aleph symbol with title UNSONG


Will Godwin

Evening, May 14, 2017
Citadel West

And the voice said:

[Blowhole-y of holies.]

[Ana! You’re alive!]



[But sort of! Kabbalistic marriage seems to have some hidden features we didn’t realize. All those nights looking for clues in the Bible and we missed a doozy.]

[Should have checked Poe instead.]


[“And not even the angels in Heaven above, nor the demons down under the sea, could ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Anna – ]

[Get a room, you two!]


[Surprised to see me here?]


[I think I died just before Ana did. It seems to have put me inside Ana’s head, and then when Ana transferred into your head, I came with her.]

[There are two different other people inside my head?!]

[Hoo boy, mi compadre, you are not going to like this]

[What? How? Uh, do any of you know what’s going on here?]


[Uriel! What did I tell you about infodumping directly into people’s minds?]



[Yeah, when Father killed me, I think I ended up in your mind too. And Uriel with me.]

[So…Ana…Erica…Dylan…Sohu…Uriel…is there anyone else I should know about?]

[Aaaaaaron, you thought you were going to marry everyone except me but I ended up inside your head aaaaannnyway.]

[Sarah? How! I thought you were part of THARMAS]

[I am. THARMAS is with us too. When it was destroyed, we ended up in Sohu, and when she died, we ended up in you. Now we’re together forevvvvvver]

[I’m stuck with seven people in my head?!]


[How gradually?]

[Which of you said that?]

[Wait, which of us said that?]

[Aaron, was that you?]

[Sort of]

[Who are we?]

[Adam Kadmon]


[Albion? Who?]


[That wasn’t a knock-knock joke!]


[All be one and one be all!]

[Wait a second, no, merging into a superorganism with you guys was the worst mistake of my life and I hope I die. Die again. Super-die. Whatever.]

[In William Blake’s prophecies, Albion was the entity formed at the end of time, when all of the different aspects of the human soul finally came together to remake the world.]

[Remake the world?]

[The Comet King will speak the Explicit Name to reshape Hell. But here on Earth, things aren’t great either. Physics is broken, the world is collapsing, the apocalypse is in full swing. We need to make things right. The Comet King told us the Name was a notarikon encoded in the speech Metatron gave Ana. Now all we need to do is speak it.]

[No one except the Comet King can speak the Shem haMephorash!]

[No one except him could speak it. No one except him could see the whole universe at once, understand its joints and facets, figure out how it needed to be broken and remade. But we’re part supercomputer.]

[Yes. This isn’t a coincidence. A supercomputer. An encyclopaedic knowledge of kabbalah and the secret structure of the universe. A passion for revolution. And an answer to the problem of evil. This is what we were made for.]

[There’s someone else we need.]

We all realized it. We all paused, reflecting on what had to be done. We all agreed.

There are many summoning rituals, but one is older and purer than the others. Speak of the Devil, and he will appear.

“Thamiel,” I said.

He appeared before us. Exhausted, wounded, still bleeding ichor from a thousand cuts and bruises. He leaned on his bident like a crutch, limped towards us.

“It’s time,” I said.

The second head turned to me, and the floodgates opened. It started crying and crying, like it would never stop. Finally, it asked, almost as if it didn’t dare hope, “Is it really?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Did I do good?” it asked.

I didn’t answer.

“So many centuries,” it pled. “So much misery, so many tears, so many years of suffering. You couldn’t imagine it, nobody could imagine it, but I did what God wanted, I did my duty, but you have to tell me, please, at the end of everything, did I do good?”

I thought about everything I had witnessed. I thought back to Malia Ngo, the scariest person I had ever met, scarier in her way than the Comet King even. I thought of her last revelation, that even though she was the daughter of Thamiel, everything she had done, she had done for the love of good. I thought of Dylan Alvarez, who I had known only as a bogeyman on the news shows. He too had only wanted to do what was right. And I thought of the Other King, the crimson-robed monster who had killed the Cometspawn with barely a second thought, and how everything he did he had done out of love. I thought of all the villains I had feared, revealed to be unsung heroes all along. And with a jolt, I realized that it was all true, the tzimtzum, the shattering of the vessels, the withdrawal of divinity to hide God from himself. I started to laugh. The dark facet of God, call it evil, call it hatred, call it Thamiel, was hollow, more brittle than glass, lighter than a feather. I started laughing that Ana had wasted her question on the existence of evil, when evil was thinner than a hair, tinier than a dust speck, so tiny it barely even existed at all. Evil was the world’s dumbest joke, the flimsiest illusion, a piece of wool God pulled over His own eyes with no expectation that it could possibly fool anybody.

I didn’t say anything to Thamiel.

He sobbed, then handed me the bident. I took it from its far end, the two points in my two hands, the single-pointed end facing the Devil. A unident. He kept sobbing. I held the unident undaunted. Finally, I thrust it at him, and he disappeared, a puff of smoke, a thread too weak to hold.

[Are you ready?] I asked myself.

[Let’s go] I answered.

I thought again of all I had seen, all I had hoped. Everything that could have been different and everything that couldn’t have been other than it was. I thought of God’s garden of universes, growing out there somewhere, staggering the imagination. I thought of God, and Adam Kadmon, and Thamiel, and the divine plan. My thoughts unfolded into dreams and blueprints and calculations, and I held all of them in my mind at once, a vision like a perfect crystal, a seed transformed into something new and wonderful. I felt a fearsome joy, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt the heart of Adam Kadmon beating within me, freed of its constraints at last, a fervent wish to reshape and redeem itself.

My voice only wavering a little, I spoke the Explicit Name of God.

Thank you for reading Unsong.

I have a few extra things I need to take care of. I promised some people a tosafot, and I’m thinking of a couple other very small projects as well. I also have Vague Long-Term Plans to publish this in some more serious way. If you want to be kept up-to-date, please subscribe to the mailing list using the box at the top right of the page.

I have gotten some very vague expressions of interest from some people who claim to represent publishers, and I’ll be gradually looking into those in a way that might take a long time to bear any fruit. In the meantime I will not be authorizing an official print copy. If other people want to make an ebook version, or small-scale non-public print copies in ways that don’t seem like obvious defections against future publishers, I’m okay with that. If you want updates on this kind of thing, subscribe as mentioned above.

There’s a video of me reading the final chapter up here (thanks Sophia!) and a video of me reading the Epilogue here (thanks Ben!)

Thanks also to everyone who attended the wrap party, thanks to the person who gave me some prints from William Blake’s illustrations of the Book of Job, thanks to the person who gave me a full-size functional bronze copy of the sword Sigh, and thanks (I think) to the person who hid six (possibly seven, if we still haven’t found one?) purple Beanie Baby dragons in the house where we had the afterparty. It is not my house and the people who live there are very confused.

Most of you probably know this, but I also write nonfiction and occasional short stories on my other blog, Slate Star Codex. There’s still the Unsong subreddit for anyone who wants to talk about the book more. And you might enjoy some of the other fiction on r/rational.

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221 Responses to Epilogue

  1. Pickle says:

    Whale, that’s all settled, then. Thank you for writing this.

    (Typo: [Poe?} closes with a } rather than a ].)

