Jeremy Robinson’s and Sean Ellis’s latest Jack Sigler novel “Prime” (2013) reveals the origins of the “Chess Team” (their super-secret Delta-of-Deltas best-of-the-best elite US army team, that’s hopefully fictional, or else I’m a dead man in the next 10 minutes 🙂) that rattles along in the other novels in the same series. Here, though, the goodies-vs-superbaddies story plays out against the backdrop of the Voynich Manuscript’s secrets, the origins of the Black Plague, and indeed the ultimate origins of Life on Earth. But with lots of guns.

Thankfully, Robinson gets one over on most of his Voynich fiction competition by finding ways of not inserting too many cut-and-pasted slabs of cod Wikipedia-esque history into his brisk narrative: while another near-first is that the manuscript stays centre-stage throughout the whole book, which is also a nice change from what has become the norm.

Yet… despite all the knowingly-contemporary ironic macho posturing and ultra-weaponry fetishism of the genre, the language of “Prime” used still feels to me like it has been written for 17- or 18-year-olds. You know: relentlessly soul-less super-soldier hyper-gun pr0n, coupled with the run-at-the-camera poisoned-sugar rush of 3d zombie films and the moral one-dimensionality of young adult fiction. And as for the crypto girl’s inner maths-geek monologues… well, best not get me started on something that badly lame.

“Prime” was certainly a quick read, and perhaps if I had previously trawled through the rest of the Chess Team series, I might just have viewed many of the sequences in a different, possibly more nuanced light. But in the end, I’m pretty sure that it is what it is: a Voynich novel that treats the manuscript with reasonable respect (mostly), yet fetishizes and objectifies just about everything else it touches. And with lots of guns.

Basically, if your secret inner you is an 18-year-old kid who thinks that big guns and heroes that are described as looking like “Hugh Jackman[‘s]… film portrayal of the comic book superhero Wolverine” (p.26) are all like totally kewl, while also being a tiny bit of a cipher mystery history geek, then maybe this is the hot book of the year for you. But for the rest of us… maybe not.

24 thoughts on ““Prime” / Jack Sigler / Voynich Manuscript novel…

  1. Nick, thanks.

    I’d never heard of these authors before, but the novel sounds just the thing for a forty-ish acquaintance with a birthday due soon. Level of sophistication in medical literature not low, but a total kid about leisure reading. Claims to have read Lord of the Rings cover to cover (songs and all) more than thirty times.

    So ~ kudos to the authors’ literary agent for getting the book where you noticed it, with a blurb that persuaded you to buy, read and review.

  2. Diane: for LOTR, that would be “covers to covers”, I think. I’m reading it as a bedtime story with my son, currently fighting hordes of trolls in the dark. Not unlike this blog! 😉

  3. J-R-R-Tolkien-The-Lord-of-the-Rings-1968-first-3-in-1-Paperback-Edition-261115537490

    You’re too young to remember it. 🙂

  4. Diane: that’s not a book, that’s a bookshelf masquerading as a book. 😉

  5. Nick,
    imagine the day the VM will be cracked and those books “for 17- or 18-year-olds” will not find the inspiration in it any more. Wouldn’t it be a real loss ( at least for those 17- or 18-year-olds)? :
    Of course, that will be also a sad day for Gord Rugg. Of course, he can always claim it is not the rght gibberish … :-).


  6. mindy dunn on October 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm said:

    Jan, speaking as one who claims to be able to read the VMS (and happens to be the only one who doesnt have to anagram every word, and can answer the qokedy dain question) thankfully, the content of the translated text is as interesting as the manuscript would seem to be through visual examination. I may be misjudging humanity, but I think the vms will continue to inspire long after its secrets are released.

  7. Mindy,

    I was just kidding, I study the VM for more than 10 years now and while I am not able to read it (yet) , I am still finding it quite fascinating. I do not find fascinating however the books about it, by those using it only as an excuse to write anything anytime anywhere.

  8. Hi Jan
    Since you’re here – if you’re not intending to include in VS my comment on the photo of Wilfrid Voynich, could you let me know?

  9. Diane,

    I do not understand – are you hinting that you wanted me to send anything to the VS? You probably sent it by direct e- mail to me but I never got anything from you, sorry.

