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Introducing Unsong

I.

In retrospect, there had been omens and portents.

(“We are now approaching lunar sunrise,” said William Anders, “and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.”)

Rivers flowed uphill. A new star was seen in the night sky. A butchered pig was found to have the word “OMEN” written on its liver in clearly visible letters.

(“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”)

Lightning struck in clear weather. Toads fell from the clouds. All ten thousand lakes in Minnesota turned to blood; scientists blamed “phytoplankton”.

(“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”)

A majestic golden eagle flew onto the Vatican balcony as Pope Paul VI was saying Mass. The bird gingerly removed the Pontiff’s glasses with its beak, then poked out his left eye before flying away with an awful shriek.

(“And God called the light Day,” said Jim Lovell, “and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”)

A beached whale was found hundreds of miles inland. A baby was born with four eyes.

(“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”)

Pieces of paper with the word “OMEN” written on them fell from the clouds. A beached whale was seen in the night sky. Babies left unattended began to roll slowly, but unmistakeably, uphill.

(“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”)

One of the additional eyes on the four-eyed baby was discovered to be the left eye of Pope Paul VI, missing since the eagle incident. The provenance of the fourth eye was never determined.

(“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place,” said Frank Borman, “and let the dry land appear: and it was so.”)

A series of very precise lightning strikes seared the word “OMEN” into the rust-red sand of the Sonora Desert; scientists blamed “phytoplankton”.

(“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”)

The New York Stock Exchange rose by perfect integer amounts eleven days in a row. An obstetrician published an article in an obscure medical journal claiming that the kicks of unborn children, interpreted as Morse Code, formed unspeakable and blood-curdling messages.

(“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of – ” [sudden burst of static, then silence])

II.

If I had to choose a high point for the history of the human race thus far, it would be December 24, 1968.

1968 had been a year of shattered dreams. Martin Luther King was murdered in April. Democratic golden boy Robert Kennedy was murdered in June. Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring in August. It felt like each spark of hope for a better world was being snuffed out, methodically, one by one.

Then almost without warning, Americans turned on their televisions and learned that a spaceship was flying to the moon. On December 22, the craft beamed a live TV broadcast to Earth informing viewers that they were about to become the first humans ever to approach another celestial body. Communications issues limited the transmission to seventeen minutes, but the astronauts promised a second installment from lunar orbit.

On December 24, 1968, one billion people – more than for any television program before or after in the history of mankind – tuned in for Apollo 8’s short broadcast. The astronauts were half-asleep, frazzled with days of complicated calculations and near-disasters – but their voices were powerful and lucid through the static. Commander Frank Borman introduced the two other members of the crew. They described the moon, as seen up close. “A vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing”. “A very foreboding horizon, a rather dark and unappetizing looking place”. Then the Earth, as seen from afar. “A green oasis, in the big vastness of space.”

Two minutes left till lunar sunrise broke the connection. The astronauts’ only orders from NASA had been to “do something appropriate”

“In the beginning,” read Bill Anders, “God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

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.

Then, mid-sentence, they crashed into the crystal sphere surrounding the world, because it turned out there were far fewer things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in almost anyone’s philosophy.


Everyone has been so kind and encouraging about my short stories that I’m ready to try writing some longer fiction. You can follow along at unsongbook.com, where I’ll be posting new chapters every Sunday and new interludes some Wednesdays. Right now it’s just this prologue and an option to subscribe by email to future updates, but I’ll have the first chapter up by Sunday, January 3.

This is going to be fun.

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132 Responses to Introducing Unsong

  1. E. Harding says:

    Then, mid-sentence, they crashed into the crystal sphere surrounding the world, because it turned out there were far fewer things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in almost anyone’s philosophy.

    -?
    ??
    Don’t make it too weird.

    Also, an Aleph? Seriously?

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      Naw mate, that was an awesome ending.

    • Strongly disagree. Please make it *extremely* weird. Like, Lovecraft weird.

      • nope says:

        Throw me in the pot for this one.

      • Focus group leader says:

        So you want a realistic, down-to-earth story, that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots?

        • Peffern says:

          Well, Yes.

        • moridinamael says:

          I have to go, now. My planet needs me.

        • Deiseach says:

          So you want a realistic, down-to-earth story, that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots?

          In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve just been having an extended discussion about the likelihood of creating (by accident or design) a God AI that may doom or save us all but which will certainly be beyond our ken and which will take over the world whether we like it or not. Also, some folk here accept the Many Worlds Hypothesis in all kinds of weird and wonderful forms.

          Magic robots are in the ha’penny place by comparison. Besides, looking around, does this seem like a sane, well-ordered planet? 🙂

  2. Buck says:

    I am super excited for this work of fiction!

  3. Mark says:

    Exciting. Immediately reminded of Ted Chiang’s “Tower of Babylon.” And also his “Hell Is the Absence of God,” for that matter.

    • Toggle says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. But Ted keeps things short; a long-form exploration of these themes by Scott is super-exciting.

      Plus that’s some very scary phytoplankton.

    • Deiseach says:

      I liked Chiang’s “Tower of Babylon”, but “Hell Is The Absence of God” isn’t that big a deal as far as I’m concerned (though a lot of people seem to like it a lot and/or find it very deep).

      • grendelkhan says:

        I think the thing that gets people about “Hell is the Absence of God” is just how irredeemably dark it is. That’s what struck me–that it was resolutely about bad things happening for no good reason, the end–and I think it’s what Thomas Ligotti was talking about here, emphasis mine:

        People will accept a short horror story that ends badly. They won’t accept this in a horror novel . . . not after they’ve read so many hundreds of pages. Horror stories in the short form are like campfire tales or urban legends that are just a way of saying “Boo.” They have nothing to do with the real world in the minds of most readers. Nevertheless, I think there’s a great potential in horror fiction that isn’t easily available to realistic fiction. This is the potential to portray our worst nightmares, both private and public, as we approach death through the decay of our bodies. And then to leave it at that—no happy endings, no apologias, no excuses, no redemption, no escape.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s not that it’s dark (it’s actually rather mushy; the narrator or protagonist or whatever you like to call him is doing it all out of Twu Wuv* because he can’t bear to be parted from his missus), it’s that it’s the kind of “gotcha!” that is supposed to make (in this instance) Christians go “Well, heck, that kind of God doesn’t sound very nice, I guess I don’t believe in anything at all so! Time to burn my Bible and sign up to the James Randi Educational Foundation!”, but where the central dilemma really isn’t one. The rigid logic of it is actually rather satisfying: he did not want God, so that’s what he gets – no God. He didn’t want God but he wanted to want God so he could get to Heaven so he could get back with his wife. Well, he has what he schemed to get – the desire for God. He does not have what he did not want – the Beatific Vision. And he does not have his wife, because her happiness cannot be held hostage to his emotional blackmail and manipulation, as that would not be fair. I have no problems with any of this, and if Ted Chiang thinks that’s awful, I suggest he try living with an emotional vampire who uses him as a psychic supply source of happiness and see how he likes coping with their demands and manipulations.

          It’s a story about absolute justice untempered by mercy (which is the entire point of the Gospel, the reason it is Evangelion, Good News, is because it is a message of unconditional forgiveness). What other kind of ending would you expect? And it’s still the kind of ending that relies on the premises of the story being carefully jiggered to churn it out.

          *Which is actually not all that True; he would rather his wife be miserable (relatively) back on Earth with him than blissful (absolutely) experiencing the Beatific Vision without him, and he tries to cheat the ‘rules’ to get into Heaven where his ultimate aim is to be with her again, not for the sake of God. Which means it is all about what he wants to satisfy his desires and he even makes his wife, not alone God, an object to satisfy his wish to be happy; that means he really cares less about the person he claims to love and her happiness than he does about having the feeling of satisfied love, so I have no sympathy for him, but then I come from old-school quasi-Jansenist Irish Catholicism and think a nice bracing pilgrimage to Loch Derg in the old tradition, or climbing Croagh Patrick in his bare feet, would do him the world of good.

