aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interlude ז: Man On The Sphere

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk
See you in Heaven if you make the list
— R.E.M., Man On The Sphere

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, until we’ve landed on the moon, of preventing this decade from ending


They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. March 1969 had been more like one of those Biblical angels with four lion heads and four lamb heads and a couple dragon heads for good measure, all spinning within a gigantic flaming wheel, and if you met its gaze for too long then you died.

Entire weeks repeated themselves, or skipped around, or moved backwards. There was a week when the weather stopped, and it was an even twenty-two degrees Celsius across the entire planet. The heavens turned gray and were replaced by a message saying “sky.smh not found, please repent transgressions and try again”. All animal cries were replaced by discordant buzzing sounds.

Nobody knew how long it lasted. Probably had been different lengths of time for each person, each shunted on their own separate timelines into weird calendrical eddies and whorls. Some people who had started off middle-aged ended the month with gray hair and soft, infinitely sorrowful voices. Others seemed to have grown younger. Most people looked about the same, but you could tell things had happened they didn’t want to talk about, days repeated dozens of times or weeks that happened backwards, or moments when timelessness had briefly encroached on time and for an infinitely long moment they had touched Eternity.

The bizarre communiques from the archangel Uriel had become an accepted feature of daily life. Sometimes they would appear in the sky, or writ in blood on the surface of the moon, or spoken in unexpected phone calls to world leaders with unlisted numbers, or spotted on vegetables that had grown to enormous size. The news was rarely good.






Seventy-one days after the chaos had begun, a message from Uriel appeared in raised welts on the skin of all of the livestock in the world:


The next day was April 1. The Long March was finally over.

Things weren’t back to normal. Not by a long shot. Large areas had apparently been depopulated, whether by direct action of the Archangel or by failure of their communities to survive the tribulations, no one knew. A good amount of technological infrastructure had just plain stopped working, apparently no longer supported by the leaner, less flashy laws of physics Uriel had been forced to scale down to. The Russians were saying awful things, demons pouring forth from the ground, Yakutsk the site of a great massacre, fires that could be seen for hundreds of miles. The cracks in the sky had grown noticeably wider.

But for the first time, people were starting to feel some optimism, like when you’re starting to come back from a really bad drug trip and the walls are still covered in snakes, but they’re smaller snakes now, and your skin is still bubbling but it’s bubbling less and your grip on the real world is a little better and you start to wonder what’s for breakfast.


Richard Nixon, who had told Kissinger about thirty times that this was not what he had signed up for, realized that people needed a goal, something to shake them back into public consciousness, make them realize that America was still on its feet and the government was still in control. So he appeared on national television – which was working during even-numbered hours only, the eggheads hadn’t quite figured out why that was, but they assured him it would be fixable – and declared that the country would “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this year is out, of landing a man on the giant crystal sphere surrounding the world, and returning him safely to Earth.”

It had been a politically savvy move. NASA had a lunar module all ready to go and sitting in a warehouse. After what had happened last time they’d tried to get to the moon, the newly discovered crystal sphere presented an attractive alternative target. But it wasn’t just political grandstanding. Breaking the crystal sphere had caused all these problems in the first place. If they could figure out what it was and why it was there, maybe they could fix it. And if there was an entity beyond the crystal sphere – his advisors had warned him against using the G word, sounded too unscientific – then maybe it would help, if asked nicely.

NASA didn’t want to go in blind. First in May, then June, they launched manned missions to investigate the extent and composition of the sphere. As far as they could tell, it was about 250,000 miles in radius, centered on the Earth, and made of perfect flawless crystal except in the vicinity of the cracks. The eidolons of stars and planets seemed to be projected on it in some kind of holographic manner that gave them the illusion of depth.

In early June, NASA told Nixon it had reached the limit of what it could determine about the sphere from remote observation.

On July 16, 1969, President Nixon travelled to Cape Canaveral, where he met personally with three astronauts whom NASA had assured him were the best of the best. He wished them godspeed, and told them that the hopes of American people and the people of the whole world were fixed on them.

Later that afternoon, Apollo 11 took off.

Four days and 250,000 miles later, the lunar module Eagle detached from its mother ship. Inside were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who had accepted the task of landing on the crystal sphere and taking mankind’s first steps upon another heavenly body. Such as it was.

The descent proved more treacherous than expected, and the two came perilously close to running out of fuel for the thrusters and crashing into the crystal at enormous velocity, but with twenty five seconds to spare they touched down at the chosen landing site right on the edge of one of the humongous cracks.

“Tranquility base here,” said Armstrong. “The Eagle has landed.”

There had been a brief debate in the Nixon White House over whether or not it was tasteful to plant the American flag on the giant crystal sphere surrounding the world. The argument against was that the sphere appeared to be some sort of celestial mechanism created directly by God that either separated Earth from Heaven or in some complicated sense was itself Heaven, and that for a human nation to claim Heaven might be literally the most hubris it was even conceptually possible to display. The argument in favor of planting the flag was, America.

Neil Armstrong stepped onto the crystal sphere and planted the flag.

“That’s one small step for a man,” he said “and one giant leap for mankind.”

The formalities being over, it was time to get down to business.

Armstrong and Aldrin hauled from their lunar module a great spool of cable, which they wheeled across the surprisingly smooth crystal a few dozen meters to the edge of the crack. Armstrong stared down.

“Houston, I’m looking into the crack,” he relayed over his radio. “It’s very bright, maybe not as bright as the sun but close. I can’t see anything down there. The edge of the cliff is almost perfectly vertical. It seems a couple hundred meters wide – I can just barely see the other side, looks about the same. There’s no terrain here, no irregularity. Houston, I think the light source might be only a couple of meters down. It’s like a skin. I…I think we can reach the light with what we’ve got.”

