aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 8: Laughing To Scorn Thy Laws And Terrors

Love is the law, but it is poorly enforced.
— Reverend Raymond Stevens, “Singers In The Hands Of An Angry God”

March 20, 2001

The holy city of traditional kabbalah is Tzfat in Israel, where Rabbi Isaac Luria taught and died. The holy city of modern kabbalah ought to be Agloe, New York.

The story goes like this: two mapmakers had just finished collecting geographic data for the definitive map of New York State. They worried that other people might steal their work and pass it off as their own. They’d never be able to prove anything, since all accurate maps look alike. So the mapmakers played a little trick; they combined their initials to make the word AGLOE, then added it as a fake town on the map in an out-of-the-way location. Any other mapmakers whose work included Agloe would be revealed as plagiarists.

One day a man came to an empty crossroads and decided to build a store there. He looked at his map, found that the spot was named Agloe, and named his business AGLOE GENERAL STORE. The store was a success, the location attracted more people, and soon the town of Agloe sprang up in earnest.

In traditional semiotics, reality is represented by symbols which are themselves inert. In kabbalah, reality and symbols alike are representations of Adam Kadmon. The territory is a representation of Adam Kadmon, and the map is a representation of the territory and Adam Kadmon. Differences between the map and the territory may not be mere mistakes, but evolutions of the representational schema that affect both alike. The territory has power over the map, but the map also has power over the territory. This is the kabbalah. The rest is just commentary.

When map and the territory both depend on each other, to assert copyright is a dangerous act. The two cartographers stuck their name on the map to claim dominion, but dominion over the divine order producing both map and territory belongs only to God.

But the two cartographers named the city by combining the initials of their names. This is an ancient kabbalistic technique called notarikon in which words are generated from the initials of longer phrases. Many of the Names of God are notarikons of Bible verses or prayers; some say all Names, however long, are notarikons for increasingly accurate descriptions of God. But the most famous such notarikon uses only four words: the short liturgical formula “atah gibor le’olam A—-i” meaning “thou art mighty forever, O Lord”. The phrase’s initials become the famous four-letter Name AGLA.

Does it have to be AGLA? The “le” in “le’olam” means “to”; the “olam” means “the world”. The Hebrew word translated “forever” literally means “to the (end of the) world”. Nice and poetic, but “le” and “olam” are two different words and should be counted as such. And why “A—-i”? Yes, it’s one of the common divine Names in the Bible, but the Bible has other divine Names. How about the more common one “Elohim”? Then the formula becomes “atah gibor le olam Elohim,” and the Name becomes AGLOE. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

Two cartographers add a town named after themselves to a map to assert copyright. Because the map and territory correspond to each other, a few years later the same town appears on the territory. The town in the territory also functions as an assertion of copyright, but because the notarikon producing the town name matches a notarikon producing one of the Names of God, the kabbalistic implications of the copyright remain accurate.

Despite all this there are no yeshivas or great gold-domed synagogues in Agloe. To the casual traveller it’s just another sleepy upstate-New-York town. But sometimes people who need a site with very specific kabbalistic properties find the town’s name and story conducive to their activities.

And so tonight the leadership of the American Board of Ritual Magic was holding a special meeting in an old mansion in the hills outside town.

Mark McCarthy, Archmage of the West, stepped into the banquet hall. He leaned upon his staff of mesquite wood and inspected the area. All the furniture was gone, and an exquisitely precise map of the United States had been drawn in chalk in the center of the room. There was a long pendulum hanging from the ceiling, currently over the Midwest, and a trap door under Wyoming.

“Why,” he asked, “is there a trap door under Wyoming?”

Two others were already there. Like himself, they wore grey robes and carried wooden staffs. He recognized Daniel Lee, Archmage of the South, and Clara Lowell, Archmage of the Northeast and current Board President.

“This was the largest space we could reserve on short notice,” Clara said. “The trapdoor’s to the wine cellar. One of the best collections in this area, I hear. Once we’re done with the ritual, we can go downstairs and get something to celebrate.”

“I don’t like it,” said Mark. “It ruins the ambience.”

This was a grave accusation among ritual magicians. Ambience was a vital ingredient of rituals. It was why the room was lit by flickering candles. It was why they were all dressed in grey robes. It was why they met so late in the evening, so they could do the deed precisely at midnight. And it was why they were here in Agloe, New York, a town corresponding both phonetically and procedurally to one of the Names of God.

“It doesn’t,” said Lowell. “The trap door is a rectangle. Wyoming is a rectangle. It’s fine. This whole thing is overkill anyway. You’re the one who insisted we do this high-level. I wanted to delegate to five interns in the basement of the DC office and save ourselves the trouble.”

“And I’m telling you,” said McCarthy, “I know Alvarez. He probably doesn’t sound scary – one guy who isn’t even fully licensed – but if we leave him any holes he’s going to slip through them and something awful will happen.”

“I see the doomsaying has already started,” said Ronald Two Hawks, Archmage of the Pacific Northwest, walking in with his staff of Sitka pine. “I’m with Clara. Getting all the way here from Olympia was a mess. And for what?”

“To deal with the biggest threat that the Board and ritual magic itself have ever encountered,” said McCarthy.

“So a low-level magician has gone terrorist,” said Ronald. “Killed a Senator. Embarrassing. Certainly something we have to condemn. But by making such a big deal of this, we just reinforce our link to him in the public mind. We should have put out a statement distancing ourselves, sent someone over to the Shroudies to help them catch him, and ignored it.”

Carolyn Pace, Archmage of the Midwest, walked into the room. “There’s a trap door under Wyoming,” she said.

“Yes,” said Daniel, “we were just talking about that.”

“Let’s get started,” said Clara.

A chalk circle had been drawn around the map. Clara positioned herself at the east, Daniel at the south, Mark at the west, and Ronald at the north. Carolyn went in the middle, stood at the precise center of the United States near Lebanon, Kansas. Her nose almost touched the pendulum; the force of her breath gave it an almost imperceptible swing.

The clock read 11:54.

“Let no evil approach from the North,” said Ron, and he held his staff of Sitka pine towards Carolyn in the center of the circle.

“Est sit esto fiat,” chanted the others.

“Let no evil approach from the West,” said Mark, and he held his staff of mesquite towards the center.

“Est sit esto fiat,” came the chant.

“Let no evil approach from the South,” said Daniel, and he held out his staff of magnolia.

“Est sit esto fiat.”

“Let no evil approach from the East,” finished Clara, and she held out her staff of white oak.

“Est sit esto fiat.”

Carolyn raised up her staff of cottonwood. “The Flaming Circle keeps everything in! Aleph! Gimel! Lamed! Aleph! The Flaming Circle keeps everything out! Aleph! Hay! Yud! Hay! Let the Worlds open, but let the Circle hold!”

No black flames shot up from the boundaries of the circle, no alien light appeared within it, but the chalk lines upon which they stood started to take on an odd sheen, reflect the candlelight a little differently. Ritual magic couldn’t do the impossible, couldn’t break the laws of physics on an observable scale. But they shifted things within that envelope, made coincidences happen a lot more frequently. The sudden appearance of flames would have broken natural law, but there was nothing impossible about five sleep-deprived people in an unusual emotional state seeing the gleam of a chalk line a little differently. So they did.

“Before me, Michael,” said Ronald in the north.

“Behind me, Uriel,” said Daniel in the south.

“On my left hand, Raziel,” said Mark in the west.

“On my right hand, Gabriel,” said Clara in the east.

“Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius,” said Daniel in the south.

“Quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius,” said Ronald in the north.

Then Carolyn raised her cottonwood staff high. “Around me flare the pentagrams, and in the center stands the six-rayed star.”

Every candle in the room sputtered out at once – not magically, Clara’s staff had electronics that controlled the room in various ways, all part of the ambience. The moon came out from behind a cloud – that part was magical – and shone its cold white beams into the room, reflecting off the hardwood floor and the windows in odd patterns. For a second everyone saw the pentagrams and the six-rayed star just as they had named them. Then the moon went back behind a cloud and they disappeared before anyone could be entirely certain it hadn’t been a coincidence.

Clara spoke: “We gather here tonight to call penalty upon one who has broken our law. Dylan Alvarez, apprentice ritual magician, has broken fellowship with the Board. He has violated federal and state regulation that prohibit practicing ritual magic without being a Board member in good standing. He has announced his intention to continue practicing without a license. He has killed several local officials of the American Board of Ritual Magic in order to, in his own words, ‘make a point’. He has assassinated Senator John Henderson, the Board’s foremost ally in Congress. He has declared war on the American magical establishment. He has mocked ritual magic as ‘placebomancy’ and publicly released the secrets he had sworn to protect. For all this, he has been condemned by our Board and by our order.”

The room was dead silent. The only light was moonlight from the high windows. The clock read 11:58.

“He has violated the laws of God and Man and we will have justice. The justice of God does not concern us. The justice of Man will be swift and merciless. Show the location of Dylan Alvarez unto us, O Powers, that we may pour upon him the cup of our wrath.”

“Show!” said Daniel in the south.

“Show!” said Mark in the west.

“Show!” said Ronald in the north.

“Show!” said Clara in the east.

“SHOW!” said Carolyn in the center, and she gave the pendulum a big push, then retreated to the outside of the circle.

The clock read 12:00.

The giant pendulum veered wildly over the map of the United States. It hung by a special rope with odd kinks and tangles that gave its motion an unpredictable, chaotic quality and prevented it from ever quite going vertical. After various false starts and sudden jerks, it ended up pointing to the city of Amarillo, Texas.

Clara flicked her staff, and the lights came on again.

“Well,” she said. “That was easy. We’ll contact the Texas Republic and the Amarillo police tomorrow morning. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Better send the Shroudies,” said Mark. “I’m telling you, things involving Dylan Alvarez are always hard.”

“You thought this ritual would be hard,” said Ronald. “I know you knew the guy in college, I know you’ve got a history, but give it a break. He’s an unlicensed magician. Sometimes it happens. We always get them.”

“Someone said something about wine, didn’t they?” said Daniel. “What are we waiting for? Let’s cele – ”

The pendulum made a sudden jerk and ended up over Little Rock, Arkansas.

“What the – ” asked Ronald.

“Oh, this isn’t good,” muttered Mark.

Clara stepped into the magic circle, inspected the pendulum. Then: “Relax. The ritual is over. The lights are on. At this point the movements of the pendulum are just random noise. He’s in Amarillo.”

“Random noise?” asked Ronald. “You saw that. There was nothing touching that pendulum, and it just gave this sudden lurch.”

“One of the kinks in the rope straightening itself out,” said Clara. “Could have been a coincidence.”

“Of course it could have been a coincidence,” said Carolyn, “this is ritual magic. It could always have been a coincidence. But it never is.”

“You’re being silly,” said Clara. “All the darkness and ritual and everything have got us all in a horror-movie frame of mind. Let’s go get some wine and forget about it.”

“I am telling you,” said Mark, “something is wrong. Nothing’s ever simple with Dylan. It’s always like this. We need to figure this out, or he’ll run circles around us.”

“So what do you think?” asked Clara. She was starting to sound annoyed. “That he teleported from Amarillo to Little Rock the minute we completed our ritual? Dylan Alvarez is a two-bit hedge wizard. Let’s just – ”

She barely dodged the pendulum as it swung straight through where she had been standing. Now it was above Lincoln, Nebraska. Then another swing. St. Louis, Missouri. Then another. Somewhere in the middle of North Dakota.

“You saw that!” said Mark. “Don’t you dare tell me you didn’t see that! I knew this was going to happen! Something’s wrong with the ritual and I told you this was going to happen!

“Mark, calm down,” said Daniel. “Dylan’s probably doing a ritual of his own, to interfere with us. It’s not like this ritual was particularly secret, we all had to get to Agloe, anyone who’s watching our movements would have known we were planning something for today, and it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out what that was.”

Salt Lake City, Utah.

“You’re saying Dylan Alvarez has spies in the American Board of Ritual Magic?” asked Carolyn, horrified.

The Idaho panhandle.

“Well, why not?” asked Ronald. “I’m starting to agree with Mark. Maybe we’ve been underestimating this guy.”

Casper, Wyoming.

“For the last time,” said Clara, “Dylan Alvarez is a two-bit hedge wizard who doesn’t know anything about…”

“SURPRISE, MOTHERFUCKERS” yelled Dylan Alvarez, jumping out of the trap door with a revolver in each hand.

Bang. Bang. Down went Daniel Lee, Archmage of the South. Bang bang bang. Down went Ronald Two Hawks, Archmage of the Pacific Northwest.

Carolyn Pace traced figures in the air with her cottonwood staff. “Libera nos, Domine,” she said as she traced. “Te rogamus, audi nos.” Bang, bang, bang. Three bullets went wide. It could have been a coincidence, but coincidences tended to happen more often among ritual magicians at work. Bang, bang. Another two coincidences.