          • Deiseach says:

            You could write the same story of “Hell is the Absence of God” where the central character is talking about how much he missed his wife and how he did it all to be with her, and have it turn out the reason he’s not with his wife is because he’s in jail, and the reason he’s in jail is because his wife fled from their home, and the reason she did that is because of domestic violence.

            He could be revealed to be the kind of abuser who is all “I really love you, I’m so sorry, things will be different, I need you, I can’t live without you” and “I only hit you when I’m angry and I’m only angry when you make me jealous” and “If I can’t have you, no-one else can” and so he’s in jail because he broke into her new home with her new husband and tried to kill them both.

            So how many people would go “Well, he deserves to be with her, he deserves to be happy, it’s not fair that ending, it’s so dark?” in that instance?

          • AndrasKovacs says:

            That’s not what I gleaned from the story. As Chiang himself remarked elsewhere, it’s an exercise in bringing Job’s book to its logical endpoint, which the Bible seemingly shied away from because of its unpalatability – even to ancient audiences. Job’s book tries to address theodicy by appeal to God’s authority and makes the point that one cannot judge God on the basis of their own moral intuition because God’s the ultimate source of goodness. Job’s book appeases the reader by that apparently (blatantly) bad things do happen because of God’s mysterious ways, but then God rewards Job at the end anyway, because otherwise what would be the payoff to faith? Chiang finishes the story properly, getting us the inevitable reductio ad absurdum.

          • Deiseach says:

            Job had faith, the narrator doesn’t. He’s trying to game the system: “Well okay, if the only way I can get to Heaven to be with my wife is to desire God, and if the sure-fire way to desire God is to see an angel, then I’m going angel-hunting”.

            He’s no more sincere than a gold-digger.

            Job, by contrast, has even his wife tell him “Curse God and die”, but he refuses to do so. There is no “And then God rewarded Job by giving him lots of goodies, so this is why we should have faith, kiddies: to get the goodies”. Job says “Even though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” That is not nodding and winking at his audience that what he really hopes for is “If I impress God, he’ll give me back all the stuff I lost!”

            That’s what the main character in Chiang’s story is trying to do: have ‘faith’ so he can get the goodies. Which, when I was seven years old and preparing for my First Holy Communion, we were instructed in our Christian Doctrine classes was wrong. Not for hope of Heaven, not for fear of Hell, but from love of God: that is the point of faith and why we choose to do the right thing and avoid the wrong. That is the “payoff to faith”, not “And then you get all the presents from Santa Claus in the sky!”

            Chiang finishes the story properly, getting us the inevitable reductio ad absurdum.

            I will agree this much that Chiang finishes the story properly but not that it is either a reductio ad absurdum or even inevitable. And as I mentioned, I have no problem with the finish of the tale, the main character got his just deserts. It’s the attitude of the story – the only reason anyone believes in God is because they’ll get the goodies, or else they’ve been visited by random circumstance like illness or misfortune and they use it as a crutch (like the character Janice who, after being cured, loses her purpose and eventually just becomes one of the uninspiring preachers to love God) that has me shaking my head, because the first sentence of the story is “This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk, and how he came to love God” and that’s not actually true.

            Neil does no more love God than a NPC character in a computer game loves selling turnips; he has no choice about it, since heavenly light creates devotion, and that’s the very thing he was seeking: he could not love God of his own accord, so he wanted to be ‘brainwashed’ into it by chasing angelic apparitions in the gamble that he’d be struck by heaven’s light.

            He knows his being sent to Hell was not a result of anything he did; he knows there was no reason for it, no higher purpose being served.

            Not a result of anything he did? Uh – the accident that killed him came about as a result of his “light-chasing”, which everyone was warning him not to do and that it was a bad idea and to try different approaches (from submission to the will of God to humanism) instead; he ignored them, he preferred to gamble and this realisation strikes him as he’s bleeding to death, and even then it’s not true repentance despite what Chiang portrays it as, since “He apologized to Sarah for losing his chance at being reunited with her” – and that’s his one sincere motive in all this: trying to force his way back to being with his wife.

            Actually, Chiang missed one further turn of the screw; I’m surprised he made no use of “In heaven, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage”. In the story Neil’s soul begins to ascend to Heaven, then is sent down to Hell (so even within the metaphysics of the story, there is no impossibility of losing or not gaining salvation via heavenly light, despite what has been said or believed by everyone in the story to that point; God can still decide who is saved or not). Let God be even more unfair, unjust, unmerciful and sadistic, Mr Chiang! Let Him permit Neil to achieve his goal only to find that Sarah no longer gives him the unconditional love no other woman on Earth would give him because that was earthly romantic love and now they are in Heaven, that is subsumed in the love of God and the love of all the other blessed. She loves him, yes, but just as much as she loves the strangers around them. So all Neil’s trouble is for nothing! And then he is cast down to Hell with his unrequited love and longing for God and the same ache for the lost love of Sarah, only knowing now that even if he did achieve Heaven, he would still have lost her love!

            (Chiang is less cynical about romance than I am, as you may see).

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, this really seems to have struck a nerve with me 🙂

            But consider: suppose Sarah hadn’t died. Suppose this was an ordinary literary short story about a man whose wife has left him because she no longer loves him. Maybe she’s taken up with a new spouse, maybe not.

            Neil loves Sarah, but it’s a needy love:

            This led to a shameful self-knowledge for Neil. He realized that if he had to choose between going to Hell while Sarah went to Heaven, or having both of them go to Hell together, he would choose the latter: he would rather she be exiled from God than separated from him. He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t change how he felt: he believed Sarah could be happy in either place, but he could only be happy with her.

            Neil’s previous experiences with women had never been good. All too often he’d begin flirting with a woman while sitting at a bar, only to have her remember an appointment elsewhere the moment he stood up and his shortened leg came into view. Once, a woman he’d been dating for several weeks broke off their relationship, explaining that while she herself didn’t consider his leg a defect, whenever they were seen in public together other people assumed there must be something wrong with her for being with him, and surely he could understand how unfair that was to her?

            Sarah had been the first woman Neil met whose demeanor hadn’t changed one bit, whose expression hadn’t flickered toward pity or horror or even surprise when she first saw his leg. For that reason alone it was predictable that Neil would become infatuated with her; by the time he saw all the sides of her personality, he’d completely fallen in love with her. And because his best qualities came out when he was with her, she fell in love with him too.

            So suppose our short story examines this. At first we get the same thing; a man devoted to his wife, the woman who has (for no reason we can see) heartlessly abandoned him for her own satisfaction.

            Suppose Neil tries everything to get back with her. Suppose he haunts and harasses her parents, her friends, her work colleagues, trying to get them to sympathise with him and help them get back together.

            Suppose eventually he devises a plan to become friends with Sarah’s new husband, because if Bob and he are friends, that gives him the chance to be around Sarah in her home and outside it for socially acceptable reasons. He doesn’t like Bob for Bob’s sake, he’s faking friendship for ulterior ends. Suppose he even goes so far as to undergo a course of hypnotherapy to help implant “true” friendship for Bob, because Bob can tell if he’s faking and being sincere will convince Bob it’s okay to have him round to visit and to do things in a group that includes Sarah.

            Would we find Neil’s behaviour selfish and creepy? Would we sympathise with him or with Sarah? Would his demand that she love him forever, and continue to love him and him only, and that he prefers the two of them to live miserably in their marriage together to her leaving him for another chance to build her own life seem admirable to us, or would we think he got no more than he deserved at the end if Bob and Sarah reject him despite his desperation, despite his ‘real’ friendship for Bob and his suffering at being excluded from their lives? Even if he still was hopelessly in love with Sarah and never wanted to try with another woman?

            He knew it was selfish, but he couldn’t change how he felt: he believed Sarah could be happy in either place, but he could only be happy with her.

