|Snow Crash (excerpts)||By: Neal Stephenson|
2.a. Anything resembling snow.
b. The white specks on a television screen
resulting from weak reception.
crash v. -infr.
[L. virus slimy liquid, poison, offensive
odour or taste.]
1. Venom, such as is emitted by
a poisonous animal.
2. Path. a. A morbid principle or poisonous
substance produced in the body as the
result of some disease, esp. one capable
of being introduced into other persons or
animals by inoculations or otherwise and
of developing the same disease in them.
3. fig. A moral or intellectual poison, or
poisonous influence. -Oxford English Dict.
Snow Crash. p. 1
Excerpts from Snow Crash (1992).
Wikipedia article on Snow Crash
(Author's Acknowledgements (pps. 305-6)
follows the Wikipedia article.)
Excerpts from Snow Crash related to:
(primarily the Sumerian language)
■ (Tab# 3 introduces two characters
mentioned in the excerpts:
"Lagos" and the "Librarian".)
Snow Crash is Neal Stephenson's third novel, published in 1992. Like many of Stephenson's other novels it covers history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, memetics and philosophy.
Stephenson explained the title of the novel in his 1999 essay In the Beginning... was the Command Line as his term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. Stephenson wrote about the Macintosh that "When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set — a 'snow crash'". Stephenson also mentioned a book by Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, as one of the main influences for Snow Crash.
The book presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program which he called a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah (a re-interpretation of the ancient Near Eastern story of the Tower of Babel).
Snow Crash was nominated for both the British Science Fiction Award in 1993, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1994.
The story begins in Los Angeles in the 21st century, no longer part of the United States. The federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power and territory to private organizations and entrepreneurs. Franchising, individual sovereignty, and private vehicles reign supreme over the landscape (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion). Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in sovereign, gated housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.
Much of the territory ceded by the government has been carved up into sovereign enclaves, each run by its own big business franchise (such as "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong", or the corporatized American Mafia) or the various residential burbclaves (suburban enclaves). This arrangement resembles anarcho-capitalism, a theme Stephenson carries over to his next novel The Diamond Age. As described in both novels and the short story "The Great Simoleon Caper", hyperinflation has sapped the value of the U.S. dollar to the extent that trillion dollar bills — Ed Meeses — are nearly disregarded and the quadrillion dollar note — the Gipper — is the standard 'small' bill. Hyperinflation encouraged people to instead use electronic currency which is exchanged in encrypted online transactions and is hence untaxable. For physical transactions they resort to alternative, non-hyperinflated currencies such as yen or "Kongbucks" (the official currency of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong). Hyperinflation has also negatively affected much of the rest of the world (with some exceptions like Japan), resulting in waves of desperate refugees from Asia who cross the Pacific in rickety ships hoping to arrive in North America.
The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson's vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling a Massively multiplayer online game (MMO), the Metaverse is populated by user-controlled avatars as well as system daemons. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representations of themselves as low-quality avatars. Status in the Metaverse is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen, which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one's avatar.
At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Hiro Protagonist, discovers the name of a new pseudo-narcotic, "Snow Crash", being offered at an exclusive Metaverse nightclub. Hiro's friend and fellow hacker Da5id falls victim to Snow Crash's effects, which are apparently unique in that they are experienced in the Metaverse and also in the physical world. Hiro uses his computer hacking, sharp cognitive skills, and sword-fighting to uncover the mystery of "Snow Crash"; his pursuit takes the reader on a tour of the Sumerian culture, a fully instantiated anarcho-capitalist society, and a virtual meta-society patronized by financial, social, and intellectual elites. As the nature of Snow Crash is uncovered, Hiro finds that self-replicating strings of information can affect objects in a uniform manner even though they may be broadcast via diverse media, a realization that reinforces his chosen path in life.
The protagonist is the aptly named Hiro Protagonist, whose business card reads "Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world." When Hiro loses his job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, he meets a streetwise fifteen-year old girl nicknamed Y.T. (short for Yours Truly), who works as a skateboard Kourier (courier), and they decide to become partners in the intelligence business (selling data to the CIC, the for-profit organization that evolved from the CIA's merger with the Library of Congress).
The pair soon learn of a dangerous new drug called "Snow Crash" that is both a computer virus capable of infecting the machines of unwise hackers in the Metaverse and a crippling CNS virus in Reality. It is distributed by a network of Pentecostal churches via its infrastructure and belief system. As Hiro and Y.T. dig deeper (or are drawn in) they discover more about Snow Crash and its connection to ancient Sumerian culture, the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife, and his aircraft carrier of refugee boat people who speak in tongues. Also, both in the Metaverse and in Reality, they confront one of Rife's minions, an Aleut harpoon master named Raven whose motorcycle's sidecar packs a nuke wired to go off should Raven ever be killed. Raven has never forgiven the United States for the way they handled the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands or for the nuclear testing on Amchitka.
Hiro, at the prompting of his Catholic ex-girlfriend Juanita Marquez, a designer of facial expressions for avatars, begins to unravel the nature of this crisis. It relates back to the mythology of ancient Sumer, which Stephenson describes as speaking a very powerful ur-language. Sumerian is to modern "acquired languages" as assembly language is to high level programming languages: it affects the entity (be it human or computer) at a far lower and more basic level than does acquired/programming language. Sumerian is rooted in the brain stem and related to glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues" — a trait displayed by most of L. Bob Rife's convertees. Furthermore, Sumerian culture was ruled and controlled via "me", the human-readable equivalent of software which contains the rules and procedures for various activity (harvests, the baking of bread, etc.). The keepers of these important documents were priests referred to as en; some of them, like the god/semi-historical-figure Enki, could write new me, making them the equivalent of programmers or hackers.
As Stephenson describes it, one goddess/semi-historical figure, Asherah, took it upon herself to create a dangerous biolinguistic virus and infect humanity with it; this virus was stopped by Enki, who used his skills as a "neurolinguistic hacker" to create an inoculating "nam-shub" that would protect humanity by making it impossible to use and respond to the Sumerian tongue. This forced the creation of "acquired languages" and gave rise to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Unfortunately, Asherah's meta-virus did not disappear entirely, as the "Cult of Asherah" continued to spread it by means of cult prostitutes and infected women breastfeeding orphaned infants; this weakened form of the virus is compared to herpes simplex. Furthermore, Rife has been sponsoring archaeological expeditions to the Sumerian city of Eridu, and has found enough information on the Sumerian tongue to reconstruct it and use it to work his will on humanity. He has also found the nam-shub of Enki, which he is protecting at all costs.
Hiro makes his way to Rife's Raft, a massive floating refugee encampment built around Rife's converted personal yacht, the former USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. Juanita has already infiltrated the Raft in order to learn neurolinguistic hacking and help overthrow Rife. Y.T. is captured by Rife's followers and is taken to the Raft, where she becomes sexually involved with Raven for a short time and is eventually taken hostage by Rife personally. While hostage, Y.T. delivers the nam-shub of Enki to Hiro, who together with Juanita uses it to save those infected by the virus. Hiro then accesses the Metaverse and foils Raven's attempt to widely disseminate the Snow Crash virus to a collection of the hacker elite. Meanwhile, Y.T. is brought to the mainland by Rife, where she escapes. Rife and Raven proceed to an airport; subsequently they are confronted by the owner of the Mafia Franchise, Uncle Enzo. A battle ensues: A critically wounded Enzo disarms Raven, while Rife is killed and his virus destroyed by Fido; a dog-sized cybernetic guard unit known as a "Rat Thing". Fido had been rescued by Y.T. previously and retained his memories of her. Accelerating beyond Mach 1, Fido propels himself into the engine of L. Bob Rife's plane, destroying the aircraft with Rife on board. The novel ends with Y.T. driving home with her mother, and with hints of a rekindled relationship between Hiro and Juanita.
Rat Things, also known as semi-autonomous guard units, are cybernetic personal defensive guards found in and around Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong. Approximately the size of an adult Pit Bull, Rat Things are named for their long, flexible tail. Rat Things are made from pit bull terriers, surgically augmented with cybernetic components. Rat Things were invented by Mr. Ng, of Ng Security Industries, who was severely handicapped after a helicopter accident in Vietnam. Like the Rat Things, Mr. Ng is also a cyborg.
Rat Things remember their previous lives as dogs. They can also communicate with other Rat Things by "barking" in the Metaverse. Although their minds are largely controlled by their implants, they can sometimes act independently of their programming. When in the Metaverse and not performing guard duties, Rat Things experience running on endless beaches, playing in the surf, eating steaks that grow on trees, and blood-drenched Frisbees floating around, waiting to be caught.
Like other technology in Snow Crash, Rat Things are powered by a nuclear isotope battery, which requires extensive cooling due to the massive amount of waste heat generated. The Rat Things are passively cooled by a system of heat sinks that are only effective when the Rat Thing runs fast enough to move ambient air across the fins. To prevent rapid overheating when stationary, they must remain in their hutches (effectively dog houses), where they are continuously sprayed by jets of refrigerant. Through running, Rat Things are capable of breaking the sound barrier (about 768 mph at sea level), although this is not typically permitted by Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong's "good neighbor" policies due to noise reasons. Because they must be either moving at high velocities or actively cooled in their hutches, Rat Things are rarely seen by human eyes and few people know what they look like.
A fictional type of wheel prominently used on skateboards and advanced motorcycles. They consist of small segments of contact surface mounted on telescoping spokes, allowing the wheel to take the shape of cracks, curbs, and bumps. They have a passing mention in The Diamond Age as being used on a wheelchair belonging to a minor character.
Reason is a railgun in a rotary cannon configuration which fires depleted uranium flechettes. It is mounted to a large, wheeled ammunition box and is equipped with a harness for user comfort, a nuclear battery pack, and a water-cooled heat exchanger. The weapon, created by Ng, was still in beta testing, and suffers a software crash during a battle. Hiro is later able to apply a firmware update, and uses it until its ammunition supply is depleted. It bears, in inscription on its nameplate, the Latin phrase Ultima Ratio Regum, "the last argument of kings" (i.e. violence).
