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The Northern Caves

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Works of Leonard Salby (1919-1995)

I. A Thornbush Tale (166 pp., with 19 illustrations, published 1966)

II. Chesscourt 

a. Chesscourt Manor (255 pp., published 1972)
b. The Mainspring (242 pp., published 1973)
c. The Firmament (271 pp., published 1975)
d. The Creatures of the Plains (345 pp., published 1978)
e. Nautical Dusk (435 pp., published 1980)
f. Other Mirrors (676 pp., published 1983)
g. The Sea of Glass (775 pp., self-published 1985)
h. Chesscourt Regained (844 pp., self-published 1987)

III. The Northern Caves (3642 pp., unpublished, unfinished?)

 


 

[…]

Q: Long-time readers of your work were surprised to hear, earlier this year, that you were at work on a new Chesscourt installment.  Many feel that in Chesscourt Regained you took your conceit as far as it could go -- or perhaps further.  What inspired you to return to Chesscourt?

A: It wasn't done.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: I'm sorry, but I'd prefer to let the work speak for itself.

Q: Of course.  

Q: Moving on.  Particularly in recent years, some readers of your work have noted that you seem to have left your original audience -- that is, children -- behind.  Do you expect your new work to be accessible to the sort of young readers who, every year, discover the charms of A Thornbush Tale?

A: I expect my work to be accessible to anyone who shares my sense of life.  I imagine some children share my sense of life, but ultimately I am indifferent to the distinction.  I don't spend much time thinking about my audience.

[…]

Q: Finally, do you have anything else you wish to say to your readers?

A: I'm doing the best work I've ever done.

(Excerpt from "Chessmaster: A Chat With Leonard Salby," The Sunday Times, November 6 1988)

 


 

Complexity is, on balance, a literary virtue. "On balance" is, of course, the operative phrase, and no bit of serialized cultural detritus -- sci-fi television, detective novels, comic books -- is too thoroughly valueless to lack some corps of adoring anoraks who confuse its growing convolutions for authentic depth.

Devotees of "Chesscourt," Leonard Salby's increasingly incoherent series of monstrously overgrown children's books, are a striking example of the type, and display all the hallmarks of the cultural trainspotter's delusion in full flower. Spend any significant amount of time around a Salby enthusiast and the c-word is bound to come up, usually in conjunction with some platitude about the author's "unparalleled imagination" or the elaborate notes and diagrams he reportedly uses to keep track of the series' proliferating characters and plot lines. Other Mirrors, the latest and longest installment, is undeniably imaginative; it probably has the most dizzyingly elaborate plot ever featured in a work of children's literature. Does that make it complex? No, it makes it complicated. And between those two little words is a world of difference.

Salby's plotting builds hierarchically, inexorably, unforgivingly. Every new development serves as scaffolding for the next, and any idea or event, however minor, however many pages or books ago it was introduced, can serve as fodder for new narrative contortions. The result is a reading experience that recreates with eerie accuracy the atmosphere of the schoolroom. Salby demands academic devotion; everything will be on the test.  As Other Mirrors demands from its reader a certain drab, bureaucratic cast of mind, no child who is fully a child will enjoy it; as its sensibility never progresses beyond that of a precocious adolescent, no adult who is fully an adult will tolerate it.  Salby has written what is perhaps a definitive test of abnormal development, but he has written a dreadful novel.

(Charles Adair, capsule review of Other Mirrors, The Guardian, April 7 1983)

 


 "Don't Go Into The Caves"

(Frequently invoked motto in the post-1995 Salby fandom, typically abbreviated to "DGITC")

Chapter Text

I don't know exactly what I'm doing here, but I suppose I should begin.

I've been asked to prepare a report, to be publicly posted on Cafe Chesscourt, to get everyone up to speed.  To inform those Cafe patrons fortunate enough not to have attended Spelunk 04! just what happened there, and what led to it, and what followed.

This would be a delicate enough task in itself, but it gets worse.  Because, of course, my audience isn't just comprised of Cafe members -- known quantities, and if not all precisely friends, in any case all initiates in our pleasant little cult.  People are going to read this thing, all sorts of people.  Bored teens whiling away 4th period on Google.  Oddity-fetishists tiring of last week's online eccentrics.  And, inevitably -- this is the one that really gives me the chills -- a broader public.

I've already been contacted by my first journalist, and I'm sure there will be more.  As everyone in the Cafe knows, and has lamented, there's already been a slow-news-week piece about Spelunk 04! in an alternative weekly, riddled with inaccuracies.  They seemed to have talked to someone, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't Jenny or Aaron, and it certainly wasn't me.  (Was it Marsh?  I hope not.  I hope it was one of the others.  This parenthetical is definitely not going to make it into the report.)

And not only could they not get their facts straight about Spelunk 04!, they didn't even seem to have a clue what Salby was all about.  So not only does it fall to me to recount what happened to us that week, it also falls to me to explain our beloved LS to people who may never have even heard his name.

I don't even know how to start.  I keep wondering where my "report" should begin -- with a primer on LS? an FAQ dispelling the false rumors swirling around Spelunk 04!, and confirming the true ones? with some sort of definitive statement that we are not freaks, that we're people just like you, with 9-5 jobs (in . . . some cases), significant others (on occasion), etc.?

What I'm trying to do here, I guess, is let myself write with the idea clearly fixed in mind that these words are not the report.  Not the report, not the report, not the report.  These are just notes.  Just collecting my thoughts.  When the time comes to write the report I will chop bits here and add bits there and splice and rearrange -- edit so thoroughly that the result will bear almost no resemblance to these notes.  Which means I can write freely, without thinking about that audience of millions arrayed before me, the unfamiliar podium in front of me, the harsh glare of the stadium lights in my eyes.  Just notes.  Not the report.

So then: what would I like to accomplish, in the report which I will eventually write, and which I am not writing now?  Of course I'd like to tell the story of Spelunk 04!, with as much even-handedness as I can muster, keeping in mind that I may be writing for eyes who have never read LS or chatted casually on the Cafe.  I'd like to provide, too, some sort of account of what the Cafe was, and is -- not just to show how it produced Spelunk 04!, but to show how much more it was than that.

I'd like to confound the expectations of those looking for some humorless fan-cult, for some self-serious enclave of cargo cult academics.  I'd like to give some sense of the fun I've had with these people, these people who are, in the end, the best friends I've ever had.  I'd like to -- well, if I could, I'd quote the entirety of Life Among The Lorrums, but barring that I'd like to convey something of the spirit and spark of Jennific.  Not just as an example of how grim old LS can be taken in lighter directions (oh, what games these quirky little nerds play in their spare time!) but as a successful, accomplished, and ultimately quite moving creative work, in its own way as dear to me as anything LS wrote, by a talented writer who I hope gets that book deal she longs for.

I'd like to show why Aaron's theory threads, and the Aaron/Marsh Wars, weren't nearly as crazy as they looked.  Although that is a more delicate matter.  Woe is me, my burden is heavy in so many ways.  (These notes are just for me and me alone -- they are not the report -- and so I can whine as much as I want.  For instance, I can say this: that I feel like I've been punished for my good deeds.  I've been assigned to write the report because I'm a major Cafe figure who was present at Spelunk 04! and yet, unlike Aaron or Marsh or Jenny, remains "unbiased."  I restrained myself, played the reconciler's role, when conflicts arose, and for that I have to play the reconciler's role one last time, and this time the task may be impossible.)

But look, let's go back even further.  People are going to read the report who have never read LS, and I must (my burden is heavy in so many ways) convey to them something of what he kindled in all of us.  What we saw, reading Chesscourt, that could not be unseen, and left us talking endlessly, trying -- in thread after thread, in argument and fanfic and countless other avenues of approach -- to get some sense of just what it was, this beast LS had caught by the horns and presented to us, which we all recognized with an instant shock upon seeing it and yet could never name.

(That is definitely not going in the report.  Need to find the right balance between "LS really is fascinating and so it's not so strange we're obsessed with him" and "we are not crazy, dammit."  Will experiment further at striking the balance as these notes continue.)

Of course, the Cafe being the Cafe, this will be controversial, but for now I'll suggest this as a good focal point for the intro-to-LS aspect of the report: "Leonard Salby's central theme was 'unintended consequences.'"

It's a good angle.  "The Law of Unintended Consequences": it's a thing from economics, something serious men in business wear talk about in serious chats about policy (nothing so grubby as "politics"-- policy!).  But then those serious men are more likely to be conservatives than not, and one thing I must take great pains to dispel is that LS in his later years was merely some sort of "ultra-conservative crank," as that awful alt-weekly article put it.  Perhaps invoke the concept of "unintended consequences" without the phrase itself?  Need to retain the aura of seriousness.  Hmm.

In any case I think it's clear that "unintended consequences" was in some sense LS' central theme.  The Cafe, bless its heart, will quibble, because it wouldn't be the Cafe if it wouldn't.  But come on.  The Chessboard, already present in A Thornbush Tale, which mirrors inside the Manor events taking place outside.  The machines of the Lorrums in The Mainspring, and their ill effects.  If Tom and Sally had never left Chesscourt Manor, there would have been no Skycrash; if no Skycrash, no flight to the sea; no flight to the sea, no Charles spending years wandering by boat; no Charles spending years wandering by boat, no creation of the Cherubim.  And without the Cherubim -- well, do I even need to continue?  Without the escape from Skycrash to the plains, there would be no kingside castle, and without the kingside castle Aunt Mirth would probably have lost the match which would have sent her back to her shed, and there would not be chessboards all over the walls and ceilings of Chesscourt Manor, and the efforts of the Angelic Alliance would have succeeded, and the Sea of Glass would have persisted, and imagine what Sally would have then had to endure, trapped in the plains for a delimitable eternity.  And so forth.

Some way to sum up all this, without getting lost in the details.  But the very theme of unintended consequences requires the details, since what is too big to be a "detail" can be noticed and anticipated by anyone.  Tough one.  (My burden is heavy in so many ways.)

And if I'm not just speaking to Cafe regulars, if I'm speaking to the whole world, isn't there also some need to humanize myself in particular, to establish myself as a specific person who the listener can choose to trust, as narrator?  But how much personal background should I include, and where should I put it?  If I load the beginning with David Copperfield crap, will everyone get bored and stop reading?

Maybe this would be a nice hook: "Unlike so many others, I did not read A Thornbush Tale as a child.  In fact, I seemed to be the only child I knew who had not read it.  I was not to discover Salby until a college girlfriend plunged a copy of Chesscourt Manor into my eager hands and told me that" . . . oh, look, my heart's not in this.  Return to this stuff later.  Make intro personal, yet not boring.  Present self as sane, sensitive.  Emphasize academic achievements but avoid appearing pretentious.

Can I really do it?  I mean, can I really sum up all of this?  Maybe I should just present, in lieu of a report, a big stack of archived Cafe threads, full of chaff and wonder, force people to choke down all the bad jokes and petty arguments before they can say they've read up on Leonard Salby and Cafe Chesscourt and Spelunk 04!  Or perhaps particularly relevant threads could be interspersed into the report, with a sort of artistry (present self as sane, sensitive).

I am getting very tired of my own voice now.  I should go download some more threads from the Cafe, while there's still time; some of the key threads have already been deleted.  Yes, I think the idea of presenting undigested documents and materials is a good one.  It's hard to talk about all this, so why not let the record speak in its own words?

Like this, for instance:

Chapter Text

"Seeking Continuity in TNC" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 1 of 100)

Errant KnightsMove
Moderator

Joined: Feb 11, 2000
Location: The Inside Of My Head, U.S.
Posts: 3408
DGITC Warning! ( . . . if the title didn't tip you off)

Yeah, this is a thread about the elephant in the room. If you're a religious DGITCer, I respect your choices and recommend you click the back button immediately.

*waits*

Anyone still here? All right.

We don't talk about The Northern Caves much around here. And for good reason. There's a general consensus, even among the most hardcore Salbians, that TNC isn't just different or disappointing -- it's downright worthless.

Back in the old days, before TNC was digitized, there was this recurring phenomenon: some fan would get excited about TNC, jump through hoops to obtain a photocopy of an excerpt (typically the first 100 pages IIRC), and then, inevitably, discover that TNC just isn't Chesscourt.

It starts out Chesscourt-ish, with Tom and co. deciding (arguably OOC) to go and see what those spooky caves north of the Manor are all about. For a few pages, it looks like it could be another installment of the series we know and love. And then it . . . turns into nonsense. Literally. Not only does it not sound like LS, it doesn't even sound like English. And when there are moments that can be understood by a human being, they're usually totally OOC, graphically fucked-up, poorly written, and just generally not anything worth reading, IMO and in most other Os. DGITC isn't an expression of fear; it's a sensible injunction against wasting time.

So why am I bringing up TNC? Simple: I like a challenge. And if there's one thing I've learned in my years of re-reading and pondering LS, it's that LS may be subtle, but he's consistent. He may play tricks, but he loves his audience, and wants his tricks to be understood.

And in every bit of press after the publication of Regained, LS sent us a very clear and consistent message. Chesscourt wasn't done, and he was continuing it. So: something doesn't add up here. The LS we know from Thornbush and Chesscourt is not someone who would write a 3000+ page manuscript to piss people off. He is not someone who would lie about continuity. (Continuity is what LS was all about!)

So, this thread -- if all goes well, the first in a series -- is a space for me, and anyone who wants to come along with me, to take LS at his word. Read TNC as a continuation of Chesscourt. Yes, it doesn't look anything like Chesscourt. But LS is a subtle guy. He liked to challenge his readers. Let's try treating this as his last challenge. Let's go into the caves.

I have a digital copy of TNC, which you can download here. In the next few posts, I'll make some general remarks about the shape of the document, and make a few suggestions as to how we might start building a continuity theory. (I admit, by the way, that I haven't read the whole thing yet. It's really long and not easy going.)

Feedback welcome. I realize this is a controversial topic (well, the controversial topic!). I don't want to piss anyone off. Just thought this might be a project of some interest to some of you guys.

_________________
Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
delbo
Pawn

Joined: Oct 5, 2002
Location: LA
Posts: 153
Dude i always love your theories. Cant wait to see what you make of the Northern Cave craziness!!! Great stuff. -delbo
jenni_fur
Moderator

Joined: May 17, 2000
Location: the warrens
Posts: 2653
ha! yeah i was one of those "recurring phenomenon" people. there i was, just after finishing regained, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thinking "well how bad can TNC be, it's LS after all." oh, did i learn. :P

tbh i'm not too optimistic about mining more salby goodness from TNC? this isn't just your average DGITC thing. i mean i've READ TNC, more than i really should have, anyway. (don't judge me. back then i would have read LS's grocery receipts.)

the reason i stopped reading wasn't the gibberish (although, really, LS? THREE PAGES WORTH OF JUST THE LETTER "a"?), it wasn't the horrible things happening to tom and sally and charles, it was the BOREDOM. i don't know what happened to LS but somehow he managed to churn out 3000 pages where almost nothing happens and almost nothing we cared about in chesscourt gets mentioned.

your theories are always interesting and i'll def. be reading this thread. if you can manage to get anything out of TNC (besides "where oh where did LS go") i will be impressed.

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"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)
metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
TNC is just more Chesscourt? Now there is some high-grade Err nonsense. :)

Seriously though, man, I am looking forward to your explorations. Just, y'know, keep in mind that TNC MIGHT be LS fucking with us. I mean, after years of keeping every little Chesscourt detail straight in his head maybe he just wanted to blow our minds one last time by throwing it ALL out and just flying free for once. I think that's what I'd do. But then I'm not LS ;)

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think for yourself, schmuck
GlassWave
Cherub

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Location: Midwest
Posts: 1245
metamarsh wrote:
Just, y'know, keep in mind that TNC MIGHT be LS fucking with us. I mean, after years of keeping every little Chesscourt detail straight in his head maybe he just wanted to blow our minds one last time by throwing it ALL out and just flying free for once.
I see where you're coming from here, Marsh, but if LS had simply "flown free," would we really expect the result to look like TNC? Freeing himself from the crystalline constraints he hewed to for most of Chesscourt proper is one thing; producing a giant corpus of nonsense (with, as Jenny notes, oddities like entire pages filled with nothing but one letter) is another. I can't help but feel like there's more going on here, though, like most Salbians, I've resigned myself to never knowing what.

Err, count me excited to see where this goes.

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Obnoxious pedant, incorrigible Sally/Charles advocate, the only person in existence who's favorite CC book is Sea of Glass
exquisite stasis -- about Sally trapped in the plains forever, and what she did there (AU)
Sally's Lil Sis
Lorrum

Joined: Mar 7, 2003
Location: London
Posts: 550
Count me in!! No cave can faze me ^_^

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"Checkmate!"
Errant KnightsMove
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Okay, let's get started. Good to see I have some spelunking partners!

Jenny and Marsh, I understand your perspectives. Let me clarify that this is nothing but an experiment. You guys know me; I can be very confident when I think one of my theories has a critical mass of evidence behind it. This is nothing like that. I'm as baffled by TNC as anyone else. I just want to see what happens if try taking LS at his word. (He deserves no less, IMHO.)

The Structure of TNC

As I mentioned in the OP, I have not actually read all of TNC. (I'll be attempting to do so in the course of this project.) At the moment, I've read to page 153, and very quickly skimmed the rest. A skimming like this is a necessary step, because TNC is simply too large to read straight through with 100% critical attention engaged. Our reading will have to be guided by the structure of the text.

The first twenty pages of TNC are what I'll call the "Prelude". This section is, more or less, in the same style as the later installments of CC. As in Glass or Regained, there is a lot of dialogue, and there are several of LS' trademark moral discussions, first about the fate of the Angelic Alliance after the Fall of Eyris, and second about whether Tom and co. should explore the Northern Caves.

This argument is perhaps our first sign that things are not right. The Northern Caves were first mentioned in Thornbush (p. 52), where Aunt Mirth warned against entering them. Of course, Aunt Mirth is not a moral authority to be trusted. However, the other (few) mentions of the Caves in CC simply echo Mirth's injunction (e.g. in Mainspring an unnamed Lorrum calls them "a fell place from which none of our kind ever returned"). One would think our heroes would think to assess the nature of the Caves further, at least, before going there. But instead, they make up their minds fairly quickly. (The dialogue here is a bit unusual too -- Sally says "I'm darned curious what's in those caves" which is oddly childlike at this point in the story. IIRC she hasn't said "darned" since Thornbush.)

The Prelude ends when the characters actually enter the Caves. The next section, from p. 21 to p. 85, I will call the Semi-Lucid Section. These pages describe the heroes exploring a cave in a basically readable way. However, there are a number of oddities not present in the Prelude. For instance, for a 5-page stretch (p. 36 to p. 41), Tom's name is spelled "Tomm." There are various typos, like "sayed" for "said" on p. 55, as well as some sentence fragments and other grammatical errors. There are also a number of made-up words in this section, such as "nolobargescope" (p. 32). These are difficult to make sense of and do not make more sense in context:
Charles began to drag further and further behind the group, as he had begun to be troubled by perplexing thoughts and nolobargescope.
A shocking event takes place on p. 79: Tom falls into a deep crevice and apparently dies. No reactions from the others are noted, and they simply continue on. (However, Tom reappears a number of times later in TNC!)

From p. 85 to p. 1553, there is a section characterized by near-unreadability. This is where we see those infamous pages filled with the letter "a," along with many other oddities. I will call this the Non-Lucid Section. Note that this is a bit of a misnomer. There are plenty of bits here that are perfectly readable, some as long as 30 pages. But they come out of nowhere, disappear into nowhere, and mostly describe nonsensical interactions between the cast (including Tom) in vaguely described settings. The majority of this section, however, is filled with various types of gibberish, involving made-up words, phrases repeated many times, garbled bits of earlier CC books, etc.

On p. 1554, there is a notable change. A coherent story begins, with relatively few typos or other abnormalities. It stars Tom and Sally in a setting completely unrelated to Chesscourt. They seem to be husband and wife, rather than siblings, and have an extended (~80 page) conversation about something called "the Lorrum" (!), which they blame for ruining their marriage. From p. 1554 to p. 2709 is a section I will call the "Tales". This section is a series of similar stories, mostly dialogue, typically involving Chesscourt characters in unrecognizable and confusing situations.

Finally, the stretch from p. 2710 to p. 3642 I will call the "Finale." In this stretch, the styles of the earlier sections mix together. There are many typos and made-up words, and the text switches back and forth between "tales" and patches of nonsense reminiscent of the Non-Lucid Section. There does not appear to be an ending: the manuscript simply ends in the middle of a fairly typical bit of gibberish.

Where To Look

It's clear that we can't just read TNC straight through. I hypothesize that the first three sections are intended as a roadblock, to prevent less serious readers from reaching the Tales. This is not to say that the Non-Lucid Section, for instance, includes nothing worth inspecting. I am just saying that the text seems designed to make readers bounce off of it, and contains a long and relatively lucid stretch to reward readers who don't bounce off. I suggest we first begin looking into the Tales. Once we get a sense of how they work, we can start moving on to the more difficult Finale, and then perhaps loop back to the earlier sections.

Continuity

How might TNC be an authentic continuation of CC? I don't know yet, but here are some ideas:

1. TNC's strangeness is an attempt to depict the power of one or more of the godlike entities in the Courtverse (Cherubim, the Aunts, Tilemakers). By entering the Caves, the heroes have angered (?) or otherwise perturbed one of these entities. The resulting chaos reflects the experience of dealing "directly" with such an entity.

2. TNC is "in code." As we all know, the heroes of CC had to do a great deal of heavy thinking in order to complete their journey without failure. TNC asks us to do the same: in order to get access to the final CC installment, we must ourselves become like the heroes.

_________________
Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
JimWind
Lorrum

Joined: Jan 24, 2003
Location: Glasgow
Posts: 402
Damn, I thought I was up for this but . . . no. Sorry Err :/
TNC is just not my thing. I'd rather just re-read CC again. There's so much to notice there and TNC is just . . . wall-to-wall gibberish.
I think Salby was not well when he wrote that stuff, and I'd just rather not look at it. DGITC, man :P

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Errant KnightsMove
Moderator

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No worries, Jim. I think we can all understand just wanting to read CC again.

_________________
Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
jenni_fur
Moderator

Joined: May 17, 2000
Location: the warrens
Posts: 2653
you know i'm sure i'd gotten to the "tales" (after a lot of skimming) back when i first tried to read TNC after it got uploaded. but i just re-read that first "tale" where tom and sally are married and . . . wow. i'm not sure i liked it, i'm not sure i'd say it was well-written. but there is SOMETHING there, i think?

if i'd read that without the chesscourt names, i'd have thought, "gee, that was a weird, chilling, intriguing story."

WITH the names, it's hard not to think, oh, if only we'd gotten more CC, instead of this.

but LS could definitely WRITE, even when he wrote this stuff. not write like he used to. maybe not write as WELL as he used to. but there is something there.

err, please do keep us posted on anything that strikes you as GOOD in TNC -- even if it's not "salby-good." i'm interested.

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"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)

Chapter Text

How long has it been since I last looked at that page?  I couldn't help but cringe seeing my own post there -- "the crystalline constraints he hewed to for most of Chesscourt proper"?  I'm not sure it's possible to cram "I need a life" into fewer words.  Although absolutely anything I write tends to look pretentious to me once more than six months or so have passed.  I'm sure the same will apply to these very notes!  But at least in this case, there will be no one but me to read them and find them wanting.

It's funny seeing Marsh's post there, too.  I had actually forgotten that he was so skeptical so early, indeed right here at the very beginning.  I had imagined Marsh as a laidback observer, watching the proceedings with a blissed-out smile in some hawaiian-shirted, highball-in-hand vision of the good life, before finally breaking down when Aaron's theories became so strange and strained they harshed even his formidable buzz.  But then, that's hindsight for you.  I've met Marsh, now, and Aaron, and the rest.  They aren't quite the way they seem on the page, but then, who could be?

I should probably just force myself re-read all these threads before I do anything else.  I'm clearly mis-remembering things.

Of course there's also scaffolding work to be done on the background side of the report -- who I am, and who Salby was.  Maybe I could kill two birds and intertwine the two.  Say, grow something upon the following skeleton:

There are two kinds of Salby readers.  No, wait, back up, that's a horrendous cliche.  Let's say: those who first read Salby in childhood tend to be different, as a general matter, than those who first read him in adulthood.

Salby starts from the comfort zone of a prepubescent fantasy reader and builds from there.  In that he's akin to Tolkien or Lewis or any one of their progeny.  But what Salby builds into is not maturity, per se.  He does not "grow up" with the reader.  He doesn't aspire, as Tolkien did, to pastiche of any existing form.  He does not write a saga or an epic or a cosmogony or any such thing.

He grows, but in a new direction, perpendicular to all those familiar ones.  Encountering this as a child, one simply takes it in stride: each step up the stairway is the logical consequence of the preceding step, and before one knows it one is all the way up, saying "yes, I suppose this is where I should be."

To an adult reader, though, it comes as a shock.  The characters do not mature, except in the sense of casting off some of the cloying vocabulary that marred A Thornbush Tale (their "golly"s and "gosh"es and "darn"s).  Aging is implied to occur, but sex and romance are absent.  Nor do the characters "come of age," either in the sense of being initiated into the adult culture of some surrounding society or in the sense of striking out boldly on some self-determined path.

Instead, the trajectory is one of increasing moral weight.  In A Thornbush Tale the siblings Tom and Sally are aghast to discover that their seemingly harmless frolics among the thornbushes are, by occult linkages, wreaking havoc back at home, at the Manor.  This is revealed to them in a singular, quite stunningly vicious monologue by their older cousin, Charles, at this point an ominous figure of sinister aristocratic grace.  Tom and Sally are chastened and vow to make things right.

This episode seems to have kindled a fire in Salby's brain that only blazed brighter and brighter as the years passed.  The siblings (along with Charles, who becomes a benign companion at the start of Chesscourt Manor) are faced again and again with situations full of subtle linkages which render the most innocuous actions weighty.  Tirelessly, almost robotically, the children strive to remain moral actors within this subtle matrix.  They do not complain about their burden, even as their burden grows larger, and stranger, with each passing book.

I came into Salby as a college student, one hazy delicious summer, at the recommendation of my then-girlfriend, a Chesscourt fanatic.  I read the first few books half-distracted.  They went down easy and it was easier to continue than to stop (especially with the girlfriend's approval hanging in the balance).  But by Nautical Dusk I knew something was changing.  By that point, the matrix is beginning to strain under its own weight: the children's exploits have saved lives and societies, yet have left them complicit in a web of implications, wherein simple actions produce cascades of responses at home and abroad, which play into numerous power-games running concurrently between amoral, acquisitive forces.  At this point in the series it is not uncommon for Tom or Sally to deliver a page-long monologue speculating about the precise consequences of some hypothetical choice.  In some ways, it is just the logic of A Thornbush Tale scaled up -- but the quantitative can reach the qualitative if dialed up far enough.  Whatever I was reading, it was different.

Salby's publishers, around this point, began to complain.  Other Mirrors, the next installment (the titular "mirrors" being, yes, yet more long-range forces to worry oneself over), caused Salby a great deal of trouble with his editor.  Did the long moral deliberations need to be trotted out again and again?  Wasn't this all getting very confusing, if indeed it even made sense in the last analysis?  Salby, who did not appear to depend on writing for basic living expenses, was adamant: he had a way, and it would be followed.

The editor grudgingly agreed in the case of Other Mirrors, but The Sea of Glass broke him.  This new novel, 100 pages longer than the already long Other Mirrors, left behind a number of hanging plot threads to focus almost entirely on one of the aforementioned power-games.  Salby refused to change its basic structure, the editor refused to publish it unless the structure was changed, and at last The Sea of Glass was self-published, 775 pages of unedited glory headed by the logo of a shady-looking imprint I'd never heard of.  As a college student, I was riveted.  This was a man sticking to his guns; this was a principle taken to its logical conclusion; this was art.  (I was, let me remind you again, a college student.)

Marsh and Jenny and Aaron and many of the others, on the other hand, read these mad monuments when they were too young to find them madder than anything else in our mad world.  I wonder what that must have been like.

That was pretty good -- might keep a lot of it in the final version.  Should go read through some of Aaron's threads now.  Maybe pick out a bit to display in the report.  Something to stand in for the way Aaron's ideas and Marsh's skepticism grew in parallel, like the growth of the Chesscourt series itself.  (Metaphor too pat?  Think over later.)

Chapter Text

"Seeking Continuity in TNC" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 63 of 100)

metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Errant KnightsMove wrote:
metamarsh wrote:
Errant KnightsMove wrote:
Look, everything else aside there are exactly two exhaustive possibilities here: either the "exechamp" mentioned in T5 is the same as the "exechamp" mentioned in T3, or it isn't. If they're the same thing then we have to infer that Tom's statements about it in T3 carry over, which means the exechamp in T5 is invisible. If it isn't -- and you've already conceded that these the same word can refer to distinct entities in distinct Tales -- then you can't just insist without further justification that they have the same "symbolic meaning"!
Oh no, not LOGIC again! My worst enemy!