            I think most of us, if faced with this as a real-life problem, would argue that Sarah cannot be held responsible for Neil’s happiness. That it is not fair for him to manipulate her into staying with him and to demand she continue to love him if she no longer does; that he has no right to extort love from her and that she is not obligated, having once loved him, to continue to provide the type and sort of love he wants from her. I think most of us would say Sarah has a right to her own life, and if Neil can’t be happy without her, that is his problem.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Job had faith, the narrator doesn’t. ”

            Yes, the story is about the narrator attempting to gain that faith.

            “He’s no more sincere than a gold-digger.”

            Would you love God if the result is you get sent to Hell and the result of not loving God is Heaven? You either would, wouldn’t or insist God wouldn’t do that (which involves setting up a moral standard- good luck combining that with Theodicy).

            ” Not for hope of Heaven, not for fear of Hell, but from love of God: that is the point of faith and why we choose to do the right thing and avoid the wrong. ”

            At this point you are starting to sound like a battered spouse. If someone thinks that having your skull caved in is acceptable because it lets others grow as a person, they don’t care about you and telling everyone about how wonderful they are if you just get to know them sounds insane and delusional.

            “Neil does no more love God than a NPC character in a computer game loves selling turnips; he has no choice about it, since heavenly light creates devotion, and that’s the very thing he was seeking:”

            Wow, it is almost like it exactly parallels people attempting to get a religious experience in order to have faith. I guess everyone who tries to have a religious experience is going to hell because they aren’t faithful enough to God on their own?

            “trying to force his way back to being with his wife.”

            Yeah, attempting to be with loved ones is so evil that people should be punished for eternity for such selfishness. In fact all attempts to have contact and be with other human beings you like are evil; people should be like the Solarians- wait no, they see each other’s faces. People should communicate only via internet message boards!

          • András Kovács says:

            @Deiseach

            My interpretation is that God rewards Job with the audience in mind – the Bible’s readers – with a focus on effective marketing and proselytization. Missionaries throughout history emphasized rewards and punishments. God not rewarding Job at all would make a very poor story from this perspective. Of course, if you’re already a believer, then your church has an incentive to make you appreciate the “bullet-biting” version, because that means you would stick to the faith even if you *never* get any reward, which I feel is the crux of Chiang’s point. The ideal believer stays a believer after arbitrary punishment, like a Bayesian agent who can never get rid of 100% confidence hypotheses.

            As a repugnant conclusion, this is disarmed by

            > Not for hope of Heaven, not for fear of Hell, but from love of God: that is the point of faith and why we choose to do the right thing and avoid the wrong.

            But that doesn’t semantically refer anymore to “God”; “love of God” is just a phrase synonymous with “good” or “moral”, and anyone can independently appreciate goodness and thus strive for right things and avoid wrongs.

            There’s a tension and trade-off here that’s recurrent in many causes and religions: a cause can seduce people away from other causes by carrot and stick, but once people are in, there’s an incentive to make them relinquish cost-benefit analysis on the whole, so they can’t be seduced away in turn.

            As you pointed out, Chiang doesn’t perfectly mirror Job’s book because the narrator is indeed not a true believer akin to Job. Chiang instead reflects on the ordinary believers who are the audience to Job’s book (as I said before), and I think he does a fantastic job at it.

            Of course, it is not a religion-sympathetic viewpoint. What I just said in the previous paragraphs sounds cynical and misguided to Christians, and Chiang is also cynical (and clinical) in this manner, by trying to pull apart people’s motivation for faith. This makes us just normal atheists.

            Sometimes I wish for an Atheist Job story that makes all the right points without the God baggage: stories of good people crushed by happenstance, nature or other higher powers, which still manage to make a hopeful and positive impression by emphasizing the goodness that came from good deeds. Pater Panchali or Clannad After Story come close, although the latter chickens out in the end in a Jobian manner (but still largely works as Atheist Job story).

          • Brad (the other one) says:

            @Deiseach

            >Which, when I was seven years old and preparing for my First Holy Communion, we were instructed in our Christian Doctrine classes was wrong. Not for hope of Heaven, not for fear of Hell, but from love of God.

            I ask, sincerely, since I feel irritated by all of this comment chain:

            Why love God?

        • Marc Whipple says:

          See: “The Testament of Magdalen Blair.”

      • Anon. says:

        I’m a lifelong atheist and “Hell Is The Absence of God” struck me as extremely crass and distasteful anti-Christian agitprop.

        • grendelkhan says:

          You know, John C. Wright thought the same thing (“trite antichristian propaganda”) while he was still “an unrepentant atheist”. I wonder if you’d agree with his take on the stories. (I found his description of “Liking What You See” to profoundly miss the point.)

          • Anon. says:

            The only other story of his that I’ve read is “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, which I also hated.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          I’m not seeing how it is crass and distasteful; is Animal Farm or 1984 since those have substantially more straw men while there are people who believe what “Hell Is The Absence of God” highlights.

        • Deiseach says:

          Mr Wright does seem to appreciate that Mr Chiang is a very good writer:

          The worst attempt at Christian SF it has ever been my misfortune to run across is by a brilliant up-and-coming author named Ted Chiang. If you haven’t read his short stories, you are doing yourself a bit of a disservice. You might want to rush right out and buy a copy of STORY OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS.

          But don’t tell him I sent you, dear reader, because I must now criticize his most famous story from that collection in the harshest terms. Since he is a better writer than I am, this exercise cannot be taken too seriously: a slow man is telling a fast man how to run a race.

          Of course, even a slow runner can tell when a faster one has gone seriously off the track.

  4. Sniffnoy says:

    Comments are turned on on the prologue; should they be turned off?

    Anyway, very interested to see where this goes…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think they are. OldCrow managed to comment there. Are you not seeing a comment field?

      (they are turned off on the Table of Contents, by design. Are you are you’re not there?)

      • Sniffnoy says:

        No, that’s my point — they’re turned on and I had mistakenly assumed you wanted them turned off. But now you’ve confirmed that’s deliberate and so answered the question. Sorry about the confusion.

  5. DrBeat says:

    So… what we’re seeing here is a hard SF treatise about the terrifying ramifications of phytoplankton?

    • Deiseach says:

      That and red tide. Those damn algal blooms! (I could nearly swear I read an ‘explanation’ of the plague of Egypt where the waters turned to blood as ‘it was red tide’).

  6. Daniel says:

    > Everyone has been so kind and encouraging about my short stories…

    Not *that* short.

    > that I’m ready to try writing some longer fiction. You can follow along at unsongbook.com, where I’ll be posting new chapters every Sunday and new interludes some Wednesdays.

    Oh. That makes sense. I look forward to reading the rest.

  7. Earthly Knight says:

    The slogan is a lie cooked up by the tourism bureau; Minnesota contains precisely 11,842 lakes. This is too many, you can barely cross a street without falling in one.

  8. hnau says:

    So… Douglas Adams meets Umberto Eco? Or something.

  9. Edward Brennan says:

    When Scott says “This is going to be fun” I sit the fuck up and listen. Also, don’t think this gets you out of writing posts, you slacker.

  10. Randy M says:

    Looking forward to it.

  11. Deiseach says:

    Really, you had me at Paul VI (my pope! Or at least, the pope under whose picture I grew up to mid-teenage years, I’ve always had sympathy for him). One tiny nit-pick: he wouldn’t have been saying Mass on the balcony (that’s where the Urbi et Orbi blessings, public addresses, appearance of the new pope, etc. take place) but in St Peter’s Square. Of course, it’s possible the eagle first landed on the balcony then flew down to the papal throne or the altar to peck out his eye.

    The crystalline spheres!

    Okay, I have no idea what is going to happen, but I’m definitely reading along 🙂

    • Outis says:

      I wouldn’t call it a tiny nitpick. Scott, to give you an idea of the order of magnitude, it’s as if you wrote that the golden eagle flew into the Oval Office while the President was speaking in front of Congress, and then removed the President’s eyeball. You’ve got to fix it.

  12. I have no idea where this is going, but I can’t wait.

    Is this the “project” you’ve alluded to in the past?

