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Chapter 1

 What begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin.

There is a thematic similarity between the S.‘s opening walk to the tavern and the entire story in Ship of Theseus. Like a musical fugue, the introductory theme is played in a single voice, and then the rest of the piece is built around that theme.

S. passes a woman attempting to straighten a sign advertising ROOMS. (p4-6)

It is noted that this is a city of ancient and flawed geometries. This scene correlates to S‘s disorientation beginning with his awakening on the streets of the Old Quarter, his struggle to understand his identity, his capture and “imprisonment” aboard the ship, the floating stars above and the “drifting twins,” and the waterspout storm that destroys the ship and leads him to the city of B—.

This scene would cover two chapters:

  1. What Begins, What Ends
  2. The Drifting Twins.

S. passes the barrel organ owner and the immigrant grinder in their distrustful exchange. (p7-10)

We see that this is a city of ancient and flawed arithmetics. We discover that the barrel organ man cheats the immigrant once in the dividing of profits, and again when he plans to send his “slow-witted but strong-armed sons” to attack the immigrant, grind his wrist bones to dust, and steal back even more. Then they will chase the monkey, attempt to sell it, and eventually try to kill it – but the monkey will escape.

This scene mirrors S.‘s arrival at the city of B— and his eventual flight from Vevoda’s men. The uneven exchange between the organ grinder and organ owner is a metaphor for strike between Vevoda and the factory workers.  The violence against the immigrant represents the bomb that goes off on the wharf. Vevoda’s detectives are mirrored in the barrel organ owner’s sons, and both men pursue an innocent bystander with hostile intentions – but both monkey and S. manage to escape. Run, monkey, run.

This section covers three chapters:

  1. The Emersion of S.
  2. Agent X
  3. Down and Out

S. passes the three boys who are throwing bricks and rocks at the streetlights, destroying the light. (p10-12)

S. at first does not know what is happening up ahead. He hears the bricks and rocks plocking on the street in three groups of three. He sees that the street before him is shrouded in darkness. Finally, he catches up with the boys and they hide in the shadows. As S. passes, they re-emerge and put out yet another light. Later, when he arrives at the tavern, he notices that it is lit by only a single intact streetlight, which highlights the symbol “S.

This scene serves as a metaphor for S.’s life plunging into darkness as he runs from Vevoda and makes the conscious choice to become an vengeful assassin. The boys in the shadows are the Agents of Vevoda, and they hide from him because he represents the end of their “fun.” It is only S.‘s presence in the book that give momentary pause to the activities of the Agents of Vevoda as he pursues them and kills them, but it isn’t permanent. More emerge, and the light continues to lose its battle with darkness. Even S. himself is enshrouded in darkness as he pursues this unholy path.

Compare this quote from Chapter 1 regarding the three boys throwing rocks (p11)…

Struggling to stifle the giddy laughter of transgression, they wait for him to pass.

…to this quote from The Interlude regarding Agents #9 and #41 (p322)…

this is what they know: the Boss’s name (Vévoda, they whisper to each other, with the giddy thrill of transgression) is being broadcast over a shortwave frequency and linked to all sorts of malfeasance and treachery.

This section covers these chapters and the Interlude:

  1. A Sleeping Dog
  2. The Obsidian Island
  3. The Territory
  4. Toccata and Fugue in Real Time
  5. The Territory

S. passes the harbormaster, who is upset that S. does not acknowledge his greeting. (p12-14)

The harbormaster looks through his spyglass and apparently sees S‘s soon-to-be ship entering the harbor, but he does not recognize it because it seems so surreal. He shrugs and heads home to his mother. He walks on the glass of the broken streetlights and struggles to understand who would do such things. He passes S. and offers a greeting, but is ignored, sending him into a disgruntled walk home.

This represents S‘s time in the Winter City, where everyone is in the same city but no one can see or talk to each other. Each lives in crowded isolation. Note that the harbormaster could see Ss ship in the distance, just as S‘s ship waited in the distance off the shore of the Winter City outside the ice. The harbormaster’s desire for “comradeship and civility, the friendly hello, the small talk of a shared city” reflect S‘s own longing for the same as he spends his time in an arctic purgatory.

This section covers most of the chapter Birds of Negative Space – until S. connects with Sola.

S. sees the “S.” symbol for the first time and meets Sola in the Tavern (p14-23)

S. arrives at the tavern and notes the “S.” symbol for the first time, revealed by a lone, unbroken streetlight. He senses it means something and enters the tavern. After longing for someone to recognize him, he sees Sola looking at him. He approaches her, sees her reading The Archer’s Tales, and sits down with her. Here, for the first time, he begins to feel a sense of identity.

This scene is a metaphor for S‘s finally connecting with Sola – first at the end of Birds of Negative Space and then on through the end of the book in the final chapter, Ships of Theseus. Note that S. sees Sola reading the book The Archer’s Tales by Arquimedes de Sobreiro. At the end of Birds of Negative Space, Sola meets S. in the very apartment where Sobreiro lived – and died. She helps S. understand that he is connected to Sobreiro. “Different stories. Same tradition.”It is S.’s connection to Sola that gives him his sense of identity. Rather than continue to pursue the dark path of assassination and violence, he finds enlightenment. He sees himself, lit by that lone light. He is S. He gives up his path and leaves Vevoda alive. The two of them return to the ship (the ship that in the Obsidian Island book of “S.” has Sobreiro visible in the hull of every drawning of S.‘s ship).

Now they are together and now things make sense.

This section covers the last half of Birds of Negative Space as well as the entire chapter Ships of Theseus.

Concluding Thoughts

This organization of the book lends more strength to the idea that the book Ship of Theseus is crafted in the manner of a musical fugue. And V.M. Straka, like J.S. Bach, has included riddles, ciphers, and puzzles for us to solve as the music plays.