Dylan dropped the guns, reached back down into the trap door and grabbed his staff. Boojumwood comes from the boojumtree, a bizarre species of plant that grows only in a tiny part of Baja California. It looks a little like a seventy foot tall upside-down carrot bent at undignified angles. Dylan Alvarez came from Baja California, and his staff was of boojumwood. He swung it wildly at Carolyn, a huge berserker swing. Carolyn countered with her own cottonwood staff, but Dylan executed a very precise disengage and smashed her skull straight in.

Clara and Mark were practically on top of him now, reciting their own incantations. “Imperet illi Deus, deprecamur,” chanted Clara. “Defende nos in proelio.”

“Caecilius est in horto,” chanted Dylan. “Servus est in atrio.”

Clara looked at him with hatred in her eyes.

“Veni in auxilium hominum!” chanted Clara. “Fugite partes adversae!”

“Cerberus est canis!” chanted Dylan. “Canis est in culina!”

Staffs crossed with a sound like a thunderclap. Dylan took a second to parry Mark, then ran at Clara as fast as he could. Clara stood fast, her oak staff en garde in front of her.

At the last second, Dylan rolled out of the way, and the pendulum – still tracking his movement – smashed into Clara, knocking her off her feet. Dylan drove the staff into her neck and finished her off. Then he turned to Mark McCarthy, the only one left standing.

“Mark, please tell me you’re as embarrassed by these people as I am.”

Mark McCarthy, Archmage of the West, took off his hood. “Dylan,” he said. “I wish I could say I was surprised to see you here. But not really. Look, I even wore a bulletproof vest.” He opened his robe a little bit to show the Kevlar beneath.

Dylan laughed, then slapped him on the back. “Mark! Me, hurt you? We went to college together! Compadres para siempre!”

“That was the plan,” said Mark. “And then you turned weird magical terrorist.”

“Weird magical freedom fighter, more like!” Dylan corrected, then laughed at his own joke. “Is that really how you think of me? I’m not that scary, am I?”

“Dylan, you killed Senator Henderson with a letterbomb, two days after the Shroudies assigned him a personal bomb squad to search through all his mail. How did you even do that?”

“You think I can’t pull off a convincing Shroudie if I want to?”

Mark groaned as it snapped into place. “There was no bomb squad. Your people were the bomb squad.”

“In my defense, if I had meant to offer the Senator a bomb removal squad, I would have said bomb removal squad.”

There are a couple different ways people can freak out when the necessity arises. They can curl up into a little ball and mutter to themselves. They can go berserk and start smashing things. They can freeze up and go very, very quiet.

Mark McCarthy started laughing uproariously, a little longer than could be considered strictly appropriate.

Dylan tapped his boojumwood staff impatiently. “Your talents are wasted with these people, Mark. Back in college you always agreed with me about the government and the Board and all those asshats. Well, I’m done flying solo. I’m putting together a group of…like-minded individuals. We call ourselves BOOJUM.”

“BOOJUM? What does that stand for?”

“Solidarity with the oppressed everywhere. You should join us, Mark. We could use a man of your skills.”

Mark McCarthy glanced toward the exit. So enticing, just a few dozen feet away. He could just make a mad dash and be out of there, couldn’t he? Or was Dylan one step ahead of him again? He looked at the door. Looked at Dylan. Looked at the door again. If he was going to survive this, he would have to think like Dylan.

The problem was, Dylan was insane.

Thirty years ago, when the sky cracked, the assortment of hermeticists, Wiccans, and uncool teenagers practicing magic noticed that their spells were starting to actually work. Never unambiguously. But the perfectly possible things they asked of their magic were starting to happen more often than chance. Of course they ran around telling everybody, and some people did controlled experiments, and finally people started to believe them. A hundred different schools of witches and warlocks went around curing people’s illnesses and blessing sea voyages and helping people find their true loves.

After that first rapid expansion stopped, the schools started competing with each other. Our magic is good and effective, your magic is evil and worthless. As usual, the well-connected Ivy League graduates won. They declared the Western hermetic tradition to be the One True School, convinced the bigwigs that everyone else was unsafe, and got a state monopoly as the American Board of Ritual Magic. Anyone who wanted to practice ritual magic had to complete an eight-year apprenticeship under a licensed ritual magician or face fines or imprisonment for practicing magic illegally.

The other schools went underground but never disappeared completely. After a decade of irrelevance they found a new champion in Robert Anton Wilson, who proposed a theory that directly contradicted the urbane hermeticism of the Board. According to Wilson, ritual magic is to Reality as the placebo effect is to humans. Tell a human that a sugar pill will cure their toothache, and the pill will make the toothache disappear. Tell Reality that a ritual will make rain fall, and the ritual will cause a downpour.

In Wilson’s system, ambience wasn’t just the most important thing; it was the only thing. Doctors have long known how every aspect of the medical experience enhances placebo effect: the white coat, the stethoscope, the diplomas hung and framed on the wall – all subconscious reassurances that this is a real doctor prescribing good effective medicine. Likewise, the job of a ritual magician – or in Wilson’s terminology, placebomancer – was to perform a convincing wizard act. The grey robes, the flickering candles, incantations said on the proper day and hour, even shrines and holy places. They all added an extra element of convincingness, until finally Reality was well and truly bamboozled.

Wilson teamed up with Robert Shea to perform a series of experiments testing his hypothesis. In their work Placebomancer! they tested two rituals to produce rain – one invoking the demon Amdusias, the other the demon Crhvano. Both produced the same couple centimeters of rainfall, even though Amdusias was a Great King of Hell who had been known to occultism for hundreds of years, and Crhvano was a set of seven letters pulled out at random from a bag of Scrabble tiles. As long as they gave the ritual a sufficiently ominous ambience, both invocations worked alike.

The American Board of Ritual Magic answered the challenge by getting Wilson and Shea locked up for unlicensed practice of magic, then paying for a series of TV ads where attractive women in robes told viewers that their children were too important for the government to allow charlatans to go on practicing untested magic spells. So much for that. A few licensed magicians complained, or poked at the boundaries that the Board had set for them, but whenever it became too much of a threat the Board would revoke their licenses, and there the matter would rest.

For to get one’s magician’s license revoked was a terrible thing. Who would trust a placebo given by a doctor stripped of his medical diploma, dressed in street clothes, working out of his garage? A magician who lost his license would lose the ability to convince Reality of anything. The American Board of Ritual Magic, originally a perfectly ordinary example of regulatory capture, had taken on ontological significance.

So nobody had been too worried when young apprentice magician Dylan Alvarez had pissed off one too many people, gotten expelled from the Board, and vowed revenge. He was just an apprentice, after all, and anyway he’d lost his license. Good luck convincing the universe of anything now.

But Alvarez had realized that there are people without medical degrees who hand out convincing placebos. They just don’t do it by pathetically begging people to believe they’re doctors. They do it by saying they’re better than doctors, that they’ve discovered hidden secrets, that the medical establishment is in cahoots against them, but they’ll show the fools, oh yes, they’ll show them all. A good naturopath armed with a couple of crystals and a bubbling blue solution can convince thousands, millions, even in the face of mountains of contradictory evidence. Ambience, they realize, is really a subset of a stronger power. The power of narrative. The literary tropes declaring that, given A, B is sure to follow.

All the other shmucks who had been expelled from the Board had begged to be let back in. Or they’d tried to hide it from Reality, to claim that they were really magicians after all, that the decision had been unfair, didn’t count, wasn’t a big deal. Reality hadn’t bought it.

Dylan had declared that if the Board had set themselves at odds against him, so much worse for the Board. And Reality had eaten it up. Now an entire guild of people who prided themselves on remaining on the right side of narrative tropes had to deal with a devilishly handsome rebel with a cause who had sworn to dismantle their entrenched oppressive bureaucracy with fire and sword, and who did clever witty things like hide in a wine cellar so that a magically-charged pendulum would track his real-world location underneath the floor rather than his analogical location on a map.

Can you imagine a story where a man lies in wait to assassinate the five masters of the American Board of Ritual Magic even as they are plotting to kill him, confounds their ritual, bursts out of the trap-door to their wine cellar at the most theatrical possible moment, raises his staff made of a rare and exotic wood that grows only his far-off homeland – and then dies ignominiously, shot by a security guard before he even can even get a word in edgewise? No? You can’t imagine the story ending that way? Neither can Reality. That was Dylan Alvarez’s secret. He always tried to be the protagonist of whatever story he was in, and the protagonist never dies.

The protagonist’s old college buddy who has sold out to the establishment has no such protection, a trope of which Mark McCarthy was painfully aware.

“Dylan,” he said. “I’ve got a wife now. And kids. You’re not going to kill me if I say no, are you?”

Not a plea. A gambit. Dylan Alvarez wanted to be the protagonist. But the sort of guy who kills a man with a wife and kids; well – that’s not just evil. It’s crass. The sort of thing that breaks narratives, turns you from a dashing rebel into a pathetic thug.

“Mark!” said Dylan, looking genuinely offended. “Don’t be dramatic! Compadres para siempre, remember?”

When you had known Dylan Alvarez for a long time, long enough to learn the difference between bomb squads and bomb removal squads, you learned to notice when he hadn’t directly answered your question.

“Look, Dylan, it’s not that I don’t have – good memories of our times together. It’s just – after what happened with Senator Henderson, and now everything that’s happened here tonight – everyone is after you. The police, the Shroudies – heck, maybe even UNSONG. And – well, like I said. I’ve got a wife and kids. No,” said Mark, finally. “I’m not a terrorist. Kill me if you will.” And he dropped his staff on the ground and held up his hands.

Dylan made a “pfffffffft” sound, then went back to the trapdoor. He picked up his guns, a few odd devices, and a bottle of wine, slipped all of them into the pockets of his robes. Then he walked back to McCarthy and hugged him hard.

“Good luck with things, Mark. And if you ever change your mind about BOOJUM, you know how to find me.”

“I really don’t.”

“Just hang up another pendulum!” Alvarez laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world, slapped McCarthy on the back, then grabbed his staff and disappeared out the door into the night.

Mark McCarthy, the last remaining Archmage of North America, took a deep breath. Out. Then in. Then he started shaking and fell to his knees in relief. He picked up his cottonwood staff and grasped it to him, kneeling, trembling.

Three and one half minutes later, the police burst through the door. They had received an anonymous tip by a man with a slight Mexican accent, saying that they would find the man who had killed his four fellow Archmages sitting alone and sobbing among the bodies of his victims.

[There is now an Author’s Notes section on the menu above, and Author’s Note 1 is up.]

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205 Responses to Chapter 8: Laughing To Scorn Thy Laws And Terrors

  1. Saal says:

    First for the first time!

    As has been discussed in previous chapter but never actually implemented, I hereby declare this thread the TYPO/GRAMMAR QUIBBLES THREAD

    • Is it okay if I delete issues as I take care of them, so that this serves as a to-fix list for me?

      • Saal says:

        Hey, it’s your site. Please do.

      • Ethan Bradford says:

        That makes sense to me. Otherwise the comments are gibberish to those who read the story after you fix the issues.

      • Al S. says:

        Hope this isn’t the 15th time you’ve gotten this one:

        “raises his staff made of a rare and exotic wood that grows only his far-off homeland”

        “in his”

      • Matt C. Wilson says:

        Not sure if this is an issue. Mark’s staff during the ritual is made of mesquite. Clara’s is cottonwood. After the fracas, Mark picks up “his cottonwood” staff.

        Since Clara was the “Archmage of the Northeast and current Board President”, now deceased, I assume “his” could mean he has taken up all of those offices as next successor?

        If so, it confused me a little, since the wood of the staves seemed associated solely to the region of the mage, and not inherently of board rank.

        • Matt C. Wilson says:

          On a reread, I realize that I mixed up Carolyn and Clara. Carolyn has the cottonwood staff, and apart from standing in the center of the circle, seems to have no other special rank. So I think this is an issue after all?

          • Rachael says:

            I also had trouble keeping Carolyn and Clara distinct. Both start with C, contain R and L, and both sound middle-aged and upper middle class to me.

      • JJR says:

        ” raises his staff made of a rare and exotic wood that grows only * his far-off homeland”

        *I think there should be an “in” here, or maybe I’m not understanding how this wood is supposed to work. =P

    • Joseph says:

      I get why you separated it out, but to convert [i]LeOlam[/i] –> [i]le olam[/i] still seems kinda off to me.

    • Ethan Bradford says:

      This isn’t a grammatical wrongness, and I’m perhaps treading too far, but I think in “Then the moon went back behind a cloud” it would be nice to say “the moon went back behind its cloud”. It avoids the repeat in the paragraph of “behind a cloud”, and it suggests subtly that the moon is intentionally dressing and undressing itself.

