Editing Unsong

A few years ago, I wrote the online serial novel Unsong. Someday I want to get it published. But I want to fix it up before I try. I know publishers will have their own editors and their own demands. But I want something I’m happy with before I give it to someone else to tear apart.

This post is to solicit feedback on what needs improvement and how it could be improved. I’m going to list some of my thoughts below. All of these are really spoiler-y. If you haven’t read Unsong yet, you may not want to read further. If you have read it, I welcome your input.

Simple Issues I’ve Already Kind Of Decided But Would Welcome Feedback On Anyway

1. I equivocate between the terms “Unitarians” and “Singers” pretty frequently, and it takes a bit of a stretch to establish everyone as Unitarians. Plan to excise the Unitarian plotline and just call that whole group of people “Singers” permanently.

2. Probably will delete Chapter 17, “No Earthly Parents I Confess” with the mythological birth of the Comet King, in favor of having the Comet King offhandedly mention his birth in Chapter 29, “Who Respects The Infant’s Faith” (which he basically already does). I feel like Chapter 17 is a bit out of character for the rest of the book, and we don’t really need to know anything about the Comet King’s birth except that he was born of Comet West. I’m kind of sad I have to delete Comet West’s speech, Aaron’s digression on the word “maiden”, and the cosmic significance of Roe v. Wade, but maybe I can shoehorn some of that in elsewhere (any suggestions?)

3. Probably will drop “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as a random gag when referring to China. More people were confused than amused, and the benefit from gagginess is probably lower than risk of being accused of racism or Orientalism or something. But then do I keep the story in Interlude Chet where someone golem-izes the Terracotta Army, or do I nix that as plot irrelevant?

4. Will delete Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter) since it’s kind of irrelevant outside the context of a serial that is updating on Passover.

5. Will delete Interlude Nun (the Rosh Hashanah Changelog interlude) same reasoning as above

6. Would like to delete the whole solar eclipse sequence, which led to a lot of really boring unnecessary Sohu chapters. But I don’t know where else to fit in that scene where Metatron takes the Shem HaMephorash away from the Comet King. And that scene is really important. Any advice?

7. Delete Chapter 60 (Robin visiting Dylan to learn how to summon Thamiel) as insufficiently tight – I can just have Robin summon Thamiel later and nobody will be surprised that she knows some way to do it.

8. Probably remove Wall Drug. It got a lot of space for something that never came up later or became plot relevant, and everyone assumed I was going somewhere amazing with it.

9. Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. Sataniel meets Thamiel, turns evil, and then gets randomly killed off seems unnecessarily complicated. I’d rather having something like Sataniel (good angel) turns evil and renames himself Thamiel. Plausibly this is because God tells him the secret of theodicy and he realizes that evil is necessary. But then where does the second head come from? Maybe he only has one head?

10. Rename Erica -> Valerie, for kabbalistic reasons. Will have to remove the “I am Erica”/America pun, I guess.

11. Comet King’s boat will keep being named “All Your Heart”, not get gag-renamed “Not A Metaphor”

12. Am I on shaky legal ground including a character who is in the body of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or a living real-world actress? If so, how do I rebrand Sarah? Bonus points if the name sounds like “Enion”, for kabbalistic reasons.

13. The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey. Planning to replace this with something where the theonomics have a machine that can sense whether a useful Name was spoken in their vicinity, but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer. You need theoretical kabbalah skills to figure out what a Name does and direct it correctly. You can also have standing prayers so that you can eg speak a Name quickly in combat.

14. Might rework the part where All Your Heart discovers Ana in San Francisco to include something where the Captain had a vision that Ana would be there and that saving her would be their way to get a kabbalist to run the yellow sail. Otherwise it seems too hokey.

15. Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”, to emphasize LA connection.

More Complicated Issues I’m Still Unsure About

1. Should I keep the prologue?

2. Should I begin the book proper with the current Chapter 1 (Aaron discovers the Vital Name at work), Chapter 2 (the Unitarian meeting in Erica’s basement), or Chapter 5 (the history of how Aaron met Ana)? Obviously if I switched chapter order there would be some additional editing work to get everything to make sense, and to keep the world-building in the right order. I’m tempted to start with Chapter 5, delete Chapter 1, and have Aaron discover the Vital Name offscreen and explain it to Ana onscreen, but I’m not sure. I feel like getting the first chapter right is important (in terms of getting people to stick around), and the current Chapter 1 isn’t doing it for me.

3. Should I keep everything intermixed, or separate a few things out into separate chapters/books? For example, I’m considering having the first part be entirely Aaron/Ana up until their escape from Malia Ngo, then the second part being entirely the Comet King up until his death at the hands of the Other King, then maybe something that’s entirely Dylan, and so on.

4. How should Aaron escape UNSONG at the end of chapter 14? I’m unhappy with the current solution, where Aaron uses a mnemonic to spell out the Vanishing Name. I think the overall idea is pretty cool, but it requires brilliant and terrifying Malia Ngo to sit quietly while a random kid says sentences like “It was the skull of a vampire, who had died reciting a poem about a lantern”. There must be a better way to do this.

5. Should I keep San Francisco basically as is? I like the description of the weird holy city, I like the whole set of Neal Armstrong puns, but it seems kind of pointless and disconnected from the rest of the book. And the explanation that Ken Kesey put LSD in the water supply doesn’t really seem to fit (especially with my reusing the weird drugs trope later on with the Drug Lord). Overall I would like to keep SF but integrate it into the book better, but I’m not really sure how to do that.

6. Should I relocate the Comet King from Colorado Springs to the San Francisco Bay Area? I feel like this would make things tighter. SF seems like a more natural capital for the Kingdom of the West. It would give me a good reason to introduce SF – maybe after the Comet King’s death, it was determined that San Francisco itself should not be profaned by the Other King’s touch, and that was why God removed it from the mortal world. It would make it more natural to have Aaron and Ana living in the Bay Area, and all the major theonomics based there, if it had recently been a great capital. And the use of Colorado Springs seems kind of random and jarring.

7. If I were to do that, I would probably recast the Cometspawn from continued governors of a rump Coloradan state, to resistance leaders who had holed up in Cheyenne Mountain / Citadel West / NORAD, which would be some kind of Comet-King-built magically-impregnable bunker where the Other King couldn’t get them. This would let me keep Citadel West as a key location, unless there’s some kind of more appropriate Bay Area equivalent.

8. How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations? Everyone liked the idea of the theonomics trying to patent the Names vs. the pirates trying to jailbreak them, but it ended up as a kind of pointless piece of world-building that got dropped midway through. Is there any solution to this without completely changing the story? Relatedly, is there a cooler name for the name-finding corporations than “theonomics”?

9. How do I end my fake version of US history? In the current draft, it kind of fizzles out after the supposed Bush-Gore civil war in 2000. Dick Cheney and the Shrouded Constitution were originally going to be big parts of the backstory but never really got developed, and I find myself uninterested in developing them. I think I should combine this with the last problem and somehow have UNSONG take over the entire US as the main secular power, with the Presidency either becoming a figurehead or abolished completely. In fact, it would make more plot sense with them as a kind of world government. I’m not sure how this would happen in-universe, though. Maybe an alliance of major corporations stepping up to solve the chaos of the Bush-Gore war? I’m tempted to just delete every interlude after Ayin and start over.

10. Who or what is Malia Ngo? My original answer – the child of Thamiel and Robin West – doesn’t satisfy me. For one thing, that requires Malia to be three years old when she takes over UNSONG, and although I handwave that away with “demon-children grow really fast”, it seems like cheating. For another thing, Thamiel raping Robin is really awkwardly inserted in there in order to justify this happening, and an awkwardly inserted rape scene probably isn’t great for sending out into the literary world. Her supposedly growing up in Hell off-screen just kind of highlights how awkward all of this is. I feel like Malia’s identity is played up as one of the central mysteries of the book, and this just isn’t a satisfying resolution. But is there a better one? Or should I remove the Malia character entirely and turn UNSONG into a truly faceless bureaucracy led by a counsel of CEOs or something? If the latter, who does Dylan try to assassinate?

12. There’s a weak thread of relevance where Dylan + Erica kill Malia Ngo -} blood of Thamiel ends up on Mark’s clothing -} Ana gets the blood and uses it to open the black sail -} Ana gets the Shem HaMephorash at the end of the story -} finale able to happen correctly. If I change Malia’s identity, I need some other way to tie the Dylan subplot back into the main story.

13. May have to rework the history and geography of the Untied States. If the Comet King is in California, it makes sense to have the entire West as a single empire. One possibility is that only the coasts survived, the President rules the East Coast, the Comet King (later Other King) rules the West Coast, and the Untied States isn’t a thing. But then how do I get Reagan and the Comet King in the same room? Do I delete that whole section?

14. Would like to completely rework Sohu chapters to make them less worldbuildy. I don’t really know how to do that. The one that ends with Thamiel attacking is good. The one that ends with the missile-invitation to the peace conference is good. I need more snazzy things to happen so I can have an excuse to have those (mostly worldbuildy) chapters without breaking the pace too much. Also, everyone on Goodreads said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding, but I don’t know how to cut out the worldbuilding except by changing the Sohu/Uriel chapters.

15. Would like to totally rework the Israel-Palestine peace conference chapter. The part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture, but I think if it gets published outrage culture might attack me back and win. Also, several people brought up that if Uriel can take away people’s souls en masse, he should do this to everyone immediately to save them from Hell, so probably he shouldn’t be able to do this. Also, the ending – with all of the diplomats getting undiplomatically enraged with Uriel and praising Thamiel – was a little too unrealistic. I need some other way to make the peace conference go crazy and provoke Uriel to angel-nuke Madrid. But how?

16. In Chapter 37, for plot reasons Aaron has to decide to cave in to the Drug Lord’s demands (and save Ana) rather than let her die. I’m still not happy with how I handled that – it’s such a monumentally stupid thing to do that even Aaron admitting he’s scared and young and stupid doesn’t seem to cover it. How else can I handle this?

17. Everyone’s reviews on GoodReads, even the otherwise-very-positive ones, say I can’t write action scenes. What’s wrong with my action scenes and how do I improve?

18. With all of this chapter and interlude deleting, seems unlikely that I’ll keep a perfect 72 chapters spelling out the letters of the Explicit Name + 22 interludes. Probably I should have some number of chapters and interludes that total seventy-two and spell out the Name that way. But that’s going to require deleting or merging a lot more chapters and interludes. I guess I could also *not* have my story be a notarikon for the Explicit Name of God, but that sounds kind of boring.

My current leading solution to the big picture questions – and tell me if you hate it – is that Malia Ngo’s secret identity is Sohu. In this version, Sohu trains with Uriel, and discovers that he’s very good at running the natural world but that the political world is slowly falling apart due to his incompetence (with only the Comet King keeping order). When the Comet King dies, she decides she has to become a sort of social demiurge in the same way Uriel is a physical demiurge. She doesn’t want to use her real identity because Uriel and everyone associated with him have been personae non gratae since Madrid. But after the Comet King dies (and so is no longer around to protect Sohu), Thamiel launches a full attack on her; she survives horribly deformed and contaminated by Thamiel’s evil, producing a natural secret identity for her as the deformed and evil-aura-exuding Malia Ngo. She splits her time between UN headquarters in New York where she runs the world, and Citadel West in Colorado, where she helps her siblings (who are aware of what’s going on). She takes over UNSONG and guides it to pretty complete world domination, with all existing countries as more-or-less independent-ish client states. The Dylan assassination plot ends with Sohu being about to kill them, when Dylan calls in his placebomancy and expects some kind of extremely coincidental intervention in his favor, and at that exact moment the nuke blows up Uriel and Sohu has to teleport out and prevent the world from falling apart.

How do people feel about this?

Besides your opinion on all of these questions, I’d like other feedback in terms of what chapters you liked or didn’t like, which parts seemed to have plot holes or things you didn’t understand, what parts seemed insufficiently tight or pointless, and how you would solve these problems (if you have ideas).

PS: I promised if people got the riddle in Chapter 71 right, I’d post a list of all the easter eggs in the book, so – two years later – here it is.

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307 Responses to Editing Unsong

  1. salvorhardin says:

    Whatever you decide to do with the “officially published” version, please, if you can, find a way to leave the original version up for those of us who think it needs no changes and should be appreciated just as it is.

    • Taymon A. Beal says:

      Someone should check and make sure the Internet Archive has every chapter, if it hasn’t been done already.

    • Bugmaster says:


      • Johnny4 says:

        I don’t know how good the transcription is, but this is nice: https://simplegifs.com/stuff/unsong.pdf

      • Joseph Greenwood says:


        • Jack Lecter says:

          Fourthed. I’d be a lot less sad about the new version if I knew I could still read the old version.

          If Scott doesn’t want to leave the old version up, I’d be really interested to hear why. I know sometimes people say that when they’re just looking for something to argue with, but I’d be genuinely curious as to what the downside is- right now it looks like a one-sided tradeoff.

          • brianmcbee says:

            Depending on the publisher, it might be a requirement. It would be sad, but publishing is a rough business.

    • kenny says:

      Yes, Scott, please, very much this.

      • kenny says:

        If you could, I like the way programming documentation sites lets you pick the version you want somewhere in a toolbar.

  2. Worley says:

    Hmmm, why listen to my uninformed opinion when you could hire a real editor? IIRC, there are freelance editors out there.

  3. dspeyer says:

    I’d recommend against massive edits. In past cases where I’ve seen authors do this, it rarely works out.

    A small edit I might propose is to replace all the dates at the top of chapters with “X ago”. Several times I got confused about which era we were in and had to go back and reread. It’s pretty easy for eyes to pass over exact years, but maybe less so something like this. Plus it gives the whole story a sense of building to a moment.

    • Berna says:

      I really like that proposal about the dates!

    • eggsyntax says:

      I also got confused about eras a couple times, and the date proposal seems like an excellent fix.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “I’d recommend against massive edits. In past cases where I’ve seen authors do this, it rarely works out.”

      How would you know? Do a lot of authors post rough drafts of their stories to the Internet? I assume most authors are making massive edits but we just don’t see the originals.

      • Fakjbf says:

        One instance I can think of is Matt Colville. He is a video game designer who also runs a Dungeons and Dragons channel on YouTube and he has a couple of self-published books. After releasing the books he went back and edited them substantially, cutting out lots of extraneous content and making everything much tighter. Having read both versions I definitely prefer the edited version, it’s much more focused while still hitting the same plot points which has the effect of making it much more emotionally impactful.

      • dpm96c says:

        Sample size of “the 20th century authors I liked enough to read multiple biographies,” but Walker Percy ended up basically cutting The Moviegoer in half and editing it for a year on the recommendation of his publisher, and F. Scott Fitzgerald famously made a ton of (very effective) edits to Hemingway’s manuscript for The Sun Also Rises, including cutting 30+ pages out of the front of it. (Later on, when the tables had turned and Hemingway was much more famous that Fitzgerald, he did not accept the same kind of help on A Farewell to Arms.) Henry James also famously did a “New York Edition” of his fiction, which excised whole novels and revised a lot of the ones that he kept around, though people have mixed feelings on which versions they prefer.

        That said, I still haven’t gotten to Unsong, so I don’t know how many of these particular edits are necessary!

      • Aevylmar says:

        I know of two cases where we got to see it:

        First, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere was released in an Original British edition, an American edition, and an Author’s Preferred edition, the last of which was a sort of ‘director’s cut.’ I have not read the Original British edition, but the American is *much* tighter than the Author’s Preferred – the original version is a taut, tense fantasy adventure with a fascinating setting that we only get to see tiny bits of; the Author’s Preferred is slow, padded, and contains lots of scenes that explain what was going on in the cool references that the original makes. I thought the Author’s Preferred was “not worth reading” and the American edition was “very good.”

        Second: Apparently Brandon Sanderson wrote one of his novels (Warbreaker, IIRC) online, with the whole process of creation and revision made public a chapter at a time. I haven’t read the original, so I don’t know how much changed or whether it was better or worse.

      • luxsola says:

        Speaking from personal experience, as well as from those of numerous other authors whom I’ve followed, massive edits are usually abandoned before they get anywhere.

        Writing the same story you’ve already written depletes the ego quickly, and I’ve seen more people abandon stories than I’ve seen successfully complete them after a massive revision.

        Editing is work. Hard, kind of boring work. Adding a massive revision on top of that is a recipe for abandoning the project half-way through.

        Besides that, the things you mentioned considering that would require massive revision (cutting the Sohu chapters down, merging her and Malia Ngo, cutting out Robin’s deal with Thamiel), I don’t actually agree with.

        Maybe your tastes just differ with mine, but I liked those parts the way they were.

      • perlhaqr says:

        I’ve alpha’d for several published authors.

        Unless there’s something that breaks the timeline / plot arc or is vastly unwieldy, the first pass that an author considers good enough to let other people see is usually *about* where the story should stay. Luxola’s point about writing the same thing twice is a good one.

        Though I will admit that this doesn’t always apply to things that were written as serials. The format of “writing and publishing on the fly” does tend to end up with occasionally somewhat larger authorial drifts than one might see in a manuscript that was written and then distributed for alpha reading.

        That said, the only example I can think of where a serial was written and then later rewritten / edited / resequenced that worked well was one where the people who wrote the serial wrote it, then basically went on to become published authors with several novels under their belts, and then went back and refactored the serial into a trilogy like, a decade later.

        And, at the end of it all, all I can say is, I read Unsong, remember that I liked it, but don’t remember enough about it to comment coherently on any specific editing choices you might make. I read it in the midst of pretty much the darkest point of my life, and, well, lots of that time period is sort of a fuzz for me. Which is probably good, in all honesty.

        • perlhaqr says:

          Though I will say that reading the comments is making me want to read it again, as is. 😀

    • drunkfish says:

      Agreed about the dates, I frequently got confused by them.

    • benwave says:

      Counterexample, my friend who is an author saw his latest book come through a fair few major edits, some of which were structural, and the end product was a lot better.

      Related, I think if you can make the separate sections following first Aaron/Ana, then Comet king… etc. it could be really strong. My author friend’s latest book used this very successfully, it allows you to go deeper inside the viewpoints of the characters one by one and then have the experience of having things really upturned for you when you see them from the other side.

  4. Taymon A. Beal says:

    (I’m planning on leaving multiple pieces of feedback, but I don’t want to have to think of them all at once so I’m going to leave multiple comments, unless you say you find this objectionable.)

    I think 72 may simply not be enough chapters. I was pretty happy with the rate at which you were going along adding new plot threads and worldbuilding elements for the first two-thirds or so of the book; the impression I got was that that was the point when you realized that if you wanted to resolve everything by chapter 72 you were going to have to devote all the remaining chapters to just sort of wrapping things up one by one. As a result, the last third of the book felt like it took place in a smaller world than the first two-thirds, and so didn’t quite live up to their promise. Though you really have 96 chapters, if the interludes and prologue and epilogue are counted, so if you cut enough of the chapters and interludes that you’ve characterized as more filler-y/expendable in the OP and merge shorter ones together, it might add up.

    • imoimo says:

      Ditto that the story ended in a hurry, when there was so much momentum and so many side characters still undeveloped. I would find the addition of some unexpected sideplot involving some underdeveloped singer characters very welcome. But maybe that’s too much to ask.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Lots of people had this complaint. In terms of writing, it isn’t true – I started with the ending in mind and wrote the book backwards from it. I could easily have given myself more chapters (there’s no reason for 64 and 65 to be separate) but I didn’t feel like I needed it.

      How would you drag the ending out longer, and what do you think you would accomplish?

      • Sally Manluy says:

        I think Aaron suffers as a protagonist from being compared to the literal messiah, not that I think you should have made the story about TCK from the very start. If in the final battles Aaron had a chance to do a couple of impressively brave things, fight some drug-men or demons or some similar evil using his wits, it might make save his character at the end. Past his clever escape from UNSONG using the mnemonic near the start, I don’t really remember him doing anything especially heroic or clever. Right now, he’s a bit too much like Arthur dent getting bounced around by the plot.

        Also, while I’m here, I think you should keep Sataniel and the other demons as seperate. You right evil very, very well and seeing more of how Thamiel and his cronies behave near the climax can only be a good thing. He reminded me of a pure-evil version of Crowley from good omens. Thamiel was one of the best characters in the novel and having a foil to him that’s more of a conventional evil demon might be really interesting. I’d like to see a scene where Thamiel teaches Sataniel the ways of true suffering-maximisation – I always thought dividing the characters up like that (master evil and apprentice who is popularly known as the dark lord) was inspired by Morgoth and Sauron, and if it worked for Tolkien it can work for you.

        Also, since he was mentioned but not used as a character, were you ever considering giving Derek Parfit a role in the story. I can imagine him and Singer getting under the skin of the demons with their ‘divine’ insight into Ethics…

        • infiniplex says:

          As I understood it, Aaron (as Albion) was the literal Messiah. The Comet King was Messiah ben Ephraim, as explained by Thamiel. Perhaps this needs to be made clearer in the epilogue.

          • o11o1 says:

            More explanation in the epiloge wouldn’t address the root issue of not doing enough heroic things during the main plot though. Even when he tries, like with the Drug Lord, he more often acts as a carrier for other characters to do things.

  5. deluks917 says:

    I really loved Sohu in the original story. I think she was one of the stronger points. If possible I would try to make Aaron, Malia and Dylan’s actions tied into saving the world in a less coincidental way. I don’t think this needs to require big edits. I will say that Aaron giving in broke my suspension of disbelief when I first read the story.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      I second this. The Sohu chapters were some of the best, and what defined them was the Uriel-Sohu relationship. Those chapters don’t need snazzy gimmicks, they just need to be comfortable in that relationship between the awkward archangel and the eight-year-old cometspawn. Worldbuilding isn’t boring if we’re discovering the world along with Sohu.

    • benwave says:

      +1 for Sohu being very much a strong character, and the Sohu Uriel relationship being probably the strongest in the book for me.

    • Aevylmar says:

      I agree 100% with these statements. Sohu and Uriel are great and you should not change their relationship too much.

  6. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Not going to comment on the parts past where I stopped reading (due entirely to real life stuff, not story quality) but I didn’t see anything wrong with Aaron’s stupid and reckless decision when confronting the Drug Lord. I mean narratively speaking, obviously it’s the wrong decision in universe.

    Aaron is established at this point in the story as very clever but not particularly wise, inexplicably in love with Ana, and descended from a line of men who do things because they can without really questioning whether they should. I find it totally in character for him to push his chips into the center of the table and go all-in on a hare-brained scheme to rescue his unrequited love interest even knowing that it’s incredibly unlikely to pay off.

    The thing that I would change is to strip out as much of the non-romance subplot as you possibly can. Maybe it pays off later on in the story, in which case you can safely ignore this, but watching Aaron follow Ana around like a sad puppy for several chapters is pathetic and undermines him as a relatable character. I get that he’s supposed to be kind of a loser in the beginning but showing him as a dead-end cubicle-drone already establishes that. We don’t need his incel angst on top of that.

    Also, Sohu is precious. That is all.

    • shakeddown says:

      Torn on this. I didn’t find Aaron annoying or clingy (and am inclined to take it as a red flag when people do), but we don’t get why he liked Ana until interlude מ – until the american pi thing, we see her being kinda mean to him more than we see them working together.

    • Perico says:

      Regarding Aaron’s decision with the Drug Lord, maybe you could add something to the scene that Aaron can interpret as a kabbalistic sign that this is the correct decision? Doesn’t even need to be a particularly persuasive sign for the reader – just enough to let Aaron rationalise doing something really stupid.

    • a real dog says:

      Aaron being a sad puppy is one of the few relatable things about him, let it stay. Also makes the aforementioned decision more realistic.

    • Johnny4 says:

      I don’t mind the decision, *except* for the fact that it seems like he and Ana will die if the Drug Lord gets the name, so he isn’t really saving her. I know they could escape to some other part of the world, at least temporarily, but if I recall correctly this doesn’t enter into his deliberations.

    • infiniplex says:

      I wasn’t really bother by Aaron’s decision. We have already seen him go a bit crazy when Ana was in danger before (when UNSONG attacked Ithaca). Also, it is foreshadowing for the end, when Aaron discovers that Other King is using similar reasoning. Compare also Ana’s “universal salvation or bust” comment.

      A couple things that might make Aaron’s decision a bit more believable would be:
      -> He has a minor confrontation with Jane, where he demands that if he is going to listen to her, she has to be open with him and tell him her real name. She refuses (of course), and by bad reasoning of the sort many people use, he treats that as evidence he should not do what she wanted.
      -> He thinks that he might get to negotiate with the Drug Lord.

  7. Taymon A. Beal says:

    I really like the “Unitarians” gag because I grew up in the church but you should probably discount my feedback in this regard.

    I agree that Chapter 17 is out of character for the rest of the book (reading it gave me a feeling of “wait, is this the same book I’ve been reading for the past several months?”), but when you think about it, this mirrors the relationship between Comet West and the rest of the Unsongverse, so it kind of works. (Relatedly, while the story was ongoing I was expecting/hoping for more explanation of what was going on with Raziel, but I’m sure that at least under some theories of what makes good literature, it’s better if readers are left to guess. Compare the difference between the book and the film of 2001: A Space Odyssey.) At the very least, I feel like Comet West’s speech is thematically necessary and something like it has to be in there somewhere. (The rest of the chapter I consider expendable.)

    The Terracotta Army seems very clearly plot-irrelevant and if you simply dropped that one section of that one chapter and replaced it with nothing I don’t think anyone would notice or feel like anything was missing. (Of course, I would have liked more worldbuilding around the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, but if you don’t have room or don’t have a direction for it, then so it goes. (This is how I feel about basically all the worldbuilding elements that didn’t get developed, actually.))

    Similar to Comet West’s speech, the Passover vignette in Citadel West seems like it’s doing something important and like you need something like it at some point, though maybe there might be a better place in the story to put it. I also really liked the BOOJUM one, since it gives good characterization/context for what comes later with them, and isn’t distracting (as it would be if you did a full BOOJUM chapter at that point in the story) since it’s in the middle of an interlude that’s already a slice across all the different parts of the setting. But since that interlude doesn’t make sense outside of a serial, it’s probably a necessary sacrifice.

    I’m quite surprised to hear you dismiss Wall Drug as plot-irrelevant, because it played a critical role in the plot as I understood it: it’s the reason why the Midwestern U.S. no longer exists, and hence why the Untied States geopolitics is the way it is! Was there supposed to be some other reason?

    I didn’t think there was anything all that weird about Sataniel and Thamiel being separate, but then again, I’m still a little confused about what Thamiel’s fundamental nature is and why it’s significant that he has two heads. (Relatedly, the final part of the epilogue felt weird and jarring for something like this reason, like it was kind of just…treating evil pretty lightly, in contrast to what we saw throughout the rest of the book? Plausibly I just didn’t get it and still don’t.)

    The Captain having a vision about Ana seems a bit like a Voodoo Shark fix; I hadn’t actually noticed that the ship being in SF at the same time as Ana was an unjustified coincidence, but with this particular fix I now have a bunch of questions about how visions work in this universe. But maybe others noticed this more than I did, and maybe there’s a less awkward way to justify this plot happenstance.

    “The Lady” sounds like an epithet that people would actually use in regular conversation in a way that “The Queen of Angels” doesn’t.

    Agree straightforwardly with 6, 7, and 11.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      I actually like the worldbuilding elements that don’t get developed, like the terracotta army and Wall Drug. Little glimpses of the world outside the main plot help to ground the characters and make suspension of disbelief easier.

      • Sniffnoy says:


      • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

        Agreed. I’d keep the terracotta army thing but just change the name from “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” to something less stereotypical.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I completely agree. When I read about the terracotta army, my immediate reaction was “Of course! It fits perfectly; of course that’d work in this world!” The name “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” on the other hand has absolutely nothing going for it beyond a reference to “oh yes, something happened in China.” I recommend replacing it by something like “Chinese Empire.”

        • infiniplex says:

          Even if it is officially named the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, I would expect people to still call it “China” in everyday conversation. Like people called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics “Russia” during the Cold War. An extreme form would be to leave the only reference to the “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” in interlude ח.

          Six months later Mao was dead, the peasant was the first Harmonious Jade Dragon Emperor, the terracotta golems were back in their underground chamber until their country needed them a second time, and China was on the up-and-up again.

          It would fit well with the whole “the world is totally different but somehow still the same” idea the story runs on.

    • MNH says:

      >I hadn’t actually noticed that the ship being in SF at the same time as Ana was an unjustified coincidence

      it was not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence

      But seriously, I think it is completely justified by the above reasoning… this universe only exists because stuff worked out for the good guys (on account of theodicy). So it’s not weird that Ana was in SF at the same time as the ship at all

      • acymetric says:

        Not only is it not weird, I think it is better (for this book) than if there was a reason.

      • ericgorlin says:

        Agreed, you are allowed to have coincidences like this because of the anthropic principle

  8. theriac says:

    I thought Wall Drug was hilarious and worth the inclusion. If it got any closer, the plot wouldn’t have been able to escape, so what to do but veer away?

  9. Charles F says:

    I have one very strong opinion on all of this and it’s that the Comet King should not be relocated to the Bay Area. Universal Love Central is not the HQ of the ruthlessly pragmatic ruler fighting against the demons (unless the interplay between the complacent hippy residents and the Unfettered king trying to destroy hell is a big focus of the story). California breaking off into its own republic rings much truer to me than just being part of of the kingdom of the west, and the idea that the nation just gets reduced to the coasts sounds awful.

    On the other hand everything rats like being relocated into the Bay Area would be maximally appropriate.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      Agreed. It doesn’t quite fit to think that God would memorialize the man who was most dedicated to fighting evil by turning his hometown into transcendent do-nothings. Especially since the answer to the problem of evil reveals that the Comet King is the only reason that universe was created.

    • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

      Agreed. Besides, Royal Colorado has a great ring to it.

      • Evan Þ says:

        On the other hand, so would “Royal California.”

        (But I agree, keep them in Colorado for the same reasons as the other posters.)

    • phoenixy says:

      Agreed. I assumed the Comet King being in Colorado was a reference to The Stand…

  10. bzik says:

    I’ve read the unsong quite a while ago, so I may be a little fuzzy on the details. Here are a couple of thoughts anyway.

    On 13 – I feel like introducing an automated Name detector will make it much harder to explain how Aaron managed to hide his discovery. While inherent understanding of its meaning does seem a bit cheesy, the finding part requiring humans is probably fine. Maybe have it to be accompanied by flashes in the eyes and ear ringing instead of mystical feelings, this kind of thing.