  2. somni says:


  3. Moshe Zadka says:


  4. The coment king says:

    But for this to succeed, there’s someone else we need…

    But actually, I’m a bit confused over Thamiel’s end. Did he join them (which doesn’t seem to be implied), or was he destroyed (which does, but doesn’t explain them saying they needed him), or did they think they needed him and then understand they didn’t (which feels like me overinterpreting)?

    • The coment king says:

      Also, any official comment on whether Thamiel was Cain/Abel in the same way that Enoch was Metatron?

    • Maxwell says:

      yeah seconded.

      Also I’m waiting for someone to explain the kabbalistic significance of the 7 people in the one body. Do they each represent one of the “sublunary sephirot” like the sails on Not A Metaphor? or what?

      • ransom says:

        Au contraire, the sublunary sephirot represent them.

        • quintopia says:

          Can you help me match them up? It’s pretty clear what sephirot are Dylan (orange), Anna (yellow), Uriel (violet), and I’m guessing Erica is green (she’s a singer). Is Sohu black because she can wield Sigh? What are THARMAS and Sarah? They are both computers…which one prays and which one is just the natural?

          • LupoCani says:

            Sarah, one could guess, spent somewhat more time being ensouled, and THARMAS slightly less. Putting THARMAS slightly closer to the natural than Sarah.

          • Seph says:

            Sarah and THARMAS merged, so presumably only correspond to one sep̱irah between them. The black sail responded to the blood of Thamiel, so I would have thought he’d correspond to Geḇurah. Sohu is cometspawn, so she corresponds to Malkuṯ.

            Red – Malkuṯ מלכות (kingdom) – Sohu
            Orange – Hoḏ הוד (splendour) – Dylan
            Yellow – Yesoḏ יסוד (foundation) – Ana
            Green – Tip̱ereṯ תפארת (beauty) – Erica
            Blue – Neṣaḥ נצח (eternity) – Sarah/THARMAS
            Violet – Ḥeseḏ חסד (mercy) – Uriel
            Black – Geḇurah גבורה (severity) – Thamiel

            What of Binah, Ḥoḵmah and Keṯer? All Your Heart / Not A Metaphor apparently had three hidden sails corresponding to the celestial sep̱iroṯ.

      • dsp says:

        It could relate to the bit of Lurianic kabbalah where the old, “failed” sephirot are remade so that each one contains a full set of sub-sephirot within itself.

        • dsp says:

          Although, really, scratch that completely. The *important* thing is that the eight of them together (remember, it’s seven plus Aaron) represent William Blake’s eight things that make up Albion.

    • Undecided says:

      That’s pretty specifically referrring to getting “your right hand man back”. Aaron et al are getting a left-hand man back. Rules about coincidences may be in flux.

    • Anonymous says:


      And I had to watch the video to get this final and best knock-knock joke so maybe this entire epilogue is hard for me to figure out for some reason.

      I’m guessing the second head of Thamiel was just an actor up to this point playing their role, like the other unsung heroes. To make it look like evil had a chance but God always wins in the end: Will god win? Yes.

    • Little Yid says:

      This seems to be the fulfilment of a Talmudic tale:

      As R. Judah expounded: In the time to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread. Both the former and the latter will weep; the righteous will weep saying, “How were we able to overcome such a towering hill!” The wicked also will weep saying, “How is it that we were unable to conquer this hair thread!” And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them, as it is said, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be marvelous in My eyes” (Zechariah 8:6).

      ~ Sukkah 52a

  5. Quixote says:

    Vote for Unsong!

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends; once more

  6. fubarobfusco says:

    Nitpick of nitpicks, all is nitpick:

    And I thought of the Other King, the black-robed monster

    Last chapter:

    The Other King reached back and pulled the hood off his crimson robe.

    • GCBill says:

      I think the robes should remain crimson, since Sigh (according to Chapter 29) is silver and black.

      Why? Because Silver Crimson Black is the title of a song by Zack Hemsey off of his album Ronin. The term “rōnin” refers to a disgraced masterless samurai. This seems like an apt description of the Other King up until the final chapter, where he finally commits seppuku. NIEAC

  7. The coment king says:

    This solves my one gripe with the ending, that Sarah (and some of the others) ended up not doing much.

  8. I didn’t expect that at all, but Deiseach did!

    • Deiseach says:

      Hurrah! 😀

      This ending is classical theodicy and I am very pleased.

      It’s been an excellent ride, full value for money, and I enjoyed it very much.

      Thank you, Scott, and thanks to everyone else who shared their interpretations!

  9. J says:

    Several of you at the wrap party enjoyed the printouts of the 1st chapter of Genesis using words starting with “A”, which was coincidentally published the day before the last chapter. Here’s the link:

    I hear it was written with the help of word2vec, which makes it even cooler, but you’ll have to ask the author if you want details.

  10. c0rw1n says:

    all’s whale that ends whale :’-)

  11. The coment king says:

    If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless.

  12. Nate Gabriel says:

    [“And not even the angels in Heaven above, nor the demons down under the sea, could ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Anna – ]

    Anna Baleen?

  13. Thanks for writing Unsong! It was quite a ride. 🙂 My own reading-out-loud project (which depends on the whims of the person I am reading it to!) is only about halfway through at this point, but my personal reading has finished, and I enjoyed your book a lot.

    I’m jealous, in an admiration sort of way – your book’s definitely better than mine. 🙂

  14. Sillence says:

    Congratulations on finishing, Scott. It was fun to read!

    A short “review”/final thought:

    Unsong is not a novel; it is an epic poem. It is a long-winded series of puns, cultural remarks, and meditations on the nature of good and evil. It defies many standard rules of narrative fantasy, and as such it should not be compared to epic fantasies like LotR, HP, or even the natural web serial archetype, Worm. Its protagonists are little more than sightseers, the plot is full of contingencies, and the mechanics of the universe is discussed either in so much detail that it is contradictory (cf. the many kabbalistic analyses of multiple songs), or in so little detail that it feels uncomfortable (who gets to enter Hell or Heaven? why does Metatron play one of the most active roles in the plot despite the angels claiming that he does nothing?). But to fault Unsong for this feels wrong, too: it is a light-hearted showcase of thoughts, not a philosophical tract or a novel of an established author, and the fact that it makes us sad or happy or thoughtful despite the lack of clear narrative structure is a great success of this narrative form.

    • anon says:

      I resent the implication that Worm deserves a title like “the natural web serial archetype”

      • Sillence says:

        Oh, I’d be curious to hear why. As far as I know, no other web novel matches it in scope, and perhaps not even in the sheer amount of detailed world-building. The style could use a lot of improvement but I didn’t think it was unreadable.

        • jes5199 says:

          surely the epitome of web serial is Homestuck

          • Orphiex says:

            Okay, that’s a good point. I feel like I should be able to argue with it, but I can’t.

          • Quixote says:

            Homestuck is a different medium. It’s branching, it’s got audio, it’s got movies, it’s got flash games. It’s just not the same kind of thing as a serially published novel (a la Dickens) at all.

  15. Pingback: Epilogue – Kiwi Lead

  16. Rand says:

    The second head turned to me, and the floodgates opened. It started crying and crying, like it would never stop…

    “Did I do good?” it asked.

    Where is that from?

    That’s definitely from somewhere. I feel like it’s a machine asking the question, but I don’t recall the source.

    • Kolya says:

      Sarah did when she turned up in Las Vegas.

