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Gravity's Rainbow Reading Group | Sections 66-69 | Week 20
Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now... Section 66 "You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality. We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker (think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII. (An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.) Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems. We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface? But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany. I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before. Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice, as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers... Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy. Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust. Section 67 Man, how do I even start summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes. We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive. Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour." (674) How can you win at chess when there's no King? How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced? Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal. This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made - at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well. Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out - instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight. We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message. You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0. Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant. The Low-Frequency Listeners The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway. Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers... On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards" An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets. My Doper's Cadenza It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end. Shit 'n' Shinola Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle. We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural. An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next. This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet. A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be. Streets Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return. Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts. Listening to the Toilet As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War. Witty Repartee A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down... Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era. Some Characteristics of Imipolex G We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700) My gods, I made it through this section... Section 68 Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching. Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be. Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person... We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal. Tchitcherine's Haunting Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real - no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death. Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens - one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death. But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it or at least not using the weapon isn't even an option...). Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party. We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature? Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee. Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this,thank you. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections. Questions
In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
Part 1 What if it wasn’t about anything related to the text? What if it was similar to the riddles that brought me to those pages? What if the mystery behind them was related to their page numbers, or hell the page numbers in general? Once at home I went to work. I told myself once more that I needed to get the full picture. So I went to write down all the page numbers in the book, one after another. When I was done, I took a step back and stared at the result. Yet, there was nothing that stood out to me right away. I haphazardly picked one of the secret pages. Page 427 was in front of page 811. Then I continued. 811, 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, 817, 818, 818, 820, 821, and right after was yet another secret page. This one was page 528. And after that, the regular page numbers continued. 822, 823, 824, 825, 826, 827, 828, 829, 830, 831, 832, 833, 834, 835, 836, 837, 838, 839, 840, 841, 842, 843, followed by another one, page 143. This list of ongoing numbers made me suddenly wonder. My thoughts drifted right back to what had gotten me to do this, the secret pages. What if they weren’t placed randomly? Yet, as I checked their distribution, it felt almost too random. I checked the number of regular pages before and after, put them in sequence, but there was no correlation. Then I got another idea. I added up all the pages before and after, but this also made no sense. Half the results were too big and exceeded the total number of pages in the book, by far. Then, starting at number 111 to 137, which I’d just added together, I got yet another idea. What if I only added together their last digits? The result I came up with was 648. Which was exactly the secret page that followed afterward! My eyes grew wide. I’d had it, hadn’t I? The hint I’d been looking for! I was going livid. Right away I went to the next one and calculated all the preceding numbers, only to come up with an entirely different result than the page number of the secret page following. Cursing I got up. It had been another goddamn coincidence. I laughed, but this time in abject misery, mocking my stupidity. How’d it be so damned easy, you idiot? There was no way. None of this was easy. None of it! But as I stared at the result I’d come up with just now, I noticed something. The result of my calculation was 702. The page number was 351. Wait. Wait. Wait. That’s half of 702! Maybe it really was nothing but a coincidence and I was just grasping at straws, but what else was I to do? The next result I came up with was 176. If I multiplied it by three, it gave me the page number of the secret page that followed it, 528. The number 715, divided by 5, gave me the page number 143 that followed it. I continued adding, dividing, and multiplying and it all checked out. All the page numbers of the secret pages resulted from calculations of the last two digits of their preceding pages. What does it mean though? Does it even mean anything? The exhilaration I’d felt ebbed away, and I sat there, staring at all my calculations wondering if there was any meaning to it. Yet, there had to be, right? This couldn’t have been designed as yet another red herring. This was too damned complex. No, there had to be a reason for this. What if there was an order? If I went through all the calculations I quickly noticed that the result was never divided by the same number. The highest number that a result was divided by was 26, the highest a result was multiplied by was 27. It was exactly 53 different calculations. With that, I started ordering them, one by one, starting backward from the highest division, to the highest multiplication. Then I put the topic of each page behind the numbers in the resulting list. I’d hoped for something. I’d hoped to find it starting with the page about the universe, followed by constellations and stars up to the evolution of apes, plants, and other animals. Yet, it was all mixed-up nonsense. There was no order to it at all! Even when I ordered them in other ways, trying to find any sort of correlation, it was always the same. Nothing, but nonsense. My hands started shaking as anger flooded through me. I crumbled up the stupid, ordered lists and threw them across the room. Then I cursed in sheer and utter rage. This was freaking stupid. This was insane! This was nothing at all, just pure fucking nonsense. I picked up a random object on my table and hurled it against the wall where it shattered into pieces. Then I threw aside a chair I found standing in my way and kicked over the small couch table, creating general chaos in my living room. I was stopped from going any further when my neighbors banged against the wall, screaming to knock it off and threatening to call the cops. That made me stop. The anger went away. I stared in shock at my living room. What the hell was happening to me? Why’d I done that? Why’d I destroyed my things at 1 am in the freaking morning? Then I slowly smoothed out the lists I’d created and put them on one of the few free spots remaining on my living room wall. Who knows, I might need it later. I laughed as I looked from them to the rest of the wall which was now entirely covered. Even worse were the stacks of notes that had accumulated in front of them. I was proud all right, but I also knew that this thing was absolutely insane. Once more, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing. Shaking my head, I turned around and made my way to the bedroom. Yet, as my fingers rested on the light switch, I turned around one last time. I stared at the mad lines, the mad paths who were connecting here and there. There was nothing but lines upon lines. Here and there, if I looked hard and long enough, I could almost make out shapes. I froze. What if it was a visual puzzle? What if there was a hint hidden in the shapes of the paths? For days I sat down, drew points and lines and connections, warping them into surreal shapes. This was crazy, wasn’t it? How’d it be visual? There’s probably not a damn thing to be got from this. This was stupid. Yet, I couldn’t stop. Each day, I spent my entire afternoon, my evening, and even half the night, drawing. And eventually, it all came to nothing. There was nothing but mad lines and not a clear shape in sight. I didn’t give up though, wasn’t discouraged. I was beyond that, far beyond that. What if there was something else? Maybe there was a hidden code between these pages? When I was at work, I’d completely forgotten about my former vow not to talk about the book or do anything related to it. Instead, I read up on cryptography. Going through article after article. I read up on Caesar Code and Binary Code, on the Polybius Cipher and Hex Code. I went mad with it. Before long I spent more time reading up on things than doing any of my work. Eventually, I even brought pages filled with numbers with me, cross-checking them for hits of any and all codes. I heard co-workers whispering behind my back, asking me what I was doing and I told them, I just hadn’t closed the weird articles after break time. They knew it wasn’t the truth. They’d heard me mumble, saw the little notebook I was writing in, noticed the endless lists of numbers I brought with me each day. My superior eventually came up to me. He asked me what I was doing with all those weird pages. I told him it was nothing but a little puzzle. “Well, Todd,” he started in a condescending voice. “You’re not here to do any of those ‘little puzzles’, you’re here to do your damn job. Where are the calculations for this month? I’ve been waiting for them all day.” “Oh, I guess, I’m almost done with them, I just need another hour or-“ My voice trailed off when he picked up one of the pages I’d been looking at mere minutes ago. Suddenly, when I saw him holding it, I felt nervous. “What even is this? It’s just random numbers.” He saw my face, saw the way my eyes grew wide when he’d picked it up. The hint of a smile washed over his face as he crumbled it up. He opened his mouth for another remark, but before he could I jumped up from my chair and ripped the page from his hand. He cringed back a step in shock at my reaction. “The hell’s wrong with you?” he screamed at me, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I carefully smoothed out the paper and made sure he hadn’t torn it apart. By now half the office had gotten up to watch the weird exchange. Only now did I realize what I’d done and how everyone was staring at me. Suddenly I felt very watched and almost sunk back into my chair. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” I mumbled but broke up under the pressure of all those eyes. “Get back to work and finish those damned calculations! If I see you tinkering with any of this shit again, you can clean out your desk!” With that, he stormed off. I heard people whispering all around me, some laughing, others speaking in a more reserved tone. Yep, I thought, it’s official. I’m the office nutjob. Right away, I forced myself to close all the Wikipedia articles I had still open and put away all my notes. And then, grudgingly, annoyed and half-mad at the distraction it represented, I went back to work. Somehow though, it felt meaningless, calculating all these stupid orders and filling out this customer database. What the hell was I even doing? What if it really was a code? What if it was actually a mixture, a double-code? My mind went wild with ideas. Five minutes later, I found myself holding one of my notes again. I couldn’t even remember taking it out. Pushing it back, cursing, and not a little afraid, I forced myself to work calculations until the day was over. At the moment my shift ended, I jumped off my chair and rushed for the door. People stared at me, looked after me, their faces a mixture of amusement and worry. I didn’t care. I had work to do. The important kind of work! I’d just tried to find another connection between the page numbers of the secret pages when my doorbell rang. I ignored it, but it just kept ringing. When it finally stopped, I sighed in relief. Just leave me alone, I cursed, I’ve got work to do. Then, mere moments later, my phone vibrated on the other end of the room. Dammit, I’d forgotten to mute it again. I waited for it to stop, but it started up right away. Cursing I went over to see who it was and noticed the name instantly. It was my friend Andrew. Annoyed, I answered it. “Yo, Todd, you home?” I heard his voice from the phone next to my ear and more distant, muffled from the front door. My first reaction was one of annoyance. Then I pushed the thought away. What the hell was wrong with me? This was Andrew. He was my best friend, the only one of our old group who still lived in the same city. Right away, I thought about how long I’d last seen him. Surprised I realized that it must’ve been weeks. One glance at the mad mess in my living room told me why. “Yeah, sure hold on,” I said over the phone and made my way to the front door. Andrew smiled at me brightly and held up to six-packs. “Haven’t seen you in forever, how about we have a few! I got quite the story for you, my man!” I smiled at him. “Sure, come on in.” We made our way inside and Andrew had barely set foot into my living room when he stopped. His eyes grew wide as he stared at the wall and the stacks of paper all over the place. “Holy shit man. I was wondering why I haven’t heard from you. The hell’s all that? You working on some sort of project?” “Kind of,” I mumbled a little embarrassed. I quickly picked up the papers on the couch and put them aside to make room for him to sit. “Sorry about the mess.” “Nah man, it’s all right. So, the thing I was about to tell you, you remember Thomas, right?” Thomas, I thought. Did I know a Thomas? Then I remembered him. Of course, I remembered him, he’d been part of our group. I rubbed my temples for a second before I nodded. “He’s getting married and you won’t believe who the lucky girl is!” With that, Andrew told me the entire story of how our friend Thomas had been dating Susan, Andrew’s cousin for the past three months, and the two of them had decided to get married. I listened, nodded here and there, even laughed a few times absentmindedly, but my eyes wandered to my notes again and again. For a moment I spaced out entirely, thinking about an idea that had popped into my mind just before he’d arrived. What if there was something about number sequences? I must’ve sat there for an entire minute, simply holding my beer and staring off at nothing when Andrew waved his hand in front of my face. “Yo, dude, you listening?” “What? Oh, sorry, no, I think I spaced out for a moment.” “All right, man, I got to ask, what’s all this? What sort of crazy thing are you working on? Haven’t seen you this into something in years.” I smiled at him awkwardly and then sighed and pointed at the book. “It’s one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books,” I started. With that, the flood gates broke open, and I told him all about it. He listened, at first curiously, but after a while, his face changed. There was visible concern, as I rambled on about secret pages, strange objects, and cryptography. “Todd, hold on, hold on, what the hell are you even talking about?” I stared at him. “The book. You know those secret pages must’ve some sort of meaning. At first, I thought there was a simple order to them, but it was too chaotic. If you add up all their page numbers though, you get 20670, and if you divided this up by-“ “All right, man, stop,” he cut me off. “So you’re adding up all those numbers, I get that, but for what?” I began explaining again, I tried, but he couldn’t follow me. “Yeah, I don’t get it, man. Just, what the fuck?” “All right, look,” I said and walked over to the wall covered in lines and numbers and started once more. I told him about the different adventure paths, the references, the secret pages, and when and how they appeared. His face was blank as I rambled on and on and on. “Yo, dude, you might want to take a bit of a break, this sounds, well, a bit crazy.” For a moment I was quiet, then a short, nervous laugh escaped me. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He stepped up next to me, staring at the wall. “Shit man, you did all this? Just for a damned book?” Before I could answer, he reached out and was about to take one of the pages off the wall. My hand shot forward instinctively, batting his aside. “Don’t touch it!” I called out before I realized what I’d done. Andrew stumbled back a few steps, shocked. “Shit man, sorry, I didn’t mean to-“ And then it happened. I didn’t even listen to his words anymore as he bumped against some of the stacks of notes I’d placed neatly in front of the wall. They toppled over one another, the pages scattering all over the floor and intermixing. My eyes grew wide. Oh god, no, freaking god no. Anger rose in me. It had taken me so goddamn long to sort them all out, to order them. There was a freaking method to it all and now he’d destroyed it. He’d destroyed the work of entire fucking days! “What the fuck are you doing?” I screamed at him. He cringed back, only now realizing what had happened. “Hey, didn’t mean to,” he said and began picking up random pages. I ripped them from his hand and pushed him back. “No, don’t fucking touch them. Those two don’t belong together you idiot! Are you freaking insane?!” With an empty face, he watched as I gathered up some of the pages, stared at them, and began sorting them as best as I could. “You know, Todd, that’s what I should ask you.” “What the hell do you mean?” I snapped at him. “You destroyed the work of days! Days! This is-“ “This is what, man?” he cut me off once more. “It’s nonsense. It’s a freaking children’s book, nothing else.” That did the trick. I got up and stepped up right in front of him. “Nonsense? You’ve got no FUCKING idea, how far I’ve come! You’ve got no clue what’ve done already! And here you are telling me this is NONSENSE?” His face had grown hard. For a second he was about to say something, but then he simply shook his head and laughed. Without another word, he picked up his things, the beer, and left. If he said any words in parting, I didn’t hear them. I was already busy re-ordering my notes. It was hours later, when I was done sorting them all out, that I realized what I’d done and how I’d acted. For the first time, I grew truly scared. That hadn’t been normal. That wasn’t me. Why’d I gone crazy like this? I took first one step back from the wall, then another before I went to pick up my phone. When I tried to call Andrew, he didn’t pick up. Instead, the call went straight to voice mail. Then I saw how late it was, long past three in the morning. I wrote him a quick message, apologized for my behavior, and told him he was right. I should take a break from this entire thing. That’s what I did right away. I picked up my laptop, made my way to the bedroom, and this time I turned off the light without looking over my shoulder. I lay down on my bed and started browsing YouTube and told myself to just enjoy it and take a break. Yet, even as I watched video after video, the little voice in the back of my head spoke up again. It told me I should go on, told me to go back to the living room. You almost had it, Todd, you almost had it. Just one more hint and you’re done with it. Then you can let it go and you can- “Shut up, goddamnit!” I screamed at myself to quiet the subconscious voice in the back of my head. “I freaking know,” I said quieter. “God, I freaking know.” I sat in bed, the video that was playing already forgotten. As video, after video played, I was on my phone, checking stars and numbers before I eventually drifted off to sleep. The next morning I didn’t even get to make myself a coffee. I was mad, pissed off and I wanted to finally make progress. For a while, I tinkered about the various codes I’d read about. What if there was a code, but what but if it concerned the entire book and not just the secret pages? What if it was related to the adventure after all? Maybe you could scramble up page numbers and- I stopped and rubbed my temples. Calm down, don’t go crazy. Calm down and take a step back. You don’t even know if there are any damned codes hidden in the book. You did well deciphering all the different adventure paths and the connections between them. You did well discovering all the secret pages. But what if there’s something you haven’t discovered yet? That was the question that told me what I had to do. Something I hadn’t dared to do so far. I had to go through the entire book. I had to make my way through it not following the adventure, but going page by page and look out for anything new. There might be chapters I hadn’t discovered yet, hadn’t read yet. With newfound energy and a new plan, I started right away. My phone rang shortly after noon, but this time, I didn’t even bother with it. I just ignored it. After all, I had more important things to do. This time I didn’t just write down chapters, choices, and connections. This time I wrote down every single thing that came up. I took note of every single object that was mentioned then added the page number, the corresponding path, and any reference I knew about it. It was a momentous task. I spent the entire day doing it and barely made it through the first 130 pages. The next day, Sunday, I didn’t even finish another hundred. The further I came, the more objects I noticed, the more combinations, and references. At times, I even had to go back, to cross-check things, and to change notes accordingly. It was the most enduring task I’d ever attempted, concerning this damned book and probably my entire life. It took me weeks. I finished stacks upon stacks of notes. I went to the office supply store multiple times a week buying stacks of papers I ended up filling by the day. Work during this time was barely an afterthought. I was barely functioning at all. I was typing in numbers and names almost on autopilot. By now I didn’t even get stares anymore. I was entirely ignored, a shell of a man, a ghost that stumbled to his cubicle in the morning and rushed back home in the evening. Days went by, then weeks, as I slaved away over the book’s many pages. Until one day, when I was finally done. I can’t even say how many weeks I’d been at it. There were stacks of hundreds of papers, maybe even more. Notes, references, objects, names, words, anything basically. I’d just created a table of how often each and every single object appeared and in which setting when I noticed a new hint. I stared at it with a giant grin on my face. The Ruby Orb had been the very first object I’d added to the table. It appeared in all paths:
Fantasy - 31 times
Space - 3 times
Stone Age - 2 times
Ocean and Pirates - 11 times
Desert Ruins - 29 times
Mountains - 17 times
City-State - 7 times
Ancient Rome - 5 times
Jungle Tribes - 13 times
Small Village - 19 times
Underwater Civilization - 23 times
As I wrote those numbers down, there was something about them. Somehow I knew those numbers. I went over them, staring at them for a while before it hit me. I cross-checked it online, and I was right. They were all prime numbers! Yes, I thought, I’d found something new! I quickly rechecked another object, the Desert Orb, and realized it was the same here, too. This one’s appearances made up a simpler sequence. It only appeared once in the city-state, twice in fantasy, and finally 11 times in the desert ruins. I couldn’t help but grin. I did it for another object, this one the Ebony Stick. It too appeared in all paths and its number was increased by two, starting at 4 and going up to 26. That’s when I knew what I had to do. I had to go through all the objects, all the hundreds of objects in the damned book, and check how often they appeared. There was a correlation, another part of the puzzle. I was exhilarated, in a state of glee and unbound excitement. These number sequences, maybe they were the key to figuring out what the secret pages meant, or maybe the page numbers in general. I started laughing. I could feel it, I was so damn close. I slept when necessary, ate when necessary, right there on the living room floor. It was only once that I thought about work, only in passing, and the idea that I should go never even came to my mind. My phone was at the other and of the room. I ignored it entirely during that time. It wasn’t important. This right here, that’s what was important. I was done by the end of the week. It was long past midnight on Saturday when I’d finally deciphered the number sequences of all 311 objects in the book. When I was done with my work, I looked at the tables of objects in a state of awe. I spread them out in front of me and marveled at the dozen or so pages. For a moment I was about to dive into them when I realized how tired I was. For the first time since the beginning of the week, I picked up my phone. It was off, must’ve been for days. I connected it to the charger and turned it on. I was bombarded with a plethora of notifications. For almost a minute the damned thing started ringing and vibrating. There were a few messages from Andrew, asking how I was doing and if I’d stopped with my damned obsession yet. I laughed and closed the chat. I’d also received countless emails. Most of them were from work and only now did I remember that I hadn’t shown up for an entire week. They started normal enough, reminding me to call if I was sick, became reproachful after a day or two, and finally angry. The last one told me this was the last straw. I should come in on Monday for a talk and be prepared to clean out my desk. It was strange how little I felt about it, how little it mattered in the grander scale of things. I almost laughed again as I threw the phone aside and laid down to catch some sleep. When I woke up, I went right back to work. I tinkered with the number sequences, looked at each one of them, added them up, multiplied, and divided them. It was the Crown of Ice that finally made me look up. When I added all its appearances together, I came to a total of 1000. This damned thing, I thought, it was by far the most common object in the damned book. I started to read up on it in my notes. It was said in the Manuscript of the Seven Seas, that the Crown of Ice was found in the Crypt of the Dragon. The Crypt of the Dragon was located in the desert ruins. I went back to it, page 1544, and read the part again. There were three choices. One sent me to leave without the crown and sent me back to a desert tribe. Destroying the crown ended in painful death while the third option was wearing it. All right, wearing the crown opened a secret passage that sent me to the location of the Magic Water and from there back on my way through the desert. Dammit, I thought I had something! I was about to go back to the list. Maybe the number thousand was another coincidence. Then something made me look up. The crown appeared in the desert ruins a total of 53 times. I thought about it. The desert ruins one was by far the shortest path. How long was it in total again? I stepped up to my living room wall and counted the chapters. When I followed them, there was only a single path that was longer than 50. It came to a total length of 78 chapters before it started from the beginning. Chapter 53 described what you found if you opened a chest hidden in the Ancient Pyramid. I read the entire chapter again. It was titled ‘The Treasure Chest.’ There was a total of 289 gold coins in the chest. When I went back to the list of objects, I noticed that the gold coin was mentioned a total of 289 times. The same was true for the sparkling diamonds. There were a total of 33 in the chest and the object itself came up 33 times in the book. I almost laughed when I noticed that it was true for the third object in the chest as well. I got an empty page and like a child, I wrote the words Chest, Pyramid, and Treasure in huge letters at the top of it before I went and added all the two dozen objects in the chest. While I did it, I wondered if there was something like this for every other object in the book. What if every object’s number of appearances was mentioned somewhere in the book? Not just in this chest, but just somewhere. And then, on a whim, I asked myself another question. What if certain objects didn’t? What if there were just a few or maybe just one whose number was mentioned nowhere? Maybe those were the important ones! For the entirety of Sunday, I followed through with this idea. I calculated, I added objects to yet more lists, I followed through paths and loops, studied my notes, and slowly, the number of objects remaining got smaller and smaller. Eventually, just as I’d hoped, there was a single object whose total number of appearances was mentioned nowhere. It was a small, red die. One that was mentioned here and there, only in passing when people played a game of dice in bars or the streets. There had to be something to this damned thing, I knew it! After this entire week, no after all these entire months, I finally had something, I’d finally narrowed it all down to a single object. A shiver went down my spine when I realized that this might be it. This might be the solution that I’d been searching for all this time! I went back to my notes about the red die and all its appearances. Here a few kids were playing with it in the streets, there was someone holding it in their hand, and here it rolled onto the floor when a fight broke out. Finally, I found what I’d been looking for. There was only a single instance in the entire book where you could interact with it. It was in a bar in space where you could join a futuristic game of dice. When the game was done, you could pocket the red die. The short chapter that followed it was mundane and almost unimportant. But when I read it, I noticed something else, not in the text, but the choices below. Weren’t they the same as in the chapter before? I went back to the preceding page and reread it. Yes, the same two choices, sending you to the same two pages. Almost as if picking up the die didn’t matter at all. Making it appear as nothing but a red herring. And I grinned. I grinned wider than I had ever before. There had to be a hint here, no, there had to be a way of finishing this entire damn thing. I wrote down the entire paragraph and went back to work, studying it. I checked everything that was mentioned in it: the page number, the chapter title, colors, words, anything I could think of. Until late in the morning hours, I pondered over this one, single paragraph. I could barely keep my eyes open when I stumbled upon it. It was silly, but I exploded with joy and was suddenly wide awake again. The number of words in each sentence was eight. The number of sentences was eight as well. There were eight sentences here, with eight words each. This was no coincidence. This was it, the total number of words was 64, the square number of eight. There was too much here for it to be a coincidence. I rushed back to the buck, almost stumbled over my feet, and threw open page 64. Like a crazed, starved animal I poured over the words on the page, almost pressing my face against it. The chapters, there had to be something here, the solution had to be right in front of me. Yet when I was done reading it, I was dumbfounded. The entire page comprised a single chapter, a chapter I knew damn well. And I realized that I knew the number 64 damn well, too. I was at the beginning of the fantasy setting. I read once more that I was a young farmer, standing in front of a burned down far, the bodies of his dead parents next to him and that I was about to set out on a grand adventure. For the next three hours, I analyzed every single word in the paragraph, every single one and I found as many hints as I could search for. I went back to the die paragraph and slowly I came to another conclusion and then another. The number of certain letters corresponded with the number of other objects in the space path. If you put certain letters from certain words together you ended up with yet another number. I followed every single one of them, but each one ended at another mundane position in the book. I slaved away over those as well, reached and analyzed them and I found more hints, more connections, more clues. And the longer and the more deeply I analyzed them, the more I could find, if only I wanted to. There was almost an endless number of nonsensical clues and hints if you wanted so. They were all leading me on, leading me around in a circle, on and on and on and on. And I sat there, over the damned book, over hundreds, if not thousands of pages of notes. I sat in front of an entire wall covered in information and I laughed. For long, terrible minutes I couldn’t stop laughing. This was all crazy. This was all entirely and utterly crazy. And finally, it clicked. At this singular moment it finally and ultimately clicked. There was no solution. The book had no solution. It finally made sense. I’d slaved away for weeks, no for months, and all I’d done was to walk in circles, continue from one hint to another, only to be sent back to the beginning. The entire damned book was a loop, a loop of loops with secret loops that sent you to more secret loops. And then, for the first time in months, I closed the book and put it away. After that, I slowly went and took down all the mad pages from my wall, stacked up all the notes, and put them together in a box in an almost apathetic state. I was done. All of this had been utterly meaningless, a fundamental waste of time. That night, I didn’t sleep. I lay in bed, contemplating a lot of things. My life, my work, the book, and why I’d been so taken by it. Yet, as with the book, there was no solution. There was nothing to it all. The next day, with the book in my backpack, I made my way back to the store. It felt as heavy as the world, an endless number of possibilities all resting on my back. I knew I had to return it, I had to get rid of it before it might throw me into another crazy fit. When I entered the store, the old man looked up. “Can I help you with,” he started but broke up, a surprised look on his face. “Well hello there, young man. Haven’t seen you in quite a while.” I only nodded, took down my backpack, heaved out the book, and brought it to a rest in front of him. “I’d like to return this.” The old man probed me for a moment. “We’ve got a no-money-back policy,” he said and pointed at a small, almost illegible sign behind himself. “Yeah, that’s fine, I just want to get rid of it. I’m done with it.” “So, you got your reward then?” I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Guess so.” “What was it?” the old man asked curiously. “It’s meaningless, there’s no end to it. It just goes on forever.” “Oh,” he mouthed with an expression of surprise. “You ever tried it yourself, old man?” “Did once, when I was younger, but I got nowhere. Was too damned hard for me.” “There’s one thing I’m wondering about. Who the hell wrote a thing like this? I mean, it’s freaking insane. How’d’you ever write something like this?” “Well, to tell you the truth, there’s something I didn’t tell you when you first came in. I originally bought the book from a street merchant, half a century ago. He told me a few things, and I learned a few more over the years from other people.” “Like what?” “There’s nothing but rumors of course. The merchant told me it was written by the Devil himself. Then someone told me it was supposedly written by Machiavelli back in the day, to confuse a man who’d wronged him and drive him mad. There was also a guy who was convinced it was the work of aliens. The most plausible thing I heard is that there’s no single author, but that it was written over the course of centuries, with each new writer adding to it and extending it, making it better and ever more complicated.” “Heh, sounds about-“ I started, but the old man raised a hand and pushed his head forward, towards me. “There’s one more. Someone else told me it was written by no other than God himself as a big, giant joke about our earthly existence itself.” I laughed, but it was a weak laugh. Nothing but a giant joke, that fit it damn well, didn’t it? And as I stepped out of the store and stared at the city surrounding me, watching the urban bustle, I began thinking. People were hurrying past me, on their way to work, cars and buses rushed down the streets. As I watched it all, this ever-repeating bustle of civilization, I realized that it was all another never-ending loop. On and on and on we all went, doing the same thing over and over and over again. And as I walked on I started laughing. Maybe that was all right and maybe it didn’t matter. Who knows, maybe the book was true. Maybe all of this, all of life, all of existence, just like the damned book, was nothing but God’s big, giant joke.
Gravity's Rainbow Group Read | Sections 13-16 | Week 5
Well folks, this was a doozy of a week, wasn’t it? Some of these sections are quite challenging, for a variety of reasons. But we also see some pretty critical plot developments, and some genuine hilarity at poor Slothrop’s expense, too. Gotta love that cubeb. This is also where the book really takes off in terms of it’s story arc (especially Slothrop’s origin story), as well as its embrace of sexual deviancy in all its forms, so I’m very curious to see the reactions from the first-timers. It’s a lot to take in. Anyhoo, I’ll start this with a broader summary of themes, then break the summary and analysis down by section, and include some discussion prompts at the end. There’s a lot to work with this week - this section was twice as long as previous weeks. This analysis is going to be lengthy, but I’ll try to keep as focused as I can. Several broad themes start to crystallize by this point in the narrative, especially opposition, which takes a multitude of forms: 1-0, white-black, death-life, social control-anarchy, Capitalism-black market, division-unification, colonizer-colonized, domination-submission, Elect-Preterite. My ordering of items in those pairings is intentional. This book (and Pynchon) sees white, Euro-American colonial culture as intimately tied to a need for control, domination, and a belief in salvation (everyone likes to think they’re part of the Elect, nicht wahr?), which results in a culture of death and division. The War is the embodiment of this. Pynchon repeatedly takes the side of the Preterite - the anarchist, the minority, the colonized. Pigs, which Pynch clearly loves, seem to be emblematic of this noble-yet-humble Preterite. Related to that is the idea of resisting baser desires and human nature vs accepting them vs sublimating them into full-blown pathologies (e.g. colonialism, Crutchfield the Westwardman). Many of the worst symptoms of society stem from our artificial divisions and denial of the natural order. So, if we have deadly, pervasive, controlling systems, what are us poor folks stuck inside them to do? How do we free ourselves from the System? From Them? Pynchon brings up at least three options in this week’s reading: 1.Escape (Katje leaving, vs Gottfried’s passive waiting for salvation) 2.Enjoy the good and ignore the negative (Jessica trying to live in her bubble with Roger, vs. Roger’s unhappy focus on the negatives without being able to change them) 3.Blow it all up (Katje’s option for Schußstelle 3, which she decides against, vs what? Death, perhaps?) Finally, I’d like to discuss an underlying theme based on a separate work that has strongly influenced Pynchon, and Gravity’s Rainbow: T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I never realized this before, but I’ve read the poem probably 75 times since I last read GR, so I’m pretty familiar with it by this point. I highly recommend reading it, but it’s primarily about the decline of Europe after WWI into a wasteland and the death-and-rebirth cycle. A central theme relates to the ancient belief that the harvest god (or later, the king, such as in Arthurian legend) was fundamentally tied to the land. If the king was young and vibrant, the land would be fertile. As the king became old or fell ill, the land would become barren. Thus the king (or harvest god - see the Hanged Man of the tarot) would be sacrificed, either literally or symbolically, so he could be reborn and the land could be restored. “Death is a debt to nature due…” as ol’ Constant Slothrop’s epitaph read. We see this concept explicitly addressed in section 16 (p. 131):
If he’s not in fact the War then he’s its child-surrogate, living high for a certain term but come the ceremonial day, look out. The true king only dies a mock death. Remember. Any number of young men may be selected to die in his place while the real king, foxy old bastard, goes on.
