The last chapter of Unsong will be posted this Sunday
May 10, 2017 8:04 AM   Subscribe

A novel about kabbalah, the structure of the universe, etc. It has weirdness and puns. Who watches the watchmaker? I don't think I can do it justice, but if you like fiction that's very much the mind at play, full of good things which is also emotionally intense, I suggest taking a look at it.

"Aaron Smith-Teller works in a kabbalistic sweatshop in Silicon Valley, where he and hundreds of other minimum-wage workers try to brute-force the Holy Names of God. All around him, vast forces have been moving their pieces into place for the final confrontation. An overworked archangel tries to debug the laws of physics. Henry Kissinger transforms the ancient conflict between Heaven and Hell into a US-Soviet proxy war. A Mexican hedge wizard with no actual magic wreaks havoc using the dark art of placebomancy. The Messiah reads a book by Peter Singer and starts wondering exactly what it would mean to do as much good as possible...

Aaron doesn't care about any of this. He and his not-quite-girlfriend Ana are engaged in something far more important – griping about magical intellectual property law. But when a chance discovery brings them into conflict with mysterious international magic-intellectual-property watchdog UNSONG, they find themselves caught in a web of plots, crusades, and prophecies leading inexorably to the end of the world."
posted by Nancy Lebovitz (11 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Shades of Umberto Eco there... so many books, so little time.
posted by Leon at 8:08 AM on May 10, 2017

I glanced at the table of contents and secretly hoped it would prove dull, unimaginative and a waste of time. But it's clearly not. Oh my....
posted by jim in austin at 8:17 AM on May 10, 2017

Not to be be missed is "HaMephorash," by the alternate-universe Leonard Cohen. ("It goes like this -- a tav, a resh, a fearsome joy, a fervent wish, the Comet King incanting HaMephorash"). The lyrics are part of the story, that recording is by the Bayesian Choir.
posted by officer_fred at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Though the design of the website means he isn't actually credited, Unsong was written by Scott Alexander. Other works here.

I guess it's just old fashioned to expect the author to be associated with their work.
posted by happyroach at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

First chapter occurs on may 10th, 2017. That's today!
posted by vs at 8:59 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember getting into this a few months back and binging the first 50 chapters or so. It's fun stuff, and there's a lot of cleverness packed into it! Unfortunately, I felt like as I got farther in, it got more and more wrapped up in showing off the author's cleverness, at the expense of maintaining a coherent narrative. It reminded me of a game of exquisite corpse, where each chapter followed logically from the previous one, but the end result just meandered all over the place.

(Plus, there were a couple of plot threads which made it quite clear they were written by a guy, to be appreciated by guys -- enough so that, even being a guy, I found it slightly jarring.)

Anyway, I did really enjoy the high points of the story, and I definitely recommend giving it a look. But personally I don't really feel that much motivation to press through to the end.
posted by teraflop at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found unsong by seeing this shirt. I read the whole thing (well, what existed at the time, I think up to chapter ~60) in a sitting, then read the prologue out loud (well, half of it) to my partner to get them to start reading ("Babies left unattended began to roll slowly, but unmistakeably, uphill.")

I explained it to my partner in this way: The author thinks he's very clever, and he wants you to know he's very clever, but it's okay, because he is, actually, very clever.
posted by you could feel the sky at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I explained it to my partner in this way: The author thinks he's very clever, and he wants you to know he's very clever, but it's okay, because he is, actually, very clever.

That's pretty much Scott Alexander in a nutshell, for a given definition of "actually very clever".
posted by Itaxpica at 10:48 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fairly clever & prone to massively overthinking things with that weird rationalist idea that going over the whole of western thought from first principles is a constructive thing for an ordinary person to do.

But with that much overthinking going on, he inevitably pops up with some gems, so it’s not all bad. On the internet, everyone gets to see all your bad ideas as well as the good ones that you’ve spent years polishing...
posted by pharm at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

This was not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:47 PM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm up to chapter 5, and I'm enjoying the story a lot, but he keeps making awful errors in Hebrew, Biblical studies, and traditional Jewish culture. I keep (mentally) shouting things like THAT ISN'T A HEBREW NAME or NAMED ANGELS DON'T APPEAR IN EARLY BIBLICAL BOOKS or YESHIVA STUDENTS ARE NOT KNOWN FOR HANGING OUT IN BARS.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:54 AM on May 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

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