There followed a short argument over which of the two had to actually climb down into the thing. Aldrin won the argument with his very reasonable position that if Armstrong loved being first to do things so much, maybe he should show the same kind of initiative when it was something important and scary instead of just a photo op. So Commander Neil Armstrong attached the cable to his spacesuit, took a climbing hook in both hands, and slowly began to descend into the crack, while Aldrin peered down from above.

“Houston, I’m in the crack. I’m down about three meters now, out of a hundred meters of cable. The light is noticeably closer. I don’t think it’s far off. I think it’s an object, or a barrier, or a transition or something.”

“Houston, the light source is definitely getting closer. I think it’s only another couple of meters down.”

“Roger that, Commander Armstrong. Colonel Aldrin, is everything all right from your perspective?”

“Houston, cable is fixed in place. Commander Armstrong is still within visual range.”

“Roger that, Colonel Aldrin.”

“Houston, I’m going to touch the light source with my climbing hook and see if anything happens.”

“Proceed as you see fit, Commander.”

“The hook passes through the light source. I’ve pulled it back and it is still intact. It seems to be like a skin or a transition zone of some sort, like I said before.”

“Roger that, Commander Armstrong.”

“I’m going to touch the light source now…I don’t feel anything. My finger passes right through.”

“Colonel Aldrin, from where you are standing, any change in the light source?”

“No, Houston. I can see Commander Armstrong. There’s no disturbance or change. The light source is still uniform throughout the crack.”

“Houston, I’m going to climb into the light source.”

“Proceed as you see fit, Commander.”

“Ground control to Commander Armstrong. Come in, Commander Armstrong.”

“Ground control to Colonel Aldrin. Come in, Colonel Aldrin.”

“Colonel Aldrin here, Houston. Commander Armstrong has disappeared below the light barrier.”

“Ground control to Commander Armstrong. COME IN, COMMANDER ARMSTRONG.”

“He’s not answering. Houston, I’m going to pull up the cable, bring him back.”

“Do that immediately, Colonel.”

“Houston, the end of the cable is no longer attached to Commander Armstrong.”


“I never should have let him…I’m going down after him.”

“No, Colonel Aldrin, this is Ground Control. You are ordered to collect the cable and leave the crack. I repeat, collect the cable and leave the crack.”

“Wait, what if I lower the cable back down to him, maybe if he’s down there he can grab on to…”

“Colonel Aldrin, I repeat, your direct order is to collect the cable and leave the crack.”

“Houston, this is Commander Armstrong.”


“No, Houston. Nothing is wrong.”

“All right, we’re going to get Colonel Aldrin to lower down the cable for you and…”

“No, Houston. Literally. Nothing is wrong. Nothing.”

“Commander Armstrong, is everything okay?”

“Exactly, Houston. Everything is okay. Nothing is wrong. Nothing has ever been wrong, anywhere. The cosmos is like a flawless jewel, each of whose facets is another flawless jewel, and so on to infinity. Except there is no jewel. It’s all light. No, there isn’t even light. From within Time you can’t see any of it, but when you step outside into Eternity it’s all so…full. It’s so beautiful, Houston.”

“Commander Armstrong, you’re not well. Colonel Aldrin is lowering down the cable.”

“You really think I’m still in the crack? Listen, Houston. The tzimtzum, the Lurianic contraction of God to create the world, from a higher perspective it wasn’t a contraction at all, it was an expansion. An unfolding of divinity into new possibilities. The vessels didn’t shatter, they rearranged themselves into shapes that only become apparent from a pleroma beyond any dimensions but containing the potential for all of them. Houston, is this making sense?”

“Commander Armstrong, you are ordered to return to the ship.”

“Houston, William Blake was right about everything.

“Commander Armstrong!”

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Holy, holy, holy…”

“Commander Armstrong!”

“Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy…”

“Commander Armstrong!”

“Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, hooooly, hoooooly, hooooooly, hoooooooly, hooooooooly, hoooooooooly, hoooooooooooly, hooooooooooooly, hoooooooooooooly, hooooooooooooooly, hooooooooooooooly, hoooooooooooooooly…”

“Houston, I’ve lowered the cable as far as it will go. It’s dangling about seventy meters into the light zone. I’m not getting any indication that Commander Armstrong is going to take it.”

“Roger that, Colonel Aldrin. Please return to the ship. Do you read me, Colonel Aldrin?”


“Loud and clear, Houston.”



When I was ten years old, I got my first ham radio.

A ham radio is a treasure when you are ten. I listened to boats off the coast, heard the reports from the ranger stations in the nearby forests, even picked up the chatter between policemen patrolling the local streets. One day I turned to a new frequency, and I heard a strange sound, a single pure note unlike any I had ever heard before.

The sound was: “oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”

I brought the radio to my uncle, and I asked him what station that was, and he told me it was the frequency NASA used for its communications, once upon a time. Then a man had taken a radio tuned to that band into a crack in the sky, and it had started broadcasting with such power that it drowned out all the other radio noise and the whole frequency had to be abandoned.

But what was that unearthly note?

My uncle told me it was Neil Armstrong, who had passed beyond time into Eternity, praising God forever.

End of Book 1

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149 Responses to Interlude ז: Man On The Sphere

  1. Makine says:

    Good chapter!
    Nitpicking: I’m not sure there’s actually a way to land on the sphere, not as stated in the story. If it has solely gravitational attraction, anything inside the sphere wouldn’t feel it. There’s also no way to go into a close orbit like the actual Apollo missions did. The lander would have to cancel out around a kilometer a second of orbital velocity and then continually thrust upwards at just under a g to keep from accelerating back to earth (or perhaps some sort of grappling system, for additional meddling with the fabric of the universe).