  13. 75th says:

    itshappening.gif

  14. Doug S. says:

    I’m reminded of a short story I once read that ended with Columbus’s ships falling off the edge of the flat Earth…

    ::does Bing search, because I’m on a Windows phone::

    “Sail on! Sail on!” by Philip Jose Farmer is the story I was thinking of.

  15. Quinn Lewandowski says:

    This is… *lovely*. Over-generalizing, but good fiction tends to be either
    a. Well executed and funny enough to support a plot that wouldn’t hold your interest by itself, or
    b. Original enough in terms of plot/structure to get you to put up with somewhat generic execution.

    This is *both*.

    Strongly reminded of David Wong’s stuff, and probably not just because I’m reading him right now; seriously executed rendering of an absurd cosmic story punctuated with jokes that help form the texture of the story, that aren’t so much digressions from the world of the story as a sign that *the world is like that sometimes*, even when story-things are going on.

    I hope that made sense.

    Incidentally, is there a way to italicize here? The (*) are fine for now, but I might want to use a footnote later or something.

    Thanks so much for sharing your work! It’s adding pleasure to the lives of scores of people you’ll never even meet, including a truckload who won’t get around to actually leaving comments (have been one of these in the past). So, on behalf of all of us, thanks.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Yes, use this format: <i>italic text</i>. This is an example. Limited HTML formatting is supported in comments, so you can also do bold text.

  16. William O. B'Livion says:

    So does that turn the Pope into the All Father?

    Are you sure they were reading the organs/words from the lightening strikes the right way around? Could they be predicting the second coming of a anti-imperialist submariner?

    • roystgnr says:

      The letter N might look the same either way around, but as soon as anyone continued reading past there they’d realize they had an upside-down letter, so they should be able to correctly read the omens with ease.

  17. GCBill says:

    Whale Metaphor Blogging is the past, Whale Omen Blogging the future.

  18. birdboy2000 says:

    This is excellent.

  19. Held in Escrow says:

    This is interesting; I’m hoping you can avoid the pitfalls of basically every other Rationalist! piece of fiction (of which there are numerous) and I’ll follow along to find out!

    • EyeballFrog says:

      I wouldn’t expect that to happen. The people who’ve written those always gave off a sort of “true believer” vibe. Scott’s always been more measured in his support for rationalism.

    • Alexander Wales says:

      As someone who’s written a number of those (Metropolitan Man being the most popular) and who doesn’t consider himself a true believer, I’m curious what pitfalls you’re talking about.

      • Held in Escrow says:

        Well, as your Metropolitan Man was actually one of if not the good one I don’t have quite as much to comment there. The big issues that tend to come up is that Rationalist fiction tend to read like bad Ayn Rand novels much of the time, mainly devoted to evangelical ideological wanking rather than actually telling a story. You get characters who speak in these grand tones (which end up sounding like assholes), are extremely condescending, and have a limited unto non-existent grasp of how people actually work. In fanfiction there’s a sudden inability to think about why an author wrote the way they did and the assumption that the fanfiction writer knows better than the characters and original author.

        The Metropolitan Man worked because you cast the Rationalist as the villain and made it an existential horror story at some level. Most go from the other direction and end up doing John Galt cosplay

        • Muga Sofer says:

          Huh. Now I’m wondering which Rationalist stories you’ve been reading – most of the HPMOR continuations aren’t like that, nor are Animorphs the Reckoning, Worm, Alexander’s other stuff, that one Star Wars fic I read … what other ratfics have I seen …

          … oh, wait, you just mean HPMOR.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Thank you Mr. Psychic. But no, two I’ve read recently were a Worm and a Naruto ones that fell into these exact traps… and the latter actually used the mystical power of GAME THEORY as if it was a superpower.

            They’re pamphlets first, stories second

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Now I’m curious as well. what was the Naruto story? I don’t remember game theory coming up much in Time Braid…

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Waves Arisen. Of course it does take place in the Naruto Universe, where knowledge is something to be hoarded and isn’t a power the main character has (it is the third explaining his actions).

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Samuel Skinner – Thanks!

        • James Picone says:

          Lex in Metropolitan Man is a tad more ambiguous than ‘villain’.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Not really. The guy was a cold blooded killer, mobster, and terrorist. You can follow his train of thought of “what if Superman goes bad” but that just means he’s a villain that’s trying to justify his actions. He’s still a bad guy even if he thinks he’s a Hard Man Making Hard Decisions.

            He’s a great villain, but a villain nonetheless

      • moridinamael says:

        I’m going to guess “excessive didacticism, Mary Sues, and contrived plots” would be a few. I don’t think Metropolitan Man suffers these faults, I think it’s about more than just rationality – rationality is the genre, not the plot.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ moridinamael
          “excessive didacticism, Mary Sues, and contrived plots”

          Widening the topic to recent popular sf in general, how many complaints do we see of Mary Sue’s who are not women?

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Plz no Discourse in the subthread

          • John Schilling says:

            Go ask Wil Wheaton. He’s around the intertubes somewhere.

          • Deiseach says:

            I can’t comment on recent SF but lo, these many years ago (sometime in the 90s), I read the first volume of a doorstopper fantasy trilogy, by a professional writer, put out by a professional publishing house and presumably edited by a professional editor, in which the main character was a massive Marty Stu.

            I mean “Take the most Mary Sue/Marty Stu fanfic written by a fourteen year old trying her hand at first original story” levels of bad characterisation, which meant I said “Nope, not reading the rest of these” after I’d made it through to the end (mainly because of morbid fascination of what Pelion she was going to pile upon Ossa in making Marty the uttermost perfectest innocent victim blossom and every other single person in the book mean, stupid, evil, or simply not worthy of his presence).

        • never did Heinlein any harm.

  20. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    I, uh…. What?

    • Well you see it’s very clear… you’ve got the Apollo 8 crew…. and then you have the Pope scene… and then the omens…. kinda symbolising… well that’s obvious… and then… *cough* …. crystalline spheres… and … so there you have it… my my is that the time?

      I like Scott’s previous fiction but I found this one difficult to follow, and clearly several of the references are lost on me.

      I do like the idea of more short stories/fiction from Scott though.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well you see it’s very clear… you’ve got the Apollo 8 crew

        I just realised: Why Apollo 8? Well, if you turn the figure 8 on its side, you get the symbol for infinity!

        Aha! That is very significant!

        I don’t know what it signifies, but it’s very significant of it, whatever it is! 🙂

  21. TeMPOraL says:

    I was going to say that I have no idea how are you planning on reconciling Newtonian motion and heavenly spheres, but then I realized that if one were constructing a megastructure, fighting the gravitational potential gradient feels like a bad idea, and so this placement is perfect. Maybe ancients were on to something…

    Looking forward to the first chapter!

  22. Nathan says:

    Did you ever watch “From The Earth To The Moon”? I don’t think that many people did so it could just be flukey coincidence, but that was pretty darn reminiscent of their Apollo 8 episode.

    I mean, apart from the omen livers and stuff.

  23. MawBTS says:

    In for story, in for wild speculation, in for su3su2u1 analysis, etc.

  24. Why didn’t the Surveyor unmanned moon landers run into the crystal sphere?

    • Deiseach says:

      Perhaps because the Apollo mission was manned, and like the Tower of Babel, it was the hubris of mortals going beyond their bounds that triggered the barrier?

      I’m thinking of comets and meteors; if falling stars could fall from the sky to land on earth (stones from the heavens), this might imply that inanimate objects (such as unmanned lunar landers) could traverse the spheres. I must try and look this up to see what thought on the sublunary sphere was!

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Unless the stones from the sky were moon rocks all along. Istr in _The Discarded Image_, Lewis explained that “all things below the moon” was not just a nocturnal way of saying “all things under the sun”, but meant that things down here were really different from things in the upper spheres, and the moon was at the boundary.

        • Peffern says:

          On my first read, I thought the sphere that surrounded the world was referring to the moon.

