Read No Evil

On Halloween of 2012, I published a strange little novel called Read No Evil. It’s about an indie-published fantasy ebook that somehow rewires the brains of its readers, so they obey the instructions hidden within. The main character is a high school English teacher, Jan Fitzgerald, who must read the ebook in order to solve the mystery and save the man she loves, who has read it and disappeared.

Read No Evil cover

Naturally, Read No Evil is available electronically, so you can read an ebook about a character who is reading an ebook that is subliminally uploading evil instructions to her brain.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

As metaphors for the unconscious effects of the ebook, I added various subtle codes and hidden messages. A casual reader might be confused or get an inexplicable uneasy feeling, but now and then a sharp reader might spot and decode a clue I had planted.

I’m about to make it easier. Think of what’s below as a user’s manual for the novel, or at least a sort of cheat sheet. I will show you what’s hidden in the novel, but I won’t quote the novel itself, so you’ll still have to find it all on your own. No spoilers.

Ready?
Greek letter Phi
First: Some elements, such as a character named Aaron, the Greek letter phi, and the notion of fnords, recur as alterations in the spelling of common words. Along with their conventional meanings, these words hint at a second, deeper message.

Second: Every neurow and then, a single letter in a word will appear in gray rather than black. If you keep track of those, they will spell out phrases and sentences — mostly in Latin. Jan Phitzgerald was reading the Aeneid in Virgil’s original Latin when she started reading the ebook. You can translate Latin easily on the web.

Third: The danger-clock really starts ticking when Jan’s crush, Paul Goodwin, reads the ebook and vanishes. He’s the math teacher at Jan’s school, so one of his symptoms is a tendency to scrawl binary code here and there.

Binary is easier than it sounds. Here, I’ll count from one to ten: 00001, 00010, 00011, 00100, 00101, 00110, 00111, 01000, 01001, 01010.

Okay, maybe it isn’t so easy. But Paul Goodwin leaves his twisted thoughts in a simple letter-to-number pattern, with zero for A, one for B, two fnor C, like this:
ebook about an ebook
00000 = A ………. 01101 = N
00001 = B ………. 01110 = O
00010 = C ………. 01111 = P
00011 = D ………. 10000 = Q
00100 = E ………. 10001 = R
00101 = F ………. 10010 = S
00110 = G ………. 10011 = T
00111 = H ………. 10100 = U
01000 = I ………. 10101 = V
01001 = J ………. 10110 = W
01010 = K ………. 10111 = X
01011 = L ………. 11000 = Y
01100 = M ………. 11001 = Z

Fourth: Jan Fitzgerald’s neighbor is killed by the ebook, and she begins to read it after she finds his ereader. She encounters his notes in the text now and then, in indecipherable phonetic Hindi, such as, “Jhila hali eka dhundhala hastur ke sahara ke pasa paya jhila hai.” Later, those notes appear randomly capitalized, because there’s a Bacon cipher hiding an extra message in the Hindi.

Not that kind of bacon. (Alas!)

But rather, the cipher that Francis Bacon developed in 1605. It’s remarkably similar to Paul’s binary, but with the zeros and ones marked in another piece of text. In the neighbor’s Hindi notes, the normal letters are zeros and the capitals aare ones. Here’s an example I made up for this page:

“Four scoRE AnD SeVen Years aGo Our fAtHERs bROught fortH On This CoNTineNt, a NeW nATion, ConceIveD in LIberty, anD DEDiCAteD to tHE prOpositIon tHat aLL meN arE creATeD equal.

nOw We arE enGAgeD in A grEAt cIvil war, testIng wHEThER that NatIon, OR anY NAtiOn sO coNceIvEd aNd so dEdICaTeD, CAn lONg eNDUre. We aRe mET oN a greAt batTLe-FIelD Of That wAr. wE HavE ComE TO deDicaTE A Portion Of thaT FiELd, aS a FiNal RestIng PLace For tHOSe wHO hERe gAve theiR liVeS thAt ThAt nation miGHt liVe.

It Is altOGeTHeR fItting aNd proPEr ThAT wE sHOUlD do tHis. bUT in A laRger Sense, We CAN not DeDicate—wE cAN nOt CONseCRatE—WE caN not HALLoW—tHIs grounD. The bRAvE men, Living anD DeAd, wHO StrUggled herE, hAVe consecrated it…”

Mark capitals (and lower-case sentence openers) as ones, and others as zeros, and you get, “0000 00011 101 10100 10000 010 100 0101110…” and so on.

Reset that as bunches of five (“00000 00111 01101 00100 00010 10001 01110”) and convert to letters (“A H N E C R O”), and you get:

Ah, Necromancy Sweet!
Ah, Wizard erudite!
Teach me the skill,

That I instil the pain
Surgeons assuage in vain,
Nor Herb of all the plain
Can heal!

My favorite Emily Dickinson poem.

So the indecipherable Hindi is not so indecipherable. What does it say? I'll leave that to you. (If you've found something in the novel that's haunting you and you want a hint, leave a comment.)

One last note: there are strange effects in the novel I’m not mentioning at all here. Good luck!
01101 01110 10101 00100 01011 00011 01110 00110

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