      • Rand says:

        Good catch.

        She blinked. “Don’t you recognize me?” she pled. “I’m your computer, Sarah. Did I do good?”

        Thaumiel really is echoing Sarah in this chapter.

        (I thought it was referencing something else in science fiction.)

        • Daniel Kokotajlo says:

          There’s a character in A Canticle for Leibowitz, the classic pioneering post-apocalyptic story, who has two heads, one normal head and one deformed smaller head. The smaller head doesn’t speak until the very end of the story IIRC.

      • Rand says:

        Also, I feel like I must have missed some Frankenstein references in this story.

        Relatedly, does anyone know what “yes” (quote at top) is an answer to?

    • Lux Sola says:

      Sarah asks it of Aaron.

    • Samael says:

      Vaguely reminiscent of Matthew 25.
      –21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!”

      It’s a common religious sentiment that the greatest and deepest desire of a follower is to finally make it to the end and be told, with finality, that they’d done good. Validation. I know the above quote was dear to a lot of people I grew up going to church with.

    • I think this is worth necro’ing to give my answer. It is not correct, but I think it true:

      Rachel: Answer this, Ellimist: Did I . . . did I make a difference? My life, and my . . . my death . . . was I worth it? Did my life really matter?

      Ellimist: Yes. You were brave. You were good. You mattered.

      Rachel: Yeah. Okay, then. Okay, then.

      • TracingWoodgrains says:

        Another moment in fiction that parallels the question is the last statement of Han Qing-Jao, the only remaining devout of a faith her world knew was false, from Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide:

        Mother. Father. Did I do it right?

        • Rand says:

          I highly approve of both of these answers.

          (Maybe I was thinking of the second. The first is less likely, due to both tone and answer.)

  17. Kolya says:

    Scott, thanks for writing this extraordinary and original book. For the last 72 Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ve waited eagerly for the next chapter or interlude to drop, like someone New Zealand in the 19th century waiting for the ship carrying the mail with the magazine containing the next chapter of a Dickens novel. And thank you to the community of commenters which sprung up and explained all of the references I didn’t get, you’re all great.

  18. vashu1 says:

    Let Complementation begin!

  19. Kolya says:

    “Nothing looked different except Sohu’s eyes, which glassed over for a split second.” That was in chapter 62- was there an explanation for this I missed?

    Also, how did you guys realise beforehand that the initial letters of the chapters were spelling out the Explicit Name? Was there a hint in the text I missed or is this a well-known device in Jewish literature?

    • The coment king says:

      It’s another notakarion. The Comet King pointed out that any sufficiently good description of God and Theodicy gives a notakarion for the Shem Hamephorash, and this story is one.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Someone wrote down the initial letters and compared it to the letters listed in the first two verses of “HaMephorash”.

    • Astra says:

      > Also, how did you guys realise beforehand that the initial letters of the chapters were spelling out the Explicit Name?

      Wait, what? I think I missed this somewhere.

  20. Kolya says:

    typo alert:

    [Should have checked Poe instead.]


  21. Sniffnoy says:

    I’m wondering now if there are still things from the early chapters that nobody noticed, like Scott was saying earlier…

  22. RLM says:

    Wow. That’s the perfect ending. All of my questions are answered (except the third meeting between Sohu and Thamiel). Great job!

  23. dsotm says:

    Aww man, I feel embarrassed over the amount of closure that *I’m* getting from this.

    Thanks for writing this Scott – I hope it gets published and earns you fame and cachalot.

  24. Maxwell says:

    Ok, so OBVIOUSLY there is some complex Kabbalah behind the 7 souls in one body, but I can’t work it out.

    “[Yes. This isn’t a coincidence. A supercomputer. An encyclopaedic knowledge of kabbalah and the secret structure of the universe. A passion for revolution. And an answer to the problem of evil. This is what we were made for.]”

    supercomputer – Sarah
    encyclopaedice knowledge of kabbalah – Sohu
    knowledge of secret structure of the universe – Uriel
    passion for revolution – Dylan
    explicit name – Ana

    But then where does Erica come in? is she the passion for revolution and Dylan is something else?


    “[In William Blake’s prophecies, Albion was the entity formed at the end of time, when all of the different aspects of the human soul finally came together to remake the world.]”

    can someone tell me what these aspects of the human soul are and how they correspond to the 7 people?

    • ludichrisness says:

      The eight souls form the four zoas that make up Albion. Each one is male with a female ’emanation’. The four of them are Tharmas/Enion (THARMAS/Sarah [an NE-1 MacBook]), Los (iron smith/storyteller) /Enitharmon (Aaron/Ana Thurmon), Luvah/Vala (Dylan/Erica who was supposed to be named Valerie or something since there’s also another thing called Orc which is really confusing) and Urizen/Ahania (Uriel/Sohu).

      Each of the four zoas together represent one of those four features, so for example Erica and Dylan are two sides of the same coin of wild rebellion.

      PS: I may have missed it somewhere, did anyone figure out why Sohu is named Sohu?

      • ransom says:

        Luvah=Alvarez is an interesting assonance. I kept waiting for a something about the Alvarez Strike, but that pun just sat in the background.

      • The coment king says:

        Sohu is a Hopi (her mother’s tribe) word for comet.

      • Maxwell says:

        Ahhh right.

        I saw that, but forgot about THARMAS and so skipped over it since it was 8, not 7.

      • Maxwell says:

        ok, so I looked it up. here are more connections between the characters and the Blake Mythology:

        Sarah= Enion, embodiment of sexual urges. also
        represented as a wailing woman filled with
        THARMAS = Tharmas, embodiment of sensation????

        Aaron = Urthona, embodiment of inspiration and
        creativity, also a blacksmith. one could use
        blacksmithery as a metaphor for Aaron’s
        Ana Thurmon = Enitharmon, counterpart of Urthona,
        also embodiment of female dominion
        and sexual restraints

        Erica = Luvah, embodiment of passion and rebellious
        Dylan = Vala, known as shadow of Jerusalem. eroticises

        Uriel = Urizen, embodies reason and law. carries
        architect’s tools to create and constrain the
        Sohu = Ahania, embodies desire for intelligence. also goddess of wisdom


        • BB says:

          > THARMAS = Tharmas, embodiment of sensation????
          It aggregated lots of sensor data to detect attacks. It was basically America’s eyes and ears.

      • Macbi says:

        Writing Erica instead of Valerie wasn’t a total loss. The words “Erica” and “Vala” have the same English gematria, and Vala is taken by Blake to represent America.

        • Maxwell says:

          wait isn’t Vala Dylan tho???

          cos erica doesn’t really erotisize war like dylan does…

          but if what you say is true then that seems like more than enough evidence to override my research

  25. ludichrisness says:

    Thank you, this book was tremendously enjoyable.

  26. Anaxagoras says:

    This is quite good. I had found the last chapter disappointing, but this ties things together nicely. Thamiel was right that Jala was the Messiah ben Joseph. He meets an evil he cannot defeat, falls to evil himself, and dies. (And, in doing so, redeems Hell.) Meanwhile, in this chapter, we see the genesis of the Messiah ben David. A gestalt entity of human, angel, and machine that can redeem the world of the living.

