This page Edit

I have some issues with this page. Some of the items listed, such as possible typos (p vs pi) and people or items being acted upon who can not be in the scene are legitimate (though I don't have the time to review the text and see if these are true), but other issues seem to be nitpicking and assumptions, which seem a bit arrogant when talking about a fictional universe someone else created.

Tomben 13:50, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

p vs pi Edit

There are many ways to describe angles, is this really an issue? I'll try to take a note of it when I re-read the book at some point. Tomben 13:50, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

Does a "cheesburg" contain cheese?Edit

Shortly after reaching orbit (p. 759 in the Atlantic Books trade paperback), Esma relates that Jules had been "speaking incoherently of cheese". First off, it is never made clear whether cheese is a part of Arbran cuisine; the "cheeseburg" is described as a sandwich which may or may not actually contain any fermented substances (compare with Raz's description of the small cubes in Jules's food as a "curd-like, fermented substance", which implies that cheese is unknown to him, or he would probably have compared it with cheese)

Cheese is not the only curd-like fermented substance. Tofu is a prominent alternate, and there are others. jameslucas (" " / +) 16:29, November 21, 2013 (UTC)

gaudi/gaudy Edit

im in the middle of the book and have encountered three gaudy. was there an antoni gaudi on this planet?

Can you clarify what you are referring to? "Gaudy" is a word that had etymology going back to the 1300's. Tomben 18:52, March 8, 2010 (UTC)
To follow up on the above, courtesy Wiktionary:
Origin uncertain; perhaps from gaud (“ornament, trinket”), itself perhaps from Old French gaudir (“to rejoice”).
A common claim that the word derives from Antoni Gaudí, designer of Barcelona's Sagrada Família Basilica, is not supported by evidence.
-- Matunos 08:58, June 5, 2011 (UTC)

Roots of UnityEdit


The chancel, the heart of the Mynster, had an octagonal floor-plan (as theors were more apt to put it, it had the symmetry group of the eighth roots of unity).


If this is what theors would call it, they're lacking a basic education in group theory. The eighth roots of unity is a cyclic group, and is a proper subgroup of the actual symmetry group of an octagon, which is a dihedral group.

This is strictly correct, but there's a way in which this "goof" might be ameliorated. To obtain the dihedral group (rather than the cyclic group) as the symmetry group of an octagon (or, more generally, any regular polygon) you have to allow reflections. In the plane, reflections are orientation-reversing, and it's possible that theors are tacitly restricting their attention to orientation-preserving symmetries.

The eighth roots of unity (visualized as points in the complex plane) are the vertices of a regular octagon and so it is reasonble to say that an octogan has the symmetry of the 8th roots of unity. That is different from saying that that the symmetry group is the group of 8th roots of unity. So I don't see anything wrong here.

The statement in the text (quoted above) makes the very precise claim that an octagon has as its symmetry group the eighth roots of unity; this is simply false. As you say, this is different from saying that an octagon has the symmetry *of* the eighth roots of unity (a somewhat vague statement), which is not what is written.

Striped dragons Edit

That assumes the stripes are of equal width.

Uhm... that's a dangerous slope to get into. If we assume different widths, then why stop at the color of the stripes? We could be considering the relative widths, for instance, or the absolute width, for that matter. Arguably, a dragon whose red stripes are two thirds of the blue ones is different from a dragon with a 1/4 ratio even if they have the same color combination. Or one inch-wide stripes would be completely different from two feet-wide ones. We end up having many more than ninety combinations total.
Can something be said to have "red stripes" if the non-red portions are equal to the red portions in width? If there is no width differential between the red and non-red portions, then the correct description of the object's appearance would be "red and ___ striped". So the stripes must be of lesser width than the base colour of the beast, meaning there would be a red striped blue and a blue striped red variant. Since variable width is not discussed in the original discussion, I don't it as a slope. The proposal is that we assume the dialogue in the book referred to equal stripe widths, but I think it is clear that since they did not use the terminology that would suggest that, this is not what they were getting at, and since variable width was not discussed they didn't concern themselves with that complexity.
Then you now have an infinite number of possible color combinations: one for each stripe width. Whether or not the differential in stripe size from one dragon to the next is distinguishable is based on entirely circumstantial conditions, such as how far away you happen to be from the nerve-gas farting dragon.
The actual width of the stripes wouldn't matter if we were to assume that whatever color makes up the majority of the dragon (i.e. greater than 50% of total surface area) is the base color and the color in the minority is the stripe color. Then we have a difference between a red-striped blue dragon and a blue-striped red dragon but we retain a finite and calculable number of dragons. Then, either we need to handle the case where the ratio is exactly even as a special case, or simply declare it impossible by dragon genetics.