The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix "meta" (meaning "beyond") and "universe" and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.
Stephenson's Metaverse appears to its users as an urban environment, developed along a single hundred-meter-wide road, the Street, that runs the entire 65536 km (216 km) circumference of a featureless, black, perfectly spherical planet. The virtual real estate is owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group, a fictional part of the real Association for Computing Machinery, and is available to be bought and buildings developed thereupon.
Users of the Metaverse gain access to it through personal terminals that project a high-quality virtual reality display onto goggles worn by the user, or from low-quality public terminals in booths (with the penalty of presenting a grainy black and white appearance). Stephenson also describes a sub-culture of people choosing to remain continuously connected to the Metaverse by wearing portable terminals, goggles and other equipment; they are given the sobriquet "gargoyles" due to their grotesque appearance. The users of the Metaverse experience it from a first person perspective.
Within the Metaverse, individual users appear as avatars of any form, with the sole restriction of height, "to prevent people from walking around a mile high". Transport within the Metaverse is limited to analogs of reality by foot or vehicle, such as the monorail that runs the entire length of the Street, stopping at 256 Express Ports, located evenly at 256 km intervals, and Local Ports, one kilometer apart.
This book germinated in a collaboration between me and the artist Tony Sheeder, the original goal of which was to publish a computer-generated graphic novel.
In general, I handled the words and he handled the pictures; but even though this work consists almost entirely of words, certain aspects of it stem from my discussions with Tony.
This novel was very difficult to write, and I received a great deal of good advice from my agents Liz Darhansoff, Chuck Vernil, and Denise Stewart, who read early drafts. Other people subjected to the early drafts were Tony Sheeder, Dr. Steve Horst of Wesleyan University, who made extensive and very lucid comments on everything having to do with brains and computers (and who suddenly came down with a virus about one hour after reading it); and my brother-in-law, Steve Wiggins, currently at the University of Edinburgh, who got me started on Asherah to begin with and also fed me useful papers and citations as I thrashed around pitifully in the Library of Congress.
Marco Kaltofen, as usual, functioned in the same quick, encyclopedic way as the Librarian when I had questions about certain whys and wheres of the toxic-waste business. Richard Green, my agent in L.A., gave me some help with the geography of that town.
Bruck Pollock read the galleys attentively, but with blistering speed, and made several useful suggestions. He was the first and certainly not the last to point out that BIOS actually stands for "Basic Input/Output System," not "Built-In Operating System" as I have it here (and as it ought to be); but I feel that I am entitled to trample all other considerations into the dirt in my pursuit of a satisfying pun, so this part of the book is unchanged.
The idea of a "virtual reality" such as the Metaverse is by now widespread in the computer-graphics community and is being implemented in a number of different ways. The particular vision of the Metaverse as expressed in this novel originated from idle discussion between me and Jaime (Captain Bandwidth) Taaffe — which does not imply that blame for any of the unrealistic or tawdry aspects of the Metaverse should be placed on anyone but me. The words "avatar" (in the sense used here) and "Metaverse" are my inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as "virtual reality") were simply too awkward to use.
In thinking about how the Metaverse might be constructed, I was influenced by the Apple Human Interface Guidelines, which is a book that explains the philosophy behind the Macintosh. Again, this point is made only to acknowledge the beneficial influence of the people who compiled said document, not to link these poor innocents with its results.
In a nice twist, which I include only because it is pleasingly self-referential, I became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Macintosh during the early phases of the doomed and maniacal graphic-novel project when it became clear that the only way to make the Mac do the things we needed was to write a lot of custom image-processing software. I have probably spent more hours coding during the production of this work than I did actually writing it, even though it eventually turned away from the original graphic concept, rendering most of that work useless from a practical viewpoint.
Finally, it should be pointed out that when I wrote the Babel material, I was standing on the shoulders of many, many historians and archaeologists who actually did the research; most of the words spoken by the Librarian originated with these people and I have tried to make the Librarian give credit where due, verbally footnoting his comments like a good scholar, which I am not.
After the first publication of Snow Crash, I learned that the term "avatar" has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called Habitat, developed by F. Randall Farmer and Chip Morningstar. This system runs on Commodore 64 computers, and though it has all but died out in the U.S., is still popular in Japan. In addition to avatars, Habitat includes many of the basic features of the Metaverse as described in this book.
By way of answering his question, she says, "I have an associate I'd like you to meet. A gentleman and a scholar named Lagos. He's a fascinating guy to talk to."
"Is he your boyfriend?"
She thinks this one over rather than lashing out instantaneously. "My behavior at The Black Sun to the contrary, I don't fuck every male I work with. And even if I did, Lagos is out of the question."
"Not your type?"
"Not by a long shot."
"What is your type, anyway?"
"Old, rich, unimaginative blonds with steady careers."
This one almost slips by him. Then he catches it. "Well, I could dye my hair. And I'll get old eventually."
She actually laughs. It's a tension-releasing kind of outburst. "Believe me, Hiro, I'm the last person you want to be involved with at this point."
"Is this part of your church thing?" he asks. Juanita has been using her excess money to start her own branch of the Catholic church — she considers herself a missionary to the intelligent atheists of the world.
"Don't be condescending," she says. "That's exactly the attitude I'm fighting. Religion is not for simpletons."
"Sorry. This is unfair, you know — you can read every expression on my face, and I'm looking at you through a fucking blizzard."
"It's definitely related to religion," she says. "But this is so complex, and your background in that area is so deficient, I don't know where to begin."
"Hey, I went to church every week in high school. I sang in the choir."
"I know. That's exactly the problem. Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bullshit, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds."
"So none of that stuff I learned in church has anything to do with what you're talking about?"
Juanita thinks for a while, eyeing him. Then she pulls a hypercard out of her pocket. "Here. Take this."
As Hiro pulls it from her hand, the hypercard changes from a jittery two-dimensional figment into a realistic, cream-colored, finely textured piece of stationery. Printed across its face in glossy black ink is a pair of words
The world freezes and grows dim for a second. The Black Sun loses its smooth animation and begins to move in fuzzy stop-action. Clearly, his computer has just taken a major hit; all of its circuits are busy processing a huge bolus of data — the contents of the hypercard — and don't have time to redraw the image of The Black Sun in its full, breathtaking fidelity.
"Holy shit!" he says, when The Black Sun pops back into full animation again.
"What the hell is in this card? You must have half of the Library in here!"
"And a librarian to boot," Juanita says, "to help you sort through it. And lots of MPEG of L. Bob Rife — which accounts for most of the bytes."
"Well, I'll try to have a look at it," he says dubiously.
"Do. Unlike Da5id, you're just smart enough to benefit from this. And in the meantime, stay away from Raven. And stay away from Snow Crash. Okay?"
"Who's Raven?" he asks. But Juanita is already on her way out the door. The fancy avatars all turn around to watch her as she goes past them; the movie stars give her drop-dead looks, and the hackers purse their lips and stare reverently.
But first things first. The Babel/Infopocalypse card is still in his avatar's pocket. He takes it out.
One of the rice-paper panels that make up the walls of his office slides open. On the other side of it, Hiro can see a large, dimly lit room that wasn't there before; apparently Juanita came in and made a major addition to his house as well. A man walks into the office. The Librarian daemon looks like a pleasant, fiftyish, silverhaired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a work shirt, with a coarsely woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The tie is loosened, the sleeves pushed up. Even though he's just a piece of software, he has reason to be cheerful; he can move through the nearly infinite stacks of information in the Library with the agility of a spider dancing across a vast web of cross-references. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software that costs even more than Earth; the only thing he can't do is think.
"Yes, sir," the Librarian says. He is eager without being obnoxiously chipper, he clasps his hands behind his back, rocks forward slightly on the balls of his feet, raises his eyebrows expectantly over his half-glasses.
"Babel's a city in Babylon, right?"
"It was a legendary city," the Librarian says. "Babel is a Biblical term for Babylon. The word is Semitic; Bab means gate and El means Cod, so Babel means 'Gate of God.' But it is probably also somewhat onomatopoeic, imitating someone who speaks in an incomprehensible tongue. The Bible is full of puns."
"They built a tower to Heaven and God knocked it down."
"This is an anthology of common misconceptions. God did not do anything to the Tower itself. 'And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth.' Genesis 11:6-9, Revised Standard Version."
"So the tower wasn't knocked down. It just went on hiatus."
"Correct. It was not knocked down."
"But that's bogus?'
"Provably false. Juanita believes that nothing is provably true or provably false in the Bible. Because if it's provably false, then the Bible is a lie, and if it's provably true, then the existence of God is proven and there's no room for faith. The Babel story is provably false, because if they built a tower to Heaven and God didn't knock it down, then it would still be around somewhere, or at least a visible remnant of it."
"In assuming that it was very tall, you are relying on an obsolete reading. The tower is described, literally, as 'its top with the heavens.' For many centuries, this was interpreted to mean that its top was so high that it was in the heavens. But in the last century or so, as actual Babylonian ziggurats have been excavated, astrological diagrams — pictures of the heavens — have been found inscribed into their tops."
"Oh. Okay, so the real story is that a tower was built with heavenly diagrams carved into its top. Which is far more plausible than a tower that reaches to the heavens."
"More than plausible," the Librarian reminds him. "Such structures have actually been found."
"Anyway, you're saying that when God got angry and came down on them, the tower itself wasn't affected. But they had to stop building the tower because of an informational disaster — they couldn't talk to each other."
"'Disaster' is an astrological term meaning 'bad star," the Librarian points out. "Sorry — but due to my internal structure, I'm a sucker for non sequiturs."
