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Unsong de Scott Alexander

de Scott Alexander - Género: English
libro gratis Unsong

Sinopsis

Aaron Smith-Teller works in a kabbalistic sweatshop near San Francisco, where he and hundreds of other minimum-wage workers try to brute-force the Holy Names of God.

All around him, the forces of Good and Evil move their pieces into play for the final confrontation. An autistic archangel and his eight-year-old apprentice try to debug the laws of physics. A dark lord in Las Vegas claims to be the reincarnation of a heretical Talmudic rabbi. A magicless Mexican hedge wizard masters the terrifying art of placebomancy. A band of Silicon Valley billionaires charter the world's fastest ship to find God and tell Him exactly what He is doing wrong. The Messiah-King of the American West organizes a military coalition against the Devil.

Aaron doesn't care about any of this. He and his friends are engaged in something far more important – griping about magical intellectual property law. But when a chance discovery brings them to the attention of the mysterious United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God (UNSONG), they find themselves caught in a web of plots, crusades, and prophecies leading inexorably to the end of the world.


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Moved to gwern.net.33 s Mars483 12

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 a gigantic fluke."19 s Garion2 2

The book crazy premise and interconnectedness is amazing. The main plot get's you incredibly invested and it converges perfectly in the end. Everything is foreshadowing, everything has a deeper meaning that gets revealed in such a clever way nearer to the end. The ending which I will not spoil is one of the most satisfying and smart ending that left me jaw-dropped and laughing. My only complaint is that we speed through the last few chapters a little too fast. Now to my 2 favourite parts of the book.

The world building is a mix of hilarious and immensely interesting ( everything else in the book), set in a world where (minor spoilers ahead) it turns out Christianity is real and the author does very interesting things with it. The exploration of the fact that "Hell" is real has got to be one of my favourite chapters of the book and will weigh on my conscience despite not being religious. The way real life events and the revelation that religion is real is handled is also really hilariously with interpretations from the bibles that will make you go "how did the author even think of that?"

The clashing of theology is... genuinely amazing. Everyone's take on why is there evil in the world and how to tackle it was the most interesting part of the book to me. From the argument that there is no such thing as evil, only the absence of good. to the argument that God cannot create good without evil being part of the mix. to the final argument that the author presents, I (as an atheist) fully bought into it and the final argument is genuinely one of the most complicated feeling I got from a book. I highly recommend it but I do warn that there is a lot of puns and references to various religious imagery and metaphors that can be quite tiring at times. 19 s Jayesh 180 110

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 shameless puns and wordplay or are annoyed by them. Even though it deals with fairly complicated things 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 happening in the universe. Moreover the plot is fairly thin and many things become predictable by the time you reach the conclusion. Still if you enjoyed Ted Chiang's Hell is the Absence of God and Seventy-Two Letters, you should enjoy the ideas being tackled here despite the terrible puns.

In the author's own words:


This is going to be a book about good and evil. How do people react to evil? How do they understand it? Do they tolerate it? Compromise with it? Try to fight it? Curse God for creating it? What if twenty years ago the Messiah called for the greatest crusade in all of history in order to conquer Hell itself, failed, died, and now the world is just sort of limping through the aftermath of that without really ever having processed it? Nobody’s noticed it yet, but underneath the facade of puns and stuff this book is really dark, and it’s going to get way darker.


For a possibly relevant teaser from an interlude:

The 2016 Republican primaries went the way any nominative determinist would have predicted. The guy named Walker left early. The guy named Bush got mowed down. The guy named Rand ran as a libertarian. The guy named Cruz (Latin, meaning “cross”) ran on a platform of evangelical Christianity. The guy named Marco (Latin, meaning “war”), ran on a platform of neoconservative imperialism. The guy named Benjamin (Hebrew, meaning “son of my right hand”) ran on a platform laid out in his book Clever Hands.

And the guy named Trump beat all of them.