    • Makine says:

      Eyeballing my math again, I suppose local gravity would be significantly less than a g. That helps.

    • Alsadius says:

      That depends how fast it’s spinning. It’s within the Moon’s orbit, so it isn’t limited to a 28-day period.

    • KB says:

      Well we know that Uriel has scaled down physics, and we know the sphere is heavenly or heaven, and we know space is essentially an illusion… so I’d say there’s enough weirdness going on to make landing on a sphere seem plausible, even if it isn’t in our world.

    • boy says:

      Lol did you not read the chapter? Math doesn’t work anymore

      • The Warren Peace NFL Report says:

        So instead of relativity, they have absolutivity?

      • The Warren Peace NFL Report says:

        Absolutivity would greatly reduce the required computational power, so I can see it being an attractive alternative. Since lightspeed woukd no longer be a limit inherent to reality, slapping an artificial governer to enforce it is what, a couple extra lines of code for situations that would hardly ever come up anyway (in our universe, the first particle accelerator wasn’t built until the late 1970s).

    • Banananon says:

      To expound a bit, to reach the sphere you just fire your engines straight down. You calculate just how much energy is required to reach the sphere at the peak of your trajectory, then add a bunch of energy to account for wind resistance and things. You also pack some fuel in your rocket in case you overestimated the amount of energy you need and have to slow down, and for movement parallel to the sphere’s surface. Assuming all goes well, at the peak of your ship’s trajectory, where you’ve got no more kinetic energy, you’re just touching the crystal sphere. (Shortly afterwards though, gravity should reassert itself and the ship should fall back towards earth.) In short, getting to the sphere should be much easier than putting a satellite in orbit, and would require much less energy.

      The real question is how the astronauts are able to walk on the surface of the sphere instead of falling back to the Earth. The answer (as you mentioned) cannot be gravity. The fact that they are able to do so implies that the answer is something other than conventional physics.

      My preferred reconciliation is that the conventional physics simulator is only being run within 7*10^8 cubits (~ 200,000 miles) of the Earth’s surface. After that point, kinematics remains the same, but what generates forces (particularly gravity) act differently. This neatly explains why Apollo 11 appears to be orbiting the moon (as Apollo 8 did before them in the prologue), since the simulator would need to enforce boundary conditions appropriately. However, once the Eagle has detached and approaches the sphere’s surface, at some point its physics change, thus leading to them nearly running out of fuel in a LunarLander situation.

      • Dirdle says:

        Aristotelian physics. In sufficiently close proximity, the astronauts are pulled outwards by the desire of their souls to be united with the larger soul of God.

      • Deiseach says:

        The real question is how the astronauts are able to walk on the surface of the sphere instead of falling back to the Earth. The answer (as you mentioned) cannot be gravity. The fact that they are able to do so implies that the answer is something other than conventional physics.

        From Dante, when he was walking on/in the Moon:

        The eternal pearl received us in itself,
        as water does a ray of light
        and yet remains unsundered and serene.

        If I was there in flesh — on earth we can’t conceive
        how matter may admit another matter to it,
        when body flows into, becomes another body –

        that, all the more, should kindle our desire
        to see the very One who lets us see
        the way our nature was conjoined with God.

    • Thecommexokid says:

      My reading of the chapter had the spacecraft pass *through* the crack and land on the *outer* surface, which is much more gravitationally tractable. Seems reasonable to me but I don’t see anyone else in the comments with a similar interpretation of events, which makes me think orherwise.

    • multiheaded says:

      Just stack a bunch of ion engines, yo, it works great in KSP!

    • neo says:

      What if the sphere spins fast enough to generate centripetal “gravity” and make landing easy?

    • kronotsky says:

      Inside the crystal sphere, the gravity is due only to interior objects, because of Gauss’s law and symmetry. At 250k miles from the earth’s surface/center, these are the earth and moon. If the crystal sphere is spinning, then there may be points on the sphere where the centrifugal force in a corotating frame cancels or even exceeds earth’s gravity; I.e. the points in the sphere are in orbit, or even have total energy exceeding the Keplerian energy -GM/(2a). However, at the poles of the sphere, relative to the rotation, there must be no motion, and the gravity force on the two polar caps with energy less than Keplerian orbital energy must be balanced by stress forces in the sphere, which would be enormous. Perhaps this is why a single fracture was totally irreparable. On the other hand, large portions of the sphere would be suitable for landing, and could even have “local gravity” due to centrifugal effects. Then the problem is just a modified version of orbital insertion. There are certainly technical difficulties I can’t think of right now, but I believe in principle it is not so different from landing on the moon.

      • kronotsky says:

        Very sorry, I just realized that orbital energy isn’t at all the right way to think about this, because almost no particles are moving in real circular orbits. There would be a lateral force on the surface of the crystal sphere everywhere except at the equator, since the centrifugal force isn’t exactly in the opposite direction from gravity. I think (hope!) everything else is okay, though.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    Huh, that’s certainly an interesting contrast to the last chapter.

    (Also, this chapter still isn’t showing up in the table of contents.)

  3. maybe_slytherin says:

    Table of contents hasn’t been updated to include this.

  4. Daniel Blank says:

    This interlude does not appear in the table of contents. Also, for some reason, instead of shame being cancelled, it was ennui. These are not coincidences because nothing is ever a coincidence.

  5. Anommentor says:

    “First in May, then June, they launched manned missions” — shouldn’t that be unmanned missions?

  6. Galle says:

    So, the obvious question – what were William Blake’s theological beliefs?

    • He wrote Till we have built Jerusalem, which is showing up a lot here (Erica quoted it, and it’s in a bunch of chapter names). As far as I can tell from five minutes’ googling, he disliked the church but trusted God. I guess Uriel could also be lumped with the church here.