      A bit later, the hall is lit by moonlight, though the moon is still behind its cloud. It could be “filtered” or “dimmed” or “clouded” moonlight. It’s a very minor point, though it did catch me up slightly on my first reading (though that was perhaps because I was dropped out of the flow by “mood” for “moon”).

    • Maia says:

      > “Why,” he asked “is there a trap door under Wyoming?”

      Pretty sure there should be a comma after “asked”.

    • Sukil says:

      “Compadres para siempre!” should maybe have an opening exclamation mark (¡) and / or be in italics.

    • Rob K says:

      Continuity rather than either typo or grammar, but when Aaron teaches the Vanishing Name in 2017 he refers to it as newly discovered, but here it’s referenced as existing in 2001.

        • It could be something Top Secret that only people with the right clearances could use as of 2001 but was released for commercial use in 2017.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, if the theonomic companies work on the same principles as pharmaceutical companies, discovering Names is one thing; you then have to work out what they do and how you can turn this into a commerical property and how to market it safely (e.g. if the Vanishing Name means people teleporting arrive at their end point but find themselves materialising in the middle of a wall or twenty feet up in the air, it’s not much good unless the company wants to be sued into oblivion by the survivors for letting a dangerous Name onto the market).

            So it may well have been newly discovered in 2001 but not let out for public use in a safe form until 2017.

    • anon says:

      Sitka pine -> Sitka spruce?

      • John Salvatier says:

        Agreed, that really stood out to me. I don’t think a Sitka pine exists (though apparently spruce is a kind of pine).

    • Eoin says:

      “We gather here tonight to call penalty upon one who has broken our law. Dylan Alvarez, apprentice ritual magician, has broken fellowship with the Board. He has violated federal and state regulation that prohibit practicing ritual magic without being a Board member in good standing.”

      Shouldn’t that be practising?

    • Baila says:

      Hello! I know I am really, really late to the game here, but I am currently reading and enjoying this book.

      I am a fluent Modern Hebrew speaker, and have also spent a lot of my life studying Biblical, Talmudic, and Hassidic texts in the original Hebrew/Aramaic.

      That said – I don’t think anyone else has pointed out something that is bothering me. “AGLA” is not the correct shortening of “atah gibor le’olam A—-i.” The last word in that pasuk (verse) is not “A—i,” it’s “Y–H.” This should be shortened to AGLY. It makes no difference to the greater point about AGLOE, which works well either way.

      Along the same vein, you make a claim that A—i is “one of the common divine Names in the Bible.” It is not. It is used sometimes, but rarely. You are clearly thinking of Y–H, which is read out loud as A—i but is not written that way or considered to be that word.

  2. Deiseach says:

    I appreciate that the American Board of Ritual Magic is using the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel as its battle invocation (with a line from the Rituale Romanum exorcism thrown in) 🙂

    I thought Agloe might perhaps be a Greek nymph name as well, but the closest to that I can come is Aglaea. Ah, well.

    Dylan and his group definitely seem to have the attitude of Chaos magicians
    (yYes! All those years reading “The Fortean Times” have paid off!) e.g. his use of literal dog-Latin – “the dog is in the kitchen”, very droll – where it is not the words but the intent that counts, but I wonder what would happen if they or he come up against someone who really believes in the Hermetic tradition and derives their power from that. It can get very recursive when “it’s not the words, it’s your belief” “yes but I believe these words and none other work, so if your spell is worded wrong I don’t believe it can harm me”.

    I imagine Éliphas Lévi is wincing at Dylan’s attitude 🙂

  3. Gadren says:

    Ancilla Grumionem delectat!

  4. Hobbes says:

    Interesting, it seems that magic spells are quite distinct from Names of God. How many different forms of reality manipulation are floating around, I wonder?

    Also, was “SURPRISE, MOTHERFUCKERS” a Sergeant Doakes reference? That was the last thing I was expecting in Unsong.

    In any case, Dylan is amazing and I want more of him. If Aaron and Ana are respectively the protagonist and deuteragonist, I hope we just met the Tritagonist. In fact, if he’s trying to be the protagonist then maybe he’ll usurp them.

    • Deiseach says:

      Dylan Alvarez wanted to be the protagonist. But the sort of guy who kills a man with a wife and kids; well – that’s not just evil. It’s crass. The sort of thing that breaks narratives, turns you from a dashing rebel into a pathetic thug.

      I’m wondering if Dylan made a mistake at the end there. Setting up someone else to take the fall for your murders is a very villain thing to do; it’s a trope of its own for Villain to call cops on Hero when Hero stumbles on massacre by Villain and let Hero take the blame for all the dead bodies.

      So isn’t that Dylan switching from Protagonist to Antagonist, or at least getting himself on the wrong side of the narrative? Maybe he’s smart and clued-in enough that he’s set it up to be the Hero pulling the switch on the Villain before the Villain sets him up as the killer, but given that (a) Mark didn’t kill anybody and wasn’t planning to frame Dylan for fake crimes (b) Dylan really has committed all the murders he’s been accused of, or helped commit them – then he’s not fooling Reality on this and he’s moving into Villain territory, or Anti-Hero at the very least (as if mass murder wasn’t a clue there already).

      I did note the interesting contrast between the kabbalah system and Dylan’s take on ritual magic – in kabbalah, as Aaron has told us, you can’t just kludge together any old string of syllables, you won’t get a working name that way. Dylan is using the Chaos system which – possibly? – is diabolic; I wonder is Thaumiel involved as the source power behind this? It’s all very well to say that you can impose your belief on Reality if your will is strong enough (after all, Dylan is working on the ominous Latin chanting principle as the verbal triggers for his spells; Reality knows if you say something in Latin while engaged in a magical duel then it must be powerful and it will work) but if you have a whole movement of people who are smarter-than-the-average-bear who know that their spells are nonsense and mean nothing, then isn’t that undercutting the necessary suspension of disbelief for the trick to work?

      In which case, the power has to be coming from somewhere and yeah, I’m betting Thaumiel and a lot of very surprised BOOJUMs, who had no idea they were selling their souls for magical power, when it comes time to pay the piper 🙂

      • Autarch says:

        Maybe it doesn’t matter if he moves from Hero to Villain, as long as Reality can accept a Villain Protagonist

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, but getting Reality to accept that their magic works depends pretty heavily on them being The Good Guys, La Résistance, to the Board’s Bad Guys. If they switch to being Evil Guys as well, that means their magic will work (because evil magic works) but it also undercuts their chances of success, as in “it’s a thousand to one chance!”, because the Good Guys get the lucky breaks but the Bad Guys get the Imperial Stormtrooper Accuracy Aiming.

          To quote Terry Pratchett:

          “When you really need them the most,” he said, “million-to-one chances always crop up. Well-known fact.”

          “The sergeant is right, Nobby,” said Carrot virtuously. “You know that when there’s just one chance which might just work – well, it works. Otherwise there’d be no -” he lowered his voice -“I mean, it stands to reason, if last desperate chances didn’t work, there’d be no … well, the gods wouldn’t let it be any other way. They wouldn’t.”

          So as long as Dylan can persuade Reality he’s the Good(ish) Guy, he can pull off things like surprise ambushes of the five greatest mages in America and beat them all, but once he and his group become admittedly evil, then they lose the bonus for heroic resistance, little guys battling The Man, David versus Goliath.

          • LHC says:

            In short, Good Guys >>> Bad Guys >>> Innocents.

          • GreatWyrmGold says:

            Congratulations, you’re the only person who mentioned anything related to Discworld under the chapter where reality was said to, if not run on narratives, at least be <influenced by them. Which is just about the most Discworldy trope in existence.

      • Daniel says:

        if you have a whole movement of people who are smarter-than-the-average-bear who know that their spells are nonsense and mean nothing, then isn’t that undercutting the necessary suspension of disbelief for the trick to work?

        Apparently medical placebos still work even if you believe that they work because of the placebo effect. Most real-life chaos magicians believe something analogous.

        So, the UNSONG chaos movement would probably just establish a new Reality Trope that ominous nonsense is supposed to be powerful, too; which would then become a fact, like Agloe 🙂

    • Leif says:

      Interesting, it seems that magic spells are quite distinct from Names of God. How many different forms of reality manipulation are floating around, I wonder?

      Is it entirely clear that Names of God aren’t working on the same placebo principle?

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, you mean “the rabbis set the rules and that’s what makes them work”? So the reason you can’t stick any old set of syllables together is because the rabbis set what would and would not be acceptable as a Divine Name, but if someone were to break through the mindset (like Dylan did), they could force Reality to accept their made-up Name?

        I wonder, though, if that hasn’t been tried already; surely somebody tried making an artificial Name by the rules of naming?

        Aaron’s problem (i.e. that Bob’s computer apparently has not worked by the Vital Name) seems to indicate that the Names are real: he and Ana both expected it to work, it had already worked for Sarah (Aaron’s computer) and they were planning a whole raft of “unimaginable riches and power” based on being able to ensoul enough computers to churn out enough Names for them. So if the Names work on the placebo principle, then it certainly should have worked the second time they tried it.

        • Leif says:

          Maybe there’s a stronger form of the placebo effect where if you believe in a particular system of magic (or a religion) hard enough while cracking the sky, that system of magic becomes permanently embedded in reality? In other words, maybe there was no special significance to Judeo-Christian ideas until the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis.

          • aphyer says:

            I really like this idea.

          • Leif says:

            Speculating some more… if this is true, I have to ask whether the world is better off under its new heavenly management. I don’t think it is. If Aaron asks same question and agrees with me, the question will be how to undo what the astronauts did. That would probably require some deeply symbolic act to cause massive disbelief in JC ideas.

            So, he’d probably have to kill God.

            Not because God is evil, but because humanity conjured him by accident, and we’d like to conjure something better instead.

            Scott has said he’s trying to be respectful of religion, so this probably isn’t where the story’s going, but it’s fun to think about.

          • Deiseach says:

            maybe there was no special significance to Judeo-Christian ideas until the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis

            That means that all the kabbalah, etc. systems are back-engineered to work from the time of the breaking of the crystal sphere and the coming into being of Uriel through the reading of Genesis, which sounds on a par with the alleged Young Earth Creationist explaining away of fossils and the apparent age of the earth as being created to look that way by God to test faith 🙂

            No, I think that in this universe it is not that it is a new heavenly management, it’s simply that the veil of illusion that “Science” had covered all our observations of reality with (thanks to Uriel) has been torn by the breaking of the sky and we now see the real workings of the universe.

            I’m always amused by situations where the solution is “kill God” (as in Philip Pullman’s Republic of Heaven notion) because that reveals much too materialistic a view of God (the “sufficiently advanced aliens” model) where God is merely a very powerful (because of advanced knowledge in how to manipulate physical forces) being that ultimately is dependent on humans (e.g. “the gods only live because of faith” or “gods come into existence when we believe in them”). From a believer’s point of view, this is mistaking the ground of all existence for something produced within it, as though a speck of dust should think to destroy the energies underlying the singularity that produced the Big Bang.

            To quote C.S. Lewis, who is alluding to Charles Williams “This is also Thou, neither is this Thou”:

            This talk of “meeting” is, no doubt, anthropomorphic; as if God and I could be face to face, like two fellow-creatures, when in reality He is above me and within me and below me and all about me. That is why it must be balanced by all manner of metaphysical and theological abstractions. But never, here or anywhere else, let us think that while anthropomorphic images are a concession to our weakness, the abstractions are the literal truth. Both are equally concessions; each singly misleading, and the two together mutually corrective. Unless you sit to it very tightly, continually murmuring “Not thus, not thus, neither is this Thou,” the abstraction is fatal. It will make the life of lives inanimate and the love of loves impersonal. The naif image is mischievous chiefly in so far as it holds unbelievers back from conversion. It does believers, even at its crudest, no harm. What soul ever perished for believing that God the Father really has a beard?

          • Different T says:

            From a believer’s point of view, this is mistaking the ground of all existence for something produced within it


      • dsotm says:

        I’ve been thinking about that too, on the one hand the distinction seems to be that magic / reality-placebo can only cause things that could happen “naturally” happen with higher- than-chance probability whereas names have the ability to do “super-natural” things.
        But then a lot of “super-natural” phenomena such as teleportation of macroscopic objects can be said to be highly improbable but physically realistic due to the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics and if we take MWI as our preferred QM interpretation then names can be thought of as directly encoding directions to the branch of reality with the desired state whereas a mind (nefesh?) has the ability to navigate reality but only to states that it can conceptualize coherently enough
        This also makes me wonder if the “hack that prevented the devil from existing” is thermodynamics with it’s effects on hell described by

    • zensunnicouchpotato says:

      I love the fact that we can have long disquisitions on Kabbalah and “SURPRISE MOTHERFUCKERS” in this story.