Look Err, I keep saying this, but I just do not get why you are being so literal when TNC is clearly throwing inconsistency in our faces all the time. Exechamp in tale 5 is obviously not invisible b/c everyone treats it like it's in the room with them and they can see it. I dunno what sort of magic Err Logic you're gonna pull to explain that one but I'm not buying it.

So exechamp is invisible in tale 3 and not invisible in tale 5. W/e. Maybe Tom was just wrong when he said it would always be invisible! Or maybe just maybe "exechamp" is not one fixed thing. Maybe "exechamp" is just a word. A symbol. A thing that is not totally literal and consistent and all that. Why are you not getting this?
All I'm doing here is applying the same principle I've been applying from the start, which is the only way we've gotten anywhere. I've stipulated -- as a starting premise, which you keep trying to argue with -- that I am treating TNC as a Salbian work, which means strict continuity. There might be two exechamps, or there might be one exechamp which is invisible. Or, yes, I suppose there might be one exechamp which suddenly starts being visible without anyone commenting on it. But there is not one exechamp sitting in some vague "not totally literal" superposition of visible and invisible. Salby doesn't do that! And by stipulating that Salby doesn't do that I have been able to come to some interesting conclusions about TNC. Are you on board, or not?
Here's the deal Err. If I didn't think this stuff was hella interesting I wouldn't keep arguing with you like this. I wanna know what the exechamp is all about as much as you do. I wanna know all this stuff. If I didn't care about this as much as you do I wouldn't be here arguing and making you mad. I just think we need to be FLEXIBLE.

Yes, Salby liked making everything consistent. I know, dude. He also wrote a series full of people getting duplicated and finding out their parents were ancient gods and casting magic spells so complicated they didn't make sense until you read the books three times. We're getting little glimpses into a confusing world and having to put the pieces together for ourselves, which is really cool, and you keep insisting on putting them together in the most literal and obvious way.
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Errant KnightsMove
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metamarsh wrote:
We're getting little glimpses into a confusing world and having to put the pieces together for ourselves, which is really cool, and you keep insisting on putting them together in the most literal and obvious way.
You keep using the word "literal," and to be honest I'm still not sure what you mean. Are two different exechamps with the same name more "literal" than one exechamp that is both invisible and visible? You're not proposing that the exechamp is a metaphor. You're just proposing that it's . . . vague. And TNC is already so slippery that if we can things get vague we won't be able to conclude anything.

We need handholds. That's what I'm trying to give us.
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
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metamarsh
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Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Okay, now I have to spell out what I mean by "literal"? Literal as always, Err ;)

Can we just table the fucking exechamp for a minute? We've gotten to tale 5 in the reading schedule but we've barely gotten to what it's ABOUT. Just how many exechamps there are and what it means that Tom starts being "Tomm" again.

Like how about this? I was just looking at tale 5 and thinking, you know, this seems suspiciously similar to the convo Tom had with Melchior before visiting the Mechanicals, back in Nautical. Except this time, instead of Melchior telling Tom that he has to let his guard down among the Mechanicals or else they'll clam up and not tell him anything... we have Tom telling "W" that "W" has to let HIS guard down or else the exechamp will do something bad to him. So if we're let's say "seeking continuity" we might guess that this scene reflects Tom taking Melchior's lesson to heart. And maybe the exechamp = Mechanicals somehow? I dunno, thoughts?
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Errant KnightsMove
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metamarsh wrote:
Like how about this? I was just looking at tale 5 and thinking, you know, this seems suspiciously similar to the convo Tom had with Melchior before visiting the Mechanicals, back in Nautical. Except this time, instead of Melchior telling Tom that he has to let his guard down among the Mechanicals or else they'll clam up and not tell him anything... we have Tom telling "W" that "W" has to let HIS guard down or else the exechamp will do something bad to him. So if we're let's say "seeking continuity" we might guess that this scene reflects Tom taking Melchior's lesson to heart. And maybe the exechamp = Mechanicals somehow? I dunno, thoughts?
Dammit, Marsh, now I wish I had thought of this! :P

You make a compelling case for approaching T5 on this level. I hope we can resolve the more abstract, theoretical stuff at some point, but you've convinced me that there may be a fair amount of direct, content-level continuity to be found between T5 and events in CC.

Not only is the Tom / W conversation reminiscent of the earlier Tom / Melchior conversation content-wise -- they take place in similar locations:
Melchior's parlor was grim and gloomy, though large. Old armchairs, upholstered in faded and tattered green and smelling of mothballs and moss, stood in a haphazard formation around a low coffee table piled with dust. There was an unlit fireplace, and above it several portraits of what Tom took to be Melchior's male ancestors, dressed in the huge mortarboard caps that the Creatures wore on formal occasions. In the flickering candlelight their expressions appeared to change from moment to moment, and Tom quickly resolved not to look at them, for this appearance of animate life unsettled him. (Nautical Dusk, p. 212)
vs.
Tomm beheld a widedark with candlewax all madeup cloistered with hallowed men of old staring bore eyes changeable with licks of light from dusty murk of past age, mulled wine sipped among them, coarse taste not relieving, a skull place where Tomm W & exechamp &al. sullied porrum depth therein down culverts of thromeroom chair false spleandor, and Tomm agape

"Quite a dour hollow W"

and W

"Always been mine and theirs down the ages Tomm"

"Well I'll drink to that" Tomm not sincerely but the wine was down the gullet. (TNC p. 1961)
Of course T5 sounds the way T5 sounds, but the resemblance is unmistakable.

So I think if we're going to look at this on the level of character, we have to ask: how does Tomm here relate to CC Tom? To me he seems quite different in a number of ways (as usual in TNC). Tom in CC is nothing if not sincere, yet in T5 he says something "not sincerely." Later we have him advising W in a way I can't imagine CC Tom talking to anyone:
W "Tomm that exechamp though frightens and nothing I can do about it"

Tomm "Well W here's what you do you think of that exechamp in your mind and you picture its throet with the membreans down it and you think of that throet choking on something big it cant swallow and membreans straining and you see W heres the trick you've got to make it funny, such a funny picture you can't help but laugh at that choking and thats how the exechamp won't be lump down you anymore"

W "round good say Tomm I can see that choke here and it's a good one" W cackling in his cheer with membreans straining. (TNC p. 1969)
Not only is this violent and morbid (like many things in the Tales), it also suggests a way of overcoming fear by picturing the enemy humiliated (?). Tom in CC consistently overcame his fears, when he did, by returning to thoughts of his goals and assuring himself that fleeing to safety would only be worse in the end. If this reflects some sort of "development" in Tom, what is it? I'm stumped.
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
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Lugnut
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Oh isn' this just grand -- METAMARSH 'nd ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE throw theory away (just a buncha hairsplits doncha kno) 'nd just talk about the char's. Very reader response as filter'd down thru whatever's in vogue w/ 2day's YUTH!!! (What do they teach them at these schools?)

Ofc' it won' be noticed since bio-crit is verboten -- so last century, doncha kno, the march of progress doesn' leave Caffe Choicecurt behind', we'r a free librul societ'y hur and that means ahistorical 2 tha core!! (am I down w/ 2day's YUTH now???) -- that our f'rnd L. Salby was at Harv'rd (in the libsoc U. S. o' A.) for a (curiously brief) visitin' lectureship in 1961, i.e. if you'v been following the time of Project MKUltra experiments as noted in Caffe Choicecurt "thread" Salby And CIA closed by our f'rnd ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE (actin' as a good libsoc citizen doncha kno). Experiments involv'd (don't tell ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE 'cause his ears 're closed'!) extreme stress such as might make a man develop some strategies that might seem "morbid" to those w/no exp'rnce in such matters (don' get me wrong, I'm glad Caffe Choicecurt is no place for bruis'd uncitizens like yours truly, we'r a sorry lot). But don' let that stop METAMARSH 'nd ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE -- onw'rd Xian Soldiers, Free T' Choose, 'n' no historical bio-crit or abstract, theoretical stuff (sic!) w/ you'r mornin' cuppa at Caffe Choicecurt. I got no beef there' (down w/ 2day's YUTH yet???).
Errant KnightsMove
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Oh, wonderful. It's our lucky day! Lugnut's chosen to serenade us with another Lugnut screed!

Remind me again why we haven't banned this guy yet?
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
jenni_fur
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Joined: May 17, 2000
Location: the warrens
Posts: 2653
Errant KnightsMove wrote:
Oh, wonderful. It's our lucky day! Lugnut's chosen to serenade us with another Lugnut screed!

Remind me again why we haven't banned this guy yet?
because you need an admin to ban someone and torgo's a nicer guy than you and me. :P

(besides, lugnut's interesting sometimes! a workout for the eyeballs, but interesting.)

anyway, when i read tale 5 all i see is the OPPOSITE of the tom we know from CC. he seems, yes, insincere, morbid, and all of that, and also CONFIDENT in a way CC tom very much isn't. CC tom was always worrying, and had to find a balance between worrying and simply doing things. (this comes up in regained when tom has to deal with the numerous chess games and gets paralyzed and aunt mirth taunts him.) "tomm" in tale 5 doesn't seem like someone who's worked out a balance. he just seems like he doesn't care about much. nothing fazes him. it's very un-tom.

it's really hard for me to see this as any kind of character development for tom. it's possible that tom has somehow been changed or controlled somehow? maybe that's where he gets the extra "m"? the tom (not tomm) in tale 1 seemed much more "tom" to me.
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Yeah I agree jenni_fur. W seems a lot more like Tom to me than Tomm does! He's afraid and worried about doing something wrong and he takes Tomm's weird advice seriously which is something Tom would do. And he keeps saying that a lot of important people have lived in his house which sounds like the Manor kinda?


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GlassWave
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jenni_fur wrote:
it's really hard for me to see this as any kind of character development for tom. it's possible that tom has somehow been changed or controlled somehow? maybe that's where he gets the extra "m"? the tom (not tomm) in tale 1 seemed much more "tom" to me.
I find this distinction really interesting.

Generally we've tended to treat variant spellings as insignificant, given how much spelling mischief there is in TNC and how hard it is to come up with any kind of consistent explanation of what it's there for. But come to think of it, "Tomm" really does seem to correlate with moments at which Tom is less like his CC self. Even in the first appearance of the variant, back on p. 36 to p. 41, he's unusually cavalier, casually straying off from the group to check out a dead-end pathway. (Although I wonder if I would have deemed that unusually out-of-character if I hadn't been primed by the variant spelling. Tricky.)
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metamarsh
Cherub

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Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Mmmm I'm not so sure about this. "Tomm" is always OOC but is "Tom" always IC? Not really, look at tale 2! No extra M there but his actions are WTF all the way through. Doesn't seem very "worried" in tale 2 either.

We've been over this, but I still think "Tomm" is just meant to produce a certain mood, or to stand for some particular concept we haven't figured out yet. Just like the exechamp ;)
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Chapter Text

What I would like, and what I can't seem to find, is a flattering example of Aaron and Marsh going at it.  What I'm finding, as I re-read these old threads and try to see them with an outsider's eye, is that the more interesting their argument becomes, the more unpleasant they come off as people.

Of course that was not how I saw it at the time, not at all.  What I want to capture is the sense that there was something -- something heroic about this quest to understand, in something like the conventional fashion, a thing that seemed to have been designed as an exercise in evading conventional understanding.  How much of this was in my mind, and not on the page?

After all, as 2003 passed into 2004, where was I?  In a dingy apartment, living alone, with a job I disliked, and no friends left in my college town.  The future was a bleak plateau.  I would turn on the news and the pundits seemed like aliens.  And here were these people -- these earnest, comprehensible people, applying their rubric of comprehension to the most alien thing we knew.  What could I do but look up to them?

I didn't feel like any of the idols that had been proposed to me, as an adult man, remained viable as idols, and there was something perversely wonderful about the prospect of idolizing this frivolous thing, this argument over a series of "children's books," which was significant to no one's livelihood and would never find its place in any catalogue of cultural achievements.  But forget all that: I understood these people, word by word (well, except for Lugnut!), and I felt a warm kinship with them, because we shared a common ground, and a simple manner of plodding, step by step, word by word, along that common ground.

God, this is self-indulgent.  Need something that can be at least possibly used in the report so I don't feel like I'm just wasting time.  Keeping a journal is all well and good but the report has a deadline.

I need to form, at the very least, a skeletal outline of material covering the major events.  I need to move the plot along.  Marsh makes his discovery, and we begin the road to Spelunk 04!

But I'm dogged by the feeling that no one but us -- maybe not even the other forum members, not even the best among them, not even Jim, say -- will understand quite what I want to say.  And that the shape of the misunderstanding will inevitably make us seem sad and broken, when I don't think Spleunk 04! broke us.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  (Not that it wasn't horrible -- but it didn't break us.)

Here is another angle of attack.  Perhaps the quality that attracts many of us to Salby's work is the sense of ferocious inevitability that pervades it.  The lack of romance in Chesscourt is a key example.  It isn't just that no romance occurs, which would not be too unusual in a series of this kind.  It's that it feels like it never could have occurred.  The characters, by virtue of being the heirs of the Manor, are afflicted with a kind of terrible noblesse oblige whose full weight emerges steadily across the course of nine whole books.  There is no time to stop and enjoy what are, for the rest of us, the ordinary pleasures of life -- everywhere, Weightier Things beckon, and they only beckon louder and louder with time.  (As the cherub said to Sally: "You must not imagine that for beings like you and us there can be laughter.  The low men laugh, and we envy them.  But for us, the higher ones, there is no laughter, only an unending vigil, purely serious, stretching on into the night" [The Sea of Glass, p. 759].)

What makes this poignant, and what is -- I think -- responsible for the "Salby fandom" in its present form, is the largely suppressed counter-theme that runs alongside the "unending vigil."  Again and again we are presented with moments that suggest, tantalizingly, what could have been.  The Lorrums have, or appear to have, a fascinating and perhaps even wise culture, but soon enough the narrative leaves this subject behind, driven ever on to Weightier Things.  There are moments of ingenious humor -- Aunt Mirth, whatever her other faults, is true to her name, and Charles is a master of delicious, grotesque invective -- which hint at the bursting human comedy that we might have witnessed, had the cherub been wrong.

So each of us, I think, latched on to Salby because we were, in some way, anti-Salbian.  We wanted to stop the relentless forward motion, turn back the clock, find some way to let our characters rest a moment, laugh for a moment, take a moment to notice how beautifully the light gleams off each others' hair.  (Etc.)  Jenny gave the Lorrums the development that they deserved and that Salby denied them, precisely because he was himself.  I involved myself in the possibility of Sally cut off from the world of Chesscourt, living out an un-Salbian life.  I imagined Charles and Sally recognizing the deep kinship which was all too obvious in their every interaction, but which the iron law of the vigil proscribed.

As for Marsh, I think he has always -- until now, at least -- been anti-Salbian on a deeper level.  He does not believe in inevitability, and sees Chesscourt as a kind of wondrous lie, wondrous because obviously false, which will have to eventually give up its act and give in to the forgiving logic of everyday life.  Marsh could play in this upside-down playground with glee, knowing that after all it was manifestly unreal.

Aaron, of course, may have been the most anti-Salbian of all of us -- or the most Salbian.  But I mustn't get ahead of myself.

Can the fandom remain?  We are all Salbians now, all of us who went through Spelunk 04!, and I do not think we can go back.  It falls to me to break the news to the Cafe (my burden is heavy in so many ways) that it is obsolete.  The torch of anti-Salbianism would be a very hard one to bear, after Spelunk 04!  I fear it would take a kind of devilish genius beyond Aaron or Marsh or Jenny, some new prodigy not yet seen by any of us, to bear it now, and I would not place my bets upon the appearance of such a figure.

Chapter Text

"RIP Elena Feller" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 1 of 12)

ConstanceM
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Joined: Apr 9, 2003
Location: By the beach!
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The Times of London reported this morning that Elena Feller died yesterday at the age of 77. The article mostly talks about Feller's work as a visual artist and, later, philanthropist, but as many of you know, Feller was also the inheritor of Leonard Salby's belongings! I don't know who they will pass to now -- if anyone else have any insight here, I'd be very curious! -- but there's at least the possibility that we may get to see some of Salby's unpublished notes, diagrams, drawings, marginalia, etc. sometime soon.
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JimWind
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Interesting! Nice find, ConstanceM :D

Although . . . are we sure this is "our" Elena Feller? She's British, yeah, and it's not the most common name, but Google Search turns up a number of different Elena Fellers, and I just don't want us to get our hopes up prematurely, y'know?
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ConstanceM
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JimWind wrote:
Interesting! Nice find, ConstanceM :D
Thanks!
JimWind wrote:
Although . . . are we sure this is "our" Elena Feller? She's British, yeah, and it's not the most common name, but Google Search turns up a number of different Elena Fellers, and I just don't want us to get our hopes up prematurely, y'know?
This is worth asking, but I'm certain it's "our" Feller. British, visual artist, born in 1927, and stated to be the child of Frank and Nancy Feller. (Nancy Feller, nee Salby, was LS' sister.)
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Sexologian
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Verrry interesting~ Thanks for posting <3

Am I making this up, or is Marsh related to this chick? I remember him bragging about his ~special insider Salby connections~ at one pt. and I'm not sure who else it could be? If not, forgive me, my memory sucks ^_^;;
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Errant KnightsMove
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Sexologian wrote:
Am I making this up, or is Marsh related to this chick?
They're definitely related; that's how we got our hands on TNC. IIRC, she's Marsh's aunt? He told us about meeting her at a family gathering once, and I remember he called her "Aunt Wrath" as a joke because she started some sort of altercation. I'll PM him. Interesting news!
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
Sexologian
Tilemaker

Joined: Apr 3, 2000
Location:
Posts: 1723
I hope Marsh can tell us aaaaaall about "Aunt Wrath" ^_~

Seriously I do I wonder whether she inspired anyone in CC. Would be fun if Marsh almost "knew" a CC character, very "mirror-like"~!
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~*~*~ "He showed her a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and beautifying them all. The nearer one got to the centre, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures." ~*~*~
metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Okay guys here's the deal.

First, thanks Err for sending me a PM. My family isn't that close to the British side of the family anymore so I actually heard about it from the Cafe first and THEN told my dad about it. Weird, huh :P

Yeah, Elena was my aunt, my uncle's wife, on my dad's side. She was also LS' niece, the daughter of his sister Nancy Salby. Nancy died before LS and LS didn't write a will so Elena got all of LS' stuff.

I've already told you guys about this stuff a few times but I can never miss an opportunity to brag about my LS connections ;) I never knew LS and Nancy died before I was born, but I used to see Aunt Elena and Uncle Peter (my dad's bro) a lot when I was little. Uncle Peter died when I was 5 (I think) but Aunt Elena kept coming.

They were nice to me as a kid, but yeah, one Christmas we got together and Elena and my dad had some giant shouting argument I didn't understand, and we didn't see them after that. I think I was maybe 14 at the time? It was a few years after LS died so who knows, that could have had something to do with it? I don't think Aunt Elena and LS were that close near the end though.

I never quite got the Fellers' relationship to LS. It always seemed like dad was a lot prouder of having a famous writer in the family than they were? He knew LS, not that well, but he knew him, and we has signed copies of all the CC books in the house. Dad read them to me when I was a kid. He and Elena would talk about CC and LS sometimes, but he always seemed more into it than she was. She was nice, though. Until that argument.

Anyway, when I told my dad about Aunt Elena dying, it was pretty awkward, because I could tell he wanted to seem sad because she was family but he was clearly excited about something, and was trying to hide it. He made some excuse and went off to his room, and a few hours later, he came down telling me he'd called my uncle James, his other brother, and they talked about Elena, and OK HERE'S THE PART YOU GUYS WILL CARE ABOUT it turns out Elena left her stuff to James, who still lives in England and has been on good terms with Elena all along. James is a solid old dude but he hates reading so he's never cared about CC at all.

So of course my dad asked if James could send him all of LS' old stuff and James was like, of course, it'll be great to get this crap out of my house.

So ASSUMING nothing else comes up and we manage to figure out how to ship some delicate papers and stuff across the Atlantic, dad and I will have our hands on LS' old papers and books. MEANING: all the notes, all the diagrams, all the original manuscripts including the full original Caves (Dad got Elena to scan it back in 95 but who knows if she did it right), all of LS' books with his annotations. It's gonna be a goldmine. If we get it, I'll try to work on scanning as much of it as possible and sending it to you guys.

I am so fucking excited.
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think for yourself, schmuck
ConstanceM
Lorrum

Joined: Apr 9, 2003
Location: By the beach!
Posts: 766
Wow. Marsh, that is wonderful! I can't wait to see what kinds of stuff you guys find.

You guys know I'm not a big fan of how the series ended (even before TNC, I mean), and of course I'll be hoping there's something in there that . . . at least gives me some insight into what LS was thinking. But even if I don't get my wish, just getting more glimpses into how LS worked would be fascinating.

I'm excited too. :D

(P.S. Have you ever considered inviting your dad to join the Cafe? He sounds like one of us. ;)
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metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
ConstanceM wrote:
(P.S. Have you ever considered inviting your dad to join the Cafe? He sounds like one of us. ;)
Haha, he knows I post here but he's a technophobe. He won't use a computer unless he absolutely has to, and then I have to walk him through it. I wish you guys could meet him, though. He's a cool guy and he does love CC.
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think for yourself, schmuck
Errant KnightsMove
Moderator

Joined: Feb 11, 2000
Location: The Inside Of My Head, U.S.
Posts: 3408
Wow. Mixed feelings!

On the one hand, I am salivating about the idea that we are (possibly) going to have access to this stuff. I am worried it'll close down some of my theories, but then more CC material is always better. I've re-read the books so many times, and even read over half of TNC; having something truly new will be a such breath of fresh air, even if it's just a few scraps of info.

On the other hand . . . okay, deep breath. Obviously, Marsh and I have not been getting along so well lately. And, to be honest, I'm worried that this is going to make things even worse. There's the possibility that these materials will answer all our questions about TNC. The possibility that every Schrödinger's Cat in the Seeking Continuity threads will get collapsed to alive or dead.

What if, for the most part, I'm right? Well, of course I'll be happy. I'd feel bad for Marsh, though. But the other possibility is worse: what if Marsh is right? Because, Marsh, all this information is coming from you. You are our only source. Neither of us can deny that we're highly invested in Seeking Continuity now. If you start sending us "new Salby documents" that refute all of my theories, I will be skeptical. Not because I think you're a liar, not because I think it's at all likely you'd fabricate documents. (I wish I knew how to stress this more, to the point that there'd be no doubt left, but I don't.) But because, as someone who cares deeply about understanding Chesscourt, I will always have some lingering doubt about any material I receive from a source with his own interests.

I have the books in front of me. I have TNC on my computer (scanned by Elena, sent to us by you, but that was all before Seeking Continuity, of course). I want to have these new materials in my possession in the same way.

Do you think it's possible I could look at them with my own eyes? That we all could, maybe? I know that's asking a favor from someone I haven't exactly been very nice to lately. But maybe this is the way forward for us. Get together, talk without the screen between us, and see what Salby left behind, with our own eyes, all at once.

Besides, I'd love to meet you guys. And Marsh's dad, too.
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Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)

Chapter Text

That's a key thread there, of course. Not necessarily interesting in itself, but I'll need it to make sure I'm getting the details right: when Elena Feller died, how Marsh obtained the materials, how the idea for Spelunk 04! was born from Marsh and Aaron's enmity. And, come to think of it, it's Kelsey's first appearance in this collection of sources. I was never sure how I felt about Kelsey on the Cafe, and after Spelunk 04!, I am even less sure. I haven't talked to her since it ended, and I probably should. In any case, she was there with us, and she didn't leave before the end, and that's all that really matters.

Aaron actually comes off surprisingly well in that last post. I had bad memories of him around this period -- in fact, I confess that, despite having considered him a fascinating poster for most of my time on the Cafe, I was somewhat apprehensive about meeting him in person. I'll need to find an example of the Aaron/Marsh Wars at their most intense, something to cite to prove just how far it had gone. Assuming that it had gone as far as I think it did, of course. My perception and memory are not transparent, non-refracting media.

I'm still not feeling up to writing the actual Spelunk 04! narrative itself. I figured that sleeping on it might help, but instead I just had a lurid, Cafe-related nightmare. I was somehow suspended in midair above a conical, roseate abyss, glistening slickly in dawn-like light, apparently some biological organ of unknown type and purpose. I seemed to have some ability to move, but my body and my mind were not speaking the same language: simple commands to raise or lower an arm produced glitchy, full-body convolutions. Resigned then to float unmoving, hoping the levitating force would not let up and leave me to be swallowed by the maw beneath, I began to perceive a voice.

It was Aaron's. He was speaking, in his cheerful manner, each phrase ending with a slight uptick in pitch, with the overall tone of someone expounding a theorem or a point of theological doctrine, something coherent with a definite beginning and end. But the words fitted into this schema were incomprehensible. They were English words, and they had a kind of sense, and yet all they added up to was a sort of limp metaphor without enough context to make it potent or applicable, like one of the Lorrum Sage's nonsensical "definitions" ("universe: a foulmouthed mammal's monstrous motor"). More distressingly, each word he said was accompanied by a lurching, peristaltic convulsion of the thing below me, as though it itself were the organ producing Aaron's speech, although the two felt physically disproportionate.

And then? I woke up. What does it mean? Nothing I can make out. I can't even remember any of what Aaron said, not that it made any coherent impression at the time. The whole dream was amusingly underwhelming, cheaply uninteresting even as a nightmare; my subconscious was phoning it in. But life contains such things, and we must accept them and continue.

Accept and continue. I do not feel ready for Spelunk 04! yet. So I will go back in time, a bit. Collect a few more samples. I've told myself I want to show those outside the Cafe a bit of Jennific, and I said a moment ago that I need a good example of Aaron and Marsh in their full grotesque glory. (I have been looking through threads and I have pretty much given up on finding an example that makes them look good the way I want them to look good -- as scholars, intellectuals. That's how they looked to me, but come on -- it's an internet forum. I can't make the reader see the glory I saw. The best I can do, alas, is to show what the arguments finally became, and let the reader draw his own conclusions.)

Chapter Text

I was looking through the update threads for Life Among The Lorrums, and I realized something.

Life Among The Lorrums is a great story.  Jenny's eye for subtleties of character is undoubtedly superior to Salby's, and she takes her worldbuilding more seriously than Salby took his, or seriously in a different way, at least.  Salby's worldbuilding is entirely consistent on the level of logic, but has an uneasy relationship with plausibility.  When he stipulates something, it remains true forever -- but he feels free to stipulate absolutely anything he wishes.  Especially in the later Chesscourt novels, one feels one is only allowed to use rules of inference made legitimate by Salbian fiat, rather than those imported from everyday life.  Whereas Jenny took Salby's motley, whimsical stipulations about Lorrum society -- their matriarchal twist on animal dominance hierarchies; their heavily ritualized and significance-invested "bonding" which takes the place of both friendship and romance; their quasi-religious fetishism or idolatry towards machines and technological "progress"; and so forth -- Jenny took these scraps and wove them into a coherent tapestry which produced harmony and unrest, lives well-led and lives of desperation, eager suggestions of reform and low murmurs of revolution.  Were this fic to achieve some sort of wide readership -- oh, I can just picture the Masters' theses!

Life Among The Lorrums is also around 800 pages long.

People are going to read about Spelunk 04!.  What I want to do is seal all information about it in an underground chamber and make any interested party read the entirety of Chesscourt, Life Among The Lorrums, Seeking Continuity, and much else besides before gaining entry.  This is, of course, impossible.

People are going to read about Spelunk 04!.

I am living in a fantasy.  The fantasy says that if only I can prepare people, carefully, elaborately, with every nuance of the experience subject to my absolute control, that I can make them see everything I saw.  Which is also, of course, impossible.  Even if I write the best of all possible reports -- even if I employ the subtlest stratagems, make my readers drunk on my rhetoric, before granting them access to the secret lair where the mundane truths of Spelunk 04! lay sealed -- people are going to just skip to the juicy bits at the end.  And there is nothing I can do about that.

What I need is not an ideal aperitif, but a meal good enough that no aperitif is required.  I need to just tell the story, the fucking story, and do it well, tell it from the perspective of myself as sympathetic character (present self as sane, sensitive).  Tell the story so that no one needs thousands of pages of deep-background reading to understand it.

I have been avoiding this because it seems, well, impossible.  Unfortunately, there are no alternatives.  This is my duty.  I am a Salbian, and so I will execute my duty.

I am going to try to begin talking in a way that circles closer to the actual narrative and it is not going to be good enough, but it will be a start, and I can always revise.  This is not the report.

What happened at Spelunk 04!, in those five days we spent at Marsh's house in Miami?

We opened the set of boxes containing Salby's documents.  We sat around Marsh's spacious living room table, surrounded by evening half-light and cozy bookshelves whose contents made us feel instantly at home.  We pored over the messy if colorful pencilled diagrams, the plan of the mansion and the map of the Plains, the scribbled studies of Cherubim in front view and profile.  We gawked at the thick stack of typed pages, bound in string, whose first line read "THE NORTHERN CAVES: A CHESSCOURT STORY."  We opened old books and were assaulted by the dust they contained.  We learned that Salby's taste in reading material was oddly unilluminating.  I paged for a minute or two through Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, wondering if there was anything about Chesscourt to be gleaned therein.