    Regarding action scenes – these are notoriously difficult to get right. I literally quit reading Worm after the Leviathan battle chapter, I couldn’t handle this crap anymore. In unsong they didn’t feel like action scenes at all – which was fine with me, to be honest, but whether it is a good idea to further lean into the somewhat detached observer style – that I don’t know.

    On the Robin and Thamiel – personally, it made perfect sense and was one of the stronger points of Robin’s character development (and probably just character development in the book, period). It was one of those things that sent shivers down my spine. “So she needs to get Comet King to really hate Thamiel on the personal level. And given her practical attitude the best way to do this would be… Oh no.” Whether the end result of it should be Malia Ngo I’m not sure.

  11. deciusbrutus says:

    For the second point 4, it’s reasonable that some underling is being tasked with the interrogation and has instructions to keep prisoners talking so that the meaning of their statements can be extracted later.

  12. e_w says:

    General feedback: there were too many puns/breaking the fourth wall in the book, so it felt like the author was speaking through the characters, instead of the characters having their own personality/”liveliness”. I still enjoyed the story, but it felt like a parody of something instead of an original novel. I prefer your short stories (e.g. Emily and Control). The easter eggs are fewer and more subtle, and focus more on plot than jokes.

    Edit: Oh also, for every reference I did understand, I felt I was missing out on 5, which was quite frustrating and took me out of the suspension of disbelief that I normally have for fiction.

    • Rachael says:

      I disagree. They were a large part of its appeal and uniqueness. They don’t appeal to everyone, but I don’t think removing them to move the book closer to the lowest common denominator is the answer.

    • Johnny4 says:

      I also disagree. I mean, I understand that some people won’t like it but the constant puns seem like part of the essence of the book and one reason why I myself liked it.

    • fion says:

      I also missed out on loads of references, and I also found it frustrating. A web serial aimed at your loyal blog following can probably have more obscure jokes in it than a book for publication.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      I also did not really like the puns, but I think disliking the puns means disliking the sort of book UNSONG is and preferring it be a different book, which is not really helpful editing criticism.

      • acymetric says:

        I feel like this is a good counterpoint to several of Scott’s proposed changes in the post.

    • ericgorlin says:

      please keep the puns, the puns are essential

  13. drunkfish says:

    My instincts are that nothing should change because it’s perfect, which is unhelpful. That said, please please keep the prologue. It made me laugh out loud for longer than I’m proud of, which IMMEDIATELY sold me on reading the book. It does an incredible job of getting the reader interested and setting a tone for the book’s sense of humor.

    As far as the rosh hashanah/passover chapters, I get your feeling about them, but I really enjoyed them (as someone raised jewish). I sent the passover one to my dad as a standalone thing I thought he’d enjoy. I think the book benefits a lot from random musings on theology, even if it doesn’t advance the plot. I don’t know if there’s a non-chapter way to include those discussions, but I think they do add something to the book that I’d be sad to see gone.

    • Elementaldex says:

      I also really liked the prologue. Maybe more than any other part of the story now that I think of it. It did an excellent job hooking me.

    • Autolykos says:

      Yup, definitely leave the prologue where it is. It was a great way to get other people interested in the story, and at the same time serves as a kind of warning to those who probably won’t enjoy the book anyway because they find it too “weird”.
      On a related note, I translated the prologue to German a while ago. If anyone wants it, here ya go:
      (@Scott: If you don’t want me to publish it, just tell me and I’ll take it down again.)

  14. Athreeren says:

    Those are difficult questions, considering how much would get changed as a consequence of those alterations. But I am sure that the prologue needs to stay as it is: not only is it the point where things diverge from our world, but it’s also a good hook for the rest of the story. Moreover, if you’re going to have the chapters on different parts of America’s history, you have to have the first one.

    If Malia Ngo is Sohu, who is Malia Ngo to the reader? Whether she’s the person who interrogated Aaron in chapter 14, or the publicly known director of UNSONG, I think people would remark on her being an 8 year-old child…

    As for Sataniel, it shows how the angels become corrupt and fall. Having Sataniel invent the idea of not telling the truth was fun, and I don’t think we should ever see Thamiel as uncorrupt, so if it is him in that first scene with the other angels, he should be more comfortable with being evil.

  15. HaraldN says:

    I found the first… dozen? or so chapters to be fairly slow and not really engaging, at least compared to the later ones. At least the chapters on Aaron and friends, which are so much less interesting than the Uriel/Sohu chapters or the random world building chapters (placebomancy, etc). Part of this might be that I can not understand or appreciate the references to various american/jewish cultural and historical events so take this feedback for what it is.

    • fion says:

      Yeah, I found Aaron and his friends pretty dull compared to the rest of the book.

      • Randy M says:

        Although he needs to find a way to keep “Ithaca is where Theodicy happens” at all costs.

    • Jake Rowland says:

      I would agree with this. I’ve been trying to get my brother to read Unsong for over a year now, and he keeps giving up after the first few chapters. The Comet King and Robin and the themes involved with the Other King and Unsong are what I remember after reading the book. The last time I re-read it I was a little surprised at how little the Comet King was involved in the first half. Anything with Uriel and Sohu, the Comet King and Robin, or Dylan Alvarez is engaging and fits the overall themes. The chapters that focus on Aaron are very heartwarming and well-written, but it often feels like the plot slows down a lot.

      • perlhaqr says:

        Man. I cannot empathize with this at all.

        (Sorry, I don’t know another way to phrase that.)

        I’m now re-reading Unsong, and I find myself getting sucked in just as fast as I did the first time. Just hit “Interlude [I don’t know the Hebrew alphabet]: The Code of the World”. I was planning on getting up and going outside and smoking 15 minutes ago. And then making breakfast. My stomach is rumbling.

        That’s right, I find the first chapters of this book more compelling than my nicotine habit. And food. I did manage to at least grab a Red Bull though, because hey, let’s be realistic. 😉

        Scott: I’ll have more useful commentary for this thread after I’ve re-read the book. And I’m going to have to set several alarms now, because I really do have to get some other stuff done today.

  16. shakeddown says:


    Meta: The greater world-building is great, and my hueristic would be to add to it rather than reduce it, most of the time.

    First part:

    3. Same for the terracotta army (I can see dropping the HJDE more generally if you don’t feel like adding enough background context to make it interesting).

    4. Please keep the passover interlude in some form. It’s a pretty great character moment for a lot of the characters/foreshadowing.

    9. There was a fan theory about Thamiel being Cain, which I kinda liked, but Ideally Thamiel shouldn’t change too much. I actually rather liked the way we see him, by seeing Sataniel become corrupted and then finding his corruptor, and didn’t find it unneccessarily complicated.

    11. But that’s a great foreshadowing to it carrying God!

    13. TBH the alternative here seems more hockey/unwieldy than the original.

    14. Wasn’t it kind of implied that the captain directed them there because he knew they should pick her up? (guy speaks with the voice of God, makes sense he’s omnicient).

    Second part:

    1. Yes

    2. I liked chapter 1 and felt it was a strong start. Arguably the few chapters after it are a bit slow, though.

    4. Maybe Malia Ngo only comes in towards the end of the interrogation, and catches on to what he’s doing (but not quite fast enough)?

    5. SF seems okay as is.

    9. Going along with the meta-point, splitting up interludes פ and צ into two different full interludes (each covering a decade) seems like a good place to add a bunch of interesting background you left out of the original.

    13. Please don’t shrink the US geography too much – it’s really neat that we get a whole bunch of different sub-empires and kind of a different within-US political geography. shrinking it too much feels like shrinking the scope of the story.

    15. Mostly a good point (although it shouldn’t have to change too much). Uriel being able to take away people’s souls also bothers me on a philosophical level (p-zombies shouldn’t exist). I’m torn about the pun there – On the one hand it’s slightly weird that Uriel did that with a pun, but OTOH it’s a *really* good pre-explosion one-liner/callback.

    16. While it is pretty stupid, interlude מ was a pretty good puns/emotional chapter. Something that would let Aaron feel he wasn’t risking as much by doing it? Maybe the drug lord is known to be primarily an enemy of the other king these days, so while responsible people don’t want to give him too much power, some of the Singers advocate for him? Or maybe Ana gets a message to Aaron “before” being captured (later revealed to be a trap), so Aaron thinks he can catch the drug lord unaware and save her (and doesn’t realize it’s a trap until later)?

    17. I mostly liked the action scenes (though there weren’t really many of them).

    I think I like the final solution. Seems like it would require adding some stuff and possibly keeping the 72 chapter structure? I liked it.

    The one other general criticism that bugged me is that the Dylan plotline was very unrelated to the rest (and we get a pretty long interval between Erica leaving and her plotline with BOOJUM starting), which is exacerbated because it also has a pretty different tone (and completely different magic system) than the rest of the book. Doing what you can to mix it in a bit more – from more plot integration to at least having Aaron talk about them as scary terrorists once or twice before they’re introduced – might help a lot.

    • Alkatyn says:

      Agree about the Dylan plotline feeling unrelated. Maybe it can be tied into how aaron escapes unsong, or Uriel angel-nuking the conference? (Divine justification for terrorism? They claim to be taking his instructions)

      Also personally I found Dylan insufferably smug at times, would be nice to see him be taken down a peg in some fashion, or show some vulnerability

    • mbzrl says:

      I thought the same for 2.16 – lots of people saying it doesn’t need to change, but something small like a reason why Aaron believes he will succeed (inside view), even if it’s a deception, would be nice here.

  17. C_B says:

    The prologue is perfect, crucial, and should be kept exactly as is.

  18. Ideopunk says:

    Your solutions to simple issues are good, though I think the hokiness of the meaning of a Name rushing through you is fine.

    Complicated issues:

    1. The prologue and the background tone it sets for the first chapter are great. Which leads to –

    2. The current chapter 1 is excellent and I don’t think it should be switched. Aaron’s voice and job are the perfect introduction to the world of Unsong. I also like having the Vital name discovered in the first chapter, the rush is a microcosm of the pacing of the main plot, which chapter 5 isn’t.

    3. The intermixing makes it more varied and dynamic. I don’t see why you would change it.

    8. Maybe you could go more into the role of UNSONG and the corps internationally? It could also be an opportunity – It felt like a bit of a hole, how they make such profits when the global economy is presumably in tatters, and you could kill two birds with one stone. Theonomics is a good name.

    10. There is probably a better way to work in Ngo. If a counsel of CEOs, they could have an in-person meeting for Dylan to attack.

    18. I like the neatness of chapters and interludes that total seventy-two, but I prefer as much Unsong as I can get.

    I think Sohu = Malia Ngo is too close to Comet King = Other King in theme. It will make the latter reveal a lot less satisfying.

    My only other feedback is this: The Comet King takes over the book, and it’s not as fun as watching Aaron and Ana adventure across the Untied States. A lot of the joy of the Comet King is his mystery in the background, and though I understand the need to slowly make him more real, I think the way it’s currently done works against the magic of UNSONG. I have two proposals:

    I. No more Comet King chapters from his perspective, only from Robin’s perspective. This is what’s done in ASOIAF. There are no chapters from the perspectives of kings, only from their family and advisors. It’s more interesting watching somebody manage being secondary to an OP character than to watch an OP character, and it helps maintain the mystery.

    II. More focus on the Comet King and Robin’s romance. It all happened in the background, and I feel like it could be way more entertaining.

  19. imoimo says:

    Chapter 1 was imo incredibly strong. It’s a simple, funny entrance to the story, immediately connects us to Aaron as relatable and important, and establishes the core mechanic of Names and theonomics. And it sets the tone for the Douglas-Adams-esque irony that frequently pops up. I love everything about it and beg you not to delete or move it.

    I agree Malia Ngo is a weakish character, I like Sohu-as-Malia because it’s unexpected but plausible. But having her get “touched by evil” sounds unsatisfying and slightly heartbreaking. If there could be a Deeper Reason why she chose the persona of Malia, leading to a serious moral conflict for Aaron when he learns of it, that’d make both the twist stronger and the climax more tense. It could be something to do with utilitarian trade offs maybe a la Watchmen, I dunno.

    Wall Drug was excellent. Don’t remember how or if it tied in, but I hope it stays in.

    Jade Dragon Empire was intriguing in a teasing “when will we learn about this?” way, but I don’t recall any satisfying payoff on that. I’d either add a payoff with a chapter or two that seriously dives into the Empire, or else drop it.

    I think the story could have gone longer and developed more before concluding. I wanted to get to know more characters. The 72 chapters thing is mighty cute, but it’s hard to prioritize it over proper story telling.

    I agree with pushing some existing plot points into SF Bay Area and making it more central. The use of various cities is nice from a grand-world-building perspective, but Colorado for example didn’t feel distinct or important. Though I’d also worry of seeming too focused on California as though nowhere else could properly host an interesting story.

    I’m excited to see this story re-worked. I’d very likely re-read it in final-book-form (probably e-book).

  20. ManyCookies says:

    The part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture, but I think if it gets published outrage culture might attack me back and win

    Wait I thought that was a utilitarianism/repugnant conclusion jab, I’m put out that wasn’t the intent. What even’s the outrage culture angle, a meta joke using a scene that sounds maximally edgy out of context?

    It’s been a few years and “outrage culture” hasn’t really bitten there or on Unsong, does that really change with official publishing?

    Anyway I read up to chapter 40ish like two years ago. Thought the set up was really cool, enjoyed the kabalistic games, was losing interest in the Aaron plot around the prison escape/San Francisco (I think), started skimming around for the Uriel/alt-history chapters which I loved and then read the TV Tropes page for the summary and was like “Ah that’s neat”. Uh, use that less invested reader experience as you will!

    • Loris says:

      15. Would like to totally rework the Israel-Palestine peace conference chapter. The part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture, but I think if it gets published outrage culture might attack me back and win. Also, several people brought up that if Uriel can take away people’s souls en masse, he should do this to everyone immediately to save them from Hell, so probably he shouldn’t be able to do this. […]

      Huh. I thought you just wanted to write about p-zombies, and that it made absolutely no sense in the Unsong context.
      If you make one change, fix that. And then you’re done.

    • bullseye says:

      I liked that part because it underscores the difference between Uriel and normal people; it never crosses anyone’s mind that he’s speaking literally.

  21. whenhaveiever says:

    I remember the Passover chapter as an emotionally poignant one for the Comet King (and as a non-Jew, the poignancy for me is unrelated to Passover itself, I think). Is it possible to keep that early emotional insight to the Comet King without the Passover chapter? You’d need something good to replace it.

    The Comet King’s empire is one based on warring against evil when others refuse to fight. Colorado Springs is a natural headquarters for such an organization. Colorado Springs was also the base for Stargate Command in that TV show, whose primary theme was taking up the fight against evil when others refused to. TINACBNIEAC.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Colorado Springs is a natural headquarters for such an organization.

      Also a kabbalistically-appropriate headquarters for an organization tightly focused around one family.

  22. Sniffnoy says:

    On the prologue: Definitely keep the prologue. However, IMO, the jokes in the initial section get a bit stale by the time you reach the second section. Maybe tighten that up a bit.

    On starting with chapter 5: Chapter 5 contains some pretty cringy parts and I worry that starting with it will turn people away. Also the existing Chapter 1 makes for a good opening as it is.

    On Sataniel and Thamiel: I think it makes more sense to keep these characters separate and maintain the current relation between them. I don’t think it’s overly complicated. It makes sense fine as-is.

    I don’t see what’s wrong with the word “theonomics”. As for integrating that aspect into the plot more… yeah, that legitimately is a big problem with the book, but unfortunately I have no idea how to solve it.

    Other notes, noting that it’s been a long time since I read Unsong so I’m probably forgetting quite a bit: One thing that bugged me at the time was how there seemed to be this inconsistency in the worldbuilding between whether we’re looking at, like, a collapse of civilization or not. Like, the United States has completely fallen apart… and yet, here’s our protagonist, living in a Bay Area that roughly resembles today, working for a large theonomic corporation. How do large corporations even exist when everything’s been so fragmented? Like that sort of thing requires a lot of support systems you would expect to be largely gone! Similarly with the historic sections that portray things as, y’know… not very collapsed. I think if you’re going to have these islands of civilization and prosperity, you need to do a bit more to explain how they were built and manage to survive.

    Also yeah the Passover chapter is great, and while I understand why it probably has to be cut, it would be nice if some of what’s said there could still appear elsewhere.

    Edit: Also you already know this from the during-the-book feedback, but the initial chapters are too short. I imagine merging a few of those will give you more room to work with while still possibly sticking to 72 chapters.

    Btw, Scott, I guess I don’t really expect you to remember this any more than when you’ve been informed of it previously, but you can make a “>” sign in HTML safely by writing “>”. So you don’t have to keep doing that awkward “-}” thing you keep doing. If you want to write “->”, just write “->”.

    (Or, better yet, if you actually want to make an arrow, write “→” to make “→”. Or just copy and paste an arrow from codepoints.net! Like this one: →)

    • shakeddown says:

      On the collapse thing, The eventual conclusion is that everything was falling apart until the Comet King fought off Thamiel and restored Sanity (although now that he’s gone things are startng to fall apart again, but gradually). But we don’t really find out all that Comet King history until halfway through, so it can get kind of confusing.

      • imoimo says:

        I’m not sure that answers the concern really. This isn’t just a question of leadership. If leadership keeps changing by force then these are war times and reliable support systems should be difficult to come by, except maybe places that are intentionally neutral or sufficiently distant from the action. And even then the presence of war should weigh heavy on peoples minds and show up in daily life.

        • shakeddown says:

          The main thing causing the early-background feeling of collapse was Thamiel and the forces of hell, which didn’t come back after the Comet King fought them off. And remember that while there’s a lot of crap going on, theonomics makes it a lot easier to maintain civilization (e.g. they mention it makes agriculture super-efficient, and most cars and computers run on it). And leadership doesn’t seem to change too much by force anymore (except in Vegas) – presidents change with around the same frequency as they do IRL, and while it’s often shadier (Bush was assassinated and Cheney refused to cede power), there haven’t been civil wars.

  23. Rachael says:

    Minor comment:
    Make it really, blindingly obvious that ‘Untied States” is deliberate. Even with the very intelligent SSC audience, practically every chapter there was someone commenting thinking it was a typo.
    Maybe spell it “Un-tied” with a hyphen, and also have multiple dialogues between characters along the lines of “Don’t you mean United?” “No.” You could do this often enough that it becomes a running joke (and a slight dig at the people who kept not getting it in the first draft).

    • Johnny4 says:

      I think that this won’t be necessary in a published book, since the prior probability of it being a typo in a published book is much lower than in a web serial.

      • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

        I agree, keep it as it is: “Untied.”

        An additional reason to do it this way is that then loads of readers will read it without looking closely and assume it says “United” (I did this the first chapter or two) and then there will be a pleasant shock when they realize that it’s been “Untied” all along.

      • perlhaqr says:

        I think that this won’t be necessary in a published book, since the prior probability of it being a typo in a published book is much lower than in a web serial.

        I wish this were true.

        But nearly every published fiction book I’ve read in the last decade has had at least one spelling error in it. (Oooooh, y’know, I don’t think “Seveneves” did. Good job, $PUBLISHER.) I was a really *good* alpha because spelling errors pretty much always ping my consciousness, so I’d catch lots of them. And unfortunately, “Untied States” is exactly the sort of error that’s become *more* common in published works recently, due to people relying on spellcheck too much.

  24. metacelsus says:

    Keep the prolog! It’s quite good

    I may give other suggestions later but this is the most important one. Generally, I would avoid cutting too much out.

  25. Elisha says:

    I saw a detailed fan theory on the Unsong subreddit that Uriel turned Gabriel into Wall Drug, I really liked that.

  26. InfraredArmy says:

    I’m with those requesting that the original version be kept officially available somewhere.

    As an SJW, the peace conference chapter felt kind of strawmanny, but as an autistic person, it was a very accurate depiction of the emotional experience of someone more socially competent running circles around you, and I think it should remain for that reason. It makes Uriel a more sympathetic and relatable character.

    I’m really going to miss demon!Malia; I loved her speech about growing up in Hell and it made her shoot up the list instantly to one of my favorite characters in the book.

    Chapter 5 is when I fell in love with the book, so if you’re moving chapters around, I’d recommend that as the beginning.

    I’m sure I’m going to love the new version too, but I really can’t emphasize how much I love the original and how great it would be if it remained online in some official-looking form.

  27. Athreeren says:

    “INTERLUDE VAV: This is literally a crackpot theory.”

    I… I had forgotten what it felt like to read this book.

  28. The_Grey_Rook says:

    I would definitely keep the prologue–it establishes the tone and setting while also being hilarious and overall a very effective hook. That’s the only one of the open questions I have an immediate strong opinion on.

    I will say that overall the mooted edits seem aimed toward making Unsong more streamlined and narratively centered, and while that’s not a bad thing per se, I’m not sure that Unsong would benefit from this. I think there’s a useful comparison to be made to Infinite Jest. Wallace’s book has plot dead-ends, strange timeline jumps, and subplots that get extended far beyond what convention would dictate, but it all works because it’s unified by the themes, humor, and writing style that give each scene an unmistakable “Infinite Jestiness,” regardless of how connected it is to the central plot (such as it is).

    Unsong is similar in that “Unsonginess” is definitely a thing (witness the Aaron Smith tumblr), and it’s a thing we want to read, so Unsong can actually gain strength from discursiveness and a breadth of focus. Personally I enjoyed SF, Wall Drug, and other alternate history digressions and didn’t feel cheated by their minimal connection to the A plot.

    • imoimo says:

      Agree with this. Not everything needs to connect to the main plot, there’s strength in exploring side stories just for world building and entertainment value. I compared Unsong to Douglas Adams before and I’ll do it again.

  29. Yovel says:

    As for Sataniel and Thamiel- I thought the main reason for Uriel not killing Thamiel with angelic nuke is that he’s a facet of god. Making him an angel will change that. Plus I agree with the general concesus that it was not too complicated.
    While you are chnging stuff, a minor mistake- in interlude Dalet you talk about the High Priests putting their hands on the arc of covenant in the second temple. They didn’t have the Arc in the second temple, they used the stone of foundation (אבן השתייה) instead (plus I don’t think they put their hands on it, only on the sacruficial animals). I realize most people wouldn’t notice or care, but you usually explicitly state when you deviate from canon.

  30. LelouchVee says:

    otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer

    Wait, wouldn’t that break the premise of the Interlude ק with Bush assassination through unwitting use of Mortal Name?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Though now that I think about it, if the first time you say a name you just get a wave of enlightenment, shouldn’t you have to say the Mortal Name twice in order to die?

      • muskwalker says:

        My impression is that enlightenment only goes to the first person to say the name. The Ensouling Name “ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON…” gave Aaron the enlightenment, but the Moon-Finding Name “KUHU-SHEN-TAR…” did not (he determined what the name did by examining it, and it worked the first time he spoke it), nor did the Vanishing Name (it would’ve been extremely inconvenient for him to repeat his mnemonic in front of Malia Ngo if it did)…

        • luxsola says:

          But that doesn’t work either, because Sarah (using Llull) spoke it before him, and she dinged, indicating that she had received the enlightment. If it worked the way you described, when she found the moon-finding name, they would have seen the moon-thing.

  31. b_jonas says:

    > Should I begin the book proper with the current Chapter 1, Chapter 2, or Chapter 5

    I’d say start with Interlude א, edited to add a little of the prologue to make it clear.

    > Should I keep San Francisco […] especially with my reusing the weird drugs trope later on with the Drug Lord

    Yes, drop it. Two groups of humans who are each controlled by a respective hive mind after they took addictive drugs doesn’t pull its weight in this book, and the Drug Lord is much more worth to keep.

    • b_jonas says:

      Although as for Interlude א, I think it may be worth to change Uriel’s proof something other than every human playing the piano. I do like the basic idea that the archangel Uriel introduces himself and shows a sign that most humans can easily verify, showing that the president won’t be able to just cover up the incident or forget it in a few months. But playing the piano never seems to come up later in the story (did I miss something hidden here). It would be better if Uriel did something that is at least slightly more connected to the rest of the story.

    • b_jonas says:

      Stupid forgetful past self! You had noticed that the Codex’s About page says that the post about hallucinatory cactus-people is not representative, but Unsong contradicts that, and you had the perfect opportunity to make a joke about it, but you missed it.

  32. Alkatyn says:

    **General comments** I remember finding the final ending a bit abrupt and unsatisfying. (The mind merge apotheosis bit not the comet king bit). It seemed a bit rushed and under explained compared to the rest of the story. I feel like it either needs to be elaborated on or cut off earlier.

    **Re Malia,** I like the idea of her merging with Sohu, as it adds some interesting moral ambiguity and dissonance in the readers minds by making the faceless evil organisation be headed by a character we’ve gotten to know as very sympathetic.

    **Re question 2** Aaron at teh theonomics corporation is a cool bit of urban fantasy with the idea of brute forcing the names of god. And having him discover the name offscreen would be a bad way of introducing something so important to the story. Having the unitarian meeting happen the night before would be good, as it establishes the world of restrictions, before he then breaks it, and shows us Aaron first in his free rebel context then in the context of his day job at the corporate sweatshop, which helps with character motivation.

    **Question 3** Separating the sections into different books is a good idea, I remember finding the chronology confusing at times. And having interlude style things works well in a serial where chapters are spaced out, but can feel jarring when its being read all in one go, as focus shifts back and forth so much. Also gives a more natural structure to the work as a whole.

    **General suggestion** Get people who aren’t already familiar with your writing to read it and get their comments. (There’s lots of SFF sites where people solicit alpha and beta readers). I suspect a lot of things that make sense with a background in your other stuff might seem like non sequiturs .

    • Athreeren says:

      At the time of the mind-merge, the world is basically ended, so there’s not much to tell: it’s good to wrap things up quickly I think.

  33. a real dog says:

    A lot of the issues you’ve mentioned are not really a problem. Unsong is a flawed masterpiece and you’ll butcher it trying to excise all the flaws.

    Thamiel should not be merged with Sataniel! Thamiel is the duality of God, a facet of divine power. Him being an eldritch existence separate from the angels, hidden beneath the earth fits the narrative far better . In fact, the possibility of Thamiel’s redemption was not even treated seriously before the very last chapter, which would be weird if he was just a fallen angel.

    San Francisco is good as a taste of what good looks like in the unsongverse, given that we get plenty of the bad.

    Passover chapter needs to stay. Comet King’s appearance there is an amazing and visceral scene, which excellently foreshadows his tragic history (about which we don’t really know much at this point).

    Malia Ngo is kind of awkward as is, but merging her with Sohu would wreck the narrative. It would make the reveal that CK = TOK predictable and almost redundant – “yeah, we’ve already seen that all the bad guys are good guys in disguise, how about something new?”. In the original Unsong this hypothesis, while considered, is really far-fetched and doesn’t make much sense until the last chapters, which is great. Also Sohu doesn’t seem like a person who leads huge bureaucratic organizations, she would rather choose more direct means of action.

    The worldbuilding was amazing and needs to stay, or even be expanded! It felt so… alive, all the random stuff such as the Shrouded Constitution made you feel like you’re just a tourist in a world full of strange secrets. It’s definitely the strongest part (along with CK and Dylan), while Aaron’s story was pretty meh. Reading it along with the release schedule, there was definitely a feeling of “well okay but how about you get back to the good part” once a new chapter turned out to be about Aaron, while Interludes were a treat (including the philosophical ones!). It’s better to leave it as a meandering, yet endearing mess than streamline it by favoring the main plotline.

    • Johnny4 says:

      I agreed with so much of this (a real dog) until the last paragraph. Loved Aaron and hated Dylan. Good lord what an annoying f**k. Not necessarily saying that his part should be cut, since (on my reading at least) he and in particular his connection with Erica are an important instance of one of the theodicies that I think is given in the story: lots of what we consider super evil is people (honestly?) trying to do what they perceive to be good. It’s basically a fictionalization of mistake theory.

  34. Murphy says:

    Will delete Interlude Nun (the Rosh Hashanah Changelog interlude) same reasoning as above

    first half, sure. It didn’t really do much. but The second half?


    everything beyond

    “Uriel, why are we celebrating Passover? I’m not Jewish, and you’re an archangel.”

    tied in wonderfully and with the story, especially Uriel with his crazy computation based reasons for issuing a load of the ridiculous old testament laws.


    That right there is a hook for unsong I’ve used to get a couple programmer friends reading it.


    This is some of the best character building for Uriel and is a fantastic bit of Unsong.

    section VI….. meh.

    Since the story is a bit short on comet king character building it has a little value… but nothing like uriels section.

    • raremask says:

      Agreed! I love those bonus Jewish holiday scenes!

    • Corey says:


    • beleester says:

      I also think the Had Gadya discussion was both funny and relevant – Aaron’s idea that evil is a necessary component for creating the universe turns out to be exactly true.

      Maybe a more elegant solution would be to shift the timeline so that some major event happens on Passover. Maybe in the prologue, maybe during the Comet King’s journey for the Moses parallel.

  35. raremask says:

    The only big caveat I give to people when recommending Unsong is that it falls under ‘I can love problematic things’ for me, because of the whole frankly rather racist and unpleasant Mexico is drugs thing. If you got rid of that (you wouldn’t have to get rid of the drugs storyline at all, of course, just make it not Mexico), I’d feel way more comfortable recommending it wholeheartedly, which I very much want to do because there’s so much I love about it!

    • eyeballfrog says:

      But it kind of has to be Mexico because it needs to be in proximity to the US and have ziggurats. There’s really only one location on Earth that fits the bill.

      • Jack V says:

        It could be something other than drugs that lets him take people over though, potentially.

  36. Murphy says:

    9. Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. Sataniel meets Thamiel, turns evil, and then gets randomly killed off seems unnecessarily complicated. I’d rather having something like Sataniel (good angel) turns evil and renames himself Thamiel. Plausibly this is because God tells him the secret of theodicy and he realizes that evil is necessary. But then where does the second head come from? Maybe he only has one head?


    We’ve already seen that the trident turns dead angels into demons.

    Sataniel finds the trident in his attempt to dig to hell and upon touching it is burned up and/or transformed into Thamiel.

    12. Am I on shaky legal ground including a character who is in the body of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or a living real-world actress? If so, how do I rebrand Sarah? Bonus points if the name sounds like “Enion”, for kabbalistic reasons.