          As in, they crashed into the moon.

    • hlynkacg says:

      They all landed on the near side. Apollo 8 was the first flight to try and go past the moon to the far side.

      That and the Hubris thing 😉

  25. Doctor Mist says:

    Looking forward to more, but I do want to confirm that you know of David Brin’s The Crystal Spheres. All the omens suggest you’re going somewhere quite different, but just in case.

  26. Eph says:

    >If I had to choose a high point for the history of the human race thus far

    Notice the implicit philosophical assumption here: The human race is not just a species that evolved and exists, it is a performer for an output metric to be chosen by people like Scott (e.g. technological achievement).

    In other words, people are a means to an end over which Scott should have the legitimate right to pass judgment.

    This is, of course, very common, but it’s worth pointing out the implicit declaration here.

    • Anon says:

      I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more explicit in what you’re saying here. I don’t get it.

    • hnau says:

      Not saying you’re wrong in the general case, Eph… but here it sounds like Scott is just trying to judge for himself, not for anyone else. “If I had to choose” is a pretty darn good hedge against exactly what you describe, whether he meant it that way or not.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      The purpose of the human race is to optimize the output of paperclips. As we all know, getting off our world to other sources of iron is a clear step forward in that endeavor.

    • Agronomous says:

      This is fiction (I’m pretty sure, anyway). That means the narrator isn’t necessarily Scott (and definitely isn’t Scott in our world).

    • Linch says:

      I was going to say “obvious troll is obvious,” but then I realized that you might be making a joke that’s too complicated for me to understand…

      • RCF says:

        The key is to phrase it so it works both ways: a critique of the trolling, if that was what the original post was, or going along with the joke, if that was what it was.

    • RCF says:

      It’s worth pointing out the Scott has a utility function?

  27. Siah Sargus says:

    I thought unobserved babies *always* rolled slowly uphill. Well, you learn something new every day.

  28. Agronomous says:

    I worry that if I say anything analytical, Scott will read it and, like the flap of a butterfly’s wings, it will change what he writes (e.g. induce him to include a gratuitous hurricane).

    So I’ll just say I like it, and I also like the stuff Scott writes that’s nothing like it, and I will continue to eagerly read both.

  29. multiheaded says:

    Yassssss get hype!@!!!

  30. Ninmesara says:

    Having enjoyed all your previous stories (since the times of Livejournal) except for the cactus one, I have to confess I fail to see the point of this intro… The references seem quite arbitrary and unintersting, and the writing is not your best one.

    Please prove me wrong with the first chapter!

  31. Very amusing. But there were missions to both Mars and Venus with probes before Apollo 8 which are hard to reconcile with this.

  32. TravelSound says:

    I suspect part of what is going on here is, Scott is indulging his sense of humor by asking: in what kind of universe would it make sense that in such a great moment of Rationalist! triumph as reaching the moon, people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?

    Seriously, reaching the moon is a great, highly significant event, and many people feel through inculcation from early youth that these old verses are Very Significant And Meaningful, and that gives kind of a superficial fake fittingness to putting them together, and that superficial fake fittingness might lead astronauts and many other people to feel that the reading from Genesis was fitting. But to a Rationalist! who sees those Bronze Age verses of myth as almost exactly opposite to real achievements such as reaching the moon, the juxtaposition is incredibly silly-looking, an implicit claim that ridiculous backwards unscientific viewpoints

    On that basis, I think, Scott has decided to play with the question, ‘in what kind of universe would it make some kind of sense for these things to go together and might it turn out in retrospect not to have been

    • Deiseach says:

      people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?

      I will give you allowances for the querying of whether a religious quotation was appropriate or not, then take them back for no sense of poetry. EDIT: Or, should it be, “the views expressed in the comment are not necessarily those of the editor”, then take them away from the supposed “what the heck was that about?” Rationalists! whose puzzlement you represent in the above.

      Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.

      In my irrational universe, I might have them read out something like Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels or even play one of the many musical settings of the verse but then, what do I know of Rationalism! as the highest good and the purging of all non-STEM “arts” (faugh! does the very word not turn the stomach of a true Rationalist!) so that people can concentrate on what is truly true, really right, and not divert themselves from stern endeavours of Rationalist! duty with babyish toys like poetry, music and beauty?

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.”

        Christ on a cracker you have no idea how atheists think. Here- not bronze age myth and appropriate to the occasion:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M

        • Deiseach says:

          Christ on a cracker you have no idea how atheists think

          Thankfully, no.

          And am I to be any more impressed with Sagan’s syrupy 70s peace’n’love man romantic drivel? If you’re going to recommend me poetry, try not to take it from Rod McKuen’s Greatest Hits.

          Sagan’s “pale blue dot” is every bit as immaterial to the “great moment of Rationalist! triumph” as any myth or art work, as we may – if we’re being realists – recognise the grubby geo-political manoeuvring behind the great race to the moon and the subsequent stalling of the Space Age.

          Rationalism! (exclamation mark sic) as pure STEM-subject triumph of the factual undercuts the dreams of silver ships racing outwards to the stars every bit as much as it does boneheaded recitals of backward myths.

        • hlynkacg says:

          In addition to what you Deiseach says, there is the problem that Apollo 8 predates Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” by a good 20 years.

          It’s not even Sagan’s best work as wanderers is head and shoulders above even if it still requires the astronauts to have developed time travel in addition to moon rockets.

          If you absolutely must ditch the Bible, pick something from Melville or Joyce.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “And am I to be any more impressed with Sagan’s syrupy 70s peace’n’love man romantic drivel? ”

          You previously

          “Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.”

          Do you need for me to explain by moving the goal posts?

          “Sagan’s “pale blue dot” is every bit as immaterial to the “great moment of Rationalist! triumph” as any myth or art work, as we may – if we’re being realists – recognise the grubby geo-political manoeuvring behind the great race to the moon and the subsequent stalling of the Space Age.”

          You literally incapable of seeing how a comment on humanities place in space is more relevant to a situation with people in space than other random texts. Pretty impressive.

          “Rationalism! (exclamation mark sic) as pure STEM-subject triumph of the factual undercuts the dreams of silver ships racing outwards to the stars every bit as much as it does boneheaded recitals of backward myths.”

          And this is relevant to anything said so far how exactly?

          hlynkacg
          “It’s not even Sagan’s best work as wanderers is head and shoulders above even if it still requires the astronauts to have developed time travel in addition to moon rockets.”

          Did you even read my post? Notice the thing I quoted? The whole ‘rationalists have no human emotions”?

          • hlynkacg says:

            I read it, I just think that you’ve either missed the point, or are trying to have your cake and eat it too.

            Ignoring the time travel problem, for a moment…

            It’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just asked your devoutly Christian astronaut to make a statement to the world about our place in the cosmos. Do you seriously expect him to pick Karl Sagan over the Bible? You say that astronauts should express themselves, they did.

            Complaining about it after the fact makes it look like you have no idea how theists (and a good portion of people in general) think. Thus reinforcing the stereotype of Rationalists as Straw-vulcans.

          • James Picone says:

            Samuel Skinner didn’t write the first post in the thread; he’s just replying to Deiseach’s weird view of atheists.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You call it “weird” but I see elements of it in both TravelSound’s and Skinner’s responses.

            Like I said, it’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just asked your devoutly Christian astronaut to make a statement…

            What exactly were they expecting?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I read it, I just think that you’ve either missed the point, or are trying to have your cake and eat it too.”

            There is no way to be charitable- you are an idiot. Here, I’ll highlight the relevant parts.

            TravelSound
            “I suspect part of what is going on here is, Scott is indulging his sense of humor by asking: in what kind of universe would it make sense that in such a great moment of Rationalist! triumph as reaching the moon, people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?”

            Deiserch
            “Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.”

            Me
            “Christ on a cracker you have no idea how atheists think. Here- not bronze age myth and appropriate to the occasion:”

            I am not saying the astronauts should be Sagan. I am saying that rationalists are capable of being Sagan. I am saying Carl Sagan exists. I am saying that Deiserch does not understand how atheists think. I am saying it is perfectly possible to be a rationalist and have human emotions.