    • Deiseach says:

      Dylan and his movement are what the UU cells would be like if they were actually effective. It’s not UNSONG so much that Aaron should be worried about, it’s the other guys who think “magic should be free, power to the people” and who are prepared to do anything to make that happen.

  5. Rob K says:

    Dylan’s ritual combat invcantations are the beginning of the Cambridge Latin Course. (Me, I’m more of a Quintus est puer Romanus guy, but I would imagine that either might be charged with great ritual energy after decades of dutiful repetition.)

    • Lambert says:

      Is it really full of innuendos or does it just look like that to a bunch of adolescents with a teacher who is happy to show us anything short of the secret Neapolitan museum of erotica or Catullus 16?

      *waves of nostalgia*

  6. ton says:

    “So a low-level magician has gone terrorist,” said Ronald. “Killed a Elf-lord.

    Had to turn off xkcd extension to check what it really said.

  7. Jack V says:

    OK, I love this chapter too!

  8. Rob K says:

    For the significance of Boojum, there’s a lot of ways you can go from that, but one way to summarize the hunting of the Snark would be that a man who had forgotten his name went searching for something rare and valuable, but, when he located it, found it to be a boojum and disappeared.

    This might bode ill for Aaron, who has lost (perhaps partly forgotten?) his name and is searching for a way to reclaim it.

  9. dsotm says:

    continuity: the late senator is named Mendelson and Henderson in different places

  10. RoseMallow says:

    Is Dylan setting himself up to stop being the antagonist anymore? He seems to be setting Mark up to fit the role of the protagonist. He’s the last remaining arch-mage, betrayed by someone who used to be his friend, and falsely accused of the murder of his friends and colleagues. Sounds like the perfect setup, honestly. If this doesn’t end with a climactic duel between the two of them somewhere down the line, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

    • Deiseach says:

      Dylan may still think of himself as the hero but he’s definitely heading into villain territory (if not there already). Letter bombs, assassinations and framing for murder are not hero tactics.

      It’s looking like the BOOJUMs are the mirror to Aaron’s UU cells, and Aaron should be careful: if Dylan gets a hint that some kabbalist nerd has found a really powerful Name, he’s very likely to kidnap Aaron and ask him to hand it over, and the BOOJUMs don’t sound as if they’d be adverse to a spot of torture to get what they want.

      Given (a) the general level of security that Aaron’s cell exhibits (i.e. NONE AT ALL), (b) Aaron being convinced that the Vital Name will give him power to be the Emperor of the World, this sounds like exactly the kind of thing Dylan would want – he strikes me as the type to decide if there is any world-emperor going, it’s going to be him – and that some UU from Aaron’s cell who can’t keep their trap shut (i.e. ALL OF THEM) will either be too excited not to drop hints about ULTIMATE POWER or too pissy not to complain about this guy they know who won’t share the secret of ULTIMATE POWER and that’s the kind of thaumaturgical gossip that gets around, especially to an organisation like Dylan’s which apparently can get a hit squad in to a senator’s office when everyone is on a state of high alert for Mad Bombers.

      As an aside, I’m wondering if pishogues and the like were grandfathered in under the American Board of Ritual Magic? There would be a lot of people with traditional family folklore cures and spells and the like from every ethnic background, and chasing them all down would be like the Department of Health chasing down every lay person who dosed themselves with honey and lemon for a cold.

      • Iconochasm says:

        ” Letter bombs, assassinations and framing for murder are not hero tactics.”

        Depends on the story. A David Eddings protagonist might bang out all three before breakfast.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, I had problems with some of those – no, tossing off a witty one-liner and having killer fashion sense does not excuse being a back-stabbing murdering shifty git.

          I also hated Ce’Nedra and that goes triple for his cutesy-wootsy Child Goddesses 🙂

          I read way too much Eddings and the trouble was he had One Plot and One Castlist of Characters and recycled both over and over and over again, even within the same sequence of books. I liked the Belgariad well enough, but little did I know I could have saved myself the effort in reading his later books by simply re-reading it about six times. Good job I got all my doorstopper fantasy novels borrowed from the library, not bought with my own money.

          • Iconochasm says:

            I think he’d say that while he may have had one plot, it was a good one – he stole it from Tolkien, after all.

      • lsm says:

        This bit is dated 2001 so it doesn’t seem likely that AST and Dylan have much involvement with each other at least in this phase of Dylan’s arc. I don’t have a strong recall of all the relevant mentions and dates but Dylan seems like a Comet King candidate, this reality bending seems in line with sighting Adam Kadmon bare.

        • Deiseach says:

          Nah, Dylan seems to me to be the type that would dislike kabbalah on principle – too many rules, too much structure. As someone who gets his kicks using Latin text-book tags for his spell-casting, I imagine he’d feel much too trammelled by using a specific alphabet and a specific language and the rules about what combinations of letters would work.

          I can’t see him as Comet King (though doubtless he’d love the concept of being the most important and most powerful thaumaturge in the world make that universe) and I doubt he has any interest in seeing Adam Kadmon bare – for his branch of Chaos magick (sic), there isn’t one Reality, there’s what you can mould out of the ylem by the imposition of your will.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        Given (a) the general level of security that Aaron’s cell exhibits (i.e. NONE AT ALL), (b) Aaron being convinced that the Vital Name will give him power to be the Emperor of the World, this sounds like exactly the kind of thing Dylan would want – he strikes me as the type to decide if there is any world-emperor going, it’s going to be him – and that some UU from Aaron’s cell who can’t keep their trap shut (i.e. ALL OF THEM) will either be too excited not to drop hints about ULTIMATE POWER or too pissy not to complain about this guy they know who won’t share the secret of ULTIMATE POWER and that’s the kind of thaumaturgical gossip that gets around, especially to an organisation like Dylan’s which apparently can get a hit squad in to a senator’s office when everyone is on a state of high alert for Mad Bombers.

        In Aaron’s defense he hasn’t just told his whole cell or anything close to it. He told Ana because he can’t exactly keep secrets from her anyway, and Erika probably at least suspects something’s up although I doubt she realizes anything close to the level of significance, but I don’t think anyone else really knows anything.

        • Placid Platypus says:

          Hmm, those tags don’t seem to have done much. Am I missing something?

        • Deiseach says:

          Eh. Aaron and Ana are doing their TOP SECRET NO-ONE EVEN IN OUR CELL CAN KNOW THIS ritual to ensoul Sarah in the bedroom, where Erica passing by outside can hear Aaron yelling the Vital Name at the top of his lungs (and immediately yells back at them about doing rituals indoors again).

          That’s the kind of “we take all sorts of precautions!” activity that really reassures me they know how important all this is 🙂

  11. -_- says:

    Content/reference-typo, maybe possibly?: (Not putting this in the typo/grammar thread because it’s neither a spelling nor grammar issue.)

    It should be “Raphael”, not “Raziel”, that they said?
    Assuming they’re getting it from
    Also, Michael should be on the right, Gavriel on the left, Uriel in front, and Riphael in back

    … Ah. That was the first hint that they Were Doing It Wrong and the details don’t matter in the slightest, wasn’t it.

    Also, surprised nobody has name-checked Narrativium specifically yet. (Come on, commentators! — that one was obvious.)

    • Good catch, but the altered angelic correspondences are deliberate.

      • Greg says:

        I was wondering this as well. Scott commented elsewhere that “I really wanted to make it “Norvig and Raziel”, but that would cause problems later on.” And in the first chapter we saw the Shem HaMephorash referenced by the Sepher Raziel (Book of Raziel). So, maybe Raziel will be appearing? I hadn’t heard of Raziel prior to this, but, amar Wikipedia, Raziel is the “Keeper of Secrets” and the “Angel of Mysteries.” At face value, that’s pretty Kabbalistic – way more than healing, anyway, which is Raphael’s traditional domain.

      • Daniel says:

        Puzzling this out: Google says that Éliphas Lévi says that “est, sit, esto, fiat” is kabbalistically equivalent to “Amen” followed by most of the names of God featured in the LBRP; and that it works the same as the Hebrew only when “pronounced with full understanding”; that is, it’s a klippot.

        Plausibly, then, the whole ritual here has been klippotized, so that anyone overhearing it can’t make it work unless they also know the original incantations start in the East, refer to Raphael, etc.

    • Daniel says:

      Nah, they’d be getting it from the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, which has yet another set of directions & angels. Weirdly, Scott’s version here also has a lot less Names of God and kabbalah references in it — presumably he has interesting reasons!

      • Deiseach says:

        They’re also doing a very abbreviated version of summoning the watchtowers to guard the circle; the one I first heard/read about was apparently imported into Gardnerian Wicca from the Golden Dawn tradition:

        Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the East, ye Lords of Air; I do summon call and stir you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle
        Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the South, ye Lords of Fire; I do summon call and stir you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle
        Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the West, ye Lords of Water; I do summon call and stir you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle
        Ye Lords of the Watchtowers of the North, ye Lords of Earth; I do summon call and stir you up, to witness our rites and to guard the Circle

        I think the Board got a bit sloppy; they were in a hurry, they wanted to be over and done with the rite, they didn’t take Dylan seriously as a threat, so they did the shortest and easiest version of the rite. They should have remembered: when you take shortcuts, you’re telling Reality you are not taking the ritual seriously and so it’s going to be less effective 🙂

        • Daniel says:

          Thanks! I’m studying the GD in a sort of haphazard way, and hadn’t run across this yet.

          An excellent point about sloppiness; I would add that telling Reality you’re not taking the ritual seriously (a) annoys Reality and (b) instantiates the Pride Before A Fall trope. Conjuring a terrorist into your basement just to spite you would not be out of character! Bedside manner, people.

  12. Deiseach says:

    This is the perfect chapter to link to this from Kate Bush and her short film/album “The Red Shoes” 🙂

  13. LHC says:

    Wonder what God thinks of magicians.

    • LHC says:

      IE, Dylan can’t be the protagonist. Only a more compelling antagonist.

    • -_- says:

      Canonically to Judaism — as long as they only use it to learn and don’t do anything with it. (Search for the part about cucumbers…)

      Of course, if it isn’t actually magic that he’s doing — which technically could maybe be arguable — then who cares?

      Additionally, I trust this story is Jewish enough that we’re not going to have any “either you’re a Good Christian or you’re a heretic atheist pagan non-believer” dynamic — Jewish law applies to Jews, everyone else just has the Noachide Laws: which say nothing about magic. There’s precedent, even — the Witch of Ein-Dor, while not a protagonist, is not at all narratively criticized in the slightest and so is certainly not an antagonist.

      • dsotm says:

        The witch of ein-dor was not really a witch but rather a seer which would make her merely a communication vessel of god – like a prophet but on-demand.
        There is a strong disdain in Judaism for ‘worshipers of stars and signs’ which afaik is sometimes taken to mean idolatry in general and sometimes specific things like astrology and non-jewish occult traditions

  14. YumAntimatter says:

    Clara Lowell could be a descendant of James Russel Lowell, who was quoted extensively in Chapter 2. No idea what that could signify at this point, just putting the connection out there.

    • Devilbunny says:

      Certainly Clara Lowell seems to be a reference to the Lowells of Massachusetts, as well as Daniel Lee to the Lees of Virginia. Haven’t figured out a Western McCarthy or a midwestern Pace, though.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Western McCarthy”

        Cormac? 🙂

        • Devilbunny says:

          Unless Scott’s taking some rather significant liberties, I think probably not. Cormac’s from Rhode Island, per Wiki.

          Whereas the Lowells (“the Lowells talk only to Cabots, and the Cabots talk only to God”) and Lees…

          • Deiseach says:

            I was thinking more “Western McCarthy” as in “A McCarthy who writes Westerns” and therefore Cormac of that ilk 🙂

        • hnau says:

          If he was related to Cormac McCarthy, he wouldn’t have lost the fight. A bunch of UNSONG agents would have burst in two-thirds of the way through the chapter and slaughtered everyone in the room.

  15. Michael says:

    Is it a mistake when mark is referred to as archmage of the midwest toward the end when he was archmage of the west before?

    • YumAntimatter says:

      Not Archmage of the Midwest, Lord High Magician of the Midwest (a title not used before in the chapter). It seems to be deliberate, possibly because all of the others are dead

      • Deiseach says:

        Seeing as how the Board of Ritual Magic probably works very much on hierarchical lines, then Lord High Magician of the Mid-West is a sub-regional title, while Archmage of the West (the entire West) is a regional title of one of the five regions (West, South, North-East – which corresponds to the compass direction North when they’re standing in the ritual circle, North-West – which corresponds to compass West, and Mid-West – the centre) that the five highest mages govern by virtue of their office.

        Just think of all the ranks of intitiates in things like the Golden Dawn or the Ordo Templi Orientis in their heyday (with Crowley naturally awarding himself the highest rank).