    Probably best to remove the clear reference.
    But quite a few books reference some pop-culture.
    Along the lines of “Fanfiction about a certain blonde highschool girl who fights vampires”
    I don’t think there’s a problem with people knowing fairly clearly it’s a buffy reference.
    But I wouldn’t include the name.

    but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer.

    That kills the entire thing with a name the kills the speaker. Also the assasination-by-name bit.

    I think it just needs a clearer rule early in the story explicitly explained.


    I’d vote to keep. Maybe polish a little. It feels like you were still getting into the swing of it.

    I’m tempted to start with Chapter 5, delete Chapter 1, and have Aaron discover the Vital Name offscreen and explain it to Ana onscreen, but I’m not sure. I feel like getting the first chapter right is important (in terms of getting people to stick around), and the current Chapter 1 isn’t doing it for me.

    I think pushing aaron discovering the name a little later in the story may be good but I kind of liked the chapter with the fed up cubicle slave going “meh meh meh meh” and accidentally discovering the name.

    Should I keep everything intermixed, or separate a few things out into separate chapters/books? For example, I’m considering having the first part be entirely Aaron/Ana up until their escape from Malia Ngo, then the second part being entirely the Comet King up until his death at the hands of the Other King, then maybe something that’s entirely Dylan, and so on.

    I can’t say for sure but I suspect this might not work too well.

    For one thing Dylan is a little like deadpool: a fun character but gets annoying if the camera focuses on him too long in one go.

    How should Aaron escape UNSONG at the end of chapter 14? I’m unhappy with the current solution, where Aaron uses a mnemonic to spell out the Vanishing Name. I think the overall idea is pretty cool, but it requires brilliant and terrifying Malia Ngo to sit quietly while a random kid says sentences like “It was the skull of a vampire, who had died reciting a poem about a lantern”. There must be a better way to do this.

    I think that jared a bit but partly because I don’t think that way of using a name had been spelled out before. perhaps gift him a name that makes what he’s saying sound like nonsense to others for a minute that’s played as an utterly useless name when they discover it.

    • imoimo says:

      Agreed that dividing the book into parts focusing on different characters sounds bad. As seen in these comments, people have different character preferences. Some characters are tolerated because they only pop up once in a while. (For me the singers felt weakest because the characters weren’t very interesting, having too much of that in a row would irk me.)

    • bullseye says:

      Having Names require direction also undercuts the Names as programming thing. “It never does just what I want, but only what I tell it.”

  37. Jack V says:

    Assorted thoughts.

    Gosh, I thought I had lots of suggestions I wanted to make, but now I love the original so much I can’t really bring any to mind.

    Most of the suggestions you make seem to be addressing things that would benefit from addressing, but do consider if there’s a simpler or better way of addressing the things they would fix. And be careful not to “polish” it too much: a story naturally ends up messy with too many little bits and pieces than don’t really connect to the main plot, but if you make it TOO neat it can lose a lot of the things people fell in love with. It’s a delicate balancing act.

    For instance, maybe with Wall Drug, the problem seemed to be that it looked like it was setting something up, or being a mystery. You could remove it entirely, but it seemed to add a lot to the worldbuilding. But maybe, just mention it more upfront somewhere, so people don’t feel teased by “what is this thing”, and then when they encounter it in passing, that suffices for “experience interesting worldbuilding” even if it doesn’t need to connect to the main plot much.

    Likewise, maybe the Unsong plot would work better if it was more emphasised from first mention that it was originally set up by the Comet King, but that it was now controlled by Malia Ngo, who was (rumoured to be) scarily demonic. Then it’s not a mystery who she IS, which probably doesn’t need to be a mystery, but it can still be interesting that Unsong is all oppressive, and we can wonder, is this what the Comet King intended, or not, and then find out Malia Ngo’s backstory. And you can tweak the timeline, maybe even give her a slightly different parentage, or mention the “grew up in three years somehow” from the start, and it will not feel out of place. But keep the essentials of the character the same.

    But maybe establish more clearly, probably in passing, if Unsong’s fairly draconian approach to copyright is actually helping generate more names. Ideally, I think, both Malia’s plan and the Unitarian’s resistance would contribute worthwhile-ly to the last battle, even though they’ve been very opposed. Because both stories fall rather flat if their effort was well meant but futile. Maybe have someone mention something like, Unsong spent a lot of effort trying to get governments to invest in name research, but it only took off when they instituted the copyright thing, to establish that harnessing big business’ greed was effective in generating more names. Or have them specifically searching for a few powerful names (say, the copyright isn’t very long, so the businesses have an incentive to keep searching through longer namespace). But that maybe the Unitarians’ dissemination of names is clearly established as having useful effects too?

    As a random specific, I really really love the passover scene, it did so much for all the characters! I know keeping scenes because you love them isn’t always possible, but please do if you can, I think it adds a lot.

    There’s a few other things that might also benefit from being established earlier. I think it was sort-of mentioned, but getting a general idea of “these bits of the US are stable-ish, but no-longer US, these bits are terra icognita, these bits are hell” during the early scenes when everything in the Bay Area feels very normal would help, and the specifics could still be filled in later.

    Be careful changing larger things like combining characters or where the comet king’s kingdom is. That’s often useful, but often also ends up changing the emotional impact of a lot of other things in ways that aren’t immediately clear. So I think, give it a go, but have a cut-down version of the change to retreat to if it doesn’t end up working.

    I always thought it was strange that there was an extra angel Sataniel who didn’t quite seem to fit into Jewish or Christian tradition, but I’m not sure combining him with Thamiel is quite right either. I wonder if there’s anything that would fit better, maybe a different non-satan-esque angel doing the discovery of Thamiel, or a group of angels?

    I’m not sure about the copyright. I would be inclined to just be a little generic, say he had a background on his computer from “an old tv show about a young girl killing vampires”, and maybe keep the name “Sarah”, but don’t say the actress’ full name or the name of the character. And let the publisher ask for changes if they want them.

    I think you need to be clear how names “work”, in terms of like, “do they automatically happen when you say them or not” and “if you transform the name somehow, does it still work? What parts of that can you do in your head?” The question, “do you just know what a new name does, or not, or what” needs to be clear. But I don’t think you necessarily need to change much, I think people will accept whatever the rules are, as long as they’re established implicitly before they become relevant. Say, “a name takes effect when you say it, but you can suppress that if you try”. And people in name-farms know to try, as do people with sufficient training, but people who say a name by accident can’t or don’t try to suppress it. Say, you get a sense of what a name does but not a manual, like, if it has a specific physical effect, you just see it or not, but if it’s THE name, it’s just so awe overpowering you just know it. Or maybe there’s a name that suppresses name effects?

    As for Aaron escaping, it should be some clever use of names, but it should be clear what’s possible, the “speaking a memory aid” didn’t ring true to me. But maybe there’s multiple ways of encoding names into syllables and he used an unusual one? As for why he gets to talk, if that’s still needed, maybe give the initiative to the other side: Malia Ngo *demands* he keep talking. Or there’s some safety reason they don’t let intruders near Malia Ngo, so he’s interrogated by chumps first.

    Overall Unsong does very well at clearly establishing the parts of a mystery/revelation/development before it happens, but there’s a few where maybe they need to be reinforced, like reminding us the blood used for the last sail is there so we don’t need to explain it when it’s actually used (but ideally don’t realise the relevance before that)

    • VK says:

      Would it be possible for a name to be recited using the first letter of each word, like the chapters? That would be a little more natural, but also harder for Aaron to come up with

      • infiniplex says:

        That would be a notarikon, which should count as a klipot. So it should work. If Aaron woke up in the cell a while before the guards took him to meet Malia, I could imagine him making a few sentences up. And possibly not finishing it in time and just shouting the last few syllables in the plain, but I am not sure that last bit would work.

    • Athreeren says:

      I feel like the videotape from Hell would be a good place to mention that time goes ten times faster in Hell, so people have been completely changed by the torment by the time they might be joined by their loved ones for instance (so that even the prospect of seeing them can’t give any solace). Then as long as some clue is given that Malia Ngo has spent some time in Hell, her age won’t come that much as a surprise to the attentive reader.

    • imoimo says:

      I really like the idea of UNSONG attempting and failing to go through the govt first. The flavor of “evil implies big corporation” always felt meh to me, and seems out of line with your libertarian leanings. Making UNSONG morally gray makes it much more interesting. I worried for a second here that this interrupts the good-vs-evil narrative that’s important to UNSONG, but if angels can be portrayed as dumbasses that sacrifice themselves to achieve nothing, it seems fair and fitting for demons to use smart economics to hoard power and create fear. I guess that’s already the case, but adding the attempt at govt first would emphasize it.

      Also agreed that having the geography and relationships of different regions laid out early on would be helpful.

    • Jack V says:

      This is random but I REALLY LOVED the chapter he spent half of explaining jewish vampires, and then saying “but they were traditionally female, so the black cloaked figures attacking him now were probably something else”. I know there are good reasons NOT to do that in a the middle of an action scene, but please keep it if you can 🙂

      Another point on establishing premises of mysteries. Everything that happened with the Name, and Sarah, hung together, but it also left me wondering for a lot of the book, “wait, maybe he DID just make a mistake, it must happen sometimes, even to Aaron”, and “can it only ever work on one computer?” I wonder if there could be some minor tweaks that focus the questioning more on the questions that eventually get answered and not on the wrong guesses. Say, have them test a voice recorder for “can it ‘say’ a name”, and then use a computer to search, so they know it definitely worked multiple times before it stopped working. Maybe have them notice something more specifically weird about his memory?

      And all the way through the book I was hoping they would get to USE the name and then they didn’t get much of a chance to, I wonder if there could be a bit more epilogue where they do discover all names and make everything more paradise-y.

    • Johnny4 says:

      “But maybe establish more clearly, probably in passing, if Unsong’s fairly draconian approach to copyright is actually helping generate more names.”

      Maybe. But again on my interpretation of the novel, part of the reveal/theodicy at the end is that all these characters entries really are aiming at the good. I think Libertarianish people will just intuitively see that draconian copyright helps generate more names, and others will see it fall into place at the end. I wouldn’t stress it too early, or else it makes the potential goodness of UNSONG too obvious.

  38. Nate Gabriel says:

    Additional problem: the Comet King at the antechamber of Hell should not have backed down.

    When he’s “trying to aim at Hell” and “it’s close” and Uriel tells him he’s also partially hitting the regular world, it comes across as unachievable, like not even the Comet King can manage it, not impossible as a matter of mechanics.

    But if he’s got a minuscule chance of destroying Hell and a near-certainty of also/instead destroying Earth, he should keep trying. Not just as a matter of utility calculations, but because at this point he knows the Explicit Name. He knows that whatever happens, the universe ends up being positive-utility. If he destroys Earth now, that wouldn’t happen (no future hero gets a second shot), so he doesn’t destroy Earth. Therefore he must get lucky with his aim, quod erat delendum.

    Suggested fix: Uriel says that since they’re still outside most of the gates, the firepower is going entirely into the regular world and he’s not reaching Hell at all. This shouldn’t affect anything else since the gates were just there to make this not work.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      That fix was the impression I got the first time. He’s outside most of the gates, so even though he’s close to Hell, none of the effect of the Name is reaching Hell. It’s mostly fizzling out in the pit, with a small amount reflecting back to Earth and causing chaos.

  39. Peter says:

    I have a feeling that the They Changed It, Now It Sucks (warning: TVTtropes) factor might apply.

    There were a few things that felt like weaknesses to me – it seemed to take a little while to get going, and probably didn’t do enough to hint at how high the stakes were. But, now that everyone’s seen it, I wouldn’t change it.

    The thing that made me worried was Malia Ngo. She absolutely has to have a cooler backstory than Dylan. The placebomantic duel was one of the best bits, and I think someone that turns out to be someone else in disguise might lose a placebomantic duel.

    There was one thing that came across as a continutity glitch, to do with “Shroudies”. I think the first mention was the assassination of GWB, “don’t you think I can pull off a convincing Shroudie if I want to” or something like that, and then the Shrouded Constitution was introduced as a response to said assassination. Clear glitches like that might need ironing out. Also, the bit that gets the outrage culture going, well, sometimes you just have to let the Wookie win.

    • Nate Gabriel says:

      The Shroudie impersonation was for assassinating a Senator, but I don’t remember if that was before or after Bush.

      • beleester says:

        The assassination was in March 2001 or maybe a little before, which puts it before Bush.

  40. xylix says:

    I read unsong 2 weeks ago in a 3 day binge so most of it is pretty fresh in my mind. Generally I really liked it; so I urge you to consider presenting it to publishers in its present form and seeing what their editors have to say.

    However, if you’re hardheaded about editing it first by yourself, I put my opinions down below.

    //Offtopic sidenote: Consider having some Unsong fans write essays about what they liked about the book and what they didn’t. I’d be interested.

    Simple issues
    2. I disagree. I think the chapter is fun, fits in with the pacing and doesn’t really have downsides to keeping it. Why do you want to delete it?
    3. I wasn’t really confused with the Jade Dragon Empire but I think it did lack depth. Especially compared to the Hell vs. Soviets campaign and the way the US was developed. I agree with the cut if expanding on the Empire isn’t an option.
    4. The Passover theme is a miss outside of the web serial context. However, the singing is fun. I like that part. Not worth keeping the whole chapter without refactoring IMO though.
    5. Agree with removal.
    6. Disagree. I liked the solar eclipse sequence. Very few of the Sohu chapters felt unnecessary and/or boring to me.
    7. Agreed.
    8. Disagree. I think unresolved mysteries are part of what makes Unsong such a fascinating work.
    9. If you can make the merge work, perhaps. However, I don’t think this is a necessary change. Would look into more professional editor input.

    11. Why? I think this change is fine but “Not a Metaphor” was a very Unsongy name for the ship in it’s after-comet-king form.

    13. Agree with problems but unsure if machine is a good solution.
    14. I think it was fine. A bit hokey but not too much.
    15. Dunno how well “the Queen of Angels” would roll of the tongue. But it is a good name.

    More complicated issues
    1. Keep the prologue.
    2. Unsure. I’d say probably 2 or 5 but need to see the revised version to be sure.
    3. Unsure. Too much change for me to evaluate.
    4. Agreed with problem. Unsure of solution.
    5. I like it. Would prefer adding a bit of connection to removing SF. I think LSD and Ayahuasca being very different spiritual drugs works.
    6. Disagree with relocation.
    7. ^
    8. I thought it was a very nice parallel between real world algorithm/software patents vs. piracy. I think adding some geopolitical conflict to Unsong (countries declining to join Unsong or that kind of stuff) could add some depth.
    9. I’m bad at US history but I thought it was fine like it is.
    10. I agree with removing the rape scene probably having benefits related to not angering the literary world for no reason. I think not revealing Malia’s identity would be a nice solution (but leave some tips in).

    13. If you move comet king and delete the Reagan section, how would Unsong’s founding get started?
    14. Disagree with Sohu chapters needing reworking. Although if you’re going through with splitting Unsong into multiple “books” then I’d say this is something that would deserve a book.
    15. Agree with soul-taking problem. Maybe have Thamiel poke something Uriel is sensitive about for some historical reason? Insult some solution he took in the past?
    16. I think it did work. Aaron is desperate and in love enough to justify it IMO.
    17. I generally dislike action and I didn’t have a problem with your action scenes. I think they didn’t feel very “actioney” but for me that was a plus.
    18. Missing out on the notarikon seems like a very sad fate for the chapter names.

    I think having Sohu be Malio Ngo’s secret identity is fine of a change in itself but it would require a lot of refactoring. Here I’d ask an actual editor.

  41. FishFinger says:

    (I posted a comment here, then edited a typo, then it disappeared somehow. I’ll delete this one if it reappears)

    There is something…off about authors “disowning” an “official” version of their work (nothing about unsongbook.com looked like a beta version). I really loved Unsong 1.0 and I feel sad that the version I read and cherished will not be considered the “real” version in the future.
    I will not commit to the idea that it’s always wrong for creators to do it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone pull it off successfully, while several examples of it going bad (the Star Wars Special Editions, Rebuild of Evangelion) instantly come to mind. Even if the changes are all definite improvements, they will always carry a certain cost with them simply for being changes.

    Now that I’ve totally discredited myself as an impartial editor, here’s some feedback:

    (just in case it is tl;dr, I’d just like to say (in lieu of spamming +1) that I almost entirely agree with the comment section in general and with comments by Athreeren, The_Grey_Rook and a real dog in particular)

    1.1 Unsong was the first piece of fiction I’ve ever seen UU even mentioned in. The poetry was interesting. Keep it.

    1.3 It was confusing, but, like, in a cool weird way. The entire world of Unsong is kind of like that and removing it would take away from it. Keep it.

    1.9 Thamiel is more intimidating as a primal force than just a fallen angel.

    1.11 I thought the proposition “All Your Heart is Not A Metaphor” being both referentially and metalinguistically true at the same time was very kabbalistic. I’d say keep it just for that.

    2.1-2 I liked both the prologue and Chapter 1, but I have to admit they both seemed like the novel had two beginnings. I liked them both, but if I had to choose only one to keep, I’d choose Chapter 1.

    2.3 I liked the Aaron and Uriel plotlines much more than the others, sometimes being frustrated by the cutaways to something else. This is usually the problem with books with multiple POVs – readers who don’t like them all equally sometimes feel like the “worse” ones are just “filler before you get to the good stuff”. I’m not sure whether separating would make this better or worse, so I’d say keep it as it is just in case.

    2.4 I loved that part! It was a really well-executed fair play mystery, on par with the Aramaic conversation; in both cases I felt proud of myself for figuring out what was happening before it was revealed. Maybe change the execution, but definitely keep the idea.

    2.5 I liked it. Keep it.

    2.6 What I really liked about Unsong was that it was written with (more or less) liberal/Blue Tribe ideals in mind, but had a sort of integration of sincere American patriotism into it. It was the opposite of the unconvincing liberal pro-America speech in the Outgroup essay. Even as someone who’s never even been to the New World, I found the inclusion of various non-coastal US locations into the story really endearing. So keep it!

    2.8 I agree that it felt like UNSONG should have had a greater role. “Theonomics” sounds cool enough.

    2.10 The rape scene was indeed awkward and very disgusting, but it only made the reader hate Thamiel and admire Robin even more. Keep it.

    2.11 Where is 2.11? Is this a kabbalistic omission? 😛

    2.14 The worldbuilding was usually not boring.

    2.15 I can’t say if I would have the guts to not self-censor if I was in the same situation, so I can’t demand that you do the same. But I will say that it’s at least supererogatory to speak your mind through your work on this topic, if you think it’s important.
    But also I don’t think it will really step on any toes. The way I remember it, the chapter did not make fun of any specific worldview or ideology, only of outraginess as a whole. I think some people would laugh at it without even realizing it’s about them.
    The other objection about expecting Uriel to turn everyone into p-zombies to avoid Hell is more valid, I think. But I just interpreted it as a one-off joke that wasn’t really canon, just like Interlude Nun. Maybe Uriel’s ability to do this only works under very narrow circumstances? Perhaps it was a one-time glitch in the system that he could’ve undone but decided not to.

    2.16 I thought it was very in-character and that his admissions do cover it. Keep it.

    2.17 I thought they were okay, serviceable at worst.

    2.18 Please keep the notarikon somehow.

    Don’t like Sohu being Malia, mostly because this seems like it will turn her from permachild to adult for no good reason.

    (don’t have very strong feelings about the rest of the points, other than a general sense of “don’t fix what ain’t broken” – and I think Unsong is generally not broken)

    OVERALL: it seems like you’re trying to streamline the book and make it tighter and more fast-paced. While I understand that this is usual practice for most fiction, the constant digressions and overexplanations just work with the kabbalah theme of universal interconnectedness through language. The pleb that I am, I learned a lot about religion, philosophy, history, geography and poetry reading this book, and I’d be sad if that was lost just to make the narrative a little snappier (and this is coming from someone who usually has little patience for long books).
    And honestly, the digressions are just good. Take the passage:

    The libertarians had made freedom unbearable, the evangelicals had made faith unbearable, the social justice movement had made equality unbearable, the lawyers had made justice unbearable, loud people in Uncle Sam hats had made patriotism unbearable, and the entirety of capitalism over the last two centuries had made industry unbearable. Americans were sick of all the virtues and ready for a straightforward, no-nonsense villain.

    This has almost nothing to do with the rest of the plot or the themes of the book. But it’s written so well that it’s just a joy to read.

    tl;dr: Unsong is, as someone else ITT called it, a flawed masterpiece. It has shortcomings but if I had to choose keeping it as it is (minus the typos) vs. implementing all the changes you’ve suggested, I’d go with the status quo. But like I said, I’m very biased and might have had a different opinion had I read Unsong 2.0 first.

    P.S. I had stopped reading the book for several months after the Broadcast chapter really triggered me. There was a fair warning, though, so I read it at my own risk and in the end I was glad I did – it made the victory of the heroes much more satisfying than in any mainstream “save the world” plot. So just in case you consider deleting that as well – please don’t.

    P.P.S. Whatever you decide to do with it in the future – thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing Unsong, Scott.

    • xylix says:

      (don’t have very strong feelings about the rest of the points, other than a general sense of “don’t fix what ain’t broken” – and I think Unsong is generally not broken)

      +1 to this

  42. fion says:

    Regarding Thamiel (point 9), if you merge him with Sataniel, do you also have to remove the “you can’t kill me; I’m a facet of God” thing?

    I always thought the two heads thing was weird and I didn’t know whether it was some piece of theology I didn’t know, or some humourous reference that I didn’t understand, or just the author adding in unusual details to make the character interesting. I certainly don’t think the book would suffer from losing a head.

    Regarding dropping various jokes, I think it’s a shame, but probably a good decision to make it more palatable to the world.

    Regarding the various locations where stuff happens, I think simplification is a good idea. I’m not from the US, and my US geography is a little hazy. I didn’t look up where Colorado Springs was, I only vaguely know where SF and Las Vegas are etc. If you want the book to be read and enjoyed by non-Americans, the simpler the geography the better.

    • a real dog says:

      It’s the piece of theology thing, see wikipedia on Qlipoth. Thamiel is supposed to represent “duality of God”, which is a lie / corruption (because God is one).

      • whenhaveiever says:

        In addition to Thamiel being two, his mission in life is to maximize suffering. But when he surveys all his deeds and is pleased by the suffering, net suffering is reduced, so he needs a second head that sees everything he does and is horrified by it.

  43. the verbiage ecstatic says:

    Reposting my thoughts after finishing it: https://www.reddit.com/r/unsong/comments/6b788q/comment/dhm6afy

    TLDR: it was way too ambitious for 72 chapters, leading to most of the major plot arcs feeling cheated. Suggestions:

    – keep 72 chapter structure, write REALLY long chapters
    – give up on 72 chapter structure 😢
    – kill off some of the plot threads
    – spend 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, have flash of hallucinogenic insight that allows you to merge all the major plot threads into a single cohesive tapestry where it all magically just works

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      How important is it that the Essential Name of God is 72 characters long? Could Scott change it?

      • the verbiage ecstatic says:

        *slaps forehead* I fee so dumb for missing the obvious solution…. just change the holy and divine name of God!

      • beleester says:

        The 72-letter name is a real-world bit of kabbalism, so you can’t really change it. But Wikipedia says 12, 22, and 42-character versions exist as well, and also says that it might be 72 names of 3 letters each, so you could turn this into a trilogy if you wanted!

  44. Robin says:

    Enion… “anyone” is too obvious. But it sounds like “Nyon”, a town in Switzerland, which used to be called “Colonia Iulia Equestris”, which could be translated with “Julia Rider”. The German name of Nyon is “Neuss”, also the name of a town in Germany, which has a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

  45. simbalimsi says:

    I think the harmonious jade empire is a good name and some other country names are changed anyway so why special treatment to keep china as china?

    the prologue is good and the chapter order of the first few chapters are I think quite good, I remember them pulling me into the work.

    you’re talking about removing a lot of content, but not about adding anything. i think if all is removed it wouldn’t be as good if at least comparable amount of stuff is added.

    about removing the rush when you say a Name, well wouldn’t it destroy the moment in the opening of the book when in the menial job he discovers the life giving name? he would just say meh meh meh and go on with his desk job life without discovering anything?

    keeping things intermixed is also good.

    end of chapter 14: the cool premise is good, and your problem is only with the execution. yes, the brilliant and terrifying ngo wouldn’t stay silent for so long so the protagonist should do something even cooler to keep her listening?

    the comet king in colorado springs is good, he shouldn’t be on the west coast, he should be in the middle on the mountains.

    i agree that it wasn’t cool the theonomics vs pirates thing got kind of dropped, so maybe there can be a faction fighting on until the end phases in which they pick an allegiance somewhere? for a new name for theonomics i think something like for-profit-holy-orders might make sense but I’m not native english speaker so I’m sure there’ll be better ideas.

    who is malia ngo? well this was one of the few things i didn’t like and felt forced. not only because of the rape thing but also the entire thing felt too forced. it would have been much better if she was the poster businesswoman of american dream? a successful and cutthroat entrepreneur who lives and dies by the profit rate and bottomline? I know you love capitalism but it would be fitting if she was the stereotypical evil corporate owner maybe not exactly like mr. burns but in her original way.

    sohu uriel chapters are great. it’s ok if you think of snazzy things to put there without being too deliberate about it, but please don’t destroy your excellent work by deleting a lot of stuff. please don’t.

    i can agree on that if he can take souls en masse then why doesn’t he save them from the hell point. but i don’t agree that you should do anything to not be outraged by the outrage culture. just do it for the story’s sake. the diplomats praising thamiel was actually pretty fun 🙂

    i don’t think your action scenes suck but they’re not the top point of your writing either. in my humble opinion you need to be less structured and planned and rigid; and more fluent and uptempo and spontaneous. think of the difference between a festival in communist hungary like “fun is going to be had, now have it on my command. action” and an ad hoc festival in south america.

    again, don’t delete that much stuff or at least add some more. keep the 72 chapters + 22 interludes + 10 author notes etc thing. please do this.

    i hate ngo being the evil alter ego of sohu. sorry.

    something extra about the turkish word kaplan: there are many words that describe wild animals that end with -lan in turkish. yılan is snake, sırtlan is hyena, aslan is lion, burslan is old turkish for puma, aplan is old turkish for a kind of rodent. although the origins of the suffix -lan is not clear, there is a theory that says it comes from chinese -lon which means something like dragon.

    about the suffixes that makes the -lan into different animals, the snatching dragon is tiger. the grizzled earth brown dragon is lion. the coiled dragon is snake. the grinning dragon is hyena. and so on.

    I just thought you can use it in one of the chapters where sohu is trying to learn turkish:)

    i believe you wrote a great book, i really enjoyed binge reading it a few months ago. great job!

    • Simon_Jester says:

      Basically, the arguments about China are:

      1) “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” is exactly the kind of name you’d expect an American to come up with if you asked “what is a very stereotypical name for a country that’s basically supernatural mystical not-China-but-actually-yeah-it’s China?” Changing the name to something that doesn’t hit all the highlights like ‘Jade’ and ‘Dragon’ and ‘Harmony’ is a separate issue from just dropping it from the story and leaving a plot hole shaped like “so what is stopping Hell-on-Earth from simply expanding south?”

      2) It’s basically “China, only with golems instead of communism and presumably more traditional old imperial trappings.” Which is fine, it just needs a bit more story development. Something on par with what the fallen USSR gets, say, given that it’s one of Hell-on-Earth’s handful of direct neighbors. That would also help set up some of the stuff about golems a bit more.

      • Protagoras says:

        “Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” is exactly the kind of name you’d expect an American to come up with if you asked “what is a very stereotypical name for a country that’s basically supernatural mystical not-China-but-actually-yeah-it’s China?”

        But the reason for the stereotype is that the Chinese have in fact historically displayed a fondness for flowery naming. It mostly seems to have gone out of favor in the 20th century, with both the Nationalists and the Communists regarding it as old-fashioned, but if you’re going to have an old-fashioned China, surely it should name things the way old-fashioned Chinese did.

  46. Conrad Honcho says:

    It’s been so long since I read the book I barely remember anything, so I can’t help with the specific things you asked. But as for this:

    Besides your opinion on all of these questions, I’d like other feedback in terms of what chapters you liked or didn’t like, which parts seemed to have plot holes or things you didn’t understand, what parts seemed insufficiently tight or pointless, and how you would solve these problems (if you have ideas).

    There was one part I found jarring. We learned that everyone knows for an indisputable fact that Hell is for real real, and it’s not “being away from God” or “you get cast in a lake of fire and poof your soul vanishes,” it’s forever horrific torture of the worst kind imaginable. I would think an awful lot of people would develop some serious scrupulosity. So when it was mentioned somewhere offhand that someone or people had been having casual group sex in the group house…I don’t know. I sort of feel like people would avoid the big obvious sins like casual extramarital sex.

    But thanks for writing Unsong. I really enjoyed it and I hope the editing and publishing goes well.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This is the part from chapter 5, about Erica:

      She stood on a chair, and started giving what from then on I would always recognize as The Spiel. The Spiel was one of the few constants of life at Ithaca. Roommates would come and go, intellectual fads would burst onto the scene in glorious bloom before vanishing in a puff of general embarassment, but The Spiel remained. Erica could do it convincingly while sober but spectacularly when drunk. She had converted entire bars full of people to her particular brand of radical theological anarchism on several occasions. Over years of practice she had perfected it down to a two minute, seven second elevator pitch which she had so far recited in manners including: blind drunk, on one foot, driving a motorcycle, and while having sex with two men at the same time.

      I just thought in a world with…significantly less moral ambiguity than ours, sexual experimentation would be less common.

      • Johnny4 says:

        I also thought this seemed weirdly out of character, but in the end I interpreted it as sort of foreshadowing Erica’s own moral ambiguity (once she falls in with Dylan). If anything, her falling in with Dylan needed *more* motivation for me. (I know lots of people won’t see having a threesome as signaling moral ambiguity, but I still think that for most people it’s a bit of a red flag.)

    • acymetric says:

      There was one part I found jarring. We learned that everyone knows for an indisputable fact that Hell is for real real, and it’s not “being away from God” or “you get cast in a lake of fire and poof your soul vanishes,” it’s forever horrific torture of the worst kind imaginable.

      Was it made clear what caused someone to be sent to Hell? I can’t remember, but I’m not 100% sure it was obvious that it was just a place for people who didn’t follow traditional Christian morality.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        No, but given that you know that the Abrahamic religions are largely true if not perfectly understood, one would avoid doing the things that are clearly prohibited by all of them, like a woman having sex with two men at the same time.