            Maybe I should put it in caps because you didn’t get it the first time.

            RATIONALISTS ARE CAPABLE OF EMOTIONS AND POETRY.

          • hlynkacg says:

            …and you need to work on your reading comprehension.

            Nobody said that rationalists are incapable of emotion or poetry.

            However, TravelsSound did say that it was “boneheaded” to indulge in such things. Which is what Deiseach was responding to.

            Both yourself and TravelSound seem to have forgotten that Astronauts don’t just spring out of the ground fully formed. They’re human, with all the emotional and cultural baggage that entails. In other words, IF YOU DON”T WANT RELIGION IN SPACE DON’T SEND RELIGIOUS PEOPLE TO SPACE.

            Especially not on a holiday.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            –Nobody said that rationalists are incapable of emotion or poetry.–

            “Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.””

            –However, TravelsSound did say that it was “boneheaded” to indulge in such things.–

            No, he said
            “I suspect part of what is going on here is, Scott is indulging his sense of humor by asking: in what kind of universe would it make sense that in such a great moment of Rationalist! triumph as reaching the moon, people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?”

            –Both yourself and TravelSound seem to have forgotten that Astronauts don’t just spring out of the ground fully formed. —

            Complains about reading comprehension while not comprehending either me or TravelSound’s post.

            I’ll highlight the important bit
            “Scott is indulging his sense of humor by asking: in what kind of universe would it make sense ”

            Did you not read the blog post all this is a response to? Did you not see how it is about a universe where crystal spheres and omens exist?

            You attack TravelSound for things you claim he misses… that he explicitly laid out in his post.

            — They’re human, with all the emotional and cultural baggage that entails.–

            “Seriously, reaching the moon is a great, highly significant event, and many people feel through inculcation from early youth that these old verses are Very Significant And Meaningful, and that gives kind of a superficial fake fittingness to putting them together, and that superficial fake fittingness might lead astronauts and many other people to feel that the reading from Genesis was fitting. But to a Rationalist! who sees those Bronze Age verses of myth as almost exactly opposite to real achievements such as reaching the moon, the juxtaposition is incredibly silly-looking, an implicit claim that ridiculous backwards unscientific viewpoints ”

            You are an idiot. I don’t think I can make it any clearer.

          • hlynkacg says:

            …and you’re still begging the question.

            You’ve taken it as a given that that the meaningfulness assigned to those words is “superficial” of “fake” when that meaningfulness and it’s authenticity(or lack there of) is the very topic under contention.

            Yes, “An equation” or other terse replies to mission control would have been less boneheaded and more fitting. But I also wager that it would have also been a whole lot less meaningful to all involved.

            Replacing one form of superficial fake fittingness (A Christian reading the Bible) with another (A Rationalist reading Sagan) doesn’t change this. Like I said, Astronauts are human, with all the emotional and cultural baggage tat entails.

            Furthermore I think you realize that, otherwise you would not have felt the need to force a “quick win” through insults and fallacious reasoning.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “…and you’re still begging the question.”

            Feel free to quote me doing that.

            “You’ve taken it as a given that that the meaningfulness assigned to those words is “superficial” of “fake” when that meaningfulness and it’s authenticity(or lack there of) is the very topic under contention.”

            Feel free to show me doing that. TravelSound does, but my argument doesn’t depend on it at all.

            “Yes, “An equation” or other terse replies to mission control would have been less boneheaded and more fitting. ”

            No, an equation would have been retarded. Why do you think RANDOMLY saying sciency things is any more rational than religious belief? Are you honestly incapable of seeing how atheists might have emotional reactions? If only someone had linked to Carl Sagan showing atheists reacting in an emotional manner.

            “But I also wager that it would have also been a whole lot less meaningful to all involved. “”

            –Seriously, reaching the moon is a great, highly significant event, and many people feel through inculcation from early youth that these old verses are Very Significant And Meaningful, and that gives kind of a superficial fake fittingness to putting them together, and that superficial fake fittingness might lead astronauts and many other people to feel that the reading from Genesis was fitting.–

            “Replacing one form of superficial fake fittingness (A Christian reading the Bible) with another (A Rationalist reading Sagan) doesn’t change this. ”

            And if I claimed they should read Sagan that would be relevant.
            –I am not saying the astronauts should be Sagan. I am saying that rationalists are capable of being Sagan. I am saying Carl Sagan exists. I am saying that Deiserch does not understand how atheists think. I am saying it is perfectly possible to be a rationalist and have human emotions.–

            Are you incapable of reading the words I type out? Is there any way I can be any fucking clearer?

            “Like I said, Astronauts are human, with all the emotional and cultural baggage tat entails.”

            –Seriously, reaching the moon is a great, highly significant event, and many people feel through inculcation from early youth that these old verses are Very Significant And Meaningful, and that gives kind of a superficial fake fittingness to putting them together, and that superficial fake fittingness might lead astronauts and many other people to feel that the reading from Genesis was fitting.–

            “Furthermore I think you realize that, otherwise you would not have felt the need to force a “quick win” through insults and fallacious reasoning.”

            The fallacious reasoning known as actually quoting what people say instead of making shit up? As for the insults, notice I didn’t insult Deiserch even during her Shonen villain rant (wanting to go to heaven to be with your loved ones deserves eternal punishment!) I am saying you are an idiot because you are actually an idiot. Like you are incapable of actual reading comprehension.

          • RCF says:

            If Samuel Skinner’s behavior is considered acceptable, I really have to question the consistency of Scott’s moderation policy. Also, I don’t see how quoting someone saying “people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?” contradicts the claim that that person said “it was “boneheaded” to indulge in such things.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            Feel free to quote me doing that.

            Right here, where you say.

            You’re literally incapable of seeing how a comment on humanities place in space is more relevant to a situation with people in space than other random texts. Pretty impressive.

            …you make the implicit assumption that your Sagan quote would have been more relevant/fitting than Borman’s choice to read from Genesis.

            Why do you think RANDOMLY saying sciency things is any more rational than religious belief?

            Who said anything about randomness? Calculating the spacecraft’s semi-major axis, available dV, or time to perilune, is exactly the sort of thing astronauts should (and do) communicate with mission control for, but it doesn’t make for a meaningful public address. Which is the whole point.

            I am not saying the astronauts should be Sagan. I am saying that rationalists are capable of being Sagan. I am saying Carl Sagan exists…

            And once again, nobody is saying otherwise, not even Deisarch. You’re fighting a straw man.

            As for the insults, notice I didn’t insult Deiserch even during her Shonen villain rant (wanting to go to heaven to be with your loved ones deserves eternal punishment!) I am saying you are an idiot because you are actually an idiot. Like you are incapable of actual reading comprehension.

            That’s not what Diesarch said at all, in fact it makes me wonder if your continued Straw-manning is not a straw man per se, so much as a complete and utter failure to model the opposing viewpoint. Heck, I’d wager that much of my supposed “lack of reading comprehension” is really just a failure to give the sort of response you expected.

            Which brings us back to my original reply. It’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just asked your devoutly Christian astronaut to make a statement to the world about our place in the cosmos.

            What exactly do you expect him to say?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @RCF

            I figure that Scott has his hands full with the Appian Thread at the moment. and while Sam’s attitude is annoying it hasn’t quite gotten to the point where I feel that corrective action is necessary.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            RCF
            “If Samuel Skinner’s behavior is considered acceptable, I really have to question the consistency of Scott’s moderation policy.”

            Did you read what Deiserch wrote? If declaring that your opponents aren’t people and that you have no interest in learning how they think isn’t punishable, declaring your opponent is an idiot is perfectly fine. It satisfies true and necessary- its repetition gets it remembered so that I know in the future to discount what the person I’m dealing with is saying.