Moving back to the original, assuming equal width stripes, I would posit one could still distinguish 90 rather than 45 possibilities. With it given that a) said dragon is a closed system (i.e. defined boundries, such as a nose and a tip of the tail), and b) that the stripes are time independent (i.e. they do not change like blinking lights on a christmas tree) the stripes must be linear or radial. Assuming a linear striping pattern (like a zebra) with the nose as the first stripe and the tip of the tail the last, one distinguishes red/blue from blue/red by the initialization state of the nose. Similarly, with a radial striping pattern (such as with a watermelon), it simply comes to choosing the position of the initial state, an international date line on the dragon, if you will (pun on given b intended). In either case this would apply equally whether the linear stripes were diagonal, or in the radial case if one choses poles other than the nose and tip.

Addendum to given a:

The farts may be a debatable point as to whether this is part of the dragon and whether they are closed or open and continuously expanding. The assumption of a well defined dragon is used here for simplicity, and whether the dragon (and/or its farts) is actually open or closed is a completely different discussion.

Addendum to given b:

We assume time independancy of the stripes for simplicity. But we have no way of verifying that the stripes are consistantly unchanging. No matter how long we observe the stripes not changing, it does not prove they do not change, we can only draw empirical conclusions. It may be that the stripes change color, but unless we observe this behavior, we cannot say definatively whether the dragon is striped one way or another, we can only speculate upon observations. In this sense, the dragon is indeterminate - we cannot know whether it is blue/red or red/blue - we only know what we observe. The striping on the dragon therefore is both at the same time, so realistically, we are looking at not 45, not 90, but really 180 different states that all exist equally. We can observe the dragon and see a specific state, but this is no reality about the dragon as a whole.

Addendum to premise of argument:

There's no "goof" here, because the discussion is not a point of conjecture from the author's point of view. Ironically, the above dialogue has found itself in the same position of the characters. In the middle of the discussion, we see the multiple opinions are being voiced as to how many colors can be identified, ranging from 8-100. Later on, the question of the nature of stripes and possibility of other variations even comes into play. The characters in the dialogue probably underwent similar arguments while expressing these opinions, which the author didn't expressly write out because it is implied. After all we are dealing with young students having a facetious debate over totally nonsensical things. This is not a point in the story where the author intends to portray consistent scientific theories to the scientifically-inclined reader, but rather a point where he means to express the remaining hints of playfullness and innocence that remain in characters of this age. The dialogue was not meant for clinical accuracy but to further develop the depth of the characters involved, portraying them as the coming-of-age students they are. (In fact, just a few pages prior Erasmas stated Arisbalt's age as nineteen in response to Arisbalt remarking of Erasmas' youth -- implying he's slightly younger still.) If a matter of internal consistently should still be questioned, their age deconstructs the premise that they will necessarily provide perfectly accurate answers anyway: the debate itself is facetious, the intent is playful, and the characters involved are by no means experts in any field. Throwing out rough estimations to continue to the premise rather than derailing the argument with semantics seems like a more realistic progression of such a conversation were it to take place among typical university students of their age. 

Antarct Edit

Issue At the Convox, the avout give the name "Antarct" to Earth. The reason is that in the picture on the Geometers' ship and with the blood vials, there is a large ice cap on the southern pole. (Presumably, the word "antarct" indicates "south" in Orth, as it does in English.) But how do the avout identify the south pole from the picture of the globe? Surely they wouldn't simply assume that "south is down", since they make no other cultural assumptions of the Geometers. If the planet is pictured so that its rotation axis lies in the plane of the drawing, the poles could be visually inferred if there are ice "caps" on two antipodal regions (also an equatorial bulge might be measurable which would let the poles be identified). But there would be no way to tell north from south.

Counter Z'havern mentions at the Massal that the ice cap is at the south pole, Barb laughs at this, so he has to correct himself to "or whichever pole we see at the bottom in the picture". It later turns out, Z'havern is an alien from that planet, so he would obviously know. This planet is identified as Earth by Durand (who uses the French name for the Earth) and literally as Earth by the Gan.

That's not responding to the claim at all.  The question is not "How can we (the reader, who knows where Antarctica is) be sure the land-mass is on the south pole", but "How did whoever named Earth "Antarct" be sure the landmass is on the south pole."

Actually, the term antarctic indicates simply the region opposite to the arctic. Arctic is from greek arktos meaning bear, so its the land of the bear, or as the bear in question refers to the constellation under the bear. Which in turn is only strictly true in a geocentric world view depicting a flat earth beneath stars tucked to a crystal sphere.
Antarct would then be an approximate translation of a term in Orth meaning the place on the globe farthest from whichever pole was mentioned first in traditional writings and named in some way consistent with local celestial signs and superstitions.
Note that said pole likely defines the equivalent of north.

|}I presume that If you look down upon Arbre from above the north pole it appears to be rotating counterclockwise with respect to its mother star (i.e. its sun). An Arbran looking at another planet, Earth in this case, would apply the same definition. If you look down upon Antarctica you will observe that the Earth is rotating clockwise, therefore you are looking at the South pole.