Things were hardly more subtle on the Democratic side. Bernie connected his first name with fire early on, eg “Feel The Bern”; his surname derives from Greek Alexander, “defender of man”. Put together, we get “defender of the fired man”, eg a supporter of the unemployed and underemployed. But Hillary Clinton, named for Sir Edmund Hillary (whose own name combines “hill” and “aerie”, two words for high places) quickly climbed to the top. She became the clear favorite after narrowly defeating Sanders in Iowa, a state granted disproportionate power in Presidential elections presumably because its name is the Tetragrammaton.
17 s Douglas Summers-StayAuthor 1 book44

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 uneven by the usual standards by which we normally judge fiction. The plot is poorly paced, told out of order for reasons that are hard to discern, and fairly unsatisfying (though the end reminded me of the excellent Eisenheim the Illusionist). But it more than makes up for this with other features: the way it plays with words and symbols, the connections between ancient magic and modern computers, the humor and philosophy. His exegesis of Job was probably the best I've ever read. A chapter about Peter Singer and one about the angel personifying Hollywood stood out as among the most interesting. I d the characters, especially the conversations between a bright young girl with a flying kayak, and Uriel, the angel that runs everything.
I have a feeling that there were many layers of symbolism that I wasn't aware of, in the names of things and the structure of the chapters especially; my grasp of the Kaballah is anecdotal at best.
When the story finished it inspired me to pull out and finish an old project of translating Genesis 1 into words beginning with the letter A with the help of a computer program I wrote.fantasy7 s V.132 3

Okay, admission: this is one of those 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 talented essayist, punster, and writer of myth and allegory. What he's not good at is novelistic storytelling: many of the "action" chapters read the scene-setting script of a lousy dungeon master. Action scenes degenerate into painful attempts at rendering an architectural plan into prose. Dialogue is stilted and corny. The plotting is dubious, and probably looks better laid out on notecards than it does in practice.

I'm a fan of Scott's usually, and Unsong is a great attempt with some really, really stellar moments; but he's not a novelist, and in the end the results aren't pretty. I'd recommend some of his shorter fictional works (stuff "The Whispering Earring") and his essays, and book , and basically everything else he's ever written. If you've done all that and want to be a completionist, then I can recommend coming back to Unsong. It very much has its moments.7 s Raoul G178 18

Unsong is a super wild ride into a fantastic alternate world in which Judaism is objectively true. This means God exists, the devil exists, hell is real, there are fallen angels, archangels, and as a consequence all kind of supernatural stuff can and does happen (Ted Chiang's Hell is the Absence of God starts from a similar premise). The plot itself is very expansive and there are multiple separate storylines that converge in the end. There is so much happening in this book that it's quite hard to summarize the plot. To give you at least a vague idea: One of the main characters, Aaron, works in a kabbalistic sweatshop run by a mega corporation which tries to brute-force the Holy Names of God in order to copyright them. Each Holy Name of God (of which there are many) has a specific effect which can be very trivial (e.g. a bright light appearing that shows the speaker the direction of the location of the moon), useful (e.g. letting the speaker float up or down in the air), and everything in between. As some of the names are quite powerful, an organization called Unsong which controls (basically prohibits) the use of the names, was founded in the past. One day Aaron happens to find out a new and very powerful name which allows him to bestow a soul on any object. This turns his world upside down and causes him and the people around him a lot of trouble.

What I can say is that Unsong contains some of the most creative and fascinating fiction I have ever read. First of all there is the way in which Judeo-Christian sources are deeply interwoven into the story. It is full of references from the Torah, the Bible, Jewish legends and other apocrypha. Especially Kabbalah, a particular variety of Jewish mysticism, plays a major role: "God created Man in His own image but He created everything else in His own image too. By learning the structure of one entity, Biblical Israel, we learn facts that carry over to other structures, the moral law, or the purpose of the universe, or my workday. This is the kabbalah."
Being fairly familiar with the Biblical literature really adds to the experience of reading Unsong. The writing is often quite hilarious. Here's an example:
"So I drove. It was a nice car. A white Cadillac. The scholars tell us that God drives a Plymouth Fury, for it is written in Jeremiah 32:37: “He drove them out of the land in His Fury”. But the Twelve Apostles shared a Honda Accord, for it is written in Acts 5:12: “They were all with one Accord”. The commentators speculate this may have been the same car Jesus used when he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, though if there were more than four or so moneychangers it might have required a minor miracle."
In the alternate world of Unsong, the author also takes some real historical events (especially the election of US presidents) and gives them a certain twist. Here for example vice president Dick Cheney being a sort of golem: "They said that one day when he sat for Sunday services at St. John’s Church, the pastor had read from the Gospel of Matthew -'Who among you, if a child asks for bread, would give him a stone?'' – and Cheney had stood up immediately and raised his hand until they informed him it was a rhetorical question."
Besides the funny stuff, there are also passages that are emotionally touching, and even a description of hell that is nothing short of gut-wrenching.
There is also a lot of philosophical depth to Unsong. It raises questions of morality and meaning. Especially the question of evil and how it can be reconciled with the existence of God plays an important role and receives a thought-provoking answer in the end.
The world-building is strong and the characters are amazing. All these factors together made this one of the most rewarding fiction-reading experiences for me so far.best fiction5 s Aaro Salosensaari146 3