"That's okay, really," Hiro says. "You're a pretty decent piece of ware. Who wrote you, anyway?"
"For the most part I write myself," the Librarian says. "That is, I have the innate ability to learn from experience. But this ability was originally coded into me by my creator."
"Who wrote you? Maybe I know him," Hiro says. "I know a lot of hackers."
"I was not coded by a professional hacker, per se, but by a researcher at the Library of Congress who taught himself how to code," the Librarian says. "He devoted himself to the common problem of sifting through vast amounts of irrelevant detail in order to find significant gems of information. His name was Dr. Emanuel Lagos."
"I've heard the name," Hiro says. "So he was kind of a metalibrarian. That's funny, I guessed he was one of those old CIA spooks who hangs around in the CIC."
"He never worked with the CIA."
"Okay. Let's get some work done. Look up every piece of free information in the Library that contains L. Bob Rife and arrange it in chronological order. The emphasis here is on free."
"Television and newspapers, yes, sir. One moment, sir," the Librarian says. He turns around and exits on crepe soles. Hiro turns his attention to Earth. The level of detail is fantastic. The resolution, the clarity, just the look of it, tells Hiro, or anyone else who knows computers, that this piece of software is some heavy shit.
It's not just continents and oceans. It looks exactly like the earth would look from a point in geosynchronous orbit directly above L.A.. complete with weather systems — vast spinning galaxies of clouds, hovering just above the surface of the globe, casting gray shadows on the oceans — and polar ice caps, fading and fragmenting into the sea. Half of the globe is illuminated by sunlight, and half is dark. The terminator — the line between night and day — has just swept across L.A. and is now creeping across the Pacific, off to the west.
Everything is going in slow motion. Hiro can see the clouds change shape if he watches them long enough. Looks like a clear night on the East Coast. Something catches his attention, moving rapidly over the surface of the globe. He thinks it must be a gnat. But there are no gnats in the Metaverse. He tries to focus on it. The computer, bouncing low-powered lasers off his cornea, senses this change in emphasis, and then Hiro gasps as he seems to plunge downward toward the globe, like a space-walking astronaut who has just fallen out of his orbital groove. When he finally gets it under control, he's just a few hundred miles above the earth, looking down at a solid bank of clouds, and he can see the gnat gliding along below him. It's a low-flying CIC satellite, swinging north to south in a polar orbit.
"Your information, sir," the Librarian says.
Hiro startles and glances up. Earth swings down and out of his field of view and there is the Librarian, standing in front of the desk, holding out a hypercard. Like any librarian in Reality, this daemon can move around without audible footfalls.
"Can you make a little more noise when you walk? I'm easily startled," Hiro says.
"It is done, sir. My apologies."
Hiro reaches out for the hypercard. The Librarian takes half a step forward and leans toward him. This time, his foot makes a soft noise on the tatami mat, and Hiro can hear the white noise of his trousers sliding over his leg.
Hiro takes the hypercard and looks at it. The front is labeled Results of Library Search on:
Rife, Lawrence Robert
He flips the card over. The back is divided into several dozen fingernail-sized icons. Some of them are little snapshots of the front pages of newspapers. Many of them are colorful, glowing rectangles: miniature television screens showing live video. "That's impossible," Hiro says. "I'm sitting in a VW van, okay? I'm jacked in over a cellular link. You couldn't have moved that much video into my system that fast."
"It was not necessary to move anything," the Librarian says.
"All existing video on L. Bob Rife was collected by Dr. Lagos and placed in the Babel/Infopocalypse stack, which you have in your system."
It's a gargoyle, standing in the dimness next to a shanty. Just in case he's not already conspicuous enough, he's wearing a suit. Hiro starts walking toward him. Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider, these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society. They are a boon to Hiro because they embody the worst stereotype of the CIC stringer. They draw all of the attention. The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is that you can be in the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time.
The CIC brass can't stand these guys because they upload staggering quantities of useless information to the database, on the off chance that some of it will eventually be useful. It's like writing down the license number of every car you see on your way to work each morning, just in case one of them will be involved in a hit-and-run accident. Even the CIC database can only hold so much garbage. So, usually, these habitual gargoyles get kicked out of CIC before too long.
This guy hasn't been kicked out yet. And to judge from the quality of his equipment — which is very expensive — he's been at it for a while. So he must be pretty good. If so, what's he doing hanging around this place?
"Hiro Protagonist," the gargoyle says as Hiro finally tracks him down in the darkness beside a shanty. "CIC stringer for eleven months. Specializing in the Industry. Former hacker, security guard, pizza deliverer, concert promoter." He sort of mumbles it, not wanting Hiro to waste his time reciting a bunch of known facts.
The laser that kept jabbing Hiro in the eye was shot out of this guy's computer, from a peripheral device that sits above his goggles in the middle of his forehead. A long-range retinal scanner. If you turn toward him with your eyes open, the laser shoots out, penetrates your iris, tenderest of sphincters, and scans your retina. The results are shot back to CIC, which has a database of several tens of millions of scanned retinas. Within a few seconds, if you're in the database already, the owner finds out who you are. If you're not already in the database, well, you are now.
Of course, the user has to have access privileges. And once he gets your identity, he has to have more access privileges to find out personal information about you. This guy, apparently, has a lot of access privileges. A lot more than Hiro.
"Name's Lagos," the gargoyle says.
So this is the guy. Hiro considers asking him what the hell he's doing here. He'd love to take him out for a drink, talk to him about how the Librarian was coded. But he's pissed off. Lagos is being rude to him (gargoyles are rude by definition).
"You here on the Raven thing? Or just that fuzz-grunge tip you've been working on for the last, uh, thirty-six days approximately?" Lagos says. Gargoyles are no fun to talk to. They never finish a sentence. They are adrift in a laser-drawn world, scanning retinas in all directions, doing background checks on everyone within a thousand yards, seeing everything in visual light, infrared, millimeter. wave radar, and ultrasound all at once. You think they're talking to you, but they're actually poring over the credit record of some stranger on the other side of the room, or identifying the make and model of airplanes flying overhead. For all he knows, Lagos is standing there measuring the length of Hiro's cock through his trousers while they pretend to make conversation.
The Babel/Infopocalypse card is resting in the middle of his desk. Hiro picks it up. The Librarian comes in.
Hiro is about to ask the Librarian whether he knows that Lagos is dead. But it's a pointless question. The Librarian knows it, but he doesn't. If he wanted to check the Library, he could find out in a few moments. But he wouldn't really retain the information. He doesn't have an independent memory.
The Library is his memory, and he only uses small parts of it at once.
"What can you tell me about speaking in tongues?" Hiro says.
"The technical term is 'glossolalia,'" the Librarian says.
"Technical term? Why bother to have a technical term for a religious ritual?"
The Librarian raises his eyebrows. "Oh, there's a great deal of technical literature on the subject. It is a neurological phenomenon that is merely exploited in religious rituals."
"It's a Christian thing, right?"
"Pentecostal Christians think so, but they are deluding themselves. Pagan Greeks did it — Plato called it theornania. The Oriental cults of the Roman Empire did it. Hudson Bay Eskimos, Chukchi shamans, Lapps, Yakuts, Semang pygmies, the North Borneo cults, the Trhi-speaking priests of Ghana. The Zulu Amandiki cult and the Chinese religious sect of Shang-ti-hui. Spirit mediums of Tonga and the Brazilian Umbanda cult. The Tungus tribesmen of Siberia say that when the shaman goes into his trance and raves incoherent syllables, he learns the entire language of Nature."
"The language of Nature."
"Yes, sir. The Sukuma people of Africa say that the language is kinatuns, the tongue of the ancestors of all magicians, who are thought to have descended from one particular tribe."
"What causes it?"
"If mystical explanations are ruled out, then it seems that glossolalia comes from structures buried deep within the brain, common to all people."
"What does it look like? How do these people act?"
"C. W. Shumway observed the Los Angeles revival of 1906 and noted six basic symptoms: complete loss of rational control; dominance of emotion that leads to hysteria; absence of thought or will; automatic functioning of the speech organs; amnesia; and occasional sporadic physical manifestations such as jerking or twitching. Eusebius observed similar phenomena around the year 300, saying that the false prophet begins by a deliberate suppression of conscious thought, and ends in a delirium over which he has no control."
"What's the Christian justification for this? Is there anything in the Bible that backs this up?"
"You mentioned that word earlier — what is it?"
"From the Greek pentekostos, meaning fiftieth. It refers to the fiftieth day after the Crucifixion."
"Juanita just told me that Christianity was hijacked by viral influences when it was only fifty days old. She must have been talking about this. What is it?"
"’And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"' Acts 2:4-12."
"Damned if I know," Hiro says. "Sounds like Babel in reverse."
"Yes, sir. Many Pentecostal Christians believe that the gift of tongues was given to them so that they could spread their religion to other peoples without having to actually learn their language. The word for that is 'xenoglossy'."
"That's what Rife was claiming in that piece of videotape, on top of the Enterprise. He said he could understand what those Bangladeshis were saying."
"Does that really work?"
"In the sixteenth century, Saint Louis Bertrand allegedly used the gift of tongues to convert somewhere between thirty thousand and three hundred thousand South American Indians to Christianity," the Librarian says.
"Wow. Spread through that population even faster than smallpox."
"What did the Jews think of this Pentecost thing?" Hiro says. "They were still running the country, right?"
"The Romans were running the country," the Librarian says, "but there were a number of Jewish religious authorities. At this time, there were three groups of Jews: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes."
"I remember the Pharisees from Jesus Christ, Superstar. They were the ones with the deep voices who were always hassling Christ."
"They were hassling him," the Librarian says, "because they were religiously very strict. They adhered to a strong legalistic version of the religion; to them, the Law was everything. Clearly, Jesus was a threat to them because he was proposing, in effect, to do away with the Law."