The king is dead. Long live the king. So how does this connect to our broader themes? Remember earlier when we discussed the invisible hand of the market, and how the economy and even social order are now hidden, directionless systems with no ruler? If the king is the land and the land is the king, what do we think would happen to the land, to society, if we replaced the king with an invisible, incomprehensible force that operated under its own rules, outside human control? The chaos of WWII? The mass death without clear cause? The markets taking on a life of their own? I think that’s what Pynchon’s getting at here. Would love your take. On to our section summaries… Section 13 YouTube Recording by u/ShisusBolton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69MV1vafocs Here we delve further into formal psychology and it’s specific application not just on dogs, but humans. We are finally shown the origin of Slothrop’s unique ability - psychological conditioning by Professor Jampf on poor “Infant Tyrone,” in an experiment that echoes the very real “Little Albert” experiment. We also learn why the connection is sexual - a simple matter of binary practicality to make it easier for lab assistants to measure the response to stimulus x. But what IS this mysterious stimulus? More importantly, was Infant Tyrone properly de-conditioned? It would appear not. Here we get a direct quote from Pavlov, the source for this part’s title. The concept of a “silent extinction beyond the zero,” the failure of which is the source of Slothrop’s rather intimate connection to the V2. Slothrop is part of the psychological Preterite - a poor sap doomed from the beginning to be abnormal, no chance for salvation here. Controlled entirely by outside forces he’s not even aware of. Apparently Slothrop’s “talent” is pretty damn precise, since his stars line up perfectly with the rocket strikes. We see some competing explanations for how this could be - from psychokinesis to some echo back through time of the rocket’s blast. We see characters all desperate to figure out why so they can predict where next? Maybe find out if they’re part of the Elect or not. The one possibility none of them consider, cannot consider: what if it’s all random? That’s too terrifying to contemplate for people who believe in predestination. Of course, only Jessica has the empathy to wonder if the women have all died or not. As a slight aside, on p. 85 we get a linguistic exploration of the concept of “beyond the zero” by Mexico that I really loved:
Odd, odd, odd - think of the word: such white finality in its closing clap of the tongue. It implies moving past the tongue-stop - beyond the zero - and into the other realm. Of course, you don’t move past. But you do realize, intellectually, that’s how you ought to be moving.
The play on “ought” as the extension of “odd” beyond the zero is delightful. Here we also see “white” (remember our many examples of opposition?) being tied to finality. No death-rebirth cycle here. We are then witness to a discussion between Pointsman and Mexico where the opposition of their personalities comes into sharp relief. Pointsman seeks binary cause/effect, Mexico seeks alternative between the 1 and the 0 - he proposes to “strike off at some other angle.” That scares Pointsman - it undermines not just his science but his fundamental worldview. His is one of predestination. This also ties into the broader idea of how everyone’s actions and beliefs are consistently shaped by their (often unconscious) fundamental view of the nature of reality and how the world works. Thus, every character’s actions reflect not just their personalities, but distinct assumptions about the nature of causality, of human behavior, of society, of life and death. Misc. notes: The abbey near the White Visitation is described as a ruin on a cliff (p. 86) - it brings to mind the Tower from the Tarot and the related imagery of the Castle Perilous (both referenced in The Waste Land). On p. 90-91 - I’m not positive, but this jumped out to me as an allusion to the play Waiting for Godot. The phrasing and pace of the segment starting “Why do you need me” and ending on the next page with “Help me” sounds very similar to an early scene in Godot, and the works share the themes of purposelessness, meaningless, invisible control, and the question of salvation. Section 14 YouTube Recording by u/BodinethePig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6RFKZPX8rQ Back to the mansion of the opening scene’s banana breakfast. An anonymous cameraman (is it us, the reader?) lends an element of voyeurism, as Katje models for the camera - but why? Meanwhile, Osbie Feel is busy making psychedelic cigarettes from mushrooms grown on the roof. Pynchon notes Katje’s dress, and I suspect the focus on the name used for that particular cocoa shade is a subtle example of England’s casual racism and colonial past. A derogatory term repurposed for a product. A view of Osbie’s oven triggers a flashback for Katje, to her time as a double-agent reporting to Pirate on the rocket battery Schußstelle 3, under the command of the sadistic Captain Blicero. We first heard of him back during the seance. His true name is Weissmann (literally white man), and his code name, Blicero, is the Teutonic name for death. I mentioned the theme of opposition at the beginning of this increasingly-lengthy post, and Blicero is emblematic of one pole - literally white, male, colonizing death. But his teeth reveal hidden decay behind the white exterior. If Blicero is the personification of white Euro-American colonial culture, Pynchon’s saying there’s rot there, and it ain’t pretty. Here’s where S&M comes into the narrative, in a darkly graphic way. Pynchon is fully willing to make the reader uncomfortable by confronting the parts of life that we normally avoid talking about or acknowledging, including those on the fringe. On top of that, we get the image of Der Kinderofen, echoing both Grimm’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel as well as the ovens of the concentration camps. The house that Blicero, Katje, and Gottfried inhabit is a microcosm of colonialism and/or modern society. It’s literally referred to as “their Little State.” If that’s the case, Katje and Gottfried represent two responses to such a scenario: Katje decides that quitting the game is only way out, whereas Gottfried waits for salvation. Gottfried is confident he’s part of the Elect, but Katje isn’t so sure, and takes matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, the oven looms in the background - both the base of the State, and its ultimate destruction (p. 99). Is Pynchon implying that the modern state is fundamentally self-destructive? It would seem so. We also get our first look at the other end of the arc: the rockets being fired. Interestingly, we realize they’re not as all-powerful and precise as they first appear. Deadly, sure, but many are exploding right after launch, even on the launchpad, killing the operators. The flashback to Blicero’s history in colonial Africa introduces us to the Herero people, including Blicero’s lover, Enzian. Enzian represents an entirely different worldview from Blicero - a non-European, non-binary, non-Christian perspective. One of his gods, Ndjambi Karunga, represents the merging of the opposing forces that are so disconnected in the European’s worldview. Back to the house, and we get more insight into Gottfried’s character. He’s clearly a passive participant, submissive, willing to do as he’s told. “If you cannot sing Siegfried at least you can carry a spear.” (p. 103). He accepts the suffering he endures as part of the system, a normal stage in life before moving on to some career of his own, some form of autonomy. But he doesn’t see any action required on his part to make this happen. After all, “He knows, like everyone, that captive children are always freed in the moment of maximum danger.” (p. 103). That’s the faith of one convinced he’s part of the Elect. Here we see one of the most well-known quotes from the book - “Don’t forget the real business of the War is buying and selling…. The true war is a celebration of markets.” (p. 105). In the interest of brevity, I’ll leave it to y’all to delve more into this critical section, but at least on the surface, it gives one of Pynchon’s more direct statements on the nature of war, its function, and its objectification of human life. We also get a fascinating aside on Katje’s ancestor committing avian genocide against the dodoes, that most unfortunate of birds. Yet again, we’re examining the conflict of Preterite vs Elect, and how the fantasy of salvation is is a way to pacify those who are doomed in their current lives. If not that, then all is chance and the dodoes are “only our prey. God could not be that cruel.” (p. 111). But couldn’t he? The evidence doesn’t appear in god’s favor, does it? Last but not least, we see Katje’s film being put to use to condition good ol’ octopus Grigori. But again, to what end? Section 15 YouTube Recording (by yours truly): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPgiptRr-W0 Mrs. Quoad! One of the funniest scenes in the book, and one of my favorites. It showcases both Pynchon’s visceral descriptive abilities as well as the insanity of prewar British candy. Before the Disgusting English Candy Drill, we see Slothrop’s exit from a controlled, laboratory setting and instead being released “into the wild” for observation. He is moving toward Pointsman’s Rorschach-esque experiment, the nature of which is as-yet unknown, but which occupies much of Book 2. This also marks the beginning of Slothrop’s (fully justified) paranoia. In the words of my father, “it’s not paranoia if they’re actually watching you.” Slothrop senses he’s being followed, observed, and starts to get a bit jumpy. Wouldn’t you? My analysis is already far too long, so I’m grateful for this mercifully short and simple section. I think we all needed some levity after Blicero, no? Something tells me Pynchon was thinking the same thing in granting the reader this reprieve. Section 16 YouTube Recording by u/DanteNathanael: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NapZnTK3TRU In this section, we see more of Roger and Jessica’s history together, and the contrast between his more fearful, negative recognition of the System in which they live, and Jessica’s more carefree willingness to focus on the moments of joy she can find. But even nihilistic Roger finds some beauty on this Christmas eve walk. An aside: the line, “who are all these people…. Freaks! Freeeeaks!” absolutely cracks me up. The rest of this section alludes heavily to another poem by our friend T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi. It’s fairly short and accessible, and a truly beautiful work. It’s told from the point of view of one of the magi, looking back on his journey:
All this was a long time ago, I remember, / And I would do it again, but set down / This set down / This: were we led all that way for / Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly / We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, / But had thought they were different; this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We get glimpses into how the War has worn down the population, drained them, recycled even the most mundane objects (e.g. toothpaste tubes) into material for the war. But we also see a reversal of this, with Spam tins recycled into toys for children. An echo of the death/rebirth cycle we previously saw with the king and the land, and in the poem above. A glimmer of hope? Pynchon discusses how the War relies on the illusion of unity but in fact is founded on disunity, on division. Society and the System depend on broad perception of rational, ordered, mechanistic system. Surrealism, the removal of this illusion of borders, en masse is societal suicide. But also an inextricable part of it. As with the microcosm of Blicero’s oven, the end is baked into the origin. The ordered reality of the System is a facade - even time’s sped up thanks to the War. In fact, Roger’s first moment of optimism, of faith, comes after the choir’s act of “minor surrealism” - the removal of artificial boundaries between race, culture, language (p. 129). The War destroys the death/rebirth cycle: its death is a finality, with just a gold start as a consolation prize for the dead who lay buried under the snow in a bomb crater, and humans subdivided to the point of being individually numbered. But for a second, for just a second on Christmas eve, people can forget that - even Roger, who enters the ultraparadoxical phase when sound of the choir overcomes his knee-jerk nihilism and actually brings him back around to hope, if just for that night. Questions
What are your thoughts on Professor Jampf’s experiment on poor Infant Tyrone? What might be variable “x”? Does that even matter?