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 characters and plot are fundamentally unsatisfying mess. All characters speak with the same voice; allegories and jokes get in a way of a story. This review may sound unnecessarily harsh (the story was enjoyable at parts), but nothing is as disappointing as an attempt at epic that falls flat. Reads a first draft of a book that could be good.read-in-2018 scifi-fantasy-spefi-genre to-review5 s Yuri KarabatovAuthor 1 book25

Wow, just wow.5 s Ben969 110

Very amusing and original, for perhaps a hundred pages. But then there is nothing new. It becomes very, very tedious—the plot as well as the linguistic mysticism—and certainly could benefit from a rewrite and an editor.

> Fifty years ago, Apollo 8 cracked the sky open and people started discovering the Names of God. A decade later, corporations started patenting them, demanding license fees for anyone who wanted to work miracles with them. A decade after that, they codified the whole system into international law and created UNSONG – the United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God – to enforce it.

> UNSONG and the theonomics corporations couldn’t be allowed to whore out the Names of God unchallenged. A revolution was coming, and we were going to be ready for it. Nobody was going to get a monopoly on the Divine without fighting for it. And that was why every Wednesday night the choir of the Unitarian Church would meet in secret and sing the hidden transcendent Names of God in Pig Latin.

> even the Heaven-bound righteous have a few sins, and since those sins won’t be punished in Heaven, they have to be punished here on Earth. Therefore, the righteous suffer on Earth. But even the Hell-bound wicked have a few virtues. And since those virtues won’t be rewarded in Hell, they have to be rewarded here on Earth. Therefore, the wicked prosper on Earth. Then people ask why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, and it looks a mystery, but it actually makes total sense.”

> Fermi crunched various numbers and found that even under the most conservative assumptions the Earth should have been visited by just about a zillion extraterrestrial civilizations, instead of the zero that humans actually observed. He figured there must be some unseen flaw in his calculations, and it bothered him a little for the rest of his life. He could have avoided a lot of anguish if he had just followed the data to their obvious conclusion and admitted the stars probably didn’t exist.

> “Some of the demons have nicknamed this place Brimstone Acres,” Thagirion was saying. “It’s the nice part of Hell – relatively speaking, of course. We reserve it for the worst sinners. Hitler has a villa here. So do Beria and LaLaurie. It’s basic incentive theory. If the worst sinners got the worst parts of Hell, then people who were pretty sure they were hellbound might still hold back a little bit in order to make their punishment a little more tolerable. We try to encourage the opposite.

> "He said that he would cut the baby in half. And one of the people agreed to that, but that meant she didn't love the baby very much, so the king gave it to the other person. And then lots of people d him and said he had made a wise decision. So since Palestine is okay with cutting the land in half, but Israel isn't, giving it to Israel is the wise thing to do"

> The world has its own peculiar narrative logic that determines the course of a fight far more surely than skill ever could. Placebomancers are those who embrace this. A placebomantic duel is two masters casting off pretense and using the narrative against each other directly.”

> Not A Metaphor shot east, a bullet, a rocket, a comet.fantasy humor science-fiction4 s James Duyck99

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.3 s1 comment Gavin1,120 431

I usually don't mind puns but

Will probably bump it up when it goes through a copy-edit.

It actually manages to show the incandescent beauty of strict consequentialism. Which is an important thing to show! But the action scenes and the padding will probably stop you from seeing it.novel4 s Tony280 1 follower

Do you puns? If so, read this. If not, read this and ignore the puns.4 s Benjamin79

I wouldn't even know where to begin describing this book if i tried to, so I will keep it very short.
I'd describe Unsong as a jewish sci-fi rational fiction novel. Now, this description might raise even more questions than you had before, but this book is truly something special.