        ETA: And I know I look like an ass. This is an amazing book with a million clever twists and turns and plays on words (my favorite being “There is a kraken: everything”) and all Conrad can say is “mebee take out the sexy bits.”

        • Deiseach says:

          On the other hand, Conrad, Erica plainly fancies herself as a bit of a guru and we’ve plenty of real-world examples from all faiths and beliefs from many centuries* of gurus convincing themselves and their disciples that sex with Guru Father or Guru Mata is holy, pure, divine, and ordered directly by God, so Guru can have sixty wives/lovers, sleep with the spouses of the followers while the followers are held to strict rules, sleep with underage people and so on and so forth.

          Guru Erica having a threesome and delivering her This Is The One Truly True Truth spiel of “radical theological anarchism” at the same time is small potatoes by comparison.

          *See a heresy I had not previously heard of, Nicolaism, a version of Antinomianism which itself is all about “the law has been made obsolete, we are all under grace now, so rules are made to be broken”.

          • Evan Þ says:

            You hadn’t heard of Nicolaism? It’s one of the few heresies specifically named in the Bible – Revelation 2:6!

      • beleester says:

        Thamiel explicitly says he won’t disclose the criteria for going to Hell, because he wants people to be constantly afraid that they’ll go to Hell no matter how good they are.

        Given that the story is about random wild coincidences actually being part of the divine plan for salvation, you could make a strong argument that Unsong uses “grace, not works” as its criteria for who gets saved and who gets damned. Who goes to Hell and who goes to Heaven is already written into the code of the world, just like everything else.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Does Thamiel do that? Since Scott posted this I’ve been re-reading Unsong, I’m on chapter 64 and I don’t think I recall any discussion of how one goes to hell. He wants to corrupt people so that they do, so there’s the part when discussing life in Hell-occupied Russia and Canada that people are mostly unmolested but squeezed so they do all the basic sins like domestic abuse or betrayal, but I don’t think he ever explicitly states that he doesn’t want people to know.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Firstly, he does specifically say that he isn’t going to tell anyone who’s going to Heaven or Hell, or why.

            Secondly, it’s speculated in the same chapter about the Broadcast that the reason Thamiel operates the way he does in Hell-on-Earth isn’t to corrupt the mortals who live there into “sinning…” it’s to damn everyone else for not doing more to save them.

            If one ascribes to the notion that the real sins are things like betrayal, cruelty, and damaging others for personal gain- and I would bet that Erica does- then this forms a fairly consistent world where one’s sex life really isn’t all that important.

    • infiniplex says:

      “Finally, I want you to know that you will sin anyway. This is the best part. For a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, you’ll be horrified, you’ll try to change your ways, you’ll be like the alcoholic promising he’ll never have another drop. Then the memory will fade, your normal habits will take over, and everyone will be back to the way they were before. You can’t save yourself. You’re not strong enough. Your basic nature will out – not to be all Calvinist about it, but it’s true – and you’ll make up some comforting excuse and get on with your life.

      But you won’t live forever. And when you die, I’ll be waiting.”

      ~Thamiel (in the Broadcast)

      See also the explanation of the marshmallow test in Interlude כ: The Outer Gate.

      To me, this seemed a sufficient explanation for why everyone was living the same as in our world.

  47. fluorocarbon says:

    Lin should survive! I read the book about a year ago and really enjoyed it but sometimes I think about what happened to Lin and I’m still bothered by it; especially by the fact that nobody even cared. They do this whole trip to save one crew member but aren’t even sad when another one dies! If he needs to be out of action so they can find a new placebomancer, maybe he could come back but be in a coma or something?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Lin is, like, annihilated and nobody seems to care. Something needs fixing there.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Yeah, this jarred me when I first read it! Seems very fixable, some options:

        1) Just spend a little time absorbing the shock of him being gone irrevocably because of what his name spelled backwards.
        2) Have him return but somehow cease being suitable as a placebomancer. Maybe he can’t believe in his placebos anymore?
        3) Have a debate about trying to go back through the canal to bring him back (or other means of achieving same). Make the debate-settling point be that having ceased to exist rather than died per se means he’s spared Hell.

        • fluorocarbon says:

          I think options 1 or 2 would work. My suggestion would be 2: have him come back but be pretty sick and unable to be do placebomancy. If I remember correctly, it takes a while for the rest of the crew to recover, so it would make sense that Lin would be out of sorts for a while.

          Option 3 opens a big can of worms because of the ending: hell isn’t eternal and everybody gets to live in paradise. If Lin were just to cease existing, it would mean that literally every single person who ever existed or will exist gets a happy ending except for Lin.

    • jhertzlinger says:

      There should at least be a funeral.

    • Murphy says:

      LIN could be changed to LLUNA

      Then instead of NIL she becomes A NULL

      Then the reason nobody references her afterwards is because she’s now a null reference so they can’t even really think about her other than that they have no crew member for the position.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      Maybe Lin was annihilated so thoroughly that even the memories of Lin disappeared. If that’s the case, I think only Ana should remember because she was less affected.

      If the crew believes Ana, they could decide to go back through the canal after they take care of the priest, who needs help more urgently.

  48. Joseph Greenwood says:

    I didn’t especially mind Sataniel dying offstage in the angel wars, but if you are considering changing it: have you considered having Sataniel *become* Thamiel’s second head? (the weeping one that is horrified by all the suffering)

    It’s not what you meant by “merging the characters,” but Sataniel really does complete Thamiel in a certain sense by allowing him to manage his true purpose, and so kabbalistically it makes sense.

    • mbzrl says:

      I had this thought too.

      Sataniel and Thamiel meet. After Sataniel has played out his role in subverting the angelic host, Thamiel discloses the truth to him alone, Sataniel is horrified, stuck in a silent scream. Something like “I do feel better getting that off my chest.” Thamiel is not described as having a second head before this.

  49. BadaBoingus says:

    I hope that you specifically don’t change the Comet King’s HQ from Colorado Springs. To me there’s something magical about his capital being a *newly* important place. Underscores how the world has changed and how particular everything is. San Francisco being the capital is boring, because we all know that place is important already. It being this ethereal unimportant distant thing is much better.

    I also like Malia’s current backstory a lot better than the proposed change. It may be partly just because I don’t want to see Sohu suffer a bunch. She is pleasantly above much of that.

    In general I am impressed with the degree of editing you want to do. As a former professional editor myself, that’s a good sign.

  50. linlinlin says:

    Just jumping in to say that I really, really loved the character of Malia Ngo as originally written. Her backstory and heroism was a highlight of the story for me. The concept of a person who is born and destined to do evil, yet constantly fights to turn their evil into good, is amazing, and stood out to me because I can’t think of any parallels in anything else I’ve read. This isn’t to say that I categorically oppose a merger with Sohu. I loved Sohu too. I do think it substantially changes Malia’s symbolism as a character if she remembers when it was easy for her to do good, but I’m not rejecting the possibility that it’ll still work. Just, whatever you end up doing with Malia, please preserve her awesomeness.

    Edited to add: I also loved Sohu refusing to curse her father’s name at the end, so I really hope any merger does not affect that scene.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      +1 to loving the “turning evil into good” aspect of Malia. If Sohu is Malia, maybe Thamiel curses her with an overpowering drive to do evil or something?

  51. VirgilKurkjian says:

    Starting the book with Chapter 5 is a really good idea, it’s by far the most gripping. Chapter 1 is a little slow but it gives really important detail and context. I think you should keep it in and make it the new Chapter 2. Otherwise I wouldn’t change anything! The book is amazing as it stands.

    (I don’t know if you intentionally made UNSONG similar to Cryptonomicon, but if not, check out how he does stuff like prologues and intermixed chapters!)

    Either way, I second the requests to preserve the original version online somewhere for posterity.

  52. yaolilylu says:

    First of all, I want you to know that Unsong swayed me into making the Give What You Can pledge more than anything else. It wasn’t the only factor, but it convinced me more than all the other factors combined. I hope you get it out there and influence as many people as you possibly can. It’s not only a marvelous read, it was life-course-reshaping, and I think it can spread EA in the way HPMOR spread rationalism.

    With that being said, I hope you make as few changes as possible. I loved the original version, and I think unless authors are certain they underwent major growth in writing ability since they wrote the original, the original is almost always better.

    Please don’t make Sohu into Malia Ngo, it would weaken the Comet King/Other King plot beyond recovery.

    1 and 2: If you need the opening chapter to be stronger, I would suggest making “Interlude א: The Cracks In The Sky” into the Prologue. It was by far the most hilarious and interesting section of the first part of the story and would be a great hook for new readers.

    4, Escape: Aaron can’t use the mnemonic if Malia Ngo knows about it; so maybe he got another Name from Sarah that allows one to turn names into mnemonics, or maybe he invented mnemonics and didn’t publish the paper about it?

    5, San Francisco: I really liked that part, but I don’t understand why everyone didn’t try to get into the holy city as soon as they knew about Hell; it seems like your best shot of escaping eternal torture. Maybe something about the difficulty of choosing between losing your mind and risking being in Hell forever?

    I would much prefer for the rest of the story to stay as is. I loved all the Comet King sections, all the interludes, liked the Aaron/Ana arc as much as Sohu/Uriel, thought the action scenes (with the wordplay) were good but probably way too long for a non SSC audience.

    BTW I read all your “Links” posts (which I love) in Uriel’s CHANGELOG voice.

  53. finnydo says:

    I think my biggest comment is just to submit it for publication rather than tinkering ahead of time, even though you’re not entirely happy with it. They may want to slice and dice things you’re not considering and make things you’re planning to cut or rearrange suddenly work better. It was a gripping read as it was (I got through it about six months ago in a pretty quick tear) and I don’t think it would benefit enough from the polish that the delay in getting it out would be worth it.

  54. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Wait, what’s the gag with the name Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire?

  55. Unprompted, I would have made these 2 recommendations:

    1. Cut and tighten. You’re already doing it, so that’s good. Great characters and stortlines but it at times feels like its own fan fiction. That said the Comet King origin story felt of a piece and underscored the epic sweep. But probably stil better cut it. The published version should be as light on fan service as possible.

    2. I loved the first chapter but I felt like it was the start of a different book. I wonder if you could do without it. Or at least downplay the ‘start of a caper story’ aspect of it. The same goes for the emphasis on the copyright infringement aspects

  56. JRM says:

    Caveats: This is not my field of expertise. This is amateur hour. Though I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer and I am expressing my understanding, which might be wrong. If you rely on this and get sued, sucks to be you.

    Use of real people/fictional characters. You cannot use real people to market the book – no references on book jackets or marketing materials. You can use celebrities in your book, and you are probably safe to do so under most circumstances. (I have not re-read those chapters.) You can use non-celebrity real people in your book, but that is more dangerous.

    Use of others’ fictional characters is only OK without permission if such use is a de minimus use. (“It didn’t take a Lt. Columbo to find the noble mutation clue.”) Use of a lot of Buffy is risky. Use of these things without profit is generally safer than doing it for profit. Some smaller works attach different, more generous terms to their use.

    Publishers don’t like to get sued even if you have a winning case, so they may enforce more stringent rules.

  57. Dan Roberts says:

    (I created an account just to make this comment…)

    Re: deleting Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter) – the joke about sacrificing some RAM is one of my favorite jokes of all time. I’ve showed this part of the chapter to many people, a few of whom were convinced to read Unsong after reading that part.

  58. AnthonyC says:

    I realize Gadiriel is an Old Testament figure, but if people started talking about the Queen of Angels I would have been pretty confused b/c that is commonly used as a title for Mary. It’s one of a bunch of “queen” titles Mary has: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litany_of_the_Blessed_Virgin_Mary

    • Deiseach says:

      AnthonyC, I wonder what the reaction would be? I imagine half the Catholics who got the reference would be praying the rosary in reparation for the insult to Our Lady, as well as invoking Alphonse Ratisbonne for the salvation of Scott’s soul, and the other half would be writing angry letters (emails?) to the Catholic League about how Something Must Be Done about this sacriligeous slur 😀

      The intersection of “We Catholics who also read SSC and read this from the start” would be doing an awful lot of “Guys, we know him, he’s a good bloke, he didn’t mean it like that because HE DIDN’T KNOW“.

  59. Corey says:

    My thought on Sarah/Buffy: ask the publisher, they’ll definitely know the contours of what’s OK.

    I, as others, really liked the Passover interlude and the Uriel/Moses interaction.

    Not sure of a good way to warn about the Broadcast’s disturbing-ness in a book. Maybe put it in as an appendix. The publisher may have good advice there as well.

    I read it as it posted, and at the time I did think the “that’s racist!” reaction to Uriel’s p-zombies was a little hokey. A straightforward way to fix that would be to put the conference in an African city, then have the crowds be angry because they found out about not having souls. The Israel-Palestine Anomaly is also a good example of Uriel’s straightforward approach being met with “WTF?” from the public, but probably not inflammatory enough to cause immediate mass protests.

    I don’t think plot-irrelevant worldbuilding or “too much worldbuilding” can really be problems – see Neal Stephenson.

  60. mcpalenik says:

    I stopped reading part way through–more than halfway, I think. I don’t remember exactly where. Maybe it was shortly after we find out who drug lord is, or I may have read a bit more than that. I do feel like it would benefit quite a bit from streamlining, so I’m glad to see that you’re considering this. Personally, I would have been happy to see several of the chapters (or were they interludes) about Kabbalistic wordplay go. After a certain point, it stopped feeling clever or even amusing.

    The shifting of perspectives is a bit atypical also. I’ve seen books that alternate between first-person and third-person, but when it happened for the first time in Unsong, it felt like it was kind of out of nowhere. We were following Aaron, and then all of a sudden, it felt like you decided you wanted to be writing a different book. Also, the first-person perspective is a bit more forgiving than third-person, because it’s expected that a first-person account is going to be somewhat informal/colloquial.

    I think you should keep the prologue. It’s a pretty good hook.

    Don’t add complexity just for reducing “hokeyness”. When I read actual novels, I’m surprised at how hokey things can be while the authors still make them work.

    I may be the wrong person to give advice on action scenes, because they usually bore me, but what can hook me in an action scene is when you get into a character’s head and experience his fear, pain, and uncertainty in the moment. Most action scenes are unrealistic. I did various martial arts, boxing/muay thai, and Brazilian Jiujutsu in college and grad school, and nothing is ever as pretty, fluid, or easy as it seems in most action sequences. Even if you know what you’re doing, real fighting is messy, every hit hurts and causes confusion, and smacking your opponent doesn’t usually even come close to incapacitating him.

    In terms of legal grounds with Sarah Michelle Gellar, I can’t exactly answer that question, except that there must be ways around issues like that. Look at Ready Player One, for example.

    As for Malia, I remember thinking at some point that she might have been the child born with three eyes shortly after the world went haywire.

    And once more, to reiterate, please streamline. Even though I found the book interesting for the most part, the reason I stopped reading was because I felt like there were so many threads going on that weren’t going anywhere satisfying and too many interruptions in the parts that I was interested in.

  61. Deiseach says:

    Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”, to emphasize LA connection.

    Depending who reads it and how sticky they want to be, you might get some complaints about that regarding the Litany of Loreto 🙂

    You’ll probably have enough people confusing her with Galadriel to try and keep straight!

    • Evan Þ says:

      You’ll probably have enough people confusing her with Galadriel to try and keep straight!

      You mean that wasn’t supposed to be intentional? 😉

      • Deiseach says:

        You know that, I know that, everyone on here knows that, but don’t bet against someone reading that and going “Haw haw, he misspelled Galadriel!” and thinking Scott is just some schlocky fanficcer who ripped off a better story by a better author and thought it would be cool to Set It In America*, instead of getting the very deliberate resemblances and this-is-not-a-resemblance-though-it-sure-looks-like-one divergences set into the story.

        *And if they can’t force a plausible way to Set It In America, they try their dangedest to twist it so canonical non-American characters are American in all but name. Sherlock fic writer who gave John Watson (Blackheath outhalf) a favourite baseball team, I am looking very hard at you and tut-tutting while shaking my head.

        **I am very deliberately *not* looking hard at HPMOR and etc. but you all know my opinions on that work by now.

  62. Tulip says:

    On the stuff you’ve already decided:

    4: I hope you can rescue many of the scenes from it, even if in different contexts, because that chapter strikes me as excellent both from a perspective of “many of the individual scenes are excellent” and from a perspective of “it gives a nice broad overview of the major players, and in so doing serves a useful role in zooming out from the relatively-Aaron-focused forst book”.

    9: I enjoyed their separation as characters, and to the extent that it was mishandled I feel like it was mostly mishandled in the direction of “I wish I’d gotten to see more Sataniel, I liked him”.

    13: Strongly disagreed; the way Names work in the story strike me as working perfectly well, given the story’s general approach of “take lots of shreds of different genre tropes and mash them together into a single setting where they can collide” and the degree to which Name functioning runs on epic-fantasy rules strikes me as perfectly in line with that, as well as in my opinion serving the plot better than the alternative (since your proposed workaround will require more contrivances to, for instance, have Aaron know that he’s found a new name without his employers knowing, explain how Llull works, et cetera).

    14: This seems like probably a good idea, although I feel like, given the ultimate conclusion of the plot, piling on the implausible coincidences isn’t nearly as awful an idea as it would be in a different story, and even could be argued to serve as foreshadowing in its own right in a way that a more traditionally-tight narrative wouldn’t.

    On the stuff you’re unsure about:

    1: Yes. The prologue is both entertaining on its own merits and useful in contextualizing everything that follows.

    2: I’m inclined towards keeping the original Chapter 1; it pulled me in immediately via a cool worldbuilding element at the beginning and plot hook at the end, and I don’t recall either of Chapter 2 or Chapter 5 having similar levels of attention-grabbing-ness. (Chapter 5, in particular, is pretty excellent in its own right, but definitely strikes me as working better in the “flashback after the viewers are already hooked” context than as a hook in its own right.)

    3: I enjoyed the intermixing, because different segments of the stories carried very different tones from one another and I would say the mixing was helpful in keeping things balanced between those tones rather than allowing one or another of them to dominate the narrative. (This occasionally wavered a bit in the Comet King segments, where he had a few too many chapters in immediate succession such that his high-fantasy tone ended up infecting the overall story, so if anything I’d be inclined towards increased intermixing.)

    6: This strikes me as a significantly more active intervention from God than otherwise happens, and sufficiently overtly in contradiction of Uriel’s deism, that to the extent you go down this general plot path it seems probably best to find a different way to make SF the way it is than the one you propose here.

    8 and 9: I like this, and hope you go through with it.

    10: I’d be against removing Malia as a character, because she’s got a very cool aesthetic and she, as you said, facilitates the assassination plot very nicely. I lack good suggestions on precisely what to do with her, though.

    14: I don’t particularly recall the Sohu chapters being too worldbuildy, so I’m not sure this is necessary, although I suppose maybe I’m forgetting something.

    18: There are enough long multi-part chapters that I could see the problem being solvable in part by splitting up those chapters in order to bring the chapter count back up as needed.

  63. GKChestertron says:

    Wall Drug was one of my favorite pieces of worldbuilding in the story, worth the inclusion even without much relevance to the plot. If you’re reworking the interludes, maybe include a story about Gabriel getting turned into Wall Drug.

    Neutral on changing the capital from Colorado Springs to SF, but if this does happen, it seems a little weird for the Other King to be located in Vegas, in between Citadel West and SF, and for him to make his move against CW rather than directly attacking the capital.

  64. OriginalSeeing says:

    A large number of your suggestions for removal my personal favorite spices from a dish that tasted amazing because it had those spices in it.

    Several of your ideas for removal also seem based on the premise of decreasing backlash towards you and that people commonly read physical sci-fi and fantasy fiction books and then go attack the authors. It’s very unclear to me that this is true. Writing a webnovel online in blog-like posts seems be to 10x-100x more likely to illicit that category of response to me.

    Please go find an editor to go do all of this stuff and not assume all of this responsibility yourself. It doesn’t sound healthy, productive, or wise.

  65. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    For issue 8, making UNSONG a world government is a good step, but it doesn’t solve the problem that theonomics needs a bigger payoff. Chapter 70 tries to provide one by having Sohu use all the names they’ve gathered, but that sequence is one paragraph long and doesn’t do that whole arc justice.

    One option to fix this would be to introduce a bunch of individual names at that point and maybe describe their history under the theonomics order. e.g “Then Sohu spoke the So-and-So Name, discovered just two months earlier by Gogmagog, who had been planning to open a chain of special resorts where people could pay to experience its effects. She followed it with the Blah-blah Name, discovered three years prior at Countenance, who had never quite given up on finding a way to monetize it”.

    My other idea is to have armies of all the UNSONG-controlled nations (so, all the nations) show up via Name-powered transport and put in an impressive performance, probably bigger than the Samyazaz/Gadiriel/Armstrong contributions.

    You could also combine these by describing the Names the army uses.

  66. OriginalSeeing says:

    “9. Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. Sataniel meets Thamiel, turns evil, and then gets randomly killed off seems unnecessarily complicated. I’d rather having something like Sataniel (good angel) turns evil and renames himself Thamiel. Plausibly this is because God tells him the secret of theodicy and he realizes that evil is necessary. But then where does the second head come from? Maybe he only has one head?”

    I am strongly opposed to this. I interpreted Thamiel as somehow have split in two or developed an “inner devil” (chinese webnovel concept) in the past after his exposure to Sataniel. (I also really liked Sataniel.) The dark half or inner devil has taken control and his former angelic side/self still exists, but is trapped to watch everything play out while it can do nothing but silently scream.

    This also balanced out the character a lot for me and allowed things at the end to make more sense. His ability to convert or transform back into the form of angel he had been originally is made easily possible by the screaming head regaining control over his double/dual self. If you wanted Thamiel to not be portrayed this way and had a very different depiction in mind, then I suppose that could work too.

    Additionally, a two headed angel with one fucked up head is a great way to make Thamiel physically disturbing and explicitly monstrous. Contemporary fiction practices tell us to knee-jerk-reaction attempt to sympathize and rationalize the actions of anything resembling a human. The more monstrous something is, the less likely I think people will be resist that reaction and override the quick answers their knee-jerking gives them.

    “15. Would like to totally rework the Israel-Palestine peace conference chapter. The part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture, but I think if it gets published outrage culture might attack me back and win.”

    I had misinterpreted this at the time as Uriel changing the world so all of the Ethiopians for the past X number of years had been born without souls, not that he had just extracted them all. I really really loved that part of the story and thought it added a lot to Uriel’s powers and craziness, the world being more metaphysically screwed up than anyone but Uriel is even aware of, and the flavor of the story. The UN thinks that everything is mostly fine and no one understands why Uriel keeps acting like it’s only barely still held together by bubble gum and shoestrings.

    “8. How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations?”

    Honestly, I’d be very interested in what Robin Hanson would suggest on this, LOL.

    There’s a small number of good books with megacorps in them. Some examples from those could be helpful. Examples also exist in Shadowrun?

  67. VirgilKurkjian says:

    Actually my vote is now MORE ALPHA CENTAURI REFERENCES

  68. Claw21 says:

    Of your first set of points, definitely don’t do 8, 9, or 13. I agree that the rules about when a name counts as having been spoken and when not were confusing to me, but as others have pointed out, if you can’t accidentally invoke a name, the whole thing about various characters dying when accidentally speaking the Mortal Name also needs to go.

    Honestly, i really like the story as-is. I hope you are gentle on the edits. I didn’t like the prologue when it first went live, but I think it works a lot better as part of a cohesive whole. The first chapter is brilliant and what really got me hooked, though the next couple chapters seem to drag on. I never had any problems with the world-building aspects. The “action scenes,” such as they were, were exactly in line with my tastes.

    My only other comment is that as long as we are doing “sensitivity edits” as per your first point 3 and your second point 15, I would like to point out one tiny little thing that bothered me, but it’s cool if you don’t want to take it to heart. As a Latter-day Saint, the little section about our reaction to the appearance of angels seemed off. As a religion where a major article of faith is to accept revelation from God, the whole idea of us trying to convert the angels seems completely backwards to me. Certainly some of us would have a hard time realizing our religion was wrong about a lot of things, but frankly, I think the reaction of most of us would be to try to convert to Judaism.

  69. MichaelW says:

    The Unitarian/Unsong plot is interesting (in this version anyway) as a metaphor for free software and free music and stuff. That metaphor is only useful if you have something to say. It definitely doesn’t work if it ends with “And of course the free software movement is wrong because they don’t realize that the tech oligarchs were founded by a secret nephil.” So I think you should either find a more satisfying conclusion to that metaphor, or else get rid of the cosmetic similarities in the first half.

    WRT Alvarez, here is an idea. Thamiel has some sort of agent who isn’t just a faceless demon. Maybe it’s Sataniel, maybe it’s some cultists who joined up after the Broadcast, whatever. Maybe make them responsible for the analogue of the Iran Hostage Crisis or 9/11 something to establish their bad-guy bona fides. While Gadiriel and Samyazaz take on the faceless hordes, and Sohu takes on Thamiel, Dylan and Co can be taking on Thamiel’s amigo. Possible by animating the terra cotta army. Possibly by assassinating someone who is an evil agent in UNSONG.

  70. On simple issues #9, can I just say that Thamiel having two heads was incredibly creepy and off-putting and I think it really needs to stay. You can definitely merge the characters, but that fact was really helpful in just remembering that this guy is The Bad Guy in an incredibly disturbing way.

    On complicated issues #9, why not incorporate some Iraq War themes, like due to the Bush Gore civil war, UNSONG sends in weapons inspectors to the warring nation. They claim there are Weapons of Magical Distortion (WMDs) being hidden by the Bush administration which leads to an UNSONG led coalition invasion of the former United States, establishing it as a UN protectorate.

  71. blacktrance says:

    While not that plot-relevant, the Passover chapter is great flavor and is a nice early connection between the different plot lines (and the Comet King part of it is one of my favorite scenes in the book). The Robin-Dylan-Thamiel chapter is good for a similar reason.

    More generally, I think most of these changes would be for the worse, and the story should be left as is unless the alternative is clearly better (e.g. increasing the relevance of the theonomic corporations).

  72. GreatColdDistance says:

    Oh damn! I call Unsong one of my favourite three books (alongside Dorian Grey and Watchmen) and so it feels really weird to be giving feedback on it as a working copy, but here goes. Early thoughts in random order here, I may follow up this comment with more later.

    First off, congrats for writing such a great book! Like I said, top three faves, love the heck out of it.

    Secondly, one of my favourite parts of Unsong is the worldbuilding, and a key part of good worldbuilding IMO is that not everything has to have a purpose. It always feels really artificial to me when everything brought up in a book needs to come back around to some significance in the end. In the real world, stuff just… happens. Things exist, and it isn’t really clear how they contribute to the main plot, or even if reality could coherently be said to have a main plot. Pointless and disconnected things give books personality. Thus, Wall Drug and SanFran were two of my favourite parts of the book, even if they didn’t really contribute to the end, and the world would feel lessened to have them removed. In fact, I’ll just generally pre-register my objection to any critiques of the type “X didn’t advance the plot so remove it”.

    Same with the role of Unsong vs. the singers, to me it is ok to have something more forward in the first half recede over time, that is kinda how life goes. To me, it really felt like the book went up in scale, as personal and political concerns got superseded by more existential ones, and I loved that. It made sense for Aaron to really start out fighting against this political power, only to come to understand it and it to fade into the background against bigger, more real concerns. Kinda felt like growing up.

    Thirdly, I thought that Aaron going into the drugs to save Ana was totally believable. “I would do anything to save the one I love” is very much an accepted trope of literature, and one I can generally believe. That said, if you want this to stand as a more rationalist work of fiction, I can see wanting to get rid of it, but I’m not sure how. Will think about that.

    Fourth, yeah that whole Israel-Palestine piece will need to be reworked to be less offensive, and maybe more than that. For example, a lot of people are going to take Mexico getting turned into a hellhole literally ruled by drugs as really offensive, and many will be put off by the extensive misuse of religious content throughout the story. I don’t know how to fix that, or if it is fixable. Between these elements and the use of real celebrities/politicians in the story, I’ve always just kinda considered Unsong unpublishable. Not to say you shouldn’t try, but just my thoughts on that. You can replace Sarah with a fictional celeb from a fictional show, maybe a show designed to reflect how different this world is from ours?

    Also: Keep the prologue, definitely keep the chapters mixed

  73. LupoCani says:

    Since we’re all insisting on why some or other part definitely should stay, let me pick a part I haven’t seen anyone defend yet – Chapter 60.

    This is the only part in Unsong where we get to see Dylan speak outside the script for more than a moment. (“Out of character” would perhaps be an exaggeration, but I think it’s fair to say it’s the scene where he’s least obviously playing some particular role for placebomantic benefits.) Having a scene with him acting (comparatively) normal, towards a person that’s not an enemy or ally (or otherwise particularly of interest) is, I think, useful for grounding his character a bit. Even if the chapter is cut, I think it would be good to include a similar scene elsewhere in the work.

    Also, I’d like to echo the sentiment:

    Unsong is a flawed masterpiece and you’ll butcher it trying to excise all the flaws.

    There are particular improvements that can be made, but I’d be cautious about sweeping or all-too-thourough attempts at improving it.

  74. acymetric says:

    So, I would probably need to re-read Unsong to form legitimate opinion on some of the more structural changes (removing chapters, etc) but here are my thoughts (listed more or less in order of how strongly I feel about them, rather than in the order listed in the post)

    8. Probably remove Wall Drug. It got a lot of space for something that never came up later or became plot relevant, and everyone assumed I was going somewhere amazing with it.

    Please don’t. As others have mentioned, this was a great, fun bit of world-building. You might need to cut it out for the film adaptation but if there is room for Tom Bombadil in LotR there is room for Wall Drug here.

    10. Who or what is Malia Ngo?
    14. Would like to completely rework Sohu chapters to make them less worldbuildy.

    This is worth exploring, but the answer is absolutely not Sohu. Could you make the scene less rapey (given that Robin signed up for it, you could make it an uncomfortable but slightly less so scene and still end up with demon child Malia to avoid the blood problem). The worldbuildiness is important, though…unless you are going to find some other avenue for the worldbuilding where will we get it? The fact that these were people’s favorite chapters but also were “too world-buildy” seems like an oxymoron.

    6. Would like to delete the whole solar eclipse sequence, which led to a lot of really boring unnecessary Sohu chapters. But I don’t know where else to fit in that scene where Metatron takes the Shem HaMephorash away from the Comet King. And that scene is really important. Any advice?