No presumption necessary. That Arbre rotates in the same direction as Earth is established when Cell 317 departs Tredegarh to the east and skips time-zones. jameslucas (" " / +) 01:29, February 28, 2014 (UTC)

Use of 'earth'Edit

Given that the HTW or meta-textual space of Anathem is significantly bullshytt invented by Stephenson who is unlike a God in his fallibility; then, the most reasonable explanation is that he done goofed or decided that this was an issue like "miles, feet, inches" where his made up language would impede the book. However, if we read the text in the light of the pink farting dragons discussion, and the attempts to construct reality through language (the fossil carpark experiment), we can enjoy the pun that Orolo and/or the Thousanders set the entire sequence of incidents up from the beginning by pointing his telescope to the pole to force a limited causal domain to read into being a general observation, and that instances where "earth" is used to refer to Arbre are instances of measurable causal domain shift.

Food vs Air Consumption Edit

Issue Jules would not be able to breathe Arbran air in addition to not being able to eat Arbran food (insofar as getting nutrition from it). Discussion The more basic the nucleus of an element, the more likely it is to be similar across the polycosmos. Hydrogen is the same across all cosmos, because it is but a single proton. The differences arise when the arrangements of the nucleus are different (isotopes). Oxygen is relatively similar across all cosmos, though not identical, which is why Erasmus and the other Avout suffered adverse symptoms when arriving on the Geometer's ship. However, the symptoms are similar to those suffered at higher altitudes, where there is less oxygen than at sea level. The body eventually adapts, by producing more red blood cells. It's worth considering that many metabolic functions are affeccted by elements and molecules in the natural environment- I too feel that to say that the Geometers only danger is starvation, and perhaps a slightly giddy feeling of altitude sickness is not a well thought out bit of plot. Consider the bit about blacking out- even if your red blood cells did increase in efficiency to take up more of the alien oxygen, you'd still black out- this is because it's not lack of oxygen that causes the breathing reflex, but an excess of carbon dioxide. If as Stephenson makes clear, alien carbohydrates cannot be digested, then it stands to reason that alien CO2 cannot trigger breathing. Hydrogen I'll grant you, it's dirt simple, and it's arguable you could even get a smidgen of good out of boosted levels of slightly different Oxygen. But carbon and CO2 are something of a show stopper, and for me, this bugged since the revalation of Jules. In terms of the story it gets dealt with rather perfunctorily in the last 50 pages, rather as a plot device to cover everyone blacking out, loosing conciousness and getting shuffled across naratives. Jules had been on Arbre for a period of time already, he would have grown accustomed to Arbran oxygen in the weeks before the Convox.

Counter Assumptions are being made here about a fictional universe with different laws of physics. If the creator of the universe says it works, we should assume it works. - Tomben (I did, and do, but I still contend this is a clear flaw in Stephenson's story) - Anonymous I see your point, but I think that is more of a literary criticism than a mistake on the part of the author. To me a goof is a typo or mistake that is not internally consistent. For instance in this page there are references to people talking who have been written out of the scene. Tomben 18:36, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

If you're eating food native to your cosmos, then the CO2 you're breathing out would be carbon from your own food, plus oxygen from whatever atmosphere you're breathing. - Anonymous

From a quantum chemistry standpoint, this actually seems remotely plausible.  We know from the description of Geometer's lasers that electronic energy levels are slightly different between cosmos. Hemoglobin works by allowing the iron in the heme group to bind with molecular oxygen, transporting it to metabolically active tissues where oxygen is used as an electron acceptor for respiration. Even if the electronic levels of alien oxygen are ever so slightly different, it could still work so long as alien oxygen can still accept electrons from our universe, perhaps at a slightly different efficiency (hence the need for acclimation). Complex carbohydrate digestion, however, requires recognition and processing via a series of large, complicated biological enzymes which are each tuned to the precise amount of activation energy needed to break specific carbon-carbon bonds in different breakdown products of your diet. If the bonds were of a slightly higher strength, then our enzymes just would flat out not work, at least until you tried to evolutionarily re-tune them in a lab.  In other words, it suits the premise of more complicated chemical interactions being incompatible between cosmos.- Alan.robot

Presence of 'rod' in the dictionary Edit

The verb "rod" is included in the Fourth Edition of The Dictionary, dated A.R. 3000. But the first instance of "rodding", which is presumably the origin of the word, did not occur until the Daban Urnud's visit to Arbre almost 700 years later.

Does the text actually say that this is the first instance of rodding? I could easily imagine rodding having taken place during the Terrible Events or other Praxic conflicts.
"Rodding" is described in the Dictionary as a general military term, not specific to the rodding of Ecba by the Geometers.
We have the term "Kinetic bombardment" in spite of the fact that there has never been such an act taken by man.