An incredible clever and funny story about good and evil, that is definitely also for people who are not fans of jewish mysticism or hardcore rationalists.

(Minus one star since some writing and pacing etc. could've been better. Since it was published as a blog though, I can't stay too mad about the lack of proofreading)
fiction3 s Aaron202 42

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 is not within the scope of Tolkein or Lewis. Explicit Christian authors rarely attempt to do more than inspire their readers with stories of hope, faith and love. Implicit Christians- Orson Scott Card, Madeleine L'Engle, etc- repackage Christ myths into dualistic worlds about temptation and personal sacrifice. Secular science fantasy/fiction writers deal with human issues of relationships, identity, and sex.

Saying “Hey God, what the fuck?”, in the Jewish tradition, is normal.

Jacob fought an angel thereby becoming Israel, and Elie Wiesel wrote the Trial of God. Scott continues this tradition, and launches his line of inquiry with Peter Singer, Derik Parfit, and lots of puns. Lots and lots of puns. Puns in this universe are literally weapons capable of destroying entire cities.

This is Bay-area, Bayesian bait. Sometimes the plotting is off, and sometimes the characters do stupid things, but the world building, humor, and the characters make the book an addictive read. I’m unsure if Scott’s answer to the question of theodicy is satisfying. I’m still mulling it over, crunching it in my brain. That, at least for now, is a good sign.
3 s Sundararaman R83 47

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 many of them that it's hard to get a grip on a point of view. The entire Dylan-placebomancy arc could be cut out and the novel would probably be better for it (and I say this as someone who loves the concept of placebomancy - it just doesn't fit with the rest of the novel).3 s Max11 2

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.

3 s Mikhail Korobko64

Кабаллистический фанфик на историю второй половины 20 века, который в душе мысли о теодицее (почему добрый бог допускает зло в мире).

В конце 60х американцы запускают Аполлон на Луну и он, не долетая немного до Луны, разбивается о небесную твердь. Если вам, как мне, этого достаточно для того, чтобы бросить все и побежать читать — бросайте и бегите.

Так вот, из-за трещины в небесной тверди нарушается механизм работы Вселенной и оказывается, что Ветхий Завет и Тора были во всем правы. На землю рванули толпы ангелов, Архангел сидит в центре урагана и пытается отдебажить исходный код мироздания, под Байкалом открылись врата в Ад и Россию заодно с Канадой захватили силы Ада во главе с Дьяволом. Захватили — и образовали новое государство, которое заседает в ООН. В США идет война с наркотиками (war on drugs) — буквально, демон-кактус превратил всю Южную Америку в зомби под действием пейота и теперь пытается захватить Америку. Мегакорпорации датамайнят Имена Бога — заклинания, позволяющие делать всякие полезные штуки, от исцеления болезней до стирания городов с лица Земли — шифруют и копирайтят их и продают втридорога. ГГ — юный кабаллист, который работает за минимальную плату в офисе по брутфорсу Имен Бога (перебирает в слух все возможные сочетания букв, пока что-то не произойдет). И тут он случайно находит Имя, которое запускает Аполкалипсис...

Если вам и ЭТОГО недостаточно, чтобы бросить все и побежать читать, то я уж и не знаю.

Книга — фанфик как он есть, публиковалась как посты в блоге по главам. Структура полу��ается довольно сложная: у нас есть главный нарратив, где ГГ с друзьями пытается сбежать от преследования спецслужб и предотвартить конец света. В самом начале ничего не понятно: нам сразу показывают сложный мир, в котором все работает по своим законам, и потом на протяжении следующих 2/3 книги постепенно объясняют, как же оно до этого докатилось и как работает в рамках новых законов мироздания. Так что главы основного нарратива перемежаются вставками из разных периодов 20 и 21 века, по сути описывая всю историю, где привычные нам события случались, но есть один нюанс.

Несмотря на абсурдность того, что я описал, миропостроение очень логичное и согласованное, просто поначалу мы этого не видим. Тем прикольнее понимать, что вот это, что я читал 300 страниц назад, не просто абсурдная шутка, а логично вписано в устройство этого странного мира.