    Are those chapters really that boring and unnecessary? I don’t remember that being the case, but stuff revolving around Sohu and/or Uriel were some of my favorite parts of Unsong which may not be representative of other readers.

    9. Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. Sataniel meets Thamiel, turns evil, and then gets randomly killed off seems unnecessarily complicated. I’d rather having something like Sataniel (good angel) turns evil and renames himself Thamiel. Plausibly this is because God tells him the secret of theodicy and he realizes that evil is necessary. But then where does the second head come from? Maybe he only has one head?

    I didn’t see this as unnecessarily complicated. If you do change this, making it one “good angel turned bad” character is not an appealing way to go about it, I don’t think. Thamiel as a character/concept is rock solid as is.

    10. Rename Erica -> Valerie, for kabbalistic reasons. Will have to remove the “I am Erica”/America pun, I guess.

    11. Comet King’s boat will keep being named “All Your Heart”, not get gag-renamed “Not A Metaphor”

    I feel like this kind of thing is what makes Unsong Unsong…leave both as is.

    13. The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey. Planning to replace this with something where the theonomics have a machine that can sense whether a useful Name was spoken in their vicinity, but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer. You need theoretical kabbalah skills to figure out what a Name does and direct it correctly. You can also have standing prayers so that you can eg speak a Name quickly in combat.

    This takes away the ability to inadvertently use names, and also seems to make it difficult (impossible?) for lay people to discover names. Anything story involving magic or magic adjacent stuff typically involves “feeling” the magic flow through you somehow. Only hokey inasmuch as any story involving supernatural abilities/power is hokey. Leave as is.

    14. Might rework the part where All Your Heart discovers Ana in San Francisco to include something where the Captain had a vision that Ana would be there and that saving her would be their way to get a kabbalist to run the yellow sail. Otherwise it seems too hokey.

    I thought the coincidental nature of this tied in well with the “it wasn’t a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence”…is explicitly making it not a coincidence an improvement?

    15. Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”, to emphasize LA connection.

    Feels clunky, and only really emphasizes the LA connection if I am already fully aware of the LA connection, especially since there are actual angels in the story. Maybe this is my east coast bias showing and the word “angels” immediately invokes the L.A. for other people.

    16. In Chapter 37, for plot reasons Aaron has to decide to cave in to the Drug Lord’s demands (and save Ana) rather than let her die. I’m still not happy with how I handled that – it’s such a monumentally stupid thing to do that even Aaron admitting he’s scared and young and stupid doesn’t seem to cover it. How else can I handle this?

    People do dumb things to save love interests in stories all the time (heck, arguably in real life even). I don’t think you need to change anything here.

    15. Would like to totally rework the Israel-Palestine peace conference chapter. The part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture

    Maybe its just flying over my head but I don’t understand how this could be interpreted as an attack on outrage culture. It just came off as a “pragmatic” solution that actual humans strongly disliked for human reasons. Replacing it with some similar “big picture pragmatic, but unappealing to actual people” thing would be fine.

    My current leading solution to the big picture questions – and tell me if you hate it

    I hate it. I already commented on this earlier, but while I understand if you need to re-work Malia for various reasons I think making Sohu become Malia is bad for the book and for both characters. Feels like a dark twist for Sohu just for the sake of being dark.

    Just an overarching comment on a lot of the other changes: it feels like you are trying to “mainstream” the book, but I’m not sure that the book can be mainstreamed and still remain…good (of course it is your story and you should do what you want with it, but you did ask).

    • shakeddown says:

      Remark on the rape scene: while that chapter really might be a bit superfluous in other ways, it didn’t fall into the trap fiction sometimes does, of just throwing in rape for the shock value. Thamiel being *evil* in a way you can’t just look away from or ignore, in a way that’s not just affable or well-intentioned extremism – is an important theme of the book, and consistent with his character. It doesn’t read as shock-value or glamourized – it’s gross and evil, which is what it’s supposed to be.

      There’s an argument for it not being superfluous: We never see Robin get tortured in hell, but this at least shows us she made a real sacrifice – not just some offscreen pain we can kind of ignore. Not sure if it’s worth having the whole extra chapter just for it, though.

  75. vicoldi says:

    I liked itermixing, it kept the story fresh.

    I also liked irrelevant background elements, like Wall Drug or the presidents.

    I wouldn’t change San Francisco much, although it could have been simple divine miracle instead of drugs.

    Malia=Sohu seems interesting, although it seems too similar to the TOK=TCK revelation.

    Sohu/Uriel was really good, please don’t change it much.

  76. Evan Þ says:

    Regarding the Passover scene, I loved it – and thought it was narratively significant – because that’s the first real time we get to glimpse the Comet King himself and his family. There’s no particular reason we need to get that glimpse at Passover, but I think that’s appropriate because (as I forget who said) this book’s about a specifically-Jewish apocalypse.

    Regarding the beginning… When you posted the Apollo 8 prologue on the blog, I hated it. I thought you were posting a version of something like the Cthulhu Mythos where humanity Reaches Too Far and monsters and horror tropes show up as the Universe’s Revenge, plus extra theological references from the perspective of Internet Atheists who say “don’t you know that the Bible literally claims the earth is inside a literal sphere?”, and I resolved never to read the book. It was only much later, when a number of commenters referenced the plot arc and several different scenes, that I decided to give the story a try. After that, Chapter 1 drew me in.

    So, nix the prologue. Even aside from my reaction, it’s a completely different flavor from the rest of the book. Call it Interlude Aleph and bump the other interludes down one. Then, start with Chapter 1: it’s better worldbuilding than a group house party, and the discovery of the Explicit Name is something I want to see onscreen.

  77. edgepatrol says:

    Noooo, don’t take out Wall Drug. 😉 I loved that.

    Also, Colorado Springs (likely because of Cheyenne Mountain) is a perfectly intuitive place for the headquarters of the West.

    I might be able to come back to other things later, but I really wanted to add my 2 cents on the geography. It’s easy to get in there years later and think you are “improving” things, but oftentimes a work like this is essentially …inspired… in the original version, and many edits are going to break continuity from that and come off as patchy.

  78. Mark Dominus says:

    Your easter egg list says:

    A physicist reading this book noted that the structure of kabbalistic marriages inside Aaron’s head right now forms the graph E8 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E8_(mathematics) ), generally considered to have some kind of mysterious tie with the source of the laws of physics.

    I think one of you is confusing E8 and K8. E8 is a lie algebra, generally considered to have some kind of mysterious tie with the source of the laws of physics. K8 is the graph with eight vertices (in this case your eight characters) in which each vertex is connected (via a chain of kabbalistic marriages) to the other seven; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complete_graph#Properties .

    There is no obvious connection between E8 and K8. Sorry.

    • Oscar Sebastian says:

      Everyone including you is confusing it, I’m afraid. K8 is for direct connections, but the kabbalastic marriages did not result in a direct connection from, say, Uriel to Dylan. The confusion is that the marriages formed a SIMPLE Lie Group. E8’s simple form is seven nodes connected in a line, with the third node having a junction to an eighth node, unconnected to the rest. This describes the eight marriage participants: Uriel, Sohu, Sarah, Aaron, Ana, Erica, and Dylan in a chain, with THARMAS connected to Sarah.

      • Mark Dominus says:

        Oh, we’re talking about the Coxeter diagram? Thanks, I hadn’t picked up on that.

  79. shakeddown says:

    Re the hjde – it might solve the problem to refer to it as “the kangmin dynasty” (or “kangmin”s China or something)? It’s less over-the-top Oriental while still implying China’s become more traditional, and referencing the archeologist who found the terracotta army (though I guess he wasn’t the farmer, whose name isn’t turning up on Google).

  80. BadaBoingus says:

    I really like Thamiel’s second head finally speaking at the end. It makes me feel like that head was the ‘real’ Thamiel all along, and that the artifice of evil and treachery was just a puppet he was forced by theodicy to control.

  81. scherzando says:

    Opinions on a number of these below. I’ve read Unsong twice – serially as it came out, and more quickly around the time it finished – but it’s been a couple of years so I’m certainly forgetting things. There are a few points that I hope to come back to after rereading the chapters in question.

    Already-decided things:

    1. I kind of like the Unitarians, but I can see the case for either option.

    3. Agree. For similar reasons, I’d get rid of the “Obama is a demon” gag in Interlude Shin.

    6. For what it’s worth I generally liked the Sohu chapters and don’t see much need to reduce them.

    8. Agree, though it was a fun red herring while it lasted.

    11. Agree.

    12. I don’t know the answer, and it seems like a reasonable concern, but I’ll be a bit disappointed if Sarah has to go.

    13. Agree.

    14. Agree.

    More complicated questions:

    1. What Will Godwin said.

    2. I really liked Chapter 5 and felt like it was where the story fully hit its stride, so it might make a strong opening. On the other hand, a) I like how Chapter 1 starts things in the midst of the main plot, and it has a strong opening line, and b) some people (glances over at Deiseach, but I’m sure she’s not the only one) dislike Ana and might find an opening chapter about Aaron meeting her off-putting. In any case I think Aaron should discover the Vital Name on-screen – it’s both an important plot point and our main glimpse inside the theonomics corporations.

    3. Having the plots intermixed worked fairly well for me; my bigger problem was forgetting where we’d left a subplot after a long time away from it.

    4. I’m not sure – the current version was fun, but I just accepted a lot of confusing things about Malia Ngo, and this may well be one that should make more sense.

    6. Maybe? What you describe here might be tighter, but Colorado worked fine for me, and I wonder if people will roll their eyes if it becomes too SF-centric.

    9. I haven’t reread all the interludes you’re proposing to delete recently, but the idea you’re outlining here makes sense to me. I don’t think the Obama interlude is strong, and it’s hard to predict how the Trump one will be read based on whatever he does five minutes before you publish the book.

    10. I agree that her current origin story doesn’t really work. If you go with “faceless council”, is Dylan just trying to get the whole UNSONG council like he did the whole Board of Ritual Magic? He does have substantial firepower to attack with.

    13. I can’t remember if TCK has the ship by this point. If so, what if he sailed around Cape Horn? I’m sure there are plenty of plot-related and kabbalistic reasons for him to do so. I’m assuming he shouldn’t go through the Panama Canal…

    14. I enjoyed the Sohu/Uriel chapters and thought the worldbuilding was mostly interesting.

    15. Agree that this should be reworked. What if Thamiel, ostensibly for reasons of international oversight but really to increase sin, proposes a bureaucracy of some sort that Uriel will have to answer to? Regarding removing everyone’s souls, though – I guess I need to reread with attention to Uriel’s views on theodicy: is it consistent with the rest of his actions knows at some level that Hell must eventually be destroyed (cf the end of Chapter 71, which, by the way, makes me tear up every time), and that people with souls are necessary to that outcome and/or valuable as a consequence of it? I’m guessing no, but this seems like an interesting question the more I think about it.

    16. Aaron is scared and young and stupid *and in love* – it seems basically plausible, albeit frustrating and, yes, monumentally stupid. I don’t know, maybe I’m just conditioned to accept this sort of behavior from fantasy protagonists because it’s exactly what Harry Potter (Rowling’s, not Yudkowsky’s) would do.

    18. Some of the interludes are short and could be combined, I think. I don’t think you should cut massive amounts of material for no other reason, but having chapters + interludes = 72 seems like a nice solution to me. If the interludes are no longer a substantial fraction of the Hebrew alphabet, you could renumber them as chapters. I do really like the notarikon.

    I have mixed feelings about your Malia Ngo solution, mostly because I like Sohu already and especially worry that it would interfere with the whole “refusing to curse her father’s name” thing (as well as the fun kabbalistic geekery when she meets Aaron). How does the evil aura work, exactly – and why is it necessary at all? We’re also going to need some more persuasive apologia for UNSONG if the West siblings are in league with it. On the other hand, this would tighten up the plot a bit, especially the situation with Dylan.

    The one random thing that I feel strongly about is that when everyone gets resurrected in Aaron’s head, they should not eventually merge into a single consciousness. Yes, it’s a lot going on with them there independently, but I like the idea that they’re all still fundamentally themselves, and they’re such distinctive characters that I can’t really imagine what it looks like when they merge together – it feels like getting them back just to lose them again.

    • Deiseach says:

      some people (glances over at Deiseach, but I’m sure she’s not the only one) dislike Ana

      Small correction warranted:

      I think Aaron needs a good shake (which is not the same as not liking him).

      I don’t like Ana (which is different from disliking her).

      I dislike Erica (which is different from how I feel about Dylan).

      I want Dylan to *static noises, that old-fashioned TV screen noise cuts in , then the video of Hell tortures starts playing except this is the really unexpurgated version*

    • Evan Þ says:

      If Scott gets rid of the “Obama is a demon” gag, he should also get rid of the “Cheney is literally heartless” gag. He should be fair to both sides.

  82. Wolpertinger says:

    > Also, everyone on Goodreads said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding

    I for one enjoyed it.

  83. yaolilylu says:

    Is there any way to keep the Leonard Cohen lyrics in? I really like them and they add a lot of flavor to the story, but again, copyright problems.

  84. emiliobumachar says:

    I kept waiting for Archangel Gabriel to show up again. If Thamiel came back when the crystal sphere broke, so should he.

    I suggest that in the end, when Sohu calls for help and several entities answers, Gabriel also shows up, coming out of hiding, leading some angels and saying something cool about continuing the war from where it stopped or somesuch.

    Also, I’ll echo all the others in saying please keep the Passover chapter. The Unitarian gathering that opens it is relatively boring, so you might cut that, but everything else is really good, and the Moses and Uriel bit is pure gold.

  85. emiliobumachar says:

    I found Chapter One very engaging, but if you’re not happy with it, I suppose the book can start with Part I of Chapter 20, the speech of Sataniel, leaving the other Parts for later.

  86. embrodski says:

    Didn’t realize Ethiopian souls thing had anything to do with outrage culture. I absolutely *LOVED* it as an attack on the ludicrosity of p-zombies, and a fantastic mind-bend of “omg, in a world were souls are real you could have pzombies I guess, and this is one of the most brilliant philosophical jokes I’ve ever read” thing. Please don’t take this out. If you absolutely need to, change the location to some place outragists won’t get triggered by, like removing all the souls of people in lower Alabama, or France, or something. But some major group somewhere has to be de-souled and no one noticing that they’re all pzombies, and that group specifically saying things that are indistinguishable from what someone with a soul would say, just like in the scene you wrote. 🙂

  87. Johnny4 says:

    I would STRONGLY recommend taking a minimalist approach to editing. I think it is GREAT as is, with many more ways to make it worse than better. That being said, here are a few suggestions (not repeating those I gave above):

    (For context, I read it 6 months ago and loved it, and am halfway through reading it again with a group.)

    a) The end felt rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory to me. I just wasn’t into the mind meld thing. Sorry I don’t have a helpful suggestion. I’m also not totally sure which theodicy or theodicies you end up endorsing. My initial interpretation was that you endorsed two: T1 is that God creates every world above a certain goodness threshold, and this one was barely above it. T2 is that all the evil that exists is just sort of a mistake (yay mistake theory)–Thamiel, UNSONG, Dylan, etc. are all trying to do good in their own misguided ways. If you are giving these two theodicies, how are they related? Also, this might be too big picture, but I wasn’t sure how the whole cracks in the seriphot thing was supposed to relate to the theodicies. Like, are there different angels, sephirot, etc. in every world (going back to T1 now)? I think that makes more sense given the story, but if so you should probably make it more clear.

    b) Very small point, but the explanation of how the mnemonic stuff works when Aaron is with Ngo is a little redundant. (I forget where that was explained earlier.) One or the other should be cut or reduced.

    As for your proposed changes:

    Simple Issues I’ve Already Kind Of Decided But Would Welcome Feedback On Anyway

    1. LEAN AGAINST: excise the Unitarian plotline.

    2. LEAN AGAINST: delete Chapter 17

    3. LEAN AGAINST: drop “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as a random gag.

    4. NEUTRAL: delete Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter).

    5. AGAINST–IT’S FUNNY: delete Interlude Nun (the Rosh Hashanah Changelog interlude)

    6. NEED TO REREAD TO HAVE AN OPINION: Would like to delete the whole solar eclipse sequence, which led to a lot of really boring unnecessary Sohu chapters. But I don’t know where else to fit in that scene where Metatron takes the Shem HaMephorash away from the Comet King. And that scene is really important. Any advice?

    7. NEED TO REREAD TO HAVE AN OPINION: Delete Chapter 60 (Robin visiting Dylan to learn how to summon Thamiel) as insufficiently tight – I can just have Robin summon Thamiel later and nobody will be surprised that she knows some way to do it.

    8. AGAINST: remove Wall Drug.

    9. STRONG AGAINST: Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. (How does the whole facet of God thing work then?)

    10. NEUTRAL: Rename Erica -> Valerie, for kabbalistic reasons. Will have to remove the “I am Erica”/America pun, I guess.

    11. NEUTRAL: Comet King’s boat will keep being named “All Your Heart”, not get gag-renamed “Not A Metaphor”

    12. DON’T KNOW: Buffy the Vampire Slayer


    14. LEAN TOWARDS, ALTHOUGH YOUR SPECIFIC IDEA SEEMS MORE HOKEY: Rework All Your Heart discovers Ana in San Francisco.

    15. NEUTRAL: Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”, to emphasize LA connection.

    More Complicated Issues I’m Still Unsure About

    1. STRONG YES: keep the prologue?


    3. LEAN YES, ALTHOUGH MAYBE SLIGHTLY LESS INTERMIXING: Should I keep everything intermixed.

    4. I THOUGHT THIS WAS GOOD/FINE: How should Aaron escape UNSONG at the end of chapter 14? There must be a better way to do this.

    5. CHANGE THE LSD THING (IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE), NEUTRAL ON THE REST. Should I keep San Francisco basically as is?

    6. NO: Relocate the Comet King from Colorado Springs to the San Francisco Bay Area?

    7. N/A. Cometspawn governors.

    8. LEAVE AS IS/SEEMED FINE–AGAIN, I SEE THIS AS COMING TOGETHER AT THE END AS AN INSTANCE OF EVIL DONE IN THE NAME OF GOOD/LOVE. How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations?

    9. LEAN AGAINST, IT SEEMED FINE: I’m tempted to just delete every interlude after Ayin and start over.



    13. JUST KEEP AS IS.

    14. Would like to completely rework Sohu chapters to make them less worldbuildy…everyone on Goodreads said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding. LEAVE AS IS THEY WERE GOOD CHAPTERS AND IT SOUNDS LIKE THE GOODREADS PEOPLE HAVE INCONSISTENT OPINIONS.

    15. Several people brought up that if Uriel can take away people’s souls en masse, he should do this to everyone immediately to save them from Hell, so probably he shouldn’t be able to do this. [MAYBE MAKE IT A TEMPORARY THING? MAYBE URIEL MAKES THE SOULS ON ONE CONTINENT GO “OFFLINE” EACH DAY OF THE WEEK, AND THAT DAY HAPPENS TO BE AFRICA? IN ANY CASE, I THOUGHT THAT PART WAS HILARIOUS.] Also, the ending – with all of the diplomats getting undiplomatically enraged with Uriel and praising Thamiel – was a little too unrealistic. I need some other way to make the peace conference go crazy and provoke Uriel to angel-nuke Madrid. But how?



    18. 72 chapters spelling out the letters of the Explicit Name + 22 interludes. A REASON TO LARGELY KEEP THINGS AS IS.

    Malia Ngo’s secret identity is Sohu. HATE IT!

  88. drunkfish says:

    Since this is an unsong comment thread anyway, for those interested in buying an unofficial, unedited copy of unsong for a little under $20, read more here https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/05/29/open-thread-128-75/#comment-756466. (@Scott, if you think this comment is a distraction or otherwise don’t want it here, I don’t mind it being deleted)

  89. Oscar Sebastian says:

    I really, really liked Unsong, so I was super excited to see this post and now am super horrified to see the direction you want to go with editing. My thoughts:

    Simple Issues

    1. This is fine.

    2. Keep the chapter, or as they say, STET. The chapter is Comet West. If it needs adjustments, aim to make it sadder. The ending of all things in beauty and fire isn’t a tragedy, but it is melancholic. The Comet King’s birth is when it stops being the beginning of the end and when things really kick up into high gear.

    3. Rename the Empire to something simpler (perhaps having them revert to calling themselves the Middle Kingdom, halfway between Hell and Heaven), keep the Terracotta Army scene say, “Yep, everything’s gone to hell everywhere.”

    4. STET. It’s really good character building, and since the story’s in transition between book 1 and book 2, it’s not bad to spend a little time reminding us of all the plot lines going on.

    5. This is fine, though I really do think you need to keep the 72-22 thing. Maybe the extra Interlude can focus more on the Old World and its changes, if you’d like.

    6. Aren’t there only two solar eclipse chapters? One where Uriel says he’ll do it, one where he does it. It wasn’t boring and I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of good Uriel material in there to justify it. STET.

    7. Seems good, though again I urge a replacement.

    8. STET. STET STET STET STET STET STET. You are gilding the lily, sir. Or uh, stripping it for parts, I guess. If you think it takes up too much space, trim some paragraphs. It’s a good bit and as everyone keeps saying: more worldbuilding with odd places on the periphery of the plot is preferable in this kind of story to less worldbuilding. You want to feel like this is the world, not an empty sphere devoid of life except for those souls fated to cross paths with our narrators.

    9. I’m ambivalent about this one. It’s a perfectly cromulent change, but to be honest your initial instincts in these changes all have my internal editor screaming, so my gut instinct is that you’re seeing an overcomplication where this is one.

    10. Couldn’t you just have her be legally Valerie but called Erica (a middle name, perhaps)? Best of both worlds!

    11. STET. This was good foreshadowing.

    12. Definitely go for an “offbrand Buffy / Sarah” approach mentioned, where you don’t name the vampire hunting cheerleader and give Sarah a name suggested.

    13. STET. As discussed, this breaks several scenes in your narrative. Hokey is nice, sometimes.

    14. STET, dammit. Your narrative hinges on a world that is only barely redeemable, and only because of a series of coincidences piled on top of each other that led to a variety of lucky breaks down the line. Keep the coincidences!

    15. Sounds fine.

    More Complicated Issues

    1. Keep the prologue. It’s a beautiful hook and it’s dripping with atmosphere.

    2. Keep Chapter 1, probably keep it first, definitely keep its events onscreen. Chapter 5 doesn’t work as a beginning because we’re not invested in the relationship and the world is too alien to be tossed into like that. Chapter 5 is payoff to the first three chapters of Aaron’s perspective.

    3. Intermix. You have enough characters that you can count on most mainstream readers not liking one or two, but still liking the story on the balance. If you intermix, they can skim. If you make them read all the adventures of their personal Scrappy Doo upfront, they’ll bail.

    4. Shorten out the mnemonic and make it more thematically on-point. Have Aaron inadvertently foreshadow what’s going to come, because in a kabbalistic universe, even your bullshit is being generated from the same seed as everything else.

    5. STET. It’s a shining city on a hill for a world not quite ready for luminosity. It standing apart and slightly outside the world – even as it is ready to participate in the end – makes sense.

    6. Under no circumstances should you reduce worldbuilding that’s as good as SF and Colorado, so keep them separate.

    7. This is a reassuring instinct. Most of your editing should be on this kind of level: making changes that you can easily integrate into the narrative without having to rewrite otherwise functional chapters to adjust. Most of the changes you want to make are the exact opposite of this, which is concerning.

    8. The best point to add more UNSONG would be in Aaron’s arc in book 3. He is completely eclipsed by the Comet King flashbacks and I don’t remember him being a particularly active player, just watching as the Cometspawn and Sarah deal with each other. If there was a representative of UNSONG in Royal Colorado who he had to deal with or outsmart in some way, especially in the context of proving his trustworthiness after *everything* he’s done so far, it would go a long way towards fixing his story.

    9. Combine the Obama and Trump interludes into something about the US rump state (with suggestions that Obama’s demonic heritage isn’t caught not because tHe SjWs but because no one really cares anymore), and have an interlude about UNSONG’s rise to power. This also helps point 8.

    10. Leave as is, with the Hell Time concept someone mentioned as a way of explaining.

    11. There is no point 11.

    12. There need not be a point 12 either, since my advice for point 10 covers it.

    13. Bluntly, this is exactly why you need to not be certain about any of the simple issues you say you’ve already made up your mind about. You have a *mostly* functional history and geography, with a few light quibbles. The solution to those quibbles is to smooth them out, not burn the book and start over. If every change you want to make requires rewriting thousands of words, you are sabotaging yourself. I’m editing a draft of a novel myself, and spent a lot of wasted time trying to completely redo chapters that just needed sprucing up. Let my wasted time be yours as well, and save yourself the hassle.

    14. People are dumb. They liked the story because of the worldbuilding but don’t know why they liked it so their attempts to be constructive are actually destructive. What they really mean is that it’s a bit too wordy and that you should take a red pen to your paragraphs and trim them up.

    15. You should rework it, both for the plot reasons discussed but also because critiquing outrage cultures by saying, “Y’all are so easily worked up, you’d be angry at a Demiurge for literally dehumanizing people based on its alien morality system that even it knows isn’t sufficient for navigating complicated situations involving people!” isn’t much of an insult.

    I’d use the Passover chapter scene with Uriel as a framework for what goes down (another reason to keep it, btw): Thamiel points out that Uriel gave people a morality system to follow that God didn’t design and uses inference to suggest that one or more of the rules the Bible contains is actually something that is damning them. The crowd is outraged: there’s literally nothing they can do to be sure about the state of their souls because neither Good nor Evil will share the rules, and then Thamiel makes the same offer he makes in the Broadcast. “If you do evil so well as to be among the top 1% of the damned, you will not be tortured in Hell.”

    The crowd, overcome by nihilism at their circumstances, is unanimously willing to take Thamiel up on the offer and Uriel nukes Madrid rather than risk them spreading this knowledge and causing the whole of mankind to despair and become damned. This also serves as foreshadowing for what the Comet King says in 72: Heaven and hell are what you make them, and for a brief moment, humanity made Hell manifest in Madrid.

    16. Have him cave, and when adjusting his book 3 sequence (the book in most need of attention overall, I’d argue), show growth.

    17. Brevity is not merely the soul of wit, but also action. Or rather, a kind of terseness is. Keep things short and choppy. Readers are tricked into thinking it’s fast-paced.

    18. I think 72 and 22 is doable, especially because you have several short chapters that could be merged together if you need to expand.

    19. I hate it. Again, this is a case where you’re taking something mostly functional and trying to replace it wholesale. Sohu’s character arc works a lot better without being a mirror of her father’s.

    Closing Thoughts

    My personal critiques of Unsong tend to follow two categories:

    1. The writing is rough. This is easily fixed in editing, however.

    2. Your arcs are a bit screwy. The Comet King gets chapter after chapter in Book 3 while Aaron passively observes events around him, Erica passively observes events around her for a chapter or two, and Ana… I don’t actually remember what she does in between Panama and New York. Does she do anything? Is it more complicated than passively observing events around her? Sohu is also pretty passive but it’s a lot less of an issue with her because she’s not a narrator and she’s a good human element in the midst of the CK, Uriel, and Thamiel.

    Basically though, everyone is spinning their wheels waiting for the Comet King to catch up to the present so that they can resolve the story, and then there’s no time for everyone to demonstrate their character growth. Ana ends amazingly. Erica could work if she got a little more focus (she’s overshadowed by Dylan and his crew, so there’s no real character arc here). Aaron needs a lot of work and some stakes in things besides, “Will the Cometspawn or Sarah be the ones who end up in control of me?” I suggested an UNSONG agent and I’d also like to suggest a better build-up of urgency with the siege.

    The worldbuilding is fine, and the concerns of yours I agree with most are when you feel things didn’t pay off – China needs a better name, Wall Drug could use a trim (BUT DON’T REMOVE IT), etc. The character’s voices are great. The plot is serviceable and needs adjustments in timing, not contents.

    But most importantly, the theme is wonderful. The world festers and rots, but behind the scenes all these little imperfections are building up towards something good. The last few chapters of Unsong, from the placebomantic duel to the very end, are chapters I have read far too much to be healthy. Your edits should always be in service of this theme: finding the little imperfections that *don’t* build up to anything good and removing them or making sure that they do add up. This is what makes Malia good as she is: Nothing about her *is* good, from the circumstances of her birth to her childhood to the organization she chooses to work for. But despite this, despite her infernal nature (in contrast to Sohu, who is semi-angelic and raised well, making her fall and subsequent redemption a boomerang of a plot arc), she is still as much of a singer as the rest of the cast.

    Making big changes that require rewriting a dozen chapters per change is a bad idea, because they’re going to break your plot and they’re going to break your theme. If something isn’t working, try making small changes first — as many as you can think of if necessary — before stripping it down entirely. If you have to change a chapter down the line because of a change you just made, try to make it so it’s just the one extra chapter, not three more.

    If you run with all of these changes, Unsong will lose the voice and wit that made it such a gem. I loved reading it and I would hate to see it lose its fundamental charms in your attempts to get it ready for a mainstream market.

    Thanks for reading this, and for writing Unsong. I hope to add it to my shelves someday, even though your editing plans leave me with trepidation about its ultimate fate.

    • beleester says:

      Couldn’t you just have her be legally Valerie but called Erica (a middle name, perhaps)? Best of both worlds!

      Better yet, make it a fake name she uses for her revolutionary activities. Erica is the rebel, the person with five different UNSONG-fleeing plans on tap and who actually gets excited about using them. Of course she’d have a secret identity!

  90. Ristridin says:

    On the Complicated issues:
    4. For Aaron to escape UNSONG… Maybe have him put in a cell, and have him informed somehow that Malia Ngo is on her way. He talks with his guard (because obviously prisoners should have guards to prevent them from using names), who has been instructed to not let a prisoner say a Name, but who is not quite bright enough to figure out that Names can be encrypted through mnemonics and/or that Aaron is doing so.

    10 (+ 12). Additional question, how does a three-year-old get in control of something like UNSONG? I don’t remember whether that was revealed in-story, but at the very least, she might have issues getting a passport… I will say that I really loved that even someone born in Hell as a child of Thamiel would be good, and I would like to see this stay. To keep it tied to UNSONG, maybe have UNSONG being set up by Thamiel? Might explain why Malia is working there, trying (succeeding?) to have UNSONG change to a force of good after all. I feel this would somehow shift the mystery of Malia Ngo to the mystery of UNSONG. Don’t have a clue how this would work out though. If you do change to an organization of faceless bureaucracy, some of the members might have demonic blood by Thamiel’s influence, so that plot point could still exist. The Malia Ngo = Sohu option also sounds interesting to me though. Even better symmetry when Aaron uses the Vanishing Name to go from Cometspawn to Cometspawn.