    The paragraph that ends with the gestalt dismissing evil as inconsequential initially confused me, but I think it’s saying that all these terrible things and horrible people had evil as a very small component of their motivation. The Other King leads a genocidal crusade, not because he’s a mustache-twirling villain, but because of love. Dylan wants attention and chaos and change. Even Thamiel it’s revealed was motivated not by sincere desire to increase evil, but by his duty to and love for God. About the only character who really believed in evil for its own sake was Sataniel (and I guess the other fallen angels) after Thamiel persuaded him of it. No wonder the gestalt dismisses evil so completely, if everyone else was so willing to give it up.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Even Sataniel was mostly motivated by curiosity. (“But what if we consider an alternative” isn’t particularly evil; the War in Heaven begins when the other angels reject even the possibility of considering these things.)

  27. Indubitably says:

    Thank you so much, Scott, for this wonderful book.

  28. Timothy Scriven says:

    In Judaism something similar happens to the devil at the end of it all.

    And both in judaism and in this book I’m left with sympathy for the devil. All other tragedies ended, those in hell redeemed, those in heaven happy as ever- everyone from the cometspawn to Malia Ngo to that weird supervisor in the first chapter gets a happy ending. But there’s just this one tragedy left, this one character who will never have a happy ending.

    In a weird way, Thamiel becomes the kid in the Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. The only entity in existence without a happy ending.

    • Emma Pooka says:

      So, I’ve been mostly lurking in the comments while really enjoying Unsong and everyone’s interpretations and commentary, and I just have to ask: Are you Timothy Scriven from Liverpool who was in my writing class once? Because I used The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas in that class (an exercise on unusual viewpoints) and, you know, TINACBNIEAC.

    • Sonata Green says:

      I think Thamiel got pretty much what he wanted: reunification, thereby reconciliation with God.

      The only person who didn’t get a happy ending would be Lin.

  29. Timothy Scriven says:

    Also, bonus exam. Interpret this song as a commentary on the plot.

    • Moshe Zadka says:

      SFO is having some issues nowadays with runways being closed. Clearly, this song is about flights into SFO being delayed because of the runways.

      • Moshe Zadka says:

        The first verse refers to an airplane flight being delayed.
        The night falls, since the delays stack up during the days,
        and so the delays at nights are the worse.
        As the airplane is coming “around”, circling towards SFO,
        the world is “alive” with the cries of the babies who stayed
        up passed their bedtime. They are still “outside” San Francisco,
        and need to sleep soon.

        Hence, “oooh, baby” — in the chorus — referring to the babies crying.
        Heaven is a place of earth, since San Francisco is the domain
        of the right hand of God — analogous to hell, the domain
        of the left hand of God.

        I could continue, but the kabbalistic implications here are obvious.

  30. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    So it wasn’t a skabmom chain, it was a stack. Everyone in it obliged in dying in the correct sequence so that each remnant still had only one living, direct parter to revert into. Sohu and Ana were the root of the two branches, and Aaron was the common point. Dylan -> Erica -> Ana -> Aaron <- Sohu <- Uriel & Sarah. It also collapsed the situational knowledge into the right people at the right times to lead to the correct outcome.

    Also, approximately all of the viewpoint characters and/or reasonable sources on them end up merging into Aaron, so he is the the narrative position to know, guess, or approximate everything that he narrates in the story. Very nice trick!

    • Sniffnoy says:

      As I’ve pointed out before, the SKABMOM graph just happens to form the Dynkin diagram E_8. Obviously this is not a coincidence. 🙂

      • ludichrisness says:

        Is there any particular pun or symbolism to E8? It would have to form a Dynkin diagram of *some* kind if it connected eight people, right?

        • Legendary says:

          No – if Uriel had married Dylan, you could not represent the relationships with a Dynkin diagram at all because that would have formed a loop. Likewise if Sarah had married anyone else in the chain.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Well technically it would form a Dynkin diagram, just not a finite one. And that just wouldn’t be interesting — yeah, you could interpret it as a Dynkin diagram, but who cares? Maybe if it were still an affine diagram or something, but honestly that’s pushing it. But when it just happens to form one of the finite ones? And not, like, one that’s a simple pattern like A_n, but one of the exceptional ones? Has to mean something, obviously. 😛

        • Anders Sandberg says:

          E8xE8 is sometimes used as a gauge group for string theory.

          And Lisi’s “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” attempts to describe all known fundamental interactions in physics as part of the E8 Lie algebra.

      • Stuart Armstrong says:

        Dylan -> Erica -> Ana -> Aaron <- Sohu <- Uriel & Sarah

        That's D_8, not E_8. Was Sarah connected to Aaron, rather than Sohu?

      • Stuart Armstrong says:

        And e_8 is a unique algebra. All other Lie algebras can be described as infinitesimal symmetries of certain spaces that preserve certain symmetries. But for e_8, the standard representation is also the adjoint representation. So the most compact way of describing e_8 is that it is the set of symmetries of e_8 that preserve the structure of e_8. It is, in a certain way, self-defining.

        • Exa says:

          The most compact way of describing Adam Kadmon is the set of symmetry transformations (correspondences/mappings) on the Adam Kadmon. It fits.

        • Ristridin says:

          There is actually another Lie algebra that can be described in this way: The 0-algebra, so that last description of e_8 can be said to represent both the 0-algebra and e_8 itself. This is not a coincidence. We have already learned that God is One, so what better way to represent God than the 0-algebra, which contains precisely one element and has precisely one symmetry. The SKABMOM graph on the other hand represents Albion, the entity that remakes the world into ‘a thing of beauty that will glorify God’s holy name’. And of course, any good enough description of God is also a notarikon for His Most Holy Name.

          All further kabbalistic implications are left as an exercise to the reader.

    • Psy-Kosh says:

      I will note that the word “Aaron” translates to something like closet or cabinet or such. ie, a thing that contains other things.

    • Macbi says:

      In Blake, Tharmas, Urizen and Luvah represent the Trinity, so it makes sense that they represent the three ends of the graph. See also American Pie.

    • David Marjanović says:

      Nice trick indeed.

  31. Gazeboist says:

    …revealed to be unsung heroes all along…

    i c wat u did thar

  32. Carlos Gottberg says:

    Well, I didn’t like the end.

    But just because *I didn’t want it to end* and also *I didn’t like Sarah at all*. But mind me, I’m just a reader and this has been by far one of the most interesting – if not *the most* – things I’ve read. I thank you oh so much for writing this up and sharing it. If it ever comes to buy the book or show you support somehow – by buying a beer for example. Count on me.

    This is a masterpiece and I totally mean that.

  33. Eric Zhang says:

    Wait, so what actually became of Elisha ben Abuyah?

  34. Forge the Sky says:

    Congratulations Scott! I’ve never read a book quite like this before. I liked it very much.

    The main new skill writers need to learn transitioning from short to long-form fiction is narrative pacing and tone. And you did fairly well even there, allowing the skills you’ve developed with shorter-form writing to shine on a competent architecture. A good editor could really bring some polish to this, and I would be thrilled to read it again if you end up publishing it in a more formal fashion.

    I grew up learning all sorts of detail about Christian theology and history etc, and am now (roughly) agnostic, and from this perspective I’ve greatly admired the way you’ve used your upbringing in this work, even as you’ve moved in different directions with your belief structures.

  35. Zarquon says:

    I felt a fearsome joy, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt the heart of Adam Kadmon beating within me, freed of its constraints at last, a fervent wish to reshape and redeem itself.