    • sealion says:

      You can get a pretty good taste of them by reading “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which isn’t long and is well worth it just as a literary experience, imo.

    • 271 says:

      While it might be a reference to Blake more broadly, in this context I couldn’t help thinking (from Marriage of Heaven and Hell) “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

    • Decius says:

      What were Wm Blake’s beliefs about calculus? About diet? I hesitate to think that only his theological or published works were right, given the statement that he was right about everything.

      • Deiseach says:

        What were Wm Blake’s beliefs about calculus? About diet?

        (1) About calculus – since Newton was important in the development of calculus, and we know Blake’s opinion of Newton, we can perhaps extrapolate that he was not very impressed or favourable

        (2) About diet – don’t eat any apples he may offer you 🙂

        A Poison TreeRelated Poem Content Details
        I was angry with my friend;
        I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
        I was angry with my foe:
        I told it not, my wrath did grow.

        And I waterd it in fears,
        Night & morning with my tears:
        And I sunned it with smiles,
        And with soft deceitful wiles.

        And it grew both day and night.
        Till it bore an apple bright.
        And my foe beheld it shine,
        And he knew that it was mine.

        And into my garden stole,
        When the night had veild the pole;
        In the morning glad I see;
        My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

      • MugaSofer says:

        “Now I a fourfold vision see,
        And a fourfold vision is given to me:
        ‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
        And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
        And twofold always, may God us keep
        From single vision and Newton’s sleep!”
        -William Blake

        Scott has already written on this topic:

  7. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, the ending of this chapter sounds really familiar for some reason, but I can’t think of from where; I thought it was that Armstrong’s fate had been mentioned elsewhere in Unsong, but if so I can’t find it. Can anyone think of anything, or is this just deja vu? (It vaguely resembles the imprisonment of Sorceress Edea from Final Fantasy VIII, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I’m thinking of, that’s pretty different.)

    • Ninmesara says:

      Armstrong will come back after subjective eons praising the Lord (with modifications) and become the Comet King. He will be “born of the heavens” (chapter 6). After all, after going beyond the Light, we willl have seen the Kabalah bare (Chapter 1). Also, according to Sohu (Chapter 16), the Comet King knows something about rocketry. Nothing ever is a coincidence. I also predict that when Armstrong comes back as the Comet King, he will descend on a large space station, shining blue o reentry, during the year 1982.

      This is only mostly joking.

      • If this is true, it does suggest a method of mass-producing comet kings.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Nah, when Uriel managed to get a better grip on running the world, the cracks get thinner and it becomes impossible to send a living human through them. Source (Chapter 7):

          > The cracks in the sky were barely visible through the hazy glow of the Silicon Valley megalopolis’ united streetlamps

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The timing doesn’t work (unless he also went back in time); the bit with Aaron and the radio happens when he’s at least 10 years old, i.e., around 2005 or later.

        Now, there is somebody else who went bodily into heaven, namely, Elijah (well, and also possibly Enoch). And Elijah does have to come back before the Messiah can arrive. But it would seem odd to describe Elijah (or for that matter Enoch) as “born of the heavens”. And Elijah, from what I know of him, doesn’t really seem like the Comet King? Meanwhile Enoch is often identified with Metatron, though we don’t know whether that’s the case in this story. The idea of him having gazed on Adam Kadmon bare does seem to fit, I guess. But on the whole this seems pretty unlikely.

    • It resembles “Kyrie” by Poul Anderson.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Interesting, though I’m pretty sure I’ve never read that.

      • Quinn says:

        I came here to say this! —also that you may also be thinking of the David Bowie song “Space Oddity.”

        • Quinn says:

          “Kyrie” in this context is short for “Kyrie eleison (Κύριε ἐλέησον), which is Ancient Greek for “Lord have mercy.” This is not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

    • lsm says:

      Not a perfect fit, but it reminded me again of the Ted Chiang short story Hell Is the Absence of God. In that story people exposed to the divine light (Which ‘leaks’ with the entry and exit of angels into the mortal realm) become immediately completely blissfully devout and devote their lives to preaching.

      Ted Chiang has been brought up previously as an author who’s stories touch similar themes to Unsong, and I really enjoyed his work.

    • K. says:


      The sorceress you’re thinking of from FF8 was Adel. Edea wasn’t imprisoned.

  8. Aegeus says:


    Uriel, why are you adding new features when you haven’t cleaned up your technical debt yet?

    Also, if Taiwan and all of Southeast Asia got “canceled,” that would explain why the “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” became a thing.

    • Aegeus says:

      Just noticed something else. According to Jewish tradition, there are 613 mitzvot. 365 positive commandments, one for every day of the year, and 248 negative ones, one for every bone and organ in the body.

      But now we apparently have only 180 bones. The Kabbalistic implications are staggering.

    • Swimmingly says:

      Probably because the old version was unstable and he had to rewrite bones from scratch

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      Probably a desperate attempt to make each human instance require less RAM and CPU power, so that Uriel doesn’t have to abolish down or something. (I AM ABOUT TO BRING DOWN “DOWN”. THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE WILL MAKE NO SENSE IN 5 … 4…)

    • Shieldfoss says:

      Uriel, why are you adding new features when you haven’t cleaned up your technical debt yet?

      Aegus – can I call you Aegus? – Aegus let me tell you about Software Development in the real world with customers that can reasonably be called “Humanity.”

      [insert fifty pages of profanity-laden screed]

  9. Quixote says:

    Somewhere in the works of William Blake there is the phrase “never goanna give you up never goanna let you down” and when book inspires me to read the collected works of Blake and I stumble upon that phrase, then Scott will have won about as much as it is possible to win.

  10. Sniffnoy says:

    So it’s worth noting here that Armstrong seems not to have gone into “the original world” that existed before Uriel’s interference, but rather “outside the world” entirely. After all, you don’t see Uriel acting like this, and he was there for the original world.