Etymology of 'Ita' Edit

According to The Dictionary, 4th Edition (p. 56 in the paperback edition of Anathem, location 1029 in the Kindle edition), "Ita" is derived from the acronym "ITA", in which the first two characters are agreed to have stood for "Information Technology", and the latter is variously speculated to have stood for one of "Authority, Associate, Arm, Archive, Aggregator, Amalgamated, Analyst, Agency, and Assistant". All of this is in "late Praxic Orth". Let's assume that "ITA" is a translation, and the actual initialism (and thus, acronym) differed in characters and pronunciation. Even accepting that, it seems highly unlikely that all of the Orthic words hypothesized to fit the third initial would all start with the same first letter in a completely different language from another cosmos.

In this case, the list of words may not have been translated exactly and literally from Orth. Instead, words in a similar vein may have been substituted, since the initial letter is more important than the exact meanings, just as someone translating a poem from one language to another may choose rhyming or alliteration over denotation. (If anyone knows a good example or two, please feel free to add.)

Fraa Jad's "fid" Edit

In the hardcover edition, while discussing his work as a thatcher, Fraa Jad states that he has yet to replace all the work of his "fid". Presumably from context he meant "pa" (or "fraa") instead.

  • That is most probably correct and is interpreted in the story as a hint at the superhuman (superarbrean) life span of Fraa Jad.
  • Fid is correct. The statement is meant to emphasize Jad's extreme age. If her were old enough to have a fid (student) who worked on the thatching, after he himself had presumably thatched them as a fid and now had to re-thatch yet again. It would imply he was somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 to 300 years old (the lifespan of a proper thatching being 100 years p354). This is a much more impressive figure considering that earlier in the text a lifespan if 130 years was not unheard of. If it were his Pa (teacher) or Fraa (brother) who had done the work originally the figures for jad's age are not nearly as impressive. An additional note, Avradale, Jad's fid was a Suur (sister) so Fraa shouldn't even be in this conversation.

Orolo's unviewable analemmaEdit

During Erasmus' conversation with Lio about "going over to the Antarcs" after the first messal, Lio proposes using the guidestar lasers to communicate with the geometers, explaining that "it can’t be intercepted by anyone who’s not right on the beam line." Later, when Erasmus meets with Ala at the open-air breakfast where the rucksacks and tags are handed out, she explains that Orolo had already done something like this: "Orolo had programmed the guidestar laser on the M & M to sweep out an analemma in the sky." Such an analemma would be visible only to viewers who happened to be already situated along its path, and to each of them only as a momentary flash of laser light.

A laser would be diffused by its passage through the atmosphere (note that its stated purpose is to analyze the atmosphere to correct for distortions). Someone with the laser pointed at or nearly at them would see the bright beam surrounded by a halo of scattered light, its size depending on the local atmospheric conditions. Very little light would be scattered a full 180 degrees from its original direction unless it hit a cloud or other object, so the laser would remain nearly undetectable to someone on the surface. This is probably a candidate for "not actually goofs".
"... It can’t be intercepted by anyone who’s not right on the beam line." What could possibly give you the idea that the Daban Urd wasn't directly on the beam line? I take it as read that Orolo knew to point the guide-star laser at them.
In order to perceive the tracing of the analemma they need to have been directly on the beam line the whole time. So you seem to be suggesting that Orolo was able to trace the analemma out on the surface of the icosahedron. The icosahedron is very large but it is also very far away (and moving in a non-trivial way relative to the position of the telescope) so this is difficult to do. Also, it seems that Orolo probably didn't know how big the icosahedron was when he did this. Even assuming that this is possible, though, we still need to posit the existence of enough laser detectors on the surface of the icosahedron to make sense of the signal; a telescope at a vertex is not enough since it will only detect a flash of light as the laser (briefly) points toward it. An analogy: we can trace an analemma on the side of a large apartment building with a laser pointer. If there are only a couple of windows on this face of the building, though, the people in the building will never figure out what we're doing. There need to be enough windows for people to reconstruct the signal based on when our laser shines in each window. Since the icosahedron's exterior in mostly rubble it seems to be more like the building with few windows.
The problem seems to be that you don't know how a guide star laser works. Such a laser works by stimulating the electrons of (partly ionized) particles in the upper atmosphere, such that they will emit visible light when they fall back to their original energy level. This has *nothing* to do with scattering, because it is absorption followed by emission in random directions. (Scattering is highly dependent on the angle of the incoming light.) The result is a long thin cylinder of glowing atmosphere that will look like a star when you look at it from a small angle. (e.g. from the ground, 10 meters away from the laser with the "star" being 100km or so up) Given good instruments and a relatively small angle between the laser beam (and thus the "artificial star cylinder") and observer, you could also see this "star" from the other direction and if you sweep the laser beam, the star will appear to move in  the atmosphere. The part of the atmosphere where the laser excites the particles forms a kind of "milk screen" that you could project a star or even (faint) pictures on and see them from front and behind.
Communication through laser beams is a different matter. For one thing, you will chose a wavelength that will *not* excite any particles along the path of the laser,  as that would weaken the signal. And you would of course communicate directly using the light of the laser and not indirectly using some radiation emitted through stimulation of particles.