            “Also, I don’t see how quoting someone saying “people do such a boneheaded thing as recite backwards Bronze Age myths at that moment?” contradicts the claim that that person said “it was “boneheaded” to indulge in such things.””

            Read the entire quote. He isn’t saying the astronauts were stupid- he is saying the whole thing is ludicrous when you step back. If you lop off the context it makes him sound like he is saying the astronauts (and not the situation) is stupid.

            That dude
            “…you make the implicit assumption that your Sagan quote would have been more relevant/fitting than Borman’s choice to read from Genesis.”

            Look at what I was responding to
            –Sagan’s “pale blue dot” is every bit as immaterial to the “great moment of Rationalist! triumph” AS ANY MYTH OR ART WORK, as we may – if we’re being realists – recognise the grubby geo-political manoeuvring behind the great race to the moon and the subsequent stalling of the Space Age.–

            I’ve highlighted the relevant part. Why do you think I said random and not “the Bible”?

            “Who said anything about randomness? Calculating the spacecraft’s semi-major axis, available dV, or time to perilune, is exactly the sort of thing astronauts should (and do) communicate with mission control for, but it doesn’t make for a meaningful public address. Which is the whole point.”

            This is why I call you an idiot. Atheists are in fact capable of making public addresses. That is why I was responding to Deisarch.

            “And once again, nobody is saying otherwise, not even Deisarch. You’re fighting a straw man.”

            ///In my irrational universe, I might have them read out something like Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels or even play one of the many musical settings of the verse but then, what do I know of Rationalism! as the highest good and the purging of all non-STEM “arts” (faugh! does the very word not turn the stomach of a true Rationalist!) so that people can concentrate on what is truly true, really right, and not divert themselves from stern endeavours of Rationalist! duty with babyish toys like poetry, music and beauty?///

            “That’s not what Diesarch said at all, in fact it makes me wonder if your continued Strawmanning is not a straw man per se, so much as a complete and utter failure to model the opposing viewpoint. ”

            ///It’s a story about absolute justice untempered by mercy (which is the entire point of the Gospel, the reason it is Evangelion, Good News, is because it is a message of unconditional forgiveness). What other kind of ending would you expect?///

            The rest of her response goes on to declare the protagonist is a bad person for wanting to be with his wife
            /// And he does not have his wife, because her happiness cannot be held hostage to his emotional blackmail and manipulation, as that would not be fair.///
            /// Which means it is all about what he wants to satisfy his desires and he even makes his wife, not alone God, an object to satisfy his wish to be happy; that means he really cares less about the person he claims to love and her happiness than he does about having the feeling of satisfied love, so I have no sympathy for him,///
            ///You could write the same story of “Hell is the Absence of God” where the central character is talking about how much he missed his wife and how he did it all to be with her, and have it turn out the reason he’s not with his wife is because he’s in jail, and the reason he’s in jail is because his wife fled from their home, and the reason she did that is because of domestic violence.///

            Quoting- proving once again that I am right and you are not.

            “Which brings us back to my original reply. It’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just asked your devoutly Christian astronaut to make a statement to the world about our place in the cosmos.

            What exactly do you expect him to say?”

            That isn’t your original reply. Congratulations, you’ve made an error so blatant you can’t blame it on misinterpretation.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            If declaring that your opponents aren’t people and that you have no interest in learning how they think isn’t punishable, declaring your opponent is an idiot is perfectly fine.

            Where did Deiseach say this? because I’m having trouble finding it in this thread or the other one you linked.

            He isn’t saying the astronauts were stupid- he is saying the whole thing is ludicrous…

            What’s so ludicrous about it?

            More specifically, what is it that makes reading from Genesis “ludicrous” but reading Cynthia’s Revels or Pale Blue Dot not?

            Atheists are in fact capable of making public addresses.

            And once again, nobody is saying otherwise, not even Deisarch. You’re still fighting a straw man.

            The rest of her response goes on to declare the protagonist is a bad person for wanting to be with his wife

            You conveniently omitted the crux of Deisarch’s thesis, namely that -he would rather his wife be miserable (relatively) back on Earth with him than blissful (absolutely) experiencing the Beatific Vision without him

            It’s not “wanting to be with his wife” that makes him a bad person it’s the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice his wife’s eternal reward and game the rules for his own selfish ends that makes him a bad person. “Love” is supposed to be putting another’s happiness and well-being and before your own and what the protagonist is doing is the exact opposite of this.

            Nor is this a huge logical leap on Diesarch’s part. Neil’s selfishness is explicitly stated within the story itself…

            This led to a shameful self-knowledge for Neil. He realized that if he had to choose between going to Hell while Sarah went to Heaven, or having both of them go to Hell together, he would choose the latter

            Hence the castigation, and comparisons to an abusive Ex.

            …So what was that you were saying about “context” and quotes proving you right?

            It’s becoming rather difficult for me to interpret your responses as anything other than willful misrepresentation.

            Congratulations, you’ve made an error so blatant you can’t blame it on misinterpretation.

            The reply in question is right at the top of this string. Here’s a link on the off chance you scroll-bar is broken.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Where did Deiseach say this? because I’m having trouble finding it in this thread or the other one you linked.”

            D declaring rationalists aren’t human
            –Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – BUT NOT SO LIKE BEING HUMAN.–

            She goes on to declare that
            –and not divert themselves from stern endeavours of Rationalist! duty with babyish toys like poetry, music and beauty?–

            Got it? Rationalists don’t have poetry, music, beauty, emotional response or any of the other character traits of humanity. How they live and think isn’t like being human.

            D’s response to my original post (aka she doesn’t care to learn how atheists think)
            ///Christ on a cracker you have no idea how atheists think///
            –Thankfully, no.–

            “What’s so ludicrous about it?

            More specifically, what is it that makes reading from Genesis “ludicrous” but reading Cynthia’s Revels or Pale Blue Dot not?”

            I’m not sure why you are asking me what TravelSound’s thought process is.

            Also I never said people should read Pale Blue Dot. It isn’t like I’ve stated that before…
            ///I am not saying the astronauts should be Sagan. I am saying that rationalists are capable of being Sagan. I am saying Carl Sagan exists. I am saying that Deiserch does not understand how atheists think. I am saying it is perfectly possible to be a rationalist and have human emotions.///

            This is the third time I’ve had to repeat that. Is there something difficult about any of the concepts contained within that you cannot grasp?

            “And once again, nobody is saying otherwise, not even Deisarch. You’re still fighting a straw man. ”

            –Yes, much more rational to read out an equation – or nothing at all beyond terse military-style replies to control centre – but not so like being human.

            In my irrational universe, I might have them read out something like Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels or even play one of the many musical settings of the verse but then, what do I know of Rationalism! as the highest good and the purging of all non-STEM “arts” (faugh! does the very word not turn the stomach of a true Rationalist!) so that people can concentrate on what is truly true, really right, and not divert themselves from stern endeavours of Rationalist! duty with babyish toys like poetry, music and beauty?

            That is exactly what she means here. How many times have I quoted this by now? How many times have you ignored it? Why are they the same number?

            ” it’s the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice his wife’s eternal reward”

            Which he never does. It is a thought that brings him shame, not an action he undertakes.

            “and game the rules for his own selfish ends that makes him a bad person.”

            and try to get to heaven to be with his wife that makes him a bad person. Wow, if you put in what the actual actions are it sounds totally different from what you said! Unless you take as a given that ‘gaming the rules’ is immoral (why?) or ‘wanting to be with someone because you love them’ is selfish (presumably people who want snow cones because they taste good are also selfish), none of what you said actually makes any sense.

            ““Love” is supposed to be putting another’s happiness and well-being and before your own and what the protagonist is doing is the exact opposite of this. ”

            That is your definition of love. Given that children love their parents and it doesn’t fit this definition, yeah. If your claim is only romantic love that is, once again, your definition. People can love another and not put their happiness first; see pretty much any TV sitcom ever.

            “…So what was that you were saying about “context” and quotes proving you right?”

