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Unsong

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  1,123 ratings  ·  131 reviews
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 betw ...more
ebook, 658 pages
Published May 17th 2017
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Average rating 4.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,123 ratings  ·  131 reviews


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Gwern
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Moved to gwern.net. ...more
Mars
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very decent story made utterly glorious by the indiscriminate use of terrible puns.
Very interesting idea, intriguing characters, excellent world-building, good writing, and the puns, oh the puns.

"The Norse speak of Jormungand, the World Serpent, who circles the earth to grasp its own tail. The Babylonians say that the heavens and earth were built from the corpse of the primordial sea dragon Tiamat. Even the atheists represent the cosmos as part of a great whale, saying that the whole world is
...more
Jayesh
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved the book. I guess the genre would be Kabbalah-punk adventure? We need more of these. I should read Foucault's Pendulum.

Would I recommend it? I don't know. Depends if you like shameless puns and wordplay or are annoyed by them. Even though it deals with fairly complicated things like meaning of good and is in general set in a dystopian version of present, the tone is humorous almost all the time. However this often results in blunting the effects of so many deaths and other bad things hap
...more
Claire H
Blimey, where to begin. It might be best to start with a summary of the book (if that’s even possible). It’s an epic that spans the mid-1900s to the present day, incorporating plenty of references to very recent events and people. At its heart, the machinery of heaven is broken and the world is teetering between being one of science that obeys the laws of physics, and one of magic where the divine light of God is allowing all sorts of supernatural actions and events to unfold. Hell is battling t ...more
Douglas Summers-Stay
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Unsong is a (just finished) serial novel by the author of Slate Star Codex, the best blog that is currently updating. It is set in a world where Kabbalistic Judaism and some form of Gnostic Christianity are true, and cracks have formed, letting the magic leak into the everyday world. One of the beginning plot points is a computer which churns through all possible names of god to determine which ones have power, called Llull. If you've read my book, you can see why I would be interested.
Unsong is
...more
Yuri Karabatov
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow, just wow.
Tony
Jun 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Do you like puns? If so, read this. If not, read this and ignore the puns.
Eric Herboso
Imagine that Judaism is actually true, and this becomes glaringly obvious when the Apollo mission bumps into the firmament and miracles start happening across the world.

Author Scott Alexander takes us on a wild ride in this alternate-history-esque story, filled with puns galore and references to all the kinds of things that people in the effective altruism and/or rationality space care about. While the story is not an example of rationalist fiction, people who like rational fiction will probably
...more
V.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Okay, admission: this is one of those reviews where I, the reviewer, didn't bother to finish the book. I gave up about halfway through, and haven't come back to it even after the whole thing was completed.

I'm torn about my star rating because some of the chapters are downright incredible on their own terms: "When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears" is frankly a masterpiece, and many of the chapters explicating the history of the Untied States are fun and incredible.

So, Scott Alexander is a talent
...more
Max
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
at first I found it too dense, but I'm glad I stuck with it!

It is what Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy might be if it was centered on religion and spirituality instead of Sci-Fi.

...more
Mark Vayngrib
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
3.5, rounded up to 4 for being so different from the other fantasy out there. This is the wackiest book I've read in a while. Intellectual property wars surrounding the Names of God (like "Wingardium Leviosa"), archangels that maintain and debug the infrastructure of the universe, obsessive (and often annoying) meaning-hunting in every seemingly innocuous phrase, truly horrible puns that double the spectrum dominance of dad-joke humor, epic battles where opponents attack each other by rearrangin ...more
AN R
May 15, 2021 rated it did not like it
DNF and here’s why:
This was so clever, I was loving it, I was prepared to give it five stars and then quickly go to read everything else by this author. I wrote up a review of the first book, I recommended it specifically to a few friends... aaaaaand then the really horrid islamophobia started. Really kicked me in the heart to read. Was pretty painful. But I am nothing if not magnanimous 😇 so I thought “oh well, people can learn and grow, I’ll move on as if it didn’t happen.”
And then it happened
...more
Sundararaman R
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed it immensely. It's not five stars because of some issues in pacing and chapter arrangement, things that I suspect those will be worked on and edited out of this goes to a publisher (which Scott has said is a possibility).
The world building is excellent, the humor is decidedly groan worthy (unless it involves an angel and an 8 year old girl - in which case it becomes oh so cute), and there's a lot of nerd treats sprinkled around.
The characters are pretty shallow though, and there's so m
...more
Chris Gregory
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This science fiction/fantasy novel is great. I love the mix of matter of fact historical fiction and story development. This book also neatly introspects on the role of religion in society and science.
Shdnx
This might be one of the best stories I have ever read, along with Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
Lisa
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have probably read there something other than the author has actually written, but this broke my heart and then built it anew.
Nick Morrow
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Mild spoilers ahead!!