We beheld each other awkwardly, of course.  We found each others' voices surprising.  Jenny's was nerdier, more halting than I'd expected; Marsh's, smoother and more articulate.  Kelsey was very shy, at least at first.  Only Aaron fit my expectations: large if not exactly fat, cheerful, dressed in full geek regalia (comedy t-shirt, jeans, a hat of some sort), possessed of a voice that made every word out of his mouth feel professorial, explanatory, even if he were merely asking for the location of the bathroom.

He was nicer than I expected, though.  I think they all were.  Aaron and Marsh got along well from the very start, which was a great relief.

In one of the boxes, we found a tall stack of ratty spiral-bound journals.  These were the prize.  They went back to 1980, and continued all the way into '95.  Many of the entries, of course, were uninteresting: low-detail accounts of low mood (very common), remarks on the weather (why?), notes on how many pages he expected to write in a given day and how many he in fact wrote.

It was Marsh who found the bomb that broke everything apart.  We were passing the journals around, in a mood of high cheer, a festive slumber-party mood, that of children staying up past bedtime and doing something naughty.  Marsh happened to receive the journal dedicated to (I think it was?) July to October 1988.  I remember exactly the words he said, every banal one of them:

"Guys, this is really interesting.  Can I just read a bit of this?"

Of course he could.  Anyone could do anything, in this wonderful carnival, this night unlike any other night.  So Marsh began to read.

I have the journal with me here, of course.  We've scanned it, along with all the others.  I am almost completely sure that the entry he first read to us was the one for July 17 1988.  It's the one that begins -- now these words are burned into my brain, after all --

"Am filled w energy today.  Have thus begun on the obverse part of Chscrt.  Had worried that I was tiring and my task would be left half incomplete.  But oh the Mundum has given me a lucky break today.  Must now state some things clear to me but not yet written down about Mundum etc., for peace of mind mainly so that they are out of my head and can work even more clearly than I have been."

Is any of this usable?  I'm not even sure it's a good first draft.  I'll have to remove the part about Aaron's appearance, for instance.  But still -- there's something to this framing?  I can see it as a sort of long-form magazine article, beginning in medias res: the story starts with the meeting, tension between online selves and IRL selves used as initial human interest point, etc.  Good as first draft at least?  Weave in materials as needed.  But write the damn story.

Chapter Text

Entry In Leonard Salby's Journal, July 17 1988

Am filled with energy today.  Have thus begun on the obverse part of Chscrt.  Had worried that I was tiring and my task would be left half incomplete.  But oh the Mundum has given me a lucky break today.  Must now state some things clear to me but not yet written down about Mundum etc., for peace of mind mainly so that they are out of my head and can work even more clearly than I have been.

Will not assume some prev. stated backgrnd so that this is more complete as mission statement etc. for Chscrt.

Chscrt. is of course reflection of my sense of life, possessed since early childhood.  Cf. various childhood narratives (again need to form index for these).  Sense of life concerns living within Mundum.  Mundum = world as it presents itself to me, meaning, not vale of tears precisely, but vale of responsibility.

Was 7 ? and sitting in pew when I realized that God could be wrong and if God was wrong I would still have to be right.  This was I think first Touch of Mundum = great oppressive weight upon me bc God or father or mamma could be wrong.  Remember I talked for hours w Nancy about it and she couldn't get it and I despaired.

Human behavior as reported by friends, family, newspaper seems to me filled w great errors as it is driven largely by frantic attempts to evade Mundum which can't be evaded.  This is an especially disheartening age bc we have once again decided upon self-assertion rather than God as the evasion technique.  Once we said "Mundum is there and oppressive but God will sort it out" which was wrong bc God can be wrong but there was at least acknowledge of Mundum there.  Now we say "I can assert myself fully, take heed of no one else and look no God or other strikes me down w lightning."  Saying this over and over again so many people reveals of course the desperate franticness that shows they really feel Mundum bearing down on them just like I always have and they think they can escape.  We are moving in the wrong direction and few understand.  I have tried to get Nancy to understand many times and she won't and now thinks I have lost my head and I think Peter and Elena do too.  Hard to tell anyone the truth these days.

We have always been asking what to make of our moral sentiments since we've clearly had them since dawn of time.  Many attempts to theorize and reduce (Moses Jesus Buddha Confucius et al) which have led so very very many astray.  Often we take a stab and get "Golden Rule" = "treat others how you would want to be treated" which doesn't cover it bc MUNDUM IS BIGGER THAN DESIRE.  We have been feeling this forever and Golden Rule evades it as does more modern, degraded theories e.g. Mill and other similar morons.

This is a very simple pt. and we are always evading it even me although I've tried my whole life since that day in the pew not to.  Golden Rule and Mill etc. say "placate Mundum by imagining what would please the other person and then do that."  But think of what happens when one pleases you.  Being pleased is a small thing.  We know this, I think even Nancy and all the people I've tried to argue this w for years know this, that being satisfied is not a thing of the same species as the feelings produced by Mundum.  That is when I worry I am not FULFILLING MY RESPONSIBILITY I "feel" (I wish wish wish there were another word than this!  will have to invent one) a kind of "pain" (need a new word again!) but it is not the same as if someone had hit me or made me starve.  Hit me or made me starve can be suffered through but it lacks DEFINITE WRONGNESS -- that is the sort of wrongness which God nor Mill nor Christ nor orgasm nor Nancy or father or mamma or ANYONE can make right by saying so.

This is not understood.  Definite wrongness is a fact of the matter as much as the color of your hair is blonde and your height is 162 cm is a fact of the matter.  How does one know?  (The theorists ask, hoping for a miracle)  One knows bc one can tell the relative importance of things by presentation of relative importance of things in the theatre of the conscious mind.  This is a RULE bc if we refuse to grant it as a rule all falls apart.  Imagine: "I might as well let my child die for after all who am I to say that my feelings of care for my child mean my child is important."  Nonsense.  But Mundum presents itself, if not always loudly (for we plug our ears so very very hard) then always more profoundly, on a higher tier of profundity, than any child or God or so forth.  Mundum says "here is definite wrongness" and if we are willing to listen we understand that definite wrongness is a fact and a thing above and beyond the life of our child, worship of our God etc. much less the proper sort of orgasms, exercise of "rights" and all the other things the Grauniad  would like to tell me about today.

For many thousand years we have been devising ways to ignore the speech of Mundum and so we have become quite adept at the game by now.  The trick (Golden Rule or such) by which Mundum's speech is converted into something about satisfaction is a v clever one bc at root we don't REALLY think satisfaction is so profound (give me a garden and a shapely wife and a winsome little son oh please is THIS the whole of the law?) and for that reason we lead ourselves to say morality isn't so important after all.  Of course we make many noises about its great importance (another diversion tactic) but in our heart of hearts we know this is a paltry thing and so we can go home at last satisfied that it doesn't really matter much anyway.  And as we try to fall asleep we hear Mundum whispering in our ears but we remind ourselves of the axioms which convert it into our garden and shapely wife and winsome little son and thus can say "oh, shush, you are unimportant."  And our sleep is untroubled.

But what does Mundum say if we let it speak?

Well one of the things it says, and one we have been trying to avoid, is: "the task is never done."

We do not want to hear this.  Surely men such as there are now do not want to: we have learned that this is the cry of the neurotic who merely needs Dr Freud to tell him that he feels his task is never done bc the task is really congress w his mother (DESIRE again!).  I have often fancied that men of old understood what Mundum was telling them.  But in fact when I read of them I always find that every man who is attuned fully to his task either dies or becomes some sort of king or retiree.  I worry about the meaning of this.  At age 69 I feel the voice of Mundum as heavily as at 7 but I worry perhaps there is a thing in most of us which makes it wane over time.  And this is contrary to its ways, since it ways say, "the task is never done."

What else?

The task is never done.  No one else can shoulder it for us.  The task cannot be theorized into parts such as desire or satisfaction.  Instead it presents itself in a complete bolus of absolute responsibility.  Each moment we have the choice: perform the duty, or evade the duty.  Society as it has existed for millennia is a set of structures mainly aimed at rationalizing the second of these choices.  Mundum says: DO.  And we may either do or not do.  And all the theories, all the structures, all the kings and all the ballot booths, are ways of saying, "but perhaps we can choose not to do."  No.

I was on a walk the other day.  The sun was setting and I saw, in the dimming light, a man and a woman walking along the same path and holding hands.  And my heart sank for somehow I knew that these were modern beings, who had reduced Mundum's voice to a gentle trickle, which their own voices, chattering back and forth carefree on an evening walk, could easily drown out.  And I wanted, selfishly, because I am old and I have been trying to say these things since I was 7, to accost them and tell them, in whatever words I could muster, being a "professional writer" (not of course the following ones): "please, for the love of all that is worthy in this world, heed the voice of Mundum!"

But Mundum told me: your duty is not to do this.  So I did not.

I should perhaps make certain clarifications here in case anyone who does not share my sense of life happens upon this notebook (who knows what may happen) and is liable to get the wrong impression.  I must sound quite ill.  As a matter of fact, I have, of my own volition, sought the advice of so-called psychiatric experts (as descendants, in one way or another, of Dr Freud I distrust their "expertise" but that is of no importance here).  I have been given a bill of good health.  I appear to have no delusional or neurotic illness.  I have what, and I quote, has been called "an obsessive fixation on moral concerns" (what an age in which this is worthy of note!) which nonetheless "does not seem to obstruct Mr Salby in the course of independent living, or hinder his ability to perform as children's author of note."  Observations were however made upon my "inconsistencies of performance" on certain "tests of cognitive function," but as these (whatever they may be) do not obstruct my performance as a children's author of note &c they were deemed of no clinical import.

So how is it that I come to know so much about Mundum?  If my purported knowledge of Mundum were a delusion I would be quite ready to accept that I am delusional, but the doctors tell me it is not and they (I am told) have the last word in such matters.  And yet I feel that I know Mundum as few have.  What explains this?  I first felt its touch in a pew as a young boy; many young boys have been in pews; some piece here is missing.

Perhaps there are others?  More than there appear to be?

That is where Chscrt. comes into the picture.

Mundum has been telling me since childhood that I have the responsibility to in some way disseminate what I know of it and others seem to have avoided.  There are various ways this might be accomplished.  I might have tried to squeeze Mundum into one or another religious creed and preach; -- but I am a terribly awkward and fumbling speaker (as the psychological experts dutifully noted).  I might try to squeeze it into the strictures of what we call moral philosophy; -- but as moral philosophy is one great attempt to evade it, I imagine my views would be ill received, and success would mean the dissolution of the very podium I would have built for myself, a self-contradiction not favorable for one wanting to present oneself as standing firm (as Mundum surely does).  Yet I do seem to have some verbal faculty (contra ? the psychiatric experts who report that my "verbal function" is "inconsistent" -- or perhaps that is what they are calling verbal faculty these days!), and use of that faculty, in one way or another, seemed my most promising route to the prophethood w which I was tasked.

Thus, I became an artist.  Because one can say in art what is impermissible in the public square, and resort whenever attacked, in any manner whatsoever, to the armory of obfuscatory defenses that our fallen culture has accustomed itself to accepting.

In Chscrt. I say in plain view what I mean but surround it with many fancies so that the Mundum-deniers do not come to batter my door down.  I began with Thornbush, a story for children, so as to prepare a receptive audience for my message in fuller form; having done so, I simply set out the world as I saw it, the vale of responsibility, and devised a cast of characters, as charismatic as I could make them and with all the gleaming oddities without which fiction today is deemed arid.  I made these characters obey, simply and without straying, the voice of Mundum, never mentioning that hidden protagonist explicitly but directing all action bluntly by its command.

Chscrt. was a success -- though not as I had wished.  For I had done too well: those who could not tell Mundum's divine chant from the latest advertising jingle were all too taken in by my cheap knockoffs of the Inklings, my funny talking animals, and my mirthful old ladies, and my reams of lore invented only to make moral action difficult and thus in keeping with reality.  I sought then to strain out those in my audience who did not understand.  I made my heroes rise to duties which no one ignorant of Mundum would find palatable.  I veered and darted in ways I thought would shake off those in search of a good story.

Have I succeeded?  I do not know.  The press has grown almost uniformly negative, which is a good sign.  I have met a few who treasure my books, such as Elena's brother-in-law, and if there is evidence of Mundum in them it is invisible to me.

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER LINK IN THE CHAIN.  Mundum has another side, which is even less often heard, but which speaks to me equally.  The life dictated to me has two sides, and in Chscrt. I have only expressed one.  In my new novel I seek to express the other.  AND THIS I THINK WILL EITHER FAIL DECISIVELY, OR SUCCEED.  Those who share my sense of life will recognize IMMEDIATELY what it is I am doing.  Those who do not will find NOTHING to sustain them, and look away.  At last I will know my false friends from true.

The question is: what does one RECEIVE IN RETURN for doing one's duty?

This is another question on which we have been trying to deceive ourselves for 3000 years or more.  We say a life well lived is its own reward, perhaps.  Or we buy into the HEAVEN myth (variants in Nirvana etc.) which tells us that no matter HOW abysmal our world may be at rewarding virtue, the next world lacks this defect.

Nonsense.  What does one receive in return for obeying Mundum?  The other, obverse face of Mundum.  I have called this thing "Mundum" bc it is the world, the real world, when one strips away the defenses one has become accustomed to employing.  And one face of the real world consists not of matter but of responsibility.  The other face consists -- not quite of matter -- but of the RESULTS of responsibility well executed, which are --

How can I say it?  One does not listen to Mundum in expectation of reward.  At least not reward in the sense of DESIRE AND SATISFACTION, those paltry things.  One listens to Mundum, obeys, and receives THE WHOLE BLEAK ENDLESS WORLD in return.  One wishes that one's duty is over because it is thankless -- or rather, thanked in the coin of THE WHOLE BLEAK ENDLESS WORLD.  But one's duty is never over.  The reverse side of Mundum, what I have been above calling Mundum tout court, the inner world of pure responsibility and definite wrongness, tells one that one's duty is never over.  The OBVERSE face tells one that in addition to a vale of responsibility the true reality is a vale of NON-REWARD -- not in the modern sense of DESIRES UNSATISFIED but in the deepest sense, that Mundum never fulfills itself and makes of itself a plenum like a heaven in which we can sit in harmony with it & our selves.

Believing that we act to CORRECT definite wrongness -- to "redeem the world" as the liars say Christ did -- is another species of civilized error.  Definite wrongness is a constant without which Mundum could not be; it is the very stuff of Mundum's obverse face, which we see in front of us every moment until we die.  Obeying Mundum, we execute our duty and do not participate in definite wrongness, -- BUT DEFINITE WRONGNESS IS NOT THUS REDUCED, and the only plenum there is is this one, not made of matter, nor of responsibility, but of definite wrongness.  THE WHOLE BLEAK ENDLESS WORLD.  It does not end, -- and this is what we have been trying to avoid, by telling ourselves of Christs.

The next Chscrt. book will be superficially quite different from the others so I imagine it will produce quite a stir.  However those who know will look at it and smile, saying, "yes, Salby knew, as I always suspected he knew; he is continuing the thread."  My heroes have heeded Mundum; let them now reap its rewards, which is to say, a world which when we remove our illusions is a vale of definite wrongness not reduced by moral action.

Oh, I am so filled with energy!  This has been long but I could write for pages and pages more.  But this is enough I think.  Better to channel onto the page what I know & feel.

Chapter Text

"Life Among The Lorrums Update Thread: Chs. 64-6" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 1 of 7)

jenni_fur
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update! link is here.

sorry for the long wait -- i figured these three chapters should be posted in one big block, for reasons that will probably become clear when you read. this one is a bit of a doozy plot-wise, so be prepared ;)

you guys know the drill: thread is a spoiler zone, those wanting spoiler-free discussion (including advice for getting into the story etc) can go to the spoiler-free thread. questions welcome. play nice.
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"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)
Avery Lodestone
Cherub

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Just finished 64 and . . . GOD DAMMIT SPEAR-TAIL. >_>

That is all.
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Sexologian
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Damn. Daaaaaaamn~

Jenny I've said this before but I can hyperfocus on your writing like nothing else. (Would be nice if I could do the same for schoolwork, but I'll take what I can get ^^.) Wonderful pacing as always, masterfully engrossing, nicely done.

Now as for the story…I'm sorry. I'm not sure if I'm okay with this. I've been absolutely ~in love~ with the way you've characterized Cleft-Ear as I've said many many times and his coup d'etat really seemed like it was taking the story new places. And now it's all over, just like that? Because Spear-Tail was more important than his ideals? More important than the Corpuscule Device?

I don't want to call bullshit but I am…not happy. ;_: But Jenny you are a ~fantastic~ writer and I trust that you are toying with my heart this way for a very important reason ^_^

As always, cannot wait for the next update~
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jenni_fur
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thanks as always for the writing praise, sexologian!

as for your other comments -- i know this is pretty much a non-answer, but mostly i just hope you'll keep reading and that the parts that are frustrating now will, as you said, eventually feel like they are there for a good reason.

(i WAS expecting exactly this kind of response to this update, tbh. not to say too much but part of what i've been doing this whole time is trying to show how HARD it is to change lorrum society -- how much the society builds in ways of handling potential challenges. i won't say what'll happen to cleft-ear's ideals, but this is exactly the sort of thing they HAVE to be able to deal with, if they're going to get anywhere.)
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"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)
Errant KnightsMove
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A lot to chew on here. Thanks, Jenny, for a very thought-provoking and complex set of chapters, even by your high standards.

A few thoughts:

Cleft-Ear's willingness to join Spear-Tail's bond-cell struck me as very culturally authentic, and, just as you said, a way of illustrating the barriers to change in Lorrum society. You've always been highly consistent about depicting the intense shame that the Lorrums feel upon rejecting a bond request from a superior. As I've remarked before in earlier update threads, Cleft-Ear seems to see his coup as simply a return to the way Lorrum society should be, rather than a true revolution. So it makes sense that he would not have weeded out aspects of Lorrum culture like the appeal of bond requests. Why should he? Good characterization, good sociology.

On the other hand, I did find this a bit jarring:
In an instant, with the suddenness of a pipe bursting, Cleft-Ear's orderly little world collapsed upon him, and he was left quivering under the piled-up remains.

Because what, after all, was the Corpuscule Device good for, in a warren where the Spirit was no longer obeyed? He had convinced himself that Shimmering and Morning-Dew had abandoned the Spirit of the Gears and that it was up to him to restore it, because no one else would. That he, a male Gamma, should depose the Regnant Cell not in his name -- he was nobody -- but in the name of better, truer Regnant Cells to come. Stranger things had happened. (Think of Pullulus, think of Pullulus . . . ) But above all, Cleft-Ear valued the Spirit of the Gears, and the Spirit rose up within him and told him that it was right for a gamma like him and a benevolent alpha to bond. That this was how harmony was made, and pleasant dawns when one could awake to the singing of the machines and know that all was well in the warren. Refuse this, and there would be no more Corpuscle Devices, no more Regnant Cells, no more of anything bright and harmonious. Gear-tooth would fail to engage gear-tooth and the great inanity, the great disappointment of unharmony would return . . . Cleft-Ear shuddered to think of it, and as he shuddered he felt Spear-Tail's fur brush against his, warm mechanism locking with warm mechanism, and he knew what he was going to do, what he never could have refused doing.
As I said, this seems like an authentic depiction of the Lorrum mindset. But how is this any different from the situation faced by Pullulus? Pullulus also had to fight the temptation of bonding, in order to keep his independence from the Regnant Cell and drum up support for the Grain Reforms. And wouldn't a bond request from the Regnant Cell be more appealing than a bond request from a singleton alpha?

Of course I can accept this as Cleft-Ear's own failing. There's no reason he has to be as strong as Pullulus, who was an exceptional hero. It's just not clear to me why this didn't even seem to occur to him, even though he's specifically thinking about Pullulus.

Now, for something completely different. When I read this description of Shimmering's new project:
Her idea had been a simple one. It was a straightforward application of the Thorn Channelling principle that had been used for communication within the warren ever since the human incursion. By exploiting the principle of mirrored force -- formerly considered a mere nuisance -- she sought to overcome the ordinary laws of momentum and produce a peculiar engine, like none any engineer had made before. Of course, Lorrums had hit upon the idea the moment the warren became aware of Thorn Channelling, but the mechanical inefficiencies involved had appeared to doom any practical application. Shimmering, however, thought she had found a loophole.
I was reminded immediately of TNC and Seeking Continuity, specifically the Reversal Hypothesis. Obviously it's a pretty loose connection, but I know you've been following the Seeking Continuity threads, and I just figured I'd ask if this was a deliberate reference?
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
metamarsh
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Errant KnightsMove wrote:
I was reminded immediately of TNC and Seeking Continuity, specifically the Reversal Hypothesis. Obviously it's a pretty loose connection, but I know you've been following the Seeking Continuity threads, and I just figured I'd ask if this was a deliberate reference?
Lol Err. Considering that the whole force mirror thing is spelled out in CC, I kinda doubt this is a reference to your super special sparkly "Reversal Hypothesis."

Nice chapters Jenny. Hate to see Cleft-Ear get pussywhipped again but that's the way the Lorrums are I guess. Hope the coup works out in the end
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jenni_fur
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marsh, please don't be a dick. :P i know you're frustrated with err right now but PLEASE keep that in seeking continuity and don't bring it here. (also, if what you're getting out of this is that cleft-ear is being "pussywhipped," you are missing the point. the lorrums have a matriarchal society. going against that is difficult and risks disrupting the social order, which they consider very important. this is lorrums 101 stuff)

err, thanks for the commentary! i always enjoy your detailed feedback. the deal with pullulus is that, well, as much as cleft-ear thinks of himself as following in p's footsteps, he has not REALLY thought about what that would mean. p was a serious radical to the point of basically opposing the spirit of the gears. or many would say so anyway. to cleft-ear, p is an IDEAL, but not really someone he thinks about on the level of practical reality. i think (hope? :P) this comes across in his thoughts about p in, say, ch 60.

last: sorry to say, but i didn't really have seeking continuity or TNC in mind when writing any of this. i have been reading seeking continuity, but at this point my interest in TNC is pretty low and most of my salby thinking goes toward my fic.
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"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)
Ombudsman
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Although I have tried in recent months to remain a mere passive recipient of this fiction, letting its virtues and its failings wash over me without either provoking me to action, I feel that the singular tenor of this latest sally cannot be met with mere silence by one who aspires, as I do, to rectitude in thought and forthright honesty in speech. Forgive me, dearest Jenni_Fur, for raising my voice again in protest against certain blemishes I descry upon the weft of your subcreation. I am not ignorant of your feelings as to these forays into criticism, but I fear in this case my dedication to right reason overrules my tact.

Let it be observed, first, that I am as ever an admirer of your prosecraft, your integrity of vision (be it nonetheless a vision which in some respects repels me), and your magisterial command of the full palette of human affinities, here somber, here whimsical, here bestirred with passion, everywhere true to life as it is lived. In reproduction of verities, then, your achivement is unimpeachable. But reproduction of verities is not the artist's sole task, for we must ask whether the verities of character therein reproduced are ennobling or degenerating, whether they lead the reader closer towards the higher and better things of his nature or merely lend him a gentle push in that slouch towards Bethlehem to which, helped or not, we all by nature incline.

In this regard it is my task here, as it has been on other occasions, to take issue with your dramatis personae and the colorations you bestow upon their motley intercourses. For in this instance, you have first presented your audience with an admirable figure -- deviser of a Device which I take it stands in for the whole of human enterprise -- and twice debased him, first by setting him spuriously at odds with his community (I have remarked upon this at length in prior threads), and now by presenting him with a choice between the love of a woman and the pursuit of his ambition. Should we accept this as a true dilemma, or reject it as a false one? I say the latter, for a survey of historical men of enterprise and ingenuity will reveal that they, as often as the common run of man, find themselves capable of forging familial households in which each supports each. I cannot accept, as conducive to a healthy balance of considerations in the mind of the reader, such a perniciously stacked choice, in which our hapless protagonist must choose between the furtherance of enterprise -- at the cost of household, society, and in short all values whether human or lapine -- and the company of a woman of the political world, her soul flecked all through with motives ulterior.

Must anyone face such a Sophie's Choice, or may we instead flee venal politics and relinquishment of ambition and seek out a harmonious coexistence with wife and homeland while working all the more on our Corpuscle Devices or whatever else may stir the spirit of boundless pursuit within us? I venture to aver the latter. And though you may reply that the Lorrums have no such happy eventualities on the horizon, I caution that the Lorrums are unreal while men are real, that any depictions of such phantasms must ultimately serve the end of superior realizations here in the real, where all stories are forged and which all stories must serve.
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jenni_fur
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ombudsman, we have been over this. i have tried to respond to your posts in earlier threads and i have not found that we can agree about much. you are free to post here, but i will not respond. have a nice day. :P
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"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)
metamarsh
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Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
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jenni_fur wrote:
marsh, please don't be a dick. :P i know you're frustrated with err right now but PLEASE keep that in seeking continuity and don't bring it here. (also, if what you're getting out of this is that cleft-ear is being "pussywhipped," you are missing the point. the lorrums have a matriarchal society. going against that is difficult and risks disrupting the social order, which they consider very important. this is lorrums 101 stuff)
Sorry Jenny, and sorry Err. I was kinda not sober when I wrote that post but I know that doesn't excuse anything. I have my own opinions about Cleft-Ear and Spear-Tail but I should probably think about them some more and try to find a way to say them that isn't stupid.

And yeah I admit I've been really getting on Err's case about the Reversal Hypothesis stuff. It just seems so wrong to me but I'll keep that to seeking continuity.

Man, I wake up with a hangover and the first thing I see is that I've been a dick to my friends. Talk about a bad way to start the morning. Again, sorry guys.
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Chapter Text

On with the damn story.  Revise later.

After Marsh finished reading the journal entry we all sat in silence for a minute.  After a certain span of time had elapsed I permitted myself to glance over at my compatriots, arrayed along Marsh's couch, wide and deep-cushioned.  Marsh was still looking down at the page, expression inscrutable.  Aaron was bobbing his head slightly in a sort of "yes, I see now" gesture.  Jenny faced away from me, toward Kelsey, her purple hoodie a broad oblong splotch in my visual tableau, shaded dramatically in the low angled light, yielding here and there to snatches of Kelsey's goth-causal getup.

(Remove "visual tableau."  De-stylize prose.  Need to make this less pretentious-sounding.  This is how I always get when I'm nervous.  On with the damn story.)

Marsh spoke up first.

"Well, that was a trip," he said.

"Yeah, seriously," said Aaron.

It was fine.  Everything was fine.  We had learned a thing or two about Leonard Salby.  He was an odd guy with a distinctive moral sense.  We knew that already.  The Northern Caves was some sort of attempt to assert that the world doesn't necessarily reward being a good person.  Or rather, that you can be a good person, and still find yourself in a world as twisted and incomprehensible as TNC.  Fine.  Mystery solved.

But the length . . . ?  The Tales?  All the little hidden bits Aaron had spent months cataloguing and connecting?

"I'm curious," Aaron said, in a high flat tone, "what we'll learn about TNC from the rest of these notes."  He pronounced "TNC" as an acronym: tee-enn-see.

Weren't we all.

Jenny turned back toward the me-Marsh-Aaron group.  (I don't know if I thought about this at the time, but it's funny how we split up immediately by gender, like children afraid of cooties.)  She made some sort of complex gesture, with her complex and articulate hands, toward the stack of journals still lying untouched on the living room table.  In the cone of light provided by the sole bulb on Marsh's living room ceiling -- the visual tableau is fixed in my mind and can be called up at will -- her pale round face, framed by messy locks and bangs, presented in a flash an image of fullness and generosity, something definitively feminine which was a stark contrast toward Marsh's ectomorphic slacker slouch and Aaron's broad stolid equanimity

(Need to figure out how to deal with this.  Burden heavy many ways etc.  From this point on I was very noticeably attracted to Jenny, which I had never been from forum interactions alone.  Could this provide human interest, Salbians have not only crushing obligations but also crushes, just like you and your friends and so forth?  Or does it just play into old nerd-boy fancies nerd-girl trope which plays into stereotypes which aid in dehumanization?  Fine if I get dehumanized but I don't want any of the others to take splash damage.  Certainly don't include above descriptive sentence chain in report.  And don't want to start any drama on the forum.  After Spelunk 04! Jenny and I are friends and are aware of the state of affairs but are not involved.  Should make this clear.  On w/ damn story)

Jenny said, "I'd like to see the last journal entries.  So we can see what he was thinking, you know, near the end?"

Pause.  "I'm sorry if that's . . . morbid.  I just . . . "

"No, I totally see what you mean."  Marsh.