Is Slothrop “sensing” the rockets before they are launched? Are the rockets somehow drawn to the locations of his sexual forays? Is he reading the minds of the rocket operators? Or worse, and most terrifyingly, is it all somehow coincidence?
What was your initial reaction to the section with Blicero, Katje, and Gottfried? Did your perspective change after you finished the entire section?
Why didn’t Katja give up location of Schußstelle 3?
How does “the Change” that Blicero is fixated on play into our larger themes? There’s an allusion here to both Ovid’s Metamorphoses and several Romantic poets. How would you define Blicero’s desires?
The Mrs. Quoad scene seems to largely be a light aside to break up some pretty heavy material. But is there anything more to it? Any other insights to be pulled from the candy jar?
Well, if you made it all the way to the end of this, thank you. I think I put more energy into this than several college essays I turned in, but it was a lot of fun, and I’m blown away by how much I gained from this exercise. I’m excited to see what insights you have! Addendum: great discussion so far! Thanks for the excellent insights and observations!
(Under Construction, last updated: 11/08/20) Q: What is Nucleus Co-Op? A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbituCgu3Bc Nucleus Co-Op is a free and open source tool for Windows that allows split-screen play on many games that do not initially support it. The app was originally created by Lucas Assis. Zerofox later took over and added a ton of new features and improvements to support a lot more games. Ilyaki later joined in and brought multiple keyboards/mice support and more great features to the table. The app is currently being developed and updated by these devs: Lucas Assis, Zerofox and Ilyaki. R-mach too for making and supporting the website that hosts the Nucleus Co-Op scripts. Also the further development of the app wouldn't have been possible without all the amazing contributions and hard work from the SplitScreen Dreams Discord members (which include the devs mentioned above) that made all the new Nucleus Co-Op scripts and continue to make new discoveries and scripts to support even more games, among them: Talos91, PoundlandBacon, dr. old.boi, Pizzo and many more. Q: How does Nucleus Co-Op work? A: Essentially Nucleus Co-Op opens multiple instances of the same game (some games require mutex killing for that, among other methods) that will only answer to one specific gamepad (we do this via Nucleus Co-Op custom xinput dlls or xinput plus dlls) and connects those instances via LAN or steamworks online multiplayer emulation (Goldberg Emulator), all while making sure all the windows have focus so they can be playable with gamepads or that the instances are playable even in the background. Nucleus then resizes, removes borders and repositions the games windows so you can have synthetic splitscreen to play locally with your friends. Q: Which games can be splitscreened using Nucleus Co-Op? A: There are a lot of supported games, all mentioned in the list above. A ton of games are now supported thanks to the amazing program called Goldberg Emulator, developed by Mr. Goldberg, a big thank you to him. Read the Goldberg FAQ if you want to know more. Q: Where do I download Nucleus Co-Op? A: You can download latest version from Github. Download the compiled .rar release, don't download the source code zip if you just want to use the app. Zerofox's mod v0.9.9.9 r4 is the latest version recent scripts are created for, please avoid other versions for now. Q: How do I use Nucleus Co-Op? A: Here is a quick video tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWmvz59i-o0 1.- Download and exctract Nucleus Co-Op (extract using apps like 7-zip or winrar). 2.- Open NucleusCoop.exe. 3.- Click on Download Game Scripts, the script browser will open. Search for a game in the supported games list and download a script. You can also see all available scripts from the app now by pressing the view all option. 4.- Once the script has finished downloading you will get a prompt asking if you would like to add a game now, click yes if you want to add it now, if you select no proceed to step 6. 5.- Next you need to find where your game's executable is located. If you're not sure, try Googling 'where is (game) installed' and just search for the .exe in the place they tell you to look for. For Steam games this is usually something along the lines of 'C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common(game)'. Some games will have their real .exe stashed away in a folder called 'bin' or 'binaries'. Once you choose the right .exe, add the game. 6.- You can also automatically add games, click 'Auto-Search' and select the drive and path you want to add games from. 7.- Once your game is added, select it in the Nucleus UI and drag the gamepad icons to the splitscreen layout, click on the top-left icon on the layout corner to change the type of splitscreen layout. You can also use multiple monitors, if you have multiple monitors connected they will show in the Nucleus UI. If you see Script Author's Notes appear at the bottom of the UI, read them carefully. 8.- Finally press > then Play (top right of the UI) and you are ready to go. Q: Where should I place the Nucleus Co-Op folder? A: You can place the folder wherever you like as long as you keep the following in mind: DO NOT place it inside a folder containing files for a game you wish to play. Avoid placing it inside a folder that has security settings applied to is, such as program files, program files (x86). Some scripts require the Nucleus Co-Op folder to be located on the same drive as the game files. If you are still unsure where to place the folder, the root of the drive your games are installed on is usually a safe option. Q: How do I play with an uneven amount of players (such as 3 players) without having an empty space? A: Right click on a section of the splitscreen layout. Q: Nucleus Co-Op doesn't launch, how do I fix it? A: Here are a few things you can try: 1.- Try updating your Microsoft.net framework, and install/reinstall Visual C++ 2010-2017. 2.- Make sure your antivirus program is not blocking Nucleus Co-Op or deleting any of its files. 3.- Run Nucleus Co-Op as admin. 4.- Restart your PC, and try again. Q: Does Nucleus Co-Op have any malware? A: Absolutely not. Q: I wish to help out with the project, how can I get in touch? A: Join the Nucleus Co-Op discord community or contact us here in the subreddit. Q: When support for X game? A: Not all games are easy to splitscreen, if you want to suggest a game make a post with the title [Request] Name of the game and provide useful information like if the game supports LAN or dedicated servers, if it is available on Steam or in other services, if it uses external servers for online, if it has gamepad support etc. Also you can contact any of our experienced Nucleus scripters here or in the Nucleus Co-Op discord and ask if a script is possible. The main scripter is the OP of this post for instance. Remember that Scripters are limited by the games they own and can test on, so if you really want support for a game to be added consider donating the game to the scripter in question. Q: How do I know when a script gets updated? A: Scripts updates are always announced in the Nucleus Co-Op discord server in the channel scripts updates. Q: How do I create my own splitscreen script for Nucleus Co-Op? A: Here is the documentation, open the .js file with notepad to read it. You can also use the other scripts you download from Nucleus as reference, they get downloaded to the Nucleus scripts folder. If you create a working script or if you have any questions about Nucleus scripting you can ask us in the Nucleus Co-Op discord or here in the subreddit, we can help you improve your script so it is fully working for sharing with the community. Q: Does Nucleus Co-Op work on Linux/Mac? A: Nucleus Co-Op depends on a lot of Windows functions and APIs, at the moment it only works on Windows 7 and Up. If you are interested in porting Nucleus Co-Op to other operating systems please feel free to contact any of the developers. Q: Where can I report a bug/issue? A: Note that Nucleus Co-Op is a tool in development and still in Alpha. Expect bugs, glitches and weird things to happen. Help other people not have these things happen by checking for a solution here and submitting a [BUG REPORT] to the reddit as a new topic or in the comments here, if no-one else has brought it up. Make sure you have read the script notes in the Nucleus UI very carefully first before submitting anything. A good [BUG REPORT] looks like this: Thread name: [BUG REPORT] Simon falling off horse BUG: Simon falls off his horse. EXPECTED: Simon should not fall off his horse, right? CAUSE: I'm pretty sure it's because I have my computer plugged into an auto-blow. STEPS TO REPRODUCE 1.- Open up Simon Stays On His Horse: The Interactive Video Game of the Movie. 2.- Choose Co-Op and join with another player. 3.- Simon falls off his horse!!! TYPE: Severe! The gameplay can't continue if Simon isn't on his horse! (Alternatively, Minor if the gameplay can continue but it's just annoying) NUCLEUS OPTIONS: I played with 2 players using the vertical splitscreen (left and right) on one tv and 2 famicom controllers. I'm using the latest version SYSTEM: I'm on Windows 3.1 with 4MB of RAM, a 2KHz CPU and no graphics card, playing on a projector. She's a monster. I'd really like this to get fixed please thanks magic man! -Beanboy" Keep in mind most scripts are made and tested using the latest legit steam versions of a game, so provide information about what version of the game you have. Also provide a debug log of the NucleusCoop error or crash, enable the debug log in Nucleus UI settings and save, the debug log will be created in Nucleus root folder where the .exe is. You can also ask for support in our discord. Q: Why is Nucleus Co-Op resizing the game instances incorrectly/the instances look stretched? A: Try setting your monitor scale to 100% in your monitoTV resolution settings. It is also highly recommended that you add custom resolutions to all your monitors from your AMD/Nvidia/Intel panel (For example if you are using a monitor resolution of 1920x1080 add custom resolutions like 960x540, 1920x540, 960x1080, ect.) that way most games will be able to see and use those custom resolutions and the splitscreen will not look stretched(Example). Note that not all games support custom or ultra widescreen resolutions. Also try disabling the Nucleus status window in Nucleus UI settings and save. Q: Why is Nucleus Co-Op throwing an error message that it can not find a file when launching a script? A: A lot of scripts edit the game's .ini or .cfg files to force windowed and to adjust the game's resolution to the window size, so make you sure you run your game at least once and change some graphic settings before running it via Nucleus Co-Op, that way you make sure the proper config files are getting generated first. If you are still getting the error after doing that, select the game in the UI, click on Game Options and select Delete UserProfile Config Path for all players. Also try disabling the Nucleus status window in Nucleus UI settings and save. Q: Where are my Nucleus Co-Op save files located? A: Some scripts save to the Nucleus Co-Op enviroment folder located in C:\Users\YourUser\NucleusCoop, you can access each game save file via the Nucleus Co-Op UI too, select a game, click on Game Options and select Open UserProfile Save/Config Path. Other scripts just save in the same file path your regular game saves to. Q: Why are my in-game frames per second low/better in one instance than in the others when using Nucleus Co-Op? A: Remember that Nucleus Co-Op opens multiple instances of a game, so depending on the game this can be quite demanding for your PC, to improve FPS and performance try reducing graphics settings like textures and shadows, limit the FPS or unfocus all the game windows so that they get equal priority and the FPS even out, you can do this by Alt-Tabbing to a different window like the Nucleus app window, the game windows will still remain on top, you can also press the windows key+b in your keyboard to unfocus all instances. Q: My Playstation/generic PC controller isn't working/isn't being detected by Nucleus Co-Op, how do I fix it? A: Most Nucleus Co-Op Scripts only detect Xinput gamepads. Controllers that work best are Xbox 360 game controllers for minimum hassle. There are a few scripts that also support Direct Input