В книге много (МНОГО) каламбуров (puns) — по сути, она вся построена на кабаллистическом принципе поиска скр��тых смыслов в прямых текстах. Поэтому, с одной стороны, местами это очень смешно, а с другой — будьте готовы к главам, которые подробно исследуют скрытую построчную трактовку популярной песни как религиозного высказывания, с отсылками к библии и прочим священным текстам и разным языковым особенностям в разных языках. Задорнов отдыхает.
Мне зашло, но их чаще всего можно и пропустить.

Большая часть книги очень смешная — я редко смеюсь вслух над книгами, но тут было несколько раз так, что обедом подавился и ржал до слез. Юмор при этом разный: от каламбуров до ситкома, до метаюмора. В комбинации с экшеном и обилием сюжетных веток это помогает 800 страницам пролететь незаметно.

Последняя треть растеряет почти всю юморность (tongue-in-cheak, не знаю, как по-русски аналогично сказать) и превратится в довольно драматичный экшен с философскими нотками. Как раз к этому моменту мы понимаем, кто же есть кто и чем герои симпатичны. Так чтоб посильнее давило, когда с ними что-то случается.

В общем, если вам нравятся необычные книги, вы не против альтернативной истории и религии и любите закрученные сюжеты — вы по адресу. Бросайте уже, наконец, все и бегите читать.2 s1 comment Lucas Thomas4

By far the best book I've ever read.

Depth and breadth of world building 10/10
Compelling characters and arcs 10/10
Wild and weird no other 10/10
Emotionally satisfying 10/10

I read it years ago, and I still find my mind wandering to it often.2 s Ezra12

This was a great book, but it would have been better if Scott Alexander were less online and less of a utilitarian.2 s Mark Vayngrib256 17

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 ( "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 rearranging letters in words, and the answer to the riddle of why God allows so much evil in our world, are just a few of the cows you'll be smacked by if you toss yourself into the whirlwind.

my main complaint: sometimes the kabbalistic wordplay can get exhausting, as even some of the characters in the book make plain to each other (which doesn't excuse the author).

some memorable phrases:

I won’t say I had gazed upon it bare, exactly, but in the great game of strip poker every deep thinker plays against the universe I’d gotten further than most.

---

It was that scene in the Bible where God manifested Himself upon Mount Sinai, but only to those Israelites who had graduated from Harvard or Yale.

---

He was trying to sound a therapist, but ended up sounding a police officer trying to sound a therapist.

---

The heavens turned gray and were replaced by a message saying "sky.smh not found, please repent transgressions and try again."

---

"And when the last among us had stepped out from the waters, you sent them crashing down upon the Pharaoh and his army, destroying them and their wickedness forever."

"I HAVE NOT WORKED OUT ALL OF THE BUGS IN THE PART_SEA FUNCTION."

---

"Preach of God at all times," they said [Francis of Assisi] would tell them. "If necessary, use words."

---

The scholars tell us that God drives a Plymouth Fury, for it is written in Jeremiah 32:37: "He drove them out of the land in His Fury." But the Twelve Apostles shared a Honda Accord, for it is written in Acts 5:12: "They were all with one Accord."

---

Hershel of Ostropol came to an inn and asked for a warm meal. The innkeeper demanded he pay in advance, and when Hershel had no money, he told him to get out. Hershel raised himself up to his full height, looked the innkeeper in the eye menacingly, and said "Give me my meal, or I will do what my father did? You hear me? I will DO WHAT MY FATHER DID!" The terrified innkeeper served the traveller a nice warm meal. After dinner, when Hershel was calmer, he ventured to ask exactly what Hershel’s father had done. "That is simple," answered Hershel. "When my father asked someone for a meal, and they refused to give it to him – then he would go to bed hungry." — Old Jewish folktale

---

(from archangel Uriel's changelog for patches to our universe)

SHARKS WERE PREVIOUSLY MUCH LESS DANGEROUS THAN DOCUMENTATION SUGGESTED. SHARKS HAVE BEEN UPDATED TO BE MUCH MORE DANGEROUS.

---

Obama laughed off people’s fears. But when his detractors asked him to produce a birth certificate, to prove that he had in fact been born, he expressed outrage and declined as a matter of principle.

[...]

Some people vaguely remembered that before it was Shrouded the Constitution had received an amendment saying something about a medical examination to make sure the president was human. But everyone agreed this would be extremely racist under the circumstances and could be skipped.

---

Thou hast been faithful in a very interesting way.