"He wanted a contract renegotiation with God."
"This sounds like an analogy, which I am not very good at — but even if it is taken literally, it is true."
"Who were the other two groups?"
"The Sadducees were materialists."
"Meaning what? They drove BMWs?"
"No. Materialists in the philosophical sense. All philosophies are either monist or dualist. Monists believe that the material world is the only world — hence, materialists. Dualists believe in a binary universe, that there is a spiritual world in addition to the material world."
"Well, as a computer geek, I have to believe in the binary universe."
The Librarian raises his eyebrows. "How does that follow?"
"Sorry. It's a joke. A bad pun. See, computers use binary code to represent information. So I was joking that I have to believe in the binary universe, that I have to be a dualist."
"How droll," the Librarian says, not sounding very amused. "Your joke may not be without genuine merit, however."
"How's that? I was just kidding, really."
"Computers rely on the one and the zero to represent all things. This distinction between something and nothing — this pivotal separation between being and nonbeing — is quite fundamental and underlies many Creation myths."
Hiro feels his face getting slightly warm, feels himself getting annoyed. He suspects that the Librarian may be pulling his leg, playing him for a fool. But he knows that the Librarian, however convincingly rendered he may be, is just a piece of software and cannot actually do such things.
"Even the word 'science' comes from an Indo-European root meaning 'to cut' or 'to separate.' The same root led to the word 'shit,' which of course means to separate living flesh from nonliving waste. The same root gave us 'scythe' and 'scissors' and 'schism,' which have obvious connections to the concept of separation."
"How about 'sword'?"
"From a root with several meanings. One of those meanings is 'to cut or pierce.' One of them is 'post' or 'rod.' And the other is, simply, 'to speak.'"
"Let's stay on track," Hiro says.
"Fine. I can return to this potential conversation fork at a later time, if you desire."
"I don't want to get all forked up at this point. Tell me about the third group — the Essenes."
"They lived communally and believed that physical and spiritual cleanliness were intimately connected. They were constantly bathing themselves, lying naked under the sun, purging themselves with enemas, and going to extreme lengths to make sure that their food was pure and uncontaminated. They even had their own version of the Gospels in which Jesus healed possessed people, not with miracles, but by driving parasites, such as tapeworm, out of their body. These parasites are considered to be synonymous with demons."
"They sound kind of like hippies."
"The connection has been made before, but it is faulty in many ways. The Essenes were strictly religious and would never have taken drugs."
"So to them there was no difference between infection with a parasite, like tapeworm, and demonic possession."
"Interesting. I wonder what they would have thought about computer viruses?"
"Speculation is not in my programming."
"Speaking of which — Lagos was babbling to me about viruses and infection and something called a nam-shub. What does that mean?"
"Nam-shub is a word from Sumerian."
"Yes, sir. Used in Mesopotamia until roughly 2000 B.C. The oldest of all written languages."
"Oh. So all the other languages are descended from it?" For a moment, the Librarian's eyes glance upward, as if he's thinking about something. This is a visual cue to inform Hiro that he's making a momentary raid on the Library.
"Actually, no," the Librarian says. "No languages whatsoever are descended from Sumerian. It is an agglutinative tongue, meaning that it is a collection of morphemes or syllables that are grouped into words — very unusual."
"You are saying," Hiro says, remembering Da5id in the hospital, "that if I could hear someone speaking Sumerian, it would sound like a long stream of short syllables strung together."
"Would it sound anything like glossolalia?"
"Judgment call. Ask someone real," the Librarian says.
"Does it sound like any modern tongue?"
"There is no provable genetic relationship between Sumerian and any tongue that came afterward."
"That's odd. My Mesopotamian history is rusty," Hiro says. "What happened to the Sumerians? Genocide?"
"No, sir. They were conquered, but there's no evidence of genocide per se."
"Everyone gets conquered sooner or later," Hiro says. "But their languages don't die out. Why did Sumerian disappear?"
"Since I am just a piece of code, I would be on very thin ice to speculate," the Librarian says.
"Okay. Does anyone understand Sumerian?"
"Yes, at any given time, it appears that there are roughly ten people in the world who can read it."
"Where do they work?"
"One in Israel. One at the British Museum. One in Iraq. One at the University of Chicago. One at the University of Pennsylvania. And five at Rife Bible College in Houston, Texas."
"Nice distribution. And have any of these people figured out what the word 'nam-shub' means in Sumerian?"
"Yes. A nam-shub is a speech with magical force. The closest English equivalent would be 'incantation,' but this has a number of incorrect connotations."
"Did the Sumerians believe in magic?"
The Librarian shakes his head minutely. "This is the kind of seemingly precise question that is in fact very profound, and that pieces of software, such as myself, are notoriously clumsy at. Allow me to quote from Kramer, Samuel Noah, and Maier, John R. Myths of Enki, the Crafty God. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989: 'Religion, magic, and medicine are so completely intertwined in Mesopotamia that separating them is frustrating and perhaps futile work. [Sumerian incantations] demonstrate an intimate connection between the religious, the magical, and the esthetic so complete that any attempt to pull one away from the other will distort the whole.' There is more material in here that might help explain the subject."
"In the next room," the Librarian says, gesturing at the wall. He walks over and slides the rice-paper partition out of the way.
A speech with magical force. Nowadays, people don't believe in these kinds of things. Except in the Metaverse, that is, where magic is possible. The Metaverse is a fictional structure made out of code. And code is just a form of speech — the form that computers understand. The Metaverse in its entirety could be considered a single vast nam-shub, enacting itself on L. Bob Rife's fiber-optic network.
"I don't really have time to go through them," Hiro says. "Can you give me some idea of what Lagos was working on here?"
"Well, I can read back the names of all the cards if you'd like. Lagos grouped them into four broad categories: Biblical studies, Sumerian studies, neurolinguistic studies, and intel gathered on L. Bob Rife."
"Without going into that kind of detail — what did Lagos have on his mind? What was he getting at?"
"What do I look like, a psychologist?" the Librarian says. "I can't answer those kinds of questions."
"Let me try it again. How does this stuff connect, if at all, to the subject of viruses?"
"The connections are elaborate. Summarizing them would require both creativity and discretion. As a mechanical entity, I have neither."
"How old is this stuff?" Hiro says, gesturing to the three artifacts.
"The clay envelope is Sumerian. It is from the third millennium B.C. It was dug up from the city of Eridu in southern Iraq. The black stele or obelisk is the Code of Hammurabi, which dates from about 1750 B.C. The treelike structure is a Yahwistic cult totem from Palestine. It's called an asherah. It's from about 900 B.C."
"Did you call that slab an envelope?"
"Yes. It has a smaller clay slab wrapped up inside of it. This was how the Sumerians made tamper-proof documents."
"All these things are in a museum somewhere, I take it?"
"The asherah and the Code of Hammurabi are in museums. The clay envelope is in the personal collection of L. Bob Rife."
"L. Bob Rife is obviously interested in this stuff."
"Rife Bible College, which he founded, has the richest archaeology department in the world. They have been conducting a dig in Eridu, which was the cult center of a Sumerian god named Enki."
"How are these things related to each other?"
The Librarian raises his eyebrow. "I'm sorry?"
"Well, let's try process of elimination. Do you know why Lagos found Sumerian writings interesting as opposed to, say, Greek or Egyptian?"
"Egypt was a civilization of stone. They made their art and architecture of stone, so it lasts forever. But you can't write on stone. So they invented papyrus and wrote on that. But papyrus is perishable. So even though their art and architecture have survived, their written records — their data — have largely disappeared."
"What about all those hieroglyphic inscriptions?"
"Bumper stickers, Lagos called them. Corrupt political speech. They had an unfortunate tendency to write inscriptions praising their own military victories before the battles had actually taken place?'
"And Sumer is different?"
"Sumer was a civilization of clay. They made their buildings of it and wrote on it, too. Their statues were of gypsum, which dissolves in water. So the buildings and statues have since fallen apart under the elements. But the clay tablets were either baked or else buried in jars. So all the data of the Sumerians have survived. Egypt left a legacy of art and architecture; Sumer's legacy is its megabytes."
"How many megabytes?"
"As many as archaeologists bother to dig up. The Sumerians wrote on everything. When they built a building, they would write in cuneiform on every brick. When the buildings fell down, these bricks would remain, scattered across the desert. In the Koran, the angels who are sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah say, 'We are sent forth to a wicked nation, so that we may bring down on them a shower of clay — stones marked by your Lord for the destruction of the sinful.' Lagos found this interesting — this promiscuous dispersal of information, written on a medium that lasts forever. He spoke of pollen blowing in the wind — I gather that this was some kind of analogy."
"It was. Tell me — has the inscription on this clay envelope been translated?"
"Yes. It is a warning. It says, 'This envelope contains the nam-shub of Enki’"
"I know what a nam-shub is. What is the nam-shub of Enki?" The Librarian stares off into the distance and clears his throat dramatically.
"Once upon a time, there was no snake, there was no scorpion, There was no hyena, there was no lion, There was no wild dog, no wolf, There was no fear, no terror, Man had no rival. In those days, the land Shubur-Hamazi, Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the me of princeship, Un, the land having all that is appropriate, The land Martu, resting in security, The whole universe, the people well cared for, To Enlil in one tongue gave speech. Then the lord defiant, the prince defiant, the king defiant, Enki, the lord of abundance, whose commands are trustworthy, The lord of wisdom, who scans the land, The leader of the gods, The lord of Eridu, endowed with wisdom, Changed the speech in their mouths, put contention into it, Into the speech of man that had been one.
That is Kramer's translation."
"That's a story," Hiro says. "I thought a nam-shub was an incantation."
"The nam-shub of Enki is both a story and an incantation," the Librarian says.
"A self-fulfilling fiction. Lagos believed that in its original form, which this translation only hints at, it actually did what it describes."
"You mean, changed the speech in men's mouths."