    15. With regard to the Ethiopian soul issue, there’s another minor plot-related issue depending on how long the Ethiopians have been without souls. Namely, someone without a soul cannot use a Name (which is why the Drug Lord REALLY wanted a soul), so the Ethiopians should have discovered by now that they have no souls. Instead, everyone seems surprised when Uriel reveals this (including the Egyptian ambassador).

    16. I don’t think this needs to be fixed. Aaron loves Ana, and his love is so great that he will risk the world for even a minor increase in the odds that she’ll survive (minor analogue: The Comet King, whose love for Robin makes him do terrible things as well, just for her sake, even though if he failed, everything would be worse for basically everyone).

    18. No suggestions here, but it would be sad to lose how everything, including the chapters themselves, are connected.

  91. DeadAtheist says:

    I loved the prologue, please keep it. It’s what sold me on the whole book and it did a great job of setting an emotional tone of the story.
    I liked the story. I have a feeling it can be improved a lot, but all improvements I can think of would take a lot of efforts – on the order of writing a book in the first place.
    I hated the epilogue. It’s one thing I feel should be fixed. Endings in books are often disappointing, I am kinda used to that, but you can certainly do better. So here’s my rant on the epilogue.

    I don’t get it, I don’t get any part of it. This unstable mix of personalities is going to reshape the world? And they can do it because they are part supercomputer (Why are they part supercomputer again)? But for 72 chapters, all of them except maybe Sohu demonstrated again and again their lack of good judgement. And now they are in the process of uncontrollable merging which is even worse. The world is ending otherwise so it’s not a bad idea, but it’s only barely an improvement. It’s like a disaster movie where heroes managed to prevent 50 km asteroid hitting Earth by replacing it with 49 km asteroid – impressive on it’s own terms, but kind of pointless in the end. I would like it much better if I could actually see the result of their action: what world they managed to sculpt? How does it reflect their personalities? Is it a good place to live? That would give satisfying conclusion to the characters – right now it feels like all the characters we care about are going to be killed and replaced by an entity we know nothing about. Ultimate Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.
    Why couldn’t we see the destruction of Hell? Comet King meeting his wife, everyone meeting theirs love ones? It feels super unjust that we had to power through the Broadcast, going on the promise that when we finally see Comet King or Aaron destroy Hell it’s going to be worth it. And we get… “he done it. probly”.
    What was the business with Thamiel? Why was it so important to poke him with a stick? If it killed him… why? Was he really an unsung hero, doing what God told him? When why kill him for it? If he wasn’t a hero – why was he sad, why he allowed himself to be killed? Why it had to be Aaron/Albion? “evil was thinner than a hair” – what does this mean? Hell was an illusion, no one suffered? Somehow I don’t buy it. A character becomes omnipotent, and immediately “realizes” that evil is not a problem at all. Uncharitable explanation is that it’s the thing where a person becomes rich and “realizes” that poverty is not a problem. But what is charitable explanation?
    It also seems to say that suffering of people in Hell was specifically requested by God. But it only draws attention to the fatal flaw in the answer to Job: you don’t actually need all universes with net positive happiness, you need all coherent experiences with net positive happiness. I can see Thamiel as an epic villain to be defeated by humanity creating new net-positive universe. I can’t see how God forcing Thamiel to torture people would create something new and of value.

    In conclusion, I think I would have better impressions of the book without this epilogue, but I don’t think you should just delete it. I like your writing and you definitely have what it takes to write a much better version.

  92. The Pachyderminator says:

    I’d like to add another vote for keeping the Passover chapter in – the Comet King section is the crucial one, though all of it is good, and the Comet King section alone would seem too abrupt without the rest. We need it because there’s nothing else, that early in the story, to show us the Comet King’s personality in that way. It shows his sadness, his desperation, and his conflicted feelings about being human. All of these are further developed later on, but it’s good to have them foreshadowed here.

    Also, this may seem trivial, but we need the part where he shatters his wineglass and then all the wineglasses on earth shatter a moment later. That makes the later chapter, where TCK is failing to destroy hell and the side effects of the Explicit Name cause global effects like every religious building in the world catching fire, storms appearing from nowhere, etc., more believable.

  93. cmurdock says:

    I only read about half of Unsong, but I remember one suggestion I had: when you flash back and forth between the 1970s and the present, maybe just give the year in the supertitle, rather than the entire date. When I see an entire date listed, it can kind of become “too much information”, so I didn’t always immediately realize that a certain chapter was taking place decades prior to the previous chapter. My own fault, I know, but I still think it might be more streamlined to just use the year.

    Do not get rid of the prologue. I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of anything “because it doesn’t directly affect the plot”. Irrelevant digressions can be amusing and add color, worldbuilding, and tone.

  94. svalbardcaretaker says:

    3. >Do I keep the story i where someone golem-izes the Terracotta Army, or do I nix that?

    DO NOT NIX, its funny in a different way then golem-izing statue of liberty.

    4. >Will delete Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter)

    Passover chapter has 5 parts. Ch18 2 has the bit at the end about god and duality, talking about solutions to theodice and foreshadowing the plot very neatly. Keep that part.
    Ch18 4 is incredibly funny, keep.

    5. >Will delete Interlude Nun (the Rosh Hashanah Changelog interlude)

    Super funny, keep!

    13. >First Name use too hookey
    Seems overly critical of yourself, works fine as is, and not worth expending energy to change. Keep.

    More Complicated Issues You’re Still Unsure About
    1. >Should I keep the prologue?

    Yes keep. Apollo crashing into the celestial sphere is important. Could shorten the list of omens and the chapter a bit.

    2. >Chapter 1 isn’t doing it for me.

    Chapter 1 is AMAZING. DO NOT DELETE. You want to off-screen the most important part of the book???? Whenever I say meh in real life, I do it 6 times in a row thanks to chapter 1. Having your protagonist stumble upon godlike powers by accident, in a way thats AWESOME for world-building (theonomic working conditions) is an incredible draw for readers. You would loose readers by having nothing INTERESTING happen in chapter 5 (your new Ch1 or the other ones). KEEP KEEP.

    8. >How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations?

    Theonomics is a great name, dont change. Currently the Singers are the only Name pirates in the story, and they are toothless and underpowered. To make them more relevant in-world you need to have some form of power equilibrium. Imagine farming squads that do the crop blessing and then vanish via the Expeditious Name, or like in the real world, laywers or supreme court decisions in favor of the singers. Think ACLU →ADLU (american divine liberties union).

    9. I think I should combine this with the last problem and somehow have UNSONG take over the entire US as the main secular power.

    This is de-facto what happened, no? Just like in the real world, the multi-billion dollar companies buy politic influence everywhere. This is the one point in the story where you don’t do enough worldbuilding. Takeover is heavily implied by the SWAT-like Name teams . Theonomics have executive rights! A couple paragraphs of the big quasi- takeover should do it.

    14. Everyone on Goodreads said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding. So the Sohu/Uriel chapters the best DESPITE the boring worldbuilding? Seems dangerous to mess around with and there are people who love the worldbuilding. (me)

    15. >published outrage culture might attack me back and win.

    Your criticism seems much too subtle and the lengthy UNSONG format makes this very un-twitterable, so I’d say low risk. Other reasons for Uriel to nuke Madrid: Tamiel has promised people great wealth and cabalistic secrets if they boil goats in their mothers milk. This will of course crash the Machine, and so Uriel takes steps.

    Or Tamiel threats invasion to the lowest bidding nation. Currency used in bidding: name use. People get into a bidding war to use as many Names as possible so Tamiel doesn’t invade their country.

    16. How else can I handle Aaron saving Ana from the Druglord?

    Some kaballistic nonsense about SCABMOM and the sancticity of marriage influencing Aaron? “Until death does part us” shennanigans?

    17. Everyone’s reviews on GoodReads, even the otherwise-very-positive ones, say I can’t write action scenes. What’s wrong with my action scenes and how do I improve?

    Fight on the trump tower: fight is very narrated and in-tone with caballistic combat. “She spoke a Name, and dozens perished. The rest kept coming” is very low detail on actual combat. There is little suspense in it, the outcome is narrated instead of experienced.

    Your new version of Sohu=Malia N’go sounds like it can work. How does the sail thing work in new Sohu= Malia if Malia is not of Tamiels Blood?

    I am particulary uninterested in the ENTIRE Dylan storyline and skip those on rereads. I don’t emphasize with any of the characters (maybe a bit of Erika) and the only thing the storyline is good for is getting Tamiels Blood for the seventh sail. If you really want to cut meat from the story, remove these entirely and you have lost nothing. Who wants to read about a bunch of asocial terrorists?

  95. My 2 cents as someone who likes Unsong in principle, but can’t seem to get past the ~60% mark in practice:

    The one root problem I think it has, which underlies some of my surface-level experiences like “pacing feels slow,” is that the plot and the exposition/worldbuilding aren’t sufficiently integrated.

    In a lot of exposition-heavy SF/F, the exposition happens as a sort of (deliberate) side effect of the plot happening — either in a frame-narrative way, where the exposition is narrated “in real time” by a character or in-story document, or just by relying on the reader to make inferences about the fictional world based on what the characters say and do. Unsong does both of those to some extent, but the majority of its exposition feels like it happens when it does only by authorial fiat. When we jump back in time, or into a digression about the fictional world, it doesn’t feel like we’re being shown things in a natural way in the course of telling a story; it just feels like we’re randomly bouncing around, and expected to tolerate this out of an arbitrary and unbounded interest in Unsong-related content. I guess this is probably thematic in one or more ways, but it’s still not a great experience.

    The lack of connection between plot/characters and exposition also has a devaluing effect on both — it’s hard to feel like either side is that important if we’re continually being pulled away from it to visit the other one. If the present-day plot were good enough, and suspenseful enough, the cuts away to exposition might be a good (if frustrating) mechanism for further ratcheting up the suspense, but IMO that just isn’t the case. In the ~half of the book I read, the present-day plot actually felt kind of schematic and perfunctory, like it was there because “there has to be a plot,” and like the only reason to care about the protagonists is their protagonist status; the cuts away to exposition greatly magnify this problem, since they feel almost like an admission that the plot is of secondary importance and can be put on hold without anyone minding. And on the flipside, the exposition is less interesting because we aren’t given enough points of human engagement with the world it describes.

    This explains (in my case) how “Uriel and Sohu are the best parts” can coexist with “too much worldbuilding,” since the Uriel and Sohu chapters simultaneously lack all of the flaws just described. The exposition in them flows naturally from the plot/characters; the events themselves are directly tied to the broader cosmology so there isn’t the whiplash of going from “some dude gets into and out of trouble” to “here’s the literal Fall of Lucifer, who is a character in this story” and back.

    I don’t know if I have constructive suggestions here. Splitting out different elements and staying with each one for a longer span could help, but only as a starting point for other changes. Otherwise, I’d expect some of the pieces to feel even stranger on their own, without the excuse of everything being something else’s intermission.

  96. rictic says:

    I just wanted to say that I loved all of the random little details that never went anywhere. I like fiction that feels like it’s set in a bigger world than just what’s in frame. It lets my imagination roam.

    It’s not uncommon in fantastic writing: Worm, Harry Potter, and Star Wars all suggest a large and complicated universe even though though they also have fairly tightly plotted arcs for the main characters.

  97. Comment upfront: I have no strong feelings about most of the things you’ve posted about. I really enjoyed Unsong as is, but it would benefit from some streamlining, and I encourage you to streamline it in a way that makes sense for you. 🙂

    That said, please keep Wall Drug! Aside from explaining some of the new geography of the world, it’s also genuinely spooky and one of the few things in the otherwise so lighthearted book that really drive home how dangerous the world has become (even if it’s a hilarious kind of danger). I wasn’t expecting anything more to come of it, but if that’s the concern, perhaps pepper in something making it clearer that the Wall Drug threat is over for the protagonists and they’re moving on to other dangers might help.

    The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey.

    I feel like it’s a nice, early thing in the book that sets the tone for the setting, though – which it to say, that the book’s definitely going to stay amusing, well past the Prologue. If it bothers you, perhaps tone it down a bit, but keep the general mechanic?

    1. Should I keep the prologue?


    10. Who or what is Malia Ngo?

    IMO, you can axe her and take the faceless bureaucracy angle (I have no off-hand solution for the problems this causes with the blood of Thamiel, and so on). I enjoyed her and the context she was presented in, but I also think she’d be fairly painless to remove, and agree that she’s sort of a bit disembodied, plot-wise. That’s okay and doesn’t necessarily need to be fixed (not everything in a book needs to be ‘tight’*), but if you want to axe something, this is the thing I’d feel most comfortable axing.

    * although I guess you know best who you’re taking narrative advice from, and you may not want to do that. XD

    Also, several people brought up that if Uriel can take away people’s souls en masse, he should do this to everyone immediately to save them from Hell, so probably he shouldn’t be able to do this.

    Just wanted to say that this is a good point and I completely glossed over this while reading the book. (Although this seems to very much be something God would not want to happen, so perhaps that’s all justification that’s needed. Presumably, if anyone had the ability to take away humans’ souls, they might have already done that earlier to at least slightly defuse the angel/human dichotomy? I don’t know to what degree this would have mollified anyone, though – Unsong is, after all, not The Prophecy, it’s not the central point, more of an accident on the side. :P)

    16. In Chapter 37, for plot reasons Aaron has to decide to cave in to the Drug Lord’s demands (and save Ana) rather than let her die. I’m still not happy with how I handled that – it’s such a monumentally stupid thing to do that even Aaron admitting he’s scared and young and stupid doesn’t seem to cover it. How else can I handle this?

    Is there any room for a kind of kabbalistic misunderstanding Aaron might have, giving him the impression he has a good chance of getting out of it unscathed? It doesn’t have to be a misunderstanding that lasts very long – once he agrees and ends up in the drug world, he could already immediately realise his error.

    As a sidenote, I like that you want to change this. I didn’t consider it unrealistic, but I know it was a sore point for some people. 🙂

    PS: I promised if people got the riddle in Chapter 71 right, I’d post a list of all the easter eggs in the book, so – two years later – here it is.

    Thank you so much! This is lovely! Will this make it into the book itself, as a footnotes chapter? I’d really enjoy that.

    Besides your opinion on all of these questions, I’d like other feedback in terms of what chapters you liked or didn’t like, which parts seemed to have plot holes or things you didn’t understand, what parts seemed insufficiently tight or pointless, and how you would solve these problems (if you have ideas).

    I’m one of the odd ones out that I didn’t really enjoy the Sohu/Uriel interactions very much at all. I loved Uriel in those scenes, but I never really managed to bond with Sohu as a character, beginning with her cartoonish arrival in the kayak. The rest of Unsong reads as “humourously paranormal”, but the Sohu/Uriel things often instead read as “cartoonish interlude”. I realise that’s a popular plot arc, but I just wanted to mention it anyway. I enjoyed it, regardless, but it’s some of my least favourite things in the book.

    The other thing that might be worth axing to some degree are Aaron’s many kabbalistic narrative interjections. Don’t get me wrong – they’re fantastic and full of puns! However, they can also go on for a bit longer than necessary. This isn’t so much a problem when reading for oneself (although it’s noticeable – in the sense that sometimes when you’re done with the paragraphs on kabbalah you’ve nearly forgotten where in the plot you were), but I tried reading an Unsong chapter to other people once, and found myself tempted to skip some of it. (I didn’t, though.) Again, I really enjoyed this, but I figure it’s something that the editing knife might be able to streamline.

    The monologue of the Comet King in Chapter 72 is a lot of exposition dump. I’m not entirely sure how one might best split that up, though, and as usual, I have no actual strong feelings about whether anything is done about this. It’s just something I noticed while reading.

    Things I really loved while reading were: 1. the humourous worldbuilding and associated quirks (Wall Drug, the fragmented US, whole nations falling off the map, the Israel/Palestine superposition, et cetera), 2. people one-upping each other using the Names of God (Aaron beating himself up for his ‘use it only if you desperately want to be accosted by a different set of strangers’ lack of creativity), 3. Dylan’s extreme silliness (I believe I’m also basically an odd one out at being a huge fan of the Dylan chapters? But yeah, I am – he’s like a human manifestation of the setting’s dangerous humour), 4. all the travelling through strange places.

    My favourite chapter is Laughing To Scorn Thy Laws And Terrors.

    But, really, I left you a lot of crit here, but I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed Unsong as a whole. It’s such a wonderful and unique experience and it brought a lot of joy to my life. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  98. oriscratch says:

    I would say not to take out Chapter 1. It has that perfect blend of confusing weirdness and uniquely smart ideas that makes readers go “Wait, what the !@#$ did I just read?!”. I love that.

  99. ifellows says:

    Having not read it, I’d like to suggest writing a marketing blurb. I read your “sort by controversial” story on this blog and thought it was the best short I’ve read in years. So I’m intrigued enough to read more, but don’t know if this would be up my alley.

    Apologies if I’ve missed a blurb somewhere.

  100. beleester says:

    Probably will drop “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as a random gag when referring to China. More people were confused than amused, and the benefit from gagginess is probably lower than risk of being accused of racism or Orientalism or something. But then do I keep the story in Interlude Chet where someone golem-izes the Terracotta Army, or do I nix that as plot irrelevant?

    Keep the Terracotta army – golems are very much in-theme – and keep the bits of name-drop worldbuilding. Just rename it something less silly-sounding like “Neo-Imperial China.”

    13. The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey. Planning to replace this with something where the theonomics have a machine that can sense whether a useful Name was spoken in their vicinity, but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer. You need theoretical kabbalah skills to figure out what a Name does and direct it correctly. You can also have standing prayers so that you can eg speak a Name quickly in combat.

    While I like the idea of needing a prayer to invoke the name, like SCABMOM does, mystical visions seem much more on-brand than a machine that detects Name usage. That sounds like more of a Girl Genius “sufficiently analyzed magic” thing. Besides, you’ve already got the Sentinel Name.

    Maybe the theonomics hook up their name-testers to polygraphs, and look for physical markers like a rapid heartbeat that might indicate a feeling of religious ecstasy?

    5. Should I keep San Francisco basically as is? I like the description of the weird holy city, I like the whole set of Neal Armstrong puns, but it seems kind of pointless and disconnected from the rest of the book. And the explanation that Ken Kesey put LSD in the water supply doesn’t really seem to fit (especially with my reusing the weird drugs trope later on with the Drug Lord). Overall I would like to keep SF but integrate it into the book better, but I’m not really sure how to do that.

    Keep San Francisco! Please! One of my favorite things about Unsong is that it gives Absolute Good this air of awe and terror, and yet avoids making it just Evil with a coat of white paint. Absolute Good is still Good, it’s just too good to interact meaningfully with human society. The fallen angels are a big part of this, San Francisco is another big part.

    Keep San Francisco, and make it something other than drugs. Maybe Armstrong descends and starts preaching universal love and transcendent joy. Maybe the light from the cracks in the sky happens to shine more brightly there and Ken pulls off a scheme to amplify it. Or maybe there’s no apparent mechanism at all – people living in the city named for Saint Francis just gradually become more saint-like. And that’s why the government has to quarantine the city instead of just, say, installing new water filters.

    8. How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations? Everyone liked the idea of the theonomics trying to patent the Names vs. the pirates trying to jailbreak them, but it ended up as a kind of pointless piece of world-building that got dropped midway through. Is there any solution to this without completely changing the story? Relatedly, is there a cooler name for the name-finding corporations than “theonomics”?

    I agree that this is a big problem – half the story is a cyberpunk story about corporations trying to control magic, and half is an apocalyptic story about fighting demons from hell with the power of obscure Jewish and American trivia.

    I think the solution is to tie the corporations into the apocalyptic side a bit more. There’s some lip service to the idea that the theonomics exist to give humanity the weapons they need against the coming apocalypse, and Malia has that great speech about how “all humanity has is the weapons I’ve fought to give them,” but that’s not actually how the apocalypse gets stopped, in the end. They never visibly do anything besides get in the way of the main characters.

    Maybe you could show that the theonomics companies had a role in fighting Thamiel, supporting the Comet King’s armies, re-building the country after the invasion of Hell, and so on. You could even go full Shadowrun and have the theonomics becoming de facto governments, since they have a monopoly on the Names that keep society running. Cap it off with some megacorp PMCs armed with Name-based weapons. What’s the Unsong equivalent of Blackwater?

  101. Kakrerere says:

    3. Seems an ok change, but I’d assumed pretty early in that accusations of bigotry were basically inescapable. Among other things, the backstory involves Barack Obama being a literal demon.

    13. Disagree, it should be fine.

    1B: I liked the prologue.

    2B. I’m doubtful that chapter 5 would draw attention better? I thought chapter 1 introduced things well and if nothing else, Aaron getting the Vital name seems like a pretty excellent hook, if necessary I’d try to rework the first chapter in some way instead of picking a whole different start.

    3B. Things being intermixed worked really well from my perspective.

    8B. The obvious quick fix is to have UNSONG’s hoarding of the names actually play a role in the final conflict, like if it was integral to fighting off Thamiel or something like that.

    16B. I think you justified Aaron’s decision about as well as you could. Much more than I’ve seen other such decisions justified in stories. It’s a stupid decision and he knows it’s a stupid decision and there’s much agonizing over it, but he can’t stop himself. That’s very understandably human.

    “My current leading solution to the big picture questions – and tell me if you hate it”

    Yeah, hate sounds about right. At a glance it just sounds wrong, and taking a bit to think it over…it still sounds wrong. Maybe if I were reading the revised version first it’d feel better, but as is it feels like clumsily mangling Sohu and Malia both.

    All told I liked Unsong very much. And I also think the setting would suffer some from cutting out a lot of the worldbuilding just for not being integral to the plot. If there were anything I’d critique off the top of my head, I do think that American Pie chapter was the only point where the Kabbalah stopped being amusing and crossed over into overlong nonsense.

    • bullseye says:

      8B. The obvious quick fix is to have UNSONG’s hoarding of the names actually play a role in the final conflict, like if it was integral to fighting off Thamiel or something like that.

      It’s been a while since I read it, but as I remember UNSONG is integral to the ending. Without UNSONG’s hoarding, Names wouldn’t be profitable enough for the protagonist to have his job in the Name factory where he discovers the Vital Name.

  102. DawnPaladin says:

    For me it felt like a plot hole to have America go mad over the Video from Hell. Much of America is Protestant Christian, and their central tenet is that salvation from Hell is guaranteed to anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord.

    That video’s release would be the best thing that ever happened to the Christian church. Rather than destroying civilization, I would expect everyone, en masse, to convert to any religion that guaranteed them salvation from Hell.

    We see mentions of this happening in Europe, but for America to collapse instead seems out of character given Christianity’s prevalence there.

  103. J says:

    I like Chapter 5 part I., but it always seemed weird that he looks for her *that* much. I think it’s okay to just meet her in a bar later. The rest of the chapter just doesn’t live up to the first part. I like the changelog, although it is indeed pretty topical. Chapter 1 is kind of depressing, and it’s a little weird to have “Meh. Meh. Meh. Meh. Meh.” as a suffix. Also seems kind of weird that names get taken away from people and then reconstructed later (agreed that the speak-via-mnemonic thing is weird).

    I still want to make T-shirts that say “SAVE ROBIN WEST!” Her sacrifice affects me more than almost any other character in literature — going willingly into certain hell. The rape is awful, but makes it such an incredibly personal, awful, sacrifice, and then you turn the knife later when Malia recounts her childhood. And all as a supporting character — she knows she’s not strong enough herself, but has utter faith in Jala. It still gets me.

    I still don’t know how to resolve my feelings about Jala. The way he gets the name back seems sort of lame. And I’m conflicted, obviously, about the path he takes. He’s just such a weird anti-hero. It’s so central to the plot that I can’t imagine changing it, but I just don’t know how to classify him, vs. Robin as the shining hero of the story, vs. the Committee at the end who have to rebuild.

    I have often thought back on Thamiel’s last question: the plaintive pleading insecurity. But I don’t get the “lighter than a feather” part; he really did cause tremendous suffering. So maybe that specific metaphor just doesn’t work for me, though I think I get the overall concept.

    12: Malia’s death always seemed kind of pointless, especially so soon after learning her secret identity. So maybe the Sohu idea is a good one. But the little girl on the mountaintop fighting Thamiel is also one of my favorite things. (70-II is probably part of the problem with your action scenes)

    “Come and see” still gives me shivers.

    16: Someone else manages to dose Aaron? I forget why it’s important that he choose it.

    “Do what my father did” never quite worked for me as a retort to the Other King. Seemed like a setup without a punchline.

    “Blowhole-y of holies” is okay, but maybe you could top it. It’s a pretty critical juncture.

    Tharmas plot with Sarah was kind of weird. Sorry, that’s vague criticism.

    Having “JA-HO-RAH” kill you even as a substring of another thing you’re saying seems like it’d cause a lot of unintentional deaths until people started getting really good at noticing it, so it’s kind of a dubious way to kill the president.

    • J says:

      Also, random f bomb in Job’s conversation with God. I mean, millennials amirite, but surely in the presence of the almighty you don’t go full casual swearing

  104. Simulated Knave says:

    1. It wasn’t that confusing, though a unified term would help.

    2. 17 works fine as-is.

    3. Calling it just the Harmonious Empire might work, and is creepily orwellian.

    4. I kind of like the Comet King’s family being very explicitly Jewish, and I think this adds to it importantly.

    6. Honestly, I didn’t really get the import of what was going on with it at the time, and Ithink it could fit any number of other places dealing with the Comet King’s downfall.

    7. Indeed.

    8. Indeed.

    9. If Thamiel doesn’t exist, who does Sataniel learn from at the centre of the Earth? It’s not THAT confusing, though I think it also might be worth just simplifying it to always being Thamiel. Renaming doesn’t seem that interesting.

    11. Honestly, I kind of liked it being renamed to that.

    12. I would think so, and if nothing else the reference is getting pretty dated.

    13. I rather liked the way Name descriptions were done. I mean, it’s a name of God. It should be a big deal.

    14. …You’re including a vision so things DON’T seem hokey? Maybe have the captain direct them to it with the mysterious instruction that they’ll find someone there, but a vision?

    More Complicated Issues I’m Still Unsure About

    1. Yes.

    2. Chapter 1 was extremely important to the feel of the book. It reminded me a lot of The Laundry series, in a good way.

    3. …Keep things intermixed. Intermixed narratives are useful for a variety of reasons, not least because it prevents getting worn out on one of the narratives.

    4. Have it be a shorter name of God. She’s still human(ish), and so will take some time to realize what he’s doing, so if it’s short enough…

    6. No.

    8. Why Malia is actually doing this wasn’t clear to me. How does having UNSONG actually make the world safer, make it easier to defend and save humanity, etc? If nothing else, a relatively short copyright term would make the organization less innately evil (while still bad).

    9. The fake US history was fun (though I HATE Untied States as a name). Fragmenting things so there’s basically just corporate city-states and enclaves (a-la Shadowrun, Jennifer Government, or a zillion other cyberpunk settings) would seem to be the obvious route. The US government persisting but effectively being a puppet of organizations that can manipulate reality is also an evident solution.

    10. Dylan tries to blow it all up like in Fight Club would be one option. I actually liked the solution with Malia, to some extent, but she really is rather extraneous. UNSONG even becomes kind of extraneous after a certain point: the book stops being about access to the power of God, etc. Things are kind of moving in a democratizing of universal power and goodness direction, and then everyone literally becomes a single divine figure who will take things over. And it’s too sudden for that to be a nice transition that works as the metaphor, IMO.

    12. Use something other than the blood that expresses the same concept. Dylan’s fanaticism is pretty severe, for example.

    13. The current layout is less conventional and thus more interesting.

    14. The interludes do a lot of the boring worldbuilding (though I enjoyed them), though less wordiness in the Sohu/Uriel chapters would help a lot.

    15. Not sure on this one.

    16. Hope. People hope, even when it’s stupid. I didn’t think it was that crazy. Make sure the hell chapter is before that one, link it in a bit more, it’s thematically appropriate.

    17. Seemed fine to me. Not necessarily brilliant, but not terrible. It’s not a book about the action.

    Leading identity solution: dear. God. No. That is…shockingly conventional. Malia’s current solution kind of didn’t go anywhere, but it was interesting.

    My own comments
    As a general note, a few less scenes of Aaron doing all the kabbalah on something amongst the friends wouldn’t be the end of the world. They got kind of samey.

    UNSONG stops mattering really, really early in the narrative. Also, I’m kind of confused how megacorporations are still functional things when so many tracts of the world seem to be basically annihilated. They seem very conventional in a world that is simultaneously supposed to be quite different from ours.

  105. Hoopdawg says:

    Just wanted to say that the first chapter certainly “did it” for me. I remember spending the next few chapters, including the fifth, waiting for the good interesting theonomic stuff to start already.

    Also [n-th]ing the sentiment about Wall Drug being great piece of world building.

  106. raemon777 says:

    I’m fairly worried about the degree of changes. I *do* have a sense that the book could use editing/tightening, but an awful lot of it’s charm is the weird meandering Douglas Adams vibe, and the changes seem oriented around streamlining that out. If you get rid of that I… really have no idea what sort of story you get instead.

    The Unitarians were one of my favorite parts and I’d be sad to see them go, but maybe that’s because of my context/relationship with them and Solstice?

    I liked chapter 1 quite a bit and it’s one of the things that sold me immediately on the story, sad to see that go.

    The Palestine/Israel chapter was quite good but I’m sympathetic to Outrage Culture winning.

  107. hnau says:

    Big Unsong fan here. I definitely have some opinions. Also, I have some writing / editing experience (on a nonfiction book that got picked up by a major publisher) and would be interested in helping with a first round of edits.