-- Note, however, that Orolo had the guidestar laser sweeping out the analemma over a long period of time -- potentially for months -- with the beam intersecting the icosahedron's orbit and the icosahedron at multiple points on that orbital path, while the icosahedron was in a latitudinally-incremental polar orbit -- gradually passing over a wide variety of points in the spheroid "cloud" that was traced out by their polar orbit path over a sufficiently long period of time. Each particular flash of the laser (or, if one prefers, position of the icosahedron in orbit) could be plotted onto the surface of a sphere by the Geometers or by their syndev, with adjustments for deviation, by the ship, from the altitude (radius) of the spheric plot accounted for in the calculations, with the Geometers able to infer the whole path of the laser on said sphere tracing out the analemma, by plotting the curve of the analemma from the given points, similarly to how Ala and Erasmas used the flashes from the thrust nukes detonated as the ship passed across the disk of the Sun to plot the orbit of -- and resultant orbital adjustments to -- the ship [pgs. 295-296]. This satisfactorily answers the objections and explicative scenarios above, namely "In order to perceive the tracing of the analemma they need to have been directly on the beam line the whole time.", "Orolo was able to trace the analemma out on the surface of the icosahedron.", "milk screen" etcetera. Executive summary: The Geometers were able to apply the same plotting-points-along-a-curve geometry to the guide laser's intersection of their orbital path, to " ... decode [Orolo's] Analemma!", that Ala and Erasmas used to plot the Geometer's transition from a polar orbit to an equatorial one, and this scenario is lighter on the Steelyard. For illustration of this concept, see front cover of book.

-- This is a misunderstanding of how the guidstar laser works, on modern earth we use these lasers to excite the upper atmospher and analyze the light that scatters back down. They never go out into space. Orolo was using the M&M's laser to trace out a pattern in the upper atmosphere that was visible from orbit. I'm not sure how this works into the quote from Lio however.

Infrared lasers as a fire-starter Edit

Page 303. The relevant passage is:

Looking more closely at the Millenarian math I saw that a column of smoke was rising from behind its walls. I swallowed hard and got very upset for just a moment, thinking that the laser was setting fire to the place! Then my better sense got the upper hand. To burn things down, one would want an infrared laser, whose light would make things hot. By definition, this laser wan't infrared, because we could see it.

Raz (or presumably the author) makes a common mistake here, which is to confuse infrared radiation with heat. Any frequency of light will impart energy — e.g., when the light of the Sun warms your skin, the entire spectrum reaching you does so, and not just the infrared. Infrared is merely the band that things at everyday temperatures happen to do their blackbody radiating in. Visible or invisible, any laser beam of sufficient irradiance could set fires.

  • Counter. "Any frequency of light will impart energy" - that is certainly true, but the relevant point is that some frequencies are far better than others at imparting thermal energy. The wavelength of infrared radiation is such that it causes excitations in the form of molecular vibrations, and similarly microwaves cause molecular rotations; in both cases the result is the definition of heat. However, other wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation have different effects such as inducing an alternating current in a conductor (radio waves), exciting electrons to higher energy levels (ultraviolet) or ionizing them out of the atom (x-ray, gamma ray), etc. These are primarily non-thermal forms of energy. Infrared and microwave radiation are by far the most effective at heating things. Certainly, lasers of any frequency can be destructive in various ways, but the question here is only about heat, since Raz observes smoke, and correctly deduces that the laser is probably not the source of the fire, since visible light is relatively poor at heating things up. Imagine trying to heat up a bowl of soup with bright lights instead of a microwave.

Lord TredegarhEdit

In the Glossary, Tredegarh is given the title 'Lord', which is an English title. I cannot see any other example of aristocratic titles on Arbre. I suppose this is because Tredegarh is the Arbre equivalent of Lord Kelvin...

What about Lady Baritoe?

Latin Dipthong æEdit

How come "Sæcular" has it but not "Hylaea"?

Hylaea was the quasi-mythical daughter of Cnoüs, right? Was Old Orth in use back then, and is her name from Old Orth, or the same language that Cnoüs used, which uses an umlaut where no Orthic names do.
"Sæcular" as a word couldn't have come into use until there was a mathic world to contrast it to. It would seem to be a mathic conceit. Hylaea predates even the old mathic world by 1500 years.
Secondly, that isn't an umlaut in Cnoüs, it's a diaeresis, and is there purely to demonstrate pronunciation (see the language note, page xv). Though your point that the two vowel sounds next to each other isn't used in other languages or names is well taken.