gamepads but Xinput gamepads are generally a lot easier to restrict to a specific game instance than Dinput gamepads. If you are using PS4 gamepads try the app DS4windows, look in the settings for an option called "hide ds4 controller" - make sure it's ticked. To ensure it's definitely running in exclusive mode make sure ds4windows is set to load on windows startup, then turn your controllers on while windows is loading. Download the latest version here - https://ryochan7.github.io/ds4windows-site/ Read more about how to use exclusive mode here: https://github.com/Ryochan7/DS4Windows/wiki/Exclusive-Mode-(Hide-DS4-Controller-config-option)-tips-and-issues If you are using generic dinput gamepads the app XOutput is also useful to emulate xinput gamepads. The app X360CE version 4 that creates virtual Xbox 360 Controllers inside your Windows operating system is also very useful to emulate xinput gamepads system wide. Remember that some games detect both dinput and xinput gamepads so even if you are emulating a xinput gamepad the input could still not be restricted correctly because the game is now responding to both the emulated xinput gamepad and to the native direct input of your gamepad, that is why some apps like DS4windows have an "exclusive mode". Also do not place any x360ce xinput dlls inside the Nucleus Co-Op files as this might interfere with Nucleus custom xinput dlls. Xbox One gamepads have some issues with background input in games that only support direct input gamepads and with Unity games that use Unity's default input for gamepad support. If you are using steam controllers try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wy4F2eqTXQ4 Q: Why is my keyboard not showing in the Nucleus Co-Op UI? A: If a script is only showing gamepads and not keyboard icons that means the script only supports gamepads and doesn't support keyboards and mice in splitscreen yet. Q: There are many keyboards and mice icons in the UI, how do I know which ones to use? A: If you press a key in the keyboard you will use or move the mouse their corresponding icons in the Nucleus Co-Op UI will light up yellow. The app can detect keyboard macros that is why sometimes you will get multiple keyboard icons. Q: Can you play splitscreen+LAN in different PCs? A: Yes, if you run the game via Nucleus Co-Op in different PCs you can connect all instances you launch via LAN, for example you can have 2 players playing vertical splitscreen in one PC via Nucleus and connect to 2 others playing Nucleus splitscreen in a different PC via LAN. If the script uses steamworks multiplayer emulation you'll have to change the instances steam ids in the other PCs you'll connect to, otherwise the instances launched by Nucleus will use the same steam ids and won't be able to connect to each other. For that you can open the game script .js file in Nucleus scripts folder in the other PCs and add for example Game.PlayerSteamIDs = [ "76561198134585131","76561198131394153","76561198011792067","76561198043762785" ]; that will change the default ids of the first four instances you open in one PC via Nucleus Co-Op. Q: This project is Amazing where can I donate? A: We don't have an unified donation platform yet but you can support the devs individually here: Zerofox, Ilyaki, Lucas Assis. You can also donate to our main scripters that make the games scripts for Nucleus: Talos91/blackman9
Installing ALOT, ALOV, MEUITM, and other mods for Mass Effect on Linux
Valve's Proton allows Steam users to run games that don't have a native Linux implementation on their Linux machines. It's amazing. Mass Effect is has a Gold rating on ProtonDB which means it runs well when using Proton, with minor adjustments. If you have the game on Origin or you have a physical copy, you can also play on Linux, but you'll have to use Lutris or something similar instead. Unfortunately, there's not much out there on how to install mods such as A Lot Of Textures (ALOT) and A Lot of Videos (ALOV) for Mass Effect on Linux. It took a lot of work to figure it out, but I was able to do it. Here are some notes I've compiled in my quest in case you want to give it a go.
This guide is assuming you're using Steam. Origin and physical copy users might find these notes useful though. These are the system specs of the machine I played Mass Effect on:
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: AMD Radeon 5700 XT
GPU Driver: 4.6 Mesa 20.0.7
RAM: 16 GB
OS: Manjaro 20.0.3
Kernel: Linux 18.104.22.168-1
This guide should apply to most Linux distros, I suspect. For example, GrayDog on YouTube is running Fedora 32 with ALOT and ALOV installed according to this video. In this guide, I will assume the following:
You have experience in Linux, e.g. permissions, using the terminal
You know experience with Steam on Linux, e.g. you know how to backup games and how to run games with SteamPlay/Proton
You have experience modding Mass Effect, e.g., you know that some mods are not compatible with each other and that texture mods are installed last
Finally, this guide is not exhaustive as it's entirely based off of my experience. There might be multiple ways to install these mods or some steps that aren't actually required. If you have any interesting information about installing mods for Mass Effect on Linux, let me know!
Install and run your game once
First, install a fresh copy of Mass Effect. Then run the game to make sure it works and so that Steam creates compatibility files that it needs for Proton to work its magic. I highly recommend that you backup your game if you have the storage space because it's possible you'll mess up and need to reinstall. If you have any saves in /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/17460/pfx/drive_c/users/steamuseMy\ Documents/BioWare/Mass\ Effect/Save/, make sure to back those up too.
Installing DLC + The Audio Issue
Next, you should install at least the Bring Down the Sky DLC first because some mods, like ME1 Recalibrated, require it. If you want Pinnacle Station, you should install that now too. Read this Steam guide by Flabdad. It explains how to download and install the DLC. It also specifies a way to fix the audio issue, but there have been reported problems with that method according to this GitHub issue comment. The method to fix the audio issue that I recommend is by LennoxLuther on ProtonDB.
Before Installing Any Mods
First thing to do is to download binkw23.dll and bink32.dll from here. Put those files in /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/Binaries/. While testing, I've actually installed texture mods without these two dlls and I didn't run into much trouble. I would still install them anyway.
Downloaded the exe version of this mod because installing the exe is the same as installing Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station exes. Below is an example. export STEAM_COMPAT_DATA_PATH="/home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/17460/"; python3 /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Proton\ 5.0/proton waitforexitandrun /home/useGames/mass-effect/mods/ME1-recalibrated/ME1\ Recalibrated\ \(overwrites\ using\ exe\ installer\)-114-2-2-3-1590649034.exe
Installing this mod is very similar to how you would do it on Windows. Keep a copy of the old BIOGame.ini somewhere in case you want to change back. Extract BIOGame.ini from the archive you downloaded and put it in /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/17460/pfx/drive_c/users/steamuseMy\ Documents/BioWare/Mass\ Effect/Config/ to replace the existing version. Alternatively, you can edit the original BIOGame.ini. Look for RBPhysicsGravityScaling under the [Engine.WorldInfo] section and change it to 1.27 or your desired gravity levels.
Installing this mod is also very similar to how you would do it on Windows. Keep a copy of the old dinput8.dll somewhere in case you want to change back. Extract dinput8.dll from the archive you downloaded and put it in /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/Binaries/.
Installing this mod is also very similar to how you would do it on Windows. Extract the rar archive into /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/Binaries/. To uninstall, just delete those same files that you extracted.
Extract all desired files from the archives you downloaded. From the main ALOV archive, you'll get two directories, BaseGame and BDTS. In BaseGames, there is a Movies directory. Replace the contents of /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/BioGame/CookedPC/Movies/ with this directory's contents. In BDTS, there is also a Movies directory. Replace the contents of /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/DLC/DLC_UNC/Movies/ with this directory's contents. To install the optional FTL loading screen, take the lone UCW_Loading_Flyby.bik and replace /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/BioGame/CookedPC/Movies/UCW_Loading_Flyby.bik with that file.
Before downloading texture mods...
Disclaimer: I had a lot of problems installing texture mods. I was not able to install MEUITM and ALOT with 100% stability, i.e. my game crashed a couple times when I clicked "Investigate" in conversation. Also, I ran into issues where shadows didn't function properly when I installed MEUITM first then ALOT after, e.g. default male Shepard's face became completely black. Download the Linux zips from here and extract. If the Linux zips aren't in the current release, try another. First, run ./MassEffectModder.AppImage. Set the game path, e.g. /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Mass\ Effect/Binaries/MassEffect.exe, and the user path, e.g. /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/17460/pfx/drive_c/users/steamuseMy\ Documents/BioWare/Mass\ Effect. What this will do is create a configuration file named /home/use.config/MassEffectModdeMassEffectModder.ini. The reason I use the GUI instead of the CLI version is that MassEffectModderNoGui gets stuck at this line due to an error. I've never written any program in C++, but I know that a single C++ program might run differently on different OSes as well as different machines. In any case, the owner of the MassEffectModder repository removed the Linux programs in the latest release at the time of writing. If you're using Steam and the version of Proton you're using is 5.0 or newer, you can skip to the next section. If you're using an older version of Proton, you'll should enable the PROTON_FORCE_LARGE_ADDRESS_AWARE launch option because it's not enabled by default unlike Proton 5.0 and newer. You can skip to the next section. Otherwise, you should use ./MassEffectModderNoGui to apply the large address awareness fix to ME1. Below is an example. /home/useGames/mass-effect/mods/MassEffectModderNoGui --apply-me1-laa I say "should" because the crashes I experienced usually occur due to LAA not working properly, according to C3Anderson the creator of MEUITM. However, I did try Mass Effect with LAA disabled and I felt that my game crashed more than when I had LAA enabled. In short, I believe there is nothing to lose by enabling LAA.
This section will be to install both MEUITM and ALOT. Once you have the zip archives, extract the contents. For MEUITM, in the mods directory, there will be many mem files. Some mems will overwrite each other. Check installer.ini, which was also extracted, to see which files correspond to which texture packs. Choose one of each type and move or delete the others. For example, I deleted Eyes_Vibrant.mem and kept Eyes_Vanillastyle.mem. There will also be some zip archives in the MEUITM directory. I've never tried installing them, but I suspect installing them only requires extracting the files to the proper locations similar to the SweetFX mod. Consolidate the MEUITM and ALOT mem files into one directory. Typically, the MEUITM is installed before ALOT. With all mem files in one directory, the ALOT mems will be installed first since those files come first lexigraphically. If you want to ALOT textures to override MEUITM textures, I would add some z's to the beginning of the ALOT mem files. To check if the ALOT files were properly installed after MEUITM, compare your game to these photos. Use ./MassEffectModderNoGui to install the textures. Below is an example. /home/useGames/mass-effect/mods/MassEffectModderNoGui --install-mods --gameid 1 --input /home/useGames/mass-effect/mods/MEUITM/mods/ --alot-mode --limit-2k If you want to try the 4K textures, remove the --limit-2k flag. If you run into issues here, you'll need to reinstall your game (I hope you have a backup!) and all other mods.