    My voice only wavering a little, I spoke the Explicit Name of God.

    Now I’ve heard there was a sacred word
    That Jala said, and it named the Lord
    But you don’t really know of magic, or us
    It goes like this – a tav, a resh
    A fearsome joy, a fervent wish
    The Comet King incanting haMephorash


  36. anon says:

    “Did I do good?”
    I think you pretty much did not do that, by definition. And you were kind of a dick about it.

  37. Sean McCarthy says:

    Thank you for this bizarre, beautiful story. I laughed and cried.

  38. The coment king says:

    How does a bastard, orphan, son of a maid and a
    Comet, dropped in the middle of Colorado
    by his father, half human and half other,
    grow up to be a king and a crusader?

    The would-be mosiach without a father
    Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
    By being a lot smarter
    By being a self-starter
    By age two, he was ready to be a kingdom founder

    And every day while souls were being tortured and hurt
    away deep down in Hell, he struggled to grow up faster
    Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of
    The brother was ready to beg, steal, hitch a ride from a padre

    Then Thamiel came, and devastation reigned
    Our man saw his nation drip, dripping down the drain
    called his sword down from the heavens, picked a fight with Thamiel,
    And he won his first battle, in his long war versus Hell

    Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”
    The people all saluted, made him ruler of the whole land,
    “Shield us all from Hell and don’t forget from whence you came, and
    The world’s gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?

    Jalaketu Ben Kokhab
    my name is Jalaketu Ben Kokhab
    And there’s a million souls I have to save,
    but just you wait, just you wait…

    When he was twelve his daughter split, messed around with rivers
    Two years later, Jala sends her, to Uriel he delivers
    Sohu, sittin in a flying canoe, seasick
    And Uriel was angry but Sohu learned quick

    Moved in with father Ellis, the priest that gave him a ride,
    and all his advisers to NORAD down deep inside
    a mountain, saying I gotta fight for this land
    He started planning and reading every treatise on the shelf

    There would have been nothin’ left to do
    For someone less astute
    He woulda seen his people fall and fail
    without a hope they could prevail
    Started working, sailing on his beautiful sailboat
    with sails in every colour and every magic that he could afford
    searchin’ for every Name he can get his hands on
    Plannin’ for the future see him now as he stands on
    the bow of a ship, fighting in the name of good
    Somebody had to, no one else would

    Somebody had to, no one else would,
    Somebody had to, no one else would,
    Somebody had to, no one else would,
    Someone –

    Just you wait!

    Jalaketu Ben Kokhab
    We are waiting in the wings for you

    You could never back down
    You never learned to compromise!

    Oh, Jalaketu Ben Kokhab

    When America sings for you
    Will they sing of the fallen bird?
    Will they know you remade the world?
    The world will never be the same, oh

    The ship is chasing Metatron now
    See if you can spot him

    The voice of God down here
    Comin’ up from the bottom

    They say there was a secret word
    And Jalaketu knew it!

    [Jinxiang & Nathanda]
    We fought with him

    Me? I died for him

    Me? I trusted him

    Me? I loved him

    And me? I’m the damn fool that fought him!

    There’s a million souls I have to save
    But just you wait!

    What’s your name, man?

    Jalaketu Ben Kokhab!

  39. Deus Flex says:

    Absolutely fantastic. Unsong has definitely earned a place in my all-time top ten list, which is mostly dominated by Lois Bujold, Roger Zelazny, and Terry Pratchett. Thank you so much for writing this intersection of three flavors of geekery I grew up with: Judaism, computers, and puns…I never thought I’d come across something that combined them all into one glorious, beautiful work of fiction. ^_^

  40. Chevron says:

    It seems kaballistically significant that as I briefly looked at Scott’s Facebook after following the Epilogue reading link I see that he has exactly 666 friends.

  41. dsp says:

    I would like to be permitted a moment of smugness in which to remark that I instantly saw the unident trick coming from the moment that the bident was introduced.

    • Cniz says:

      I might just be dense here, but can you explain the significance of the unident trick? Is there some pun or kabbalistic meaning here that I’m missing? Why was it necessary for Aaron to use it as a unident rather than a bident? How did you see it coming?

      • Anonymous says:

        Seconded. I’d also like to know.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        I think it’s that since Thamiel represents duality, his bident destroys by taking things that should be unary and making them dual. To destroy Thamiel, then, a dual entity, he must be reunified. Hence flip the bident around so that it’s running from two to one, rather than one to two.

        • Deus Flex says:

          I just reread the chapter with the dinner at Ithaca, where Pirendiel gets very upset at the idea that Thamiel could in any way be a negative pole, an opposite of god, a being with equal (or nearly so) powers. He insists over and over that there is *one god*, and anyone suggesting there are two gods is wrong and blasphemous. So yeah, taking Thamiel’s bident, a symbol of duality, and flipping it into a single point to destroy him read to me as a symbolic reaffirmation that god is one, not two; an end to Thamiel and evil in general.

          • brainiac256 says:

            I think you could also say that Metatron and Thamiel “balance” each other (or would have, in a more perfect universe) – Thamiel representing God’s justice without mercy, punishing people eternally regardless of anything else, and Metatron representing God’s mercy without justice, being his representative in the world and allowing evil to run amok without hindrance. At the end, Metatron restores justice by dictating that God was, indeed, right and in control all along, and Thamiel returns to mercy by appearing repentant.

            In other words, an exchange between Right and Left mediated by Teller (Tiferet).

  42. Anonymous says:

    Typo thread: many sentences in this thought-conversation are missing final punctuation. Some of these may be justified for stylistic reasons, but even then I’d fix at least the following as the most egregious:

    [“And not even the angels in Heaven above, nor the demons down under the sea, could ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Anna – ]


    Missing closing quotes.



    Full stop.

    [Sarah? How! I thought you were part of THARMAS]

    [Hoo boy, mi compadre, you are not going to like this]

    …maybe ellipsis?

  43. Tedd says:

    … Do you have pictures of the sword?

  44. Dirdle says:

    Thank you for the story =). If you ever write more long-form fiction, I’ll be looking forward to it.

  45. Macbi says:

    Thank you for the story!

  46. Aur saraf says:

    In the Israeli Unsong party, someone made a prediction that Sarah’s story is not done yet, that she “has not died” in TOK’s attack because that would be too anticlimatic and there are still things to resolve. He said he gives it 1:10 odds, so naturally I challenged him to bet on it, which we did.

    The test we agreed on was “I pay him if Sarah finds (or maybe it was “uses”) at least one name in the Epilogue”.

    Interestingly, I won the bet (winning ~$25) although his initial prediction was correct.

    • Jack V says:

      This is not how I expected this to happen, but didn’t she become one person with everyone else and say the explicit name right at the end? 🙂

    • ToLoveABat says:

      Umh, if that was “uses”, then she is using HaMephorash w Epilogue.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    Still a few loose ends; squeezing everything into 72 chapters + prologue + epilogue didn’t quite work.

    Don’t constrain your genius like that next time 🙂

  48. Jack V says:

    Woah. OK, there we have most of the loose ends.

    I give myself full points for expecting the earth will get cleaned up and we’ll find out what happened to the surviving characters.