Jesry and AlaEdit

It seemed to me that the subplot involving Jesry and Ala was never resolved. While Erasmas was stuck in quarantine, Jesry admitted that he and Ala were involved in a liason. This seemed like a set up for some sort of love-triangle subplot, but it was never addressed further. This felt like an oversight. But it wasn't really crucial to the plot. It does seem at least somewhat important, since the final scene in the novel is the wedding.

Liason is obviously a word for many kinds of romantic/sexual relationships.

The nature of the liason is not stated, merely that a liason had occurred.

This is equivalent to Jesry saying:

'dude, after you left, me and ala hooked up. 
I don't know if it's a thing, thats up to her, but i wanted to tell you.'

rather than:

'dude, i married your girlfriend'

Adrakhonic Theorem On Hull of HedronEdit

Wouldn't the fact that the aliens arrived in an interstellar spacecraft proof enough that the aliens understand geometry? I mean, what are the chances that a spaceship of that type could be constructed without understanding geometry?


They said that at first it was thought to be possible that it was organic (a large crystal) or natural in some way. When they say the proof and the symbols they realized that they were dealing with being with similar thought structures.

Also, the point wasn't that the aliens understand geometry (duh), it was that they care about geometry with enough intensity to use it as a coat of arms.
Actually,the issue was being able to communicate across any possible language barrier (across cosmi, for instance). Because the proof demonstrates a universal constant, it creates a common foundation upon which further understanding can be built (a fly-bat-worm situation). A similar system was employed on the Voyager II and Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts using a symbolic representation of the hydrogen molecule.

Spacesuit designEdit

I was a little surprised at the provision for defaecation in the spacesuit. It would not have been necessary if the wearers had been on a high energy low residue diet. That would remove the need to go for a few days.

Counter: Everyone poops. [See book of same name by Taro Gomi.] Cell 317 spent more than a week in their spacesuits. I doubt one could maintain one's energy and caloric needs for a week without eating solid food. I suggest removing this gripe about spacesuit design; if anything, the inclusion of Sanitary Elimination Cycles in the suits showed thoughtfulness on the part of the author.


The penultimate chapter devotes a lot of ink to the idea that there are Everything Killer devices and multiple detonators on board the ship -- and then nothing happens! It seems like a lot of suspense over a theme which is just dropped on the floor.


-I disagree - even if somewhat anti-climactic, the entire point of this chapter to clarify what was going on in the alternate timelines with Fraa Jad, at least one of which ends in Jad activating the Everything Killers. We learn that Jad was, in fact, trusted by the Panjadrums with a detonator, which is the device he is holding in the timeline where he is shot by the guards, and that he has somehow selectively pruned all possible outcomes until arriving at the one timeline where peace is achieved without activating the everything-killers. -Alan.robot

Alternate Counter

If we accept the premise that the brain is a quantum device capable of perceiving alternate "narratives" to some degree, than the activation of the "Everything Killers" in nearby narratives would have provided a powerful impetus for the Geometers to accept peace. Without understanding the source of the feeling, this effect could manifest as an overwhelming dread in life forms that are on the verge of non-existence. Fraa Jad was able to acheive an unlikely outcome (peace) precisely because he was able to demonstrate the likely result of other outcomes was widespread death. Furthermore, should the geometers fail to accept peace, there are now alternate narratives where Fraa Jad successfully destroyed much of their command structure--the Rhetors could potentially re-express that narrative if necessary (similar to the vanishing of the fossil).

"Cob" vs. "Corn"Edit

Issue On page 136, the origins and makeup of the tangle agricultural system are outlined. A tall, kernel-bearing plant called "cob" is described; the passage refers to "cob stalks" acting as trellises for the tangle. However, on page 799, while testing a surveillance syndev, Raz and Jesry spin a nonsensical story about how they used to make Everything Killer out of "cornstalks and shoelaces" back at Edhar. I suppose "cornstalks" could be a nonsensical word in Orth, but the Gardan's Steelyard would indicate otherwise. Counter The note to the reader at the beginning of the book explains that translations are not consistent, but designed for the English language reader. They could be two different plants on Arbre. It should also be noted that "corn" can refer to any grain. American English is unusual in that it uses the word almost exclusively to identify the crop that most English speakers call "maize."

Badges get a signal in the Faraday cageEdit

The characters confront Zh’vaern in a Farady cage so that the microphone he is wearing cannot send signals. After a bit of conversation, everyone's emergency badges receive a signal and light up with the evacuation plan. Faraday cages block transmission in both directions, so if the cage worked (and it did, because the Pedestal expressed their anger at being cut off) they couldn't have gotten the signal to evacuate.