I have lots to say about this book. There are bits I absolutely love, and an equal number I really did not. First let me say I was incredibly skeptical of this book, mostly due to Scott Alexander's following (if you're on Goodreads on a computer just click on Scott Alexander and find his "fans" tab. Look at their profile pictures and you'll see what I mean) He's a very smart guy, but I'm pretty apprehensive to his whole anti-feminist libertarian thing, so I was dreading the
...more
Aaron
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There are lots of Christian fantasy stories, and there are lots of Christian science fiction stories. It turns out there are _Jewish Science Fantasy_ novels, too.

Scott Alexander’s Unsong is a deep dive into a world turned on its head. Jewish Kabbalah and its esoteric teachings are not just real, but copyrighted and commoditized. The adventures that arise are ultimately set pieces on a stage that answers the ultimate question: Why does God allow suffering? Or rather,

“Hey God, what the fuck?

This i
...more
Brian
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book started off really strong and despite my not knowing much of the details of the Jewish religion that this book is heavily influenced by, I was engrossed in it. It brought enough humor and intriguing character development that I was actually interested in the religious lore. (Even though I'm an Apthiest, by definition someone who doesn't care about religion. I still enjoy a good story though.)

I especially liked how it brought together the concepts of magic, modern corporate society, and
...more
Alexander Sedge
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Basically what you'd get if you crossed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with an affectionate roast of Abrahamic mythology. In the late 1960s, Apollo 8 goes up... and crashes right into the Firmament, damaging the delicate machinery that makes the universe run on nice, reliable math. Suddenly the clouds are home to angelic fortresses and temples, the literal Devil comes to visit, and people discover that they can speak the secret, hidden names of God to exert magic power upon the universe. So na ...more
Aaro Salosensaari
Contains: Groanworthy kabbalaistic puns, apocalyptic/William-Blake-inspired humor comparable (both in spirit and style) to Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch and occasional bits of interesting speculative philosophy (or rather pseudo-commentary of Talmud than philosophy as such?). Unfortunately as a piece of literary fiction, essential parts of narrative like characters and plot are fundamentally unsatisfying mess. All characters speak with the same voice; allego ...more
James Duyck
Jan 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
The biggest problem with this is one scene, which is either racist against Africans, prejudiced against people with Autism, or an insensitive attempt to discuss a certain response to the problem of evil. Looking up the author, he does seem to be kind of racist and sexist, though also leftist. Also super American-centic. This isn't the kind of book to leave out politics, so I can't really recommend it, even though there are some interesting ideas. ...more
Jessica
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is super fun. It's a wild, pun filled ride and completely unlike anything I've read. it's also a fan compiled ebook of online fiction, so it hasn't been edited and you can tell. Note: I've updated my rating a year later because this books has stood the test of time. A lot of books are forgettable, but this one has stuff I still laugh about a year later. ...more
rieko
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
I absolutely hated this story. The overarching plot is pretty good. All of the side characters are fantastic. The story structure could be improved upon with some editing. It was very clever and predictable in a good way. The puns and references were absolutely delightful.

But our main character was dumber than a box of rocks. If you don't think that the main character in a book matters or if you think that story structure isnt important to a story then you will love this book.

For everyone else,
...more
Matthew
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. A genuinely unique plot, well-written characters, and wordplay that made me laugh out loud. There are points where it probably could've used an editor, but this book is great enough that even that doesn't matter. ...more
Nick de Vera
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just finished. Maybe more words later. But... wow.
George
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite book ever.
Katie Dunn
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some backgrounds/disclaimers:
I read Scott's blog, SSC, every so often. He's a bit of a celebrity in "rationalist" circles (though not as extreme as Eliezer, author of HPMOR). I had heard Unsong was good and was going to read it _eventually_, but I didn't really seriously consider the prospect (ugh, another long piece) further until I was recently shown an excerpt in which Alexander writes about the hidden meaning of the lyrics of the popular song "American Pie". Hm, interesting. And definitely n
...more
Timothy Liao
Nov 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Saul
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and unique worldbuilding. Start from the premise that all Jewish law is actually correct. Impossible, right? In conflict with all the evidence, and has logical contradictions and absurdities by the score. OK, but assume it's all true anyway, and Alexander will take you on a long, strange and funny voyage to understand what such a world would be like. Just the basic world-exploration would be enough to keep you engaged, but Alexander also weaves some solid adventure stories in at ...more
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