  10. Oh – ok. Perhaps I have an old email address. I sent a note on the 1910 portrait.

  11. I have a serious question about the Voynich manuscript, which I’d like to discuss – seriously – with other researchers, but experence shows that the mailing list is not the place to do that, and the forum receives no replies.

    So this is it: what documentary evidence is there that *anyone* before the twentieth century believed the manuscript’s script or language was European?

    Ancillary to that: what documentary evidence is there that anyone apart from Mnishovsky believed those the language and/or script medieval or early modern?

    We don’t know just what Kircher meant by ‘Illyrian’, wheher he was speaking in the classical sense or not, so that guess he made goes into my ‘neutral’ basket.

    I don’t doubt that the manuscript was copied in the early fifteenth century, and in all probability in or around the Venetto (or thereabouts).

    What I wonder is whether the whole edifice of current studies is built on pure sand.

  12. mindy dunn on October 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm said:

    The verdon cliff inscription is at least partially readable in voynichese, using my translation method. Using this method, the cliff inscription dates to the 900s. I can’t tell you who wrote that (someone who wanted to make sure everyone who could read that text knew louis iv was the rightful heir) but of course it is European.

    Also, st germain’s wine uses his alleged signature, in which the r (eva k)is the same as in the vms. He was alive circa 300s, using current era years (meaning not trying to subtract the gregorian mess).

    Also, there are a number of artworks that match translated texts and are time period related (european, as long as you include the haggia sophia) indicating a number of people at least knew the contents. Further, some of the letters match the origination language…eg not altered. The language is european. There are occasional loan words in greek(usually names), latin(names), hebrew(the only one I remember offhand is tob or good…but there are two or three others that I have seen occasionally), and once in norse (fimbulvinter), but the majority of the words are language of origin and remain largely unchanged.

    I can’t speak for the whole edifice of current studies because I have still largely not studied them. I will say there is only one occasion in the 20th century that I found by google searching where someone even pondered the possibility of the correct language. I give that guy props and do wonder if he ever figured any of it out, in spite of stating he didn’t.

  13. SirHubert on October 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm said:


    A: “What documentary evidence is there that *anyone* before the twentieth century believed the manuscript’s script or language was European?”

    B: “What I wonder is whether the whole edifice of current studies is built on pure sand.”

    Do you think that if the answer to A were ‘none’, B would be more likely? If so, why?

  14. Mindy: the last person I know of who claimed that their Voynichese decryption method could also read other inscriptions was John Stojko, where it was a clear sign that his method was just as able to decrypt static as Voynichese.

  15. Mindy Dunn on October 13, 2013 at 11:33 pm said:

    Nick, that is interesting, but the fact remains that each page of the manuscript uses some of the same words over and over. Words that are used in kenning style( eg if it were in English, youkingbe) also are repeated, so if I have torebe… which in Eva I think is qokedy…and i know it means Tu reigh bi…then I do not have to try to make torebe mean anything else it is always, you king be. Dain (Eva) = Bain in old version of language, bean in current, and means woman in English. Now it is poignantly obvious the language. There are a few words which are anagrammed…usually names, and so far if repeated always anagrammed the same way. For example omran…roman. As far as I know, I am the only one who can read the text straightforward, and I have been able to put dates with places with translated text with supporting period artwork. I have been able to find existing proofs of similarities in historic manuscripts of the country of origin, to include the scorpion being some sort of a dragon or lizard. I have been able to figure out why certain plants (not all) are used and prove the reason for use. Oh, and I was able to put the letters on the page with a column of letters preceding the text, the one that also has 12345 written on it into a sensible order. I don’t have that with me right now but the meaning ended up being something close to oh king be, God increase. Kiss those who seek. It would then go into normal text. I have some of the normal text lines translated, and as fragments they make sense. But I think they may also be in 12345 order, eg pair 1 with 6, 11, and 16…

    As for the cliff writing, the words match the location and the historic dates, which in an of itself I find interesting. The numbers used are the same as I have seen in the manuscript, as are the letters. It is okay with me if people choose to look the other way. For me, the fascination is with the history. Plus, a lot of the history is rather politically sensitive for its time, so if it doesn’t get published or recognized in some way, all that happens is the current historic status quo remains. If it does though, the historic status quo will face some change, which hopefully the institutions involved can withstand.