---

Even the atheists represent the cosmos as part of a great whale, saying that the whole world is a gigantic fluke.

---

"You know what I mean!" said Ana. "And if you’re so smart, what would you ask God?"

"Um," I thought for a second, then was gratified to be able to give a clear answer.

"What is the ordered pair whose first value is the best possible question that I could ask you, and whose second value is your answer to it?"

"You are so annoying," said Erica. (this reviewer agrees)fantasy2 s Chloé207 10

Unsong est un roman feuilleton qui a été publié du 28 décembre 2015 jusqu'au 17 mai 2017. Il nous raconte l'histoire d'Aaron Smith-Teller, un employé de la société Unsong. Son travail consiste à lire des potentiels Noms de Dieu générés par un logiciel jusqu'à en trouver des véritables. Ces Noms sont ensuite soumis à un copyright afin d'éviter qu'ils soient utilisés sans contrôle. Aaron découvre alors un de ces Noms par pur hasard. Conscient qu'Unsong ne pourrait pas être capable de découvrir ce Nom sans lui, il décide donc de le garder secret et de l'utiliser pour renverser le système. Cependant, ceci n'est qu'une partie de l'histoire puisque le livre suit le parcours d'autres personnages à travers différentes époques.

Unsong est un roman très riche et on le comprend dès les premiers chapitres. L'auteur l'a construit autour du thème de la kabbale et ce sujet est exploité en profondeur, voire au-delà. Il suffit de constater la division même des chapitres et des interludes pour comprendre qu'elle a un sens particulier par rapport à ce thème. Cela en arrive à un point où certains passages deviennent un peu difficiles pour quiconque n'est pas familier avec la Bible. Bien entendu, il est possible de lire Unsong en pur néophyte, mais certaines recherches peuvent s'avérer nécessaires, sans compter les notes de l'auteur lui-même sur son blog. Néanmoins, cette richesse permet de nous offrir un récit intelligent et réfléchi.
Le roman pose plusieurs questions philosophiques, notamment sur le Bien et le Mal, et la raison de l'existence de cette dernière notion. Pour y répondre, Scott Alexander réécrit plusieurs moments de l'Histoire avec les règles de son univers, donnant donc lieu à des chapitres parfois drôles, parfois cyniques, mais toujours poussés à leur maximum d'un point de vue religieux et linguistique.
À ce propos, la langue est certainement le point le plus important du roman. Son étude est présente pour expliquer plusieurs mots selon leur grammaire, leur orthographe, leur étymologie, leur sens, afin de les relier à la kabbale ou bien pour effectuer un jeu de mot, car Unsong est rempli de jeux de mots. L'humour est quelque chose d'omniprésent dans le livre, mais sa forme majoritaire est le jeu de mot. Certains sont tellement tordus qu'ils peuvent nous passer au-dessus de la tête, mais une fois de plus, le blog de l'auteur contient des explications. En cela, Unsong est absolument intraduisible. Nous sommes loin des jeux de mots où il suffit de saisir leur sens global pour en faire une adaptation. Ici le travail linguistique derrière chaque blague fait en sorte qu'il serait impossible de fournir un équivalent dans une autre langue que l'anglais.

D'un point de vue de l'histoire, Unsong a des hauts et des bas. Clairement, certains chapitres sont plus intéressants que d'autres. Pour ma part, j'ai trouvé ceux concernant Sohu et Uriel particulièrement drôles et captivants, tandis que ceux avec Alvarez m'ont paru fades. Si on ajoute à cela le fait que les chapitres sont de tailles plutôt inégales et s'attardent sur des choses plus ou moins pertinentes à l'histoire, le rythme finit par souffrir de ces aléas.
On rencontre donc les limites d'un livre n'ayant pas été confié à un éditeur. Si l'on saisit l'importance de certains passages, d'autres semblent plus superflus. De plus, le fait qu'il s'agisse d'un roman feuilleton écrit entre 2015 et 2017 l'ancre bien trop dans cette période, si bien que d'ici quelques années, plusieurs blagues ne feront pas autant mouche.

Finalement, Unsong est une expérience plutôt intéressante. Malgré les défauts que l'on peut y trouver, Scott Alexander nous propose un récit qui ne laisse pas indifférent tant il est atypique, humoristique, et incroyablement pensé.
Enfin, je terminerai sur ces mots d'Uriel :
DO NOT BOIL A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK21e-siècle anglais fantasy ...more2 s Eric Herboso65 28

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 rational fiction will probably really this novel.