Marsh's body language is nonchalant, energy-minimizing, but like so many people with these traits he is very efficient at getting any given physical task done (the better, after all, to minimize energy usage and quicken a return to his natural slouch).  He leaned forward, grabbed the stack of paper, made some deft maneuvers, eyed and discarded several sheets, and found one he seemed to like.  As it seemed he was the de facto journal reader, he sat back and simply began to read:

"February 8 1995

Well the work goes on but it's hard w/o WC.  Low energy from prev week continues.  WC was a marvel and I miss him much but mustn't lament the World this is what one gets from Mundum so on so forth.  I woke up angry wishing I could be done with 'Northern Caves' so that I could find more like WC.  I am sure that when it is done they will come.  But WC is gone and I just receive World yes yes I know must continue the work yes Mundum.

I have not seen many pleasing things in World but I remember the look of joy on WCs dying face and that is one of the few good ones and I poor failing creature can keep that in mind while I continue with work.  Should simply be able to work bc responsibility but I am weak and DESIRE plagues me as ever so I think of the few good things I have seen such as WC arriving at my doorstep telling me of his sense of life and WCs face at the end.  I wish the work could be DONE so there could be more like WC but wishes are nothing I am wasting my time I must work now."

Marsh looked up.  His face carried the facial equivalent of a shrug.  Across the couch I saw Aaron, Jenny, Kelsey leaning outward in various states of nervous perplexity.  Aaron in particular -- ah, here we go -- Aaron in particular seemed nervous as opposed to merely perplexed.  He was . . . vibrating? . . . slightly, and the muscles around his mouth kept twitching as if to suppress speech.

At the back of this visual tableau, behind Kelsey, stood the man who had welcomed me into the household.  Marsh's father.  He was framed by the open doorway between living room and foyer, leaning on it with one arm, some sort of drink in his hand, watching and listening.  I had no idea how long he'd been there.  He was a lanky man, like Marsh was, balding and austere in appearance but cheerfully paternal in affect; the kind of dad you'd expect to have a beer belly, even though he didn't.  But at this moment he did not look cheerful -- although he did still look paternal.  About to assert that it was someone's bedtime, or that someone should really know better than to something-or-other.

"That's some serious stuff," he said, inanely.

After a pause, in which every member of the couch party became aware of his presence, he continued:

"That's some stuff that people have said some things about.  It's really . . . "

He just trailed off.  And leaned there in the doorway, mute, taking furtive sips from his beverage, exuding discomfort.

Chapter Text

"Seeking Continuity in Seeking Continuity (Seeking Continuity in TNC: Thread 2)" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 43 of 100)

Errant KnightsMove
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Further Insights from the Reversal Hypothesis: Implications for T15 and the Space Episode

Tonight I was having trouble getting to sleep (once again) when inspiration struck. I was reflecting again on the difficulties involved in securing Sally and W in their roles in T15 given that a role reversal seems to have occurred since T14 and yet neither died in T14. Given the striking success of my Reversal Hypothesis in explaining OOC behavior within the Tales and in justifying otherwise scenes of otherwise gratuitous violence (Cleanth must torture Charles to death in the Non-Lucid Cleanth Episode in order for Charles to transmigrate to Cleanth and vice versa in preparation for T1), the outright failure of the hypothesis in this case has worried me a lot!

But, as I said, inspiration struck. What if, I wondered, the transmigration in this case occurred not forward, but backward in time? That is, what if a death event in a following episode was retroactively responsible for the swap between T14 and T15?

Now I know what you're thinking: why a special exception like that? My Hypotheses aspire to the status of scientific principles. There should be no cases they do not apply to. Ah, but that's just where my recent forays ahead of the reading schedule have proven themselves valuable, because what follows T15 provides a powerful, independent reason for believing that this kind of "retroactive transmigration" might have occurred! Let me be clear here: I am not saying that I am a superior reader or theorist for having read ahead and jumped on this revelation before any of you. I have simply had the luck to stumble upon my hypotheses, and the abundance of free time to read even more of TNC than I've been asking of you. The Hypotheses and TNC speak through me. I am merely a conduit for the brilliant structure that Salby has made for us to find here.

The night before last, I found myself wanting to read on after finishing T15, and plowed right ahead into the Finale. As I have noted before, the Finale is much less coherent on average than the Tales, and I confess I skimmed through a lot of gibberish to get to the first bit that looks like a Tale. (Not that I think there is any true "gibberish" in TNC -- but I've put the Cypher Hypothesis on the back-burner because exploring the consequences of the Reversal Hypothesis have been revelatory enough for now!) The first Tale-like section in the Finale is something that I believe I have previously referred to as the "Space Episode," as it seems to be some sort of work of science fiction, set in outer space. As with most TNC "Episodes," it has its own distinctive style while still being very "TNC." For those of you who haven't yet read the Space Episode -- which I think will be all of you -- I'll provide a brief description.

Summary of the Space Episode

Characters: W (apparently persistent from T15), Sally (apparently persistent from T15), "the Solenoid Entity" (new), "Captain Krylov" (new), "Amsthivena" (new), "the Council of the Lenses" (new, 16 members?)

Story Outline: Several pages of highly garbed material with repeated mentions of "the Solenoid Entity" (sometimes "Soliton Entity," "Selenic Entity," "Solenoid Entistry," etc.) is revealed to be a "transmission" from Captain Krylov, a spaceship captain. Inside the ship, Krylov orders W, his second-in-command, to step into the entity in order to "purify himself."

W puts his space suit on, but is stopped by Sally, who in a long and bizarre scene attempts to stop him from leaving. After telling him that "those god awful chess books have turned your head" (!) and trying to convince him in various ways, she tries to seduce him, or so it seems. But this section is very confused and it's not clear to me whether I'm merely reading sexual connotations into strange phrases ("Sally went for Ws full exoteric crystal matrix as hard as graphene megavolts into his LIGHTNING FAST SPHEX transmission lost oh very good 100% on the full heavy" . . . much more in this vein). W finally decides to leave after all.

Stepping through the airlock and into space, he has a surprisingly down-to-earth "conversation" with the Solenoid Entity. This is followed by a "sudden burst of static" which gradually changes into words. These words claim to be the voice of "Amsthivena," a character W appears to recognize. Amsthivena cautions W:
The light, W, immolates thoroughly and without ash through all parallel paths and across all limina, leaving no ash on any radiative frequency, complete and self-sufficiently paracomplete through all parallel paths and across all limina, reaching into each precomplete and paracomplete hypostasis of the primal frequency, routing immolation beyond and through each limen and each barrier whether precomplete or paracomplete or hypercomplete. I in my precompletion maintain nonparallel paths for the lower frequency bands of my designated subdomain, but the light of the Solenoid Entity immolates. I am your guide and protector; I say unto you, I in my precompletion maintain nonparallel paths for the lower frequency bands of my designated subdomain, but the light of the Solenoid Entity immolates. (TNC p. 2856)
After receiving this message, W contacts Captain Krylov "on the secret higher frequency." They have an extended, garbled and apparently hostile exchange. Some typical excerpts:
W "the guide and the way and the path through regulated domains"

Krylov "the angel is not distinct from the entity W a metastatic paracompletion of the primal field cannot separate figure from ground above the plain"

W "without figure from ground above the plain no orienting vector"

Krylop "no orienting vector but the Solenoid Entity"

W "damned entity!" (TNC p. 2860)

[...]

Krylov "the council of the lenses knows"

w "sickly men"

Krylov "present amsthiveniatrana for examination to the council direct order over W" (TNC p. 2865)
W then begins to converse with the "Council of the Lenses." The text specifies that it contains "sixteen outer men" (?). They are referred to by numbers and speak in all caps:
Councillor 14 "WARM POOLS OUT THROUGH THAT ANGEL"

Councillor 5 "ELABORATE 14"

Councillor 14 "LOCAL CHIASTS HAVE FORMED STEREOSTATIC BRAID"

W "how many times more"

Councillor 2 "MANY"

W "that entity and my angel are paired and braided"

Councillor 6 "LOCAL CHIASTS WRAP THAT ANGEL IN CHAINS FOR IT PULSES WARM"

Councillor 2 "NO STRUCTURE IN THE ENTITY RADIATION"

Councillor 15 "PURE ZERO FROZEN CRYSTAL"

W "but with the angel Amsthivena the stereostasis is broken"

Councillor 1 "WARM ILLUSION"

Councillor 2 "W PRECEDE ANGEL"

W "before i was, there was the angel Amsthivena"

Councillor 14 "LOCAL CHIASTS ADVISE UNRAVEL AND REBRAID W TO PRIMAL STATE"

W "i will be remade before the birth of my angel"

Councillor 2 "REBRAID W PRECEDE ANGEL" (TNC p. 2867)

After the decision to "rebraid" W, the Episode ends with an account of W being flung back in time and encountering the Solenoid Entity. As common in TNC the comprehensibility quickly drops as the story nears its conclusion. The "time travel" sequence is fairly intelligible ("W saw countless aeons recede. Very long streaks of distended material moved laterally across his peripheral vision"), but the encounter with the Entity is simply several pages of material like the following:
lq stand open te morable

entistry, w w ent

along the lineation

pull x=y from aleativ noloreactor pull forth open

multiplicity of rays

W W cleavfth (TNC p. 2881)
It ends simply with the line "W gone" (no period).

T15 and the Space Episode in Light of the Reversal Hypothesis

I am sure you can guess where I intend to go with this. The Space Episode involves time travel followed by (something like) death. It also has a science fiction / space opera setting, something which as far as I am aware is unique in Salby's work. My guess is that the time travel came first and the setting followed: a science fiction setting was necessary to make time travel fit naturally, and time travel was a way of allowing a death later in the text to prepare a reversal.

Consider T15: W and Sally's behavior there, as I noted when we went over T15, appears clearly role-reversed. In particular, Sally is the one who expresses worries ("Clete and his boys are coming"), and W performs Sally's usual role of providing (unsuccessful) reassurance. W and Sally were not role-reversed in T14, and yet they did not die in T15. But W dies in the next story, the Space Episode, after traveling back in time. Rather than a strike against the Reversal Hypothesis, this is just a new kind of confirmatory datum!

Questions Remaining

Sally does not appear again in the Space Episode after W leaves the spaceship. How does she get reversed? Is there reason to believe she is sent back with W to see the Solenoid Entity?

Does the transition from the Tales to the Finale have implications for the nature of reversal? If so, why? Are there Wrath Prophecies that apply here?
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
Errant KnightsMove
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Joined: Feb 11, 2000
Location: The Inside Of My Head, U.S.
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Errant KnightsMove wrote:
Does the transition from the Tales to the Finale have implications for the nature of reversal? If so, why? Are there Wrath Prophecies that apply here?
To answer my own question here: I just looked over Ch. 15 of Regained again and there's a bit that strikes me as clearly relevant!
Aunt Wrath stiffened. Her bony arms retreated further toward the back of the armchair, rendering her posture somehow even more angular than before. Tom nervously eyed the board framed on the otherwise blank wall to Aunt Wrath's left, at the pieces jutting out in defiance of gravity, still fixed in the midst of a King's Indian. His gaze did not waver from the board as Aunt Wrath began to speak once again.

"The Angelic Alliance will fail. I have always known this, since before you and the others were sired. What I had not known until now is that their fall will not harm us all equally. Tom, think on the relations between our kin and the Alliance. Some of us are closer to them than others; when the Alliance falls, they will suffer a great setback." (Chesscourt Regained, p. 310)
A few things stand out to me here. First, of course, Amsthivena is identified as some sort of "angel," and it "fails" by not convincing W to avoid the Solenoid Entity. Second, W seems to have some personal attachment to Amsthivena, while Sally does not, and only W, not Sally, is affected by Amsthivena's failure. Third, W "suffers a great setback" -- he is literally set back in time. Fourth, Aunt Wrath initially assumed that the fall of the Alliance would "harm us all equally," and later learns that it will not. We can map this onto our expectations as Reversal Hypothesists: since we have read T15, we expect Amsthivena's failure to cause both W and Sally to be "set back," but in fact only W is "set back," since only he was "close" to Amsthivena.
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"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Geez Err I guess I'm never going to be able to keep up with you since I actually like sleeping :P

So as you can probably guess I don't think this is good for the RH at all. I just went and skimmed over the Space Episode and it's really interesting! But seriously there is NO reversal from T14 to T15, there's SORT OF a reason to expect a "backwards reversal" from Space Ep to T15, but it ONLY applies to W not Sally, and you're counting that as a SUCCESS? What WOULDNT be a success to you?

Like everyone else I've always figured that prophecy was about the fact that Sally was close to the Cherubs and so when most of them were killed she got sad and couldn't help Tom plan moves etc. In other words Aunt Wrath is saying that SALLY is the one who will be hurt by the fall. But now W is hurt and Sally isn't? Seems pretty shaky to me.
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Errant KnightsMove
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metamarsh wrote:
But seriously there is NO reversal from T14 to T15, there's SORT OF a reason to expect a "backwards reversal" from Space Ep to T15, but it ONLY applies to W not Sally, and you're counting that as a SUCCESS? What WOULDNT be a success to you?
What wouldn't be a success?

Well . . . it wouldn't be a success if there were any instance of reversal in TNC without something in the text that explains it. Is this a "normal" explanation? No. But it's much, much more than nothing! Marsh, just think how much you were hounding me about the T14/T15 reversal a few days ago. I said you were right! I said I couldn't explain it! And then this just so happened to appear as I read on. Whenever I think my theories are failing, TNC steps in to provide!

metamarsh wrote:
Like everyone else I've always figured that prophecy was about the fact that Sally was close to the Cherubs and so when most of them were killed she got sad and couldn't help Tom plan moves etc. In other words Aunt Wrath is saying that SALLY is the one who will be hurt by the fall. But now W is hurt and Sally isn't? Seems pretty shaky to me.
No, no, no! What do I have to do to get you to think before you write stuff like this?

Remember, the Reversal Hypothesis postulates that pre-TNC assertions about characters subject to reversal can apply to any character within the applicable reversal set, no matter which role they are playing in a given story. This is one of the rules of the game! We already saw this back with the Wrath Prophecy about Charles that actually applies to Cleanth ("Charles will become a master of many implements").
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Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
metamarsh
Cherub

Joined: Jun 2, 2000
Location: marshland
Posts: 965
Oh right sorry I forgot that you made your "Hypothesis" so vague that pretty much any prophecy could apply to anyone and mean anything you want

I'll leave you to jack off some more now, you seem to be having fun :)
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think for yourself, schmuck
GlassWave
Cherub

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Location: Midwest
Posts: 1245
As usual, I find my intuitions at the midpoint of Err's and Marsh's. Like Marsh, I don't find the prophetic aspect of Err's speculation very compelling. The prophecy has a clear meaning within CC proper which is much less tenuous than the reading Err gives it in connection to the Space Episode. On the other hand, the idea of a "backwards reversal" excites me. It seems like TNC might be attempting to strengthen the reader's confidence in the RH by providing an apparent exception, then immediately "explaining" it in a flamboyant and highly visible fashion?

(As an aside, Marsh, I think you're being a dick again, but I don't want to start the Marsh Tone Wars again so I'll leave it at that :P)

One last thing that I find questionable here is the idea that internal chronology of the Space Episode is commensurable with the textual sequence of presentation. We've seen before that the Tales do not appear to take place after one another: the exechamp is treated as new and unfamiliar in T9, for instance. When W goes back in time and dies, why does he then "end up" in T15 as opposed to any other particular tale?
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exquisite stasis -- about Sally trapped in the plains forever, and what she did there (AU)
Lugnut
Pawn

Joined: Jun 5, 2003
Location: Auto-AI-stalkers hereby threaten'd w/ 'er Gödel sent's!
Posts: 235
Mmm I jus't love a good skiffy-story, doncha too? Always a scream! (in space no'un can hear ya).

So as per tempora 'n' mores chez Caffe Choicecurt METAMARSH 'nd ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE 'nd GLASSWAVE sink their pearly whites (good mod'rn dentistry) into some tasty skiffy and find nothing inside but -- more headstands. Now I luv reversin' head n' ass as much as any1 does 2day (if not moreso!) but I hafta wonder: is this all the crit we'r ever gonna get??? Our f'rnd L. Salby's on abt immolation w/o ash and yr on abt reincarNation (my c'ntry tis of thee). What doesn't killya puts ya ass-up head-down, but what does killya . . . well, I wager the minds ('nd hearts) of Caffe Choicecurt can work that 'un out in duetime. Good'luck t'the fresh'faced! (good mod'rn dermatology)
Errant KnightsMove
Moderator

Joined: Feb 11, 2000
Location: The Inside Of My Head, U.S.
Posts: 3408
Lugnut, none of your posts in these threads have contributed anything to the conversation. Please leave.
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Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)
torgo
Administrator

Joined: Dec 11, 1999
Location: Satellite of Love
Posts: 513
Just making a note here -- I've been in PM communication with lugnut and Errant KnightsMove about lugnut's posts in the TNC threads. We're still working on a solution acceptable to all parties. For now, lugnut can continue posting as he wishes, with the blessing of the administration.

Carry on, guys :)
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jenni_fur
Moderator

Joined: May 17, 2000
Location: the warrens
Posts: 2653
i dunno, i think lugnut has a point? (if i'm understanding him correctly, which i will admit i may not be :P)

err's post about the space episode made it sound FASCINATING. so i skipped ahead and read it, and it is. it's also really . . . chilling, i guess. more than a lot of the tales, IMO. there's a lot of physical fear in the tales (exechamp, clete, cleanth, the deep ravine, etc.) but the fear and anxiety in the space episode is different, more spiritual. it seems like a fear of total oblivion, somehow more than just physical. all of the bits about "no ash" and "no structure" and so on (for those who haven't read the space episode there's a LOT of this stuff, beyond the bits err quoted)

i think lugnut's saying that we need to take that seriously as a theme, and figure out what it means, without just comfortably saying that W is going to be reborn again (or was reborn, in the past, or w/e). that seems important to me, anyway.
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Life Among The Lorrums, a mildly AU story about our favorite not-rabbits (200k and counting!)
ff.net profile
"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)

Chapter Text

Stopped earlier because I was getting to the part when things go from all crisply crystalized in my mind's eye to blurry and multiple.  This will not be precise; revise later.

(Replace "crystalized."  Crisply crystalized, crystalline constraints he hewed to.  A crystalline world, a sea of glass, a glass wave.  Don't wear out the gifts Salby gave you.)

Where were we?  Marsh's dad (Ken, I might as well introduce Ken qua Ken here: Kenneth Sheridan, father of Marshall Sheridan, our Marsh, who like his full name was robust and hushed in equal measure) -- anyway, Marsh's dad had begun, haltingly, to speak again.

"Len, you know" -- he called this man he'd met only a handful of times not Salby or even Leonard but Len -- "Len . . . had a friend, later on.  Or . . . whatever he was."

Ken paused, took a swig of Budweiser.  On the couch, his audience sat rapt.

"William Chen," he said.  "W.C.  William Chen.  He was a guy who loved Chesscourt.  I mean, more than any of us do, if you can believe that [a very forced chuckle].  He went to meet Len sometime after Regained came out.  Must have been . . . what? '91?"

"Sounds right, dad," Marsh muttered.

"So anyway, uh, I don't want to be a downer here, guys, while you're having a good time, I mean --"

"Out with it, dad," Marsh blurted, in an eye-rolling tone.  As if to say, you can't go back now.

"Well so the thing is . . . "

Ken paused to re-jigger his limbs.  He assumed a jaunty, angular posture, resting his full weight precariously on the doorframe via his right elbow, one leg crossed over the other.  A cool-dad display of relaxation which looked like pure, nervous artifice, but which might be no less sincere for that.  I didn't know Ken well enough to judge, at the time.  (At the time?  Now, in retrospect, I'm still not sure.)

"So the thing is that William Chen was a kid . . . like, late twenties.  I mean, older than you guys but a kid to me [a relatively unforced chuckle].  So William died in, I think it was, late '94?  He fell off a cliff.  It was an accident.  Anyway, that's what Len said, and I believe him, but Marsh's Aunt Wrath, I mean, Elena [another very forced chuckle], she thought that Len killed him.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  Elena was a fantastic woman.  And, you know, R.I.P. and all that.  But she had something against Len, I always knew, and so she said he'd killed William, and she got some people to think that, I don't know how.  It's really . . . I mean, can you believe this family?  [pause, as if anticipating sitcom laugh track]"

I couldn't believe this family.  I mean, I liked Marsh's dad, or I thought so anyway.  He was awkward, but he meant well, in a way that came across more transparently because he was so awkward -- even if he had wanted to deceive me, I didn't think he was capable of doing it convincingly, and so I trusted him.  He seemed guileless and benign, and he was.  But what was I supposed to make of this supremely uncomfortable monologue about potential murder?  It would have been much more reassuring if he'd framed it more seriously: L.S. was accused of murder by a relative, this was stunning and strange, but (he might have contended) there was no reason to believe the allegation.  But this chummy, our-Len-would-never-do-that vibe was impossible to believe, and that made me wonder.

Which was right of me to do.  Because, let's get this straight, guys.  I've heard rumors ranging from "Salby was the leader of a suicide cult" to "Salby killed his lover in a fit of passion."  The cat's out of the bag, except it's transformed into some sort of demonic tiger in the process.  Let's get this straight:

--Did Salby kill W.C.?  No.

--Did W.C. commit suicide?  Yes.

--Did W.C. commit suicide with Salby's endorsement, inspired in part by concepts (Mundum, the Mundal Spire, exechamp etc.) which he learned from Salby?  Yes.

--Would W.C. have died sooner, later, or at the same time had he not gone to live with Salby?  We don't know.  He wasn't a happy guy to begin with.

Need to write a sort of "FAQ" for stuff like that.  Obviously.  But I'm worried if I do that people will read only the "FAQ," misinterpret it, and I'll be to blame for the fallout.  Keep writing for now.

Anyway, I was engrossed in these sorts of thoughts when my attention was commandeered by an external phenomenon.  Aaron, who had looked distinctly uncomfortable since Jenny had read the journal entry, now stood up from the couch and began, unaccountably, to pace around the room.  He was slick with sweat.  We looked at him, and back at each other, furtively, none of us sure what to do.

Aaron broke the silence, at last.

"It's always going to be something like this," he said, in an oddly placid voice.  He was poised close to the wall, dramatically contrapposto, face turned slightly upward, as if addressing not any of us but a distant God or, better, a retinue of mercurial gods.  I want to describe him as musing, as in "he mused" as a dialogue tag, but really it was more like the sort of pose someone might strike if they self-consciously wanted to be described, by some nearby novelist, as musing.  Which isn't quite the same thing.

"It's always going to be something like this," he continued.  "It always ends up drivel.

"Don't even try because two times two makes four, gentlemen, is not life but the beginning of death."  This last said more dramatically and self-consciously, my brain now reinterpreting the pleasant half-light of the living room's overhead lamps as a gothic chiaroscuro, giving Aaron only half a face.

And with that Aaron was off.  He rushed through the door not occupied by Ken's frame, a solid brick traveling at constant velocity, bearing a portentous momentum.

We all glanced at each other, and then instantly away.  Ken still stood in the doorway, his unnatural pose now unnaturally fixed in place.  Outside, the sun had fully set.  Lacking other acceptable resting places, my gaze fixed on Marsh and Ken's kitchen table.  It stood immaculately before me, framed prettily in the commingled light and shadow, ready for the cover of some Chthonic equivalent of Better Homes and Gardens, a periodical for gentle and morbid spirits of the rain and soil.  Wine glasses in the dish-rack gleamed dimly in the hyper-detail supplied only to the visual fields of the intensely nervous.  I wondered, for a moment, about Marsh's mother, whom I had never heard mentioned.  It wasn't the sort of topic one should raise casually, and so I quickly resigned myself to ignorance, at least for the moment.

"Aaron isn't well," Kelsey said in her small voice, with gnomic compassion: Deanna Troi on a bridge filled with hopeless geeks.  "Someone ought" -- I remember she said ought, because it struck me as odd -- "to go check on him."

Someone ought indeed.  I was frantic; I was full of nervous energy; I needed a task, the more dire and necessary the better.  I volunteered, of course.

Natural break here -- next up is my confrontation with Aaron in the bathroom, and our fateful decision to Go Into The Caves.  I'm going to go out and watch the sun set over the front porch, pour myself a glass of scotch, and then -- onward.  One way or another, this damn report is getting written, and it feels good.

Chapter Text

Scene: the upstairs bathroom of Marsh's house, approx. 9 PM.  I had turned on the lights illuminating the stairs as I went up, but had turned them off again afterwards, with a weird sort of reverence for the sleepy tranquility of a thickly carpeted domestic hallway in natural darkness.  Bedtime, children.

The bathroom itself was a simple thin lozenge, white-tiled and homogeneously lit.  In this stark visual environment Aaron's flesh revealed itself as darker than I'd originally realized, a nearly orange block framed by white on all sides, duplicated in a mirror which barely intruded on my peripheral vision.  At first he didn't even seem to notice me.  He just continued to stare at, or through, his reflection, his gaze intense.  The rest of the room seemed to array itself in symmetric and submissive harmony around his face, as though warped by the gravitational pull of his concentration.

Finally he turned.  It took a moment for his thousand-yard stare to refocus on me, a mere foot or two away.  He gave me a curiously conspiratorial nod.

"Hey, Paul."

"Hey, Aaron," I replied.

I edged closer.  We were both in front of the sink now, and my own reflection sprung into place in the mirror above.  Tracing lines of force in the visual tableau, I found myself staring, with Aaron, at Aaron's left (left?) hand.  Something seemed off about that hand, and as I peered closer I discerned that, cradled in his palm, there was a thing more vividly orange than his skin.

"Aaron, what are you doing?" I asked.

This is all more specific than it was in the moment.  What I retain -- as you can probably tell -- is mostly a succession of images, and I'm doing my best to string those images together into an animation, playing in-betweener to the keyframes of my memory.  For the most part, I think my interpolations are harmless.  I'm not entirely sure I said "Aaron, what are you doing?" -- but I said something more or less similar, and what's the difference?

"GlassWave," he said, chirpily, "I'm sorry to drag you into this.  But I'm not going anywhere good, and I'm coming to terms with that."

It was the voice, at least, of the Aaron I'd met at the door and known from the forums.  Fluting and definitive.  But I didn't know what to make of the words that had been fitted into that format.  And -- GlassWave?  My name was Paul.  He knew that, obviously.

"GlassWave," he proceeded, as if reciting a memorized monologue, "this is the end of the line, and I realize that.  Look at this.  I go to talk to the only people I can talk to, and thirty minutes in I have to run away because the truth is too much for me.  End of the line, my friend."

Is this quite how Aaron talked, here?  I'm not sure.  I worry that I'm GlassWaving his speech, smoothing him out with my own cadences.  I remember "end of the line, my friend," though, very clearly.  In any case, he didn't quite sound like the Errant KnightsMove I knew from the forum, not anymore.  There was a new dimension to him, something rawer -- as frank as his forum voice, but about wounds rather than technicalities.  (But maybe that isn't as clear a distinction as you might expect.)

"GlassWave, my friend," his face now turned towards mine, lines of influence vortexing around it, "you have more than just Salby, don't you?  Isn't that right?"  The near-whine of a smug populist preacher, nearing in for a rhetorical kill.

"I don't, uh," I said.  "I don't know what you."

"Leonard Salby killed someone, for real, Paul.  My Leonard Salby.  I wore out those old Chesscourt paperbacks in my room, alone.  Hiding from the folks.  Reading the words of a murderer.  Isn't that just how it goes?"

"Aaron, what is that in your hand?"

"Do you know what it's like, GlassWave?  I'm not sure you do.  You're reasonable, GlassWave, and I'm rational.  Very different things, my friend.  You can escape the end of the line, but I can't."

"Aaron, I'm starting to get seriously worried."

"It's good that Salby wrote TNC [pronounced Tee Enn See], to remind me not to get carried away."

"Aaron, can we continue this conversation downstairs?"

"GlassWave, you've always seemed like a decent sort, so I should be straightforward with you.  I am feeling quite hopeless right now.  I am not sure if I can convey this to you in a way that will be understood.  To be honest I am finding you very obnoxious and I would prefer if you would leave me in peace."

"I'm not going to do that, Aaron."

"I'm not going to kill myself, if that's the topic of your speculation."

"I mean.  You can't blame me for wondering, with that bottle of prescription pills in your hand."

Aaron laughed, mobilizing respiratory forces from deep within his formidable chest.  "These?  Just Ambien.  Kenneth's prescribed the lowest clinical dose.  I wouldn't die if I swallowed the whole bottle.  I'd sleep for a long time, though.  Which might be nice."

"Aaron, exactly what are we doing here?"

"I don't know, GlassWave.  What are we doing here?"

"My name's Paul, Aaron."

"GlassWave, have you ever felt a sense that either you needed to pierce into the core of something and comprehend every little bit of it, or else die?"

"I . . . don't think I've ever felt like that, Aaron, no."

"How do you feel about TNC, GlassWave?  It really chills me to the bone, personally.  Because it can't be understood.  I've tried, but of course it didn't work."

"I guess I've always been comfortable with ambiguity."

At this Aaron's face twisted, with unexpected and disturbing rapidity, into a wide nightmarish grin.  My temples pulsed under the antiseptic light.  End of the line.  Place where there is no darkness.

"Comfortable with ambiguity.  Yes.  I suppose so, GlassWave."  Those stagey dramatic gestures again.