"Yes," the Librarian says.
"This is a Babel story, isn't it?" Hiro says. "Everyone was speaking the same language, and then Enki changed their speech so that they could no longer understand each other. This must be the basis for the Tower of Babel stuff in the Bible."
"This room contains a number of cards tracing that connection," the Librarian says.
"You mentioned before that at one point, everyone spoke Sumerian. Then, nobody did. It just vanished, like the dinosaurs. And there's no genocide to explain how that happened. Which is consistent with the Tower of Babel story, and the nam-shub of Enki. Did Lagos think that Babel really happened?"
"He was sure of it. He was quite concerned about the vast number of human languages. He felt there were simply too many of them."
"Tens of thousands. In many parts of the world, you will find people of the same ethnic group, living a few miles apart in similar valleys under similar conditions, speaking languages that have absolutely nothing in common with each other. This sort of thing is not an oddity — it is ubiquitous. Many linguists have tried to understand Babel, the question of why human language tends to fragment, rather than converging on a common tongue?"
"Has anyone come up with an answer yet?"
"The question is difficult and profound," the Librarian says. "Lagos had a theory."
"He believed that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel Infopocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible — that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem."
"The only thing that could explain that is —" Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
"Yes?" the Librarian says.
"If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds in such a way that they couldn't process the Sumerian language anymore. Kind of in the same way that a virus moves from one computer to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around the brainstem."
"Lagos devoted much time and effort to this idea," the Librarian says. "He felt that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus."
"And that this Enki character was a real personage?"
"And that Enki invented this virus and spread it throughout Sumer, using tablets like this one?"
"A tablet has been discovered containing a letter to Enki, in which the writer complains about it."
"A letter to a god?"
"Yes. It is from Sin-samuh, the Scribe. He begins by praising Enki and emphasizing his devotion to him. Then he complains:
‘Like a young . . . (line broken) I am paralyzed at the wrist. Like a wagon on the road when its yoke has split, I stand immobile on the road. I lay on a bed called "01 and 0 No!" I let out a wail. My graceful figure is stretched neck to ground, I am paralyzed of foot. My . . . has been carried off into the earth. My frame has changed. At night I cannot sleep, my strength has been struck down, my life is ebbing away. The bright day is made a dark day for me. I have slipped into my own grave. I, a writer who knows many things, am made a fool. My hand has stopped writing There is no talk in my mouth.'
"After more description of his woes, the scribe ends with, 'My god, it is you I fear. I have written you a letter. Take pity on me. The heart of my god: have it given back to me.'"
"Okay, last time we were talking about the clay envelope. But what about this thing? The thing that looks like a tree?" Hiro says, gesturing to one of the artifacts.
"A totem of the goddess Asherah," the Librarian says crisply.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Hiro says. "Lagos said that the Brandy in The Black Sun was a cult prostitute of Asherah. So who is Asherah?"
"She was the consort of El, who is also known as Yahweh," the Librarian says. "She also was known by other names: Elat, her most common epithet. The Greeks knew her as Dione or Rhea. The Canaanites knew her as Tannit or Hawwa, which is the same thing as Eve."
"The etymology of 'Tannit' proposed by Cross is: feminine of 'tannin,' which would mean 'the one of the serpent.' Furthermore, Asherah carried a second epithet in the Bronze Age, 'dat batni,' also 'the one of the serpent.' The Sumerians knew her as Ninth or Ninhursag. Her symbol is a serpent coiling about a tree or staff — the caduceus."
"Who worshipped Asherah? A lot of people, I gather."
"Everyone who lived between India and Spain, from the second millennium B.C. up into the Christian era. With the exception of the Hebrews, who only worshipped her until the religious reforms of Hezekiah and, later, Josiah."
"I thought the Hebrews were monotheists. How could they worship Asherah?"
"Monolatrists. They did not deny the existence of other gods. But they were only supposed to worship Yahweh. Asherah was venerated as the consort of Yahweh."
"I don't remember anything about God having a wife in the Bible."
"The Bible didn't exist at that point. Judaism was just a loose collection of Yahwistic cults, each with different shrines and practices. The stories about the Exodus hadn't been formalized into scripture yet. And the later parts of the Bible had not yet happened."
"Who decided to purge Asherah from Judaism?"
"The deuteronomic school — defined, by convention, as the people who wrote the book of Deuteronomy as well as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings."
"And what kind of people were they?"
"Nationalists. Monarchists. Centralists. The forerunners of the Pharisees. At this time, the Assyrian king Sargon II had recently conquered Samana — northern Israel — forcing a migration of Hebrews southward into Jerusalem. Jerusalem expanded greatly and the Hebrews began to conquer territory to the west, east, and south. It was a time of intense nationalism and patriotic fervor. The deuteronomic school embodied those attitudes in scripture by rewriting and reorganizing the old tales."
"Rewriting them how?"
"Moses and others believed that the River Jordan was the border of Israel, but the deuteronomists believed that Israel included Trans-Jordan, which justified aggression to the east. There are many other examples: the predeuteronomic law said nothing about a monarch. The Law as laid down by the deuteronomic school reflected a monarchist system. The predeuteronomic law was largely concerned with sacred matters, while the deuteronomic law's main concern is the education of the king and his people — secular matters in other words. The deuteronomists insisted on centralizing the religion in the Temple in Jerusalem, destroying the outlying cult centers. And there is another feature that Lagos found significant"
"And that is?"
"Deuteronomy is the only book of the Pentateuch that refers to a written Torah as comprising the divine will: 'And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests; and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them; that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.' Deuteronomy 17:18- 20."
"So the deuteronomists codified the religion. Made it into an organized, self-propagating entity," Hiro says. "I don't want to say virus. But according to what you just quoted me, the Torah is like a virus. It uses the human brain as a host. The host — the human — makes copies of it. And more humans come to synagogue and read it."
"I cannot process an analogy. But what you say is correct insofar as this: After the deuteronomists had reformed Judaism, instead of making sacrifices, the Jews went to synagogue and read the Book. If not for the deuteronomists, the world's monotheists would still be sacrificing animals and propagating their beliefs through the oral tradition."
"Sharing needles," Hiro says. "When you were going over this stuff with Lagos, did he ever say anything about the Bible being a virus?"
"He said it had certain things in common with a virus, but that it was different. He considered it a benign virus. Like that used for vaccinations. He considered the Asherah virus to be more malignant, capable of being spread through exchange of bodily fluids."
"So the strict, book-based religion of the deuteronomists inoculated the Hebrews against the Asherah virus."
"In combination with strict monogamy and other kosher practices, yes," the Librarian says. "The previous religions, from Sumer up to Deuteronomy, are known as prerational. Judaism was the first of the rational religions. As such, in Lagos's view, it was much less susceptible to viral infection because it was based on fixed, written records. This was the reason for the veneration of the Torah and the exacting care used when making new copies of it — informational hygiene."
"What are we living in nowadays? The postrational era?"
"Juanita made comments to that effect."
"I'll bet she did. She's starting to make more sense to me, Juanita is."
"She never really made much sense before."
"I think that if I can just spend enough time with you to figure out what's on Juanita's mind — well, wonderful things could happen."
"I will try to be of assistance."
"Back to work — this is no time for a hard-on. It seems that Asherah was a carrier of a viral infection. The deuteronomists somehow realized this and exterminated her by blocking all the vectors by which she infected new victims."
"With reference to viral infections," the Librarian says, "if I may make a fairly blunt spontaneous cross-reference — something I am coded to do at opportune moments — you may wish to examine herpes simplex, a virus that takes up residence in the nervous system and never leaves. It is capable of carrying new genes into existing neurons and genetically reengineering them. Modern gene therapists use it for this purpose. Lagos thought that herpes simplex might be a modern, benign descendant of Asherah."
"Not always benign," Hiro says, remembering a friend of his who died of AIDS related complications; in the last days, he had herpes lesions from his lips all the way down his throat. "It's only benign because we have immunities."
"So did Lagos think that the Asherah virus actually altered the DNA of brain cells?"
"Yes. This was the backbone of his hypothesis that the virus was able to transmute itself from a biologically transmitted string of DNA into a set of behaviors."
"What behaviors? What was Asherah worship like? Did they do sacrifices?"
"No. But there is evidence of cult prostitutes, both male and female."
"Does that mean what I think it does? Religious figures who would hang around the temple and fuck people?"
"More or less."
"Bingo. Great way to spread a virus. Now, I want to jump back to an earlier fork in the conversation."
"As you wish. I can handle nested forkings to a virtually infinite depth."
"You made a connection between Asherah and Eve."
"Eve — whose Biblical name is Hawwa — is clearly the Hebrew interpretation of an older myth. Hawwa is an ophidian mother goddess."
"Associated with serpents. Asherah is also an ophidian mother goddess. And both are associated with trees as well."
"Eve, as I recall, is considered responsible for getting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Which is to say, it's not just fruit — it's data."
"If you say so, sir."
"I wonder if viruses have always been with us, or not. There's sort of an implicit assumption that they have been around forever. But maybe that's not true. Maybe there was a period of history when they were nonexistent or at least unusual. And at a certain point, when the metavirus showed up, the number of different viruses exploded, and people started getting sick a whole lot. That would explain the fact that all cultures seem to have a myth about Paradise, and the Fall from Paradise."
"You told me that the Essenes thought that tapeworms were demons. If they'd known what a virus was, they probably would have thought the same thing. And Lagos told me the other night that, according to the Sumerians, there was no concept of good and evil per se."
"Correct. According to Kramer and Maier, there are good demons and bad demons.
'Good ones bring physical and emotional health. Evil ones bring disorientation and a variety of physical and emotional ills. But these demons can hardly be distinguished from the diseases they personify — and many of the diseases sound, to modern ears, as though they must be psychosomatic.'"
"That's what the doctors said about Da5id, that his disease must be psychosomatic."