  11. Kolya says:


  12. Brendan Dolan-Gavitt says:

    Oh dear, Uriel really needs to learn about revision control and backups.

  13. 75th says:

    I have never less wanted to go to Heaven than after reading this chapter

  14. Jon says:

    Loving Uriel’s absurdist humor (is that the right term?)

  15. Greg says:

    Real error message in the sky

    Sorry if this has already been posted

  16. Ninmesara says:

    I wonder which bones Uriel decided to remove…

  17. fermion says:

    Part I has a very Welcome To Night Vale tone to it. I approve.

  18. “it was about 200,000 miles in radius, centered on the Earth, ”

    This confused me. The moon is about 240,000 miles out, which would mean the moon is outside the crystal sphere, but what I’ve read up to now indicates that the moon is just inside the sphere.

  19. So wait, If the moon is outside (or on the border of) the sphere, how would the Comet King’s plan to shift its orbit with explosives possibly work?

    • Fj says:

      In fact if it’s outside, it’s not supposed to exist at all. Since outside the sphere is the Divine Light, and everything like stars are holographic projections. Which raises the question of how there are tides in the first place.

      It could be easily fixed by saying that the sphere is slightly larger than the Moon’s orbit and the astronauts crashed into it on their first revolution around the Moon, after successfully getting into orbit. In fact it’s what was actually described in the prologue (“but the astronauts promised a second installment from lunar orbit.”, “Two minutes left till lunar sunrise broke the connection. The astronauts’ only orders from NASA had been to “do something appropriate””, “So for two minutes on Christmas Eve, while a billion people listened, three astronauts read the Book of Genesis from a tiny metal can a hundred miles above the surface of the moon.”), and the only difference from our world would be that they did the reading on the first revolution, not on the last (tenth) as it was. Or maybe even on the last, due to some irregularities or whatever.

      So I don’t even know where “200,000 miles” and the whole idea that they crashed while still on the way to the Moon came from.

      On the other hand, there could be an ever weirder explanation, that there was no crystal sphere originally, not as such, just the lack of memory protection that far away from the Earth, so as Uriel explained the astronauts did a code injection, created the sphere by reading from the Genesis where it was described, and then it crashed into them as it shrunk in place. Doesn’t explain the Comet King’s plan though.

      • Aegeus says:

        In the comments to the Prologue, Scott acknowledges that the astronauts didn’t do their reading until the 4th orbit, and points out that we had already launched Mariner to Venus without incident, so it was clearly possible to pass through the sphere before the sky cracked.

        I think you’re right that the astronauts “created” the sphere. Or rather, the sphere was just a metaphorical thing (since the machine made everything divine metaphorical), but once the astronauts injected the code it abruptly became very real and they crashed into it.

        200,000 miles is the radius of the sphere stated in this chapter, which puts the moon (230,000 miles away) slightly outside the Sphere.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          So that makes some sense with the prologue (though it still leaves some questions — I guess they crashed into the sphere from the outside? I suppose that would make it easier to break) but it still makes no sense with the Comet King’s comments about the tides and moving the moon.

  20. DanielLC says:

    My theory for the sphere landing is that it’s spinning with the earth. From what I calculated, the centrifugal force is slightly more than gravity on the moon would be if there was a moon, and gravity is negligible.

  21. Deiseach says:

    Obviously not Armstrong’s version, but a setting of the Sanctus if anyone is interested in the Latin translation 🙂

  22. bean says:

    History nitpick. Armstrong left active duty in 1952 and a Lieutenant JG, and resigned his reserve commission in 1960, so he wasn’t a USN commander at the time. He was the mission commander, but a look at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal shows that they didn’t use that title much during the mission. They certainly didn’t refer to Aldrin as ‘Colonel’, even if that was his USAF rank at the time (I suspect he was promoted after the mission, although it’s possible he was a light colonel in which case the title does make sense). Also, how did they plant the flag in the crystal sphere? They ran into problems getting the flag to stay up during the actual Apollo 11 mission, and the LM’s ascent engine eventually knocked it over. This lead later missions to bring hammers.
    The orbital mechanics of landing on the sphere are just too weird to go into. I’m not even sure where to start.

  23. Sniffnoy says:

    Here’s a question: Is there any relevance to the number of “o”s in each iteration of “holy”? I’m thinking no. After all the ones with only a single “o”, and prior to the point where the beginning and end are no longer shown, the sequence goes: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 14, 15, 27. Doesn’t seem like anything in particular.

  24. Walter says:

    The arguments for and against claiming Heaven for the USA were about right.

  25. Deiseach says:


    Given that I’m currently binge-watching ancient Telugu-language mythological movies, I’m cool with this. Also, doing away with all varieties of cousin beyond the first will be very helpful as it reduces the number of people I need to remember are relations to around a hundred or so.

    However, Uriel, I need the crescent moon, white wine, and amethyst, so I’m feeling quite disgruntled!

  26. Sinclair says:

    Oh wow, that chapter ending gave my spine chills.

  27. DancerWithout says:

    So nothing is wrong. Given that nothing is very strong, this can’t be good.

  28. Decius says:

    So was an original goal of the mission to pull a cable across a crack and try to close the sphere via tension?

  29. dsotm says:

    The eidolons of stars and planets seemed to be projected on it in some kind of holographic manner that gave them the illusion of depth.

    The holy-graphics principle ?

    Speaking of gravity, the ending rings of it quite a bit, of course it itself ripped off 2001 space odyssey quite extensively.

    And speaking of 2001 space odyssey I’m ashamed of how long it took me to discover that David Bowie’s name didn’t just co-incide with that of Dave Bowman.