    1. Please keep the prologue! It sets the tone for the entire book perfectly and had me hooked immediately. Frankly, you could make it a numbered chapter if you’re looking to fill out the 72 (ditto the epilogue).
    2. Same feeling about the prologue also goes for Chapter 1. It’s fascinating and I wish more of the book was like it. Chapters 2-5 were fine, but not at the same level.
    3. I think switching back and forth is reasonable. It made for some disappointing moments when you were serializing it (“Are we going to find out… nope, it’s another Sohu chapter”) but in complete book form it’ll feel much more natural.
    4. I wasn’t super-bothered by this, though I did notice that Aaron’s notarikon scheme was a lot more absurd and cumbersome than it needed to be. If you changed it to something that sounded more plausible as a “prophetic dream” I think the scene would be more believable without losing any of its (sizable) entertainment value.
    5-6. I could take or leave SF. Neil Armstrong + LSD + divine light is pretty random even for Unsong’s world. I wouldn’t mind if this were changed, and the idea of making it the Comet King’s city makes a lot of sense.
    7. Yeah, that makes sense. I don’t think any special explanation of “magically impregnable” is needed– it’s a bunker manned by Cometspawn after all. Though… if you wanted to run with the Wall Drug thing (which I liked), maybe NORAD is considered secure from the Other King because you can’t safely travel there by normal means, only by kaballah.
    8. Definitely give UNSONG a larger role. The later Interludes leaned heavily on jokes about actual U.S. history, but it would make more sense if they focused on the rise of UNSONG and the theonomics. If they’re controlled by the Cometspawn, maybe they want to brute-force HaMephorash? That would make them want Sarah even more. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they had the resources to keep chasing Aaron, Jane, and Sarah in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which might make those chapters more interesting. As far as the corporation names go… theotechs? theologopolies? omegacorps?
    9. Yes. This is a good idea. I was thinking this divergence should start even earlier– maybeat the time of the Reagan episode.
    10. I see the point of changing Malia’s identity, but making it Sohu raises more problems than it solves. Her character has so much youthfulness and hope, and it’s hard to see why a celestial kabbalist would care that much about UNSONG. What about another Cometspawn, maybe Nathanda? It’s easy to see how her goals could align with UNSONG’s and how she could gradually become “evil” in the UNSONG way. (If you think it’s important that Malia has a literal deal with the devil, maybe Nathanda tried to make a bargain with Thamiel to save Robin and it went bad somehow.)
    12. Following on from #8 and #10, maybe Dylan and “Erica” discover that UNSONG’s real goal is to find the HaMephorash, and Ana then learns this? Also, maybe it’s the Comet King’s blood and not Thamiel’s that the last sail requires. Unless Thamiel’s blood is important thematically?
    13. The Reagan chapter was fine, but I never saw the point of the Untied States, the Shrouded Constitution, or any of the political history after that. All that’s needed for the plot is that Jala and Gadiriel agree to get along and work together. I can’t think of anything that needs to be rewritten if we just have a new version of the United States instead of the Untied States, with Jala acknowledging the civil government’s authority and getting autonomy to fight his war with Hell.
    14. I wasn’t so much a fan of the Sohu chapters. As soon as I saw that a Sohu chapter was posted, I knew that nothing of importance for the main plots (Aaron, Ana, the Comet King) was going to happen. If you decide to have Sohu become Malia then there’s definitely some more interesting drama there. Otherwise, though, I think you should cut the solar eclipse chapter at a minimum. (The fact that the Comet King lost the HaMephorash could be revealed by Malia Ngo if she’s a Cometspawn, or by Father Ellis to Ana just before he gets on the rocket in place of section III of chapter 48.)
    15. Yeah, I could take or leave this chapter. No specific ideas for how to edit it, but arranging for someone with Uriel’s personality to lose it in a room full of diplomats doesn’t seem like a hard problem.
    16. This doesn’t seem like a problem. Aaron’s a romantic. But if you want to make his decision seem more reasonable, add UNSONG to the scene. They want the name too, they’ve separated him from Jane and are about to capture him, and *then* the Drug Lord shows up.
    17. I thought at least the early action scenes (Chapter 8 and Chapter 10) worked OK. But I’mg guessing the general problem is that the description of the action is too clinical. Maybe try to describe the narrator’s impressions of what’s happening, rather than trying to describe what happened.
    18. My impression is that the chapters varied a lot in length, and I wouldn’t mind seeing some of them split (and the first sentences reworked) if that’s what it takes to get it back to 72.

  108. J. Mensch says:

    I’m interesting in reading the book, should I read now or wait for the edited version?

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      Definitely read it now, it is very much worth it as is, and it is unclear how long these edits might take or if the book will still be the same afterwords.

  109. ajakaja says:

    I think it has a ‘fan-fiction’ tone right now, instead of feeling like a serious book. ie lots of tiny chapters, some dedicated to puns or just skipping around to do amusing worldbuilding, characters that don’t really develop or change, lots of community references that are really scoped to the type of person who reads this blog / presumably you hang out with irl (consider for instance the offhanded use of the phrase ‘combinatorial explosion’ in the first chapter, or the King James programming quotes, or the casual inclusion of ‘asexual’ as a character detail). Basically too many… uh.. gags, on every level from one-off quips to the narrative as a whole.

    The edits you listed are in the direction of ‘correcting’ this, but I’m not sure it can get to feeling like a book without a lot of reworking to most of the text, and I’m not sure if you would really be glad if you did it. You’ll lose the fanfiction roots and alienate the people who liked that, probably, in the process, since the result would have to be really different to be good (also it really depends how good of a book you want to make! there’s plenty of market for mediocre or niche books too, I bet…)

    To be clear, I liked Unsong, and if there’s anything that would make it work as a book it’s that there’s probably a market for, uh, Torah-spinoff material that people don’t even know they want yet.

    The closest ‘serious book’-style book I can think of in the same vein is probably American Gods, in case you haven’t read that and want inspiration. (Douglas Adams, as another poster mentioned, is also similar, and definitely less serious — but it still had mainstream appeal, albeit to a British mainstream who would get the jokes. But pulling off a Douglas Adams style without just being awkward is extremely difficult.)

  110. Sok Puppette says:

    I really enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed reading it to my 11-year-old daugther.

    Random gags and worldbuilding are the whole charm of the work. They are the main value.

    You could easily ruin the thing by worrying too much about consistency or tightness or plot or characters or whatever people are telling you you’re supposed to care about. Rambling isn’t a problem; I’m reading it for the rambling. Loose ends aren’t a problem; it’s a chaotic world.

    If you want to look at it as a Story(TM), and if you want to worry about Loose Ends(TM), then I think you’re hosed to begin with. In the whole arc of the story, you constantly promise a satisfying theodicy. You don’t deliver one, because you can’t. The theodicy you offer in the end is really weak sauce. Given that you can never be tidy in the central point of the whole thing, why worry about other stuff? You build things into the world and drop them. So what? There’s no satisfying justification for the world anyway. Let’s have fun while we’re here.

    And gratuitously pulling out gags because some people don’t get them, when they don’t take a lot of space anyway, seems like a bad choice.

    Simple items 4 and 5: The changelog in particular was really amusing and it would suck to lose it… even though I also have absolutely no clue what it has to do with any holidays. I had no idea that those interludes were posted on those holidays. I read the book after the fact and didn’t know when they were posted. I have only a general idea when Passover is and no idea when Rosh Hashana is (or what it’s about). I still enjoyed them.

    Other issues:

    2: I like the current chapter 1. If I hadn’t found it amusing, I wouldn’t have read the rest of the book. And it lets you establish his character so that we’ll tolerate the way he met Ana.

    3. Structure is teh bad.

    4, 8, 10, 12, 13: I get the impression that you want to make UNSONG and Ngo much, much bigger focuses of the book than they come off as being. In the present version, Malia Ngo simply isn’t interesting enough, and doesn’t read as important enough, to make me care whether her character is consistent or her backstory makes a lot of sense. You could write her out completely, but if she’s convenient as a plot device here and there, why not just keep her as one?

    And I’m not sure I want to read some kind of pursuit story with UNSONG after Our Heroes. There’s no need for any more UNSONG content at all. You don’t have to show everything. As for the theonomics, they’re a fun joke, but I doubt there’s much depth to what you can get out of them. You’ve said what there is to say about these topics; expanding them is going to leave you with more boring material.

    Unnumbered: The Sohu-as-Ngo thing is just, um, no. Please do not ruin Sohu. Please.

    5. If you integrate San Francisco into the book, you’ll destroy its mystique (maybe even more than the real life social media infestation already has). That’s for the same reason that you can’t have extended sequences showing the daily life of Heaven.

    6, 7: Sounds like a lot of work in the service of an unnecessary goal. And the Bay Area simply isn’t the natural center of the Universe.

    9: Why does US future history have to be some kind of perfect tied-up story? Why do I care about learning the entire history? It’s scenery. Describe the parts that are fun to describe, but I really don’t care what the back of that tree looks like.

    15: The no souls sequence is one of the very best jokes in the book (possibly tied for best with the bit about Dylan Alvarez showing up through the trapdoor). I can understand if you don’t want to take heat for it, and you probably would, because people refuse to read and think. And it does raise a bunch of weird questions about exactly what Uriel can do and make the non-answer to theodicy even more glaring. But nonetheless it’s a great bit.

    18: 72 chapters are not optional.

    • Hoopdawg says:

      In the whole arc of the story, you constantly promise a satisfying theodicy. You don’t deliver one, because you can’t. The theodicy you offer in the end is really weak sauce.

      For what it’s worth, I have not considered or expected Unsong to be about theodicy until chapter 71, after which point I consider it to have conclusively solved the problem.

  111. ketura says:

    At some point I might sit down and re-read the book and provide detailed feedback, but I wanted to point out what feels like a common thread in some of the line items you’ve posted here: a discrepancy between your own authorial intent for a chapter, and what we the readers got out of it.

    Like, your motivation for the Passover chapter was that you saw (or planned) Passover would happen during the release schedule and you wrote a chapter about it, right? So from the creative side, that chapter only exists to flesh out a joke–a meta-joke, but a joke nonetheless. It wasn’t planned on your side to tick any major plot points, just to contain some of the whimsical ideas you had floating around, and from that standpoint looks like it could easily be excised, since it doesn’t serve the plot.

    However, for me (and some of the other commenters here) the comet family section felt weighty, and I feel the boojum section and Uriel revealing the law of Moses are various levels of significant insight. Nothing happens, but our understanding of the world increases.

    Unsong’s plot is insane. I don’t think measuring each chapter by whether or not it furthers the plot is a good measuring stick. This whole work operates on moon logic, and a lot of that moon logic comes up in partitioned diversions like this.

  112. eqdw says:

    There’s something in the Unsong Easter Eggs page that I can’t tell if it’s a typo, or if it’s one of the most subtle and hilarious jokes Scott has ever made:

    SPELLING OF “BERENSTAIN BEARS” CHILDREN’S SERIES REMAINS UNSTABLE. There’s a famous phenomenon where everyone thinks the books are called “Berenstein Bears”, but they’re actually called “Berenstein Bears”.

    • yaolilylu says:

      I was told that the site admin built a code to make the word “Berenstein” change randomly into “Berenstain” at times, even in the comment section, so people would lose their minds

  113. mwacksen says:

    I really liked unsong, here are my comments on the points you raise:

    1) Yes, but I think it can’t hurt to edit it to make the prologue more consistent with the rest of the story. I personally really liked the “scientists blamed phytoplankton” joke and the prologue is what got me hooked initially, but at the same time in retrospect I don’t really get where it fits in terms of the story.
    2) I liked the current order of chapters.
    3) I have no strong opinion on this, but some some jumping between plotlines adds to suspense in general (think e.g. lord or the rings).
    4)I agree with you, but can’t think of a way to solve this better.
    5) Yes, I think you should keep SF, the kind of descriptions like those for SF are what Unsong is all about in a way. But maybe you could uncouple it from Neil Armstrong, and just make it the way it is for kabbalistic reasons?
    6) I don’t think SF as described in Unsong as a “capital” vibe.
    8) I felt like unsong/theonomics were both relevant to the plot, though the existence of more powerful beings like Uriel/Sohu made them less clearly dangerous. Perhaps Unsong could gain some power over Uriel/Sohu making them a bigger force to contend with? Not sure how exactly though….
    9) I don’t think you can speak of a “world government” in the context of the unsong universe as everything is divided enough that UNSONG only has power in the united states. So maybe you could set it up as a kind of failed empire-building by the last president – he proposes UNSONG as UN-like organisation to control the names worldwide in the hopes of controlling other countries through it, but ends up giving them too much power in a bid to try to show others they should do the same?
    10) I really liked this storyline. Could it be shifted backwards in time enough to Malia Ngo is a bit older? Alternatively, if you wait long enough until the book gets published, maybe you have more time in the “present”? ( Also I didn’t realize Thamiel rapes Robin, I thought she basically consents to it?) Alternatively, is there a way to move the Robin-Thamiel encounter backwards far in time but only make the Comet King find out about it later e.g. when he goes to hell?
    12) Yes don’t change Malias identity IMO.
    13) I would suggest leaving the geography as much as possible as I think quite a few things subtly depend on it.
    14) Maybe try to make the story so that people don’t realize you’re wordbuilding? The problem isn’t the worldbuilding in istelf, but that people notice it. Maybe the worldbuilding needs more puns/action in between?
    15) 16) people are not rational, this doesn’t seem more stupid than the kind of thing people regularly do.
    18) yeah no you definitely need 72 chapters, because nothing is every a coincidence.

    >My current leading solution to the big picture questions – and tell me if you hate it –

    I don’t like it because this makes Sohu “feel” evil, the Robin-West/Thamiel interaction is lost and now the black sail existing is also a problem (though I guess this last point could be fixed).

    Other comments: If anyone tells you unsong has too many puns or obscure references you should ignore them.

    • infiniplex says:

      The boundaries of what counts as rape are kind of fuzzy. In this case, Thamiel had threatened to kill Robin, possess her corpse, and make “her” kill everyone she cared about if she didn’t cooperate. (At the beginning of the chapter.) So it probably counts.

  114. Sally Manluy says:

    For what its worth, I don’t think you should get rid of Sataniel as a character. Thamiel was one of the best characters in the novel and having a foil to him that’s more of a conventional evil demon might be really interesting. I’d like to see a scene where Thamiel teaches Sataniel what he’s missing – I always thought splitting the characters up like that was inspired by Morgoth and Sauron, and if it worked for Tolkien it can work for you.

    As to another point – the ‘holy war’ that was fought between the armies of the comet king and Hell really deserves more than a couple of paragraphs. I especially want to know how demon hordes that can steamroll over armies of tanks and artillery and professional soldiers somehow get impeded by police and gangsters when they reach new york.

  115. Dacyn says:

    #9: UNSONG stands for United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God, which doesn’t really make much sense if it’s just the US. And I don’t think it make sense to change something as fundamental as what UNSONG stands for…

  116. Carlos Serrano says:

    In fiction, I tend to find more explanation more satisfying than less explanation. Please don’t remove the backstories.

  117. I personally found UNSONG to be quite boring, and ended up abandoning it fairly early so I don’t have a lot to comment on, except one thing:

    >13. The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey. Planning to replace this with something where the theonomics have a machine that can sense whether a useful Name was spoken in their vicinity, but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer. You need theoretical kabbalah skills to figure out what a Name does and direct it correctly. You can also have standing prayers so that you can eg speak a Name quickly in combat.

    Heavily disagree, and think even though it’s a “minor” detail this would make the story worse. The Names are a gift from god, it makes total sense that they would come with divine revelation based instructions.

  118. deffi says:

    Definitely keep the prologue. It’s brilliant. Also disagree (though less strongly) with turning it into a regular chapter.

    I also think that chapter 1 makes a good first chapter. Got me hooked more than the other chapters could have (Actually, it was the prologue that got me hooked. But after chapter 1, I was like yep, I’ve got to read this).

    I vaguely remember feeling confused about the distinction between chapters and interludes. Not sure if that feeling is justified, or relevant.

  119. Aevylmar says:

    So, I thought that the main problem with the book was that Aaron Smith-Teller and his entire plot weren’t very interesting. I’m aware that this may be a problem, in that he’s the protagonist, but from my point of view the story really got good when the Comet King showed up.

    A lot of the problem, as I see it, is that Aaron is powerless. He’s a cubicle drone in a dead-end job, in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back, telling himself that he’s fighting the good fight while actually having no real impact on the world. Even when he does accomplish something, it’s accidental – he didn’t divine the important Name by himself, he just got lucky. And he spends all his time after that running away and trying to survive, so that it isn’t until Interlude Pi and his battle with the Drug Lord that I really started rooting for him. Part of that, I admit, was that I didn’t like his supporting cast – I thought that Erica, Ana, and Pirindiel were all pretty annoying (until, for Ana, Interlude Pi) and if you could make them more likable that would help – but I think most of that is that he’s not accomplishing things.

    By contrast, the Comet King is the answer to a really interesting question: “If you were the most powerful force for Good in a setting, what would you do?” Normally the most powerful force for Good spends his energy offscreen on complicated diplomatic or organizational things, or else mentors a young hero who needs to solve the problem himself, and we’re told by the author that this is important. But the Comet King is a likable, understandable character who’s also immensely powerful and trying to be the Messiah. You get twentysomething dissatisfied youths as protagonists in every book under the sun; you don’t get the Messiah. At most you get his sidekick.

    As I see it, everything else is secondary to the question of “how do you make Aaron Smith-Teller and his crew more interesting?” but to respond to those of your comments I had opinions on (always the complicated ones):

    4: I thought that that chapter was pretty funny. But I’d understand if you want to cut it.

    5: I feel as if having San Francisco there as a perfect holy place worked really, really well for the greater story. In fact, if you want to go to Heaven, all you have to do is go there! It’s really easy! Everyone lives in joy and bliss forever and is perfectly good! Only nobody does, because they value freedom and selfhood over bliss and goodness, and so willingly embrace a small amount of evil in order for a greater world to exist. This is not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence.

    But where it comes from, I don’t think really matters.

    6: Must… have… more… Sohu chapters… (Sohu and Uriel chatting is the second-best part of the book, after the Comet King trying to save the world and failing.)

    8: I feel as if there’s real tension between the two separate things going on: first, the state of de facto war between Thamiel and humanity that has left much of the world a scarred hellscape, and second, the fact that the Bay Area is functional and recognizably the Bay Area and has theonomic corporations and copyright law. It feels to me as if all the copyright stuff belongs in a pre-apocalyptic world, and the thing where the protagonists fight the Devil to save reality belongs in a post-apocalyptic world, and why are we worried about copyright law, exactly, when the United States of America no longer exists? Go persecute the Witch-King of Wichita – he’s probably not paying his copyright fees.

    I don’t have any good answer to this one, and I mostly just focus on the plots that I find more interesting.

    14: To expand on what I said above about Sohu: The problem with the worldbuilding in the novel is not the worldbuilding that is Sohu and Uriel. The worldbuilding that I, at least, object to is the worldbuilding that is just Aaron narrating, telling you what happened. You can have as much worldbuilding as you like so long as it is fun banter between characters; the problem is all the worldbuilding that is the narrator talking to you with nobody talking back.

    (Though I liked the worldbuilding. My objections were all to Aaron and his Bay Area friends. The people at SSC meetups are much more interesting!)

    17: Your action scenes that are people throwing words at each other are fine. They work great. The ones with the guns are the ones I enjoy less, but I’m not sure how or why.

    Also, Unsong the novel was good. Thanks for writing it!

    (Edit – also, the ‘Malia Ngo is Sohu’ explanation makes the chapter 14 teleportation make so much sense. He vanishes from one Cometspawn who is menacing but ultimately well-intentioned, and lands next to another Cometspawn who is menacing but ultimately well-intentioned!)

  120. Rand says:

    1. I really liked that the Unitarian Church went underground. My original FB post about UNSONG:

    “Scott Alexander’s alternate reality in which the Apollo 8 mission crashed into the first of the Heavenly Spheres, the Electronic Frontier Foundation / Unitarian Universalist Church has been driven underground, and yeshiva students study Nakh.

    (It goes without saying that it has my endorsement.)”

    And these kinds of connections are all really fun. I’d keep a Unitarian backstory, even if they’re the singers throughout the book.

    2. Yup.

    3. Yup and nix – not memorable.

    8. Yup

    More Complicated Issues I’m Still Unsure About

    1. Apollo 8? Yes, it was beautiful.

    8. Agreed that this needs work. I feel like this is connected to the Malia question.

    To the smaller question:

    The Meforshim?
    Shemites or Hashemites?

    Better yet, a play on Silicon Valley.

    Gai ha-nom? (The Valley of Names? Also a play on the Valley of Ben Hinom, aka Gai Hinnom, aka the Gay Bar Hinnom [Virginia, I believe], aka Gehinnom / aka Gehenna (really?))

    Don’t really like the Malia = Sohu. I feel like you have other characters you could try to work with? (As it is, the story is pretty light on major characters.) If you’re going with the current conclusion, all 8 characters should be important.

    Other feedback:

    * More fun with “angels don’t speak Aramaic”. (Why is there an Aramaic riddle at the end of the passover hagaddah?) Also, I feel like there was an inconsistency on that front.

    * The ending really needs work and the last chapter isn’t the ending. The epilogue is.

    * Hameforash really sucks. Could you make it suck less (work with someone)?

    * Shamyazzaz needs help or gone. (You might have mentioned this?) Serious character inconsistencies.

    * Why are there two disconnected magical systems? I feel like placebomancy needs to be justified in terms of the names of God / Kabbalah. (Apotropaic magic might help connect them? Khamsa?)

    Probably more later.

    • Rand says:

      11) I feel like you could do something with All Your Soul?

      • Rand says:

        Could Malia also be a machine, ensouled by a (defunct) Theonomics corporation? The daughter of Mother Bell herself?

  121. Nevin says:

    Two comments:

    – The prologue is brilliant, and a great start to the book. I would definitely keep it.

    – I loved the world-building in the book, but I found the multiverse theodicy at the end of the book narratively unsatisfying. The main reason is that it appears to make the evil we’ve witnessed throughout the story, in particular the existence of hell, causally pointless. It happens to be a part of a universe which exceeds the goodness threshold, but it doesn’t in any way itself contribute to that overall goodness. Partly this is a philosophical problem for the theodicy, but I think it’s also a narrative problem because it makes the story feel like less of a narrative arc where you can see why what came before had to happen the way it did for what comes after, and more like a collection of not intrinsically related events that are thrown together for non-narrative reasons.

    I think something like a soul-making theodicy, on which we discover that universalism is true but time spent in hell is necessary for forming people’s characters, would be more narratively satisfying. This would admittedly be difficult given the earlier portrayal of hell, but perhaps that can be revealed to be inaccurate in some way, or perhaps hell was corrupted from its original purpose by Thamiel and needs to be reformed, or something. And obviously this would be a pretty big change to the conclusion, so take this suggestion as you will. But I found the ending to be the most unsatisfying part of the book when I read it.

    • Aevylmar says:

      Whereas I myself really, really loved the explanation for hell. It isn’t causally pointless, it’s necessary for the existence of the universe. Without hell, the entire setting of Unsong would not exist. Only the temporary suffering of those few permits absolutely everyone to be uplifted into a perfect heaven at the end; they are all sacrifices so that joy can occur, which joy redeems their suffering and shows it necessary-yet-still-tragic. What’s wrong with that?

  122. Dragor says:

    I am not gonna read this thread because I just started Unsong in response to to it, but I’d like to say that Sohu doesn’t really read as 7 or 8. She could read a a precocious 12 year old, but she doesn’t have a lot of characteristics present in 7-8 year olds. It’s not really crippling; the dialogue between her and Uriel is still amusing, but that seems like an area where refinement is feasible and beneficial.

    EDIT: I just started chapter 13 and I think I have an example. Uriel doesn’t get jokes, and Sohu thoroughly, patiently tries to explain them where most kids that age would be exasperated, confused, and indignant. I think she could have her unworldly, beyond-her-years vibe and still be a child there.

  123. ericgorlin says:

    Unsong is my favorite book! Please don’t mess it up 🙂

    My general feedback was that when I first read the book, it was really good but it didn’t proceed how I expected – I thought it would be about taking over the world via superpowers (yeah I ignored the chopping off branches bit) and then he gained almost no power and the plot went elsewhere. Still great, just disorienting the first time.

    Comments on your plans:

    Keep comet king birth
    Keep passover chapter!!
    Keep robin visiting Dylan
    Erica -> Valerie – is it a good reason? I am Erica is great

    Keep the prologue. It’s fantastic.
    In general I love the first two chapters if you’re worried about that
    Keep everything intermixed
    I like San Francisco as is, although maybe there’s something better
    I Like the bush/cheney/obama interludes a lot
    The Malia ngo backstory is good as is
    Agree that everybody being friends with thamiel is unrealistic (but okay as is)
    I’m fine with Aaron caving in dumbly, just because the chapter showing the reason was really well done
    I like the meandering style. Keep 72 chapters
    I don’t like ngo=sohu. Sohu is a wonderfully wholesome character and that would make everything super weird and different and I’m afraid the plot would get messed up

  124. jes5199 says:

    I’d be sad to lose the Unitarians, but I think I sort of have them mixed up in my head with Jon Carroll’s “Unitarian Jihad”. I’d also be sad to lose “Not A Metaphor” but at the same time I sort of feel like I never got the joke there?

    If Sohu becomes Malia Ngo – which, cool – Sohu was underutilized, and Ngo was underdeveloped, so it could work, but you need a Soho-compatible motivation for taking over the world

    on the name “theomonics” – theonomics is the fusty, academic name. I guess “theonomics corporations” sounds vaguely evil, which is good, but you’d expect the average person to have some media-friendly name for these things. Are they TheoTech companies?

  125. Conrad Honcho says:

    I just finished re-reading Unsong and I’ll look at these questions more in-depth this weekend, but broadly:

    1) Don’t change much. It’s a really good book.

    2) Can you get rid of the part about Thamiel blubbering at the end? Where he just wanted to be good after all? That implies that he and hell did not have to be destroyed in order for the world to be net good. He could have won, looked around and said “huh, I didn’t actually want any of this because I was just play acting” and…quit torturing people in hell.

  126. zzzzort says:

    As a resolution to the Drug Lord dilemma, instead of raising Aaron’s perceived risk of defeating the Drug Lord by agreeing, I would raise the stakes. If Aaron agrees, sacrifices himself, and then never makes another choice again, then he could be guaranteeing eternal salvation for himself (and Ana?), which would be selfish but not crazy in a universe where the afterlife is very much not hypothetical. If the Drug Lord could credibly promise to save the souls of a larger number of people (say if his knowing the vital name somehow means all the Drug Lord thralls would escape hell) then it could be an act of sacrifice that foreshadows Aaron’s later messianic turn. Maybe any thralls born to parents without free will don’t have souls, and end up in limbo rather than Heaven?

    Sohu as Malia works technically, but having the Other King secretly be the Comet King AND Malia secretly be Sohu feels like the same trick twice, or setting up some pattern where Thamiel is actually Uriel with a fake second head.

    Completely separately, the Sarah Michelle Gellar bit definitely changed my impression from ‘quirky, original novel’ to ‘self-published internet writing’ really quickly, for what it’s worth. Having the relationship be parent/child would make me cringe less, though my threshold for cringe is quite low.

  127. pansnarrans says:

    Will delete Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter) since it’s kind of irrelevant outside the context of a serial that is updating on Passover.

    To what extent is “Aww, but that’s one of my favourite chapters!” an argument against doing this?

    More seriously: I imagine there’s some rule that every chapter should advance the plot, but I thought the Comet King part really cemented that part of the world-building, and had the best ending of any section of the book, while other parts had some wonderful humour.

    Thee part where everyone gets angry at Uriel for taking away Ethiopians’ souls so they don’t suffer in the famine was kind of my attack on outrage culture, but I think if it gets published outrage culture might attack me back and win. Also, several people brought up that if Uriel can take away people’s souls en masse, he should do this to everyone immediately to save them from Hell, so probably he shouldn’t be able to do this.

    True on both counts. Also, the bit casting protesters against the Comet King in a mocking light probably comes off as targeting more widely than you intended.

    Everyone’s reviews on GoodReads, even the otherwise-very-positive ones, say I can’t write action scenes. What’s wrong with my action scenes and how do I improve?

    I bow to general feeling, I guess, but for whatever the opinion of a random stranger matters, I was recently rereading the fight on the Trump Tower and was struck by how awesome it was. It helped that I was by fluke listening to badass background music at the time, but still. This was genuinely one of the coolest fight scenes I’ve encountered in text.

  128. honoredb says:

    I loved reading Unsong as a serial and also am excited at the idea of you editing it; I agree that it’s likely it can be made significantly better and a little more broadly appealing.

    I think interludes you’re tempted to delete should in general be made appendices, and digressions you’re tempted to delete should in general be made footnotes.

    I agree that it’s best to remove the seems-super-racist-out-of-context stuff entirely, though.

    Throwing out a bunch of ideas for Malia Ngo without fully endorsing any of them (not sure if that’s actually input you want but it’s fun):

    * The same, but instead of rape Thamiel just negotiates for “derivative rights”.
    * Thamiel uses his bident to both damn Robin to hell and possess her earthly body, as threatened, after she signs the contract. There’s precedent for this in Dante’s Inferno; Dante meets living high-level government figures in hell and learns that they sold their souls, but their bodies are still being puppeted to cause maximum harm on Earth. After some psychological torture by his apparent wife, The Comet King figures out what’s happened and does a thing to allow Robin’s personality/goals to partially reassert themselves, resulting in a human possessed by a demon possessed by a human, who goes off and becomes Malia.
    * Malia is an aspect of Thamiel leaning into the “evil is all part of God’s plan” thing more than the main aspect. This helps make it relevant that Erica ends up killing her, since Thamiel must be destroyed in all his aspects.
    * Malia is a repentant-but-still-damned Sataniel.
    * Malia is just a straight up evil demon, it’s an un-reveal. This addresses a slight issue with the premise: we’re supposed to think that Unsong served the greater good by ensuring the discovery of Names that will help after Uriel’s machinery is shattered, but then the messiah comes and fixes everything a few hours later anyway.

    Some of these ruin the delightful “I have your True Name” way that Erica finally defeats her (as with her being Sohu). I suppose you could patch it with Malia concluding her monologue with “that name has no power over me” and Erica saying “Guess again.”

    • Rand says:

      I like Malia being Sataniel! That kills two birds with one stone. (And arguably lets you keep the demon blood thing?)

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Maybe Thamiel did his bident thing over Sataniel’s body and instead of this shattering ALL of Sataniel, it shatters away MOST of his powers, leaving behind a ‘core’ of heavily contaminated residual good intentions?

        So he reincarnates as this tiny regretful wreck of what he once was, and then starts trying, in a corrupted and distorted way, to do good?

    • acymetric says:

      I think leaving Malia as is is my preferred outcome, but I like Malia is Robin or Malia is Sataniel much better than Malia is Sohu.

