The Aftermath of Heaven (1 of 2)

[The Island of the Centipede – Interlude]

He is like God.

That’s the funny thing. The more he hunts God down the more opportunities Max has to understand just how much like God he is.

Like, with Sid.

Max just had a simple little wish. He just wanted Sid never ever to torture somebody to death. So he stuck his nose in. And he found himself blunted, a thousand times frustrated, by Sid’s free will.

The siggort would just look at him. Like it was Max who didn’t get it.

Like the ichneumon who looked at the angel and said, “But don’t you understand that torment is better than hope?”

Like people explaining unto Heaven why what they want must certainly be right.

Like a child, young and certain of some perverse idea, defying a parent.

Not that Max was ever like a parent to Sid. Not to that ancient creature.

No. Max, with Sid, had always been like God. He’d loved him. He’d judged him. He’d tried to save him. He’d even sent Sid more or less to Hell, and damn bad he’d felt for doing it, too.

Out of love.

Somewhere that had been wrong. He got that. He lived with it every day. Somehow it had been wrong. Somehow he hadn’t had the right.

He didn’t know what he had been supposed to do, but from the ashes of that occasion he’d figured out that taking away Sid’s choices wasn’t it.

And maybe that made sense.

Sid hadn’t ever done it, that vivisection thing. Wasn’t doing it. Wasn’t killing people. Didn’t even know why he might.

So all Max had was the guess, the belief, the assumption, that someday Sid would think he had to—

And that he’d be wrong.

It made sense. Sid thought it would happen, and that it would be right, and the difference between these statements is that the one is a lot more probable than the other.

But it still left Max with nothing more than not trusting Sid.

Than not believing Sid.

Because he loves him. Because he loves him and he can’t let Sid go wrong. He can’t let Sid go all vivisecting people on public streets while nobody notices wrong.

And he can see why that’s maybe not the cleanest motivation in the world, why the intensity of his fear doesn’t make it right, but at the end he’s still got this, that there’s something wrong with a guy so sure he’s going to kill someone, and that it’s a Hell of a thing that Max just has to watch.

So here’s the weird thing.

The goodblow—God, Good, virtue, whatever it was—had looked at him. And loved him. Its love was powerful enough to kill. Its love was terrible enough to drive Red Mary right back to the point of murder,

Not that she’d been so very far away,

And to make him feel—

Like he’s safer, safer, being drowned, being dragged down, down, down, than he had been before that gaze.

But it had been okay with his being wrong.

He doesn’t get that.

He isn’t okay with his being wrong. His soul is full of rough and knobbly edges. He lives in them. They are the grain in the wood of his existence. But he wants them smooth.

The goodblow hadn’t . . .

He doesn’t understand, as he’s preparing himself to die, why such a rough unfinished creature as is Max could know the love of Heaven.

Why it hadn’t fixed him.

He’d fumbled it with Sid, but that was the way in which he wasn’t God. He’d fumbled it, and he’d owned his guilt, because Max just wasn’t good enough to do any better.

Why hadn’t it fixed him?

And that’s the only bad thing about dying here and now, of letting go of the pain and passing on, now that he knows how intensely valued he is. That he’s seen the brightest love in all the world and still can’t figure how to save Sid.

That it’s useless to him.

That the goodblow doesn’t understand anything at all about how love is supposed to work, that it didn’t fix him, and that that meant it hadn’t shown him how somebody could fix Sid.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his coracle to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

The Island of the Centipede

It is June 3, 2004.

The chaos is bluer than the bluest sea and wracked with love. It is full of air like a gel and dazzling with patterns of shifting light.

Oh, Max thinks.

Red Mary is beginning to sing. Her song is a paean to death. Her song transforms into iconic music the sea that devours, the sea that consumes, the sea that returns all things to the cauldron of life.


Oh, Max thinks.

His thoughts flutter over and over again against the wall of things not being exactly as he’d expected, and one swoops back to him with the smallest of small answers.


Love is not a duty.

Somewhere a part of him insists, it is.

But he lets go of that idea as the sea devours him. He lets the sea take that miscomprehension first—that worst and meanest part of Max.

A man’s got a right to choose in which order he gets eaten.

Love is not a duty.

He’s not chained to Sid’s outcomes.

Love is a transforming power.

