Spoiler for Nethack

In Nethack, you need seven candles for the candelabrum to get past the vibrating square and into Gehennom. Unlike most other things in Nethack, to be useful, these candles do not have to be uncursed.

Although a candle may be viewed as "primitive" because it uses fire as its source of illumination, candlelight contains an almost mystical quality that cannot be duplicated by any form of electricity. Lightbulbs may have replaced fire as a way to see in the dark, but in the transition, we have lost the richness of shadows.

The yellows, oranges, and reds of a burning candle speak to us on an unconscious level, to a primal instinct in man that finds comfort in the mastery of fire. Seduction, through candles, is but one manifestation of a its luxurious speech. A candlelit room, though dynamic in its flickering sparks and dancing darknesses, is also inherently calming. How easy it is to lose yourself in such a place; how easy it is to lose your time in the glint of a candlelit room.

A candle's primary purpose is not to provide light or warmth for us. Nor is it a simple decoration for a table or bookshelf. On some level, a candle is a reminder that we are human, and that nature will always be in us and around us.

By John Barnes
Tor Books (December 2000)

Candle is a not too distant sci-fi story centering on a man named Currie Curran. As the story opens we’re introduced to Curran, his wife Mary, Resuna and One True.

Resuna and One True are "memes": a sort of software that runs in the computer that is a human’s brain. One True is a group consciousness that is realized through the constant connection of millions of Resuna running in millions of people, connected by a hardware device installed in each person’s head.

We find out later in the story that there used to be hundreds of different memes running loose in the world. They were created by people around the time of Curran’s birth, and function much like a computer virus. Their primary goal is to spread themselves to other people, with secondary goals like causing mayhem or creating a power base of slaves for the creator of the meme to control.

After years of war, during which memes took control of humans and used them to fight other humans controlled by other memes, One True emerged as the winner and now dominates the planet. Every human being on Earth is required to have Resuna installed and be controlled by One True (although One True would say it doesn’t actually control anyone, it just helps them when they need it).

Curran is a retired Cowboy Hunter. Cowboys are people who somehow got lose of Resuna, or avoided having it installed in the first place. Cowboys live free lives in the unpopulated wild remains of the Earth. Cowboy hunters track them down and try to capture them alive, so they can have Resuna installed.

The first chapter sees One True ask Curran to come out of retirement and hunt down the last Cowboy on Earth, Lobo. Lobo was that last Cowboy Curran ever tracked, and in their last encounter he thought he saw him die. That was a decade ago, but now Lobo has appeared again.

The next 80 pages have us following Curran while he tracks Lobo in the snowy mountains. As most people do, I had read the back of the book and knew that at some point Curran would be capture by Lobo and have his Resuna deactivated, and see Curran join Lobo against One True and ultimately free the world from it.

Since Curran's capture happens after only 80 pages, and I figured the rest of the story would explain how these two new buddies would take on the world, and it’s evil Big Brother, and finally win freedom for all and probably get a girl or two along the way.

But no. Instead, these two guys spend a great deal of time sitting in a hot tub together talking about their pasts. That’s it.

The stories of their respective pasts tell of all their own adventures during the "meme wars" where memes fought for supremacy, and how Curran came to be a hunter and Lobo the hunted. That’s it.

After 200 pages of that, they have a fight and Lobo runs away. One True’s other hunters catch lobo and Curran turns himself in and has Resuna reinstalled.

But then it turns out that the evil One True isn’t as evil as we thought. See, Lobo has another meme, one that was thought lost in the wars. It’s called Freecyber and its secondary function (primary being to spread itself, of course) is to eradicate all other memes from a person’s brain, while staying nice and quiet and allowing the person total control of himself. Basically it’s an inoculation against all other memes.

One True realized that it was controlling all the humans and didn’t like that, cause it meant it didn’t have any friends. Jesus fucking wept, a computer program with no friends. You see, as long as One True controlled people, he could make them like him, but that’s not really a real friend is it? No, and the poor meme is sad about it.

So One True’s plan was to get Curran to capture Lobo so it could use the Freecyber meme in combination with Resuna to give people some choice over whether they did what Resuna suggested or not.

In the end it all worked out and everyone got the new Resuna Light meme installed in their heads and now they’re not mindless automatons. They also wake up and realize that they don’t really like the wives and husbands that One True hooked them up with, and the world is a big stinking mess thanks to years of war. Ain’t freedom grand.

My Review
I enjoyed this story and although some points in my synopsis are intentionally sarcastic, some elements of the plot are as convenient and cliché as they may sound. However, you could put that down to the super meme One True being really smart and putting things together so it worked out nicely. Okay, so it’s a good book if I'm willing to accept it was suppose to be convenient and cliché.

My only real complaint about this book was that I felt cheated by how easily the main characters won. I was expecting a story about two guys against the world, lots of fighting and intrigue and eventually a Macgyver-esque plan that topples One True. Instead, we get the history of two old guys told as they sit in a hot tub. Really it's not bad, but not what I was expecting.

And most frustrating of all: after reading the book, I still don't understand the title.

Can"dle (?), n. [OE. candel, candel, AS, candel, fr. L. candela a (white) light made of wax or tallow, fr. candere to be white. See Candid, and cf. Chandler, Cannel, Kindle.]


A slender, cylindrical body of tallow, containing a wick composed of loosely twisted linen of cotton threads, and used to furnish light.

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. Shak.

⇒ Candles are usually made by repeatedly dipping the wicks in the melted tallow, etc. ("dipped candles"), or by casting or running in a mold.


That which gives light; a luminary.

By these blessed candles of the night. Shak.

Candle nut, the fruit of a euphorbiaceous shrub (Aleurites triloba), a native of some of the Pacific islands; -- socalled because, when dry, it will burn with a bright flame, and is used by the natives as a candle. The oil has many uses. -- Candle power Photom., illuminating power, as of a lamp, or gas flame, reckoned in terms of the light of a standard candle. Electric candle, A modification of the electric arc lamp, in which the carbon rods, instead of being placed end to end, are arranged side by side, and at a distance suitable for the formation of the arc at the tip; -- called also, from the name of the inventor, Jablockoff candle. -- Excommunication by inch of candle, a form of excommunication in which the offender is allowed time to repent only while a candle burns. -- Not worth the candle, not worth the cost or trouble. -- Rush candle, a candle made of the pith of certain rushes, peeled except on one side, and dipped in grease. -- Sale by inch of candle, an auction in which persons are allowed to bid only till a small piece of candle burns out. -- Standard candle Photom., a special form of candle employed as a standard in photometric measurements; usually, a candle of spermaceti so constructed as to burn at the rate of 120 grains, or 7.8 grams, per hour. -- To curse by bell, book and candle. See under Bell.


© Webster 1913.

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