Some of the revelations in the book are especially excellent, and the philosophical positions portrayed as truth in this world make for excellent world-building. Without spoiling anything, the position taken on the problem of evil is exceedingly close to my actual favorite response IRL (minus p-zombies for fairness reasons); and the various descriptions of what the cognates of our real-world people are in this fictional universe is beyond compelling.

The book doesn't take itself too seriously, preferring to set up puns constantly, but while that would be annoying in other books because other authors would be sacrificing the story to make those puns, Alexander actually weaves these puns as actual story points. Kabbalah is real here, so knowing how to make links between things by using their names and connections to other things is a real part of this book's world. Chapters that at first may seem to only be written for the sake of a pun are thus revealed to be information that legitimately propels the story forward. I've never read another book that did such a good job with this.

I recommend this book to anyone who pattern matches to any two of the following:
you puns;
you're fascinated by sephirot/kabbalah/jewish mysticism;
you rational fantasy, but are okay with reading something rational-adjacent;
you are interested in fiction that has effective altruism as a plot device; or
you already read Scott Alexander's excellent fiction and/or non-fiction.

A word of warning: Alexander has written some great nonfiction short stories, and while none of them are a part of this book, it would be better to read Unsong first, and only then read his short fiction. Usually when I'm recommending a new author to someone, I tell them to read a short story first to see if they the author's style, but Alexander has a tendency to re-use great ideas. So things that should come as big surprises at various points in Unsong will be spoiled if you read his other fiction (and sometimes even his nonfiction!), some of which have the same surprise as their climax. So if you are new to this author, read Unsong first. Then you can look at his other works, almost all of which I'd consider excellent as well.effective-altruism hard-fantasy rational-fiction ...more2 s John Xavier68 28

Weirdness and Theodicy

If our own world is a kind of shadow or reflection of some transcendental power, a creative force operating towards a definable outcome, then one should be able to discern a great deal about said transcendental power from the details of its creation. Here we don’t even need to posit intelligence or design to recognize that the basic nature of a source has a circumscribing influence on its emanations; just as a shadow must acquire its shape from a non-luminous body and a reflection will always contain within itself the image of an environment with formal properties no matter how much that’s distorted, so too there generally has to be something of the creator within the creation, regardless of how transcendent the creator is. And if, as most forms of theism agree, said creator, said source, is infinite in nature, we should expect a significant amount of weirdness. Because infinity is full of contradictions, full of paradoxes; it encompasses all limits and goes beyond them and negates itself in the process while retaining its eternity. Weirdness then offers a direction towards truth. Where our systems break down, where our explanations are flummoxed, there and only there do we reach the borders of higher realities. In fact, we can borrow from Gödel to summarize the matter. Where our explanations are consistent they cannot be complete. Because the truth does not leave anything out, it must be complete and, being complete, it must then encompass all inconsistencies. In their totality. Meaning said contradictions aren’t ultimately reconciled in a process a Hegelian dialectic but rather they are essential and enduring facets of an ultimate and immortal truth. Meaning the very laws of physics must generate inexplicable things interference patterns in their elemental material. And so the weirdness endures, sub specie aeternitatis.

It’s rare for a work of fiction to give much time to such dark realms of metaphysics and rarer still to make these their focus. Scott Alexander’s “Unsong” is exceptional in this regard. Beyond its many other merits, most notably a penetrating satirical eye and a stupendous gift for innovative world building that fuses alternative history and Kabbalah, the central worth of the book is really its ability to kindle in the imagination of its readers a zeal for the big questions about life and the universe. Partly this is done through the philosophical debates of its protagonists and partly through the Kabbalistic analysis of real world historical facts but, it’s not so much that the reader is offered a convincing accumulation of facts and arguments, rather that an aesthetic appeal is being made. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Because the value of truth is not limited to its utility but in fact includes an innate desirability; an aesthetic vitality that infuses life with greater meaning. The world is more interesting and vivid when we have an appreciation of the stars and mountains and flowers; recognizing them, the truth of their being, increases the beauty in our own lives. Here science, art, and religion coalesce into a single divine sensibility. Love.