"I don't know anything about Da5id, except for some rather banal statistics."
"It's as though 'good' and 'evil' were invented by the writer of the Adam and Eve legend to explain why people get sick — why they have physical and mental viruses. So when Eve — or Asherah — got Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she was introducing the concept of good and evil into the world — introducing the metavirus, which creates viruses."
"So my next question is: Who wrote the Adam and Eve legend?"
"This is a source of much scholarly argument."
"What did Lagos think? More to the point, what does Juanita think?"
"Nicolas Wyatt's radical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story supposes that it was, in fact, written as a political allegory by the deuteronomists."
"I thought they wrote the later books, not Genesis."
"True. But they were involved in compiling and editing the earlier books as well. For many years, it was assumed that Genesis was written sometime around 900 B.C. — or even earlier — long before the advent of the deuteronomists. But more recent analysis of the vocabulary and content suggests that a great deal of editorial work — possibly even authorial work — took place around the time of the Exile, when the deuteronomists held sway."
"So they may have rewritten an earlier Adam and Eve myth."
"They appear to have had ample opportunity. According to the interpretation of Heidberg and, later, Wyatt, Adam in his garden is a parable for the king in his sanctuary, specifically King Hosea, who ruled the northern kingdom until it was conquered by Sargon II in 722 B.C."
"That's the conquest you mentioned earlier — the one that drove the deuteronomists southward toward Jerusalem?"
"Exactly. Now 'Eden,' which can be understood simply as the Hebrew word for 'delight,' stands for the happy state in which the king existed prior to the conquest. The expulsion from Eden to the bitter lands to the east is a parable for the massive deportation of Israelites to Assyria following Sargon II's victory. According to this interpretation, the king was enticed away from the path of righteousness by the cult of El, with its associated worship of Asherah — who is commonly associated with serpents, and whose symbol is a tree."
"And his association with Asherah somehow caused him to be conquered — so when the deuteronomists reached Jerusalem, they recast the Adam and Eve story as a warning to the leaders of the southern kingdom."
"And perhaps, because no one was listening to them, perhaps they invented the concept of good and evil in the process, as a hook."
"Industry term. Then what happened? Did Sargon II try to conquer the southern kingdom also?"
"His successor, Sennacherib, did. King Hezekiah, who ruled the southern kingdom, prepared for the attack feverishly, making great improvements in the fortifications of Jerusalem, improving its supply of drinking water. He was also responsible for a far-reaching series of religious reforms, which he undertook under the direction of the deuteronomists."
"How did it work out?"
"The forces of Sennacheb surrounded Jerusalem. 'And that night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed.' 2 Kings 19:35-36."
"I'll bet he did. So let me get this straight: the deuteronomists, through Hezekiah, impose a policy of informational hygiene on Jerusalem and do some civil-engineering work — you said they worked on the water supply?"
"They stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?’ 2 Chronicles 32:4. Then the Hebrews carved a tunnel seventeen hundred feet through solid rock to carry that water inside city walls."
"And then as soon as Sennacherib's soldiers came on the scene, they all dropped dead of what can only be understood as an extremely virulent disease, to which the people of Jerusalem were apparently immune. Hmm, interesting — I wonder what got into their water?"
"Okay," Hiro says, "back to work. Where did Asherah come from?"
"Originally from Sumerian mythology. Hence, she is also important in Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite, Hebrew, and Ugaritic myths, which are all descended from the Sumerian."
"Interesting. So the Sumerian language died out, but the Sumerian myths were somehow passed on in the new languages."
"Correct. Sumerian was used as the language of religion and scholarship by later civilizations, much as Latin was used in Europe during the Middle Ages. No one spoke it as their native language, but educated people could read it. In this way, Sumerian religion was passed on."
"And what did Asherah do in Sumerian myths?"
"The accounts are fragmentary. Few tablets have been discovered, and these are broken and scattered. It is thought that L. Bob Rife has excavated many intact tablets, but he refuses to release them. The surviving Sumerian myths exist in fragments and have a bizarre quality. Lagos compared them to the imaginings of a febrile two-year-old. Entire sections of them simply cannot be translated — the characters are legible and well-known, but when put together they do not say anything that leaves an imprint on the modern mind."
"Like instructions for programming a VCR."
"There is a great deal of monotonous repetition. There is also a fair amount of what Lagos described as 'Rotary Club Boosterism' — scribes extolling the superior virtue of their city over some other city."
"What makes one Sumerian city better than another one? A bigger ziggurat? A better football team?"
"What are me?"
"Rules or principles that control the operation of society, like a code of laws, but on a more fundamental level."
"I don't get it."
"That is the point. Sumerian myths are not 'readable' or 'enjoyable' in the same sense that Greek and Hebrew myths are. They reflect a fundamentally different consciousness from ours."
"I suppose if our culture was based on Sumer, we would find them more interesting," Hiro says.
"Akkadian myths came after the Sumerian and are clearly based on Sumerian myths to a large extent. It is clear that Akkadian redactors went through the Sumerian myths, edited out the (to us) bizarre and incomprehensible parts, and strung them together into longer works, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Akkadians were Semites — cousins of the Hebrews."
"What do the Akkadians have to say about her?"
"She is a goddess of the erotic and of fertility. She also has a destructive, vindictive side. In one myth, Kirta, a human king, is made grievously ill by Asherah. Only El, king of the gods, can heal him. El gives certain persons the privilege of nursing at Asherah's breasts. El and Asherah often adopt human babies and let them nurse on Asherah — in one text, she is wet nurse to seventy divine sons."
"Spreading that virus," Hiro says. "Mothers with AIDS can spread the disease to their babies by breast-feeding them. But this is the Akkadian version, right?"
"I want to hear some Sumerian stuff, even if it is untranslatable."
"Would you like to hear how Asherah made Enki sick?"
"How this story is translated depends on how it is interpreted. Some see it as a Fall from Paradise story. Some see it as a battle between male and female or water and earth. Some see it as a fertility allegory. This reading is based on the interpretation of Bendt Aister."
"To summarize: Enki and Ninhursag — who is Asherah, although in this story she also bears other epithets — live in a place called Dilmun. Dilmun is pure, clean and bright, there is no sickness, people do not grow old, predatory animals do not hunt. "But there is no water. So Ninhursag pleads with Enki, who is a sort of watergod, to bring water to Dilmun. He does so by masturbating among the reeds of the ditches and letting flow his life-giving semen — the 'water of the heart,' as it is called. At the same time, he pronounces a nam-shub forbidding anyone to enter this area — he does not want anyone to come near his semen."
"The myth does not say."
"Then," Hiro says, "he must have thought it was valuable, or dangerous, or both."
"Dilmun is now better than it was before. The fields produce abundant crops and so on."
"Excuse me, but how did Sumerian agriculture work? Did they use a lot of irrigation?"
"They were entirely dependent upon it."
"So Enki was responsible, according to this myth, for irrigating the fields with his 'water of the heart.'"
"Enki was the water-god, yes."
"Okay, go on."
"But Ninhursag-Asherah violates his decree and takes Enki's semen and impregnates herself. After nine days of pregnancy she gives birth, painlessly, to a daughter, Ninmu. Ninmu walks on the riverbank. Enki sees her, becomes inflamed, goes across the river, and has sex with her."
"With his own daughter."
"Yes. She has another daughter nine days later, named Ninkurra, and the pattern is repeated."
"Enki has sex with Ninkurra, too?"
"Yes, and she has a daughter named Uttu. Now, by this time, Ninhursag has apparently recognized a pattern in Enki's behavior, and so she advises Uttu to stay in her house, predicting that Enki will then approach her bearing gifts, and try to seduce her."
"Enki once again fills the ditches with the 'water of the heart,' which makes things grow. The gardener rejoices and embraces Enki."
"Who's the gardener?"
"Just some character in the story," the Librarian says. "He provides Enki with grapes and other gifts. Enki disguises himself as the gardener and goes to Uttu and seduces her. But this time, Ninhursag manages to obtain a sample of Enki's semen from Uttu's thighs."
"My God. Talk about your mother-in-law from hell."
"Ninhursag spreads the semen on the ground, and it causes eight plants to sprout up."
"Does Enki have sex with the plants, then?"
"No, he eats them — in some sense, he learns their secrets by doing so."
"So here we have our Adam and Eve motif."
"Ninhursag curses Enki, saying 'Until thou art dead, I shall not look upon thee with the "eye of life."' Then she disappears, and Enki becomes very ill. Eight of his organs become sick, one for each of the plants. Finally, Ninhursag is persuaded to come back. She gives birth to eight deities, one for each part of Enki's body that is sick, and Enki is healed. These deities are the pantheon of Dilmun; i.e., this act breaks the cycle of incest and creates a new race of male and female gods that can reproduce normally."
"I'm beginning to see what Lagos meant about the febrile two-year-old."
"Aister interprets the myth as 'an exposition of a logical problem: Supposing that originally there was nothing but one creator, how could ordinary binary sexual relations come into being?'"
"Ah, there's that word 'binary' again."
"You may remember an unexplored fork earlier in our conversation that would have brought us to this same place by another route. This myth can be compared to the Sumerian creation myth, in which heaven and earth are united to begin with, but the world is not really created until the two are separated. Most Creation myths begin with a 'paradoxical unity of everything, evaluated either as chaos or as Paradise,' and the world as we know it does not really come into being until this is changed. I should point out here that Enki's original name was En-Kur, Lord of Kur. Kur was a primeval ocean — Chaos — that Enki conquered."
"Every hacker can identify with that."
"But Asherahas similar connotations. Her name in Ugaritic, 'atiratu yammi' means 'she who treads on (the) sea (dragon)’."
"Okay, so both Enki and Asherah were figures who had in some sense defeated chaos. And your point is that this defeat of chaos, the separation of the static, unified world into a binary system, is identified with creation."