And he wants—

So much, so much! he wants—

To use that, to use his last thought to make his eyes into flamethrowers and burn the world with his love for Sid, to take a trick from the goodblow and ignite the chaos with the power of that love so that whenever Sid would walk by, the sea would say,

“Max loved you, you know.”

Or just to love so fiercely that somehow Sid would feel it from afar.

But if people could do that it would happen more often, and not just in the fairy tales, because people love very hard indeed;

And Max is small and frail so instead he thinks, I’ll come back.

His mind is a wasteland made by the aftermath of Heaven and the siren’s song. He’s sailed to the end of the world for love of Sid and at the end, he can’t pull it to the forefront of his mind.

He thinks about survival instead.

Like Meredith did, he thinks.

I’ll come back.

Of course, if Sid had been there to ask, he’d have preferred that last thought anyway.

Next Tuesday will be an Audience post. The Island of the Centipede will continue on Thursday.

27 thoughts on “The Aftermath of Heaven (1 of 2)

  1. Woohoo! I am finally caught up!

    I think I just broke my brain attempting to read six months worth of Hitherby in one sitting.

  2. I wrote and wrote and then erased it. The more for the Audience post, I suppose.

    I fundamentally don’t get something to do with Max and Sid, as presented. To me, this escapade of Max’ seems much the same as the first one — first Max self-sacrificingly went to Hell in order to drag Sid there, to make Sid into what Max thought he should be; this time Max self-sacrificingly went to Heaven and got himself killed (?), to make Sid into what Max thought he should be. Isn’t Sid going to be just as or more broken up by the second trip as the first?

    Great story.

  3. I think, in a way, Max is hoping to do the opposite – instead of trying to make Sid be a false Sid that does not vivisect because otherwise Sid would be a thing Max could not love… Max is trying to remake Max.

    After all, if you make a promise that a human can’t keep…

  4. I still fail to see why wanting to prevent someone whose nature is to horribly murder people from horribly murdering people, should be seen as a ‘crime’.

    This whole latest Max/Sid arc gives me the kind of weird creepy feeling I get from reading even small doses of Ayn Rand, where she redefines ‘criminal’ to mean ‘altruist’.

    I’m kinda with Terry Pratchett on this one:

    “He was aware that a wise man should always respect the folkways of others, to use Carrot’s happy phrase, but Vimes often had difficulty with this idea. For one thing, there were people in the world whose folkways consisted of gutting other people like clams and this was not a procedure that commanded, in Vimes, any kind of respect at all.”

  5. I had myself come to the idea that Max’s promise to survive might turn him into a god.

    It’s interesting to note here that overpowering good can have the same effects as monstrous evil: the explosion, the breaking of boundaries. I wonder, will Martin intercede for Max the way he did for Jenna?

  6. If as siggort’s murdering people is somehow necessary and proper to the natural order of things, however, such as the theory that a siggort is a personification of the amoral suffering that visits all people in life… and it seems to me that there’s a strong suggestion that this is so.

    And, as said right there, it’s not that Max wants to stop Sid from murdering people; Max was removing Sid from having any choice in the matter, and surely that is an action to be despised? Virtue without temptation is no true virtue, it seems to me.

  7. “Max was removing Sid from having any choice in the matter, and surely that is an action to be despised?”

    That’s not obvious to me, no. Many moral imperatives preempt and confine individual free choice. Choice is not the greatest of all goods. It’s not like we have an unlimited supply of it in this universe anyway. Certain choices have *already* been removed from us merely by virtue of existing. We lose other choices through the natural progression of time, and as the result of our actions.

    “Virtue without temptation is no true virtue, it seems to me.”

    I don’t buy that. Virtue is good *for its own sake*. That’s the definition of virtue. The good is not the good because we choose it. It’s not the act of *choice* in itself that makes something good. It’s good because it’s good, or it’s bad because it’s bad, and if we happen to choose good rather than bad, that’s great for us. But our choice, or lack of choice, does not fundamentally alter the nature of virtue.

    Granted, that definition may not be the view of the Hitherby universe, given the case of Max in An Unclean Legacy and his sense of loss when he (voluntarily) gives up the choice to choose evil.

  8. natecull: “This whole latest Max/Sid arc gives me the kind of weird creepy feeling I get from reading even small doses of Ayn Rand, where she redefines ‘criminal’ to mean ‘altruist’.”