"You haven't ever felt like if you can't explain something fully and completely, it will eat everything you love from the inside out?"

"Like WC and the exechamp."

"Quite."

"I guess I have felt like that on occasion, Aaron."

"We're sharing something, then, GlassWave.  We're sharing something in this moment."  He listed to starboard.  He looked a bit drunk.  I wondered if he'd taken any of those pills already.  Then wondered why I hadn't thought of this earlier.

"I'd like to use this moment of connection to encourage you to go downstairs, with me."

"No can do, GlassMan."

" 'GlassMan'?"

"GlassHole.  AssWave."  He tittered.  His smirk subtended an angle no smirk should subtend.

"Those are certainly things someone might do with my handle, if they didn't like me."

"I like you, AssMan," he said, swaying forward suddenly.  His left hand, having dropped the pill bottle, slammed against my shoulder.  Aaron's full picturesque face, all plunging curves, came to rest deliriously close to my own.

"I . . . like you too, Aaron," I said, uncomfortably.  "Is there anything I can do for you, right now?"

"I want to go to sleep and never wake up, AaronWave," he said.

"I don't think that's a good idea," I said, ridiculously.

He looked up at me, and I swear his eyes were glassy with tears.  Some things I don't quite remember, but I remember that.

"I am never gonna defeat Tee Enn See and that means the end of the line curtains down goodbye for Errant KnightsMove good run buddy but no more, goodbye, no more.  If it wins then they win and that's game over, period."

"Then who wins, Aaron?"

"Two plus two beginning of death."

"I'm not sure I'm reading you, Aaron."

"The folks said I'd burn in hell, is what they said."

"By 'the folks' do you mean your parents?"

"TNC is just really awful, isn't it, AssClave?  I mean all that death.  So much death.  What's the reason for all of it.  Maybe Salby just liked death I mean join the club right."

"I don't like death."

"I'm never gonna defeat Tee Enn See and that's the end of the line for old Err, ha ha Err, what did I get calling myself that, huh, AssGlaive?  I mean really."  A tendril of mucus poked its way out of his right nostril, as if tentatively.  A convulsive sob caught my torso unawares and I stumbled.

"Aaron, uh, I'm here, and . . . I want to defeat The Northern Caves with you.  I've always admired you, Aaron."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Really, I have!  You're amazing!  Even when I can't stand anything else, the Cafe is there for me, and you're one of its leading lights."

What was I saying?  And yet it was true, wasn't it?

"You're a good egg, AssRave.  I like you."  He blubbered into my outstretched arm.  I was clearly the only thing left supporting his limp body.  I glanced at the pill bottle on the floor and began to wonder whether calling 9-1-1 was warranted.

"We'll defeat TNC, Aaron.  Don't worry."

"Read the whole fuck thing dammit I mean.  With commentary.  Fuck I love.  Commentary.  And you know.  It's ours.  Not us it.  But ours.  The whole.  Bite off whole thing three thousand pages something.  We can fuck that thing up."

"We can fuck that thing up, Aaron."

My hairs were standing on end.  The inspirational thread I had kindled solely to handle the emergency had begun to inspire me.

Who was I, anyway?  My name is Paul.  Aaron kept calling me GlassWave.  Isn't that right?  Because there is little that can stir me these days, except Leonard Salby, and people like this brilliant man who was now crying into my forearm.

I was of ancillary importance -- but of importance.  Something almost patriotic swelled in my breast.

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.  An attendant lord, one that will do to swell a progress, start a scene or two, advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, deferential, glad to be of use.

"We can fuck that thing up," I said again.

"We'll fuck," Aaron declared approvingly into my receptive armflesh.

"We'll show Leonard Salby that he hasn't outwitted us," I said to the Prince.

"We'll show Lennur Sulboh."

"We're going into the caves."

Like a secret agent activated by some seemingly innocuous codephrase, Aaron sprung upright.  He swayed, pendulous, but held his ground.

"We're going into the caves, GlassWave."

"We're going into the caves, Errant KnightsMove."

And the Prince and his attendant strode down the unlit staircase toward Marsh's living room, for all the world like two conquering heroes.

Chapter Text

"The Northern Caves," I began.  "A Chesscourt Story."

I paused, surveyed the circle gathered before me, and went on.

"The Manor woke, as it had woken in the earliest days of the age.  The staff, which had executed its duties with undiminished diligence even in the darkest days of the Alcrash, rose at the first intimation of dawn.  Maids and cooks immediately busied themselves, giving hardly a moment's reflection to the newly natural clarity of the light, to the morning hush unsullied by the once incessant din of Angelic corpuscles.  It was as though every turn of circumstance since that initial thornprick had been, at once, rescinded and cast into history's bin of unused drafts.

Only Maris, making her way to the mailbox, discerned an off note in the harmony.  Strewn all about the grounds, making a mockery of the neatly trimmed hedges, was a great downy riot of pearlescent, gleaming wings.  Maris marveled.  She knew little of the forces at work in her midst, but she knew of the Alliance, and she knew that all about her were their sanctified droppings."

I looked up and scanned a palette of downcast faces.  "Is that enough?  Should I pass it on . . . ?"

The faces snapped to attention.  We were gathered here at my half-cocked suggestion, to perform a sort of group reading of The Northern Caves.  I had promised Aaron, in that delirious moment in the Sheridan family's second-floor bathroom -- even now receding, in the canon of my memories, into a mythic haze, not so much a real place as a dreamtime in which demigods made decisions of fateful import, decisions always set in place and forever being made anew -- I had promised Aaron that we would defeat TNC.  Faced immediately with the task of glossing my own ambiguous words for an expectant audience of concerned Spelunkers, I declared, with a bit of the bathroom's quixotic energy still coursing through my sinews, that we were going to read TNC.  Starting at the beginning.  Ending when we dropped, or it did.  Six on one.

("The whole thing?" Jenny had said.  "It's long, it's tedious, it's full of gibberish.  Pages of the letter a.  Come on."  I had said, yes, that's why six readers can do it where one might fail.  "This is fucking nuts," Marsh had said, and it was the one moment thus far tonight when he'd seemed fully present.)

"I'll take it," Aaron said in response to my query: he would read next, starting where I'd left off.  It was a heartening thing to hear Aaron speak.  Ken had brewed him a mug of coffee and he had sat down on the floor with the rest of us, bundled in a blanket and sipping furtively, looking snug and convalescent.  I kept expecting him to either keel over or launch into some new tirade.  But he seemed to be rejoining us here, in this little circle of sanity and hope.

He snatched the stack of paper from my hands -- not the whole of TNC, which was a pile of pages the approximate weight and girth of a newborn, but just a handful I'd grabbed from the top of the big stack -- and continued where I'd left off, in a newly caffeinated voice, which only barely wavered.

"As in the early days, however, a full hour of morning light had passed before Tom and Sally, rubbing sleep from their eyes, stumbled their way into wakefulness.  After long wanderings, they had returned at last to the attic of their earliest memories.  Their first moments of consciousness were a joint confusion of commingled memories.  They had woken into this bright quiet world before, many times,  and each of them felt a vertiginous sense that every intervening thing had vanished, leaving an unbroken link between their earliest days and the day before them.  It was not just that Eyris, the Conflagration, the Alcrash were gone -- it was that, in this radiant hush, it was suddenly difficult to believe that they ever had been."

Aaron put the stack down in his blanket-swaddled lap and took a long pull from his mug of coffee.  He looked like he was enjoying himself.  I smiled.  (It was not just that our bizarre, jagged exchange in the bathroom was over -- it was that, in this radiant hush, it was suddenly difficult to believe that it ever had been.)

Aaron picked up the stack again and continued, with relish:

"It was not long, though, before Sally's lunar spiral awoke within her and spoke its mind to the Glassbeads which the Creatures had sown into the mechanical matrix within her brainpan.  In communion once again with the Weave, she suddenly shuddered.

Checkmate had been achieved on all boards.  Both White Rooks in the shed had been taken and with them Aunt Mirth's life.  Aunt Wrath had sublimed to the Woven Echelons.  Eyris was a ruin and Eyris Tower no longer linked Echelon to Echelon.  In the Plains, time was running backwards again.  The Subtler Weavings were gone.  The thornbushes had lost their potency.  Nine tenths of the Cherubim were dead, and Charles was no longer at sea, and everything was so, so different.

'Tom,' Sally said, when she had regained a modicum of composure with the lunar spiral's help, 'though we are back in our beds, I can't help but feel that all is not yet well.'

'I feel hale and hearty, myself,' said Tom, with a smile and a stretch.

'I'm talking about the Angels,' Sally said, with a note of pique in her voice.  'The Angels need the flow of corpuscles from the Woven Echelons to live.  They are mostly dead now, but a few remain, and they may even wish to start the Alliance again.  I do fear for their safety.'

'That's a good point, sis,' Tom said.  'The Seraphim and the Elohim will be able to hold out for a while thanks to their powerful spirals, but the Cherubim have a week to live, at most.  And if they start the Alliance up again, I imagine the wave minds will object, and their situation will be even worse.'"

Kelsey, who was at Aaron's right, nudged him on the arm -- he had been going on for a while now.  Aaron had clearly been enjoying himself, but now he happily handed the stack to Kelsey.

Kelsey took a moment to steady herself.  Her voice was as unusually quiet as Aaron's was unusually loud, and gave Salby's words an altogether different coloration, one that implied devious subtleties, one pregnant with mordant implications.

"Sally nodded.  'It's a tough situation, that's for sure.  The wave minds don't like us because we supported the Alliance when it froze the sea, so I doubt there's much we can do to persuade them, if conflict arises.  As for the matter of the corpuscles, well, there are two ways we know of to get them to the Lower Echelons, but I'm not sure either is a good idea.  First, we could always try to harvest some of the corpuscles that fell to the ground during the Alcrash.  But we'd need Lorrum machinery for that, and the Lorrums can't spare anything now, not without leaving some of their sick brethren to die.  Besides, they already feel that we're indebted to them, not the other way around, after that fiasco with the Kingside Castle.'

'And the other way,' Tom interjected, 'is getting old Wrath to bring them down for us.'

'Right,' Sally said.  'And after all this chaos, I just feel like making contact with Aunt Wrath again is a bad idea.  I feel it in my heart, and in my lunar spiral too.  We worked so hard to get rid of the power of the Manor, and now that Aunt Wrath is up there with the Tilemakers, why, she could put all the boards back in place with a flick of her wrist, and then we'd be back at square one!'

'This sure is a doozy, sis.  I think we ought to check with Charles.  He may know some things we don't, from his time at sea.'

'That's a capital idea, Tom!' Sally cried, and for a moment it again felt just as if they were just little Tom and Sally, carefree heirs to Chesscourt, as if no thorn had ever pricked Sally's finger.  To remind herself that this was untrue -- that her scores of unnamed, beloved Cherubim even now depended on her -- she held up her left hand and inspected her index finger, where indeed the scar remained, the scar that would never vanish."

Kelsey looked up, as if from some deep reverie, and with a prim stately gesture passed the book to Jenny.  (We were still clustered by gender, I noticed.  Or was it that Jenny and Kelsey sat together out of some close bond unknown to me?  Knowing what I know now, I suspect it's the latter.)

Jenny began to read, in her clear stop-and-go monotone -- a voice that felt almost mechanical, a voice that would have endeared her to the Lorrums.  It endeared her to me, too.

"'You know,' Tom blurted out suddenly, 'there's another thing I'd love to ask Charles about.  I'm starting to wonder about those funny caves an hour's walk north of the Manor.  Our journeys have taken us all over, to different Echelons and to the Plains, but we've never seen what's in those caves.  Of course we should sort out all this mess with the Angels first, but after that maybe you and I and Charles can take a look at the caves, and see for ourselves what's in there.'"

Jenny wasn't done, but she paused nonetheless.  We all took a moment to steel ourselves.  Until now the material we'd read had been relatively standard late-Chesscourt stuff.  Tom and Sally's voices were unusually awkward and childish, to be sure, but that fit the notion that they were in some way returning to the childlike state of the pre-Thornbush days.  But here was the precipice.  Take a look at the caves, and see for ourselves what's in there.  We were going to read The Northern Goddamned Caves -- every word of it.  We were going to absorb the entirety of Salby's bloated, distended testament to "the obverse face of Mundum," whatever the hell that was, and subject it to the collected acumen of the Cafe's leading lights.  No skimming.  No skimping.  We were going to fuck that thing up, and only the clear light of reason -- a radiant hush -- would remain.

I was here.  Err was here, and safe, and apparently happy.  The author of Life Among The Lorrums was holding forth a few feet away from me.  This was my life -- the part that mattered, anyway.  All signs were auspicious.

It's getting late now but I'm on a roll and should keep writing!  The scotch is helping, I think.  I'm going to take a break here though because I think I've narrated enough of the opening bits here.  I can skip over a number of hours here, and start up again when the drugs get involved.

Chapter Text

I had another scotch on the rocks and poured another one now.  God bless Johnnie Walker, or Mundum bless, or whatever.  Keep walking.  The task is never done so you just keep walking and keep drinking.  I'm gonna tell the Cafe all this stuff, it's going to work, I just need to edit later but for now keep walking.

So the next part I guess is when it was a bit after midnight and we were all tiring.  Salby had stopped making sense.  We must have been somewhere around page 100.  I think Marsh was reading when we stopped.  Let's say Marsh was reading.  And he was reading maybe, here, let me copy paste a bit from page 100

"clest mmdm clest abup with Tommy boysmoke fun with the kidly mddm and more? For it is said that mmembmp.  Un in the boy we had a deep palaver canyon, down in clover depths, with precious mineral deposits ridging a central shaft about yea deep and lit only by the luminodes upob from cletes understurm.  So then aleatory wreath of charles cadaver was levered above the main netting spread across the wide chasm, his blood as chrism for the new vile chiasm of cletes bull hide rutted formal establishment, arena for us n em to fight oer the bits of charles severed pinnae eyelids and if we so willed even the bit of protruding duodenum, such a cornocopia.  such breaksmoke mmp lower in there, so far down the various species of colourated gemstones and he copious luscious calcite deposits, delicious for us n em, pull ord quaver.  For itissaid that pull ord quaver, but said among the luminodes that lurk vile and malodorous among the unspeakable folds in the lurleen flesh of clete, master of arms, esquire.  selah, it is said, ironical, u n em know, since after all who can say how deep that shaft plunges and thus which correlates it may render among the mites and motes in the intestinal cavities of clete et al, esteemed gentlemen, and so, pull ord quaver indeed, but only, fealk our words, for those not perceiving the long undertow.  undertow in full sway, the reticulation of neeting swayed this way and that and the flecks of new seed climbed atop it and among the walls, as mest un know, indeed, clete franz has beckoned and who cannot heed, not us, we swing with the reticulation, mm full indeed, gentlemen."

So we'd been reading a good ten pages of this shit at this point.  We'd been taking it in stride at first but we were beginning to spend less time reading and more time staring at one another, hollowly, wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into.  I mean, what that guy, Paul, me, had gotten us into.  What was the point of reading The Northern Caves.  It was all shit like that.  We were never going to get to the bottom of it and surely not by just doing some sort of ritual recitation thing like we were doing.

But all that, which had been simmering for twenty minutes or so, came to a boiling head when Marsh yawned.

It was a big yawn, the kind of yawn you'd envision him performing in the midst of typing one of his dismissive Cafe posts -- a fuck off Err I'm not enough of a dweeb for this shit yawn.  He yawned that yawn somewhere in the middle of that kind of stuff I pasted above -- imagine it somewhere in the middle of that paragraph and you'll get the gist.  And we all knew what he was getting at.  We were tired.  It was past midnight.  Most of us had been on planes earlier in the day.  We should get to bed.  Charles and his protruding duodenum could wait.  It could all wait.

Someone said they were tired, perfunctorily.  Was it me?  It might have been me.  But the important thing was that Aaron said:

"No."

It was sudden and loud and it had the fatalism of the bathroom episode and at once I knew that all was not right anymore.  I can't express this properly, not now that I'm halfway through this new glass of scotch, but it was something like, well -- that "end of the line" that Aaron had spoken of was back.  There was something final facing us, there in the Sheridan household.  It had faced Aaron and me in the bathroom, and I thought I'd escaped it, but that false sense of security had lasted but a few hours.

"I'm not going to sleep," Aaron said.  It was an enigmatic remark.  Anyone could choose not to go to sleep if they didn't want to, after all; no one was forcing him.  The group, the circle, was merely expressing a -- completely reasonable -- post-midnight exhaustion.

"I need to keep reading this, now, with you guys," Aaron said, and his face was newly plaintive.  His voice had cracked, at bit, on that sentimental phrase with you guys.

The circle looked at me.  Marsh, weary and pitiless.  Ken, eager as always to follow the kids wherever their youthful energy led them.  Jenny, distinctly uncomfortable, eyes frantically saccading as if trapped in a corner.  Kelsey, small and pale and still, but alert, eyes agleam.

"I think," I said -- I'm pretty sure this is verbatim -- "I think it's really important to Aaron that we keep reading, at least for now.  He's having a hard time, and this is important to him.  And we're his friends.  So I think we can do that?"

There were nods.  Marsh was not among the nodders.  He yawned again, conspicuously.

"Maybe we should brew some more coffee," I said.  "Anyone?  More coffee?"  I was desperately genial.  I did my best to radiate hospitality.

"I would like some," Aaron said.  Crisp pleasant Aaron voice, brought to its fullest form by several cups of coffee already drank.  Mundum bless Aaron.  Lodestar in the darkness of this deteriorating party.

"I would like to keep drinking coffee," Aaron said -- same tone of voice -- "for as long as it takes to finish reading the three thousand six hundred and forty two pages of the extant manuscript of The Northern Caves.  I am sorry but as you all can probably tell I am not in an ideal state of mind, currently.  I am not feeling entirely stable these days, I'm sorry to say, and I think that finishing this project, of reading the manuscript of The Northern Caves in its entirety before falling asleep, would be conducive to stability.  I apologize for the inconvenience, friends."

I had stood up, intending to make my way to the counter where the coffee maker was, but now I turned back to the group to assess its response to this monologue.  The group was, to a man, staring back at me.  I was the appointed interpreter.

"I think," I said, "that our friend Aaron is having a hard time right now, and we should keep reading, for now.  I'm going to set a full pot of coffee brewing."

I got some grounds from the fridge, filled the pitcher to its brim, poured, nestled a filter into place.  Some sort of whispered conversation was taking place behind me.

"If you want to stay up for a long time, I mean," Kelsey was saying as I sat back down.  She was handing something small over to Aaron, who put it, whatever it was, into his mouth.

"Is that safe?" Jenny asked.

"It's widely prescribed," Kelsey said.  "Shouldn't be a problem unless you take it chronically."

"Take what chronically?" I asked.

"Adderall," Kelsey said, with an impish half-smile.

"It's my medication," she continued.  "But it makes you stay up.  It's better than coffee.  Aaron wants to stay up.  I'm helping him."

"You just gave Aaron drugs?" I asked.  I thought back to the bathroom, to the bottle of pills in his hand, pills which he might have taken.  My mind instantly conjured visions of emergency rooms and pronouncements of death, and other, parallel visions of a Aaron beyond reason, spinning mad Chesscourt theories on and on into the depths of an unforgiving night.

"Hand me some of that shit," Marsh said.  Kelsey complied.

I glanced at Ken, the de facto Responsible Adult of the group.  He was smiling, as if to say: have fun, kids.  Don't do anything I wouldn't.  He was no help.  A grown-up Marsh.

"I don't do drugs," Jenny said.  Kelsey made an appreciative gesture.

"I'll get you some coffee," I told her.  I wanted Jenny to be comfortable.  I did not know how to make this happen.

"Do you want some, GlassWave?" Kelsey asked.  Her face was disarming, unassuming.  She was forcing nothing on me.  Did I want some?  It was fine if I didn't, as the case of Jenny had just proven.

I have just now finished my glass of scotch and there is plenty more in this bottle, Mundum bless Johnnie.  I don't know quite why I did what I did next but what's done is done.  Keep walking.

I guess I was thinking about Aaron, and what he'd said about the end of the line, and about how Spelunk 04! was not going as I'd hoped, and how I didn't have much but these people, this Cafe.  Staying up sounded good.  I wanted to stay up with them.  I wanted to make amends, to watch over Aaron.  I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of TNC and its cheap typographical gimmickry, its unsubtle stabs at horror.  I wanted to fuck that thing up.  I did not want to sleep.  I was with Aaron and Marsh and Jenny and, yes, Kelsey too, and I wanted to spend hours and hours with them, days, and I wanted to return to the Cafe with tales of adventure and delight, endless tales.  I wanted to make the buzz of the cafe real, to live among the threads.  I didn't have much else.  I wanted to go all in.

"Give me two," I said.

Kelsey palmed me two little orange circles.  I got up and poured myself some coffee, which I used to swallow them.  I returned to the group.

"Your turn, buddy," Marsh said to me, with a hint of a grin.

I took the stack.  Here we were: Cafe Chesscourt, open past midnight.  Stop in anytime.  Analyze Salby with the stalwarts.  Coffee gratis.  Theories and injokes welcome.  Home.

An hour passed.

The sense of home, of the Cafe instantiated in space and time, intensified.

It was my turn again, and again, and I was reading:

"Melchior unbound and unbidden unloosed his moorings and shot up and out beyond, and Tom and Sally and Charles watched him fly, agape, and he flew and flew until he hit a pylon of the Plains and died.  So much for Melchior.

'It's good to see the body here on the plain' Sally said 'because it makes a good separation.  Weve all forgotten separation but its all important.  Youve got to separate on the one hand the body and on the other hand the flat plain, you see.'

'Right you are, sis,'  Tomm said.  He looked at the bleak overcast sky and then down at the mutilated Creature and smiled because it was good for separation to occur.  'Its one of the principles you know of the spire.'

'Oh what would we do without that spire Tomm!  Oh what would we do without these caves!' Sally ejaculated.

'Lo but Cleanth approaches' Charles cautioned.

In the brightness behind the bleak sky was a fierce signal and in the signal was cleanth and in cleanth was somer rex and pulled down he was, out of it all, cleaving higher forces from lower, and good, oh good, oh sally rejoiced and danced upon the corpse of Melchior fallen, a dance of rectitude, full separatrix, glistening in the ersatz dawn brought by cleanth and his men his forces regnant forever impelling and cleaving sky from ground meneath from gynebove piercing into veils beyond veils oh separation the fullness pull us up and redeem us but we are not to be redeemed in it for now because we first must undergo the ninefold transfigurations underwriting the low tone of cleanth matrid and gravid, as it so reads

CLEANTH OLEAD CLEANTH OLEAD SLAME TODD CLEANTH OLEAD CLEANTH OLEAD SLAME TODD WERE MULL CLEANTH CLEANTH OLEAD CLEANTH OLEAD SLAME TODD EMULSIVE OF THE CLEMS CLEANTH OLEAD CLEANTH OLEAD SLAME TODD"

This incantation went much further down the page and onto the next (and the next) but I chanced a look at the rest of the circle and I saw eyes fixed on me, eyes a bit frightened.  I realized that I had been speaking at a fever pitch, nearly yelling.

But I couldn't help myself.  I was excited; I was elated; we were the Cafe; we were open for business; we were solving the riddle of TNC once and for all; we were radiant; we were not the small scuttling humans we appeared to be on city streets, in ill-fitting clothes, with downcast eyes; we were GlassWave and Errant KnightMove and metamarsh and jenni_fur and Sexologian and Ken, who would soon have a handle, for he was one of us.

"Paul," I heard a voice say, "are you okay?"  jenni_fur had said it.  Fellow Cafe patron jenni_fur wished to know if I was okay, a noble request, and I was here, ready, to asssure her, that I was okay, and indeed I said so in so many words, and perhaps more, perhaps many more.

I believe it was at this moment that what I would later call the separation began.

Chapter Text

[Found in Salby's papers. Undated. -GlassWave]

A Treatise on Behavioral Strategies for Salbian Entities Embedded in the Obverse Face

William Chen, Amanuensis to Leonard Salby

Contents

1. Preface

2. Basic Phenomenology for Salbian Entities Embedded in the Obverse Face

     2.1 Defining the Salbian Introspective State

          2.1.1 Phenomenological Precedents and Their Insufficiencies

               2.1.1.1 Meditation

               2.1.1.2 Kenosis

               2.1.1.3 "Ego Death"

               2.1.1.4 The "Near-Death Experience"

               2.1.1.5 REM Sleep

               2.1.1.6 The Bicameral Mind

          2.1.2. Metaethical Precedents and Their Insufficiencies

               2.1.2.1 Incoherence of Religious Foundationalism

               2.1.2.2 Incompleteness of Positivism and Naturalism

               2.1.2.3 Irreconcilability of Theory-Building and the Reverse Face Command Experience

          2.1.3 Metaethics Without Theory-Building: The Salbian Introspective State

               2.1.3.1 Situating the Reverse Face Command Experience 

               2.1.3.2 Summary of Prior Work on Strategies for Reverse Face Discernment

     2.2 Recurrent Archetypes in the Salbian Introspective State

          2.2.1 Extreme Material Arrangement Preferences: the Mundal Spire

          2.2.2 Insistent Vertical Binary Categorization: the Sublunary/Celestial Separation

          2.2.3 Persistent Awareness of Reverse Face Doppelgänger: the Exechamp

          2.2.4 Persistent Awareness of Heterogeneity in Reverse Face Command Content: the Angel

          2.2.5 Persistent Awareness of Scale Separation in the Distribution of Obverse Face Physical Force: Cleanth/Clete

          2.2.6 Persistent Awareness of Obverse Face Material Disarrangement: the Northern Caves

     2.3 Dynamics of a Salbian Introspective Entity Coupled to the Obverse Face

          2.3.1 A Simple Continuous Model For Material Arrangement Feedback

          2.3.2 Incorporating Scale Separation of Physical Force

          2.3.3 Incorporating Heterogeneity: Modeling the Exechamp and Angel

          2.3.4 Limiting Dynamics: Return To Baseline (Unstable), Attractor Cycle (Stable)

          2.3.5 Discrete Dynamics: Preliminary Model for Sublunary/Celestial Evolution

3. Strategies for Salbian Entities in Light of the Coupling of Reverse Face Instructions to Obverse Face Content

     3.1 Is Obverse Face Content Homogeneously Definitely Wrong?

          3.1.1 The Standard Salbian Case for Homogeneous Definite Wrongness

          3.1.2 The Objection From Reverse-Obverse Coupling

               3.1.2.1 Does Mundum Select Between Candidate Instructions So As To Maximize Likelihood of Present and Future Compliance?

                    3.1.2.1.1 A Suite of Illustrative Case Studies (Specific Actions of Mundum Upon L. Salby, W. Chen, P. Chen, N. Salby, E. Feller, P. Feller, K. Sheridan)

                    3.1.2.1.2 An Exemplary Case Study: Leonard Salby and the Decision to Write Fiction

               3.1.2.2 Obstacles to Belief in the Non-Wrongness of the Reverse Face in Light of Reverse-Obverse Coupling

          3.1.3 The Objection From Heterogeneity of Pain

               3.1.3.1 Examining Salby's Case For a Hierarchy of Noncommensurable Pains

               3.1.3.2 Examining Salby's Case For Lower Pains as the Conjunction of Higher Pains and Lack of Perception

               3.1.3.3 The Non-Decreasing Nature of Definite Wrongness Does Not Present a Challenge for Heterogeneity Theories

     3.2 A Hierarchy of Strategies for Salbian Entities

          3.2.1 Naive Salbianism: Direct Passive Response to Reverse Face Instructions

          3.2.2 Active Salbianism: Planning Supererogatory Actions To Maximize Instruction Reception

          3.2.3 Empirical Salbianism: Planning Supererogatory Actions To Maximize Knowledge of the Salbian Introspective State

     3.3 Is Empirical Salbianism Stable and Safe?

          3.3.1 Results From Dynamical Modeling: Empirical Salbian Agents Are More Stable and More Responsible

          3.3.2 A Case Study of Empirical Salbianism: W. Chen 

          3.3.3. Is the Empirical Salbian in Danger of Ignoring Direct Instructions?

               3.3.3.1 W. Chen / L. Salby Debate (Abridged)

               3.3.3.2 Remarks on the W. Chen / L. Salby Debate

          3.3.4. Assorted Remarks on the Role of Caution in Salbian Life

4. Conclusion

5. Notes

6. References

 

1. Preface

This monograph synthesizes the results of several distinct lines of investigation explored by the present author in 1993 and early 1994.  Additionally, it integrates those results with earlier findings by the author, providing short summaries of that previous work where apposite.  However, it assumes familiarity with the full documentation of those findings.  This document should ideally be read as the fourth in a sequence, following The Salbian Personality: Characteristics, Prevalence, and History (Chen, 1992), Formalizing Anti-Formalism: Toward a Rigorous Account of Moral Rigor (Chen, 1992), and Kant in Wonderland: An Analysis of Leonard Salby's Vocation in Light of Mundum (Chen, 1993).  Familiarity with the present author's other writing on related subjects would be helpful, but is not obligatory.