"What else can you tell me about Enki?"
"He was the en of the city of Eridu."
"What's an en? Is that like a king?"
"A priest-king of sorts. The en was the custodian of the local temple, where the me — the rules of the society — were stored on clay tablets."
"Okay. Where's Eridu?"
"Southern Iraq. It has only been excavated within the past few years."
"By Rife's people?"
"Yes. As Kramer has it, Enki is the god of wisdom — but this is a bad translation. His wisdom is not the wisdom of an old man, but rather a knowledge of how to do things, especially occult things. 'He astonishes even the other gods with shocking solutions to apparently impossible problems. He is a sympathetic god for the most part, who assists humankind."
"Yes. The most important Sumerian myths center on him. As I mentioned, he is associated with water. He fills the rivers, and the extensive Sumerian canal system, with his life-giving semen. He is said to have created the Tigris in a single epochal act of masturbation. He describes himself as follows: 'I am lord. I am the one whose word endures. I am eternal.' Others describe him: 'a word from you-and heaps and piles stack high with grain.' 'You bring down the stars of heaven, you have computed their number.' He pronounces the name of everything created . . ."
"'Pronounces the name of everything created?'"
"In many Creation myths, to name a thing is to create it. He is referred to, in various myths, as 'expert who instituted incantations,' 'word-rich,' 'Enki, master of all the right commands,' as Kramer and Maier have it, 'His word can bring order where there had been only chaos and introduce disorder where there had been harmony.' He devotes a great deal of effort to imparting his knowledge to his son, the god Marduk, chief deity of the Babylonians."
"So the Sumerians worshipped Enki, and the Babylonians, who came after the Sumerians, worshipped Marduk, his son."
"Yes, sir. And whenever Marduk got stuck, he would ask his father Enki for help. There is a representation of Marduk here on this stele — the Code of Hammurabi. According to Hammurabi, the Code was given to him personally by Marduk."
Hiro wanders over to the Code of Hammurabi and has a gander. The cuneiform means nothing to him, but the illustration on top is easy enough to understand. Especially the part in the middle:
"Why, exactly, is Marduk handing Hammurabi a one and a zero in this picture?" Hiro asks.
"They were emblems of royal power," the Librarian says. "Their origin is obscure."
"Enki must have been responsible for that one," Hiro says.
"Enki's most important role is as the creator and guardian of the me and the gis-hur, the 'key words' and 'patterns' that rule the universe."
"Tell me more about the me."
"To quote Kramer and Maier again, '[They believed in] the existence from time primordial of a fundamental, unalterable, comprehensive assortment of powers and duties, norms and standards, rules and regulations, known as me, relating to the cosmos and its components, to gods and humans, to cities and countries, and to the varied aspects of civilized life.'"
"Kind of like the Torah."
"Yes, but they have a kind of mystical or magical force. And they often deal with banal subjects — not just religion."
"In one myth, the goddess Inanna goes to Eridu and tricks Enki into giving her ninety-four me and brings them back to her home town of Uruk, where they are greeted with much commotion and rejoicing."
"Inanna is the person that Juanita's obsessed with."
"Yes, sir. She is hailed as a savior because 'she brought the perfect execution of the me.'"
"Execution? Like executing a computer program?"
"Yes. Apparently, they are like algorithms for carrying out certain activities essential to the society. Some of them have to do with the workings of priesthood and kingship. Some explain how to carry out religious ceremonies. Some relate to the arts of war and diplomacy. Many of them are about the arts and crafts: music, carpentry, smithing, tanning, building, farming, even such simple tasks as lighting fires."
"The operating system of society."
"When you first turn on a computer, it is an inert collection of circuits that can't really do anything. To start up the machine, you have to infuse those circuits with a collection of rules that tell it how to function. How to be a computer. It sounds as though these me served as the operating system of the society, organizing an inert collection of people into a functioning system."
"As you wish. In any case, Enki was the guardian of the me."
"So he was a good guy, really."
"He was the most beloved of the gods."
"He sounds like kind of a hacker. Which makes his nam-shub very difficult to understand. If he was such a nice guy, why did he do the Babel thing?"
"This is considered to be one of the mysteries of Enki. As you have noticed, his behavior was not always consistent with modern norms."
"I don't buy that. I don't think he actually fucked his sister, daughter, and so on. That story has to be a metaphor for something else. I think it is a metaphor for some kind of recursive informational process. This whole myth stinks of it. To these people, water equals semen. Makes sense, because they probably had no concept of pure water — it was all brown and muddy and full of viruses anyway. But from a modern standpoint, semen is just a carrier of information — both benevolent sperm and malevolent viruses. Enki's water — his semen, his data, his me — flow throughout the country of Sumer and cause it to flourish."
"As you may be aware, Sumer existed on the floodplain between two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. This is where all the clay came from — they took it directly from the riverbeds."
"So Enki even provided them with their medium for conveying information — clay. They wrote on wet clay and then they dried it out — got rid of the water. If water got to it later, the information was destroyed. But if they baked it and drove out all the water, sterilized Enki's semen with heat, then the tablet lasted forever, immutable, like the words of the Torah. Do I sound like a maniac?"
"I don't know," the Librarian says, "but you do sound a little like Lagos."
"I'm thrilled. Next thing you know, I'll turn myself into a gargoyle."
"Time to do more digging," he tells the Librarian. "But this is going to have to be totally verbal, because I'm headed up I-5 at some incredible speed right now, and I have to watch out for slow-moving bagos and stuff."
"I'll keep that in mind," the voice of the Librarian says into his earphones.
"Look out for the jackknifed truck south of Santa Clarita. And there is a large chuckhole in the left lane near the Tulare exit."
"Thanks. Who were these gods anyway? Did Lagos have an opinion on that?"
"Lagos believed that they might have been magicians — that is, normal human beings with special powers — or they might have been aliens."
"Whoa, whoa, hold on. Let's take these one at a time. What did Lagos mean when he talked about 'normal human beings with special powers'?"
"Assume that the nam-shub of Enki really functioned as a virus. Assume that someone named Enki invented it. Then Enki must have had some kind of linguistic power that goes beyond our concept of normal."
"And how would this power work? What's the mechanism?"
"I can only give you forward references drawn by Lagos."
"Okay. Give me some."
"The belief in the magical power of language is not unusual, both in mystical and academic literature. The Kabbalists — Jewish mystics of Spain and Palestine — believed that super-normal insight and power could be derived from properly combining the letters of the Divine Name. For example, Abu Aharon, an early Kabbalist who emigrated from Baghdad to Italy, was said to perform miracles through the power of the Sacred Names."
"What kind of power are we talking about here?"
"Most Kabbalists were theorists who were interested only in pure meditation. But there were so-called 'practical Kabbalists' who tried to apply the power of the Kabbalah in everyday life."
"In other words, sorcerers."
"Yes. These practical Kabbalists used a so-called 'archangelic alphabet,' derived from first-century Greek and Aramaic theurgic alphabets, which resembled cuneiform. The Kabbalists referred to this alphabet as 'eye writing,' because the letters were composed of lines and small circles, which resembled eyes."
"Ones and zeroes."
"Some Kabbalists divided up the letters of the alphabet according to where they were produced inside the mouth."
"Okay. So as we would think of it, they were drawing a connection between the printed letter on the page and the neural connections that had to be invoked in order to pronounce it."
"Yes. By analyzing the spelling of various words, they were able to draw what they thought were profound conclusions about their true, inner meaning and significance."
"Okay. If you say so."
"In the academic realm, the literature is naturally not as fanciful. But a great deal of effort has been devoted to explaining Babel. Not the Babel event — which most people consider to be a myth — but the fact that languages tend to diverge. A number of linguistic theories have been developed in an effort to tie all languages together."
"Theories Lagos tried to apply to his virus hypothesis."
"Yes. There are two schools: relativists and universalists. As George Steiner summarizes it, relativists tend to believe that language is not the vehicle of thought but its determining medium. It is the framework of cognition. Our perceptions of everything are organized by the flux of sensations passing over that framework. Hence, the study of the evolution of language is the study of the evolution of the human mind itself."
"Okay, I can see the significance of that. What about the universalists?"
"In contrast with the relativists, who believe that languages need not have anything in common with each other, the universalists believe that if you can analyze languages enough, you can find that all of them have certain traits in common. So they analyze languages, looking for such traits."
"Have they found any?"
"No. There seems to be an exception to every rule."
"Which blows universalism out of the water."
"Not necessarily. They explain this problem by saying that the shared traits are too deeply buried to be analyzable."
"Which is a cop out."
"Their point is that at some level, language has to happen inside the human brain. Since all human brains are more or less the same —" "The hardware's the same. Not the software."
"You are using some kind of metaphor that I cannot understand."
Hiro whips past a big Airstream that is rocking from side to side in a dangerous wind coming down the valley.
"Well, a French-speaker's brain starts out the same as an English-speaker's brain. As they grow up, they get programmed with different software — they learn different languages."
"Yes. Therefore, according to the universalists, French and English — or any other languages — must share certain traits that have their roots in the 'deep structures' of the human brain. According to Chomskyan theory, the deep structures are innate components of the brain that enable it to carry out certain formal kinds of operations on strings of symbols. Or, as Steiner paraphrases Emmon Bach: These deep structures eventually lead to the actual patterning of the cortex with its immensely ramified yet, at the same time, 'programmed' network of electrochemical and neurophysiological channels."
"But these deep structures are so deep we can't even see them?"
"The universalists place the active nodes of linguistic life — the deep structures — so deep as to defy observation and description. Or to use Steiner's analogy: Try to draw up the creature from the depths of the sea, and it will disintegrate or change form grotesquely."
"There's that serpent again. So which theory did Lagos believe in? The relativist or the universalist?"
"He did not seem to think there was much of a difference. In the end, they are both somewhat mystical. Lagos believed that both schools of thought had essentially arrived at the same place by different lines of reasoning."