    • I’m sorry. No it isn’t.

      You people probably think I need to edit more, but the truth is I need to edit less – every time I reread things I change things, and I never catch all of the places where the thing needs to be changed.

      • Marvy says:

        That’s the great thing about blogs. If you were trying to get a book published the normal way, you have to rely on a few friends and whatever editor the publisher gives you. Whatever they don’t catch before publication might as well be cast in stone. Here, you have dozens of readers ready to correct these things, and you can fix them the same day 🙂

  16. anon says:

    Did none of the other Archmages have families, or is that not how narrative causality works?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Screw spending all that time analyzing the Torah, the real power is in careful study of TVTropes.

  18. Omer says:

    Coincidences: my favourite literary illustration of how maps have powers over territories, is “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco. The ritual of the archmage was centered around a pendulum. And Umberto Eco has died a few days ago (may his soul rest in peace).

    You wrote that the Hebrew word translated “forever” literally means “to the point beyond the horizon”. Hebrew is the only langauge I speak fluently (it’s my first language), and it doesn’t ring a bell. “Olam” simply means “world”. Wikipedia suggests it has Akkadian roots, and it may be derived from “ullu” (meaning something like “a long time ago”). But I can’t think of any etymological relation to “horizon”.

    Finally, some thoughts about “The Comet King”:

    * Apparently, “Comet King” is used to refer to the dendrobium flowers. The Greek etymology of “dendrobium” is literally “tree” and “life”. Also:

    * The Comet King has to be Rabbi Akiva, right? He was among the four who entered the highest spheres (PARDES) by utilizing the divine name, and the only one who survived it.

    Elisha ben Abuyah, one of the other three, “Kichech Banetiot” (literally “cut down the plantings”, meaning he became a heretic) – possibly becuase he saw that God and Satan have equal status up there.


      • Omer says:

        Not really. The only way I can make sense of the sentence “in the Hebrew mind it is simply what is at or beyond the horizon” is by interpreting it VERY loosley, as a crude attempt to explain that “le’olam” could mean “in a very distant future”, and not just absolutely never/forever.

        On the other hand, while I am a Hebrew native speaker – I am not a linguist. It’s possible that I’m ignorant of some nuances in the meaning of the word. But I gotta say, it sounds really strange to me.

        • Omer says:

          The official website of “The Academy of the Hebrew Language” (which is sort-of an official “Supreme Court” for debates regarding Hebrew) discusses the meanings of the word “olam”: (hebrew text:

          It says that in the bible it has only a temporal meaning, and only later – in the Talmud – it got its spatial meaning (e.g. as in the english word “world”), and that today both meanings are intertwined. It says nothing about horizons.

          So I think that the paragraph in your link is, well, maybe not even exactly wrong. Just badly written and misleading.

          Anyway, I enjoy your writing. Sorry for the nitpicking 🙂

          • dab says:

            well, the jewishroot people are talking about the Semitic etymology. I am happy to accept that olam now just means “world” in general. The Vulgate translation of “le-olam” is “in aeternum” (KJV “for ever”). But the etymology is the root עלם, which according to Gesenius means “to hide, to conceal”, so even if the biblical meaning is temporal (the ends of time), the etymology is a spacial metaphor, i.e. “at the vanishing point”, hence “horizon” (useful online copy of Gesenius: )
            I suppose Scott has now removed the “horizon” bit because of this, which I think is a pity (I always read these chapters too late to see any of the things people complain about), because I feel that taking etymology seriously would be very much in the spirit of what is going on here.

          • dab says:

            Well, the people are talking about the Semitic etymology. I am happy to accept that olam now just means “world” in general. The Vulgate translation of “le-olam” is “in aeternum” (KJV “for ever”). But the etymology is the root עלם, which according to Gesenius means “to hide, to conceal”, so even if the biblical meaning is temporal (the ends of time), the etymology is a spacial metaphor, i.e. “at the vanishing point”, hence “horizon” (useful online copy of Gesenius: )
            I suppose Scott has now removed the “horizon” bit because of this, which I think is a pity (I always read these chapters too late to see any of the things people complain about), because I feel that taking etymology seriously would be very much in the spirit of what is going on here.

          • ecgwine says:

            Well, the people are talking about the Semitic etymology. I am happy to accept that olam now just means “world” in general. The Vulgate translation of “le-olam” is “in aeternum” (KJV “for ever”). But the etymology is the root עלם, which according to Gesenius means “to hide, to conceal”, so even if the biblical meaning is temporal (the ends of time), the etymology is a spacial metaphor, i.e. “at the vanishing point”, hence “horizon” (useful online copy of Gesenius: )
            I suppose Scott has now removed the “horizon” bit because of this, which I think is a pity (I always read these chapters too late to see any of the things people complain about), because I feel that taking etymology seriously would be very much in the spirit of what is going on here.

      • dsotm says:

        A Hebrew as a second language speaker from a young age, and also wasn’t familiar with the horizon association, afaik ‘olam’ indeed just means ‘world’, ‘le-olam’ and ‘ad-olam’ mean the future part of forever or ‘to the end of times/world’, whereas ‘me olam’ is the past part for forever or ‘since the beginning of times/world’.
        But this is all in modern Hebrew and while overall it has a pretty high fidelity level to the scripture Hebrew on which it is based this is exactly the sort of subtle nuances that could have easily been lost or changed.
        The site though does not provide any sources or support for the horizon interpretation and in general seems to be of a rather fringy Jews-for-Jesus persuasion.

      • Deiseach says:

        Interesting – I was wondering if this was a parallel to “in saecula saeculorum” which gets translated as “world without end” or “forever”, and looking up Wikipedia it says:

        The Latin phrase in saecula saeculorum expresses the idea of eternity and is translated as “in a century of centuries”. It is biblical, taken from the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, translating the Greek phrase “Template:Εις τους αιώνας των αιώνων” (eis tous eoonas ton eonon).

        The usual English translation is “for ever and ever”, but in Ephesians 3:21, the KJV notably has “world without end”. Neither translation is literal, as the time span invoked is not literally eternity but multiple aiōnes in Greek, translated as saecula in Latin, and elevated to “aiōnes of aiōnes” or “saecula of saecula”. The saeculum in Roman antiquity was the potential maximal human lifespan, or roughly a century, and so another interpretation would be “for a lifetime of lifetimes.” The original meaning of aiōn was comparable, and it is so used in Homer and Hesiod. The Hebrew word עוֹלָם (olam) has a similar range of meanings: a human lifespan; the world; eternity.

        • ecgwine says:

          “in saecula saeculorum” is clearly one of the Aramaisms in the NT, and aion=saeculum translates olam (or its Aramaic equivalent). Apparently, the phrase does also occur in the Jerusalem Targum, Aramaic לְעָלְמֵי עַלְמִין, and it became part of medieval Jewish liturgy (Wikipedia’s ‘Kaddish’ article).

    • -_- says:


      Why are we going to the story of the Pardes here?
      Why not just the Torah, the “tree of life”?
      (And then the Comet King could.. well, be any Talmid Chacham — although probably someone at least pretty significant…)

      Additionally, I’d be surprised if Elisha ben Abuyah saw that God and Satan had equal status — it would definitely be only an UNSONG thing, first of all, because Satan is nowhere near the Christian Devil in Judaism (he’s basically just the Angel of “Being that Jerk Who’s Always Like ‘Prove it!’ Whom The Teacher Likes For Some Stupid Reason”…), and also the thing that caused Elisha ben Avuyah to become a heretic is canonically stated — it was that thing with the boy falling from the ladder or something. Nothing even thematically related to God and Satan and stuff.

      • Omer says:

        I thought of the legend about the Pardes, becuase it’s the most “canonical” story about finding god’s explicit name, and its consequences. It’s in the heart of the Hekhalot literature, and central to the Merkabah mysticism and the Kabbalah (it actually predates it). And also, it’s directly related to theodicy.

        I hope you like surprises 🙂 The Hekhalot literature is FULL of genuinely crazy stuff. About the exact size of God and his body parts, for example. Did you know that each of his eyes is 148500 kilometers in width? (

        You’re right about Satan, but the situation is not that simply. One of the heros of the Hekhalot literature is Enoch. The Torah just say about him that he “walked with God: and he was no more; for God took him”.

        Weird and curious. Luckily, there are other books that tell the rest of the story about his meteoric rise: Enoch was such a great dude, that God made him his second in command, and put him in-charge about judging humans.

        When Elisha ben Avuyah went to heaven, he saw him SITTING in God’s hall. This is suppose to be a huge no-no. So much forbidden, that angels don’t have knees just that they won’t even do it by mistake. So he sees some guy sitting comfortably and judges the people on earth. What was he supposed to think?

        Anyway, the story you mention (with the boy) indeed appears in both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. But the later also tells this other story (see here

    • ecgwine says:

      “Apparently, ‘Comet King’ is used to refer to the dendrobium flowers.”

      — It turns out that “Comet King” is just a commercial ( Dendrobium nobile hybrid (registered in 2010?) Who knows if this is a “coincidence”, but (unlike “Agloe”) the name clearly did not exist at the point of “divergence” (Apollo 8).

  19. hnau says:

    Anyone else notice how Dylan willfully misinterprets the question “What does that stand for?”

    BOOJUM is obviously an acronym for something important, the more so since it was already a made-up word (overtones of AGLOE). What might it stand for? The M really wants to be Magic. One of the O’s might be Oppressed, and B could be Board to contrast with the official Board. How about “Board Of Oppressed Jihadists Using Magic”? Not perfect since I’m sloppily using “jihadist” to connote “terrorist” but it might be on the right track. Also, check out the similarity between “boojum” and “baja”– that definitely falls into Nothing Is Ever A Coincidence territory.

    To be fair, though, *everything* in this story falls into Nothing Is Ever A Coincidence territory (um… Nothing Is Ever A Coincidence map?) and it’s easy to see why. It’s for the same reason that “narrative structure can cause anything to happen short of contradicting the laws of nature” is almost tautologous as a principle of magic, if you squint at it in the right postmodern-y way. We as readers know we’re in a world that follows the rules of story, because we’re reading one, and Scott hasn’t yet given us any reason to look for more nuanced explanations.

    I haven’t yet read Illuminatus!, but judging by the overt references to its authors it has some similar themes to this.

    • Deiseach says:

      For “Boojum”, there is also this. And there’s Charles Stross’ fantastic novella A Colder War (kids, if you weren’t old enough to realise what was going on in the 80s, believe me: when the USSR invaded Afghanistan it felt like this was it, the nukes would start flying and it would be the end of the world):

      The following briefing film is classified SECRET GOLD JULY BOOJUM. If you do not have SECRET GOLD JULY BOOJUM clearance, leave the auditorium now and report to your unit security officer for debriefing. Failing to observe this notice is an imprisonable offense.

      …Red Square, the May Day parade, 1962. This is the first time that the Soviet Union has publicly displayed weapons classified GOLD JULY BOOJUM.

  20. Nomghost says:

    This whole ‘reality indulges a good story’ thing is fantastic. It’s similar to ‘the script’ from David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’.

    • Mark says:

      Also the web serial “Pact.” Magic basically equals putting on a convincing performance in front of the audience of spirits who control reality.

      • Nomghost says:

        It gives the story a kind of interesting postmodern fourth-wall-breaking potential, doesn’t it!

        • ecgwine says:

          Inasmuch as this is “alternative history” (seeing that the “divergence” in 1968 didn’t just cause an alternative history, but a full alternative ontology/reality) it reminds me of “The Man in the High Castle”: I used to think it was poor storytelling that the novel kept implying that the characters did in fact live in an alternative history novel and in fact had the possibility of establishing this experimentally, until I found that P.K. Dick himself had similar thoughts about our reality, which at least from the (disturbed) author’s perspective turns this from “cheap plot device” into “profound insight dressed as literature”.

          Maybe our genre here is really “simulation hypothesis fiction” (which is, of course, the socially acceptable synonym of “creationism” in the rationalist subculture).

  21. Quixote says:

    This one was great. So many things in this chapter are so perfect.

  22. Deiseach says:

    I would like to express my gratitude to Scott for this story. I am luxuriating in it. I am metaphorically spreading it out on the floor and rolling around on and in it (an unsettling image, to say the least). This is many of my weird interests all gathered together and put into a story that is being done well. I am very thankful for it and I want to convey my appreciation 🙂

    • dsotm says:

      Totally, feels like the entire nerd-judeo-christian-collective conciousness is being treated to some obscenely good times here 🙂

      • -_- says:

        (Except the ones who have capital-O-Opinions about the term “Judeo-Christian”. 🙂 )

        • dsotm says:

          no one has capital N opinions about Nerd though, and the third hyphen wasn’t supposed to be there as well 🙁
          then hebrew doesn’t have the concept of capital letters at all so they must not be a very important part of reality (nd nthr r vwls)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I think I have capital-N opinions about “Nerd”, they’re just not relevant here…

          • -_- says:

            Same as Sniffnoy — I have capital-O Opinions on many things.