Lio announced, “No cause for alarm. This is according to plan. What you’re hearing are controlled demolition charges, taking down sections of the outer wall—creating enough apertures for us to get out of the concent quickly, so we don’t bunch up at the Day Gate. The evacuation is under way. Look at your badges.”
I pulled mine out from under a fold of my bolt. It had come alive with a color map of my vicinity, just like the nav screen on a cartabla. My evacuation route was highlighted in purple.

Response: If the conductor from which a Faraday cage is made has holes in it (as the chicken wire from which the messallan's Faraday cage was made would), only electromagnetic waves whose wavelength is significantly larger than the holes will be attenuated or blocked. It could be the case that the Pedestal's monitoring technology uses a frequency in the megahertz range, meaning the wavelength would be anywhere from 300 meters to 30 centimeters -- much larger than the holes in the chicken wire they used. Given the parallels between cosmoses, it is likely that Arbre's communications regulators have has designated the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands for unlicensed use as communications regulators have on Earth, and the badges use one (or both) of those bands for communication; they would pass through the holes in a chicken wire Faraday cage provided the holes are larger than 2-5 inches. Even if the chicken wire did have holes too small to pass 2.4GHz or 5GHz signals or if Arbran wireless networking technology uses different frequencies that would be blocked by the Faraday cage, it is possible that the messallans are equipped with wireless access points (this likely would have been done as part of the preparations for evacuation) that are positioned within the Faraday cage, and whose backhauls would certainly be wired, or that the badges have some form of peer-to-peer networking and managed to receive the signal from someone else's badge who was outside the Faraday cage.

Another Response, more in line with the Steelyard: Lio, it should be noted, is not a part of the messalan, and was not in the room when the confrontation began. Instead, he enters through the door prior to the badge signals being received. By opening the door, of course, he has pierced the Faraday cage and it seems reasonable to presume the signals to the badges entered by that route.

This, however, brings up a secondary potential goof, which is that Jules' microphone signal could also then escape. Moreover, Lio brings with him the microphone from Juels' Urnudan watcher, who had been trapped in a similar cage in the kitchen. Presumably there was no shielding between the two cages (the Steelyard again: it would have been difficult enough to shield two rooms without ancillary efforts to cover other halls and rooms in the building), so it would have been able to transmit all of Lio's words and movements along the way.

These issues could be explained away by presuming the Lio and Jules each found some other way to disable the transmitters when they were removed, and so both were off by the time the cage was opened. This isn't stated but it would be a relatively minor detail, possibly as banal as a simple on/off switch, and hardly worth documenting.

Orbstack inconsistencies?Edit

I'm confused as to what the supposed inconsistencies to the Orbstack are. If the orbs were "packed" as described (with each stack rotated 45° from the prior), then everything seems consistent to me. I built a quick 3D model to try to visualize the Orbstack, and I don't think I'm mistaken.

The portals to the neighboring same-atmosphere orbs—for example, from the Laterran hospital on Orb Ten to Orbs Nine and Eleven—are described as "hanging in the air" and requiring a chair lift or stairs to reach. This would be consistent with a "twisted" stack; a less-efficient "straight" stack would find the portals at "sea level". (This is assuming that, for efficiency, the designers would have wanted the portals to be as close to the tangent points as practical, so there wouldn't have to be a long pressurized tube between the portals.)

The only issue arises in the numbering (and, concatenatively, the assignment to each Geometer race): in a straight stack, it's clear that Urnudan Orbs One through Four are all at the same angle to the central core, the Laterran orbs are opposite, and the Troän and Fthosian are at 90° angles. In the more efficient Orbstack, there are two possibilities for numbering the stacks:

  1. A "twisted strand" system, where Orb One is at 0°, Orb Two at 45°, Orb Three at 90°, and Orb Four at 135°
  2. A "braided strand" system, where Orb One is at 0°, Orb Two at 45°, Orb Three back at 0°, and Orb Four back at 45°

I can't find anything in the text that would definitively prove one geometry over the other.

There is a clue that the twisted strand organization is more likely: Erasmas does not mention making any turns in the walking path from the hospital to Orb Twelve. That would be consistent with Orb Twelve being 45° in one direction from Orb Eleven and Orb Ten being 45° in the other direction; the portals in Orb Eleven would face one another, and the walk would be across the diameter of the circular houseboat mat.

In the braided strand, the portals would make an acute obtuse angle to the center of the Orb, and it would seem likely there would be a catwalk to make the shortest route rather than going down to houseboat level and back up.