  16. Mindy,
    Since you say that you’ve deciphered the text, and passed the qokedy test, I am certainly looking forward to reading it.

    Thank you so much for responding. It comes down to looking for the primary evidence from which opinons have been formed, and for this finding none but the second-hand report of one alleged assertion, recorded by a man who didn’t believe it and was in any case in advanced stages of senility.

    I don’t think I’d have questioned the idea if it weren’t that the manuscript’s internal evidence also provides arguments to the contrary, as does Panofsky’s opinion that the work is southern and Jewish. Mozarbic. Anne Nill doesn’t seem to have quite understod that if it contained Merkabah or Hakalot (Kabbalah) as he said, it couldn’t be Muslim.

    So – rather late – I began wondering why Baresch and others would trouble Kircher, whose expertise was supposed to be in ancient and non-European languages, unless they supposed the matter ancient and – according to Baresch- in some way ‘Egyptian’. Mitzraymi (Egyptian) perhaps, or Mizrahi (eastern Jewish).

    At that point I went looking for evidence to the contrary i.e. evidence that it wasn’t ancient, nor Jewish nor any but mainstream (continental) European. So far, a little disconcertingly, I’ve found none.

    If the dates didn’t argue otherwise, I might even be tempted to explore the question of whether the book of rabbi Barachias and that of Georg Baresch weren’t the same.

    For an easy check-list of things I felt I should footnote linking to primary sources, I went through the wiki article, keeping only things treated as estalished fact (i.e not only as consensual truth but satisfactorily documented). It was surprising to find that though the ‘all-European’ thesis has been well-elaborated in recent years, it is supported pretty well only for manufacture, not for (nor, I’d argue, by) matter contained.
    Clearly, this isn’t likely to prove of much interest to many researchers, who may easily interpret questions about primary evidence as attacks on the theories which rely on the assumptions built in lieu. So I’m hoping that their may prove to be something more than the Minishovsky story as foundation. Otherwise, I’ll have to travel a thorny and lonely path alone, I expect.

  17. *their opinions may prove to be constructed from something*
    – some words dropped from the line.

  18. bdid1dr on October 14, 2013 at 4:47 pm said:

    Eloquently said, Diane. Nastalique being one of my favorite scripts. Some very beautiful Hebrew manuscripts “out there” also. I wonder if Nick ever made it to Greenwich University’s archives. I was able to trace their storage facilities to what I think was called “Isle of Dogs”.

  19. bdid1dr on October 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm said:


  20. Bdid1r

  21. Bdid1dr
    I am still looking for documentary evidence in support of the ‘all-European’ thesis

    .By ‘European’ here, I mean in medieval terms, when the ‘four nations of Europe’ meant people whose first languages were German, French, English or Italian.

  22. SirHubert on October 14, 2013 at 9:32 pm said:

    Bdid1dr – for your possible interest, Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs are both in East London on opposite sides of the Thames. They are connected by the splendid Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a fine monument to the Victorian belief that you could achieve just about anything with sufficient manpower and cast iron. It’s worth a quick Google search if you have a moment.

  23. Nick, in f24v, on the sixth line from the top, third word, EVA “cfarasr”, the “s” is on top of the “a”.

    It looks like an accidental omission of the “s” was eventually corrected by placing it on top of where it ought to have been. What’s your interpretation of the character placement in this portion of the text?

  24. Not sure if this will interest, but in case – this from a draft blogpost:

    The whorl, but certainly not use of interlace or knots, is reminiscent of Voynich imagery, and specifically folio 67r, where I expect the eight arms’ inscriptions record information, possibly as proverbs, relating to the major rhumbs. These are defined by their stars, -winds, and/or associated routes on land or sea in the usual way of the eastern and western works (i.e. of navigation).

    In the Mediterranean, by medieval times, the rhumb-lines were defined by winds. Earlier and elsewhere either by a combination of wind-and-star names, or in the Great Sea by stars alone, though there it would be unusual to have only eight divisions.

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