The story that Unsong tells is baroque in detail but simple in its basic structure. It has the same mythopoetic blueprint that one finds in the majority of speculative fiction, the unly hero haphazardly being thrust into apocalyptic events and playing a central role in these but, while some people might criticize that choice, it is, in all honesty, the best vehicle for promoting the broader philosophical speculations here. If you took the same ideas and infused them in a story that instead frustrated popular tastes, they obviously wouldn’t find as wide a readership. Taking intellectually and spiritually challenging speculations and presenting them through a traditional adventure narrative will always be the most practical way for any type of fiction to disseminate these. As such, the author’s artistic choices, which don’t even require justification, are in fact justified on pragmatic grounds.

Similarly, the question of whether evil can be justified provides one of the main themes of the book and offers something parallel to the demand for justification that literary critics often impose. In both cases, The Author is put on trial due to the dissatisfactions of the impotent. We mortals often resent the idea that there could be a God whose reasons trump our own suffering and, wise, there are plenty of readers who will condemn a work of fiction merely because it does not meet their own private demands; rather than shrug indifferently that a novel or series doesn’t cater to them, rather than choosing to write their own story which would, they will instead devote a great deal of time and effort to analyzing and critiquing work that fundamentally displeases them. It seems on some level then that they want to hate and that the work they dis gives them an outlet for their hatred. Better to reign in hell than search for heaven apparently. And while literary criticism shouldn’t be conflated with the moral problem of evil, the latter after all is genuinely serious, it’s interesting to note that a shared bitterness seems to factor in here. The wailing and gnashing of teeth by one is hardly distinguishable from that of the other.

Maybe evil is justifiable though in a way similar to how no work of literature could be created which would fully please everyone. Maybe freedom and the maximization of value lies in the very possibilities of imperfection? The Eden of Genesis after all, while providing everything that a human being could physically desire, is an ultimately unsatisfying place. If Eve wasn’t already unsatisfied, how could the words of the serpent have been persuasive and why would Adam himself be tempted to the forbidden fruit? Why desire the knowledge of good and evil unless this is a fundamental spiritual desire that no material gratifications could ever eliminate? A mere curiosity about evil then could take heaven and transform it into hell through sheer ignorance, so it seems in some sense that any spiritual individual or community could only be immunized against evil by, surprise surprise, having some direct experience of it. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am also known.” Without ruining the ending of the book, the answer that Unsong offers here basically comes down to the problem of evil arising from the limits of a finite perspective. As our minds enlarge to see the world and all of creation in its infinitude, the transmutation of evil into a means for greater good simultaneously takes place.

The psychological concept of a gestalt is a useful one in this context. Seeing the world as basically good or basically evil comes down to a matter of personal perspective; in fact, this experience is self-revelatory too since how else would you identify whether you were an optimist or a pessimist if not by your attitude to the things around you? But of course it’s possible for us to change our perspectives by conscious effort. In the classical example of the duck-rabbit image, one can see it as a duck or as a rabbit or as neither or both. In fact, the Zen solution to this question is to simply take it as a duck-rabbit gestalt and nothing more (Here the monk Yunmen made this point regarding his staff) meaning no effort to impose any kind of preference is made. In other words, to accept the hypostatic weirdness of these four mutually exclusive perceptions and embrace this as a fifth one. And so the weirdness reaches its zenith at the threshold before the doors of perception where, beyond these, the theodicy of the mystics waits for us.1 Brian18 1 follower

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 d how it brought together the concepts of magic, modern corporate society, and religion into a cohesive mesh. Usually these concepts are antithesis to each other, but in Scott Alexander's work they flowed together smoothly in a way that felt natural and rational. (Yes "rational" as in the genre of writing that focuses on ultra-logical thought paired with religion. That's an odd combination.)

Not only that but he managed to show multiple magic systems, multiple religious groups, and multiple human governance/organizational structures interacting in a way that felt realistic and didn't seem to promote one over the other. (In the lore of this book although the Jews were mostly right... the Christians and the Muslims were too, and even the science-only viewpoint had it's moments to shine.) It even had some points about democracy vs a benevolent dictatorship vs mindless utopia.

Unfortunately the last couple of chapters felt rushed, (The author had a stated number of chapters and held himself to it.) Everything was tied up at the end, but some of the more interesting sub-plots ended up having less meaning that they probably should have.2 s AN R77

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
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