarantor I will do this” makes you do it Or Else).
“You could argue that in a metaphorical way, I sort of created humans” seems like a pretty weak argument for Thamiel if we’re operating under Unbreakable Vows of Literal Wording sort of rules.
Humans get away with taking the name of the Lord in vain all the time because we’re stupid/lucky/protected by mercy. Why do you think there’s a commandment about it? Jalaketu is the child of an archangel who is confronting the Devil (and moreover a Devil that claims to be a facet of God) about the fate of his wife; do you think Robin and Thamiel think he’s serious when he says “God as my witness”?
This is a universe where words have the power to affect reality. The Names of God can make changes in the real world and cause things to happen and create and destroy. Do you think that if using a Name can burn down a city, invoking the Person that Name describes will do nothing?
If the pious will only write “G-d” from fear and reverence, and if the Not A Metaphor is spending all this time looking for the Shem HaMephorash, if Aaron thought it would give him power to rule the world, do you not see that words have to be handled carefully? It would be very odd to be ultra-careful about the Name of God, but careless about God Himself.
I hope I didn’t sound combative – your thinking is always interesting, and I don’t think your theory here is stupid at all. (And props for coming up with a theory in the first place, which is more than I did!) But… I do think it’s ultimately wrong.
Luckily this is a simple factual disagreement and we will soon know the answer 🙂
Anyway, I think it’s wrong because:
(a) Maybe it’s cheating, but I do think the story is constrained by a need to make storytelling/literary sense. What you propose feels too much like a “trick” to me. Also it ruins the emotional force of Robin’s martyrdom, and the scene-specific cowing of Thamiel becomes false.
(b) Of course you’re right that this is a universe where words have power. (E.g. Ana on dating: “Did you really say ‘just a word’?”) But… they have power in a pretty specific way. “God” as far as we know is not actually a name of God, we’ve seen no evidence that God witnesses oaths or anything remotely like that. Sataniel, for example, invoked God in a deliberate lie when he took a third of the heavenly host. He didn’t face any direct consequences that we know about, nor did he seem to expect to. (And Uriel is the one who wrote the commandments.)
(c) It seems like TCK knows Adam Kadmon well enough not to fall into a major “genie logic” trap like this. And… it wasn’t even really the heat of the moment – he had more than an hour to prepare, and gives the speech to Thamiel without direct provocation.
(d) I like a lot of your “Dark Materials Theology” stuff – it’s very consonant with last year’s Passover chapter:
However, although I think you’re onto something generally right about Unsongverse theology, I can’t see Scott jumping in to use the specific mechanics of such a thing the way you describe, especially with no warning. “Welll… you said all Thamiel’s works, and technically it turns out that Thamiel is a necessary ingredient for the universe, we could interpret his ‘works’ to include the whole universe…. sooo…. guilty!”
I think all this implies is that this is an absolute, serious promise, the sort where if you break it you’ve used God’s name in vain.
How serious a consequence that is is unclear, but presumably pretty serious here.
Thamiel may be satanesque, but Thamiel does not seem to be the liberating cry of Non Serviam! Satan. Thamiel so far has shown no sign of encouraging people to throw off convention or surpass themselves or declare some mad scheme Holy and devote themselves to it.
The Luciferian devil was a rebel. Thamiel is known by everyone to be (and claims to be) an aspect of God, an Authority.
(I know Satan! Satan was a friend of mine! And you, sir, are no Satan!)
Definitely agree here, Thamiel is not Satan. This is the Adversary, not the Rebel.
Adversary sounds right, given Uriel’s description:
And indeed, Sataniel* and Thamiel are two different people here.
* “My accuser is God”…???
Sataniel = “My adversary is God”
I’m not sure how much the “my” is really implicit in the name. It could also be “Adversary of God.” (Uriel is “Flame/Fire of God,” according to Reb Wiki.)
Either way, it seems like an inauspicious name for before his visit to the center of the earth.
It’s not implicit, it’s explicit: the -i- part is how to say “my” in Hebrew. Instead of possessive pronouns, many languages have possessive affixes.
Where does it say he created all humans?
I think you’re absolutely right. Jala did swear an oath, with God as his witness.
And he has absolutely no intention of carrying it out. He took God’s name in vain.
Rather literally. After all, as Unsong!Cohen tells us:
You say I took the name vain,
And after that I lost the name,
I gave it back to him who holds it for us.
But the Name resounds in every word
It doesn’t matter what occurred
You never really lose the haMephorash.
Oh geez — could Metatron coming to take the name back be a direct consequence of this?
Post hoc ergo propter hoc. He took the name in vain; then he lost it, but it may or may not have been as a direct result of this. Though it’s possible he did it intentionally as part of his plan to enter Hell, but we’ll see.
Second crackshot theory: the story happens in a closed time-like curve. Sarah in the future is literally God because she’s found all the names. To be able to discover the names, she has to find a way to be ensouled. She sends something back in time to contrive a series of coincidences that will make Aaron speak the name and destroy Uriel’s machinery so that the names are now so powerful and physics so weak that she is now even more powerful than Thamiel. She crushes Thamiel and creates the kindom of heaven on earth, which she rules as a benevolent dictator. TCK knows a future AI will rule the world and dislikes that outcome, and has instructed Vihan to destroy any ensouled computers at all costs. He is also TOK and hs destroyed Uriel’s machinery so that computers noblonher work, but he didn’t plan for the fact that Sarah is now working on golem kabahlah magic, and he makes the problem worse. Humanities best hope to break the cycle and not being enslaved by an AI (even though a benevolent one) is to find Metatron and have him tell them the Shem Hamephorash before Sarah finds it. And she works bery quickly…
If Vihaan was supposed to destroy any ensouled computers at all cost, why didn’t he try to kill Sarah?
First, I don’t remember if he knew that Sarah was an ensouled computer (I have to reread that part). Second, even if he knew, he woukd need some time to arm himself woth the explosives. Now imagine you know you have to destroy ensouled computers, and only get one shot, because it’s a suicide mission after all. It makes sense to go after the biggest and most powerful computer, as it can cause the greatest amount pf damage.
this is a fun alternate plot — though in this alt-verse Sarah should be Connor and not Michelle Geller. 😉
Them be apostasy words – carving is how Idols were created, so the post-1999 Comet King is a placebomanic atheist.
Carving is also how gems are formed, and facets belong to gems.
Not all gemstones. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon%27s_shamir
Gems are formed by cutting, not carving.