    I understand what you mean, but I think that you’re looking at it the wrong way. This is a story about a romantic relationship, told through narrative entities that have never had an adulthood. So, yeah, a lot of it has this kind of philosophical, abstract “who has the right to do what?” thing going on. I think of it as being something like this, if translated into the teen angst terms that Rebecca has abundantly flagged with Max brooding and so on (apologies in advance):

    (Sid is a Goth. Max a young Republican.)

    Sid: I’m really getting into this whole death metal thing. Look at this guy with an axe!

    Max: How can you be so attracted to the idea of chopping people up? Look, I’m going to take your CDs and throw them out, and make sure that you’re not thinking about this any more.

    Sid: How could you do this to me? That’s part of who I am! If you can’t accept me as *me*, *with* my makeup on, I don’t know if I want to see you at all! And I love you!

    Max: I’m so, so sorry. I thought it was to keep you from doing something really bad — but now I see that I’ve kept you from being your own person. This … is the worst thing I’ve ever done.

    Sid: (throws himself onto the couch, crying)

    Max: Look, I’ll do anything to make you feel better. What kind of doomed, self-destructive romantic gesture can I make? (Max gets into his car and drives off really fast.)

  9. Well, I guess this is a case where we just fundamentally disagree, natecull – a robot that’s programmed to only do good, with no ability to do evil, seems less virtuous to me than someone with free will who can look at a good path and an evil path, and choose the good. Because the robot’s only doing what it’s been told to do, but the person is weighing things morally.

    From a pragmatic standpoint, someone incapable of murder because they’re forced to follow Asimov’s three laws is just as nice to have around as someone who COULD murder, but thinks it’s just not a good idea, but I find the robot to be lesser.

  10. Free Will isn’t the greatest of all possible goods, no.

    On the other hand, removing someone’s personhood is pretty close to the greatest of all possible wrongs, and that’s fundamentally what Max tried to do.

    Of course, if Virtue comes to make everything right, why didn’t it change Max?

    Because there’s nothing wrong with him.

  11. I know that it’s presented as that Max tried to remove Sid’s personhood, but I really disagree that that was what he actually did. Max moved to Hell; Sid didn’t need to show up when he called. Sid could have gone through the same thing about how he’s not chained to Max’s outcomes, etc. And Sid still had his own choices, even there. He could have killed Ii Ma. He could have found an answer to the question that keeps him in Hell. (Actually, I assume that he will at some point).

    Max seemed very overwrought and overly fearful about occurances that were only potential when he had the whole idea to begin with. No doubt, it was a bad idea. But the same seems to apply to the various reactions to the original mistake. I mean, Max compares himself to the monster who deliberately tortured Jane over a long period of time. That’s just not a reasonable comparison. Max tried to do something that he now realizes was bad, but he failed, so his realization isn’t too late.

  12. I can certainly agree that preemptive punishment in our world is Bad, but it seems to me that that’s because people have the potential to change; that we are not fated to be, eg, suicide bombers or nuclear target designators or world-melting consumers merely because we grew up in a particular culture. So for me, the only possibly reason why self-sacrificingly banishing Sid would not be a just, moral and heroic act would be because it is within Sid’s nature that his nature does *not* have to be the nature of a Siggort. That he can become something other than what he currently is.

    Another possibility, and one I suspect this arc is trending towards, is that vivisecting will turn out to be ‘okay’ *if the person being vivisected willingly allows it*. Which would be similar to the setup in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead: think up the most horrific crime an alien culture could commit (staking people out and vivisecting them) then think up a justification for why they could see this as a humane and loving act (the descolada virus).

    Speaking of suicide bombers, anyone seen the anime ‘Wolves in Human Armour’? There’s a relationship at the core of that story which cuts very close to ‘loving the monster’.

  13. Another, I think, might link to Red Mary’s story. If the Buddha unhinged the world from dharma, the fact that a siggort has a nature to vivisect doesn’t mean they HAVE to. And as siggorts do not appear to be gods – they are more terrifying than gods, apparently – they don’t suffer the burden of being an isn’t, necessarily.

    Of course, that effect is fading, so another possible answer to the dilemma is that as dharma comes back in some form, Sid finds his nature isn’t what he thinks, as natecull suggests.

  14. I have NOT just come off a burst of reading/rereading Hitherby, but wasn’t Sid exiled from Siggort Town because he didn’t particularly want to vivisect people?