    But I really, really did not see them all merging into a joint entity coming 🙂

  49. Spencer says:


  50. Pingback: Rational Feed – deluks917

  51. “Evil was the world’s dumbest joke, the flimsiest illusion, a piece of wool God pulled over His own eyes with no expectation that it could possibly fool anybody.”

    I’m reminded of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis, in which the tourists from Hell were insubstantial in Heaven.

  52. Thank you very much Scott for many hours of delightful reading!

  53. Noumena says:

    Heh, Annabel Lee, Anna Belly. As in the belly of a – oh, you know.

  54. Matt A says:

    So what is the Explicit Name? I mean in the format of other divine names like ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON-MIRAKOI … etc? Or is it literally unpronouncable?

    • Ninmesara says:

      It’s the first letters of Metatron’s answer to Ana. Also (by coincidence) the first letters of the 72 chapters

      • Legendary says:

        He means “How do I convert TREEI… into Hebrew letters, and how do I pronounce it once I have?”

        • Nate Gabriel says:

          The Hebrew letters are tav, resh, he, he, yud, tav, mem, tav, vav, kuf….
          I have no idea how to pronounce it, but for story purposes you pronounce it however you want to. As long as you associate a particular sound (or sentence, or for all we know dance move) with the correct letter, getting the sequence right counts as saying the name.

          • Legendary says:

            Yeah we know that, but there’s 62 letters we haven’t had translated. Sure, all the T’s so far have been tavs, but are any teths? If so, what are the rules for figuring out which T is which? F is likely under pei because Aaron brought that up in an epilogue ages ago, but it could be another vav letter. Do all the S’s become shins? Tsadis? Samekhs?! Some horrifying combination based on whether or not the word’s second letter is “h”? There’s ambiguity.

          • Daniel says:

            This is really bugging me, too.

            I was toying with the idea that the ambiguities could be resolved by both the presence/absence of “h” and the following vowel sound — e.g. perhaps “cake” would be kaph but “coke” would be qoph (that was how the Greeks used kappa/qoppa for a while, I hear).

            I’m not sure if there’s enough evidence to determine the system in full. Someone should probably cross-compare (1) the first words of the chapters (2) the words of Metatron’s answer to Ana (3) the known Hebrew letters and (4) Aaron’s system of dream-mnemonics, see if there are any obvious patterns.

  55. HonoreDB says:

    Thank you for this story. It’s been great.

  56. Having several personalities in your head? It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an I.

  57. Vigil says:

    I thought back to Malia Ngo, the scariest person I had ever met, scarier in her way than the Comet King even. I thought of her last revelation, that even though she was the daughter of Thamiel, everything she had done, she had done for the love of good. I thought of Dylan Alvarez, who I had known only as a bogeyman on the news shows. He too had only wanted to do what was right.

    I thought of all the villains I had feared, revealed to be unsung heroes all along.


  58. Jastolus says:

    I really like the story, but I feel like the ending came a bit too fast. One chapter everything seems normal, a few chapters later its already over. But maybe that’s just my impression.
    What really saddens me is all the potential this world and system has that will never be explored. It’s just so unique and there could be so much more done with it.

    On another note, what happened to Malia Ngo? As a demon, shouldn’t she have recoalesced in hell? And was she killed in the grand transformation.

    • Jastolus says:

      After thinking about it for some time, I think I know why the end was unsatisfying: Because it resolves hardly anything and everyone is dead.
      Seriously, almost every character except Aron died. Some of the people from his Singer cell might be an exception. And the People in his mind will soon cease to exist, unless they find a way around it. Also, the world is apparently pretty badly damaged after the apocalypse.
      In other words, 90% of all the things introduced during the Book are gone. Most of the individuals stories are cut short.

    • I’m sure Malia Ngo was appointed Hell’s ambassador to the UN.

  59. D.O. says:

    Thank you, reb Alexander, this was a fast and enjoyable read. A few points of criticism, if I may.

    1) This book is obviously not about UNSONG, it is about Comet King. Nothing wrong in naming a book after a secondary plot device, but it does seem a bit unsatisfactory. In addition, a large bureaucratic organization takes all the credit; not fair. I understand that within the book unsong has a different meaning — evil not as the absence of good, but for its own sake. The book is actually not about it either.

    2) I would have enjoyed it better if it were more about Aaron and Ana. Kabbalistic marriage of minds is a thing requiring much more exploration. It was going the right way in Book I, but then sort of sagged. Comet King eclipsed everything. Biblical and Talmudic puns as courtship is real fun, then guys were put to test and something more should have come out of it. Obviously, just one reader’s preference.

    3) Erica definitely needs more screen time. Maybe a boy/girl-friend, or maybe doing something after she kills Ngo…

    4) By the way, what happened to archangel who was a comet who was the father of the Comet King? Everyone else is more or less accounted for, but, who was that? Raziel? (Not really important, just a thought)

    • The coment king says:

      Regarding 1: Unsong was both the organization and a word for the concept of evil (song vs. silence vs. unsong). The second meaning is central to the story.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      4) Yes. Gadiriel called TCK “Jalaketu ben Raziel” in Chapter 31.

  60. Some guy says:

    Thanks for a great novel, I enjoyed and appreciated parts of this as much as I’ve ever enjoyed anyone’s writing. There is a lot that stands out; and this deserves to be published in a way that gets you paid if that’s where you want to go with it. I find myself a bit insatiafied with the ending, but that happens some times—I love Neal Stephenson’s work and he seems to always leave me in the lurch at the end. I’ll add myself to the crowd that doesn’t understand parts of it, and perhaps my liking if it will increase as some bits fall into place. Thanks for the introduction to Elisha Ben Abuyah!

  61. birdboy2000 says:

    This was an excellent read. Thanks for writing it.

  62. RLM says:

    If we want to pay you for writing this excellent book, what would be the easiest way?

  63. Larp says:

    “This is what we were made for…There’s someone else we need.” This made me think of Davepetasprite^2 who is presented as a potential opposition to the main antagonist in Homestuck, (s)he is a fusion of a bird and a man/woman, but they are missing the ‘Rage clown’ aspect, so if they combined with one of the halves of Gamzee as well as the Muse of Space (the cherubs are basically angels) they would ascend to be a true Space-Creation god of all four qualities, and could theoretically defeat the demon Lord English, who dominates their reality because he is part Time-Destruction god/angel, part machine, part clown (but he’s 100% male, so he can’t truly be an Adam Kadmon figure)

  64. Yossarian says:

    How Unsong influenced my life:
    – whenever the database crashes, I catch myself thinking “Whoever is boiling a goat in its mother’s milk needs to stop, right now!”
    – the admin user for one of the bases is named URIEL nowadays.
    – I’ve almost convinced our architect to name the next ten servers after the ten sephiroths, just so we can have conversations like “oh, someone broke Malkuth. Again…”
    – there is a package sized about 7000 lines of code in one of the schemas. Most of that code is things like data structure definitions, checks, preparing the temporary tables and so on. The actual procedure that does whatever this package is meant for is only about 10 lines of code though. This procedure is commented “THIS IS KABBALAH. THE REST IS COMMENTARY. HORRIBLE, PAINFUL COMMENTARY THAT MAKES THE SUPPORT TEAM CRY BLOOD TEARS…”

    • Sniffnoy says:




    • Yossarian says:

      Yet another Unsong’s influence comes from the whole concept of nominative determinism. Reading contemporary Russian news after Unsong really makes me cringe, because one doesn’t even need any deep kabbalistic analysis to figure out that the names in the news don’t mean anything good. The most prominent ones that come to mind right away are Golodetz (“golod”, meaning “hunger” + “pizdetz”, a curse word meaning something between “shit happens” and “apocalypse”) and Nabiullina (switch two letters, and you get “Naibullina”, sounding like the word “nayebat'”, meaning “to swindle”) – a fitting name for a head of the Central Bank. Sometimes it makes me wonder whether they pick people with such names just to screw with our heads…

  65. Arancaytar says:

    > revealed to be unsung heroes all along

    Apparently I can read this three times and *still* find new things.