Many things with facets are carved. God, for example.
So there is something that I have always wondered about, and have never seen anyone analyze:
What is the meaning of the Comet King’s given name “Jalaketu”?
We know that Jala’s mother and Uncle Vihaan were Hindu- and most Hindu have meanings. “Jalaketu” doesn’t seem to be a common enough name for me to google it and find the meaning. I would be incredibly surprised if Scott simple picked a human name at random for the Comet King. It must mean something because nothing is ever a coincidence..
*Should read as “and most Hindu names have meanings”
Jala means water, and Ketu means the body of the snake without the tail (and oter Sanskrit astology meanings I don’t grok) – so Jalaketu could just mean ‘watertail’, or comet…
Here’s an attempt at an analysis of “Jalaketu”
Jala apparently is a name of arabic with means “shining.”
Ketu seems to have many interesting different meanings:
That’s interesting- I suspect that if its correct that Jala means shining- then “ketu” is meant to mean star/celestial object => comet.
I believe it was previously analyzed in comments as जलकेतु jalaketu from केतु jala ‘water’ + केतु ketu ‘brightness, flame, signal, prodigy, comet’ and was attested in Sanskrit as the name of a particular comet observed in ancient India.
Oops, for “केतु jala ‘water'”, read “जल jala ‘water'”.
Or it could all be a terrible pun on what the Cometspawn will actually curse. In which case, the only requirement is to sound Indian and work for the pun.
“Hell yeah, look at you!”
This name is evidence against the Captain being The Comet King: TCK is Jalaketu, and the reverse of Jalaketu is Utekalaj (= nonsense). The reverse of Nemo (= nobody) is Omen – the dog could be an omen – and the reverse of God is Dog. Both of these two interpretations fit that chapter, while Jalaketu doesn’t.
Or he maybe just lightninged away until they had passed through the heart and was not affected.
But I agree that we have insufficient evidence to conclude captain is tck
The dog could be an omen? Like this?
Exactly. The text even highlights this:
So we just have four chapters left to complete the storylines of Ana, Aaron, Robin/Jala, and Sarah/Tharmas. This is going to be pretty dense, especially since this chapter was relatively light on plot.
Unless Scott’s been screwing with us for a while and there’s more than 72 chapters.
I don’t think he is screwing us- He probably has just failed to put the story into 72 chapters like he originally planned.
If there are only 4 chapters in Book 4- then either they better be very long or I am going to be very disappointed.
He pre-wrote a draft version before he started posting, though.
(Also, the difference between screwing us, and screwing with us, is small but important).
People keep saying the book is pre-written, but people also cite him giving evidence that it is not. What’ve you got other than your say-so, coment knave?
Here. Scott predicted (and was wrong) that he wouldn’t finish writing it by the end of 2015.
A-list LWer Alicorn freaked out on Twitter at the introduction of Uriel and Sohu, due to them already being their favorite characters in the book.
Yes, unless the next 4 chapters are as long as chapter 5 or something like that, I don’t think it’s possible to finish the story in a satisfying way. I have just enough faith in Scott’s writing ability to think hw might be able to pull it, though.
And the Cometspawn/Uncle Vihaan. And UNSONG’s role feels incomplete, considering it is the title ‘character’. And I interpreted Interlude ג as a heavy hint that Peter Singer would reemerge.
I don’t know if anyone has suggested this yet but I think it possible there are 77 chapters. Because chapter 39 announces itself multiple times to be at the center / in the middle of everything.
And is also called “Fearful Symmetry”. I like this idea.
Unfortunately that’d contradict both the Shem Hamephorash letters thing and the idea that the story ends when we catch up to it, and it definitely doesn’t mirror the interludes. Unless there are five extra interludes for the special letters, in which case we’d have 26/27 interludes. Thirteen before, thirteen after…
Well, we can dream.
Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär
Maybe the chapter we catch up to it is the chapter when the Name is reconstructed, and there’s still story left to go after that.
I had wondered if we might have 77 chapters from adding up the books of the Christian Bible and the Apocrypha.
Maybe it ends at 72 (or some dramatic climax happens that lines up the number 72 and the real world date), but there’s a bunch of afterwords to tell us what happened to all the people.
Or maybe it was *supposed* to finish at 72, but TOK/TCK/Thamiel/Uriel screwed up the universe so much the correspondence fails and the magic number stops being 72 and starts being some other weird thing.
Is there any mention of Thamiel activity after this day? Especially with the fake or real death of TCK. 16 years is a lot of time. I’m not even sure if he messed with Uriel.
The next verse of that Blake about crushing and becoming a Tyrant in his stead seems important.
Hmm, good catch. I don’t think that there is any mention of Thamiel’s activity after December 1999.
I think Ana mentioned him meeting with the president (unnamed at the time, which makes me think she meant Trump.)
Yes, but that passage could easily mean with Reagan.
Small Typo: “…marching back home in ina frustrating mix…”
Vote for Unsong!
relentless pursuit of perfection
Any significance of the one hundred minutes (or 6000 seconds) they spend together? No clear gematria I can see.
Although in English gematria “She Betrayed The Dark Haired Moshiach And Sold Out Women Everywhere In Exchange For Money She Is Beneath Satan” = 6000, which is hilariously close but no cigar. gematrix.org has some odd entries.
Sunset in Colorado Springs on Dec 21 is 16:41, so when she mentions the time it is exactly 15:01.
Robin did not admit to fucking Thamiel. TCK is uber-rational, so such trivialities may not concern him – but I think that most man would take offense at such partial confessions (when he will Inevitably find out).
Had she simply told him it was part of the deal, it would have probably amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things. But as it is, the omission seems significant.
“I sold my soul to Thamiel, which by the way is your worst enemy and architect of all sufferings before or since.” in terms of revealation is pretty significant. “And I also fuck him.” is pretty extratenous tbh. I don’t think the average, emotional people will disagree with me.
It’s like if your SO said “I killed someone.” then added “also, I jaywalked while strolling home.”
I dunno, I believe Malia-the-daughter will be a plot point. Robin’s rape? Not so much.
“I negotiated and dealt with your worst enemy” could be overwhelming news, but it’s still just a conflict grounded in disagreement and judgment. “Oh, and I also fucked him” makes it personal. It’s an infidelity, and the whole thing is starting to look like a betrayal.
Of course, under the circumstances it’s reasonable to dismiss such an interpretation. But I think that keeping it a secret frames it as meaningful.