    He was capable of it, and he wouldn’t feel bad if he did it, but he wasn’t interested in doing it.

    So, a few things:
    1.) Lack of regret doesn’t indicate lack of reservations. Though we like to think so; ‘having no compunctions’ is often contextually used with ‘committed X crime’. I think Max was thinking along these lines.

    2.) The same lines lead to ‘any risk of X bad event is too much risk’. Yes, absolutely it’s a crime to punish somebody for something they haven’t actually done, in order to stop them from possibly doing it. Saying “but it’s in his nature” is silly; a person’s nature is only partially defined by how they came to exist. Yes, even in Hitherby-verse.

    3.) So, do the people discussing whether or not virtue is virtue if there’s no choice involved think the goodblow is capable of making choices?

    4.) Max has a lot of problems with himself. (One wonders if the siggort came about as an externalization of his own uncivilized and violent urges.) Why does Sid love him? Why does Sid still love him? If Sid changed into a vivisecting siggort, would Sid still love him? If Max let himself change into the sort of person transformed by love, would Sid still love him? Best to avert all risk and make sure nothing ever changes. Keep love in a box, keep Sid in a box, keep it all… safe.

  15. Jane, once, pointed out to the monster that hurting people doesn’t give you rights over them.

    The wogly that almost destroyed Martin was centered around whether he had the right to change and hurt people for their own good. He chose to define himself as someone who doesn’t care.

    The debate between Sidhartha and Devedatta about the dove, concerned whether Devedatta’s injury of the dove, or Sidhartha’s desire to heal it, gave them ownership of it.

    And, of course, Max thinks that the fact that he loves Sid gives him the right to try to change Sid.

    This is, clearly (to me, at least) a central issue of Hitherby, that of how (if at all) one can acquire rights over another. I think they’re all wrong. Martin’s wrongness is a wrongness that is the foundation of his existence, so he’s unlikely to change.

    Sidhartha, even, I think is wrong. His intent was good, but saying that your desire to help something makes it into something you own puts you on the same level as Martin remaking Jenna into Jane. That is to say, someone with good intentions, and who may achieve good results, but someone who’s still chosen to give themself rights that nobody should have.

    And Max… Max means well. It’s his love for Sid that makes him want to change him into a non-vivisecting Sid. But love doesn’t give you rights over someone else either.

    That’s the thing about love and the desire to help. They give you duties, but no rights. This is a tough thing, but on the other hand, it’s part of what keeps love from being even more of a terrible and frightening force than it already is.


  16. Ah, and that would explain the monster, too: “I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.”

  17. Very nice, Eric. You have clarified some issues for me. Thank you.

    I think you are fundamentally wrong about Martin, however. Martin does not change and hurt people. As I see it, he ensures that the hurt that has been done to people, brings them some benefit — but he does not hurt them himself, and he does not force change upon them. (It has been stated in so many words that Jenna could have refused him.) Although the bit with the wogly that you mention troubles me.

  18. I think that what the repeated theme that Eric points out is about is how to deal with abuse. Jane is in the position of being someone who was abused, who can’t forget the abuse, but who doesn’t want it to control the rest of her life. So she has to create a seperation between the memory of abuse and the sense that there still is an abuser there, demanding things from her, and controlling what she does. That’s what the talk of abuse not giving you rights over someone is about, I think.

    Martin presents himself as, in part, a sort of healer / remaker of abused people — a therapist, perhaps. But that provides its own, lesser, trap for the abused person. At some point, they have to detach themselves from the therapist and go on on their own. Martin’s denial of a right to change people is a sign that he’s not going to try to hold on to a life-long framework that he fits people into.

    All of this works fine with Jane, Martin, and the monster. I’m not sure whether it works with Max and Sid. Max and Sid strike me as a confused, adolescent (in love, anyway) couple who hurt each other largely out of misunderstandng, and framing the problem as one of rights, and crime, doesn’t really help — or rather, it hurts, since Max’s idea that he’s committed a crime is a poison that keeps him from actually talking to Sid. (What crime did Max actually commit? It’s hard to say, since it’s involved with what the concept of the place without recourse is, but merely trying to change someone is not universally regarded as a crime within Hitherby).