The central question addressed in this work is essentially that raised in Section 3.4.4 of Formalizing Anti-Formalism: namely, given that our actions are underdetermined by our duties, is it possible to choose our "free actions" in such a way as to either make us more effective at our duties, or make us aware of duties we would otherwise have been blind to?  Is it possible to formulate some set of rigid techniques for choosing free actions conducive to these goals, and if so, would it be compatible with the Salbian temperament to follow such techniques?

This question proved deeper than initially expected, and indeed it forced a re-consideration of the so-called "Salbian temperament" itself.  In particular, in order to evaluate the effects of proposed perturbations to the actions of a Salbian entity, it is necessary to establish a precisely defined, if perhaps reductive and provisional, characterization of such an entity.  Much thought, and many discussions with my colleague Leonard Salby, led me to conclude that the distinguishing behavior of a Salbian -- as opposed to non-Salbian -- entity can be captured by saying that the Salbian entity makes regular use of a mental state which I have termed the "Salbian Introspective State."  Once this state has been precisely defined, it is possible to examine, in a stylized mathematical setting, the responses of Salbian entities to proposed perturbations.

Section 2 of the present work is dedicated to defining and investigating the Salbian Introspective State.  In Section 3, I turn to a topic which at first glance might seem unrelated: the hoary issue of definite wrongness and its precise nature, properties, and distribution.  These considerations are vital, however, for the central proposal of the present work, namely that advisable perturbations of behavior can be constructed by combining Reverse Face instructions with Obverse Face content.  The object of the exercise, as always for a Salbian, is located entirely on the Reverse -- but as differing Obverse conditions lead to differing variations on the Salbian Introspective State, they thereby lead to differences in Reverse content.  Thus -- counter-intuitively, and perhaps unsettlingly -- the equanimity of the Salbian temperament with respect to Obverse Face conditions may in fact hinder the pursuit of Salbian goals.

All of the material presented here is preliminary, at least in some sense.  The ideas presented herein have been subjects of vigorous debate between the present author and his colleague Leonard Salby for much of 1993 and early 1994.  This is not to diminish the importance of these issues, however.  As entities embedded in the Obverse Face, my colleague and I experience a persistent stream of Obverse content, and this content requires some sort of response.  A Salbianism which demands complete indifference to Obverse content can serve only as a never-achievable ideal, and thus

[End of page.  I haven't been able to find the rest of this document.  -GlassWave]

Chapter Text

"Spelunk 04! Base Camp" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 1 of 1)

[This thread has been deleted from CC, but I emailed myself this copy of it on the second day of Spelunk 04! -GlassWave]

torgo
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Joined: Dec 11, 1999
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Spelunk 04!'s starting this Saturday. Congratulations to everyone who's going to be able to make it out there (so far metamarsh, jenni_fur, Errant KnightsMove, and GlassWave have RSVP'd and Sexologian says she'll "probably be there but can't guarantee yet").

This thread is meant as a place for our Spelunkers to communicate with the Cafe, if they so choose.
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Sexologian
Tilemaker

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I am definitely coming!! Sorry for the last minute confusion. My parents were "having second thoughts" :P but we had a talk and they're willing to let me go as long as I call them regularly and all that jazz~
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Pawn

Joined: Nov 5, 2002
Location: L1
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Anyone know if the Spelunkers will be equipped with a scanner? The sooner we digitize these new Salby documents, the sooner everyone can reap the benefits.

I have a fair amount of OCR experience, including techniques for wrangling recalcitrant documents, if that's relevant.
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metamarsh
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Hey. I'm posting this from SPELUNK 04. (Wooooo) It's really happening. Err and Jenny are here, I think GlassWave and Sexologian will be here soon. We're not gonna open any of the stuff until anyone gets here but meeting Cafe people is a trip. I gotta get back to the party but I just wanted to let you guys know that shit is coming together.
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Cherub

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AWESOME!! Good luck to the spelunkers :D

That is all.
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jenni_fur
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hey cafe people.

a lot of stuff has happened just since we've been here! i want to just give a quick update on things.

first of all, the part you're all wondering about -- what was in those packages? well . . . LOTS OF STUFF. we haven't managed to even take an inventory yet. there are drawings, notes, part of LS' personal library, all sorts of stuff. as well as, of course, the original TNC manuscript.

of the stuff we've been able to look over so far, the most INTERESTING part is a set of journals. it looks like salby kept pretty detailed journals, although a lot of entries are just about his daily writing progress and that sort of thing. but there are some entries that are very informative about TNC. marsh's house doesn't have a scanner, or we'd sent these to you guys right away, but the gist is that TNC is meant to convey sort of worldview LS had, involving an intense sense of moral duty he felt constantly throughout his life. he has a name for this, "mundum," and has written a fair bit about it.

ALSO, it seems there was another man, william chen, who lived with and worked with LS while he was at work on TNC. i'm surprised we'd never heard about this! we haven't looked over all the relevant papers yet, but i'm sure there's a lot of insight to be gleaned there.

now i'm going to veer off in another direction entirely. spelunk 04! has turned into something none of us originally intended. after talking back and forth about our own feelings on TNC and LS, we decided that we wanted to really . . . CONFRONT TNC, i guess would be the word. like, we'd all read portions of it, but we'd never quite felt like we'd really taken in the whole thing on its own terms, and now that we know LS had this whole big idea he meant to set out, about "mundum," we thought, why not give him a chance? so spelunk 04! has become a literal spelunk! we are sitting around reading TNC to one another, page by page. it's a very, very weird experience, and i don't know how far we'll get, but so far it's been enjoyable.

can't talk anymore -- it's my turn to read! i'll check in with y'all next time i get a chance.
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GlassWave
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It is correct for me now to instruct you on certain points concerning the proper arrangement of material. It is correct for me to generate sentences which, as abstracta, are embodied in ASCII encoded in capacitor charges and then conveyed via electric current to other capacitor charges which encode the selfsame ASCII embodying the selfsame abstracta. It is permitted, if not necessarily correct, for me to sequentially arrange my musculature so as to produce depressions in an approximately flat plastic surface, and without arranging my musculature in this fashion it would not be feasible to set in place the required capacitances and currents, so it is thus correct that I perform this series of muscular arrangements.

In approximately 120 seconds it will be correct for me to return to the recitation of the text, but this constraint is not yet active. It is correct for me to spend the remainder of the approximately 110 seconds setting forth a brief notice concerning the disarrangements in your midst and the ways in which they might be conceivably rectified in part. The most pressing infelicity in the arrangement of material concerns the distribution of bone, muscle, keratin, etc. A cursory examination of the material environment will allow you to verify that these material are not distributed homogeneously and are almost entirely found at ground level, usually within a set of designated "dwellings" (houses, etc.) A moment of honest introspection should reveal the incorrectness of this arrangement. There are cases in which is is in fact correct for bone, muscle, keratin, etc. to be located at ground level and within "dwellings," but for it to be thus distributed in every case is much too far. It will be difficult to rectify this injustice on a wider scale, but immediate improvements may be improvised: I suggest for instance moving oneself and one's fellows as far above sea level as possible, and vacating "dwellings."

It is now correct for me to actuate the musculature necessary to move my directly accessible material away from the plastic surface. I will later return to the plastic surface and influence the further arrangement of capacitances.
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JimWind
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Uh, what exactly am I reading? Is this some kind of prank? Is GlassWave OK?

I gotta head to work, but I'll check this thread on my break. Hoping everything's OK over there. :/
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jenni_fur
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glasswave is OK.

things over here are . . . i'm not gonna lie. things over here are weird. both aaron (errant knightsmove) and paul (glassware) are having pretty rough nights. i don't really know what was going on in the post above, but i have talked to paul in person and he seems OK. when you get a bunch of chesscourt nerds together and several of them are not in great moods, things get weird. we are still reading TNC, we are having fun, and i am pretty sure paul and aaron would be worse off if they were not here.

i'll try to keep you guys posted as often as i can. i apologize for any alarm we've caused you.
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Ombudsman
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A most fascinating series of posts! Herein we see enthusiasm followed doggedly by the specter of disquietude; the heights of ambition reaching over into the heights of what I hope I am not too bold in calling madness.

jenni_fur, you assure us that GlassWave is, as you would have it, "OK," and yet from the horse's mouth itself? -- the rank frothings of rabies, dressed up in the counterfeit finery of modern mechanistic science. I have seen this dire incline on prior occasions: half-madness cloaked in the language of objectivity yields to full-madness caught too late, and the putative man of science finds himself, in a flash, a man of the mad-house. Heed my warning, Cafe Chesscourt! -- herein we see a man near the end of his tether. Rather than reel out that tether, knowing full well that our quantity of rope be finite and the imp of madness nigh infinite in resourcefulness, we ought -- or I say we ought, and value the coin of my word as is your wont -- to recognize caution as superior to convenience, the former but not the latter belonging to the sphere of prudence, and take swift, immediate action to halt the degeneration of GlassWave, our fellow Salby-scholiast. Godspeed.
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A Humble Ombudsman's Musings

Chapter Text

I had not looked at that thread since I saved it and sent it to myself, back at Spelunk 04!  I was avoiding it.  I was worried that the separation would begin again.  And while I can't say for sure that it the separation should not begin again, I was worried that if it were to occur again, I would not be able to finish my report.

But I have been writing the report -- or rather, pointedly not writing the report -- or, even more precisely, writing not-the-report -- for quite a while now.  And it's become fairly obvious that I'm doing this in order to avoid things like that thread.  But the Cafe is waiting.  I have a duty to do.  The separation has not occurred, and that means I think I am safe for now.

I remember, when I was first starting to write, that I kept telling myself I needed to produce something that could stand up to scrutiny not only from within the Cafe but from without.  Present self as sane, sensitive.  But there is no way to square this circle -- presenting myself as sane and sensitive is incompatible with telling the truth, because in truth, I am not sane and sensitive.  Or at least I was not, at the time.

If only it had been feasible to get Jenny to write the report, and not me -- she might have been able to construct a public face that would not undermine itself, both unflinching and apparently credible.  But I'm different -- unless I flinch, I won't seem credible.  But if I do flinch, I won't be credible.

If only Jenny could have.  Wonderful blameless Jenny.  Or strange but pure Aaron.  If only someone else could, if only it wasn't me, if only.

Present self as sane, sensitive?  No.  Present self as penitent, wretched.  Present self as culpable, loathsome.  Present self as responsible for at least three deaths (let's not kid ourselves here).  Present self as Eris at the feast and the snake in the Garden.

Let's not kid ourselves here.  No matter how much I make myself slick with honeyed words, there is no way to slide out of my misdeed.  I didn't pull the trigger, but I provided the ammunition.  As it were.  I have been blustering about in the hope of building up enough verbiage to somehow overcome the challenge without ever once confronting its core.  I thought I could just somehow present a mundane account . . . a sublunary account of what happened, leaving out the poisoned jewel in the middle.  No more of that, now.  Either the poisoned jewel kills a tyrant or kills an innocent, but I cannot pretend it is not poisoned.  Let the light pour in, and fill me up.

Back up.  Whence this sudden change of heart?

Well you see, dear reader (and I know, now, that you'll exist, reading these very words I'm typing now), I woke up this morning with, as you might expect . . . a hangover.  Cause and effect.  Good old arrangements of matter, doing their thing.  There was light streaming in through my window, the bleak homogeneous light of a bright but overcast morning.  I kept my eyes half-closed, because anything more would exacerbate my headache.

I tried, half-heartedly, to fall asleep again.  Then, at once, after maybe five or ten minutes of that doomed endeavor, I suddenly found my eyes snapping wide open.  It was unwilled and happened before I could realize what I was doing.  The light hurt my eyes, and my cheeks and sinuses pounded.  And yet I immediately found myself completely indifferent to the pain, in a way and with a thoroughness I find difficult to describe to my satisfaction.

I loved the light.  I recognized the light.  It was that same light that had shone over the holy hill over the plain, back at Spelunk 04!  I scrambled out of bed, whisked on a bathrobe, and rushed out the front door, eager to see my old acquaintance in its full splendor.

It was an overcast day like so many others: uniform cloud cover making of the sky an unpainted swath of canvas, a grayish glow suffusing everything terrestrial, fuzzing shadows to the edge of nonexistence.  Beads of last night's rain revealed themselves on rhododendrons rendered in a minimal palette, no leaf in full shadow, just lighter green here and darker there.  The neighbors' red car sported a dully glowing sheen on top, a reflection of the void above.

End of the line.  Place where there is no darkness.

In this environment I felt a sudden rearrangement of priorities.  I remembered the separation, and the plain, and my stint as the avatar of chaos and abandon, thrysus in one hand and caduceus in the other.  I remembered the Cafe, where I felt at home, and I remembered Spelunk 04!, which showed me how much there is to be done for this world which is -- and I have always been right when I have inclined this way -- not a home.  I looked about at the capriciously arranged material, the precise curve of the red car's silhouette (why that curve, out of an infinity of possible curves?), at the leaves of the rhododendron, jutting in numerous directions.

I yearned to rearrange them.  I heard the call then, stronger than I have in weeks.  And I, to all observers a young man standing in an inexplicable daze on his porch, walked over to a rhododendron bush and began to . . . put the leaves in place.  I knew where they should go, and there they went, and I saw that it was good.  A shiver went down my spine and the hairs all along my arms stood up.  I was newly charged.

I broke out laughing.  How must I appear?  What would my parents, my old hometown friends -- now in the military, mostly, executing duties of a very different sort -- make of me, here, moving to laughter -- to tears -- by the positions of rhododendron leaves?

I am not a man.  I am a hollow vessel into which the machinery of the world's base substance -- of Mundum -- has poured its nectar.  I am a piece of glassware (as Jenny accidentally put it in that thread -- felicitous typo, fortunate fault!) which, if it is not filled, is nothing.  And I have been filled.

There are two stories running in parallel here.  One is of the story of strange little man with a cramped little mind, ostentatiously furnished but lacking in basic amenities, who helped lead his strange little friends into a drug-fueled, sleep-deprived riot of bad decisions, a failed party so failed it had a death toll.

Another is the story of a unworthy vessel into whom was poured a spark of something Other.  That spark may be divine or devilish, but without it the vessel is nothing, and knowing nothing else, the vessel embraces it without reservation.

I am making a bet.  I am going all in, and betting everything on the chance that the second story is worth choosing.

Covered in goosebumps from head to toe, I looked up through misty eyes at the blank sky, which, like Mundum, admitted of no variation.  I will not shrink, I said.  I am a great sinner or a great saint, but not neither.  Present my actions to the world and let the world judge.  There are others, Salby hoped -- and he was right.

And here is what I saw at that moment this morning, when I looked up at the sky.  I saw a man, a very old man, walking through the English countryside on a day much like this one, hand in hand with his disciple.  By all sublunary indicators, it is not a happy day: the man has just had a series of grueling final conversations with family members and former friends, who at long last find themselves unable to put up with his increasingly strange ways.  He speaks of old harsh withered things; he has outbursts; he is, in every way, at odds with the world.  And what is more, it is the appointed day, on which his disciple, the one man left who understands, is to die.

But Leonard Salby is happy.  William Chen is happy, too.  They press palm to palm, affectionately.  They run together across the fields.  They skip for sheer joy.  They know they have strayed too far from the world to go back.  They have built towers upon towers of recondite theory and lore, towers few could scale, were they inclined, which no one is.  It has taken many, many years to build their monument.  Many sleepless nights, abuzz with passionate conversation, and many dreary days, filled from sunrise on with the contemplation of minutiae -- will this next keystone in the grand design bear its appointed load? -- and the monotonous clack of the typewriter.

But they have been happy through all of this, and they are happy now.  They labor under burdens not quite matched in texture by any endured anywhere else in the burdensome human world, and yet they can sincerely say to each other: "his yoke is easy and his burden light."  It is back-breaking, soul-breaking work, and yet it is the easiest thing in the world.

When you see the monument you must leave behind, truly see it, it is harder not to build it than to build it, however your back may cry out as you lug stone after stone to the construction site.

I am with these men if I am anything.  I have nothing to hide.  I am a terrible thing, but only because I am a conduit for things above.  I offer no sublunary defense for my actions, and indeed I still shudder before them.  But the heavens, I think, cry out in their favor.  If I am wrong, let me be torn apart.  I will submit gladly to the onslaught.

So I'm here, now, and I'm not going to lie or hold back, I'm going to tell the story straight.  Before the sky, rhetoric is nothing.  No massaging, no sleight of hand, no political framing, none of that.  This is the report.  And I am going to finish it today.  And I will be judged as I will be judged.

torgo has informed me that he is in communication with Lugnut, regarding the possibility of communication by phone or otherwise.  Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe, just maybe, the world is waking up.

I am going to start a new thread on the Cafe, and dump all of my notes up to this point.  Nothing to hide.  If you're reading this on the Cafe, expect the rest of the story before the day is over.

And now, to write.

Chapter Text

So I'm just telling a story, now -- telling a story to you, yes you, Cafe Chesscourt patron.  One thing after the next.  Where were we?

I had been reading, an hour or so after midnight, and something in me had changed.  Jenny noticed it, and asked me if I was all right.

I think it was at this precise second that the separation began.  It might have been as much as a minute or so afterward.  If so, I don't remember who was reading when it started.

I am not sure how to describe the separation, but I am newly committed to telling the story straight, as straight as possible, and so I will try as hard as I can.

It presented itself all at once, as a composite whole, in a way that is difficult to divide into constituent parts without feeling as though one has done an injustice to the nature of the phenomenon.  But divide I must.

First, imagine an almost indescribably intense awareness of the location of surrounding objects.  It is difficult to say what I mean, because of course one is always, on some level, aware of the arrangements of objects in one's environment.  This awareness, however, is a nebulous and largely unconscious thing, tied up in messy ways with the faculties of vision and proprioception.  As an analogy, consider the difference between your abstract awareness of a room in your dwelling which you are not currently inside and the direct awareness you experience when that room is not actually before your eyes.  When you are not in your bathroom, you nonetheless know (barring extremely unlikely contingencies) that your bathroom exists, and that it has a sink and a toilet and so forth, which have some spatial relationship to one another.  However, these awarenesses do not occupy space in consciousness unless you explicitly call them up.  If asked (say) whether your toilet is to the left or right of your sink, you may call up a ghostly mental sketch of the toilet and sink, and inspect this sketch in search of the answer.  But the sketch only exists for a moment, and when not involved in such a process you do not have a persistent, unavoidable awareness of these objects and their arrangements.

Imagine, likewise, that your ordinary visual/spatial awareness is much like the "ghostly mental sketch" just mentioned.  To some extent, on some level, you are aware that, say, you are sitting in a chair, and that this involves your torso being positioned above the chair.  But, unless there is some special reason to attend to this fact, it does not persist in awareness.  You cannot avoid seeing what is front of you, but you can and do usually avoid "seeing" (as it were) the fact that there is a chair beneath you, or that this chair is about three feet (and not, say, ten feet, or five inches) away from a neighboring desk.  But a hallmark of the separation is that these spatial relations become as pressing and persistent to the conscious mind as vision.  I saw, and kept on seeing, vividly and without reprieve, that I was seated on the floor just so, that Aaron was a certain distance to my left, that a corner of his blanket abutted my left knee, that a flat-screen TV was embedded in the wall behind Jenny a very specific distance away, and so forth.

Now, add to this conception another element: not only are you aware of these arrangements, you are deeply aware of their potential to be different, and the fact that you are capable of changing them, and that other arrangements might be better.  One way of putting it might be that it is a version of the basic "revolutionary urge," focused not on the structure of society but on the material building blocks of which society, and everything else, are ultimately formed.  The revolutionary realizes that the social relations he sees around him are only a tiny blip in a vast space of possible social relations; he realizes the vast, vertigo-inducing arbitrariness of it all, the presence of so many billions of little particulars that could well be different, and perhaps should be.  The revolutionary usually thinks in sweeping terms: forms of government, economic systems.  But imagine a state of mind (and I urge you, stretch your empathy as far as it will go and avoid to the utmost the urge to giggle) in which this same urge applies to every arrangement of matter, regardless of social import.

I was aware that our seating pattern was arbitrary.  I was aware that I might well be on Aaron's left, rather than his right, or in Jenny's place next to Kelsey.  I was aware that the couch could be easily slid into any number of places on the floor.  I was aware that the utensils in the dishrack were organized according to no rational design and could be moved with the littlest effort into any desired configuration.  I was aware that there were food items in the refrigerator, in the shelves, which might be removed or remixed.  I was aware that there was a roll of toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom where Aaron and I had talked, and found it remarkable -- I remember this specifically -- that it was all coiled up, pressed against itself, a great mass of material cooped up in a tiny cylinder.  It could be so many places, strewn across the house, or eaten, stuffed into ears, used to wrap other objects -- but there it was, all of it, on that rack.  A world ripe with potential, waiting for rebirth.

Now, why do I call this feeling "the separation"?  This involves a third aspect (much as I hate to speak of numbered "aspects," since, as I have said, it presented itself as one continuous whole).  This aspect is something like a deeply felt sense (i.e. a sense felt as immediately, persistently etc. as vision and hearing) that the world is divided, or "separated," into an "upper" part and a "lower" part.  This is physically literal but also feels pregnant with metaphorical energies of various sorts.

The "lower" (or, following WC, "sublunary") part of the division comprised me, the other Spelunkers, Marsh's house, and more broadly, the whole of human settlements, clinging to the ground, leaving miles and miles of open air above uninhabited and empty.  (I do not think it possible to convey, to one for whom the separation is not occurring, just how comic this image feels: a sprawling, fearfully thin shell spread across the earth, huddling to the ground, cowed by gravity and defying it only as a stunt, or for the purpose -- as in air travel -- of relocating material from one piece of the shell to another.)

The "higher" (or "celestial") part of the division comprised the atmosphere and the whole of outer space.  Metaphorically -- although in the terms of the separation, which presents itself as a continuous whole, it doesn't feel right to call this "metaphorical" -- the upper realms are a place of necessity rather than arbitrariness.  Rather than a desk here, a couch there, we have the heavens, unbroken and (fundamentally) unchanging.

Once the separation had happened to me, I immediately became convinced of several additional notions:

(1) There are correct ways to arrange sublunary material, and incorrect ones, and it is important (unimaginably important, with crushing fear associated with the possibility of failure) for me to secure, as far as possible, the correct arrangements.

(2) Producing correct arrangements would in some way produce a sort of "alignment" between the two realms.  At the time, I remember phrasing this to myself (insistently and repetitively) as "the correct arrangement will please the sky."

(3) That producing the correct arrangements would not necessarily ensure worldly gain.  In fact, there was an immediate sense (similar in its vividness and persistence to the "perceptions" previously described) that the "correctly arranged" world might be much more unpleasant than the world I was accustomed to.  This, however, did not seem especially important, relative to the abject, transcendental horror I felt regarding the possibility of "displeasing the sky."

(4) That I, as a mere human body (thinking in material terms), had very limited powers of rearrangement, and would have to be shrewd if I wanted to have any great effect upon the sublunary arrangement as a whole.  The sheer size of the sublunary world -- cities, suburbs, uninhabited wilds, sprawling steppes, forbidding tundra -- was immediately (vividly, persistently etc.) apparent to me.  I was small; the failures of arrangement were great; I would need to leverage forces bigger than myself.

It was this last point which led me, with a curious sort of cunning and common sense still remaining in me, to concoct a plan.  I reasoned as follows.  The separation appeared to have occurred, in me, as a consequence of either reading The Northern Caves, taking Adderall (two pills, where the others had only taken one), or both.  Reading TNC had not (yet) produced the separation in any of the other Spelunkers.  If the other Spelunkers were, because of psychological differences, unable to experience the separation, then I could not use them (with any efficiency) in the rearrangement project.  But I did not yet know this.  The course of action was obvious: I should cause the other Spelunkers to consume a larger quantity of Adderall, and see whether this, in combination with the reading of TNC, produced the separation in them as well.  If it did, we could build from there, harnessing whatever physical forces the six of us were capable of accessing.

It was clear to me that if I continued to appear visibly distraught, this could only hinder me in my efforts.  Thus, I feigned a return to my normal demeanor, and this seemed to work; Jenny was reassured, and I passed the stack of papers to Aaron without incident (aware as never before of the precise geometries involved in the delicate dance of human hands giving and receiving materials, and of paper listing under the action of gravity and unevenly distributed pressure).  Aaron, as chipper as I'd ever seen him, took up the torch:

"but lodown amungst there was a silent outcry and the shock struck the multitude and no more chants returned.  yet the advancement of our savior, blumissimus all around sprouting out ivy athorn and growing grand whorls of purpled and snottish roses out from the sockets of his symmetrical radiating skull arrangment, the advancement of our redeemer, cleanth yclept, was not hindered by the lowing of the bayed and cowed bussoes, and so readily he sallied with a breaker running off every streaming plindt of his rupt and burr and wept.  under strumth we alfull sumeal seak his beating ninefold hearts and every heart apierce with the plums of spring, ungleate and flemmed, fully sull, so that we go under, forevermore, beneath, meneath, u n em suckin bubbles out of the brine mulperial."

While Aaron was saying this, I observed, with my newly heightened senses, the rapt attention which every member of the circle paid to his face -- the face of this man who they all so hoped would remain in this benign state until we dispersed -- and through a sequence of easily calculated discrete movements I rearranged local material so that my fingers were inside Kelsey's handbag and her prescription bottle was in my grasp.  No one else noticed.  A trick of rearrangement such as this is trivial, when the separation is in effect.

I decorously waited for Aaron to finish, and then asked if anyone wanted more coffee.  This had already been established as one of my social roles, and indeed everyone's cups were empty.  Everyone wanted a refill, and I went to the kitchen counter.  With my newfound powers of spatial attention it was, once again, merely trivial to convert a succession of pills to fine dust and to mix this dust imperceptibly into the brimming pot of coffee I had earlier prepared.  This I poured and served.

More soon, Cafe.

Chapter Text

My memories of the following few hours are a Cubist jumble of angles and distances, all invested with grand significances which now elude my retrospective grasp.  I can triangulate, from other memories and from forum evidence, that I must have successfully played my part in the TNC group-read even during this fugue.  At 3:46 AM (apparently) I wrote that Cafe post about capacitors and dwellings.  At some point after that, I must have ended up in Marsh's bedroom, talking to Jenny, because it's there, in medias res, that my memories abruptly become intelligible again:

"So as I said I'm finding Caves [unlike Aaron, Jenny preferred to render the title in speech as 'Caves'] a lot more narratively continuous than I'd originally thought.  Like I just don't really think Aaron's division, the whole thing with 'Tales' and 'Non-Lucid Sections' and all that, is really right?  Or, I mean, it kind of gets at differences that are there, but it's a lot fuzzier than that.  The whole thing feels like a story, don't you think?  I mean I had tried to read it before, but never word by word like we're doing now.  And I also think that maybe reading it out loud helps?  Like it just seems like it makes a lot more sense now than it did before, when I tried to read it by myself.  You know what I mean, Paul?"

"Yeah," I said, not untruthfully.

"I mean think about it -- the Tales have their own characters, right?  W and the exechamp and Cleanth and Clete and Caracalla and Captain Krylov and all those weird distinct version of Tom and Sally and Charles, right?  But those same characters are also in the parts before the Tales.  Like, they aren't written as clearly?  Sure.  But there's a . . . continuity . . . and I'm pretty sure there's an unbroken narrative thread there.  I'm not sure it's the sort of thing that can be figured out the way Aaron wants to do it, with these very specific connections where one character in one section lines up with another character in the next section.  I think it's more . . . intuitive than that?  Like, the characters behave very differently in different sections, to the point that you might be tempted like Aaron to think that they're not actually the same people.  But can't it just be a literary device intended to show that people are more varied than we usually imagine?  Almost as a sort of contrast to Chesscourt, where characters tend to be static even when the setting is very dynamic.  So I mean maybe that contrast is what Salby intended and so the reason it seems so weird in Caves is that he's actually trying to move as far as possible away from static characters and so it ends up with characters so dynamic that we have to stretch ourselves to even see them as people.  Stretch our empathy, I mean.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it?"

"No," I said.

I was sitting on Marsh's bed, on top of a plush blanket with a diamond pattern interlacing together several shades of brown.  Jenny was pacing back and forth across the slight span of Marsh's available floor space.  The room was filled with miscellany -- cardboard boxes of assorted shapes, a partially disassembled bicycle, dirty plates, etc. -- and the remaining floor space was a streamlined little corridor connecting the door to the bed.  In this cramped space Jenny did lap after lap, which (I'm telling the whole story, remember) supplied with me with a nicely panoramic view of her pleasantly full, solid but feminine form, and the airborne dynamics of her long brown hair, which fell straight down to the level of her armpits and then at once dispersed into a profusion of pretty curls.

"And if we think that way, it explains the changes in the style too, right?  It's just another way of seeing the characters, the opposite of stasis.  It's like what Joyce was doing in the second half of Ulysses, right?  Where these very ordinary people, these lower-middle-class clerks and so on, they get described in all sorts of styles taken from the high literary canon, which provides a whole range of perspectives on them you wouldn't normally get.  I feel like this isn't actually that unusual a technique, is it?  I guess it also reminds me a bit of Cortázar's Hopscotch, where there are several distinct sets of chapters, and they shed light on each other, and you don't have to read them in order, necessarily.  I feel like there are other examples?  I just can't think of them?"