    This all leads me to conclude that the Comet King is in fact David Bowie – the kabalistic implications are obvious.

  30. Jason says:

    How is it that Armstrong was still alive and able to be heard from the other side of the “transition”? Also, Is the light a representation of purity?

    • Deiseach says:

      How is it that Armstrong was still alive and able to be heard from the other side of the “transition”?

      Think of it as falling through the event horizon of a black hole:

      Likewise, any object approaching the horizon from the observer’s side appears to slow down and never quite pass through the horizon, with its image becoming more and more redshifted as time elapses. … Instead, while approaching the hole, the object will seem to go ever more slowly, while any light it emits will be further and further redshifted. …The traveling object, however, experiences no strange effects and does, in fact, pass through the horizon in a finite amount of proper time.

      As Armstrong moves closer and closer to the infinity on the other side of the crack, the speed of his speech seems to observers on this side to infinitely slow down (think Doppler effect), so the “o” of “holy” is extended for an infinitely long period; we are receiving the last echoes of his speech on this side of the transition, but what has happened to him we don’t know in any way:

      For the case of the horizon around a black hole, observers stationary with respect to a distant object will all agree on where the horizon is. While this seems to allow an observer lowered towards the hole on a rope (or rod) to contact the horizon, in practice this cannot be done. The proper distance to the horizon is finite, so the length of rope needed would be finite as well, but if the rope were lowered slowly (so that each point on the rope was approximately at rest in Schwarzschild coordinates), the proper acceleration (G-force) experienced by points on the rope closer and closer to the horizon would approach infinity, so the rope would be torn apart. If the rope is lowered quickly (perhaps even in freefall), then indeed the observer at the bottom of the rope can touch and even cross the event horizon. But once this happens it is impossible to pull the bottom of rope back out of the event horizon, since if the rope is pulled taut, the forces along the rope increase without bound as they approach the event horizon and at some point the rope must break. Furthermore, the break must occur not at the event horizon, but at a point where the second observer can observe it.

      • Jason says:

        That would make sense… if this were a black hole. But it isn’t. We are talking about some sort of entrance to the infinity source. The Heavenly realm is going to be abhorrent to any laws of physics known to mankind. So how would this work?

    • MugaSofer says:

      >How is it that Armstrong was still alive and able to be heard from the other side of the “transition”?

      He was wearing a spacesuit and carrying a radio.

  31. Gadit says:

    Awkward request, not (unfortunately) related to this interlude:

    I’ve decided to (try) writing a micro-fanfic for every day of the Omer, given the Very Kabbalistic nature of the practice which especially involves the S’firot, and the first one, Chesed baChesed, is scheduled to go up on the first day of the Omer, Sunday.

    As the first day of the Omer, it’s also the second day of Yom Tov Pesach, so I won’t have computer/internet access.

    The fic is going to be at this URL:
    It’ll take place in the middle of Chapter 11, and basically be some kabbalistically-significant banter.

    Can I ask people to post it to at least a few places — the comments of Pesach chapter, maybe, if you think it’s appropriate, or the Reddit group, since I won’t be able to? It’ll go up on Sunday.

  32. anon says:

    I have a question. It’s not directly related to this chapter, but no one is reading prior chapters’ comment threads and it relates to the plot overall.

    Uriel made the world run on math and in doing so made both his fellow archangels and Thaumiel metaphorical. Now that this is partly undone, why haven’t we seen other archangels?

    Or am I misunderstanding some things?

  33. hnau says:

    Here’s the truly scary thing about this March 1969: It’s *exactly* what would happen if the world was maintained by programmers.

  34. Sniffnoy says:

    Hm, the name “Tranquility Base” seems misplaced, what with it not being in the Sea of Tranquility…

  35. Agronomous says:

    I’m surprised nobody tried to correct “one small step for a man”.

    In our reality, that’s what Armstrong was supposed to say; he flubbed it a little, but nobody seems to really mind. I guess in Unsong-reality he was less distracted by worrying about whether he’d sink armpit-deep into the lunar dust, and followed the script precisely.

  36. Sniffnoy says:

    Prediction: The Comet King organizes a system of regular spaceflights to get dying or suicidal people through the cracks so they can avoid hell.

  37. anon says:

    By the way, Scott, why not link directly to the tweet by @VesselOfSpirit? Just linking to the Twitter account is kind of like linking to R.E.M.’s discography on Wikipedia instead of that video.

  38. Jason says:

    This is too complex for me to understand.

  39. Chrysophylax says:

    I thinik this might be linked to Scott’s Answer to Job. God could be implementing every world that is net positive, and Unsong takes place in one of the less pleasant ones. This doesn’t feel like a full answer, partly because it’s too easy to find and partly because it doesn’t make everything click, but it might be not-totally-irrelevant.

    I think we need to organise a major working-stuff-out thread, given that we have Word of Scott that we’ve totally missed some really major clues. We probably already have enough clues to work out the right answer if we just think carefully enough about what kind of plot a Scott would write.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, I thought of that too, but basically dismissed it on the grounds of “too easy, Scott’s already written about that, and it drives the stakes of the story way down”. That said, it would explain some of Ana’s future comment in interude dalet about “El” being the key to everything. I don’t think it fits very well with Armstrong’s comments about the vessels having rearranged themselves, though.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        After Thinking About It For Five Clock Minutes, I came up with the following thoughts:

        – A perfect system doesn’t need to be tweaked or maintained. This is entirely in accord with Uriel’s claims in chapter 16. [High confidence.]

        – The whole setup is NACBNIEAC and because it would be a terrible plot. [Very high confidence.] There is some kind of divine plan. [High confidence.]