            (It’s just that Opinions on Judeo-Christian are very pertinent here, because the term “Judeo-Christian” keeps getting used — implicitly or explicitly — as if it has any honest meaning at all.)

          • ecgwine says:

            explain how “Judeo-Christian” does *not* have a straightforward, honest meaning? It merely refers (phylogenetically, as it were) to the common origin, and after that the centuries of mutual influence, between the true traditions.
            You might as well (or much rather) claim “Christianity” is a “dishonest” category, referring as it does, to completely disparate theologies that parted ways in the 4th century, if not before that, i.e. barely one or two centuries (on a scale of 20 centuries) after the phylogenetic separation of “Christiantiy” and Judaism.

          • ecgwine says:

            *true > two.
            Don’t know why I this, clearly non-coincidential, typo happened, I do not have, to the best of my conscious knowledge, any preference for which of these traditions is “true”.

          • -_- says:

            (Hopefully briefly, since I’ve ranted about this a bit before in this comments section, too, and while I’m fine with ranting I’m pretty sure other people are getting tired of it.)

            In terms of the term in-and-of-itself — there isn’t any more overlap between Judaism and Christianity than between Judaism and Islam or Islam and Christianity. Using it as a category is a deliberate exclusion of Islam.

            In terms of its actual usage — to quote the lead sentence of its Wikipedia article: “Judeo-Christian is a term used by many Christians since the 1940s to encompass perceived common ethical values based on Christianity and Judaism.”

            Doing a search for “Judeo-Christian” turns up lists which helpfully explain that “Judeo-Christian” means such things as:
            Principle #1- The Dignity of Human Life: Don’t kill people, also abortion counts.

            Principle #2 – The Traditional Family: no gayz or divorce or stuff.

            and so on.

            In Jewish law, when the health of the mother is at risk, abortions are actually legal — depending on the severity of the risk — up to the moment of crowning. This is explicitly layed out in the Talmud.
            Similarly, there has actually as far as I know never been a time in Jewish history when divorce wasn’t a thing. We have a specific religious-legal word for “divorce papers”.

            And so on and so forth.

            For more, probably better arguments, see… I’m pretty sure most Jewish perspectives on the issue.

          • Uhurugu says:


            I’m not sure that those are the best examples. I’m more familiar with Catholicism than other Christian traditions, but Catholicism permits abortion to save the life of the mother (the criterion used is that the object of the operation is to save a life, and that the abortion is a side effect).

            Additionally, the Catholic church has a specific religious-legal term that maps to divorce; ‘Annulment’.

            I’m sure there are differences between the religions’ laws, and larger ones between their followers and culture. I’m not knowledgeable enough about the Abrahamic religions to say which are closest in terms of religious law. It does seem fair to say that Jews and Christians are generally closer culturally than Muslims are to either group, since the former two are in the ‘Western’ cultural sphere while most Muslims live in non-Western societies. I can accept that the in-group cultural differences between Jews and Christians are likely much smaller than the inter-group differences between Western and non-Western, and the culture arguably is the dominant factor in determining the moral values the group members hold. So I don’t think the general use of the term is making a distinction that doesn’t really exist.

            At the same time, I don’t think that the way ‘Judeo-Christian’ is being used in the thread is really focused on the ethical and cultural differences. I agree with you that it’s being used to ‘exclude Islam’, but I think that the reason for that is that the story is based on Jewish and Christian traditions. When dsotm said that ‘the entire nerd-judeo-christian-collective subconscious’ is having a good time, he was trying to capture ‘the group of people steeped in jewish and christian cultural mores’, which I think is a valid distinction. This isn’t to say that a Muslim couldn’t be familiar with them, too, but I don’t feel like dsotm was trying to exclude Muslims so much as capture ‘those people with background in the same area as this story’.

            Western culture is heavily influenced by Christian and Jewish culture.
            The story in question is heavily influenced by Christian and Jewish culture.
            Using ‘Judeo-Christian’ as shorthand for either of the above concepts is a legitimate distinction.

          • Deiseach says:

            Additionally, the Catholic church has a specific religious-legal term that maps to divorce; ‘Annulment’.

            Okay, going to stop you here 🙂

            Annulment is not divorce. Divorce is “a licit and valid marriage was contracted and now the contract is being broken”. Annulment is “an invalid and/or illicit ceremony was performed such that there never was a marriage”. I believe, though I’m not certain, that there is a somewhat similar distinction in civil law; if the couple had gone through a marriage ceremony but the marriage had not been consummated, it could be annulled but that was not the same as a divorce (in effect it would have been, but the distinction between ‘this wasn’t a marriage/this was’ was still there).

            EDIT: Okay, turns out in Irish law at least the distinction still exists.

            Now, for civil marriages, if the state permits divorce, you can get your civil marriage annulled or get a divorce. But if you have gone through a religious ceremony and contracted a valid, licit marriage, you are still married until the death of one of the spouses ends the marriage, which is why no church remarriage for divorced people or divorced people in second relationships when their original spouse is still alive cannot receive the sacraments.

            I have heard complaints that, while in the rest of the world (certainly in Europe), the annulment procedure took a very long time and was very expensive and not guaranteed to give you the result you wanted (i.e. the decision might be your marriage was valid), and that this meant the wealthy and powerful could ‘buy’ their way out of marriage while the poorer couldn’t, that the American church – influenced by secular society – made the procedure so fast and liberal that the diocesan tribunals were more or less “divorce mills”.

            Anyway, there are rules about what is and what is not a valid and/or licit wedding and what are grounds for annulment, etc.

            Historical trivia: for that perennial question, “Why does the state get involved in marriage, anyway? It should be a private affair for the couple/however many involved!”, one reason is the example of when Henry VIII tired of Anne Boleyn and, amongst the charges of incest and witchcraft in order to annul the marriage, the mention of a pre-contract was made; that she had not been free to marry Henry because of an existing marriage arrangement.

            When people could marry by carrying out a private ceremony (though under certain rules), you often had the “he said, she said” situation where X claims they underwent a form of marriage and Y says no way. Without some official record and laws, this kind of thing was very common, as in the countless folksongs about “You swore you’d marry me/I only said that so you’d have sex with me and now you did, I’m not going to keep my promise” and “Stop this wedding, I’m his first wife!/Yeah, produce a witness to prove it/My only witness is God”.

        • dsotm says:

          hmm, I think this book and comments actually make an excellent case that it does have a pretty well-defined meaning, at least when applied to lore if not the religions.

          • -_- says:

            No more so than “Ameri-Christian”, “Judeo-American”, or the like, for this story.

            (Yes, there are terms “Jewish-American” — that refers to the INTERSECTION of “Jewish” and “American”, not, as “Judeo-Christian” is claimed to point to, the UNION.)

            There is almost nothing — lore-, mythology-, and moral-wise — that is pointed to by “Judeo-Christian” that is not pointed to as well if not better by “Christo-Islamic”.

            This book — and it’s comments section — is the only thing I have ever seen which can reasonable be described better as “Judeo-Christian” rather than “Abrahamic”, and it suffers for it. And this book is the DELIBERATE effort by a Jewish person living in a very Christian society to mix those two — it does not exist in a natural category, and does not point to and is not connected to any similar culture. The ONLY reason, in fact, that Islamic mythology and theology is not represented here is because the author by their OWN ADMISSION knows [bleep]-all about Islam, and in fact knows even less than they think.

          • LHC says:

            Give the Islam a rest, -_-. Scott’s intent in writing this fic is not to get us to be more tolerant of Muslims.

          • Lifehack: If someone writes a book about something, tell them they’re bad and wrong because they didn’t write the book about something else.

          • -_- says:

            Yeah, that was badly-phrased and got away from me. (In my defense, there were a lot of pretty dresses around and I was trangsting and focusing on distracting myself and therefore Very Out Of It — in my offense, that’s probably not the best defense.)

            The main points I was trying to make about this book was that it (a) was made as a deliberate effort to mix Judaism and Christianity, and (b) doesn’t have many books like it. Yes, this book is well described by the term “Judeo-Christian”, but I can’t think of a single other one. And “Judeo-Christian”, literally everywhere else, does not refer to the “Christianity-infused Kabbalahpunk” literary genre.

            So even if it means something here, that meaning is completely tangental to any usage outside of “describing Unsong”.

          • Deiseach says:

            If you’re going to complain “But what about Islam?”, then – seeing as how the Western Hermetic Tradition includes some beliefs and practices based on woeful misunderstandings of Egyptian, Indian, Tibetan, etc. religious systems – you should equally be outraged about that.

            Will you speak up for the rights of Hermes Trismegistus today?

            Though yeah, if Scott wants to throw in something like the Hand of Fatima, I’m not going to gripe 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            it was made as a deliberate effort to mix Judaism and Christianity

            I don’t see that; Scott is being careful so far to stick to Jewish tradition and folklore with Aaron’s understanding of kabbalah (the notion of the UUs as Christian representatives makes me laugh, to be frank) – nobody is calling the Vatican for help, there is no sign of the Pope being on the board of UNSONG (eh – there is no sign of that, right?) – and the only explicitly (and it’s not very damn much) Christian magical involvement has been with the introduction of the American Board of Ritual Magic which is not Jewish and so by default is some version of American mainline Protestant if anything.

            In the comments some people have been speculating along the lines of “is the Comet King Jesus?” If it makes you happy (and I have no idea what your beef is here – whether your complaint is “what about Islam” or whether it’s “keep your crappy Christianity away from my Judaism, I don’t accept you guys have anything to do with G_d despite your claims to the contrary), then okay, I’ll say it for you:

            Gee, guys, what if the Comet King was Mohammed (pbuh)?

            There, happy now?

          • -_- says:

            Off the top of my head…

            The Devil is purely Christian. (Maybe Islamic also? idk)

            The idea of angels as human-like is pretty Christian.

            (The New Testament is Christian.)

            The idea of eternal torment — the moral focus of The Comet King, and looking to be of Aaron as well — is Christian.

            This is not at all an exhaustive list.

            I’m perfectly happy with Christianity. I was surprised by it in Ch.2, yeah, but it’s here and part of this story, and I’m fine with that.

            My complaint is “stop assuming Christianity is universal”.

          • Deiseach says:

            The Devil is purely Christian. (Maybe Islamic also? idk)

            We haven’t met the Devil on-stage yet (we’ve only had references to him/it/them/xie) and the only solid fact we have is that the current occupier of that position is Thaumiel (not Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, or Beelzebub). We can argue the theology, but there is an angelic being in the Book of Job (Old Testament) that is The Accuser of Mankind.

            Iblis probably holds an analogous role in Islam but since I am not Muslim, I will not say this is definitive.

            The idea of angels as human-like is pretty Christian.

            Yes (I’ve done a whole separate rant on this for another site). BUT – Raphael in the Book of Tobit (Old Testament; Catholic/Orthodox canonical book of the Bible; Protestant apocrypha/deuterocanonical) assumes human form to accompany Tobias.

            Apsaras (who can very roughly be associated with angels, though more like nymphs or fairies) in Hinduism and Buddhism (especially in Chinese cave art along the Silk Road, influenced by contact with Greek/Western culture) are also humanoid heavenly figures, often depicted as flying (though this is indicated by flowing sashes/parts of garments, not by wings).

            (The New Testament is Christian.)

            Shock, horror: I agree with this!

            The idea of eternal torment — the moral focus of The Comet King, and looking to be of Aaron as well — is Christian.

            I would submit not solely Christian, and we don’t know that it is the moral focus of the Comet King/Aaron (they talk about the Harrowing of Hell, but we don’t know what Hell is in this dispensation; is it Sheol, is it Christian Hell, is it more like Hades, is it like the Hells in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology which are every bit as unpleasant as mediaeval Christian imaginings but not eternal (except for ideas like the hungry ghosts who cannot be freed as they cannot be reborn)?

            My complaint is “stop assuming Christianity is universal”.

            If by “universal”, you mean “not the majority religion outside of certain territories”, you are correct. If by “universal”, you mean “confined to Western Europe and the Americas”, you are wrong. Christian churches, populations, denominations and missions are global – here is a breakdown for 2010, including maps showing shares of global population (32% of the world is Christian) and by areas (7% in Asia-Pacific, in case you’re interested).

            If your point is “Not everybody is a Christian”, accepted. But I get the feeling – and I could be badly misinterpreting you, so please clear up my confusion – that what you really want to do is yell about anti-Semitism but you don’t feel comfortable doing that as Scott is Jewish and how can you accuse a Jew of being anti-Semitic?