After installing texture mods...
This section is optional. The reason this section is optional is because although the textures looked better when I did, I felt that the game crashed more than when I skipped this step. Skipping this step should reduce and possibly eliminate crashes. I say "possibly eliminate" because I played the last 10 hours of a playthrough with the original BIOEngine.ini and experienced no crashes. Use ./MassEffectModderNoGui to update the BIOEngine.ini. Below is an example. /home/useGames/mass-effect/mods/MassEffectModderNoGui --apply-lods-gfx --gameid 1 --meuitm-mode --limit-2k I would not recommend removing the --limit-2k flag. My game crashed on startup when I did. If you want to undo this, you can move /home/use.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/17460/pfx/drive_c/users/steamuseMy\ Documents/BioWare/Mass\ Effect/Config/BIOEngine.ini out of the Config directory and run Mass Effect. This should generate the original ini.
Feel free to ask questions if something doesn't work. I tried a lot of things to get these mods to work so I might have forgotten to add a step or something. Okay, that's all. Good luck and have fun! Edit: Changed my confidence level on reason why MassEffectModderNoGui didn't work for setting game paths
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How to start hacking? The ultimate two-path guide to information security. (Repost from r/hacking)
Before I begin - everything about this should be totally and completely ethical at it's core. I'm not saying this as any sort of legal coverage, or to not get somehow sued if any of you screw up, this is genuinely how it should be. The idea here is information security. I'll say it again. information security. The whole point is to make the world a better place. This isn't for your reckless amusement and shot at recognition with your friends.This is for the betterment of human civilisation. Use your knowledge to solve real-world issues. There's no singular all-determining path to 'hacking', as it comes from knowledge from all areas that eventually coalesce into a general intuition. Although this is true, there are still two common rapid learning paths to 'hacking'. I'll try not to use too many technical terms. The first is the simple, effortless and result-instant path. This involves watching youtube videos with green and black thumbnails with an occasional anonymous mask on top teaching you how to download well-known tools used by thousands daily - or in other words the 'Kali Linux Copy Pasterino Skidder'. You might do something slightly amusing and gain bit of recognition and self-esteem from your friends. Your hacks will be 'real', but anybody that knows anything would dislike you as they all know all you ever did was use a few premade tools. The communities for this sort of shallow result-oriented field include HowToHackand probablyhackingas of now. The second option, however, is much more intensive, rewarding, and mentally demanding. It is also much more fun, if you find the right people to do it with. It involves learning everything from memory interaction with machine code to high level networking - all while you're trying to break into something. This is where Capture the Flag, or 'CTF' hacking comes into play, where you compete with other individuals/teams with the goal of exploiting a service for a string of text (the flag), which is then submitted for a set amount of points. It is essentially competitive hacking. Through CTF you learn literally everything there is about the digital world, in a rather intense but exciting way. Almost all the creators/finders of major exploits have dabbled in CTF in some way/form, and almost all of them have helped solve real-world issues. However, it does take a lot of work though, as CTF becomes much more difficult as you progress through harder challenges. Some require mathematics to break encryption, and others require you to think like no one has before. If you are able to do well in a CTF competition, there is no doubt that you should be able to find exploits and create tools for yourself with relative ease. The CTF community is filled with smart people who can't give two shits about elitist mask wearing twitter hackers, instead they are genuine nerds that love screwing with machines. There's too much to explain, so I will post a few links below where you can begin your journey. Remember - this stuff is not easy if you don't know much, so google everything, question everything, and sooner or later you'll be down the rabbit hole far enough to be enjoying yourself. CTF is real life and online, you will meet people, make new friends, and potentially find your future. What is CTF? (this channel is gold, use it) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ev9ZX9J45A More on liveoverflow, http://www.liveoverflow.com is hands down one of the best places to learn, along with liveoverflow CTF compact guide - https://ctf101.org/ Upcoming CTF events online/irl, live team scores - https://ctftime.org/ What is CTF? - https://ctftime.org/ctf-wtf/ Full list of all CTF challenge websites - http://captf.com/practice-ctf/ > be careful of the tool oriented offensivesec oscp ctf's, they teach you hardly anything compared to these ones and almost always require the use of metasploit or some other program which does all the work for you.
Thoughts on Antares and the End of Ward (A Six-Part Diatribe)
(Apologies in advance if any of this has been posted before. Haven't exactly done a deep-dive on the backlog of Victoria discourse) THESIS / TL;DR: For thematic and symbolic reasons, I predict that Ward will end with Victoria becoming a Madoka-esque, isolated superbeing (possibly an Entity) who saves everyone through (ideological and literal) self-sacrifice and "suffers forever," per Contessa's prediction. The suffering will be caused by being Titanized together with Amy. DISCLOSURE: At parts in this post, there's lots of talk about astronomy, particularly about binary stars. All of this is presented very confidently, but I'm saying upfront that I am not an astronomer and that everything I say about astronomy should be taken as the rudimentary understanding of a professional internet funnyman who skimmed a wikipedia article for clues about the symbolic meaning behind his favorite internet superhero story. Please get your information about science from actual scientists and accept my apologies for any inaccuracies in this post. Part 1 - What is the Point of Worm? On many levels, Worm is a story about the insignificance of the individual. It begins with a bullied teenager, someone who feels powerless in the face of her peers. Someone who can do nothing to fight against the systems that protect her oppressors because she is only a single, weak human being. But as the story progresses, our Queen of Escalation shows us that, when it comes to things that make you feel small and powerless, there is always a bigger fish. Taylor feels weak compared to Sophia, Emma, and The Other One. But what's a trio of insecure high-school rom-com antagonists compared to Lung? What's Lung compared to all of Empire 88? What's E88 compared to Leviathan? What's Leviathan compared to Scion? And most importantly, what is Taylor Hebert compared to Scion? Nothing at all. The universe is so vast and the threats it presents are so all-consuming, what does it matter if one shitty high school girl is sad about her dead mom? How could the problems of one individual ever matter in the face of the Cosmos? As Taylor, herself, says, "We're s-so very small, in the end." But that's not the end of the story, because despite Taylor's individual insignificance, she's somehow able to fight against all of the injustice of the universe. How? By working together with others. Every one of Taylor's successes is a group effort, from becoming the Enlightened Despot of Brockton Bay to bullying Supergod to death. As arguably-pessimistic as the story is regarding the power of a single person, Worm has an incredibly uplifting message about the power of humanity as a whole. When working together toward a common goal, humans can accomplish seemingly insurmountable things. If the school administration had listened to Taylor when she reported her bullying, for example, much of Worm might not have happened. If the parahuman community had gotten on-board with Cauldron rather than fighting against them, the threat of Scion could've been handled much quicker and more efficiently. It's our individuality, in a sense, that gets in the way of our collective triumph. In short: Worm argues that individual desires are unimportant in general and harmful to the success of humanity as a whole. Collective action toward a common goal is the only way to thrive as a species. Part 2 - What is the Point of Ward? Worm proposes: "The universe is so vast, and humans so small in the face of it, that the trials and triumphs of an individual could never possibly matter." Ward answers: "Therefore, they are the only thing that ever could." It's a common train of thought in more pessimistic/nihilistic circles that, if there's no way humans can ever matter on a cosmic scale, the only thing worth focusing on is individual happiness. If there is no plan, no purpose, no ultimate goal that humans are meant to solve, then all we can do is do the things that make us feel fulfilled on a personal level. This is Ward's answer to Worm. Ward is not a story of a group of plucky underdogs deposing supervillains and slaying Kaiju. It's the tale of a group of flawed, well-intentioned individuals working through their own psychological problems, often with a literal psychologist. It is not (with obvious exceptions which I'll address in a moment) a story about our protagonists saving the world, it's a story about them saving themselves. The threats they face are largely internal (Sveta's body dysphoria, Kenzie's emotional dependence, Byron/Tristan's. . .whole thing) or internal-made-external (The Fallen compound as Rain confronting his past, any interaction between Victoria and Amy). Where Worm is largely about Taylor's team taking down their enemies, Ward is about each individual member of breakthrough confronting their own personal demons with the help of others. When we do get purely external threats such as Teacher and Goddess, they operate almost exclusively on an M.O. of denying individual agency. Teacher, subverting the identities of his thralls. Goddess's cluster-draining and near-perfect Master power. The cult mentality of the Fallen. Even March's highly-specific orders that must be followed to-the-letter if success is to be achieved. If that sounds familiar, it should, because the villains of Ward are the heroes of Worm. Forcing people to work together toward a common goal regardless of what those individuals want. It's a hard thematic break, where the idea that's explicitly endorsed by Worm is fought against tooth and nail by Ward. Because, while Ward does respect the value of teamwork, its idea of "teamwork" acknowledges that teams are made of individuals, and that individuals have a degree of choice in the things they do. Teamwork in Worm is tyranny. Teamwork in Ward is a celebration of free will. The Titans -- likely the last antagonists of the Parahumans saga -- are individuals whose hopelessness forces them to bow to an external collective. They are the ultimate representation of Worm's "teamwork," subsuming the ego of humanity into a networked system against their will. But there's another important point about the Titans: They're created from despair. Remember when I mentioned that Ward is all about people fighting their personal demons? The Titans are Ward's ultimate declaration that your life matters. Your pain, your sadness, your lonesomeness, are all burdens that are valid and that deserve to be treated. Just like the idea of a trigger event giving powers, the desperation of those who turn Titan signifies to the reader not only that individual sorrow is important, but that the recognition and acceptance of it by those around the ones who suffer is paramount to our ability to collectively overcome our tribulations. Part 3 - What is Antares? (The Rival of Mars) Judging by the thematic dissonance between Worm and Ward, I find it only fitting that Ward will end with a dramatic act of individuality, just as Worm ended with a dramatic act of tyranny. What that act will be, I'm not sure, but there are some clues to be found in Victoria's power set and the name she chose near the beginning of the story. Names have always had significance in the Parahumans saga, with major characters often changing their names several times over the course of a serial. Antares, in particular, is a fascinating choice. Admittedly, I'm not an astronomer, so this is the part of the analysis that's getting furthest from my comfort zone, but there are a few major details about Antares the star that stand out to me when it comes to making predictions about the ultimate fate of our favorite tyrant. The word "Antares" comes from the Greek "Rival of Ares/Mars," due to the star's reddish hue "rivaling" the red of the planet Mars. With the color red being so heavily associated with Amy, the symbolism here should be obvious, but there are significantly more telling details about the star that have worrying implications about the ending of Ward. For starters, Antares is a binary star system in the constellation Scorpius (with its companion star being named α Scorpii B). Choosing the name Antares is Victoria's reminder to herself of the things she has to overcome, acknowledging that she must overcome the influence that the Red Queen has had on her psyche (The Rival of Mars) while living constantly with that same Queen in her orbit (her α Scorpii B). Part 4 - What is Antares? (The Breast of the Scorpion) But Antares is not the only name this star has ever had. The Babylonians referred to Antares as (I swear I'm not making this up) "GABA GIR.TAB," which translates to "The Breast of the Scorpion," and the Egyptians used the star as a symbol for their scorpion-headed goddess Serket, who bears a striking resemblance to Panacea. Serket is the goddess associated with (among other things) fertility, medicine, magic, and healing venomous stings and bites. Her name can be translated in one of two ways: "She who tightens the throat," and "she who causes the throat to breathe," and there are likewise two ways to interpret this double meaning with regard to Victoria:
First, Amy is the one who restricts her life and freedom (she who tightens the throat). She is the one who's keeps Victoria from living a full life, as Victoria always has to look over her shoulder and check every corner to make sure her abuser isn't going to destroy her life again. But, due to her rewiring of Victoria's brain, Amy is also the life-giver and the source of joy. She is also, on multiple counts, the only reason Victoria is still alive (she who causes the throat to breathe) She triggered when Victoria was hurt and needed healing. Victoria would've melted in Crawler's acid if not for Amy. Victoria would still be the Wretch if Amy hadn't fixed her (though that one obviously gets her no good-girl points). And all humanity, Vicky included, would be dead by now if Amy hadn't third-triggered Khepri.