        – God might be Adam Kadmon. This would fit with the idea that God is the first half, which I am here interpreting as the claim that the divine essence is only half and the thing from which all else is made. It would also fit the idea that God made man literally in the image of God, rather than in animage belonging to God. [Low confidence.]

        – God might not care about anything humans would recognise as Good. He might, for example, be some kind of beauty-maximiser. This fits a little with Blake’s contrast between “the vegetative eye” and “spritual vision” (but Blake hated Newton because Blake was adamant that God was immanent and active). This fits rather better with H meaning “something bigger, if not something better”. [Low confidence, mostly because I think Scott might have a really clever bit of theodicy and I haven’t reread enough.]

        – Malia Ngo is probably a klipah [moderate confidence] and may be a demon (possibly one who has risen or not fallen as far) [low confidence]. The Comet King may have deliberately tried to create UNSONG as a klipah, possibly partly in order to stop the klipot morphing into something worse. [Moderate confidence.]

        I’m very uncertain about how to resolve Blake’s seeming insistence on an active God with Uriel’s confident belief that there isn’t one. I’m also confused by what Heaven is/was like and what evidence has convinced angels like Pirindiel that God is a person. I think a lot would be cleared up by working out which things were done by God and which by Uriel (for example, I’m highly confident Job is about Uriel and rather like the idea that Leviathan is his equivalent of Python).

        • Interesting. Some points of disagreement though:

          ” The Comet King may have deliberately tried to create UNSONG as a klipah” – not sure what you mean by this one. In principle I suspect the Comet King didn’t mean for UNSONG to turn out as it did, and meant for it to be a fairly minor regulatory body (though seeing as it’s in the title and he seems like the most important background figure, I may be wrong). Evidence in support: Malia Ngo seems like some kind of demon (though possibly a relatively benign one), and TCK doesn’t seem like the type to believe in compromise with demons.

          Also, I think the guy in Job actually isn’t Uriel: notice how much they went out of the way to mention that Job is way older than the rest of the bible. Also, they seem to consider it important, more so than they would if it was just Uriel’s opinion.

          Another question: What happened to Sohu? It seems worth noting that Aaron referred to her as an eight-year-old girl decades later, suggesting that either she died at that age or Uriel never got around to aging her for some reason.

          • Galle says:

            I don’t think the Comet King would necessarily avoid working with someone simply because they’re a demon. A “demon” in the UNSONG universe is a klipotic entity designed to safely contain the Divine Light. That Thamiel is not doing this job properly doesn’t mean that NO demons are.

          • MugaSofer says:

            Random hypothesis: the guy in Job is Michael.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            I agree with Galle. I meant that if excess use of divine light shortens the lifetime of the world, TCK might deliberately try to create an oligopoly and an overbearing NGO to subtly make it harder to use magic; and that if klipot-ness is conserved but the forms of klipot aren’t, he might try to create a known and non-awful klipah instead of risking a 30% increase in the demon population or whatever.

            Given that Uriel says that Metatron never speaks and that he’s never seen God play any active role or display any guiding intelligence, I think we can rule out Job being God speaking directly.

            Sohu-related thought: we know that Gebron and Eleazar say that only four kabbalists have ever gazed on Adam Kadmon bare: Isaac Luria, Uriel, TCK and “an eight-year-old girl”, almost surely Sohu. Leonard Cohen’s song HaMephorash says that “there was a sacred word that Jala said, and it named the Lord” and also talks about “The Comet King incanting HaMephorash”. These facts seem to imply that Jala is a name for TCK, possibly his birth name. I think TCK was called Jala West (because Sohu seems to be Sohu West and TCK’s daughter). If that makes an awful pun on someone’s name, I think we have a winner.

            Further thought: TCK and Uriel have both “gazed on Adam Kadmon bare” and spoken an explicit description of the true nature of God, but they don’t seem to understand the natures of reality or of God. Neil Armstrong directly contradicts Isaac Luria; Uriel merely says the issue is “complicated”. TCK and Uriel seem to have spoken HaMephorash, but neither is able to defeat Thamiel, who hasn’t and is less enlightened (possibly because he’s intrinsically resistant or because they don’t dare use much power). Also, Moses’ brother Aaron had Shem HaMephorash written on his forehead, but no humans back then seem to have known or used it, including Aaron. (Maybe it was actually YHWH?)

            Conclusions: knowing the Explicit Name and seeing Adam Kadmon bare don’t seem to be identically equal; and seeing and understanding Adam Kadmon seem to be very importantly different. I’d suggest that Sarah has an advantage here, Uriel seems able to take eons of subjective time to think, so either it’s an angels-can’t-learn-Aramaic thing or we seem to have ruled out grokking Adam Kadmon by throwing FLOPS at it.

        • Also, Pirindiel’s description of God sounds like it’s based on dogma rather than personal experience.

          Also, I wonder what’s up with Uriel these days? Aaron mentioned that he’s still in the hurricane, but we’ve only seen him in Sohu-time.

          • Masked_Discombobulator says:

            Coming back to this much later…

            My sense from Pirindiel is that the angels’ perception of God is simple. Holiness, piety, and so on are just obvious, it’s not complicated and the angels by nature aren’t mentally wired to make it complicated.

            It’s not that it’s dogma rather than personal experience, it’s that Pirindiel is out of his depth trying to deal with people who don’t share his faith, and is (literally or metaphorically) stammering his way through a conversation he lacks the skill set to properly parse.

            So he comes across as dogmatic when insisting on things that he knows are true. Because there’s all this stuff sweeping around him that he doesn’t really know how to process, and he seizes on the handful of things he does know, such as “God is One” and “devils are bad.”

            This is not unlike Uriel’s tendency to seize upon details of the situation that involve things he understands (math, kabbalah) while spending most of the rest of his time being at least vaguely confused and out of his depth.