This strikes me as closer to “I just took poison, I’ll be dead in an hour” than “I negotiated and dealt with your worst enemy”.
For the TCK = TOK theory this gives a reason why he might suddenly become very interested in bringing people back from the dead. It might be a munchkin way to get people out of hell one at a time without destroying it wholesale.
Also on timing, do we know exactly what year TCK founded Unsong?
Sometime in the mid-90s as Nader was opposing it in the 1996 election,
I think this might be my favorite line in the whole story. Not as a threat to Thamiel, although it’s pretty awesome that way too, but as a judgement against God. It claims the right and the responsibility to judge God and find Him wanting.
Wish I could edit the italics there. Oops. 🙁
This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes (from here)
“What did you sell it for?”
“Nothing in particular…”
And we still don’t know what Robin sold her soul for. I am still pretty sure it will turn out to be significant. “Nothing in particular… everything in general”, maybe?
She’s lying here, even if she doesn’t know she’s lying. She sold her soul for the Comet King’s victory. She says “nothing in particular” because Thamiel didn’t fall for her fake “dying of cancer” act, and I’m presuming she knows Thamiel knows – after reading her mind – that she was doing this to get into Hell to motivate the Comet King to enter and conquer Hell.
She may not think that’s “I asked Thamiel for something in return” because duh, why would he agree to his defeat? But her intention and purpose in the exchange was not “I’m giving you my soul for nothing”, it was “I’m giving you my soul so my husband will get the kick up the backside he needs to win this war”.
So she was exchanging her soul for something. Unfortunately, Robin doesn’t seem to be as clued-in to these small but very damn significant shades of meaning and details that mean the literal difference between salvation and damnation. It’s no good arguing with the genie “But I didn’t mean I wanted you to turn me into a ham sandwich!” This is the basis that Dylan worked on – “he asked were we the bomb squad, he didn’t ask were we the bomb disposal squad”. Robin’s intention was to get something (to get into Hell) in order to achieve something (the Comet King becoming super-ultra-motivated and bursting into Hell for her sake) by selling her soul (she didn’t commit suicide to get into Hell the ordinary way without having to sell her soul, for instance) so by invoking Thamiel and making a deal with him, she has indeed exchanged something for something.
And the way she’s avoiding the details of what her bargain entailed (Thamiel asking her for sex) is also going to be important later on; how do we think the Comet King felt if he discovered that not alone was Malia Ngo a half-demon, not alone was she the daughter of Thamiel, she was his wife’s daughter (and his step-daughter and his children’s step-sibling) as well? Might have been nice to know that and have a chance to prepare for it beforehand!
“I didn’t want anything, that was the problem. I had to make something up.”
Maybe we should take this literally, as Robin selling her soul in exchange for Thamies promising to change her (or someone else’s) utility function is some way?
*in some way
But that’s not true. She wanted to get into Hell, she didn’t want to do it the way everyone else did (that is, commit enough mortal sin and then die and be damned to Hell) so she invoked Thamiel and made a deal. If she was in that big of a rush, she could have killed herself and left a note explaining to the Comet King “Darling, I did this so I would be in Hell waiting your victorious rescue. I’m depending on you, don’t fail me!”
Just because Robin thinks “I didn’t ask Thamiel for health or wealth or a harem of nubile young men hanging on my every wish”, it doesn’t mean she didn’t want or ask for anything. She wanted to motivate the Comet King; presumably this was what Thamiel read in her mind and why he said it wouldn’t work (because he knows better than she does that it’s not for lack of working hard or wanting it badly enough that the Comet King failed to invade Hell).
I can’t imagine she doesn’t know that either. Seems pretty obvious that he’s plenty motivated enough.
Still, it seems that “I give you my soul in exchange of you taking me to Hell” deal sounds fishy (like “I give you my soul and in return… you let me give you my soul”?), plus then there wouldn’t be a real need for Scott to keep it as secret as he does (arranging it so Thamiel takes the deal out of Robin’s head, so that the readers don’t see the actual contract, and now Robin evading Jala’s question with her “Nothing in particular”). So maybe something like “I give you my soul and in return you put a certain name into a certain kabbalist’s mind at a certain date” – well, not really this, but something.
If she were like Prometheus in Scott’s Greek Myth short story, she could well be plotting something sinister like that. After all, when you can predict the future you can be very effective at making deals, even with the Devil. Apparently Sohu can see the future in certain contrived circumstances, and Uriel might be able to do it too. Well, even Dylan might be able to do it with an Ouija board and a crazy enough ritual using tea made from the mortal remains of a former priestess at the Oracle of Delfos or something to that effect… But why would Robin West be capable of such things? Isn’t she just a normal human, so ignorant of magic that she needs to pay Dylan for a summoning ritual?
Well yeah, I didn’t mean “I give you my soul and in return you put a certain name into a certain kabbalist’s mind at a certain date” as a probable theory – just as an example of something that one could ask of Thamiel in a deal. Maybe for her it would be something like “show my husband the true meaning of evil”, so that he could get to Hell, or something else weird, crazy but kabbalistically appropriate.
This chapter really humanized Robin for me, and I’ve been mourning for her all day. I’m hard pressed to name a more selfless, courageous and utterly heartbreaking sacrifice in literature. It’s also a beautiful mirror of the Adam and Eve story, and the sacrifice of Jesus. I love how flawed she *isn’t*, yet she’s still so limited. She sees what she can buy through sacrificing all she has, and calmly makes the choice. Well done, Scott. Beautiful and heartbreaking.
It’s terribly sad but it’s also terribly stupid. When the Devil is telling you “sorry, your grand plan ain’t gonna work” as he makes the deal to buy your soul, you should reconsider if you have all the information you need.
As to her sacrifice, it is presumptuous even if done for good. It’s what St Paul works out in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans – “I could wish to be damned for the sake of my own people, but that is not how salvation is achieved; mercy comes not by works but by God and the will of God”:
So what? She’s a utilitarian. If she thinks she needs to do something presumptuous, she’ll just do it.
but the whole point of theodicy and this story is that God isn’t doing shit until humans put in enough will and exertion to deserve it.
As Aaron notes, Christians are idiots, and their theology shouldn’t be trusted.
Yeah, as I understand the Catholic view, Eve was entirely in the wrong to eat the apple. I think the other view is quite beautiful, though: Eve sees the emptiness in sitting on lotus thrones forever. The matrix Oracle’s job is to unbalance the system and thereby make it interesting.