  66. hf says:

    To quote Futurama, “That’s especially impossible.”

    You’d need more separation between God and Metatron (not to mention God and the “divine” light) before the Answer could be anything but a logical absurdity. The extension of the halting problem – and therefore Rice’s Theorem – to Turing Oracle machines proves that God can’t search all possible worlds. Even with the most favorable assumptions, God can only prove the goodness of all worlds that are deist, lacking divine intervention.

    I admit that if we say Metatron’s certainty was technically a lie – because he can’t know for sure, because God could only know for sure if He didn’t tell Metatron – that does improve the ending for me.

    • Aegeus says:

      If there is one God, then limiting yourself to worlds without divine intervention shouldn’t be an issue.

  67. HahTse says:

    Thank you, Scott.

  68. Wertsir says:

    “Did I do good?” it asked.

    Who cries for the devil?

    Me. I do.

  69. Oliver says:

    Thanks for writing this, Scott! I just finished my second read-through. Easily one of my favorite books.

  70. hnau says:

    Brief review:

    Unsong is a long, epic work. We got a ton of cool, fascinating stuff in the first few chapters, and a big, powerful, metaphorically significant confrontation in the last few. In between there was tons of clever world-building (and some outright tangents that were still very interesting), but not as much as I’d have hoped in the way of character development or plot. The story supports a ton of neat elements (and maybe one or two boring ones) but never quite cashes in on the most interesting aspects of the characters, themes, and setting. I enjoyed it for what it was, but I felt like it wanted to be– and could have been– something more.

    I’ve mentally compared Unsong to plenty of different books. Foucalt’s Pendulum and Snow Crash are probably the front-runners as far as content goes. In terms of the overall features that I described, though, I think it has to be– appropriately enough– Moby Dick.

  71. Raza says:

    This was a wicked awesome and ridiculously creative story. I loved it.

    That said (and not detracting from it), it bothers me that understanding everything as they did, nobody told the traumatized, screaming head of Thamiel that he did good. He deserves a hug for bearing the heaviest available burden for maximizing the total sum of good.

  72. Enye Word says:

    Wait, how did THARMAS get into Sohu?

  73. Anonymous Person says:

    It is 12:28 AM on January 24th, 2017.
    I have just finished reading the entirety of UNSONG in two days or one day. The counting depends on time or sleep.

    I need to buy this as a book in a deliberate, well-designed shape to put it on my coffee table to have this inexplicable, awesome, wonder enshrined forevermore in my life. Probably in some equally inscrutable format.

    And then have like three well-used paperback copies to loan people.

    I do not understand this work, but I look upon it in awe.

    It is 12:36 AM on January 24th, 2018. I have just finished writing this comment.

    • Anonymous Person says:

      It’s me again. I think my brain is sideways.
      Also DANGIT DANGIT DANGIT I PUT THE WRONG DATE DOWN! 2018 It didn’t take me a year to write the comment!

      You may being speculation if you wish.


      • Anonymous Person says:

        I’m going to run out of nesting at this rate. Mostly the point was going “nothing is ever a coincidence” and hoping that that resonated enough to get engagement from random Internet people. Eh. Anyway.

  74. ParryLost says:

    Okay, I think I missed something in an earlier chapter, and I’m hoping someone can set me straight: Why didn’t Sohu just use her “Marriage” with Uriel to telepathically warn him about the incoming missile, thus preventing his death and the apocalypse?

  75. Rabbi Jeremy Sher says:

    כל הכבוד, that was really fun to read, and I learned a lot. Thank you! This will probably help in my professional work dealing with demons all day.

  76. Anonymous says:

    I can’t imagine the preparation and effort that must have gone into writing this, but the end result was so incredible. I can’t say for sure if it was all worth it to the author but I can definitively say that it was worth it to at least this reader. Thank you.

  77. Douglas Dees says:

    I am not a Good Man.
    I have never dedicates myself to religion, though I follow my own moral code that seems to be in line with most of the society near me. I have never willingly read of the Holy Book to a large degree, I consider myself a rationalist. I also now consider myself truly happy to have read this.

  78. Ramiro says:

    1. Awesome! I didn’t feel this way since Terry Pratchett. I’ve devoured the story for the last three days, and was very flattered to know apocalypse happened as I turned 31.
    2. How much of the epilogue was inspired by Raymond Smullyan’s World without Laughter? Or it’s all a coincidence? “Nothing is a coincidence”.

  79. PDV says:

    >These are sentences from Cambridge Latin, everyone’s favorite Latin 101 textbook.

    False. Ecce Romani is everyone’s favorite Latin 101 textbook. Accordingly, this should say “Sextus est puer molestus. Raeda est in fossa. Raeda in fossa manebat.”

  80. MB says:

    I read this entire story in one day. This was incredible. Thank you.

  81. Sukil says:

    Why doesn’t the latest addition appear linked to anywhere inside this site?

  82. lisistrichi says:

    I enjoyed this story quite a lot as I read through it, and as I read it I wondered to myself if it would stack up to the classics, if I would be able to stack it along with Blake and Eliot and Homer and all the other intertexts and all the rest that it calls forward. I wanted to know if, having finished, if I would consider it to address the timeless and the moment in the way that literature does, if I would find in it the same sublimity that it finds in everything it touches.

    I’m commenting in the immediate aftermath of having finished the story. I enjoyed it and its wonderful sense of humor, its ability to end the way that it did. The structure and knowledge and cleverness of it is all astounding. I have some background studying some of the things Unsong loves to consider, formally and informally, and it tickled me to see these things represented. And to speak of representation, it is a gloriously global story, with characters and viewpoints pulled from wherever whenever needed, and the narrative in turn hopping where it needs to in order to fulfill its many many hats: kabbalistic commentary, philosophical filter, American epic, and all the others.

    But ultimately my verdict is that it falls short.

    I enjoyed the story, including its fulfillment of the satisfying click of theory. It is very complete, in that way, as a story concerned with structure and coincidence and intention should be, while not being so foolish as to try to close the door entirely. These are good qualities and a good balance was struck. And I have the sensation that, while I read this and its comments as a complete story, the readers who read it as a serial were even more gifted, as they spun conspiracies and delved for answers in real-time as it was released, and I have the sensation that they experienced that click more fervently or immediately or viscerally than I did. And ultimately, I am not a nationally-acclaimed expert of theodicy, so Unsong‘s theodical explication and explanation is certainly good enough for me, living my life in a world of math and meaning, seeded in some way timeless aeons ago.