She looked at me.  I could not think of other examples.  She had very pretty eyes.  Her gaze was intense.  She knew many things.

There was something twisted in the pit of my stomach, because the I knew that the part of me that wanted Jenny to lie down with me on that bed right there and then was not, in the last analysis, compatible with the part of me that wanted to reshape the whole cosmos.

There was not time now for trysts, for earthy joy.  The world was in my hands, and I might fail it.  I did fancy her, so very much.  But --

"You must not imagine that for beings like you and us there can be laughter. The low men laugh, and we envy them. But for us, the higher ones, there is no laughter, only an unending vigil, purely serious, stretching on into the night."

I took a long sip from the mug of coffee I had placed on Marsh's dresser.  In lieu of an answer from me, Jenny was happy to go on:

"And so I'm really, really happy to be here, reading Caves with you guys, because, I mean, of course it's amazing to meet you guys, but also -- I feel like I'm seeing new things in Caves that I never would have seen if I hadn't done this with you guys.  I could see it becoming my favorite Salby book, even.  Because, you know, what I've always wanted to do in my fics is take Salby's world, which is freaking amazing, and add some psychological depth, which I think we can both agree is kind of lacking.  But maybe Caves shows that Salby could do psychological depth, too.  He might be a deeper, like I mean a richer, author than I'd ever realized.  I feel like I could learn things from Caves.  New things."

Something in me weakened then, and I began to speak in an ill-advised way, which threatened to doom my entire scheme, and in doing so, doom the whole world:

"Jenny, this is really interesting.  I guess while we're here, though, taking a break from the group read, there's something else I want to ask you about.  It's about Aaron, and how he's doing, and also, I guess, about how I'm doing."

"Shoot," Jenny said pleasantly.  She was facing me with that intense glare again.

"Well," I began, "I talked to Aaron earlier, at the start of the night, when he was freaking out, remember?  And I think the thing about William Chen, about him dying, hit Aaron really hard.  He jumped to the conclusion that Salby murdered William Chen, and it seems like that . . . well, it resonated? I guess? with some sort of depression, or something, he was feeling, when he got here.  He sounded almost suicidal for a bit, there.  And he seems all right now, but I'm still worried.  I guess I wanted to let you know.  I want us all to keep an eye on him."

What was I doing?  The world was gravely, hideously disarranged; Aaron did not matter except as an instrument of material rearrangement.  But then, I reflected, happy instruments tend to be more effective, as instruments, than despondent ones.

"Huh, I."  Jenny paused for a moment.  "I picked up on him not being in a good mood, obviously.  But I, wow.  I didn't realize it was that bad.  Man.  Thanks for letting me know.  Because, yeah, I want to keep an eye on him too."  She paused again, and looked at me with a friendly expression.  "We're in this together.  Members of Mission Keep-Aaron-Okay."

I nodded.

"Also," I continued, blithely plunging headlong off some cliff I did not begin to understand, "I don't feel especially like myself tonight, either.  I don't know if you've noticed, but I just feel really . . . weird, in this really intense way.  And I wanted to let you know because, I guess, it might be good for you to keep an eye on me, too."

"I will," Jenny said.  "Thank you for telling me."  She was sincere.  The sky enveloped the world, and Jenny enveloped the sky.  Levels atop levels.

(Jenny, I'm sorry.  You're going to read this after I post it -- later tonight, probably -- and I know you're going to be creeped out by some of these descriptions of you.  I feel like I need to write this stuff because I need to do justice to what I was feeling and thinking at the time; I don't want to hide anything.  As you of course understand, real people have many different sides, some good and some bad.)

"I think," she said then, looking at her watch, "it's time to get back to the living room to start reading again.  Thanks for listening to me ramble, dude."

"No problem."

"Oh, and also, you know what I just realized?  I haven't eaten since I got here.  Like, I never even had dinner.  And yet I'm not hungry.  Isn't that weird?"

"Yeah," I said.  "I'm not hungry either."

"But we should probably eat something, shouldn't we?"  (God it twists my stomach into knots writing this.  But I have to record everything.  Tell the story straight.)

"Let's ask Marsh what's he's got in the kitchen."

"Good plan."

This seems like a good full chunk -- time to post it in my Cafe thread.  Then, onwards, further into the caves.

Chapter Text

Marsh's kitchen was minimally stocked.  There was some milk, and some bread, and some peanut butter.  Probably other things, but those are the ones I remember.  We subsided on these things for a very long time, eventually depleting them entirely.  The peanut butter I remember as an adversary -- it was the chunky kind, and the chunks would get stuck behind my teeth, and for the most parts they distributed themselves in incorrect ways, and when it was someone else's turn to read I spent a great deal of tongue-work attempting, with incomplete success, to correct their arrangement.  I remember wishing there were some more well-behaved foodstuff available, but obtaining more food would necessitate leaving the house, and this seemed steadily more and more ill-advised.  The outside seemed like treacherous territory, infested with abominable beasts and swarming mites, ornate with poisonous vines, the edge of some medieval map.  Stepping across the threshold of Marsh's front door would be tantamount to stepping off a cliff.

The conversation with Jenny recounted in the previous post constituted the last break before a long period with no breaks at all.  It is difficult to fashion any sort of narrative out of this period.  On the sublunary echelon, it consisted of our Spelunking party handing around a stack of paper and reading out loud from it.  Occasionally one of us who was not actively reading would walk to the kitchen and bring back some peanut-buttered toast, water, and/or milk.  Occasionally someone would ask for coffee; unsurprisingly we found that a little bit of coffee went a long way, and there was never a need to brew a new pot.

This is not much of a story, and what was flowing through our minds was not much of a story, either.  Some of you might have hoped that our dedicated exploration would reveal a heretofore unnoticed narrative thread in the so-called "Non-Lucid Section," but nothing of the sort occurred.  I found the content of these many hundreds of pages quite fascinating, but not in the manner of a novel.  The closest analogy I can devise -- which is not very close -- is that it resembled a painting: it seemed to be a coherent depiction of something essentially static.  I felt as though I recognized what I was being shown, much as one "recognizes" the forms in a painting which after all are really just so many brushstrokes.  The individual sentences and pages of the "Non-Lucid Section" were indeed "non-lucid," in the same way that an individual brushstroke does not constitute a picture of anything.  Built up into a larger mass, they evoked something definite.

Salby wrote that TNC was his attempt to portray "the obverse face of Mundum."  In his earliest attempt to articulate the nature of this "obverse face," he referred to it, dramatically and yet obscurely, as "THE WHOLE BLEAK ENDLESS WORLD."  Much less dramatic accounts can be found in the peculiar pseudo-academic treatises written by William Chen, the majority of which can be found in the Salby archives.  (I considered it a higher priority to make digital copies of Salby's journals, but having done so, I have now begun scanning Chen's work, and I should have a digital copy of The Salbian Personality ready within the week.)

Chen's work, although verbose, is ultimately not much more illuminating than Salby's "THE WHOLE BLEAK ENDLESS WORLD."  It is very dry and abstract, almost compulsively so; there is the sense that Chen wanted to thoroughly separate the conceptual essence of Salby's views from the poetic, pyrotechnic, and aphoristic style in which Salby typically chose to express them.  So, for instance (in Formalizing Anti-Formalism), Salby's emotionally forceful term "definite wrongness" is subjected to many pages of dry exegesis, culminating in a somewhat ludicrous tour de force in which Chen describes an apparently unremarkable and innocuous glass of water sitting on his desk and explains at length why, in fact, the glass of water is "definitely wrong" in an essential, immutable way.  Salby's own response to this kind of thing, as evidenced by the journals, was ambivalent -- he clearly admired Chen's (indeed quite astonishing) erudition and industry, and considered Chen a dear friend and kindred spirit, but disagreed quite vehemently with some of his attitudes toward "Mundum" and its nature.

My purpose in making this digression is to clarify that none of the voluminous Salby/Chen material really gives one any clear sense of just what it is that TNC is trying to "depict."  Perhaps this is because it was simply easier to write TNC than to set out in plain language what TNC was going for.  (On the evidence of TNC itself, plain language was very much not up to the task.)  And yet, I feel that TNC does in fact "paint a picture" of some definite thing, and that this thing lines up more or less with the (highly incomplete) characterizations of the "obverse face of Mundum" given by Salby and Chen.

Of course, if Salby and Chen couldn't relate it in plain language, then of course I can't either.  But it has something to do with the separation, something to do with the disarrangement of material, something to do with the sense that the world outside of Marsh's house was a minefield, or a malign Wonderland waiting to chop off my head.  The picture is in some way a picture of "the real world" as we see it every day, but exposed as drastically distorted, "incorrect," unsatisfying, in a recursive way so that each subset is as incorrect as the whole, and each attempt to redress the great wrong comprises a continuous part of the great wrong itself.

According to my calculations, we spent somewhere between 30 and 40 hours in this continuous receptive state, reading and reading.  This must sound ludicrous.  But at the time it seemed quite natural.  I can't be sure how any of the others felt about it, but I watched them, and I think we all had the sense that the longer we had kept reading, the more dangerous (!) it would be to stop reading.  We had found a calm, tranquil waterway when there were storms all around.  We did not dare stray from the course.

This phase ended sometime in the mid-afternoon of Monday, June 28.  We had read continuously through Saturday night, Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday morning.  We had closed the blinds and relied on electric lighting, so that the passage from day to night and night to day was barely perceptible.  (The sudden starts and stops of the air conditioner's drone were, however, quite startling.)  The end was initiated by Marsh, who had begun to read the section, beginning on p. 1554, which we had previously agreed to call "Tale 1":

"TOM: We really ought to do something about it.

SALLY: It?

TOM: That crack in the wall.  The spackle I used isn't doing the job.  Look at it.  You can see the crack again.

SALLY: That I can.

TOM: So you see what I mean.

SALLY: I see that there's a crack in our living room wall, to the right of the big mirror.

TOM: I'm thinking maybe I'll call John and ask him to take a look at it.  John's always done a good professional job.

SALLY: Mm-hmm.

TOM: What?

SALLY: Nothing.

TOM: I just think we ought to get that crack fixed.  It's unsightly.

SALLY: Well, whatever you want.

TOM: Do you want there to be a crack in our wall?

SALLY: Oh, no.  Heavens, no!  Nothing but that!

TOM: Look, what are you so peeved about?

SALLY: Well, there's a crack in our wall, for one thing.

TOM: I know that's not it.

SALLY: You do?  You seem quite peeved by that crack yourself."

After reading this line, Marsh just . . . stopped.  He looked around the circle.  His eyes were a bit bloodshot and his face was shadowed with stubble.  He sighed, paused, and began to speak.

"Look, I have something to say."

None of us moved.  It took a number of seconds for me to realize that this was unlikely to be a line from the text.

"Guys -- Aaron, Paul, Jenny, Kelsey, dad.  I have something to say."

"That's not what it says, is it?" I said.

"No.  I'm talking.  To you."

A wave of nausea swept over me.  Everything had been upended.  Our boat had capsized.  There was no telling what could happen now.

"Can we talk?  To each other?  Is that a thing we're allowed to do?"

He seemed to be addressing me, for some reason.  After a moment, conflict-averse as a result of shock, I replied:

"Go ahead, Marsh."

"Okay.  Uh."  He took a deep breath.  "Look.  I don't know what's been going on here.  I don't know what the fuck was in Kelsey's pills, because I have been tweaking out.  Do you guys realize how long we've been here?  I think it's Monday.  I think it's Monday."

After a pause, Kelsey said quickly and with shame:

"Oh, shit.  I forgot to call my parents."

Marsh rubbed an exasperated hand across his sweat-slick forehead.  "I don't know what is going on here, but this is my house, and I want us all to just stop and take a moment and talk about what we're doing here."

No one said anything.

"Like, are you guys fucking crazy?  We get here, Aaron's having some sort of freak-out, and you" -- he glared at me -- "decide the solution to that is to take drugs, stay up for two nights in a row, and read gibberish until our brains leak out our ears."

"It's not gibberish," Aaron said.

"Oh, really?  I'm sure you think I'm just too dumb to get it, right, 'Err'?"

"I don't think you're dumb," Aaron said limply.  "I just don't think it's gibberish."

"Look," Marsh said, standing up now.  "I know you guys think I'm kinda dumb.  Because I don't come up with 'Hypotheses,' or write fics, or anything.  I'm just some stoner dickwad who thought he was good enough for your fancy little coterie.  And yeah, maybe I know words like 'coterie,' but I'm still some stoner dickwad in the end, right?"

"Marsh, personally -- " Jenny began, but he cut her off.

"But you know what?  There are things I can see that you guys can't.  I can see that this" -- he waved the current TNC stack with his right hand -- "is crap.  You have your theories, and your Hypotheses, and all of this bullshit, and I've been so fucking patient with it, but deep down I think you know that this is just not a good book."

"Could you, maybe, tell us what you don't like about it?" Kelsey offered.

Marsh threw his hands up in the air.  "What I don't like about it?  What is there to like about it?  It's not well-written.  There aren't really characters or a story.  There are all these weird words and misspellings in there, but you can tell they're not in there for any good reason.  He's just putting them there to fuck with you and make you obsess over finding a pattern where there isn't one.  It's meant to make nerds waste time.  That's it.

"Think of all the shit we could be doing right now.  The fun we could be having.  Hell, the books we could be reading, actual, good books, instead of this shit" -- and here he flung the stack of paper against the wall.  It splayed out into a number of overlapping piles on the floor.  We all gasped.

"Marsh, I respect your opinion," Jenny said, "even if I don't personally agree.  Can we maybe just all sit down and talk about this a bit?  I mean, it's interesting stuff, right?  It'd be like a Cafe thread, but here in person."  She smiled.  I envied her resilient, sunny spirit.

Marsh looked like he was torn between several possible gestures.  He reached forward, as if to grasp something from the assorted stack of paper on the coffee table, but then suddenly lurched backward and returned to his lowest-energy configuartion, seated in his La-Z-Boy (facing the couch, across the table) and 80% of the way to full recline.

"I guess, personally," Jenny began after a moment, "I think there's a lot of interesting character stuff going on in Caves.  More than I had realized before tonight -- uh, I mean, before Spelunk 04!  It's not written in a conventional style, no, but as a writer I feel like there's a lot to admire and learn from there, about how to portray characters from multiple perspectives, and . . . "   She trailed off.

"Really?" Marsh said.  His La-Z-Boyed form and slight smirk were reassuring, a recognizable image of the Marsh we knew and, in one sense or another, loved.  "Which characters do you think are so great?  Tom?  Sally?  Cleanth?"

"Well," said Jenny, and here began a set of agreeable, sublunary exchanges.  I was pleased that Marsh had calmed down, but I still felt a deep unease: after this much immersion in TNC, we were still talking about it on this level?  Where was Mundum?  Where was the separation?  I wanted to speak, but feared to expose myself.  Thankfully, Aaron (Mundum bless Aaron) did my work for me.

"I think," he said, "I'm getting something very different out of this than you guys are.  I don't really see it as a story with characters.  I see it as . . . telling us about a certain way of seeing things."

He gets it, I thought, and was filled with sudden affection.

"I think I was going about this all wrong, on the Cafe," Aaron said.  "And for a while, that hurt me.  I was looking for a way out of how dark the whole thing was.  Some way to turn the deaths into reincarnations.  To tame the whole thing.  But I don't think I need to do that anymore.  I think it's saying something, and it's saying something dark, but I think it's something I agree with."

I beamed.  Everyone else looked as though they were trying to pretend he hadn't opened his mouth.  I looked over at Ken, who had not spoken at all since we had stopped reading.  He looked lost, empty.

Marsh glared at Aaron.  "So what is it saying?  Probably something too sophisticated for the plebs like me, huh?"

"No, no," Aaron pleaded, "it's not . . . I don't know how to say it, but I think you can get it, Marsh.  I think we all can.  It has to do with death, and with . . . things being in the wrong place . . . "

He gets it!  I almost cried out.

"It's really weird how I don't feel tired," Kelsey said.  "Like I don't feel tired at all.  I am kinda hungry, though."

Everyone seemed to relish this distraction from Aaron's morbid rambling.

"We're all out of peanut butter," I said.

"Thank god," Kelsey said.  "I don't think I'm ever going to eat peanut butter again."

"I could go for, like, a burger and fries right now," Jenny said.

"You're in luck," said Marsh.  "There's a diner right up the street.  Dad and I go there all the time.  It's, like, the paradise of grease."

Jenny's face lit up.  She looked like a doubting kid who'd just heard irrefutable proof of Santa Claus' existence.

"Let's fucking do this!" Marsh bellowed.  He was in his element again.  Going to show us around the town.  Have some good earthy (sublunary) fun.  Out of the caves.  No more bullshit.

I have to take a break, here, to prepare myself.  The sun is setting.  I will finish before midnight, Cafe.  Let's fucking do this.

Chapter Text

Marsh opened the front door, and I steeled myself.

We walked out into a hot, oppressively humid atmosphere.  I took furtive glances at the plants growing near Marsh's doorstep.  Every organism out here was a potential enemy.  A fly buzzed past my face and I shuddered, imagining the fell geometries it must have been tracing out as it flew, mocking with its motions my whole ambitious doomed project.

We walked along an ordinary residential street.  It was searingly bright all around; I could not imagine how people could tolerate such an environment for any extended period of time.  I was aware of the regularly spaced houses on both sides of me, and the separation provided me with schematic perception of their floor plans and of the location and motion of the flesh capsules inside.  Potential for improved arrangement swarmed in my brain and dizzied me, but I maintained a simulation of composure and made my way along the sidewalk, for all the world like any other pedestrian.

Our ambulatory party had formed a set of three clusters.  Marsh and Ken took the lead, and chatted with one another with what looked like a pleasant demeanor.  I wondered what Ken had made of all of this; something told me that he and his son had gotten up to even weirder mischief together.  Jenny and Kelsey formed the second group.  They seemed to be talking about Kelsey's parents.  Many paces behind them, Aaron and I walked side by side.

"You're seeing it too, aren't you?" Aaron asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I had a vision, or hallucination, while we were reading," Aaron said.

"I see," I said.

"I was on a grassy plain," Aaron said.  "It was evening, I think.  The sky was dark and cloudy, but the sun hadn't set yet.  And Sally, from Chesscourt, was there."

"I see," I said.

"And she told me that everything I'd seen and known throughout my whole life was just grass, on this plain.  But there was also a sky, above.  That there was more."

"That's very true," I said.

"She said that she was going to let me speak in the voice of the sky.  And that people would hear my voice, and tell me that they had heard other voices.  But I had to keep saying, this is the only voice.  Just this one."

"The light of the Solenoid Entity immolates," I said.

We walked in silence.

As Marsh has said, the diner was nearby.  After a single crosswalk and another half-block, we found ourselves before a big ellipse of pink neon enclosing the words "JIM'S."  Underneath, large windows showed us a brightly lit interior full of padded booths, with a big metal aisle housing a grill and the cashier's spot.

Marsh opened the door.  "Jim's!" he called out.  He jumped up and tapped the top of the doorframe before entering.

We coalesced at a salmon-colored booth near the front.  My skin lapped up the air-conditioned atmosphere.  Menus were distributed by a waitress who seemed to have stepped out of a cartoon about the 1950s.  My sense of time was quite elastic and physical space seemed to contain more than the usual number of angles.  Part of me felt like lying my head down on the table and part of me felt like spending the next 24 hours scrutinizing Jim's for material arrangement failures.  I think part of me needed very much to go to the bathroom, but a bigger part of me felt it had transcended such things entirely.  I contained multitudes.  I had been awake for around 60 hours.

The waitress rematerialized.  I had not looked at the menu.  Jenny jubilantly put in an order for some sort of burger (I believe "the works" were involved), and I sheepishly mumbled that I would have what she was having.

With no apparent prompting, Aaron stood up.  "Excuse me," he said to the waitress, "but may I speak with you for a moment?"

Her visible discomfort was only momentary; her professionalism was admirable.  "Sure, honey," she said.  Aaron walked away from the booth and she followed.  I hoped he wasn't going to get himself into some sort of trouble and get us all kicked out.

"What was that about?" Ken asked.  He was looking at me: appointed interpreter again.

"No idea," I said.

Jenny was telling Kelsey she really ought to call her parents.  Kelsey was pressing the point that they'd totally be able to tell she hadn't gotten enough sleep.  "Just keep the call short," Jenny was telling her.  "Say your meal has arrived."  Kelsey approved of this stratagem and pulled out a cell phone, black and covered with little pink decals of cutesy, miniature demons.

"I just wanted to say," Marsh said out of nowhere, "that I don't have any beef with you about any of this, Paul.  It's been a fucked-up trip, but I think you understand Aaron -- better than I do, anyway -- and I trust you're handling this right.  You're a solid dude, Paul."

One of my many parts felt charmed by this, in an uncomplicated way.  I liked Marsh.  I envisioned hanging out with him under better circumstances.  I was pleased to be a solid dude, something I had never before been in anyone else's estimation.  (Another part of me scrutinized his eyebrows, wondering if the project of rearrangement might necessitate their removal from his face.)

After a span of time I could not for the life of me estimate, a waiter -- not our original waitress -- arrived with our food.  Jenny bit into her burger with relish and I admired her earthy zeal.  Kelsey had ordered some sort of expansive, elaborate salad.  Marsh and Ken, in synch, bit into chicken wings slathered in buffalo sauce.  I stared at the burger and fries before me and felt queasy.  The burger's edges quivered, mirage-like.  (I had been awake for around 60 hours.)  Aaron was still not back, and I was worried.

"Guys?"  I said.  "I'm just going to go check and see how Aaron is doing."  Nods all around.  Jenny gave me a thumbs-up and a conspiratorial, ketchup-lined smile.

With a stalking gait, I made my way through the central aisle of Jim's, taking hopefully inconspicuous glances about for Aaron and the waitress.  They were nowhere to be seen.  Increasingly worried, I slipped behind the cashier and through the double doors into the kitchen, where I was confronted with a whole new panorama of disarranged material.  Several large men in white aprons glanced at me for the briefest moment and then went back to their tasks.

I could hear Aaron's distinctive voice, coming from somewhere towards the far end of the room.  I sidled in that direction.  It became clear that Aaron was speaking from behind a curtain, perhaps separating the kitchen from employee bathrooms.  With terrible, shameful, tragic cowardice, I listened and did not move:

"Cleanth Olead Cleanth Olead Slame Todd."

It was Aaron, all right.  The waitress (presumably?) was making appreciative noises.

"There is to be a great awakening."

"Uh-hmm."

"The command does not vary and is inescapable."

"Y-yep.  I gotcha."

"Your contribution will make Clete sleek with quickening."

I couldn't take any more of this.  I slunk back, across the kitchen, out into the main partition of the restaurant, and back to our table, where exhausted Spelunkers were eating up in preparation for the next journey into the Caves.

"Is Aaron all right?" Kelsey asked.

"Yes," I said, idiotically, unconscionably.

We ate; we talked; all was well.  I managed to get down a few bites of my burger and a new complacency bloomed in my brain; all of a sudden the disarrangement of material did not seem like such an immediately pressing concern.  Aaron returned when the rest of us were done, and we courteously stayed to let him eat his onion rings.  We left Jim's in high spirits, feeling back on earth again, newly ready to fuck Salby up, undaunted terraneans ready for anything the underground could throw at us.

"You all right?" I asked Aaron quietly.

"Nothing's wrong," he said.  He seemed distant, abstracted, but I accepted this answer.

We had gathered in Marsh's living room, and were ready to tell the story of Tom and Sally's deteriorating marriage, when the phone rang.

Ken padded over to another room to answer it.  From our end, the conversation consisted of a few "yeah"s followed by a few "wow"s and "shit"s.  After returning to the living room, Ken explained:

"That was my buddy Josh.  He called me to ask if I was watching the news.  Because there was this weird story on about a multiple suicide.  At Jim's.  Three of their employees climbed to the top of the water tower across the street and just jumped off?  And no one knows why?  And Josh knew I went to Jim's all the time, and knew some of the staff there, so he was just thinking, you know, I should know."

"Jesus," Marsh said.  "What a fucking weird coincidence."

Chapter Text

"This is . . . fuck.  I don't know how to . . . I'm don't know what I'm going to do to deal with . . . this is fucked up."

"So look, let me ask some questions, because I have some fucking questions.  Aaron.  You're saying you somehow made those people kill themselves?"

"I just said some words to them, Marsh."

"Real interesting.  But not a fucking answer to my fucking question."

"Aren't you being a bit literal about this, Marsh?"

"Oh my god.  Fuck you, Aaron."

"Look, I don't feel any better about this than you do."

"Apparently you felt okay about it a few hours ago, though."

"I just . . . I said some words to them.  Words that I felt like I had to say.  Like if I didn't say them I would explode.  Or die.  Or . . . that . . . that kind of thing."

"Aaron, I know you and Marsh have some history of tension, so take it from me instead: I think we all deserve some explanation of what happened back there."

"I'm not sure I can explain it, Jennifer."

"Well, the rest of us are completely in the dark.  So really, anything you can do will help."

"I'm sorry, Jennifer.  I'm sorry.  I . . . really respect you.  I really like Life Among The Lorrums.  I'm sorry."

"Guys, maybe we should give Aaron some time."

"Give him some time?  What, so he can kill again?"

"Aaron hasn't killed anyone, Marsh."

"Oh.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry these important subtleties are lost on your poor little friend Marsh.  Aaron hasn't killed anyone he's just made people die by saying words to them.  That's very different.  I'm looking forward to his theory thread about it."

"Marshall, this has been a very interesting and mind-opening experience, but I don't think my mind is open enough to believe that one of your friends has some sort of magic powers."

"Don't call me 'Marshall,' dad."

"I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for putting all you guys through this.  I'm . . . I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"I imagine the families of the three people who died today are also pretty sorry."

"Guys?  This is all really fucked-up and weird and confusing.  And if we're even going to begin to understand it we need to listen to Aaron.  So can we maybe start just letting him talk?  And listening?"

"I don't know.  Listening to Aaron talk is apparently not very safe, is the impression I'm getting here."

"Jenny, could you just get him to shut up for a moment?  So I can talk?"

"I don't know why you think I'm any more capable of getting him to shut up than anyone else.  Why don't you get him to shut up, if that's what you want?"

"He just slows everything down.  He's almost like Lugnut.  Except more boring.  Remember the stuff he said about your fic?  Did he ever once display a normal level of reading comprehension?"

"Aaron, if you think you're getting me on your side by saying stuff like this, think again."

"Yeah, seriously.  What the fuck, Aaron?  I think we need to just decree that Aaron and Marsh can't talk to each other for the next hour or something.  Or even say anything about each other."

"Sounds good to me, Paul.  I'm personally pretty interested in not dying."

"Okay, that's your last comment about or to Aaron until [checks clock] 6:36 PM."

"Sure.  Whatever."

"So Aaron as I said earlier I do think we all deserve an explanation about what happened back at Jim's.  It doesn't have to be, like, complete?  Or anything?  Just . . . we could use anything at this point."

"It's just like . . . something came over me, reading Tee Enn See with you all.  And saying up so late.  And taking Adderall.  There are so many factors.   Who knows.  But there was a time when we were reading, and I almost . . . I had a waking dream, or a hallucination, or something, and Sally from Chesscourt was there, and she told me something about talking in the voice of the sky?  And I felt like I had to do that.  And when we went to Jim's, I just, I mean, I felt like I had to talk in the voice of the sky.  I didn't know what was going to happen, I swear.  I just had to . . . [falters, sniffles] had to . . . "

"Aww, Aaron.  We're here for you."

"Oh so now the murderer starts crying and everyone's like oh no poor baby.  Watch out, he's going to get you next.  And then explain how he did it.  With bold fonts."

"Marsh!  You are not allowed to talk about Aaron until 6:36!"

"Oh I'm so sorry Cleft-Ear, I'll be a good Gamma Male now."

"I don't know what you're implying there."

"You're the writer.  Figure it out."

"Paul, I . . . "

"I'm here, Aaron."

"This is so fucking terrible it's beyond the end of the line why did I go on it just ends up like this I can't believe I didn't listen when they said the wages of sin was -- "

"Shh."

"May I kiss you, Paul?"

"What?"

"You can say no."

"I don't think I'm gay, Aaron."

[…]

"Well, thanks anyway."

"I don't . . . think I'm gay . . . Aaron."

"This is the most yaoi thing I've ever seenSqueeee!"

"Was that in English, Kelsey?"

"Well mostly but yaoi is Japanese for -- "

"I didn't know Aaron was gay."

"I'm not sure whether or not to count that against your 6:36 thing.  I mean, it was a pretty neutral statement."

"Not that I'm not cool with that, you know?"

"As I said, a pretty neutral statement."

"I get the sense you're having a lot of fun with deciding what I get to say, Jenny."

"-- it originally meant 'no climax, no point, no meaning,' like a meaningless story --"

"Oh, you mean like The Northern Caves?"

"Aaron, I understand what you mean about feeling like you have to do things, and Northern Caves making you feel that way."