Robin’s sacrifice hits me so hard because of her purity of sacrifice and clarity of thought at against the utter awfulness of the world she’s in. Jesus came with a Divine heritage, knowing what he must do. The devil offers him some very reasonable arguments, and it’s obvious that he should simply ignore them and follow the plan. Job has his luxuries taken without consent.
But Robin has a lovely status quo and nobody would have complained had she kept it and accepted the proposition that destroying hell really is impossible. But she will not accept defeat, and makes an utterly selfless gamble because in her best judgment it will do the most good.
Well, you probably shouldn’t do it in the first place.
You shouldn’t change your mind because of what the devil says, because he will say the least helpful possible thing…
Is Thamiel technically a demon?
Yes. He gets killed by the holy water in Chapter 29, for example.
Yeah, but aren’t the demons either corrupted angels or fragments of Sataniel? I thought Thamiel was supposed to be something else. Thamiel is neither of these
He’s the Lord of Demons, and thus in some sense demonic, but yeah I think not actually a demon.
(In MTG terms, he’s Summon Lord, but not then revised to Creature – Demon.)
Huh. Good Q. I don’t know if there’s an official demon club. Maybe all those demonic traits are *him*, and the demons have them because they reflect him, a bit like angels and god??
Right when everyone finally had themselves convinced there would only be the three books… Bam!
Scott has 4 chapters left to resolve all of the following questions, in no particular order:
1. What happened to the Comet King during his battle with the Other King, and what is he doing now as the Captain?
2. What happened to Elisha ben Abuyah, and what is he doing now as the Other King?
3. Why is there a feeling of wrongness surrounding both the UNSONG facility and the black sail on the ship?
4. Why did Uriel ask Sohu to stay for one more day after she found out the Comet King died?
5. Did any characters survive BOOJUM’s attack on the UN?
6. What will happen with the ship’s encounter with Leviathan and Metatron?
7. Why did Uncle Vihaan don a suicide vest and disable THARMAS?
8. Will Aaron play any further role in saving the world apart from discovering the Vital Name?
9. What are the threats greater than the Drug Lord alluded to by Simeon Azore who will emerge and view humans as the bottom of the food chain once Uriel’s machine breaks down?
10. What will happen with Sarah and THARMAS now that they’re ensouled?
11. What is the real meaning of “There is providence in the fall of a raven.”?
12. Where are the surviving Archangels, other than Gadiriel in L.A. and Samyazaz in Mexico?
13. What happened to Lilith the Night Monster?
14. Will Ana and Aaron ever get together?
15. Is there anything more that will happen with the organization UNSONG, given that it’s the title of the book?
16. Is there anything more that will be shown as to what lies beyond the Outer Gate, and what Neil Armstrong was saying about the Klipot rearranging themselves?
17. How will the Explicit Name of God be used?
18. What will ultimately happen to the world at the end of Unsong?
19. What is Unsong’s answer to the problem of Theodicy?
20. What’s going on in Wall Drug?
That’s a lot of questions to address in 4 chapters. If I was put in charge of finishing the last 4 chapters of Unsong, I would either have to make it incredibly didactic and answer all these questions, or make it engaging but leave a lot of questions unanswered.
But Scott Alexander is quite possibly one of the greatest living writers today. (I say that as a non-rationalist; I’m talking about the quality of his writing, not the correctness of his beliefs.) So if anyone’s able to thread the needle and make an engaging conclusion to the story while tying up all (or most) of the loose ends, Scott may be the one.
I don’t think it’s possible to address all these questions. But some of them won’t peobably be answered (If Scott manages to answer them anyway, he’s da boss, though).
IF he is TCK, we’ll need this answered, of course
Elisha ben Abuyah might be a red herring. We have no evidence besides the prophecy (which is being interpreted in a very schizophrenic way, Aaron style). It’s much simpler to assume that tha providence in question is the fall of Robin, and if the profecy had been introduced AFTER we (the readers) knew of Robin’s sacrifice, I don’t think Aaron’s explanation would be even the slightest bit convincing (it wasn’t to me at the time).
That one has been almost spelled out in full: it’s the presence of stuff related to Thamiel. In the UNSONG facility you have Malia (who is at the “center” of the wrongness and carries Thamiel’s blood) and the black sail apparently channels the powers of Thamiel by other means.
Yup, I fear we will have to waste valuable plot real estate on a Uriel-Sohu chapter so close to the end.
Probably only Mark. We’ve seen most of them die. The only other possible surviving character would be Erica, and as the stabs Malia, it’s said that “the flames closed down on them”, so apparently she died too. Ana’s feeling of deep loss is an indirect confirmation.
Legitimate question, I’d like an answer on that one. But please remember that a plausible theory is that The Captain is Metatron.
Totally legitimate question we all want to see answered.
This assumes the world will be saved. The only evidence we have pointing at that is on of Scott’s comments in the Broadcast chapter, which seems to confirm that the story has a mostly happy ending. I can’t find it right now but it says something like “After this chapter, reading the rest of the story will be mostly therapeutic”. The possibility remains that the world will dissolve into nothing and the characters accept that fate as better than Hell, or that Scott was simply messing with us.
Or even something more radical like Sarah and Tharmas teaming up to simulate a new perfect world for humans, and UNSONG playing exactly as this in the nested simulation, ad infinitum (of course Sarah and Tharmas will only simulate the Earth, as there is no need to simulate the rest of the universe for humans to exist and be happy).
Assuming the world does get saved, I don’t know how it is still possible for Aaron to save the world in a meaningful way. Maybe he can have his moment of glory by solving it all in a kabhalistic way before someone else saves the world (like recognizing that is previous interpretation of the prophecy was wrong, and all that).
I don’t think we’ll get an answer to this one. As soon as you explain the threat, it cease to become mysterious and scary.
Legitimate question, but meaningless if the world does not get saved.
It’s not a raven, it’s a sparrow. A robin is a kind of sparrow. I’ve given a possible answer to this, if you don’t agree with Aaron’s interpretation.
These are not archangels. The only surviving Archangels are Urial (not anymore, of course), Metatron, Raziel, and possibly Gabriel (we never saw him actually die).
I’d love for it to appear, and it would explain the weird stuff about unborn babies “screaming” by kicking in morse code, but I’m not keeping my hopes up.