    However, in my mind Unsong remains incomplete. It passes the buck, to borrow the late reference to Elijah. It addresses the timeless, as literature does, but does not quiiiiiiiite manage to address the now. I know, I know, it does, in fact, contain the contemporary; in fact it contains many extremely up-to-date references to the state of the world as it was being released. I was very excited as a reader to see Aaron struggle with his job in corporate Countenance, and I was as pleased to see Simeon and his viewpoint as I was pleased to read Dylan’s upbraiding of Mark’s milquetoast mouldering. But as I read through Unsong, I found myself no longer wondering, and instead simply seeing, seeing that these things are evoked and then left flat on Unsong‘s production floor.

    But in thinking about the story, I am left with one critical question: what are we now to do?

    The Ithaka scene of Aaron being asked to use the Kabbalah to predict the future comes to mind. And that, of itself, is an argument for Unsong‘s literary worthiness, as is the fact that after I’ve read it that I want to talk about it. Unsong certainly can be thought and argued about in a lofty and reasoned manner, and in that way it is no different from all those giants of the word that have come before it. But this scene does not answer me. I am to find the answer myself among the myriad structures of Adam Kadmon, I am told. Thus the productions of the Bible, and of my life, and of Unsong itself. I have always believed, less structured than this but along these lines, that the patterns are there to be read and that they do trend towards something. I have always believed that the pun is unfairly maligned. Unsong should have spoken more or less directly to someone preprimed for it. But it did not. And that can be attributed to many things, but not to coincidence, because nothing is a coincidence. And if it is not a coincidence then it can be explained. And…

    I don’t really care to do that. I have read Unsong once and will likely file it away in the back of my head somewhere far above the likes of HPMoR or other schlock web fanfiction. And I will file it above many many published paper books of some popularity. But I will not read it again and again to find why. Other people have done that, for whatever reason, but it all strikes me as a game to pursue for the pursuit, interesting only to the kind of person who can take an interest in counting individually every thread in a shag carpet. I read a book once, The Numerical Universe of the Gawain Poet, which found glorious patterns and correspondences in a unique medieval manuscript, attempting to prove the singularity of what were thought to be four separate poems. Then the author tried to fulfill Chaucer in the same way and failed entirely, because Chaucer was not attested to in a single manuscript and so the real world’s messiness came in and it became obvious that those brilliant sapphires were not attainable here in this way. And the shroud fell from my eyes and I saw how atomized, pointless and self-involved that game was.

    I haven’t even addressed the prose, which, while perfunctory, was somewhat plain. For a story calling forward so far Blake, I expected more.

    For Unsong, the only answer to “What to do?” present seems to be once, at the end, when the impulse of redemption reseeds the world. I will probably buy a paper version if one ever comes to my attention, but only to support the author in the hope that he might produce something else. I will file that on a less-commonly perused shelf than my copies of literature, or maybe give it in a gift hoping that it would find someone more inclined to this version of the pursuit. Unsong is a beautiful carpet. But although its warp and weft are set wonderfully, although its color is varied and crisp, it is a carpet. And I’m going to walk on it, not hang it on my wall along with the most beautiful carpets. This comment is the end of my thought about Unsong.

  83. Thank you! This is what I need to find.

  84. WP says:

    Dear Mr. Alexander,

    I love everything about this story and am a bit relieved I found it after it was finished. (I think I would have gone nuts waiting for updates!)

    I was wondering, in light of your endnotes, if it would still be okay for me to use your manuscript to make an eBook as a personal project: I just completed an electronic editing course and am self-studying eBook making. Basically, would it be alright if I copied your story into a “manuscript” to work on and eventually made it into an ebook (and maybe a print book, too, if I can do it well enough)? I wouldn’t be putting it up anywhere (unless you’d like me too).

    Since this post was made years ago, I wanted to make sure you were still okay with it. I honestly have no idea how long it would take since I’m still pretty new at these things.

    Thank you in advance.


    • Sukil says:

      Scott says, in this post, that “[i]f other people want to make an ebook version, or small-scale non-public print copies in ways that don’t seem like obvious defections against future publishers, I’m okay with that.”. In fact there are several scrappers readily available.

  85. ParryLost says:

    Just saw this on the Onion, and it reminded me of Unsong’s version of Hell…

  86. Steve C says:

    Fantastic book. I really enjoyed it. The puns, the history, the tradition, the puns, the complex wordplay. The puns.
    The explanation of theodicy was the best I have read, but sadly fell short.
    And unfortunately the end tied things up too neatly.

    The dark facet of God, call it evil, call it hatred, call it Thamiel, was hollow, more brittle than glass, lighter than a feather. I started laughing that Ana had wasted her question on the existence of evil, when evil was thinner than a hair, tinier than a dust speck, so tiny it barely even existed at all. Evil was the world’s dumbest joke, the flimsiest illusion, a piece of wool God pulled over His own eyes with no expectation that it could possibly fool anybody.

    Sure, the main characters did evil for good reasons, reasons which we now can see. But genocide is not done for good reasons that we could see. Infants born with horrible, painful, fatal diseases are not made for good reasons that we could see. The paragraph above is a summary of the weakest of theodical arguments, and the story deserves better.

    • Martin says:

      In the Unsong multiverse, infants are born with horrible diseases as part of a process to distinguish between universes, as was explained in the book.

      Of course, this doesn’t really work, and this shouldn’t be surprising. If God existed and really was Omnipotent, He would not need to resort to introducing these distinguishing factors- He could do whatever the flying fuck He wanted with no concern for literally anything. There would be no need to mess around with trying to prevent universes from being redundant because He could just wave his magic wand and make them not redundant without needing to distinguish between them.

  87. D. says:

    Acts 16:31, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 1 Peter 1:17-21, Revelation 22:18-19

  88. Topei says:

    Remember the conversation Aaron, Ana and Erica had about what question they would ask God?

    Turns out, the answer to theodicy (Anas question) als gives you the Shem HaMephorash (Ericas question) and is the best question you could possibly ask (Aarons question)

  89. Pingback: Unsong, a fantasy novel where the universe is programmable with Hebrew by Banana699 -

  90. Arky says:

    Whoosh, finished this just inside the wire for 2021. A great and interesting read!

  91. SaraL says:

    Today I finished reading this fantastic story. Today I also read that comet K2 has just entered our solar system. This is not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

    Thank you Scott! I only wish it was a series, your writings really struck a chord 🙂

  92. Robert Chansky says:

    This was a beautiful story. I enjoyed it through many lunch hours. Thank you.

  93. Caldw3ll says:

    Wow, God still turned out to be kind of an evil asshole. He’s omnipotent and omniscient, couldn’t he have just… changed the rules so that he never had to create evil to maximize good?????

    • Uhmriel says:

      I thought Chapter 71 covered it pretty well: God creates all universes with positive goodness/utility. In a sense, God doesn’t really possess any agency, and is purely a multiversal utility maximizer, acting as a more complicated version of Llull, producing universes instead of Names. An alternative “implementation” of God could have been a suffering minimizer, but that would have likely produced no universes at all, and would not fit the God of the Bible at all.

      (Anyone know whether it’s blasphemous to equate God with an algorithm?)

  94. Uhmriel says:

    Great stuff, excited for an actual publication if it ever happens; would love a hardcover for the shelf.

  95. MINDBLOWN says:

    Wow. Wow. This blew my mind. This is beautiful and I need to read it again.

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