            Wait, you are saying I misrepresented D by leaving out THOUGHTCRIME? That thought crime is what makes eternal torment acceptable? Heck, not just thought crime- past thought crime that one will never repeat since being hit changes ones mind.

            This isn’t ‘I forgot and am misrepresenting her’, this is ‘I didn’t realize you agreed with that’. Punishing people for bad thoughts. The Shiso Keisatsu. I thought that everyone on a blog devoted to human rationality considered the fact that we have certain thoughts immaterial; that the entire idea was declaring that CERTAIN THOUGHTS AND IDEAS ARE BAD and BAD THOUGHTS MAKE BAD PEOPLE was something we were entirely opposed to. If your knock down argument is ‘I’m a bad person’, I’m going to have to fold since I don’t have anything that can convince one evil person another evil person is bad.

            “The reply in question”
            Er
            “Which brings us back to my ORIGIONAL REPLY.”

            Your original reply is
            “In addition to what you Deiseach says, there is the problem that Apollo 8 predates Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” by a good 20 years.

            It’s not even Sagan’s best work as wanderers is head and shoulders above even if it still requires the astronauts to have developed time travel in addition to moon rockets.

            If you absolutely must ditch the Bible, pick something from Melville or Joyce.”

            Seriously, it is the first thing you wrote. I’m not sure how you could possibly miss it. The massive misrepresentations of my position are pretty telltale.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            In case you are curious, the entire text of Hell is the Absence of God is here
            http://www.ibooksonline.com/88/Text/hell.html

            And you learn why I call D a shonen villain.
            {{In the past there’d been some doubt as to whether Heaven’s light could indeed overcome all the spiritual obstacles to becoming saved. The debate ended after the case of Barry Larsen, a serial rapist and murderer who, while disposing of the body of his latest victim, witnessed an angel’s visitation and saw Heaven’s light. At Larsen’s execution, his soul was seen ascending to Heaven, much to the outrage of his victims’ families.}}

            When you consider loving people wrong more worthy of punishment than rape and murder, you are a shonen villain. Specifically Pein/Nagota.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Rationalists don’t have poetry, music, beauty, emotional response or any of the other character traits of humanity.

            Again, “…or any of the other character traits of humanity” is something you asserted not Diesarch, and even then it’s still a long way away from “declaring that your opponents aren’t people”.

            Furthermore at no point was it asserted that rationalist don’t have poetry, or emotion. Only that these things are not in themselves rational. As, in theory at least, Rationalism is supposed to about valuing empirical truth over comfortable fictions and appeals to emotion.

            As such, Diesarch is correct in observing that Sagan’s “romantic drivel” would have been no more “relevant” than reading from Genesis was because the truth of the matter is that of Apollo 8’s mission was not “to appreciate humanity’s place in the cosmos”, it’s mission was to win a geo-political pissing contest against the Soviets.

            Repeatedly quoting the same lines over and over again doesn’t change any of that.

            I’m not sure why you are asking me what TravelSound’s thought process is.

            Because you’re defending it / have taken issue with Diesarch’s objection to it.

            That is your definition of love…

            It’s not just my definition of love. It’s the definition as set forth in the story (selfless devotion) and repeated by Deiseach. If you are going to deviate from a previously specified definition, it’s on you to say so.

            Wait, you are saying I misrepresented D by leaving out THOUGHTCRIME?

            Yes.

            The core of Deiseach’s of argument is that Niel is being punished for his selfishness.

            Omitting the line where she actually says that Neil is being selfish, and replacing it with Neil is being punished for wanting to be with his wife, is either a critical comprehension failure, or a willful misrepresentation.

            Seriously, it is the first thing you wrote. I’m not sure how you could possibly miss it.

            Fine, replace “original” with “second” and reparse. If the worst I did was transposing posts 2 and 1 while having too many tabs open I’d say I’ve done ok, and a fair sight better than you have.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Again, “…or any of the other character traits of humanity” is something you asserted not Diesarch, and even then it’s still a long way away from “declaring that your opponents aren’t people”. ”

            Yes, that is what NOT BEING HUMAN does.

            “Furthermore at no point was it asserted that rationalist don’t have poetry, or emotion.”

            Stating that at an emotional moment would involve the recitation of equations is pretty much a declaration of that.

            “Only that these things are not in themselves rational. As, in theory at least, Rationalism is supposed to about valuing empirical truth over comfortable fictions and appeals to emotion.”

            That isn’t what rationalism is at all. Rationalism recognizes emotion as valid; it just does not consider emotions tell you something true about the universe. Emotion is not mutually exclusive with reason.

            “As such, Diesarch is correct in observing that Sagan’s “romantic drivel” would have been no more “relevant” than reading from Genesis was because the truth of the matter is that of Apollo 8’s mission was not “to appreciate humanity’s place in the cosmos”, it’s mission was to win a geo-political pissing contest against the Soviets. ”

            Humans are capable of having more than a single motivation at one time. She explicitly recognizes it since she says she would play music.

            “Because you’re defending it / have taken issue with Diesarch’s objection to it.”

            Quote me doing that.

            ” It’s the definition as set forth in the story (selfless devotion) and repeated by Deiseach.”

            It is not the definition as defined by the story. It is the definition in the story for love for God. No one claims that human love is the same.

            “The core of Deiseach’s of argument is that Niel is being punished for his selfishness.

            Omitting the line where she actually says that Neil is being selfish, and replacing it with Neil is being punished for wanting to be with his wife, is either a critical comprehension failure, or a willful misrepresentation.”

            You do realize leaving that out made her argument look less crazy, right? Because this is also in the story-

            {{In the past there’d been some doubt as to whether Heaven’s light could indeed overcome all the spiritual obstacles to becoming saved. The debate ended after the case of Barry Larsen, a serial rapist and murderer who, while disposing of the body of his latest victim, witnessed an angel’s visitation and saw Heaven’s light. At Larsen’s execution, his soul was seen ascending to Heaven, much to the outrage of his victims’ families.}}

            When you consider murder and rape ‘not selfish’, I get to call you a Shonen villain.

            Re: the first post.

            You do realize I have repeatedly checked the listing to make sure I have gotten correctly what people said? And extensively quote them so you can use ctrl+F to find the original and check?

            Meanwhile you haven’t bothered to look to the point you didn’t realize what your first post was.

            That is a greater insult than any number of repetition of the words idiot.

            Your question has two parts.

            -What could be Christian and meaningful?

            Anything relevant to the situation. They are in space; I’m sure there are bible versus about traveling. Genesis is relevant here
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZlWmYe8HM4
            not there.

            -What would you have done?

            Would I have remembered the sacrifice of the 3 astronauts who died in Apollo 1? Would I have mouthed off to the Russians? Would I have quoted from previous explorers? Would I talk about the distance we were from every other human being? Would I have talked about the oneness of humanity? Would I have had some bravado about how the next trip was going to land on the Moon? Made a joke about crystal spheres? Called out to my family and friends back home and told them I was fine and would be in contact soon after a short drop out of radio contact?

            http://www.amazon.com/Neil-Patrick-Harris-Choose-Autobiography/dp/0385346999

    • hlynkacg says:

      It’s simple really…

      If you don’t want religion in space, don’t send a Christian astronaut to the moon on Christmas.

  33. TravelSound says:

    Sorry, accidentally pressed ENTER key in the middle of editing.

    Anyway, I only started writing such attempts at explanation because some people seem to be reacting to Scott’s prologue with something like ‘don’t be so weird man why aren’t you writing something that makes sense instead?’

  34. RCF says:

    There was no warning that Apollo 8 was going to be launched?

  35. sneezus says:

    Wow flat earth under the dome comes out in your fiction, kinda surprised to find that was the tie in from Genesis!

  36. gbdub says:

    The Genesis broadcast took place on Apollo 8’s 9th orbit of the moon. So why didn’t they whack into the crystal sphere earlier?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Maybe the crystal had holes and they had the misfortune to finally hit a solid section?

  37. Redtube says:

    Naw mate, that was an awesome ending.