If the world doesn’t end and Sarah dies somehow, probably. If the world does end I don’t think so, unless the Sohu teleports him to NYC or TOK (which is probably the only sentient thing that flies) gives him a ride. He’s in Colorado, after all.
Probably not, even though I find it a little disappointing… We’ve had what, 4, 5 chapters related to UNSONG? Maybe something about the Humans having accumulated lots of names and using them to halt the advance of the demons/night creatures/things that feed on humans, thus buying the main characters time to do stuff?
Probably not, unless the world is turned into the Kingdom of Heaven or something like that.
What if the twist is that it won’t? It failed last time, as we all know… Maybe the answer lies not on another name but on something else. Massive bombardment with ICKMs?
God suxs build ur own simulationz if u think ur so smart :p I think it will probably reuse some stuff from Scott’s post on Job.
Do we really need an explanation for this? People have been treating it as the center of the world, from which all distances are measured, so it kind o becomes a black hole that sucks everything in its neighborhood… In the world of UNSONG (in which the reciting the bible in English can have real world side effects), this is probably good enough.
Really not. A sparrow is a finch, a robin is a flycatcher – they’re both Old World songbirds, but that’s about it!
Ok, I admit I have absolutely no idea on the proper taxonomy of birds, but the kind of reasoning that matches Acher to a bird doesn’t seem much more correct than the one that matches a robin to a sparrow 🙂
In any case, thanks for teaching me the difference between these two kinds of birds.
And a whale is really not a great fish.
No, it’s a great feesh.
That is superficially correct.
Scientifically speaking, of course it isn’t. But science stopped working 48.5 years ago. Cladistics probably doesn’t work anymore. (Evolution may well have stopped too.)
Leviathan is more like a sea dinosaur thing than a whale, but both are fish now.
It has no fins or scales, so it isn’t a fish as per kashrut either.
There’s no such thing as a fish.
Your father was a fish.
The American robin and sparrow are different from the European robin and sparrow. But apparently the American robin is a thrush.
14. Will Ana and Aaron ever get together?
If the world doesn’t end and Sarah dies somehow, probably. If the world does end I don’t think so, unless the Sohu teleports him to NYC or TOK (which is probably the only sentient thing that flies) gives him a ride. He’s in Colorado, after all.
Why should they? She’s said she’s asexual and uninterested in romance. it would honestly be really cliched for the story to end with them getting together for no reason.
Thamiel’s bident doesn’t seem to have been involved here, so Uriel was probably just temporarily disincorporated. Note that Chapter 43 says that demons (and therefore presumably angels as well) can eventually recoalesce from the Wrathful Name.
Yes, I meant to say that Uriel is temporarily dead.
Bear in mind that Simeon literally says that it’s time for the “Night Creatures.”
I dunno that Uriel/Sohu chapters are a *waste.* Honestly they’re some of my favorite parts, being full-on ridiculous kabbalistic geekery.
They do little for the plot and lots for the point.
I don’t think they are a waste either… All chapters are quite good, even though some are unsatisfying given that they are being published as a serial. They are a waste in the sense that they take up valuable space (especially near the end) that could be used to answer some questions we’d all like to see answered. I don’t think the story has to answer all the questions it raises, of course, but I think the reader is entitled to know things such as: “Who is the Other King?”, “Why did Vihaan blow up Tharmas?”, “Will tha Vital Name have any role besided leading to the destruction of Tharmas and Uriel?”. I wouldn’t like to see all these questions answered in two paragraphs or something like that.
Is there providence in the fall of a writing desk?
Some of these don’t really need to be answered. #13 and #20, for instance, don’t really relate to the main story. Those are more just worldbuilding details, and while it’s possible they might come up and affect the story again I wouldn’t expect them to be explained (especially not Wall Drug, where part of the point is its weirdness; explaining it would make it less interesting).
If your story has no irrelevant details, it just seems, well, too neat, too clearly a closed story rather than part of a larger world. This is actually a problem I had with the story earlier; the use of the Watchers seemed too neat to me, I think some more loose ends in that department — for instance, by mentioning more irrelevant Watchers back in Chapter 20 — would be an improvement.
(And as Rich Burlew points out here (this is in reply to someone saying, aha, the “boss” these lizardfolk mentioned will have to show up later), plot-irrelevant details can also just be a good way to show off features of the world or characters. The point of the Lilith bit, I’m pretty sure though, is mostly just to be funny.)
hmm, but the recurring theme of this story is TINAC BNEIAC, which makes irrelevant details less appealing (though doubtless still widely present, just less prominently, e.g. Paulus the Lawless, Malabar-Zanzibar Consortium)
Here’s an unanswered question that OP missed, though: How is Roe vs. Wade going to come up again? Since from what Scott said it certainly seemed like it would.
I think the point was the Moses parallel.
Another unanswered question that OP missed: What is going to be the resolution of the apparent contradiction between Uriel saying in chapter 18 that he is responsible for the 10 plagues, and the Haggadah’s insistence that the 10th plague was God alone, and not an angel? Scott has said this is in fact going to come up again.
When did Scott say this?
Hm, I might be misremembering. Here’s a relevant comment on chapter 18, but it’s a bit different from what I described. He said to check back “Now Descendeth Out Of Heaven A City” — but that chapter doesn’t seem to much bear on this. I thought there was something else but I can’t find it, so I might be misremembering.
Still, I feel like there’s something significant unanswered here, especially since chapter 23 doesn’t seem to have addressed this.
Number 3 has been answered: it’s because both the sail and Ngo are associated with demon blood.
12 is based on two incorrect understandings: first of all, neither Samyazaz nor Gadiriel is an archangel. They are explicitly described as low-ranking angels. Secondly, the two surviving archangels have been accounted for: Uriel is temporarily dead but was in the hurricane before that, and Raziel is in space. All the other archangels have been confirmed (or in the case of Gabriel, strongly implied) to be permanently dead
9 seems to have been answered: Azore theorized that there might be greater threats out there, because he didn’t know that the Drug Lord was an angel, and so thought that there might be whole orders of being we don’t know about. Now that we’ve learned the real deal, it seems likely that he was wrong, and that Thamiel is the greatest threat.
4: it’s implied that the reason was so that he could perform SCABMOM with her (though why that took a whole day is unclear. Maybe he needed to research the ritual to invent it?)
Er, whoops, this was intended as a reply to Keshav Srinivasan’s comment above.