          • Deiseach says:

            Crap, this needs some kind of “you can edit your comments” function.

            What I forgot to add:

            Re: the Devil is purely Christian – Angra Mainyu/Ahriman in Zoroastrianism fills a parallel role. Every culture has evil spirits or “the dark side of the force” or “the balance between yin and yang” type spirits and gods; rakshasas/asuras in Hindu mythology are translated “demons” and “devils” if not completely analogous to the Devil as such, but they are presented as being enemies of religion and dharma, violent, warlike, persecuting humans and gods, etc.

            So the notion of a malevolent spirit is not a “purely Christian” idea.

            Re: universal Christianity – I would like to point out that in certain areas currently majority Muslim, there were preceding Christian churches before Islam arose which have been displaced (e.g Egypt and the Copts). If your view of Christianity is the American fundamentalist brand, and you assume by “Christianity” the situation that you know in America, then you are not cognizant of the historical and global presence of Christianity.

          • -_- says:

            This was as part of the argument that Unsong is roughly an even mix of Judaism and Christianity. To which you responded:

            “I don’t see that; Scott is being careful so far to stick to Jewish tradition and folklore with Aaron’s understanding of kabbalah”.

            So I was responding by pointing out all of the parts that are part of Christianity and not Judaism, which were significant.

            That’s a very interesting infodump about parallels between and within different religions. Thanks, I learned a lot.

            But even given that, I don’t think that anyone could reasonably argue that the source of all of those things in Unsong were not Christian.

            (Additionally, I’m not 100% confident in how carefully Scott is sticking to Jewish tradition, folklore, and Kabbalah. I’m not gonna argue about that, though, because I’m not 100% confident that he’s not being careful about it, either. But I wouldn’t assume it without checking.)

            I’m not avoiding the term “anti-semitism” because Scott is Jewish — I’m avoiding the term because I am talking about what you seem to specifically be doing: that is, ignoring when things are Christian and assuming they are either universal or Jewish too. “Anti-semitism” is a very broad term, that I might use if I were trying to criticize it morally and/or connect it thematically to other instances of anti-semitism in the world or in history.
            If I were to pick a specific term, I would first stop at “Christian-normative”.

            And having said that, I’m not accusing Scott of it, because I trust that he — both because he is Jewish, but even more so because he is writing this — is paying attention to and knows where he’s pulling his sources from.

          • Deiseach says:

            But kabbalah is Jewish, and the Christian hermeticists who took the principles lifted them wholesale (and often misunderstood or badly distorted them).

            Ana brings up the New Testament but that is probably because she is not Jewish herself (I don’t know one way or the other what her religious affiliation or lack thereof is, but given that she is the Augustine – as in Saint Augustine – Professor of Theodicy at Stanford, I’m going to go way out on a limb here and think she’s not observant Jewish at the very least).

            Other Christian references are going to come in because the story is set in the Untied States, which is the USA of this universe, and patterned very closely on the USA in our world, which means that Islam is not going to be a huge part of the background culture, it will be majority Christian (even in a post-Christian society) and the Jewishness specifically comes in because of kabbalah.

            Were it set elsewhere, then other cultural influences would be at work (e.g. if Scott had decided that Aaron had got a job crunching Names for a Japanese theonomics outfit, or if it were set in Saudi Arabia amongst a bunch of ex-pats which would make for one hell of a culture clash set-up).

            I don’t know what you’re looking for here: a world where Judaism qua kabbalah is demonstrably true which then immediately falsifies all other belief systems (e.g. Christianity is demonstrably false because Jesus is not the Messiah and all Christian-based systems of magia won’t work)?

            I hate to resort to stereotyping, but damn it, I get the impression you’d only be happy if there were a bunch of Chasidim with payot and counting the knots on their tallit were the main and indeed only characters. I don’t know what you want: is your complaint that there is too much Christianity in it (“Christian-normative”)? Do you want equal-opportunity representation for everything from modern Wicca to Tibetan Buddhism to alcheringa? Do you want “Let’s pretend Christianity never happened and does not claim to have anything to do with Judaism and in a story set in an AU North America nobody is anything but Jewish or secular materialist, except in a universe where God and the Powers exist, materialism is not going to run, so let’s make that Jewish or for those not ethnically Jewish, secular”?

            If your objection is “I don’t like Christianity, I don’t want Christianity, even in a SF/F story” then please say so, because I don’t want to be accusing you of something you don’t intend but I get the feeling – and again, I may be reading too much into your initial comments – that there is something personal here, some hurt or wound that is making you go “For the love of God, can’t I get away from the Bible-bashing even in what I do for recreation and entertainment, will those bigots keep popping up to spoil everything?”

          • -_- says:

            I’m not denying that Kabbalah is Jewish — I’m saying that I am not totally confident that the Kabbalah used here is at all accurate. (For a point of comparison, do you (a) do math, and (b) know the last quarter of Anathem?) However, I am not denying that I can be wrong about this. I’m just saying that “Kabbalah is accurately presented” is not something that can be presumed.

            New Testament:
            Aaron actually brings it up first. Chapter 5. Search for “Matthew”.
            Additionally, their marriage-ritual name is found in the New Testament — it is at least to some degree canonical.

            Other Christian references are going to come in:
            It’s not just Christian references — the mythological/theological background of the world directly incorperates parts of Christian mythology/theology.
            H*ll is not a Jewish concept, it is (in this context) Christian. That’s not reference, that’s fundamental parts of the world. (Unless, like, the fallout of the universe breaking was dependent on the theological beliefs of the culture? Like, in-universe, if you lived in, e.g., Cambodia, then reincarnation would be real?)

            What I am looking for:
            Yes, going into this (after reading the first chapter) I did expect, based on what I’d seen/heard that it would be only based on Jewish mythology/theology. After chapter 2 I learned that that was wrong, and that is fine because that is the story Scott wants to tell. I’m not asking for a different story*.
            The only thing I want is for the parts of Christianity which are in the story not to be labeled “Judaism” (or “generically monotheistic”).

            (The “personal wound” which drives this, if there is one, might be how many times I’ve been told/seen “but how are you atheist if you said you’re observant Jewish? That’s impossible!”.)

            (* Yeah, okay, the stuff about Sufism. That’s not what either of us is talking about here, and while it bugs me, it doesn’t bug me that much. If you are interested, I could explain why, but I could also drop that.)

          • This is complicated, because a lot of European Jewry adapted a lot of Christianity through the ages. For example, here’s a story, supposedly associated with the Baal Shem Tov, of a kabbalist being tempted by the Devil and then (almost) going to Hell. I’m also quite sure I’ve read a story – though I can’t find it right now – of a Hasidic rebbe trying to do some kind of ritual of fasting and praying that would nullify the power of the Devil and make the Messiah come immediately, only to be sniped at the last second in a way somehow related to him having a tiny bit of sin which made the ritual impossible.

            There are equally Christian-sounding Hasidic stories about angels. If I stuck this kind of thing in Unsong, I’d get accused of copying Christianity – as it is, the Jews telling it say that it’s completely Jewish.

          • -_- says:

            Well, wow then.

            (I would say that I’m pretty sure “eternal h*ll” is dramatic there because it is basically not a thing — I would be shocked if there was a Jewish source that actually had it as a regular for any non-notable people. But that’s not very much of a response…)

          • Daniel says:

            On the NT: Aaron and Ana keep quoting it in kabbalistic arguments/jokes, but they quote people like Lord Byron, too. Perhaps all literature counts as a source of kabbalistic wisdom in this universe?

            On Thamiel: As far as I have been able to tell (corrections welcome!) he is very specifically an invention of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which practiced a semi-paganized version of a Christianized version of kabbalistic magic. In general what we know so far looks a lot like Judaism + Golden Dawn. (Also! the whole Apollo 8 thing looks like GD metaphysics; I can blather on about that if anyone wants)

        • Deiseach says:

          -_- I should apologise to you – I have just realised I understand perfectly your feelings.

          Usage of the term “Judaeo-Christian” makes you as twitchy as it does me when Anglicans/Episcopalians (especially those of the progressive bent) talk about the Synod of Whitby 🙂

          • -_- says:

            ?? Haven’t heard of that…
            It sounds very interesting — may I ask for a rant? (If not, then does a basic search for “Synod of Whitby” turn up a general description of why it makes you feel twitchy?)

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, condensed version: I’m Irish Catholic, and old enough to be of the generation in which The Eight Hundred Years was basically The Evil Brits versus Us 🙂

            So there’s a – complicated, shall we say? – relationship between the Church of England (by law established) and its daughter churches (e.g. the Church of Ireland), and the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Mainly, the Established Church was entangled with politics and the Ascendancy.

            So when (progressive, but not they alone) Anglicans and their Episcopalian descendants start (a) using the Synod of Whitby to bang on about the eeeeevils of a centralised, dominant, one-official-theology, one-official-head church (as in the Roman continental model) versus the free-wheeling hippy-dippy (excuse me, that’s not how they put it but that is the attitude that comes across) Celtic Church of the British Isles, I start twitching (b) when they then start in on the free-wheeling, hippy-dippy Celtic Christianity vibe, man, the full foam-flecked, spittle-spraying rant gets broken out 🙂

            Basically, my attitude to the historical ignorance as exhibited in the following quotes “The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium” and “The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles” is “No they weren’t, no it didn’t, and no you’re not the heirs of this mythic ‘contextual Christianity'”.

            I get particularly eye-twitching over Anglicans blithely harrumphing about The Evils of Rome when their state church was imposed by fiat and with the penalties of the law on ‘the British Isles’ – no “willingness to live in tension” during the Penal Laws! – and the bafflegab about “Celtic Christianity” drives me up the wall, because (a) Anglicanism stomped all over the churches in the native Celtic countries (b) it’s presented as this nature-loving, hippy-dippy etc. peace’n’love and gender and sexual equality notion, which simply is not so. If they bothered reading any of the actual historical documents – such as the rules for monastic living – they’d see Irish Celtic Christianity was very much ascetic and indeed closely linked to Coptic Christian expressions of spirituality, the emphasis on monasticism, ‘going into the desert’, fasting and ascesis and discipline are not the “monk living in the woods with the bunny rabbits and writing pretty poems” view of the matter.

            tl; dr – it’s the combination of cultural appropriation and historical ignorance and re-writing the past to suit their political/culture war battles and ignoring that Anglicanism was not a grassroots-up but an imposed from above change and indeed rupture in the continuity of historical Christendom in these regions that drives me batty. Also the patronising mythologising of the Celtic churches as being all wide-eyed nature-worshippers with pet cats constantly writing poetry (the monks, not the cats). Though yes, Irish monastics wrote poetry, and yes it was about nature, but it wasn’t the “save Gaia recycle fight climate change” notion of nature.

            To quote Shaw’s “John Bull’s Other Island”, “When people talk about the Celtic race, I feel as if I could burn down London.” 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            And I realise in all that I didn’t actually explain what the Synod of Whitby was all about.

            It was held to establish the date of Easter 🙂

            That’s the short version. Basically, Christianity in Ireland and Scotland (and Wales to an extent) and the North of England was due to early Roman-British Christians. St Patrick being the model of the one who converted Ireland. A lot of Irish monastic saints then travelled back to re-convert Britain and Continental Europe.

            Meanwhile, official missions from Rome landed in the south of England (this is why the clergy head of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, not London) and were making their way up. There was no such thing as “England” as such; there were a lot of regional kingdoms all independent of one another. The northern kingdoms were very heavily influenced by the Irish church model, the southern kingdoms by the continental European one, and the various kings and political dynasties likewise.

            Now! The date of Easter is a moveable feast, and has always been a pain in the neck to calculate. Throw in calendar differences (and thank God that at the time, everybody was still working off the Julian Calendar so that mess didn’t have to be sorted out, unlike today where the Western Church has adopted the Gregorian but the Orthodox Churches still run on the Julian) which meant that some traditions calculated it should be around the date of Passover (because of the Gospel dating) and some traditions deliberately celebrated it on a different date so it wouldn’t be on Passover, and what you ended up with was the situation in England where one half of the country was celebrating Easter earlier than the other half. This also encapsulated in brief the tension between where authority was derived and the Continental versus Celtic traditions, also any heresies that were floating around (this is the 4th-7th centuries, of course there are heresies floating around).

            What you have a perfect example of is in the Northumbrian court, where a king who had been converted under the Roman system was succeeded by a king who had been converted under the Ionan (the Irish-influenced monastic settlement on the island of Iona which sent out conversion missions to mainland Britain) system. To quote Wikipedia:

            The proper date of the celebration of the most significant Christian feast had already resulted in visible disunity in the Northumbrian court: Queen Eanfled of Bernicia and her court observed Easter on a different day than did King Oswiu. While one royal faction was celebrating Easter, the other would still be fasting during Lent.