            Maybe Uriel isn’t as different from the other angels as one might think- just specialized differently…

  40. Sniffnoy says:

    Quick thought inspired by the seder tonight: If the number eight goes down for repairs, what happens to circumcision?

  41. Creutzer says:

    I would like to register a complaint: I found the word “humongous” really jarring stylistically. Even if the tone of the writing in general is light and somewhat colloquial, that strikes me as going to far. I really want those cracks to be enormous instead.

    • Daniel says:

      I almost agree but I would prefer if they were giant instead. Scott, sometimes it is not possible to please everyone but in this case you can compromise with “ginormous”! EVERYONE WINS

  42. Buck says:

    This chapter was beautiful; one of my favorites so far.

  43. Aran says:


    Hitchhiker reference!

  44. Pingback: 7 – Kill All Humans? | The Bayesian Conspiracy

  45. Good Burning Plastic says:

    it wasn’t a contraction at all, it was an expansion

    Physicists call it cosmic inflation.

    The correspondence between the 10 sephirot and the 10 dimension of string theory (1 temporal dimension, 3 spatial dimensions which blew up to cosmological scales after the Big Bang, and 6 spatial dimensions which stayed wrapped up on microscopic scales) is left as an exercise to the reader.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh, wow. That’s nice.

    • I assume the three existing spatial dimensions correspond to the three unbroken supernal sephirot, and the six dimensions that are wrapped up + time correspond to the seven fallen sephirot, but I’m not sure which of the 7 is time. Maybe Malkuth, since there’s a complicated sense in which it isn’t fallen, and there’s a complicated sense in which time is detectable?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I was assuming time was Malkhut, at least, just on the basis of it being the only one of the 7 that’s obviously distinguished from the others. And Malkhut does correspond to the temporal world, no? 😛

  46. Dindane says:

    Anyone else find it suspicious that the R.E.M. link was to a video that included the lyrics? I’m not up for a full analysis now, but some segments besides the quote seem UNSONG-relevant, e.g. “Moses went walking with the staff of wood // Newton got beaned by the apple good”.

  47. Sniffnoy says:

    I just realized the other day — the “Absolutely nothing will go wrong” from Sarah sounds quite a bit like Neil Armstrong’s “Nothing is wrong. Nothing has ever been wrong, anywhere.” It’s possible then that “absolutely nothing will go wrong” is meant in the same sense — not that everything will go right from Ana’s point of view, but that nothing will go wrong from God’s point of view (or whatever), since nothing ever does. Read in that way, it’s not very reassuring.

  48. FeepingCreature says:

    Late typo report: replace “manned” with “unmanned”.

  49. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Late to the game on this thread, but this seems like the appropriate place to put it. Buzz Aldrin actually did a little communion service on the Moon, in tandem with his church down in Houston. (My favorite write-up: That little incident is just too perfect not to be in Unsong, so I offer a mini-fanfic:

    “You wanted to see me, Slayton?” said Buzz Aldrin as he entered the office. He took his seat, noting that Flight Director Gene Kranz and Director of Flight Operations Chris Kraft were standing behind the Chief Astronaut.

    “Take a seat,” Deke Slayton replied, “I think you know what this is about.”

    After a moment of tense silence, Slayton continued, “After further review by the President himself, your request to hold a communion service in the L.M. after landing has been denied.”

    “I understand that there are sensitivities around the idea of broadcasting i..t.”

    “Sensitivities? Madalyn Murray O’Hair is still traveling the country on her ‘I Told You So’ tour. She even filed something called a ‘class action lawsuit’ against NASA for, and I quote, ‘Breaking the separation of church and state, and also the universe’!”

    “It’s not about the broadcasting,” Gene Kranz interjected sharply. “I don’t have to tell you what happened the last time we had a religious observance in space. You remember the after-action review meeting we had after the failed mission?”

    “Yes, sir,” said Aldrin sheepishly.

    “You sure as blazes do! We finally had a day where it was Tuesday for the entire staff at the same time. Glynn Lunney was reading his report, said the mission’s name, and suddenly we heard a loud snap.”

    “I remember, sir.”

    “Of course you do! Suddenly we were all standing in an A&P in Peoria, Illinois! A can of beets then spoke to us in a voice of seven thunders saying, ‘THE NUMBER BETWEEN SEVEN AND NINE IS DOWN FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS, PLEASE COUNT CAUTIOUSLY.’ And my vest turned a bright vermillion! Do you think I liked explaining any of that to the wife when I finally got home the week before? And now you want to perform a sacrament up there?!”

    Everyone sat silent for a minute. Finally, Buzz Aldrin looked up and asked, “Can I still at least bring the wine?”

    Deke Slayton glanced at the directors and replied, “That’s probably a good idea. Make sure you bring enough for Neil.”

    • She even filed something called a ‘class action lawsuit’ against NASA for, and I quote, ‘Breaking the separation of church and state, and also the universe’!”

      Well done.

      (Is the last line a reference for something?)

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Not really. Armstrong wasn’t conventionally religious and not interested in joining the communion service, so Buzz wouldn’t have been planning to bring enough for his colleague to partake. But it was mainly a “bring enough for everyone” reference.

  50. Anonymous says:

    “sky.smh not found, please repent transgressions and try again”

    This has always bugged me, and I can’t find a satisfactory answer anywhere: where did ‘smh’ come from? What’s it stand for?

  51. It’s similar to sushi, but larger and with plain The spam is pan fried or grilled and it’s pretty

  52. Tsvika says:

    just noticed that the ‘next chapter’ link is pointing at chapter 18, instead of chapter 17 or book II.

  53. Batshua says:

    The next post this one links to is Chapter 18, when it should be Chapter 17.

  54. jik says:

    Next chapter link goes to ch. 18 it should be 17 according to Table of Content

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