I don’t buy number 4. If they have SCABMOM, why doesn’t Sohu warn Uriel of the missile? After about one minute, even Aaron has noticed that the Missile is not going towards Colorado. In 30 more seconds or something, Sohu would probably notice that it would be close enough to Uriel to be worth warning him about it. Usrile would probably need only a couple of seconds to deactivate the missile or teleport away (in this case the machinery would be lost, but he would be alive). Also, Sohu could have teleported, but Scott has already confirmed this is a plot hole he didn’t think about.
Mayne the naswer to number 4 is also “plot hole”, but I doubt it… If Scott has spent a chapter setting up Uriel and Sohu for SCABMOM, he wouldn’t have forgotten the possibility of using the SCABMOM link to warn Uriel. Unless, of course, someone has been interfering with SCABMOM’s link worldwide, which seems quite likely given how unreliable and inconsistent telepathy is in this universe.
It wouldn’t matter anyway, since missiles is the way to send messages to Uriel. None of the previous ones would have exploded, so Uriel had no way to tell (other than Signs, maybe?) that this one would.
It does seem odd that Uriel would not notice something different about this one, though. “A pulse from Gevurah. Harshness. Destruction. A pulse from Yesod. Mechanism. Nature. Balance.”
Here’s what I’ve been wondering, though-
Is he? The last few times someone tried to go to space it didn’t work out well for them. Crystal shell around the Earth with an abyss of divine light on the other side. Which (to me anyway) suggests that space might not actually exist. Where, then, is Raziel? Or as he’s also known, Comet West?
I sort of doubt this will end up being a key plot point, but I’d be curious to see what people think. Especially if what people are thinking is “no, this was explained in Chapter X, see so and so”.
Raziel is clearly outside the sphere, pulling the strings and making Uriel think he’s the one running the show. Obviously.
He even read all the bunk Uriel wrote in the bible in order to create a Messiah convincing enough so fool Thamiel (Indian guy, member of a long lost Israeli tribe). When the whole Messiah stuff started to spiral out of control, he disguised himself as a Necromancer and disposed of the Messiah. Probably because he didn’t tell him the Shem Hamephorash he was looking for. Unfortunately, when he almost had the only boat that can find Metatron, some idiots stole it.
So now he has put two plans in motion: get an idiot with delusions of grandeur to ensoul some computers and steal the computers from him maybe the computers will find the name. That stinky half demon Malia might even help with this. She digs names. But this plan might fail.
So he arranges for some coincidences in order to get a plucky band of heroes to catch the Leviathan. Also, better get someone to kill malia; she’s a loose thread now. Metatron will tell the crew the name, right? Those are the rules… Make sure at least one of those idiots on the boat has a SCABMOM link you can eavesdrop on
“I did not see their battle, but I can only deduce that Godzilla defeated Cthulhu since mankind’s civilization yet thrives. A victory for the new gods of man’s own making.”
Robin says that she sold her soul for “nothing I particular”.
Clearly that is not just an evasion of the question. Robin sold her soul for something general. What general thing could that be?
An awesome update for easter. Robin’s sacrifice is without a doubt more moral and more noble than Christ’s. To truly enter hell for an indeterminate amount of time, without knowledge of how or when you’ll be saved, just for the chance of destroying it for everyone — this is the supreme sacrifice possible. Christ died for a few days to save a portion of humanity. Robin went willingly into the pit for a hope for saving all.
People said the TOK might be Jesus come back with a grudge. What if the current Other King (as opposed to the one TCK killed in the nineties) is Robin, resurrected from the dead, and come back with a grudge? I can imagine Thamiel saying: well, you’ve given birth to my child, you’re useless here now. You dear husband won’t come for you. I’ll send you back to earth to do some evil stuff. Better be evil enough, like crucifying your enemies, ruling over a city of sin, or else I’ll bring you back for eternal torment. After a year or so of torture (enough for Malia to be born), Robin cracks and accepts the offer. The rest, as they say, is history.
This chapter is a natural point where one can stop and make predictions before the upcoming denouement. I will limit myself to a few points, and I will add a few explanations based on my understanding of Scott’s narrative causality.
1) What is the nature of God and the resolution to theodicy?
In Interlude ד, it is revealed that someone will explain theodicy to Ana:
With 99% certainty, I predict that we will hear this explanation before the book ends. 50% that the Captain will explain it to her (this prediction is mostly because we expect there to be few chapters left). 40% that Metatron will. 10% that it’s someone else who miraculously comes into contact with her.
This chapter (and a few others before) spend a lot of time focusing on how important the story of Job is in Scott’s theodicy. As people have pointed out, he has already spelled out the answer to Job. The answer is that God has created many universes, with angels and men and differently-shaped stars etc, and that any universe with a net positive happiness is acceptable. (If you want to go back to terms Teller would’ve liked, universes obey the Pauli exclusion principle and populate a Fermi sea of happiness.) This is why God created Thamiel in some of the universes: to bring forth some suffering and evil. Unsongverse just so happens to be one of the univeres that contain a Thamiel.
This also ties back to the discussion in Interlude ס. Imagine particles of God (associated to good, or song) as having assigned values of 1, and particles of evil (associated to unsong) as having -1; any universe in which the average of good and bad particles nets a number between 0 and 1 is acceptable, as it has a net positive amount of good. This is why the name of God is el, alpha-lamed, signifying that God creates everything between 0 and 1 of happiness. 80% that this is the theodicy in Unsong.
2) What happened during the TOK/TCK battle, and where are they now?
1% that TCK is really dead; this subject has been hashed out many times. 70% that TCK took the place of TOK and faked his own death; this is inspired mostly by the apology written on the ICKM that nuked Uriel, the fact that the Undead stopped their attack after the TCK-TOK duel, and the fact that the one appearance of TOK shows him able to talk telepathically just like TCK was used to doing with other people (as per Sohu).
99% that TOK was Acher, before the fight. During the fight, TCK may have vanquished TOK (80%) and taken his place, or may have convinced him to retire and cede control over the Undead armies (10%).
Why was this necessary? There is providence in the fall of the sparrow, and so maybe TCK realized that the key to establishing a net positive good in the world (i.e. vanquishing Thamiel) lay in moving to Vegas (the city of fallen birds). Whatever it is, conditioning on the fact that TCK is still alive, 90% chance that TCK has a new plan, playing a long game that involved acting evil, impersonating TOK’s, nuking Uriel and having Vihaan blow up THARMAS.