"But it seems to me there is a key difference," Hiro says. "The universalists think that we are determined by the prepatterned structure of our brains — the pathways in the cortex. The relativists don't believe that we have any limits."
"Lagos modified the strict Chomskyan theory by supposing that learning a language is like blowing code into PROMs — an analogy that I cannot interpret."
"The analogy is clear. PROMs are Programmable Read-Only Memory chips," Hiro says. "When they come from the factory, they have no content. Once and only once, you can place information into those chips and then freeze it — the information, the software, becomes frozen into the chip — it transmutes into hardware. After you have blown the code into the PROMs, you can read it out, but you can't write to them anymore. So Lagos was trying to say that the newborn human brain has no structure — as the relativists would have it — and that as the child learns a language, the developing brain structures itself accordingly, the language gets 'blown into the hardware and becomes a permanent part of the brain's deep structure — as the universalists would have it."
"Yes. This was his interpretation."
"Okay. So when he talked about Enki being a real person with magical powers, what he meant was that Enki somehow understood the connection between language and the brain, knew how to manipulate it. The same way that a hacker, knowing the secrets of a computer system, can write code to control it — digital namshubs?"
"Lagos said that Enki had the ability to ascend into the universe of language and see it before his eyes. Much as humans go into the Metaverse. That gave him power to create nam-shubs. And nam-shubs had the power to alter the functioning of the brain and of the body."
"Why isn't anyone doing this kind of thing nowadays? Why aren't there any namshubs in English?"
"Not all languages are the same, as Steiner points out. Some languages are better at metaphor than others. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Chinese lend themselves to word play and have achieved a lasting grip on reality: Palestine had Qiryat Sefer, the 'City of the Letter,' and Syria had Byblos, the 'Town of the Book.' By contrast other civilizations seem 'speechless' or at least, as may have been the case in Egypt, not entirely cognizant of the creative and transformational powers of language. Lagos believed that Sumerian was an extraordinarily powerful language — at least it was in Sumer five thousand years ago."
"A language that lent itself to Enki's neurolinguistic hacking."
"Early linguists, as well as the Kabbalists, believed in a fictional language called the tongue of Eden, the language of Adam. It enabled all men to understand each other, to communicate without misunderstanding. It was the language of the Logos, the moment when God created the world by speaking a word. In the tongue of Eden, naming a thing was the same as creating it. To quote Steiner again, 'Our speech interposes itself between apprehension and truth like a dusty pane or warped mirror. The tongue of Eden was like a flawless glass; a light of total understanding streamed through it. Thus Babel was a second Fall.' And Isaac the Blind, an early Kabbalist, said that, to quote Gershom Scholem's translation, 'The speech of men is connected with divine speech and all language whether heavenly or human derives from one source: the Divine Name.' The practical Kabbalists, the sorcerers, bore the title Ba'al Shem, meaning 'master of the divine name.'"
"The machine language of the world," Hiro says.
"Is this another analogy?"
"Computers speak machine language," Hiro says. "It's written in ones and zeroes — binary code. At the lowest level, all computers are programmed with strings of ones and zeroes. When you program in machine language, you are controlling the computer at its brainstem, the root of its existence. It's the tongue of Eden. But it's very difficult to work in machine language because you go crazy after a while, working at such a minute level. So a whole Babel of computer languages has been created for programmers: FORTRAN, BASIC, COBOL, LISP, Pascal, C, PROLOG, FORTH. You talk to the computer in one of these languages, and a piece of software called a compiler converts it into machine language. But you never can tell exactly what the compiler is doing. It doesn't always come out the way you want. Like a dusty pane or warped mirror. A really advanced hacker comes to understand the true inner workings of the machine — he sees through the language he's working in and glimpses the secret functioning of the binary code — becomes a Ba'al Shem of sorts."
"Lagos believed that the legends about the tongue of Eden were exaggerated versions of true events," the Librarian says. "These legends reflected nostalgia for a time when people spoke Sumerian, a tongue that was superior to anything that came afterward."
"Is Sumerian really that good?"
"Not as far as modern-day linguists can tell," the Librarian says. "As I mentioned, it is largely impossible for us to grasp. Lagos suspected that words worked differently in those days. If one's native tongue influences the physical structure of the developing brain, then it is fair to say that the Sumerians — who spoke a language radically different from anything in existence today — had fundamentally different brains from yours. Lagos believed that for this reason, Sumerian was a language ideally suited to the creation and propagation of viruses. That a virus, once released into Sumer, would spread rapidly and virulently, until it had infected everyone."
"Maybe Enki knew that also," Hiro says. "Maybe the nam-shub of Enki wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe Babel was the best thing that ever happened to us."
"A figure from Sumerian mythology. Later cultures knew her as Ishtar, or Esther."
"Good goddess or bad goddess?"
"Good. A beloved goddess."
"Did she have any dealings with Enki or Asherah?"
"Mostly with Enki. She and Enki were on good and bad terms at different times. Inanna was known as the queen of all the great me."
"I thought the me belonged to Enki."
"They did. But Inanna went to the Abzu — the watery fortress in the city of Eridu where Enki stored up the me — and got Enki to give her all the me. This is how the me were released into civilization."
"Watery fortress, huh?"
"How did Enki feel about this?"
"He gave them to her willingly, apparently because he was drunk, and besotted with Inanna's physical charms. When he sobered up, he tried to chase her down and get them back, but she outsmarted him."
"Let's get semiotic," Hiro mumbles. "The Raft is L. Bob Rife's watery fortress. That's where he stores up all of his stuff. All of his me. Juanita went to Astoria, which was as close as you could get to the Raft a couple of days ago. I think she's trying to pull an Inanna."
"In another popular Sumerian myth," the Librarian says, "Inanna descends into the nether world."
"Go on," Hiro says.
"She gathers together all of her me and enters the land of no return."
"She passes through the nether world and reaches the temple that is ruled over by Ereshkigal, goddess of Death. She is traveling under false pretenses, which are easily penetrated by the all-seeing Ereshkigal. But Ereshkigal allows her to enter the temple. As Inanna enters, her robes and jewels and me are stripped from her and she is brought, stark naked, before Ereshkigal and the seven judges of the underworld. The judges 'fastened their eyes upon her, the eyes of death; at their word, the word which tortures the spirit, Inanna was turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, and was hung from a hook on the wall.' Kramer."
"Wonderful. Why the hell would she do something like that?"
"As Diane Wolkstein puts it, 'Inanna gave up all she had accomplished in life until she was stripped naked, with nothing remaining but her will to be reborn. . . because of her journey to the underworld, she took on the powers and mysteries of death and rebirth.'"
"Oh. So I guess there's more to the story?"
"Inanna's messenger waits for three days, and when she fails to return from the nether world, goes to the gods asking for their help. None of the gods is willing to help except for Enki."
"So our buddy, Enki, the hacker god, has to bail her ass out of Hell."
"Enki creates two people and sends them into the netherworid to rescue Inanna. Through their magic, Inanna is brought back to life. She returns from the netherworld, followed by a host of the dead."
The nam-shub of Enki is a tablet wrapped up in a clay envelope covered with the cuneiform equivalent of a warning sticker. The entire assembly has shattered into dozens of pieces. Most of them have stayed wrapped up inside the plastic, but some have gone spinning across the flight deck. Hiro gathers them up from the helipad and returns them to the center. By the time he's got the plastic wrapper cut away, Juanita is waving to him from the windows on top of the control tower. He takes all the pieces that look to be part of the envelope and puts them into a separate pile. Then he assembles the remains of the tablet itself into a coherent group. It's not obvious, yet, how to piece them together, and he doesn't have time for jigsaw puzzles. So he goggles into his office, uses the computer to take an electronic snapshot of the fragments, and calls the Librarian.
"This hypercard contains a picture of a shattered clay tablet. Do you know of some software that would be good at piecing it back together?"
"One moment, sir," the Librarian says. Then a hypercard appears in his hand. He gives it to Hiro. It contains a picture of an assembled tablet. "That's how it looks, sir."
"Can you read Sumerian?"
"Can you read this tablet out loud?"
"Get ready to do it. And hold on a second."
Hiro walks over to the base of the control tower. There's a door there that gives him access to a stairwell. He climbs up to the control room, a strange mixture of Iron Age and high-tech. Juanita's waiting there, surrounded by peacefully slumbering wireheads. She taps a microphone that is projecting from a communications panel at the end of a flexible gooseneck — the same mike that the en was speaking into.
"Live to the Raft," she says. "Go for it." Hiro puts his computer into speakerphone mode and stands up next to the microphone. "Librarian, read it back," he says. And a string of syllables pours out of the speaker. In the middle of it, Hiro glances up at Juanita. She's standing in the far corner of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears. Down at the base of the stairs, a wirehead begins to talk. Deep down inside the Enterprise, there's more talking going on. And none of it makes any sense. It's just a lot of babbling. There's an external catwalk on the control tower. Hiro goes out there and listens to the Raft. From all around them comes a dim roar, not of waves or wind, but of a million unchained human voices speaking in a confusion of tongues. Juanita comes out to listen, too. Hiro sees a trickle of red under her ear.
"You're bleeding," he says.
"I know. A little bit of primitive surgery," she says. Her voice is strained and uncomfortable. "I've been carrying around a scalpel blade for cases like this."
"What did you do?"
"Slid it up under the base of the antenna and cut the wire that goes into my skull," she says.
"When did you do that?"
"While you were down on the flight deck."
"Why do you think?" she says. "So I wouldn't be exposed to the nam-shub of Enki. I'm a neurolinguistic hacker now, Hiro. I went through hell to obtain this knowledge. It's a part of me. Don't expect me to submit to a lobotomy."
"If we get out of this, will you be my girl?"
"Naturally," she says. "Now let's get out of it."