    Part of being in a long-term non-abusive relationship with someone is a process of mutual transformation (if you want to be romantic about it) or negotiation (if you don’t). People don’t know how to do this when they start out. They learn. There are tremendous blow-ups, sometimes, as they’re learning, and sometimes it turns out that one of the people involved is abusive. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, so the talk of rights just doesn’t seem to work. Long-term relationships don’t run off of who has the right to do what.

  19. I think you are fundamentally wrong about Martin, however. Martin does not change and hurt people. As I see it, he ensures that the hurt that has been done to people, brings them some benefit — but he does not hurt them himself, and he does not force change upon them. (It has been stated in so many words that Jenna could have refused him.) Although the bit with the wogly that you mention troubles me.

    I believe you are wrong.

    If Martin didn’t hurt people, he would be Lisa, and Lisa failed. But remember how Martin defined himself and his role.

    Martin opens his eyes. He releases a burden, or accepts it; they are one and the same.

    “It’s not the monster who’s hurting Jane,” Martin says. “I won’t claim that. I won’t be a passive observer. If I’m going to shape the world through suffering, I’m going to be the one who shapes it; and the monster’s responsibility won’t ever negate mine. It’s my job to make sure that suffering transforms.”

    There are fewer woglies now. They are skating off through the water, like toroidal tropical fish or evil aquatic froot loops that have been startled by a splash.

    But one remains.

    “Do you have the right?” it asks.


    Martin comes very close to nonexistence.

    Then he shakes his head. “That’s not important to me,” Martin says.


  20. Eric, yes of course I remember that; I don’t think it was necessary to quote at such length.

    The big difference between Martin and Lisa is that Martin is active where Lisa was passive. I think you’re right that Martin is willing to hurt people if he feels that hurting them is necessary; however he does not impose it by force. Again, see Transformation (1 of 1):

    “I was always glad,” Martin says, “that you accepted what I’d done to you. Because you could have stopped it.”

    You know, with this discussion I think I’ve finally figured out this exchange:

    “…it is a gift and it must be a gift because you cannot gain rights to someone else simply by acting upon them.”

    Jane peers at him.

    “That’s backwards,” she says.

    Jane feels that you should decide whether or not to act on someone depending on whether you have the right to do so. Martin is taking that action as a given, and making inferences about rights from that.

  21. So mayhap Martin is that spirit which says, “I am suffering, and I will take this suffering as a gift and an opportunity. It is being forced on me, but I will accept it gladly and will use it to make myself better. And if in order to do that I must suffer more than I already am, then I will give myself that gift as well.”

    And sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes it does, and it’s not like there’s any better alternative.

    Or so says my sleepy brain.

  22. Eric, yes of course I remember that; I don’t think it was necessary to quote at such length.

    It’s one of my favorite passages. I quote it gratuitously!

    As far as not imposing it by force… there, he falls down based on what he said to Sid. Jenna was broken, then. She may not have been an isn’t metaphysically, but I’d say that at least psychologically speaking, she was just as broken. Heck, if she wasn’t that broken, I doubt there was a need for what was done.

    But when she’s that broken, when Martin says to the world that she let him do it, what’s to stop the world from retorting that maybe it was her, and maybe it was the damage in her?

    When someone’s so broken that they can’t properly act on their own behalf, and indeed you have this whole speech ready about how they can’t, you don’t get to use “Well, she didn’t try to stop me.” as an excuse for changing them.

    Now, it may have been the right thing to do. I don’t know enough to say. But I think it still points to some problems with Martin’s worldview.


  23. Perhaps there’s a distinction between “ask” and “allow”?

    And even if not, perhaps Martin’s reasoning is that if they can’t ask, then he can initiate, and if they can’t refuse, then he can continue. This seems rationalizable (and possibly defensible or even laudable) given that his goal is to put them into a state where they can ask and refuse if they want to, and that he’s not simply turning them into things that blindly accept what he does.

    (And yay for quoting that passage gratuitously! :) )

  24. So, I was working late tonight and had some thoughts which I will now proceed to inflict on all of you.

    Martin uses suffering. (As seen in the quoted passage above which starts “Martin opens his eyes.”) Does that not make him complicit in the suffering? It’s like the perennial question of using medical data extracted by torture in Nazi death camps. I think that’s where the question of “right and wrong” vs. “that’s not important to me” comes in.

  25. Incidentally, I want to mention that I like finally seeing a case in a fantasy story where love, despite being powerful and transformative, nonetheless fails to conquer all.

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