[It may be that Vihaan’s job was to disable THARMAS at some point so that TCK can nuke Uriel when the time came; maybe the Vital Name forced their hand, or maybe the various prophecies consistently pointed at how the Vital Name would show up around the same Uriel had to be nuked. There are also many possible explanations why the latter had to happen; maybe TCK’s plan is to reorganize the universe and he didn’t want Uriel to interfere? I will not make any predictions here because no interpretation stands out as obviously preferred.]
3) What’s the deal with the Captain?
First of all, have people noticed that “Not a Metaphor” anagrams to “apho metatron” (איפה מטטרון), meaning “where is Metatron?” This doesn’t really help since we already know what the boat is supposed to do, but it’s cute.
1% that the Captain is Metatron. I can’t plausibly reconcile his holiness (he can’t even touch the ground because he’s so holy, let alone talk to you unless you are worthy) with the fact that the Captain talks a lot when needed (e.g. when introduced in Chapter 22). He is familiar with the ship, so I’d give a 70% chance that the Captain was sent by TCK (as a golem, perhaps; I like imagining that he may even be TOK working in alliance with TCK, but that should have an infinitesimal probability because I don’t see it presaged in any way).
5% that TCK himself is the Captain. It’s unclear what he would stand to gain from finding Metatron again, since he was promised to get the Explicit Name back when he was ready. He did tell Metatron that he earned the Name, presumably by catching the Leviathan and winning the Bible; it seems this is what Ana figured out before going down to the Captain’s quarters.
4) What is the endgame?
There’s a good chance things are moving according to TCK’s complicated plan. We also know (from the first sentence of the story) that this is the Apocalypse. And we know that “recarving God to remove Thamiel” is sufficiently credible as a threat from this chapter. 50% chance that TCK wanted to bring about the Apocalypse so he could open the gates to hell and maybe exchange this universe for a better one (80% the Explicit Name does some kind of universe-level magic, and we know from the most likely theodicy that there are other universes out there…).
Some other pieces of the puzzle: why will the Cometspawn (maybe minus Sohu) die cursing their father’s name? What else is there in American Pie? Why does Neil Armstrong say that Blake got everything right? (I’m not hugely familiar with his mythology but it seems way to vague to be of any concrete use, so let’s hope the resolution won’t hinge too strongly on this; maybe it’s just about evil and good both being facets of God?) And, most importantly, what’s the point of the Vital Name arc, and Sarah as such? Aaron says that whatever TOK is, he’s connected to the reason Aaron got the Vital Name, so 80% that the Vital Name is part of the big plot going on. No good ideas about the other questions.
I pretty much agree outright with 1, disagree strongly with 2 (the “righteous grown children” are about to die, probably cursing their father’s name, and from his reaction to Sohu being harmed and generally-being-a-parent the Comet King is not immune to the general protectiveness that comes from being a father. Killing them in various painful ways (likely fire and lightning) is right out, probability solid 80-90%.), mildly agree with 3 and 4.
With regard to Blake…
Blake’s poetry, in general, is split between two great collections: the Songs of Innocence, and the Songs of Experience. The way things start, hopeful, pure, untouched, and the way they become when left alone, soot-stained and terrifying. The Lamb and the Tyger: *Did He who made the Lamb make thee?* Theodicy’s built into Blake right at the core as well.
Dunno quite where I’m going with this, but it’s a thought.
I admit I am confused about the prophecy about the children dying. In general I am confused about the role of prophecies in the narrative, and about TCK’s attitude towards them. On the one hand, everyone seems to believe prophecies (Uriel’s “omens,” Dividend Monks’ outright prophecies, American Pie, and of course all the holy texts). On the other hand, TCK told Sohu that as a celestial kabbalist you can rise above prophecies. So maybe TCK will have found a way around his children dying.
Have we seen any evidence of a prophecy coming true? I don’t think we have, and it would be narratively unsatisfying to discover now, so close to the end, that prophecies are bunk.
Agreed. It would be rather strange to start introducing methods of rationality at this stage. But I wouldn’t put it past Scott 🙂
EDIT: I meant to say “evidence of a prophecy not coming true”
Technically, we haven’t seen any explicit prophecy by the Dividend Monks borne out or debunked, right?
Indeed we haven’t. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear before, so I’ll try to explain my reasoning again. Having prophecies that are total bunk is an interesting idea for a story. It is even expected in real life among the readers of this book. The problem is that we live in real life and not in the world of Unsong, so we have to learn about that world through the actions (or maybe thoughts) of the characters. All characters seem to treat prophecies as something that actually predicts the future, even if “from a certain point of view”. Because of this, we, the readers, expect the prophecies to tell us something interesting about reality. So far, we’ve had no evidence against it, and the actions and thoughts of the characters work as evidence in favor. In this case, subverting the expectations by having the prophecies being wrong would not be interesting. It would be just betraying the reader’s expectations for no reason. If we had seen an example of a prophecy being wrong, even if subtly, then an attentive reader would have noticed that prophecies could be wrong, and be prepared for the time when major prophecies would be wrong. But we’ve had nothing of the sort! This is why I think the major prophecies will eventually come true.
On the other hand, the book has already subverted this kind of expectations on two important occasions:
1. When the Vanishing name turns out to be very easily exploited, despite what Aaron thinks. Aaron is a pretty good kabbhalist, given his academic accomplishments and exhaustive knowledge of the bible, and by some reason he believes the name to be inexploitable. Ana, a very good kabbhalist too has never said that the name could be exploited. The name has been studied by theonomic corporations, who aren’t yet using the name to disrupt long distance travel in a world where air travel doesn’t work (yes, I know its been discovered less than 2 months ago, but come on, in the real world teleport stations would be growing like mushrooms 1 or 2 weeks after the name was discovered). So, all elements in the story pointed to the fact that the name was not exploitable, and yet the Cometspawn found a very obvious way to use it in practice. When the beanie babies were mentioned the first time (very rare, very unique…), I immediately thought they would be a teleportation device exploiting the Vanishing name. But then I though: If it were so easy, Aaron would have thought of it and the Theonomic companies would be using it already. It turns out I was wrong, and both Aaron and the Theonomics only lacked imagination.
2. An even more striking example: when Aaron ensouls Sarah, not once does he think that ensouling the computer might make it conscious. He thought it would become a simple name producing machine. Given that we were just introduced to this world, and again, assuming Aaron knows a lot about kabbahla and the world, I thought Aaron was right, and the computer would not become conscious, because consciousness was something separate from having a soul. Again, Aaron turned out to be wrong, and my interpretation was mistaken – computers do become conscious when ensouled (I still consider it a plot whole the fact that Africans, who have no souls, are normal humans while an ensouled computer turns into a human!)