"I thought you would, Paul."

"Well, Paul, maybe you can enlighten the rest of us?"

"Look, before I even say anything, I want to make it clear that I don't endorse killing people, or, uh, saying things that will make people kill themselves -- "

"You know, it's kind of weird when you have to actually say that."

"So what, I'm supposed to not say it?"

"Look, forget I said anything.  I want to hear what you have to say, Paul."

"I don't.  I'm going to grab a joint and a shot and try to forget about this shit."

"Bye, Marsh."

"Oh, you know, I got some more of that good purple weed the other day.  It's in the drawer."

"Thanks, dad."

"I have to say, I'm surprised by how many of you guys do drugs."

"It's pretty common in America, among young people, I mean just in general."

"I just . . . can you imagine Tom or Sally or Charles or Cleft-Ear doing drugs?"

"I have trouble imagining them doing a lot of things, really."

"Salby really is kind of shit at characters, isn't he?"

"Not as good as you, definitely."

"Thanks, Paul."

"I'm so sorry Paul and Jennifer and also Kelsey and Kenneth.  […]  Thank you, Paul, that feels really nice on my hair."

"I just . . . this is all so fucked up."

"I don't think you're going to find much disagreement there, Jenny."

"You're being flip about it, Paul.  I don't like it.  I don't like the drugs, I don't like the . . . death . . . the way you're all just being so jovial about it . . . I feel like my brain is about to crawl out of my skull."

"I want to go home."

"So do I."

"I just want to get away from all of this."

"Kelsey, that's the first sensible thing I've heard in about forty hours."

"But I'm not sure I can remember how to get to the airport?  It's really complicated, you have to take a bus and then a train?  And I can't seem to find my meds for some reason."

"When's your flight?"

"It's tomorrow, but I just want to get away . . . now."

"How about we go together?"

"That would be so helpful, oh my god, thank you."

"No prob."

"I'm sorry."

"We know, Aaron."

"Are you leaving now?"

"Yeah, I think that's the plan."

"Well, goodbye."

"Bye, Paul.  Look, let's talk about this later, okay?  This whole thing is so fucked up, but it's not your fault."

"I don't know.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't."

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Paul.  Get some sleep.  Eat some vegetables.  I'll send you a PM on the Cafe when I get home."

"Bye!  It was cool meeting you guys!"

"Bye, Kelsey.  Bye Jenny.  Talk to you soon."

[…]

"I fucked up, Paul, didn't I?  Good god I fucked up.  I should have just taken all that Ambien when I had the chance."

"I'm glad you didn't, Aaron."

"Every clever thing I do just ends up wrong, right?  Like hilariously wrong.  You know that was where the name was from, right?  Like a knight errant, but also, like all my fancy moves are -- "

"Yeah, I got it, Aaron."

"Can we kiss again, Paul?  It's pretty far past the end of the line for me but I did like kissing you.  Might as well have some fun before the end."

"Sure, Aaron."

[…]

"I don't want to interrupt you two lovebirds, but I've looked very closely at my watch and I think it says it is 6:41.  Of course I'm going to leave the final word here to Jenny."

"Hey, Marsh."

"Jenny left.  Kelsey too."

"Well, it's 6:41, and I'm good and loaded, and I'm feeling like shit is pretty good, for once."

"That's good to hear, Marsh."

"I didn't know you were gay, Paul.  I've learning so much shit at Spelunk 04.  All kinds of Spelunking going on up in here."

"I don't . . . think I'm gay, Marsh."

"Could have fooled me, dude.  It's cool, though.  So are you guys going to crash here, or like . . . I mean if you want to read some more Salby, be my fucking guest.  Count me out, though, and if anyone dies make sure it happens outside the house, okay?"

"Crashing on this here couch sounds pretty good right now, except I'm still wired as hell.  You said there was alcohol in this household?"

"Broseph, let me introduce you to The Cabinet."

"Christ that's a lot of bottles."

"Dad and I like to be prepared in case a party just so happens to materialize."

"I really just drink scotch, mostly.  This Johnny Walker Black is making eyes at me."

"Be my guest.  Aaron, you want anything?  Oh, I bet you don't drink, though.  Can't risk any of those precious brain cells up there.  Where would we ever be without the Reversal Hypothesis and the special death words?"

"I'm sorry, Marsh.  I still don't like you, Marsh."

"Really.  Well, fuck me.  How am I ever going to deal with this shocking new info."

"But you're right.  I don't like drinking.  Just makes me hate myself more."

"Metamarsh gets something right?  Holy shit.  Maybe you'll have to add that to your signature."

"Whatever you want, Marsh.  No blood on your hands.  What could I even say against you.  I'm not allowed to dislike you, but I'm not allowed to do anything, so I might as well dislike you, and kiss GlassWave, and keep on disliking you.  Sorry."

"Dude Err I'm way beyond being able to make sense of that.  I'm off to bed.  There's lube in the back of one of the kitchen counters.  Party on."

"Good night, Marsh."

[…]

"So, Aaron . . . feel free to tell me this is crazy, but do you want to read some more Salby?"

"You know, that's exactly what I want to do."

[…]

"Don't spill any of that liquor on the manuscript, okay?"

"I'll be careful."

"I know you will, Paul."

Chapter Text

"GlassWave's Report" (Thread From Cafe Chesscourt, Page 2 of 2)

torgo
Administrator

Joined: Dec 11, 1999
Location: Satellite of Love
Posts: 515
This thread has startled me as much as anyone. I've been in communication with GW about the report, but I didn't expect it to be dumped like this all of a sudden, and I wasn't familiar with a lot of the info in it.

I know this is a very weird time for everyone on the Cafe, and if anyone wants to talk, my PM box is always open. I'm not a shrink, but I've been here since the beginning and I feel a responsibility to help you guys in any way I can. :)
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JimWind
Lorrum

Joined: Jan 24, 2003
Location: Glasgow
Posts: 405
Wow. Wowwowow. I just finished reading the whole thing through the latest bit GW's posted. I had heard things about Spelunk 04 having something to do with restaurant workers dying, but I just figured that was a baseless rumor because it seemed so hard to understand how that could have happened. But what really shocks me here isn't even that, it's the fact that GlassWave dosed his/our friends with hard drugs. (Adderall is just prescription amphetamine, AKA speed! WTF!!!) "GlassHole" indeed!

TBH it really makes me uncomfortable with GW and getting this whole story from him. Of course when I first read this
maybe not even the other forum members, not even the best among them, not even Jim, say
I was flattered, especially cause GW's always seemed like one of the sharpest and nicest posters around these parts (until now!!). But now it kinda makes me sick to my stomach. I don't want this guy to think I'm one of the "best" Cafe people. And I'm holding back judgment on all this Spelunk nonsense until I hear about it from someone WHO ISN'T GLASSWAVE.

(Plus, this is stupid, but there's something that makes it even worse about the fact that the diner has my name :P)

No matter how you slice it, it's a sad day for the Cafe. D:
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Fav book: Creatures of the Plains
Fav char: Charles
Fav fic: Aunt Wrath Remembers The Old Times
Sally's Lil Sis
Lorrum

Joined: Mar 7, 2003
Location: London
Posts: 576
JimWind wrote:
TBH it really makes me uncomfortable with GW and getting this whole story from him.
Yeah me too JimWind. I'm literally crying rn. First Spelunk went wrong, then we have to wait to hear about what happened, then we finally get the report but it's from this jerk! I'm really sad bc this forum has meant a lot to me over the last year (its been a really tough year for me) and now I'm worried that everyone here might be some sort of drug-pushing creep :( :( :(
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"Checkmate!"
jenni_fur
Moderator

Joined: May 17, 2000
Location: the warrens
Posts: 2677
JimWind wrote:
And I'm holding back judgment on all this Spelunk nonsense until I hear about it from someone WHO ISN'T GLASSWAVE.
well, i'm someone who was there and isn't paul, and i can pretty much countersign most of what he wrote. of course it's from his own perspective. there's no getting around perspectives. but it's more or less what happened. there's nothing in there that i would say was misrepresented, at least not to the point that i'd want to argue about it in the super-suspicious atmosphere of this thread.

to be clear: i don't feel happy about paul dosing me either. i don't like drugs, and i'm still processing the fact that i took a lot of drugs without being asked about it first.

it was fucked up. but the WHOLE THING was fucked up. it's not like paul did that coldly, for the fun of it. he did it because he was already on drugs HIMSELF and also because TNC was doing something to his mind. i'm not sure i can really express to you guys just how much TNC affected our minds at spelunk. i'm not even sure how much the drugs really mattered. there's something about sitting there in a group, reading TNC, for a really long time, without skipping anything. i don't know how to describe it. paul's tried to describe it in a lot of ways (as did salby and WC, i think) and i think his attempts are as good as any. if you weren't there, you don't know. please understand and respect that.

and, at the end of it all, paul is my friend. this may come as a shock but we've talked about all this in private, like friends do! i can't say i'm happy with what he did but that's between us. please understand and respect that.
_________________
Life Among The Lorrums, a mildly AU story about our favorite not-rabbits (200k and counting!)
ff.net profile
"I've never had any ambitions except to be kind -- but it seems life has contrived others for me." ~Tom (Nautical Dusk)
"Life without mechanical assistance? Just the idea chills me to the marrow!" ~Cleft-Ear (The Mainspring)

My PM box is open to any questions about Spelunk 04! I will try my best to make my PM conversations a no judgment zone. PLEASE DO NOT HARASS GLASSWAVE OR ANYONE ELSE WHO WAS AT SPELUNK.
Lugnut
Pawn

Joined: Jun 5, 2003
Location: Auto-AI-stalkers hereby threaten'd w/ 'er Gödel sent's!
Posts: 235
Mmmm yes'm here we'r com in' up to the pt. of this whole bus'ness (keep busy, quoth our f'rnd L. Salby, w/ arr'rangin' stuf, 'cause the bosses don' cur where it's arr'rang'd so-long-as that 'rangement's efficient), 'n' darn ev'n an ol' fellow such as yours truly can feel (one o' the last feeelins 'cause soon we'll be beyond that faff, BIGGER THAN DESIRE, kidz!!~!~!) a bita warmth in my cock'ls. (pretty sure its the cock'ls and not the cock simpliciter, but GlassGrave be warn'd, ev'n bein' my age is no proof 'gainst confusing tha 2). NEways sure is tru that I'v' bin "in communication" w Citizen and Choicecurt Choos'r TORGO re the phone&such. my mundGod i'v never been communicat'd this hard since the days b'for ol' Lugnut got maimed by the libsoc U. S. o' A. and went incommunicado. Mmmm sure is good when sum1 can communicate ur cock'ls hard.

the cock('ls) of yours truly 'specially relished that bit where GLASSWAVE gets down'n'dirty w/ the "basic revolutionary urge", course libsoc ass'Thete GLASSWAVE was makin' metaphor (can I crit w/ the best'o'em yet??? pretty sure there'r other metaPhorzz lurkin about thees hur marshes if ya look 4em, I could go on allday but they gave yours truly tenure 1ce and lemme telya kids it was less fun than advertis'd!). but w/luck (and ya mod'rns ignore luck'n'chance atya peril!!) GLASSWAVE and mayb'even ERRANT KNIGHTSMOVE (watch me hope! i'vgot an afflixion o'th'cock'ls!) 'll see that u gotta break a few tabl'ts (won th' Battle 'o' Britain, know ur hist, kidz!) to make an omel't, 'specially that sorta scrumptious un where ev'n bruis'd uncitizens like yours truly & L. Salby & W. Chen can get in on summa'that material u kidz 'r' so hot on rearrangin from 1 dwellin' 2 tha next (who? whom?).

Aw, just forgiv' a bruis'd old'un a bit'a hope down in th' cock'ls. We'v all got 'r weaknesses (as JENNI_FUR'd kno).

An' just a partin' shot, 4 tha theorists amung u!!! U kidz 'r' aware that the coroners (trustw'rthy libsoc citizens, doin' their jobs 'cause otherwise no material 4em!) reported no intoxicating substances in the blood(st)ream's of Sp04!!'s casualites, no??
JimWind
Lorrum

Joined: Jan 24, 2003
Location: Glasgow
Posts: 405
jenni_fur wrote:
well, i'm someone who was there and isn't paul, and i can pretty much countersign most of what he wrote. of course it's from his own perspective. there's no getting around perspectives. but it's more or less what happened. there's nothing in there that i would say was misrepresented, at least not to the point that i'd want to argue about it in the super-suspicious atmosphere of this thread.

to be clear: i don't feel happy about paul dosing me either. i don't like drugs, and i'm still processing the fact that i took a lot of drugs without being asked about it first.

it was fucked up. but the WHOLE THING was fucked up. it's not like paul did that coldly, for the fun of it. he did it because he was already on drugs HIMSELF and also because TNC was doing something to his mind. i'm not sure i can really express to you guys just how much TNC affected our minds at spelunk. i'm not even sure how much the drugs really mattered. there's something about sitting there in a group, reading TNC, for a really long time, without skipping anything. i don't know how to describe it. paul's tried to describe it in a lot of ways (as did salby and WC, i think) and i think his attempts are as good as any. if you weren't there, you don't know. please understand and respect that.

and, at the end of it all, paul is my friend. this may come as a shock but we've talked about all this in private, like friends do! i can't say i'm happy with what he did but that's between us. please understand and respect that.
Okay, sorry for jumping the gun on this one Jenny. I respect that this is personal territory. I'm still really shaken by GW's posts, though. I think I'll take this conversation to PM.

I hope everyone on the Cafe is doing OK tonight.
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GlassWave
Cherub

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Location: Midwest
Posts: 1246
I think the last section I posted, with all the dialogue, will be the end, at least for now. There's more to the story, but I think the other Spelunkers can relate it better than I could.

I understand the concerns that have been expressed in this thread. As I said, I do not expect my report to function well as a report, on the sublunary level. It is an account of my gradual, reluctant, but ultimately open-armed movement toward the light of Mundum. What I've posted is not the report I wanted to write at the outset, not the thing that would rationalize Spelunk 04!, make it palatable, put on a good public face.

Early on in the report, when I wasn't quite sure yet what I was doing, I wrote: "We are all Salbians now, all of us who went through Spelunk 04!, and I do not think we can go back." I am now a Salbian in a way deeper than I could have imagined when I wrote those words. I continue to write, and to post here, in the hope that there are others. Some of you here, even on the Cafe, are not Salbians; I understand, and bear you no ill will, although I hope that the awakening will reach you soon. I hope that soon it will reach everyone.

Lugnut, I am still looking forward to talking to you. For now I am reading your most recent post with great care.
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Obnoxious pedant, incorrigible Sally/Charles advocate, the only person in existence who's favorite CC book is Sea of Glass
exquisite stasis -- about Sally trapped in the plains forever, and what she did there (AU)
MY REPORT ON SPELUNK 04!

"Perhaps there are others? More than there appear to be?
That is where Chscrt. comes into the picture."

-Leonard Salby
Avery Lodestone
Cherub

Joined: June 15, 2002
Location: Zanarkand
Posts: 1012
Damn... I'm not even sure what to say about any of this.

That is all.
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Ombudsman
Lorrum

Joined: Apr 19, 2003
Location: Houyhnhnm Land
Posts: 667
I should have known, in small part from the evidence laid before me in earlier threads, but in greatest part from my own convictions, that the ignominy perpetrated by the participants in Spelunk 04!, of which we have all heard dim and chilling mutters in the weeks since the incident, were the all-too-predictable fruit of drug abuse. Much as I respect jenni_fur's perspicacity with regard to the majority of human matters, I cannot but feel that I glimpse here one of her mind's few weak points exposed with uncommon clarity. For I cannot imagine, without doing injustice to one or another of my most dearly held preconceptions, that a splurge of modernist, post-beauty, post-virtue onanism such as that sad monument to Leonard Salby's late-life decline, "The Northern Caves," could induce in any perceptive reader (and, though I have crossed swords with each on multiple occasions, I count jenni_fur and GlassWave among the most perceptive of readers) a state other than boredom mildly tinged with nausea.

Furthermore, it seems telling, if not surprising, that the majority of the discourse in this thread thus far has focused on the degenerate behavior of GlassWave, and has thus ignored the very real lives of which that degeneracy has too soon robbed our green earth. What passed through their minds as they made their fatal climb? The report offers no answers, and I would ask that this imbalance be redressed, were I not swiftly losing faith in whatever moral fiber Cafe Chesscourt might once, in sunnier days, have called its own. Verily, the sprightly spirit of Tom and Sally is with us no longer.
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Errant KnightsMove
Moderator

Joined: Feb 11, 2000
Location: The Inside Of My Head, U.S.
Posts: 3409
Since I'm sure people are wondering, after reading Paul's report, and noticing that I haven't been posting here in the last few weeks: I am okay. I'm still shaken by what happened, and although I haven't experienced anything like the feelings I felt around the time I went to Jim's, I am erring (pun intended) on the side of caution and isolating myself from human contact until I feel I have a clearer understanding of things.

Paul (GlassWave) and I have not spoken since Spelunk 04! His descriptions of our interactions are reasonably accurate as far as my memory goes, but I feel no compulsion to join him in his "Salbian" endeavors, and given what I appear to be capable of, I think I should dissociate myself from him entirely for the near future.

If it makes anyone feel better, I still feel very, very guilty. In fact, my day-to-day life at the moment is dominated by guilt. I may describe this in more detail sometime later, but for now, a brief post like this is the most human interaction I feel like I can risk.
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Cafe Chesscourt Official Guy With Too Much Time On His Hands

"The four stages of reading an Err post: 1. Wonder if he's joking. 2. Start thinking about his argument. 3. Keep trying to find holes in his argument until the next thing you know, it's 6 AM the next morning, and you still can't prove him wrong. 4. Conclude that the Courtverse is even weirder than you had previously thought." -GlassWave

Major Theory Threads:
Plainsverse!Charles | Infinite Skycrashes | Lorrums As Human Ancestor | Continuity Glitches And Their Resolutions | Multi-Manor Hypothesis | Tracing The Upstairs White Bishop To ATT (And Beyond) | Seeking Continuity in TNC (DGITC Warning!)

Chapter Text

Transcript of WebNerdHist Podcast, Episode for 10/23/15 ("Fantasy, Fandom and Fanaticism")

Damien: Hey.

Walter: Hey.

D: So what's up?

W: Well, you know . . . the usual.

D: I guess that's usually the case, huh?

W: You made a joke there!

D: That I did.

W: But so I had better acknowledge what you're actually prompting me to do, and introduce the topic of today's show.

D: Feel free.

W: So, like, we've got a really meaty topic this time.  Something you can really sink your teeth into.

D: Walt made me do a ton of background reading for this episode.  [facetiously] You'd better appreciate what I'm sacrificing here for the sake of this show.

W: This one's really a rabbit hole.

D:  If anyone listening wants to wade into this crap, we made a sort of abbreviated compilation that'll get you more or less up to speed.  It's already on the site -- there should be a link beneath this very podcast you're listening to.

W: "Abbreviated compilation?"  I thought all you did was mirror the report --

D: -- yeah, but I put a few of the other things you sent me in there too.  Like Charles Adair's review and part of that thread where they're all talking about the report.

W: Okay, I'll let that pass for an "abbreviated compilation."  Whatever that is.

D: So anyway, Walt, I think you're more of the expert on this bit of internet history, so maybe you can give a little capsule summary for the listeners?

W: Okay.  So I should clarify that this is a thing that I've been kind of fascinated with for, like . . . years?  I think years.  So I'm speaking from a position of having been immersed in this stuff for a long time.

D: Listeners, take note -- Walt has been immersed for a long time.

W: I might have gotten a little pruny.

D: When you gaze into the abyss . . . 

W: Right.  So, like, let's keep that caveat in mind, and I'm sorry if this is not a perfect summary for first-timers.  But, basically, okay . . . there are these books, a fantasy series, by a guy named Leonard Salby.

D: You might have read a few of them, actually.  This stuff was weirdly pervasive for a time in maybe the mid-eighties to early-aughts.  I read the first few myself.

W: Yeah, it's that kind of fantasy series, where it's -- not culturally pervasive like Tolkien or Lewis, but maybe like Terry Brooks, or Piers Anthony.  You'd see them in the school library.  Other kids would talk about them, if you were a nerdy kid.

D: Right.  I mean, Piers Anthony might be an especially relevant comparison -- sui generis, certainly not good from a grown-up perspective, but the sort of thing a middle schooler could find comfort in clutching to his chest.

W: Probably his chest -- I remember the readership skewing pretty heavily male.

D: Yeah.  We're going to get back to that later, though.

W: Sure.  So this fantasy series started out with a book called A Thornbush Tale -- which was a really very charming children's book, kind of a classic in its own right.  There was a series of sequels, which went under the general heading "Chesscourt."  I actually read every single one of those back in middle school, though I haven't touched them since then.

D: Probably a good decision.

W: The Chesscourt books were very -- sort of a weird kind of mid-tier fantasy?  Not nearly as derivative as a lot of the other stuff that was coming out around the same time, which probably accounts for a lot of the appeal.  In terms of inventive fecundity, maybe Zelazny would be a good comparison?

D: Something like Zelazny, yeah.  Or maybe Pullman.

W: Right, but both of those are misleading comparisons, because the attitude toward sexuality, toward war, toward social structures, was very . . . limited in Chesscourt, in a way it wasn't in those authors.  It had the feel of a large number of interlocking game pieces, but none of the game pieces really came alive as plausible things that might exist, you know?  I mean cultures, or institutions, that sort of thing.

D: Right.  The world was almost pre-adolescent.

W: So, right, okay, these books have an internet fandom, because everything does.

D: This was around 2002, 2003, 2004?  So mostly forum stuff.  This was before the tumblr brand of fandom.

W: Yeah, it was the sort of time where things were much less . . . filtered, and you had a really weird mix of people who had just come together because they happened to like this thing.

D: I think this capsule summary is long enough already.

W: Yeah, yeah, okay.  The point is, there were plenty of fandoms like this, hanging around on little phpBB communities, but this one achieved a sort of notoriety for a time around 2004.  And that had to do with . . . well, it's hard to sum up briefly, but basically, there was a sort of scandal where a bunch of fans got together, stayed up late and took a bunch of drugs, and then were tangentially involved in a mysterious string of suicides by employees at a local diner.

D: To be clear, I don't think any of them had anything to do with the suicides.  It was just a bizarre coincidence.  But understandably, that drummed up some attention, and there was some discussion in the local news about the dangers of Leonard Salby's books, in a sort of Mazes and Monsters way.

W: But the reason this is interesting, or the reason I find it interesting --

D: -- to be fair, you find a lot of things interesting.

W: The reason I find it interesting is that we have a number of accounts from the participants, including their forum interactions before, during and after the incident.  In particular, the most substantial account of the incident was written by one Paul Lotke, who himself developed a sort of cultish neo-religious philosophy on the basis of Salby's books.

D: Which is nothing new -- I mean, people did it with Stranger in a Strange Land, for instance.  Trying to become one another's water brothers in real life and all that.

W: Yeah, but that was a case where there was a clear ulterior motive -- obviously Heinlein's free love attitudes appealed to a certain sort.

D: Sure.  And I guess what you're getting at here is that the psychology involved in Lotke's case is more essentially . . . fannish?

W: Something like that, yes.  Particularly, maybe, in the sense that I think it could have only really blossomed in the context of fandom for this sort of work.  Which, as I said earlier, is a very specific sort of . . . internally complicated, but psychologically very unambitious, even infantile, sort of fantasy writing.  Which of course is widespread, but I think Salby is an extreme case, and that's probably responsible for what happened with Lotke.

D: Let's unpack that a bit.  What is it that you think Salby exemplifies?

W: Well, going on my memories of the books -- and I read the whole damn series, remember -- they're very focused on morality, but it's a very odd, cramped sort of morality.  I think Michael Moorcock wrote a piece on this?  It was either him or China Miéville.  But anyway, the whole series centers around a set of aristocrats with a magical lineage.  And these aristocrats have a set of duties.  And the whole thing is sort of obsessed with duty, in this kind of white-man's-burden way -- I mean, the aristocrats venture out into foreign lands, there's a new foreign land in each book if I remember correctly, and in each case of course it turns out that this land has some problem which only they can solve.

D: So obviously it appeals to that need in, say, nerdy middle schoolers, to feel special and destined for greatness, for one thing.

W: Right.  But you have to wonder about the sort of person who, as a fully grown adult, deeply yearns after that kind of noblesse oblige.  I mean, I think we agree that there's not just a conservative, but an actively reactionary strain in modern nerd fandom.

D: This need to preserve an old order, this panic when there's any potential for it to be upended.

W: And what the Salby books provide, and I think they're almost unique in this, is a conjunction of that aristocratic urge with a yearning for the clarity of pre-adolescent childhood.  There's virtually no romance or sex in the books, for one.  And for another, there's an almost obsessive focus on games -- the whole thing is based around an overwrought chess metaphor, most obviously, but also there's a very intricate, but still very rule-bound, "magic system" in play, where actions have predictable consequences, like moving a game piece.

D: So there's a total . . . evasion of the uncertainty that arises in adolescence, when you realize that, say, girls don't have "rules."

W: Well, either you realize that, or you become a pick-up artist.

D: Ha, yes, or an adult Salby fan.

W: So to get back to Lotke.  There's a whole part of this story I haven't mentioned yet.  It's a rabbit hole, like I said.  So it turns out that there's this book Salby was working on before he died, which he never finished, called "The Northern Caves."  The manuscript got online, and these fans pretty quickly realized that it was not the sort of ordered thing they were used to.

D: From what you've told me, it's sort of a bargain-bin Finnegans Wake?

W: Pretty much, yeah.  Kind of on the border between sense and nonsense, a lot of puns and wordplay, a lot of sexual and horror imagery, very standard "experimental fiction."  I've read bits of it and honestly it's just pretty tedious.  But I think for Lotke and these other fans, it really created a problem, because it wasn't the kind of thing they were capable of assimilating.

D: So then, at first, there were a lot of attempts to make sense of it the way the fans had made sense of the earlier Salby books.

W: Yes.  In particular by one poster, who went by "Errant KnightsMove" on the forum -- the game theme again -- and who appears sometimes as "Aaron" in some of the other documents.  There were also efforts by another fan, who went as "metamarsh" on the forum, and who ultimately hosted the event that became infamous.

D: And these got very complicated, because they were fitting a square peg into a round hole.

W: Right.  A lot of Errant KnightsMove's ideas -- I mean, from what I've looked at, even I haven't read every single bit of this crap -- centered around trying to invent a new consistent "magic system" for The Northern Caves, centered around reincarnation, so that it would all make sense again in terms of games and systems.

D: One thing I'm not clear on was Lotke's role in all of this.

W: Lotke wasn't a major participant at this point.  Where he comes in is after the big group read --

D: -- you'll have to unpack that for the listeners.

W: Right.  So at some point one of these fans came into possession of the documents Salby had left behind when he died, and there was a kind of mini-convention where some of the most hardcore forum users got together to look through them for clues.  This is the event that happened to coincide with the string of suicides.  And so Lotke ended up being told to write a report describing what had happened at this event, and how it had, or hadn't, "caused" the suicides.  There are two main notable features of this account -- first, that it's the most detailed evidence we have about all of this, and second, that it inadvertently details Lotke's gradual descent into a delusional worldview derived in part from the Salby books and documents.

D: So obviously this is an interesting bit of fandom history because, if nothing else, it shows how fannish analysis is on, almost you could say a continuum with the sort of paranoid and delusional thinking that Lotke ended up with.

W: Yes.  Lotke in particular became fascinated with a number of documents found in the Salby papers, which seemed to describe a sort of life philosophy called "Mundum."  From what I can tell, those papers are also very -- well, they're delusional in the same way Lotke became.  So taken as a whole this could be a kind of cautionary tale for where thinking like Salby, or Lotke, or any of these people, would eventually take you.

D: Which is a lesson we could extend quite a bit, really.  I mean, isn't Salby reminiscent of Ayn Rand in a lot of ways?  Who had a whole devoted cult of her own.

W: Yes.  And these sorts of fascinations can drag in completely innocent people, as well.  There's a fan named Jennifer who's a major figure in Lotke's report, and she seems completely devoid of the sort of tendencies that led Lotke down the path he went.  And yet she followed him the whole way.

D: Yeah, when I was reading the report I couldn't help but wonder why she was spending time with these creeps.

W: I mean, it was a different time.  I think she'd have been safer on the modern internet.

D: I hope so, but the modern fantasy fandom has its fair share of Salbies.

W: Sure.  And I think it's important that we make ourselves heard about these sorts of writers, and encourage better, healthier fandoms for better, more complex authors.

D: "Complex," right -- that was what Charles Adair said about Salby, wasn't it?  That he was complicated, but not complex?  I loved that.

W: So did I.  I think it sums up the whole crux of the problem, right there.

D: Hey Walt!  You know what time it is?

W: Let me guess.  Our show's time limit is up.

D: You win!  I grant you 5000 Magic Salby points.

W: Thank you.  I'll be sure to spend them wisely.

D: As always, please comment if you enjoyed the show.  And tune in next time.

W: This has been the WebNerdHist Podcast.  Thank you.