            So to thrash this and all the other problems out, the Synod of Whitby was held in 664 A.D. in the North of England near York, under the auspices of the powerful and respected Abbess Hilda, and eventually it was agreed that Rome had the final word.

            And there matters rested, until some eight hundred and seventy years later, an English king felt the need to marry a new wife to get a son by her, and it was going to be his way or the highway 🙂

          • -_- says:

            Oh my GOD. That entire everything is hilarious.

            Religious history is always so great, because it’s so full of people who all CARE SO MUCH, and it (a) all gets very overlooked because the totality of even one religion’s history is way too much for any one person who doesn’t care that much to process, and (b) it all gets very carefully kept, because Religion.

          • Deiseach says:

            t’s so full of people who all CARE SO MUCH

            That’s me: ready to rant about the 7th century at the drop of a hat. You should hear me when people try to diss the 12th century, as when someone was very sarcastic-condescending about “The Vatican – where the finest minds of the 12th century reside” – I start off “Bitch, what?” and the tone only lowers from there on 🙂

  23. Daniel says:

    So that’s the UNSONG-branded equivalent of “ninja’d”!

  24. Mark, after saying he doesn’t like the trapdoor JB

    “…if we leave him any holes he’s going to slip through them and something awful will happen.”


    • Daniel says:

      Euphemism, why didn’t we say “Let no evil approach from below”, too?

      • Deiseach says:

        See what happens when you get sloppy with the details and do a rush job? 🙂

        Now, this is why the Breastplate of Saint Patrick is relevant here, Board of Ritual Magicians (emphasis mine):

        Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
        Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
        Christ on my right, Christ on my left.
        Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height.
        Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
        Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
        Christ in every eye that sees me,
        Christ in every ear that hears me

  25. Nestor says:

    This was fun but it seems slightly off from the rest of the novel so far, kind of like reading in universe fiction, if the screen switched off and we returned to our khabbalistic protagonists who were just watching their favourite show, I’d find it easier to parse than having to incorporate another parallel but not quite identical functional magic system in the same universe.

    But I’m sure you know what you’re doing.

    • Nomghost says:

      “I’m sure you know what your doing”

      I’m getting the same feeling I had midway through Infinite Jest, where I’m desperately hoping the author has some way of bringing this together in a way that’s going to satisfy me. I’ll be so mad if this story turns out to be the literary equivalent of a ruined orgasm.

  26. Fnord says:

    I am deeply disappointed by the lack of a “Magicians hate him” line.

  27. Aegeus says:

    Crazy idea: Magic works basically by causing changes in probability. It doesn’t do the impossible, it makes the improbable happen more often. And Kabbalah works by guessing combinations of letters at random and occasionally getting lucky.

    So could you use magic to manipulate the odds of discovering a divine Name? Devise a really ominous ritual, declare that it will reveal the hidden Names of God, use a suitable random letter generator, like a Ouija board, and reality responds by revealing a divine name to you.

    • Deiseach says:

      Kabbalah doesn’t guess at random, though; there are rules and principles about what combinations work or are permissible.

      If you did do a ritual as you describe, I would not be at all surprised if Reality did give you a name, e.g. the Name that causes the one who speaks it to be burned to ashes 🙂

      • LHC says:

        This must be true; magic and kabbalah must simply not mix well. If they did mix well, the theonomic corps would surely be doing it already.

        • -_- says:

          The way this story is set up, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing what happens why they are mixed anyways at some point…

        • Deiseach says:

          They seem to be parallel systems, which now makes me wonder if non-kabbalah systems are the equivalent of homeopathy and alternative medicine in our world; they work, sure, but purely due to the placebo effect 🙂

  28. MMAD says:

    The bit at the beginning reminds me a lot of M. Scott Peck’s “Dedication to Reality,” in how the relation between reality and the map (or Truth and Knowledge for those who read Peck) is complicated and I think this has some really interesting implications.

  29. R Flaum says:

    This chapter is very, very reminiscent of Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist.

  30. Ninmesara says:

    I don’t want to discourage Scott from writing this story (amazing so far). However, to me, the serial format works (moderately) well when you have lots of cool references, with hidden kabbalistic meanings that reward some thought. On the other hand, chapters like this (like the one with Uriel and Sohu), that are shorter, (relatively) lacking in references, and completely unrelated to what has come before, are disappointing. Additionally, you’ve just introduced a THIRD unrelated arc in the present (to say nothing of the interludes, set in the past). This is of course manageable and even enjoyable in a normal book, but breaks the flow in a serial such as this one. I will certainly want to read the story in full, but the proliferation of characters and themes in the serial format are definetely killing my interest in its present incarnation. Good luck with the rest of the story, you’re doing great!

    • Daniel says:

      By way of counterpoint, Scott: I really liked this chapter and “On A Cloud”, and don’t mind the so-far-unrelated story arcs at all! 🙂

    • LHC says:

      I cannot disagree more. Chapters like this one are much more compelling to me so far than the chapters centering on the main plotline.

      • Ninmesara says:

        I’m glad everyone else is enjoying the serial format. Your warm fuzzies work as positive reinforcement for the author, which means you are subsidizing a great story I intend to read once it’s finished 🙂

    • Quixote says:

      I really like all the different lines. I’m sure they will come together into something awesome later. It reminds me of William Gibson (don’t think Scott has been compared to him yet).

  31. Deiseach says:

    Also! the whole Apollo 8 thing looks like GD metaphysics; I can blather on about that if anyone wants

    This is relevant to my interests and I wish to subscribe to your newletter 🙂

    Please, blather away! I have an inkling of where part of this might go, but since I have only a very amateur, dilettante, shallow surface knowledge, I’d be delighted to hear a student of the matters.

    • Daniel says:

      Hooray! 🙂

      Disclaimer: I don’t really know what I’m talking about, as I’ve only been reading up on magical kabbalah since about five days before this book was launched TINACBNIEAC. Also, recent developments make it look less likely that this is the direction Scott’s going. NONETHELESS:

      In our own world, magic often has obvious and dramatic effects on the participants’ emotional states, visual and auditory hallucinations, and the like (I gather that Scott’s “gleam of a chalk line” really downplays the things that can happen to sleep-deprived archmages.) But on ordinary matter? While many people insist there are effects, they’re usually in the above vein of “it could always have been a coincidence”, and unlike in the UNSONGiverse, they don’t even consistently survive controlled experiments.

      One way of putting this is that magic doesn’t operate primarily in the “Material” world of Assiah, but rather in the variously-translated “Emotional”/”Intellectual”/”Formative” world of Yetzirah. This is why intention, symbolism, and belief play such an important role. It’s what Uriel is talking about when he mentions that he’s “still mostly metaphorical” (although as an archangel he’s from way up in the world of Briah).

      At least in the hermetic version of the Tree of Life, this disconnect between Assiah and Yetzirah corresponds to the Path of Tav between Malkut and Yesod. That Path features something called the Veil of Yesod, which partially shields Malkut from the influence of the higher sefirot. (You can guess where this is going, no?)

      Now, since the Tree of Life represents the structure of absolutely anything, it represents the career of a magician. We start at Malkut (“the Sphere of ordinary reality”), and the first task is to travel up Tav and pierce the Veil of Yesod (“the Sphere of dreams, visions, psychic phenomena, and the subtle forces that lie beyond the material world”)…

      But it also represents the solar system, where the analogous move is to travel from the Earth to the Moon and break the crystalline wall between the two!

      tl;dr the Apollo astronauts accidentally performed an initiation ceremony and the universe is now a magician. And since it was not adequately trained for this, it is now going slightly mad.

      (Epilogue: I was genuinely put out when I glanced at the relevant GD ritual and it didn’t have anyone reciting Genesis while circumambulating a lunar symbol or something. Oh, well!)

  32. Michael P says:

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the thing that jarred me the most: The pendulum. Correct me if my memory of Physics is off (it *has* been a few decades, after all), but the pendulum is said to be “…hung by a special rope with odd kinks and tangles that gave its motion an unpredictable, chaotic quality and prevented it from ever quite going vertical.” Um….huh? I’m pretty sure that I can shape a rope into any convoluted shape I can come up with, screw one end into a ceiling and hang a pendulum from the other end….and the damn thing would still swing in an arc that describes a portion of a circle whose radius is equal to the distance between the pendulum and the screw. The only way to get the pendulum to swing in a wild and unpredictable manner would be a mechanism for randomly moving the attachment point. It’s true that “unkinking” parts of the rope would change the motion, but it would hardly be unpredictable and chaotic – even to casual observation. The pendulum would “drop” some, and it’s swing would slow a little (conservation of angular momentum). It might jerk a bit and wobble a little before resuming smooth motion. Ta-da. Also, that couldn’t happen very frequently or else you’d rapidly have the pendulum dragging the ground.

    Not trying to complain, Scott – story’s great, love everything, yadda yadda. You just made my teeth hurt for a minute.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      It could be a something akin to a double pendulum, which is chaotic. Not entirely sure how to generalize it to a 2D version (I think the double conic pendulum is only chaotic along one plane), but one could likely add suitable joints if it was composed by rigid bars. It does not matter for the story, and a proper description would likely only satisfy the dynamical systems people in the audience.

      I loved the pendulum reference given Eco’s recent passing. And just like in Foucault’s Pendulum, the pendulum gives perfectly accurate yet pointless information.

    • Decius says:

      I’d do it by suspending the ‘pendulum’ using multiple ropes from multiple points, including some ropes connected to counterweights through pulleys that stuck intermittently.

    • Jacob says:

      I doubt it’s that hard to get the thing to swing chaotically in 2-D (simply adding one extra point of rotation into a standard pendulum is enough to make it chaotic in 1-D) – what jarred me was how it could stop in anything but a vertical position.

      I think the text is supposed to suggest that the rope/chain has many very large kinks, which from time to time unstick, giving the pendulum a bit more life:
      ” “One of the kinks in the rope straightening itself out,” said Clara. “Could have been a coincidence.” “

  33. The Warren Peace NFL Report says:

    I’m still new to the whole Kabbalah thing, and maybe it’s nothing, but I notice that you said Agloe was in New York, then a sentence or two later you wrote “soon the town of Agloe sprang up in earnest.” Well, which is it?

    I am particularly concerned,, because it seems to me that leaving this issue unresolved could at best prevent the entire eastern U.S. from loading correctly during the next restart. At worst, well, only Nixon could say.

    I hope you can find a remedy for this before it’s too late.

  34. Jason K. says:

    I wonder if “Placebomancer!” is a tortured reference to “Necromancer” by Gorden Dickson. My first thought was “Neuromancer”, but the usage of an exclamation point is unusual in a book title and Necromancer’s prequel/sequel was “Dorsai!”. The main character’s name is the same length as “David Alvarez” (even better actually, being 4 and 8 characters each), a large chunk of the book covers ground very similar to Alvarez’s situation, and the main organization is the “Chantry Guild”. A chantry generally being funds set aside to pay a priest to pray (or chant, as it is catholic mass) after one’s own demise. So a “Chantry Guild” would be a guild of people who chant for money…

    This would be a rather oblique reference and the Childe cycle (the series those two books belong to) doesn’t seem like something that would likely be in Scott’s wheelhouse.

    Or nothing is ever a coincidence.

  35. asdf says:

    I can’t stand this annoying “HERP DERP THIS ISN’T A COINCIDENCE” tomfoolery, ironically all those connections are probably the least interesting part of this serial, even thought they are are the most “incredible”

  36. Kevin says:

    Is the doorway to Hell under Wyoming?

  37. Derelict says:

    “Surprise, motherfuckers”? Not “mother-euphemism-ers”?

  38. Sniffnoy says:

    Huh. I just noticed that this chpater talks about the “United States”, not the “Untied States”. But it also talks about the “Texas Republic”. What’s going on there?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      The map they drew depicted the borders between US states as they were before the sky cracked, but Amarillo was not subjected to the “kabbalistic rearrangement” (which AIUI only affected the Midwest for some reason) and therefore that point on the map still corresponded to the same town, even if the state it’s in had now become an independent Republic.

  39. Lincoln says:

    RAW and Shea would’ve been delighted by this book, I think.

  40. Good Burning Plastic says:

    In re: the name boojum:

    I wonder whether the Lewis Carroll poem has any Unsong relevance.

  41. Paul says:

    When Alvarez slapped McCarthy on the back he left a sign there saying ‘Kick me’. :/

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  43. Sukil says:

    I know I am way late to the party. Just to comment that the title of the quote here refers to Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Wikipedia article). I can’t find the quote anywhere though. Am I missing something?

    Also: as I’m not the kind of guy who dissects a text finding hidden meanings, I was surprised I found ESR hiding in Chapter 4 or 5 (where is Stallman, by the way?) Anyway, for those of us who read things quite literally, it is a great book, too. Thanks for writing it, Scott.

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