So maybe Scott is in fact trying to teach us a lesson about the dangers of ignoring our common sense in favor of the characters’ interpretations of reality. But ultimately, TCK is supposed to be the ultimate angelic perfect being on earth, and even he believes in prophecies, so I don’t really know what it all means.
Assuming you’re right about all universes with total valence between 0 and 1 existing in parallel, perhaps the Shem haMephorash is the encoded address of the particular universe this story takes place in. The specific set of parameters that give rise to the relative quantities and distributions of good and evil.
No, that would be Adam Kadmon. The Shem HaMephorash, if we should believe its notarikon, is pan-universal.
Sorry, wrong thread.
1 is problematic, since unsongverse has actual hell and thus almost certainly has negative utility.
Unless maybe unsongverse is a universe where something genuinely went wrong, and this story ends with God coming in and deleting it. Which actually totally sounds like something Scott might write.
It’s not clear that the utility of heaven doesn’t outweigh the utility of hell, giving a net positive.
It’s also possible that hell is made up of p-zombies.
I’m really surprised by how many people are calling Robin stupid. If an action has the SLIGHTEST chance of helping to destroy hell, the SLIGHTEST chance of galvanizing tck into greater and more desperate action – and I think this does have that chance, it’s clear how personally and deeply Robin’s loss affects him, and plus (although I don’t think she was banking on this) placebomancy and narrative determinism exist in this universe – then it is absolutely justified… If the gambit doesn’t work, one extra person is consigned to hell. If it does work, hell is destroyed – which is the abolishment of INFINITE suffering. Even if the chance is unspeakably tiny, that’s the thing that Robin should do. But I really really want to know what it is that Thamiel promised her in return, because “oh, nothing” seems like it’s hiding a whole lot of something.
So, this sounds a lot like Pascal’s Wager. Do the same reasons that breaks apply here?
Not most of them, since we’ve established the actual existence of this specific Hell.
Is there a name for the sort of theodicy that says if someone is in Hell, they have already been judged and Deserve It, and therefore attempts at jailbreak are cosmically unjust?
Not saying I agree with it, just that most folks seem to be taking as a given that destroying Hell is The Right Thing To Do.
I think most people are coming in with an assumption that we have the right to judge what is right, and any logic based *entirely* on “it’s right because God Says So” is ignorable.
Also, and similarly, that there’s no such thing as deserving so much as a stubbed toe, never mind Hell.
Sure, and that’s a fairly consistent position people hold around these parts. I was mostly curious what to call that particular alternative.
I do take issue with “there’s no such thing as deserving so much as a stubbed toe” but this is neither the time nor place for that.
Divine Command Theory is the term you’re looking for – the idea that things are good because God commands them, rather than God commanding things because they are good.
The stakes on both sides are infinite.
As a note to Scott: We all got the reference in the title without the ellipsis. Putting it there is just overkill. At some point, you’ve got to trust your audience.
Trust no one
I did not get it until I saw your comment. That was the hint I needed to look it up. Thanks 🙂
Oh good. I was concerned people missed it just because they weren’t talking about it.
I’m sure you’ve been building toward this one for some time. Well done crafting the story in such a way that the poem is so relevant.
I got it, but I didn’t mind the ellipsis. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if every reference was footnoted and linked. I’m sure I’m missing plenty.
I too appreciate the ellipsis. It helps those of us who don’t have all of Blake memorized.
So, I guess in 5 weeks book 1 of part two will be published, right?
Not relevant to this chapter specifically, but, looking back at chapter 52, I found a few things:
I think this is evidence in favor of TCK -> TOK.
But TOK existed long before TCK died.. In 1995, way before TCK lost his spirit enough to do something like that.. Was he really just zapping back and forth without anyone knowing it? That being said, given your theory, I wonder why he would kill Uriel?
* As a gamble that even if divine power were to increase, Sohu and the rest could overpower Thamiel in a way that the angels couldn’t.
* If he was certain that Thamiel would win, in time, perhaps a more empathetic person like Sohu running the machinery could give humanity a more comfortable demise.
* To manipulate Metatron into coming back. Metatron actually taking an active role would be really unlikely, but it would be a game changer.
My theory is that TOK was originally a separate figure from TCK, but at Never Summer, TCK transferred his mind into TOK’s body, abandoning his old body which he no longer needed.
Here’s an interesting Thamiel theory: in all the Abrahamic religions, the greatest sin of all is to acknowledge other Gods besides God, to pray to them, fear them, fear their punishment instead of God’s. The Broadcast scared people into fearing Thamiel and seeing him as the most powerful figure, fearing his punishment in the afterlife rather than God’s. That could be an excellent strategy to damn more people.
Also, in Islam the only unforgivable sin is splitting God into partners or facets. Well, Thamiel routinely calls himself a facet of God, and of course he’s the Devil, so of course he’s going to sin. But if he makes people believe that, the outcome could be frightening.
This depends on your definition of “god” and of “Abrahamic religions,” though I’ll acknowledge that for all forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is true for emic definitions of “god.”
(Is Santeria Abrahamic? Are the Orishas gods, saints, both, neither?)
Everyone is having fun with crackpot theories and I want to join. Here’s mine: the Other King didn’t exactly “kill” the Comet King, he wounded him in a very strange way: he shattered him, and Captain Nemo is one of the fragments. My evidence is thin, and consists only of a single quote (chap. 36, My Father’s Business): “when I break, I’ll do what comets do. Shatter into fragments, but stay locked on the same path”. And Nemo is in some sense on very much the same path that the Comet King was on.
Alright, here’s an extra crackpot theory from me then. The one possessing Father Ellis in Sohu’s vision from the eclipse is not Metatron. He is in fact possessed by the right hand of God (whoever that actually is).
The interaction in Interlude ה and the vision are very close. The kneeling, the hovering, the silver eyes (although Scott said at some point that eye colours aren’t that deliberate).
Also, in the earlier chapters, its repeated multiple times that Metatron never speaks. Although I don’t know using the possessed counts as speaking.
In Chapter 16, Sohu and Uriel both seem to think the left hand, right hand and Metatron are distinct.
So I guess that couldn’t have been both RHOG and Metatron.
Obvious point against this theory is that TCK, who’ve met Metatron, calls Father Ellis that at that point.