There is one statement in the text that could argue for the straight configuration: it is mentioned that under acceleration or maneuvering of Daban Urnud, the portals "had to be closed and dogged shut". In the straight stack, that would be necessitated by the water piling up against the aft side of the orb; the portal would be underwater, so it would have to be dogged shut lest the water flood into the aft orbs. This could be true, too, in the strand configurations, depending on how high the water gets pushed, but it isn't necessarily the case. TreyHarris (talk) 00:12, October 27, 2013 (UTC)

I appreciate the thought you put into this—I hadn't considered the "Braided strand" option, and my hat is off to you. I don't think we can let Mr Stephenson of the hook though. The "packed-orb" geometry is clearly described, but if you follow it's implications, you won't find any subset of it that can be called a "stack", and Mr Stephenson does just this. One such instance is this: "In a few minutes we came to the station in the Core where the forward-most Orbs—One, Five, Nine, and Thirteen—were connected. Each of these stood at the head of a stack of four". There's no way that the packed-orb method (either twisted or braided) generates a clearly defined head of a particular "stack". At best you could call each cosmos's domain a "strand" because it's so far from being linear or distinct. For similar reasons, no cosmo's group of four can have a "head": each of the four leadership-Orbs in necessarily touching two orbs of lesser prominence, its own and one alien one. If you really twist the language to accommodate the model, it kinds sorta works, but it's a really poor fit. jameslucas (" " / +) 21:56, November 8, 2013 (UTC)

The icosahedron's final orbit? Edit

Pardon me for not using page references, but I was listening to the audiobook, so I have none.

Erasmus witnesses the Daban Urnud making a course correction in his camera obscura.  Numerous times later in the book, it is implied that this is the last major course correction the ship makes.  People deduce that they are low on propellant-nukes, the military maneuvers to respond to the new posture, and so on.

Later, at Ecba, the lander re-enters from the Daban Urnud.  One orbital period later (around 90 minutes, consistant with a low orbit), the ship itself regains line of sight to the landing spot and rods the site.

However, when the group makes their orbital assault on the Daban Urnud, they enter a low (90 minute period) orbit, and the Daban Urnud is described as being in a much higher (25 hour period) orbit.  At some point near the end of the process of climbing to the higher orbit, Erasmus even muses that he has now entered the orbit that he saw the Daban Urnud achieve so long ago.

This seems to be an inconsistancy that I cannot reconcile.  Was there another orbital change that I missed?  Did I misunderstand the timing at the Ecba site?  Or is this another ghost of an earlier draft that was never properly expunged?

I'm a little confused about this as well, but I believe Daban Urnud was always in a 90 minute period orbit. The changes made by the Urnud were to change its plane, not its period - from a polar orbit (useful for surveillance) to an eccentric equatorial orbit (useful because it covers inhabited areas more of the time). I'm not sure exactly what kind of orbit Raz and co started in. I think it was an orbit in generally the same plane and period os the Daban Urnud, but they had to use their monyafeeks and the counterweight to fling them into the final trajectory.

Use of Fluccish within the math Edit

There's no reason why Tulia, who was found at the Day Gate as a newborn and was raised entirely in the concent, would speak Fluccish. However, when she and the others from Saunt Edhar's are Evoked, the she is among the Tenners paired with Hundreders who don't speak Fluccish.


Tulia was raised in the Unarian math for some years before going through the labyrinth to the Decarian math, and thus had opportunities to learn Fluccish, as most in the Unarian math are there for a only a few years before returning to the sæculum and Orth is known to be too difficult to be adopted entirely so quickly. Indeed, a fair amount of Fluccish may be spoken in the Tenner's math as well, because they have to be able to talk to newly collected fids. Barb's lessons in mathematics and physics clearly exceed the nuances of his "first-year Orth," which barely allows him to utter a simple imperative after six months.

Looking out of the concent Edit

Proposed textEdit

When Lio proposes the weed war to Erasmas, both fraas acknowledge that they are not supposed to look at the land beyond the concent. This, however, contradicts the behavior of other avout in multiple instances:

  • Orolo has a favorite seat in the refectory from which he can look out at distant mountains.
  • The avout of Saunt Muncoster watch the construction of a nearby parking garage in 2780.
  • Lio's doyn hails from "a small math on top of a skyscraper in a big city that is the middle of a sectarian holy war."

Or is this a rule that only pertains to the Fendant courts? jameslucas (" " / +) 18:00, February 26, 2014 (UTC)

Replacement bell ringers Edit

When Erasmas and Arsibalt are departing Shuf's Dowment after Erasmas's first visit, Erasmas notes that younger fraas have begun to assume clockwinding duties a few days a week. As these new winders would be about 8 or 9 years old, it seems unlikely that they'd be able to able to replace the whole elder team. —jameslucas (" " / +) 16:52, April 18, 2014 (UTC)

Ink Edit

Given how much detail we're given about leaves and page trees, the ink that goes onto those leaves is seriously shortchanged. Vegetable-based inks are not suitable for archival purposes, and it's unlikely that avout would have reliable access to petroleum products such as lamp black, so there's no obvious formula for the ink being used in the scriptorium. jameslucas (" " / +) 15:10, April 28, 2014 (UTC)

Jules rambling about "cheese": he's probably just shouting "Jesus!" in a French accent, and they thought he was saying "cheese".

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