Second, the tightening and relaxing of the throat is reminiscent of Amy's stranglehold on Victoria's life. Note the flashback wherein Amy literally takes Victoria's breath away during the Crawler incident so that she can't protest the changes Amy is making. This is a literal example of closing and opening the throat, but the same principle metaphorically applies to any number of aspects of their relationship. Remember that it was Amy's decision to manipulate Victoria's emotions that caused their falling out and destroyed Victoria's mental wellbeing. Her decision to overwrite an individual's personal desires in favor of making them more amenable to her own will. I.e., acting like Khepri. In this case, tightening and loosening a person's throat, as reference in Serket's name, refers in both cases to Amy's manipulation of Victoria's will: The very action that puts her thematically in-line with every major antagonist of Ward.
With these two interpretations of Serket's role connecting her to Amy, and the symbology of the ancient Egyptians already connecting her to Antares, there is one more aspect of Serket's religious domain that I want to acknowledge with regard to the sisters. While Serket is largely regarded as a healer who cures scorpion stings and snakebites, there is also reference to Serket "stinging the unrighteous," and thus acting as an arbiter of justice. In this dual purpose -- as a castigator and as a healer -- I see Guts and Glory back in their early days. Glory Girl, the one who meters out justice, often with bone-breaking efficiency, and Panacea, the one who cleans up the mess and makes sure the family stays healthy and in the good graces of the public. Two purposes of one being, two aspects of one goddess, two stars of one system. And while I've spent most of this section comparing Serket to Amy specifically, remember that the goddess is symbolized not only by α Scorpii B, but by α Scorpii A (The one that we in the modern day call "Antares") as well. And the thing is, despite Panacea and Glory Girl going their separate ways, they still maintain the healedestroyer dynamic. Their roles have simply flipped. Amy, in Ward, is a mad scientist driven by the desire to prove that she's sane. Everything she touches is destroyed, not out of malice, but out of her own emotions causing her to lose focus or control at critical moments. Just as Glory Girl used to be overcome with bloodlust and righteous fury during villain fights in Brockton Bay, Panacea is now wracked with guilt and the need to prove herself, and so overdoes her healing to create monsters like Titan Arachne and the Mother of Mothers. All, importantly, while believing that she's acting in everyone's best interest, as a hero. Glory Girl, now, is acting not as a bruiser but as emotional support. She's spent years meditating and self-reflecting, thinking of the parts of herself that she doesn't like and trying to change them. The Warrior Monk has taken the place of the Vigilante, and her actions both in and out of battle are taken mindfully and with consideration of consequences for herself and others. She is the one who takes on the leader role in Breakthrough, navigating through the various team members' emotional landmines and making sure everyone stays in a good enough mental place to continue working together as heroes. Her role as a mental healer extends even to her own shard, which, after having been warped and mutilated beyond recognition by the Red Queen, gets its own affirmation of love and acceptance by the end of Arc 19. The two aspects of Serket, the savior and the judge, have always been present in the sisters, and so. . . Part 5 - What is Antares? (Roche Lobe Overflow / Titan Serket) A simple glance at the sidebar on the Wikipedia page for Antares says it all: "Evolutionary Stage - Red Supergiant." There are three fates for a binary star: Assimilation, separation, and isolation. At some point, the star Antares will either merge into a single star, be torn apart by a third party, or have one of its component stars go supernova before either of the first two can occur. Of these fates, the first is the most common, and the most in-line with what we know about Contessa's "Option C," which requires one member of Breakthrough to suffer forever. Wildbow is a competent writer (I think we can agree on this point), and a competent writer knows when a setup requires a resolution. There will be a final confrontation between Antares and the Red Queen, and I think it's reasonable to expect that this final confrontation will take the form of Roche Lobe overflow. The Roche Lobe of a star in a binary system is the area in which orbiting material is gravitationally bound to that star. As the star increases in size, some of its matter may exceed the limits of the Roche lobe and be transferred to its partner star. This is called "Roche lobe overflow," and while there are several ways this process can go, each of them eventually ends in some form of merger between the two stars. As α Scorpii B gains mass, that mass will transfer to Antares. In narrative terms, I think we've been seeing this process for a while. The "mass," in this case, is interpreted as the ever-growing pile of mistakes and regrets that Amy has been trying to ignore since halfway through Worm, adding to the mass of Amy's star until it overcomes the limits of her mind can reasonably accept or explain away. I can see a final confrontation between the sisters where Victoria gets what she's always wanted. She finally, finally, is able to shake Amy to her senses and get her to understand, really understand, the pain and suffering that she selfishly inflicted on the person she claims to love more than anyone else in the world. The precarious pile of mistakes that she's been stuffing in the closet for the last two years finally grows too large, and she's suddenly overcome with all the disgust, shame, fear, regret, and despair that she's refused to feel since Gold Morning. Amy breaks down under the weight of her own actions. And when a cape breaks down, reality breaks with them. What happens then? Roche lobe overflow. Amy, finally understanding Victoria's pain, finally accepting that her actions were monstrous and unforgivable, goes Titan. Her mind can no longer bear the mass of her regrets, and that mass is transferred to her partner star. The cracks in reality caused by Amy's Titanization are deeper and more intense than any we've yet seen. Victoria is caught in them as they spread. α Scorpii A and α Scorpii B are merged into a single star, a single Antares, which we'll call Titan Serket. To further evidence this point, we know that shards have trouble distinguishing DNA, a la Case 70. Thanks to Amy's obsession, she now has Victoria's DNA grafted onto her own body. It doesn't seem unlikely, then, that the Titanization process would see Victoria as an extension of Amy and merge the two together out of ignorance or out of Shard-standard dark irony. Remember Contessa's "Option C?" Two members of Breakthrough die, one suffers long enough that it may as well be forever. I can think of no greater suffering for Victoria than to be eternally bound to the person whose presence has made her spend her life in fear. Part 6 - What Happens Next? Taylor's story ends with her becoming the system she sought to destroy. After years of being dragged through the dirt and suffering mockery from the death of her loved one, she finds an enemy who is devoid of purpose in life after the death of his companion and uses that to coax him into suicide. Victoria's story will end the same way. After years of trying to become her own person, always worried that Amy's manipulations changed her to the point of having no identity at all, Victoria and Amy will join forces as a Titan and use their powers to erase the individual desires of the Titans and force them into joining their Network. Victoria's nigh-unique relationship with the Fragile One leads me to believe that she's going to have some degree of individuality or free choice in the hypothetical Titan Serket situation. Therefore, like Fume Hood, she'll do everything she can to use that to the benefit of humanity. To that end, Victoria's new aura seems subtly important. What is causing conflict for the Titans? Effectively, it's lack of leadership. Without Scion as a hub, the Titans don't know where to go to complete the cycle, and each of them is vying for power, trying to create a new network centered around themselves. Who better, then, to get all the Titans on the same page, than a Titan whose power literally screams "Look at me! Admire me!" Then, consider that Victoria's "attraction" power is physically fused with (someone who used to be) a perfect biological manipulator. What's more, and this is admittedly a stretch, we know now that Victoria can enlarge and change the shape of her aura now that she's accepted it as part of her. What happens if Titan Serket can do that with her biology? If Amy and Victoria can combine forces to make a Titan with emotion- and logic-manipulating powers that has all the physical attributes of Scion? Finally, everyone was working together. Amy's new power post-shardspace-fuckery has been a subject of much speculation, and because it's such a vital piece of the puzzle that we're missing, I've avoided going into any speculation about it or basing any part of my argument on what it could potentially be. However, from a thematic standpoint, I find it likely that Amy's power has something to do with shard manipulation. As powers have generally gotten more aggressive, having a power that manipulates powers (i.e., shard anatomy instead of human anatomy) doesn't seem at all unlikely, and it would allow for some excellent bookending on Wildbow's part. Just as Khepri inflicted her own pain on Scion to end the fight in humanity's favor, Titan Serket will do the same to the other Titans, psychologically manipulating them into loving her so that they will all form a new network with her at the head. (This doesn't require Amy's power at all, since Victoria's Titanized aura could potentially be powerful enough to do it on its own, but it would be oh-so-sweet if it helped). This plays into Victoria's past with Amy for obvious reasons, but it also mirror's Taylor's experience with bullying. Taylor triggered because she was victimized. Because she felt like a bug. Victoria triggered because all eyes were on her. Because she felt the pressure of being the central figure in a critical situation. Now, she's forcing every Titan in the world to pay attention to her. To center their lives around her. Forcing them to love her and want to be with her, forever and ever, whether they want to or not. I'm saying . . . you know, there's this really simple, easy way to decide whether I'm a bad person. I love you, too.
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