    • infiniplex says:

      It can’t be Robin. Her plan for the Comet King breaking into Hell specifically required her to be there and destroying Hell is the biggest plot arc of the book.

  129. thevoiceofthevoid says:

    Others have said most of what I think so I’ll just briefly say:
    When Goodreads reviews “said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding”, they almost certainly weren’t referring to the endearing conversations about Kabbalah in the very chapters they liked. They were almost certainly referring to parts like the (later) “US History” interludes where there were no plot-relevant characters and the worldbuilding was either irrelevant or mildly contradictory to the main plot(s).

    And unlike certain other readers, I for one love Dylan. If you take the hedgeclippers to the story, please don’t cut him out. But also for the love of god don’t put all his chapters one after the other, that’d be terrible.

    oh and SOHU ISN’T MALIA THAT MAKES NO SENSE and/or is bad for the reasons everyone else says

  130. elspeth diana says:

    i’m a unitarian universalist, and i found the reference rather endearing. i suggest keeping it.

  131. honoredb says:

    I don’t think you’re actually on dangerous legal ground with “Sarah”, but regardless, her name should actually be anne_3e1, Anne for short. Aaron’s specific desktop picture of her would logically be the iconic one from the credits of her harrowing Hell wielding a hammer and sickle, taken from the episode Anne (season 3 episode 1). The episode revolves around names (starting with Buffy taking on the name Anne) and contains a character named Aaron, who is killed by a capitalist demon for speaking his True Name, prompting Buffy to launch the worker’s rebellion that harrows a corner of Hell. So Aaron would name his desktop picture file anne_3e1, and the computer would at first assume that was her name (pronounced “Enion”, naturally).

  132. Simon_Jester says:

    1. I equivocate between the terms “Unitarians” and “Singers” pretty frequently, and it takes a bit of a stretch to establish everyone as Unitarians. Plan to excise the Unitarian plotline and just call that whole group of people “Singers” permanently.

    Probably fine to have some Unitarians be Singers, and to have the Singer movement founded by a Unitarian. You just wouldn’t be referring to, say, Erica as a Unitarian as opposed to being a Singer, so yeah.

    3. Probably will drop “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as a random gag when referring to China. More people were confused than amused, and the benefit from gagginess is probably lower than risk of being accused of racism or Orientalism or something. But then do I keep the story in Interlude Chet where someone golem-izes the Terracotta Army, or do I nix that as plot irrelevant?

    The wacky worldbuilding is an important element of what makes Unsong good; the kind of person who doesn’t want it probably isn’t your core target audience for the book. The trick is that calling China “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as opposed to, well, “China” is feeding into blah.

    So… you could just call it “China?” Or spend some time talking to some actual Chinese people you know and saying:

    “OK, so this is a world where Hebrew cosmology is essentially true, and during the early Cultural Revolution a random Chinese peasant has a dream and figures out how to reanimate the Terracotta Army as very powerful golems by writing Hebrew words on their foreheads, and he takes over China and establishes an empire that becomes/remains a major power on the world stage, so what do I call it? I want something that sounds interesting and different but not stereotypical like I just picked the first three words I could think of that are ‘exotic’ and make me think of China.”

    Just talk to some creative people you know who are actually Chinese.

    8. Probably remove Wall Drug. It got a lot of space for something that never came up later or became plot relevant, and everyone assumed I was going somewhere amazing with it.

    Wall Drug is kind of plot relevant in that it’s the biggest single reason why the United States falls apart as a country. Having this weird supernatural anomaly that makes road travel across the Great Plains impossible and long distance Interstate travel in general hazardous does a lot to explain how you wound up with the Untied States in the first place, and you’d have to come up with a LOT of other weird new plot stuff to take its place. I say, keep Wall Drug, just maybe make your explanation of how it works and what’s up with it more compact, or find another way to show instead of telling.

    9. Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel. Sataniel meets Thamiel, turns evil, and then gets randomly killed off seems unnecessarily complicated. I’d rather having something like Sataniel (good angel) turns evil and renames himself Thamiel. Plausibly this is because God tells him the secret of theodicy and he realizes that evil is necessary. But then where does the second head come from? Maybe he only has one head?

    Neither Sataniel nor Thamiel should be changed. The plot is not unnecessarily complicated. In particular, the scene where Sataniel tries to persuade the angels to turn evil is excellent, one of the most memorable in the whole story, and if you replace him with Thamiel it doesn’t work. Because there’s no way for the awkward confused Sataniel who’s terrible at lying and seducing people to evil and who finally gives up and says “God told a third of you to come with me” to be the same person as the sophisticated, cunning, humorous Thamiel.

    12. Am I on shaky legal ground including a character who is in the body of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or a living real-world actress? If so, how do I rebrand Sarah? Bonus points if the name sounds like “Enion”, for kabbalistic reasons.

    You can make up an entirely fictional actress named Sarah, who just happens to be very attractive and possibly also have had some kind of action heroine role comparable to Buffy. Or don’t name her Sarah and pick something else.

    13. The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name rush through you the first time you speak it is too hokey. Planning to replace this with something where the theonomics have a machine that can sense whether a useful Name was spoken in their vicinity, but otherwise Names do nothing until you direct them with some kind of prayer. You need theoretical kabbalah skills to figure out what a Name does and direct it correctly. You can also have standing prayers so that you can eg speak a Name quickly in combat.

    Why would this be an improvement?

    Firstly, it creates a plot hole wherein Aaron doesn’t know what the Vital Name does or that it’s a Name at all until and unless he sits down with this fifty-letter arbitrary string ending in “meh meh meh meh meh meh” and does a lot of theoretical kabbalah to figure it out for no obvious reason.

    Secondly, it removes the idea that normal people can use a Name without themselves being kabbalists, which makes an organization like UNSONG less necessary because there’s less ‘risk’ associated with unlicensed practitioners and widespread use of Names discovered by the theonomics.

    Thirdly, it’s a plot point throughout the series that in general, soldiers with guns are a valid and effective counter to merely mortal kabbalists, unless you have some kind of weird ability like the ability to ‘speak’ a Name in milliseconds (Sarah) or celestial kabbalah (Sohu) or secret and terrible Names unknown to ordinary kabbalists (the Comet King). It’s like, the entire scene where Aaron and Erica are trying to get Sarah the computer out of the house while UNSONG commandos are raiding it works great precisely because while being kabbalists who know a bunch of Names gives them all kinds of interesting superpowers, it doesn’t do them any good against a burst from a submachine gun so they can’t stand and fight it out with a squad of commandos.

    Fourthly, if you can’t use a Name without a focused prayer, how do you explain the Mortal Name? That’s a name that kills you if you say it whether you meant to commit suicide or not.

  133. alchemyheelsi says:

    Please keep the prologue as is! It was an excellent hook / introduction to the story and immediately convinced me that I had to read the rest of the story.

  134. enye-word says:

    Do not change anything.

    Your book is good and you should feel good.

  135. enye-word says:

    You probably don’t have to be worried about putting outrageous things in your book because outrage culture does not tend to permeate the covers of books.

  136. luxsola says:

    I know I’m a little late to the party here, but I hope you’re still checking the comments, because I have a *lot* to say. Which is why it took me so long.

    The first thing I want to address -and I mention this a few more times when I respond to your specific comments- is the plot threads that don’t go anywhere.

    You know the obvious ones (the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, Wall Drug, the Shrouded Constitution, and the various warlords ruling the Midwest) and you’ve already mentioned planning to cut those entirely, or pay them off, which is good, and I support this.

    But there’s a big one that you didn’t even bring up, and it’s by a wide margin the worst flaw in the book.

    Ana and Aaron’s ‘relationship’.

    Other people have mentioned that the way Aaron follows Ana around like a puppy despite her treating him like shit for the first half of the book undermines him as a character in numerous ways, so I don’t think I need to reiterate that here (apophasis for the win), but their relationship is still handled poorly.

    Ana does not love Aaron, and she does not *act* like she loves him. Their whole relationship is one way, and kind of exploitative, even if Ana doesn’t intend for it to be that way. He continually puts himself in harm’s way for her, even though she wouldn’t do the same for him, and makes that clear repeatedly, in between being a horrible person to him, and he never gets the hint.

    If you’re committed to her being asexual (and I’m not sure why you would be, considering that it’s another setup with no payoff whatsoever, and it relies entirely on the reader knowing that in Blake’s cosmology Enitharmon is associated with chastity, which you never mention in UNSONG), you can keep that, but if you don’t want Aaron to come off as a weak manchild, you either need him to treat Ana worse, or Ana to treat him better.

    Not just as a person (although that would be an improvement over her current behavior towards him), but as her favorite person in the world. Hell, even having her just say, directly, to him, “you are my favorite person”, will cover a huge amount of ground here.

    Addressing your stated thoughts, most of the simple issues, I either agree with, or they’re mostly matters of taste. I just have a few comments.

    6: I liked all the Sohu chapters. Sohu and Uriel are my favorite characters, and they’re central to the conflict (arguably moreso than Aaron and Ana).

    9: I liked the two heads of Thamiel; I think Sataniel can probably just be replaced, minimized, or cut outright.

    13: The thing about instantly recognizing the meaning of a Name when you speak it aloud makes total sense, isn’t hokey at all, and is central to the worldbuilding and plot. Likewise, Names taking too long to speak in combat to be of any use is an important feature of the world that explains why goons use guns instead of Names. I’m not sure exactly

    14: Having a vision seems more hokey to me than him spotting a flying kaballist by ‘blind luck’ as they’re sailing down the West Coast, given that blind luck is literally a feature of the world’s cosmology. If you want to make that more explicit, have the Placebomancer do a placebomantic ritual to find a suitable kabbalist.

    As for the complicated issues:

    1/2/3: Balancing world building with length issues is a hard problem to solve, and I wish you the best of luck.

    4: The way Aaron escapes Malia Ngo and UNSONG is just fine as it is. If you want to make it more serious, change the story to something less ridiculous, (I suggest writing the story Aaron tells, and then using the story to come up with the Vanishing Name), and have Malia realize (too late to stop him), that he’s speaking a Name.

    That would add a sense of gravitas to the scene, without changing it too much.

    5: San Francisco works just fine the way it is. Just cut the part about LSD in the water supply, and have it just be an otherworldly aura the place has. Ken Kesey can just be a hobo turned preacher.

    6/7: I think your desire to have the Comet King based out of San Francisco is more based on your own preference for the city, rather than any feature it has. Royal Colorado is an interesting feature, and having the Cometspawn be continued governors of a failing state, trying to desperately to live up to their father’s legacy is just as good an option as having them be resistance fighters. Better, in some respects.

    8: I’m not sure how or why you would want to increase the role of theonomics. That’s like having a story set in the regular US, but wanting to increase the role of Apple, Walmart, and Facebook. Why?

    9:I think it’s probably best to just scrap how the US government works, and start from scratch, since it never went anywhere anyway.

    10: I like Malia Ngo as she is, and I would be deeply disappointed by any change. We already know from Jalaketu that supernatural children age quickly. I think if you increased the aging of the Cometspawn it would further drive that point home.

    Growing up in hell off screen also makes the reveal more impactful. Notice, they didn’t show Darth Vader fathering Luke and Leia, but it was still a totally great reveal at the end of Return of the Jedi/Empire Strikes Back.

    11: The number 11 is currently down to resource shortages. Please skip this number in all lists and calculations until further notice.

    13: I think you can have the US government fall to pieces *after* Reagan and the Untied States.

    14: The Sohu chapters were the best, and them being worldbuilding doesn’t take away that much from them. If you want to change it, I would suggest putting it more through Uriel’s mindset, so we can see him literally world building.

    15: Thamiel can just convince Uriel that he has mind controlled everyone at the conference, and Uriel panics and nukes the place to keep Thamiel’s slaves from going back to their respective governments and surrendering the world to hell.

    I don’t know off hand how’d you make that work, but Thamiel is incredibly clever, and Uriel very naive, and overly cautious. He has smitten entire towns that ruined pleasing symmetries on maps, and anyone who looked like they might boil a goat in its own mother’s milk, just in case. It’s entirely in keeping with his character to fall for Thamiel’s lie, and decide the best option is to nuke the whole area.

    I would cut the joke though. That takes away from the gravity of the situation, and makes Uriel seem like an actual sociopath. If you’re married to the joke, I would suggest having Uriel make several attempts at different knock-knock jokes that all fall flat, before he decides to nuke everyone.

    And I agree with not kicking the hornet’s nest on the whole Ethiopians without souls thing. It’s another setup without a payoff anyway.

    16: I’m not sure how you could fix chapter 37. Except maybe to have Aaron not take the drug willingly? He doesn’t have to fly to the top of the tower, because the drug doesn’t wear off on its own, the Drug Lord lets them go. I don’t see why he has to *decide* to take the drug, when it can just be slipped into his drink, and then boom! Same things happen. In fact, that would make more sense, because otherwise the Other King just somehow knows that something important is happening, and he just decides to send his whole army after them. Whereas if he’s drugged in the restaurant, in front of a whole bunch of witnesses, the Other King can find out that way, and it’s better.

    17: Without more details on why people dislike the action scenes, I can’t really help you make them better, but I thought that they were fine. They also, by and large, weren’t action scenes. Aaron isn’t a fighter, so prolonged or impactful fight scenes don’t make a whole lot of sense.

    18: That kind of perfect notarikon thing is really hard to do well, and can only happen with lots of editing. There’s no advice I can give you. It’s just work.

    Finally, merging Malia Ngo and Sohu sounds… not like a good idea to be honest.

    You would have to restructure almost the entire story, and cut a lot of really good parts, including my favorite scene in the entire story, “Malia Ngo *is* my true name.”

    It would also make them *both* less likable as characters. The risen demon is way more sympathetic than the angel who decided to be a dick one day. So instead of poor Malia being a three year old child of hell, who loves her mommy very much and wants to make her proud and do good in the world, despite being *literally* the child of the devil, she’s the (by then) grown adult woman, who is also a liar who conquers the world, but does a poor job of running it.

    If Sohu rules the world, there’s no reason for the theonomics to have such power, and to use it so poorly. Most Names should be UNSONG property, and Name sweatshop labor should be the world’s largest economic sector. Third world countries should essentially be nothing but.

    On that subject, there’s no reason for there to be Name sweatshops in the Bay Area anyway. Poor kids from third world nations can speak the Names just as well as anyone in America, and there’s no benefit to having the sweatshops be located in one of the costliest cities in the world.

    A better idea would be for Aaron to have a low-paying wage slave job with lots of downtime, and little oversight, and have him do Name grinding using a program of his own devising, in his off time. Any Name he discovers on his own is his IP, and if he stumbles upon a good Name, he can sell it for enough money to buy his way back into Stanford.

    You could have that be a common hobby in the UNSONG verse, coming up with your own Name churning program, or using an open source one, and grinding for Names. Sure, the odds of finding a good Name are only slightly better than your odds of winning the lottery, but people buy lottery tickets every day, and those cost money. Grinding for Names only costs time that he wasn’t using for anything else anyway.

  137. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Let me go through these one by one. First the simple issues:

    1. I think the Unitarian Universalist Church stuff was effective. I’m not sure whether you should drop the term Singers or use the term interchangeably or what, but it was a nice way to link the poem and movement to democratize religion and the like.

    4. I liked the Passover chapter, and I think it can still make sense as a chapter or interlude even without the context that it was written on Passover
    5. Yeah, you should definitely take out the Changelog

    9. Making Thamiel a renamed Sataniel would undermine the notion that he’s an essential facet of God. But then again Neil Armstrong is the right hand of God and yet Neil Armstrong used to be human, which didn’t make sense to me by the way.

    11. I think jokes like “Not a Metaphor” add to the story.

    13. I think the rush you feel when you chant a name is important because that’s why a computer program requires a soul in order to identify names.

    Now the complicated issues:

    8. I think a good way to increase the role of UNSONG would be to expand the descriptions of the apocalypse at the end. Simon Azure argued to Erica that UNSONG was essential to develop names to use in the end of the world, against threats worse than the Drug Lord that would emerge once Uriel’s machine broke down. You should pay that off by having some Archangels or other intimidating entities emerge after Uriel’s machine is nuked, have our heroes/the Theonomics use the names to fight back.

    12. Have you considered eliminating Dylan and his group entirely? Dylan and the others are fun characters, but I feel like they’re unnecessary to the plot.

    17. Your action scenes seem jokey and intellectual, rather than intense and emotional. Here’s a good example of that, from chapter 10: “I’m…not exactly sure what my endgame had been here. Like, breaking into the room had been an achievement, but probably the reaction of the agents who had already made it into the room would be to point their guns at me? Like they were doing now? Like, my knowledge and practice of magic had been impeccable, no one could have faulted me for that, but in terms of common sense I had utterly dropped the ball.” It sounds more like Aaron jokingly commenting about his own action scene than seriously being in one.

    Big Picture stuff:

    1. Regarding Sohu being Malia Ngo, I hate it. But eliminating Sohu being eternally 8 years old might well be worth doing. It’s sort of an unnecessary plot point.
    2. I feel like there was no payoff to the Acher storyline, like where is he and what is he doing now. And I just saw the Easter Egg where you said “This is probably one of the parallels that leads the Comet King to pretend to be Acher as his cover identity.” I did not know that until this very moment. I knew he pretended to be the Necromancer whom he defeated, but pretending to be Acher was not clear. I thought only other people were guessing he was Acher. In any case, if you made the original Necromancer defeated by Jala into Acher, that would be cool. Two birds with one stone.
    3. As I mentioned earlier, you can expand the apocalypse stuff so threats bigger than the Drug Lord emerge and we see whether the Unitarians or UNSONG’s approach to names is more effective at combatting the threats.
    4. There should have been payoff to Uriel saying he is a deist and Sohu saying she’ll teach him to have faith in God. This can dovetail with your goal of making the Sohu chapters less world-buildy.

  138. infiniplex says:

    Firstly, I really liked Unsong; it was the best book (excluding re-reads) I have read in years. I will join the brigade of people saying don’t make too drastic of changes unless you have a really good reason. If you change it too much, it will feel like a different, similar story instead of a revised version.

    Minor Changes:

    1.2. The “maiden” explanation is valuable and at least some of it should be kept. We need to know the possible translations of the term (virgin, young unmarried woman) to we can apply them to our respective Messiahs (the Comet King, Aaron/Albion).

    1.4. You can remove the Passover chapter. When I read the story, I missed it and only discovered that from this page. Then, when I did read it, I didn’t feel it added anything. Also, seeing Uriel preparing to give Moses the Torah didn’t work for me. It seems to conflict with the explanation that it is derived directly from the theoretical Kabbala that we get from Uriel when he adds SKabMoM. (Except Revelation, which John made up, and Jehuboaz, which Uriel forgot to give people.) Also, the recurring joke about seething kids in their mother’s milk is funnier if just produces random bugs and even Uriel can’t figure out why.

    1.5. Removing the changelog would be disappointing. It is one of the funniest chapters and a great view on how Uriel thinks. If it is the date that matters, you could replace it with one for May 2017 when everything happens and stick some kind of clue in there.

    1.6. I was not bothered by the eclipse chapters. The sense I got was that this was another form of Thamiel fighting Uriel (and now Sohu) and Uriel won. Again. Although I was really bother when Uriel dropped the Moon and I never got a reassuring explanation on the order of “but fortunately it stayed in its orbit, more or less”.

    1.8. Please don’t remove Wall Drug. It does a lot towards giving that feeling that things are messed up all over, not just in plot-related places. The fact that life still goes on as normal on the coasts despite this, I took them dismissing “flyover country” as irrelevant, except that it had been taken to a ridiculous extreme. Which was funny.

    1.11. I liked the Not a Metaphor, it had a beautiful near-paradox fell about it. After all, everything is a metaphor for God except God Himself. Which means the ship is also a metaphor for God, just like all the others. Except that it is in an undefinable different way. So it is really not like other things. Sort of.

    1.13. Please don’t change how Names work, at least in that manner. Right now, they have a strong feeling about them that God made them well, and everything would be good if only UNSONG wasn’t messing it up. And that is the feeling you need for the Singers.

    It is odd that people had to try different pronunciations for the Mortal Name. For all the rest, they just had to get the letters right. (I have a theory that klipot are abusing a built-in system designed to allow different pronunciations.) I think that any name should trigger if you know it, are thinking (even a tiny bit) about something related to it, and you say something close-ish. For example, President Bushh might have been thinking “I wish I could get out of this interview” when he said it. (The foolish Christians who said it in worship services would survive because they would get the “man page” video the first time they tried it after the sky cracked.)

    1.14. I will go along with the idea that Lin on the Not a Metaphor used a placembomatic ritual to find a Singer. I was less clear on why Ana chose to go to San Fransisco. Perhaps she could have some comment on the order of “there was one place where UNSONG’s writ didn’t run”. (Or that might just be bad memory on my part.)

    Major Points:

    2.3. I am fine with everything intermixed. Lots of stories work that way (e.g. The Eye of the World, A Song of Ice and Fire, Discworld, David Brion’s Uplift universe), basically anything with lots of point-of-view characters). This way you get to reveal ideas, concepts, secrets, etc. in the order that makes sense to the story.

    2.5. I had no problem with San Fransisco as a place, but it seems woefully under-powered for the Right Hand of God. I think it would work better if people believed it was run The Right Hand, but we discovered at the end (when Sohu/Uriel is fighting Thamiel?) that it was really being run by another “neutral” angel like Samyazaz or Gadiriel who was claiming higher status than he actually had. At that point, the similarities with the Drug Lord become clues. If the real Right Hand had been slain by Thamiel long ago, that would also give us a hint that the ending was possible.

    From another angle, San Fransisco is one of the better descriptions of Heaven that I have seen. They usually turn out poorly, with me thinking “Ugg! I don’t want to go there.” And this one didn’t.

    2.8. I think increasing the role of UNSONG and theonomics would be hard because you don’t have much to say about them. The reveals are a) they are trying to help, b) it is run by a demon, c) who is secretly good. You also have an option on making explicit that d) it arguably wasn’t justified because the world never used the hoard of names. If UNSONG is going to do more, it needs to have more internal complexity.

    You could expand (c) be saying that Malia was trying to find the Explicit Name so she could make her own attempt at destroying Hell, but that wouldn’t give you much more plot.

    2.9. I liked the explanation of why Barak Obama was actually a demon. (I have no strong opinions on US politics.) Although it does raise the question of why Malia’s last name is Ngo. (I find that hard to believe someone married her, given her wrongness-aura.)

    2.10. I didn’t get a strong feeling for how many people knew what really happened to Robin. At the time, I assumed it was only her and her husband, and everyone else assumed that she had just died. But later, when Thamiel is confronting Sohu, he assumes she knows. Did everyone know?

    2.15. Uriel and people with no souls
    a) Removing a section form the story because you are afraid of how outrage culture will react sounds like the sort of thing Moloch would approve of.
    b) If people in one section of the world don’t have souls, I would expect people to notice that names didn’t work there. The phenomenon would be well known.
    c) The whole treatment of souls is a bit inconsistent. People are usually treated as having one, but there are different kinds (Uriel says 5 in the epilogue) that can be assigned separately. It is not clear how this works, especially with Heaven and Hell.
    d) A lot of the things Uriel does seem to beyond his power level. Or that contradict Original Physics (e.g. when he turns the sun into a ball of fire even though it is a holographic projection on the crystal sphere). He seems to operate on the principle that if it is funny and not plot-related, he can do it. It would be worth checking all of them.

    2.16. I was not bothered by Aaron deciding to save Ana (although a part of my brain was telling him to resolve the dilemma by speaking the Mortal Name instead). It is consistent with his character and I would be surprised if he didn’t. As someone mentioned above, he could get a telepathic cry for help from “Ana”, although might mess up the next chapter.

    In a darker direction, the Drug Lord could threaten to do far worse than merely killing her, possibly referencing help from friends in low places. Aaron has seen the Broadcast; his imagination will do the rest. This deals with the issue that, in this world, dying is definitely not the worst thing that can happen to you. (Aaron thinks very highly of Ana, so I doubt he would even consider her not going to Heaven.) She could have earlier mentioned that one of them could go to Heaven, ask God the answer to the problem of evil, and relay it down to the other, who would publish it. When he says that, the Drug Lord’s minion moves on to darker threats. (I think that affecting souls is above the Drug Lord’s power level.)

    2.18: Please leave in the 72 chapters notarikon!

    Although I did sort of wonder what change you were trying to make to the world by “speaking” it. Possibly attracting more people to effective altruism?

    The Big Thing:

    3. Malia has a number of problems, but I don’t think turning her into Sohu would help. Making her into a different Cometspawn or Sataniel (or another corrupted angel) seems less bad. But I suspect she is fixable as is.

    Her problems include:
    -> We don’t see her (or her influence) enough for her to be a major villain
    -> Her age (making time faster resolves this)
    -> Being born in Hell seems wrong. Even though Robin was carried off there alive. (Side Note: Does this mean Robin could get out at any time by speaking the Mortal Name? Did Thamiel tell her that her husband is dead?)
    -> Why doesn’t she have a whole lot more divine power? Thamiel is for powerful than Raziel.

    Other Points:

    4.1. Speaking as someone who is “real religious” (evangelical Christian, in my case), I did not find this story at all offensive. The treatment of the theological issues is a lot better than in many explicitly religious works. Since I understand your goal with Slate Star Codex was to try to understand differing views of the world and present then accurately, you have done well.

    4.2. I would like to see (or at least hear reference to) more failed attempts to destroy Hell. We established at the beginning that there is a major social movement to do this, but they never seem to do anything except cheer on the Comet King. At the very least, I would expect them (or some splinter group) to host screenings of the Broadcast so that people don’t forget stakes.

    4.3. A minor thing that keeps bugging me is that computer playback speed for Names is not unlimited. If you have 44,100 Hz, the computer can speak at most 44,100 Name-letters per second, no matter how fast it is. So a supercomputer probably won’t give you much of a boost unless you have it generate zillions of separate audio channels, which would probably take specialized hardware. (I don’t know much about wiring supercomputers.)

    4.4 I recently sent Scott Alexander a list of thoughts on Unsong. They are too long to copy-paste into here and mostly not on the same sort of topics, but I am going to put a link here just in case something went wrong. Not intended as spammy.

    4.5. My favorite “chapter” was (Interlude ט: The General Assembly). The chapters I referred to to the most (and also enjoyed) were 5. Never Seek To Tell Thy Love, and 20. When The Stars Threw Down Their Spears.

    EDIT: Sorry that got so long!

  139. ShawnSpilman says:

    I agree with others that the current version ought to survive, somehow, in some form. It should be published, preferably soon and in any form: either with or without any or all of the myriad changes you are contemplating.

    Meanwhile, why not put it out as a Kindle book on Amazon? It’s easy, it costs almost nothing, it is an effective way to grow an audience, and updates can be posted at any time for readers to download.

  140. User_Riottt says:

    I just read it this weekend. I enjoyed it, but I had a bit of trouble keeping the characters straight in my head. I know a lot of the characters names have significance so changing them to something more unusual isn’t likely to be feasible. but yes to this:
    10. Rename Erica -> Valerie, for kabbalistic reasons. Will have to remove the “I am Erica”/America pun, I guess.
    Erica and Dylan aren’t clear in my mind.

    Maybe describe their physical appearance a bit more? Or give me one thing I should easily be able to associate with each character?

    IMO the problem with your action sequences is you build them up alot but the resolutions are so quick that I often think ‘wait what just happened?’

  141. o11o1 says:

    Simple issue 6: Personally, i really enjoyed all the Sohu sequences. That said, i can see how cutting them down to about three quarters of the original set might help. It could be a good pace to recieve lore drops that had to get ripped from otherwise deleted chapters, with Sohu and Metatron (or the other West children?) discussing the implications of various events.

    Simple Issue 13: perhaps people nearby get a sensation when names are spoken nearby? Then instead of a theonomic machine you just task a listener to the rig.

    Complicated Issue 1: Absolutely keep the prologue, it serves as a great introduction to where this story diverges from the real world. It could possibly be thinned down or moved to the first interlude, but i do think it deserves to survive in the final work.

    Complicayed issue 2: I actually think start with Chapter 2 (the Singer Gathering) if you want to emphasize how the world of Unsong differs from our world. I can see the logic in starting with the more character driven chapter 5 though.

    Ci3: Keep things inter mixed. The bouncing around gives me a feel very like Hitchhikers Guide or a Pratchett novel, where you careen between the central plot and the wider setting.

    CI4: Is it sensible for Ngo to realize shes being given a long form klipot and try to disrupt him with questions? Have Aaron need to shift back and forth between his klipot and and more classical interrogation?

    Ci5: As for SF being important Perhaps simply have more events of import happen in and around SF? As you suggest in CI16 and CI17 .As for Madrid, perhaps as more and more questions get directed at Uriel, he decides that all he needs is time to think, and does something to slow or stop time in the area. Thaumiel, however, proves immune, and uses the slowed/stopped time as a chance to, rather than bothring Uriel directly, instead uses his own magic to wreck the time effect that Uriel did so it can’t be undone cleanly. Instead of being blasted from the earth, it just… stops moving forwards.

    CI7: i like citadel west being the military center of the comet kingdom, while SF gets to be where people actually live.

    CI10, keep Malia Ngo, but as still basically human. Demon-nature is something she either bargined for or stole from a mid-levell demon. It’s possible she acted as VP of Unsog when they ran for us president but dropped back to more interesting field work after the first term.

    CI16. if the drug lord has a second element of leverage, than maybe that give arron more multidimensional reasoning.

    CI18. longer chapters to make up for fewer of them?

    Followup : Huh, that’s an

  142. RandomName says:

    I just re-read UNSONG over the weekend, so I should give my feedback while it’s still fresh. To save time I’ll only comment on points I have an opinion on:


    1: Good change, “Singers” is the better term imo.

    2: I think you could cut the chapter out entirely, but if you want to preserve the comet west speech it might make sense to put it in an appendix/interlude? Alternatively, briefly at the beginning of ch. 29 could work.

    4: The Moses story is excellent, and I really liked the Comet King’s passover speech. If possible, I think those are worth saving somewhere. The rest can go.

    9: I kind of feel like if Thamiel is just an angel the Comet King would have found a way to kill him. The fact that he’s a facet of god, an immutable part of the universe is part of what makes the problem of evil so hard in UNSONG. If he’s just an evil angel, can’t you just nuke him? Maybe you could have him turn into a facet of god when he turns evil (Seems to have happened to Mettaton)?

    13: Only thing this complicates is the assassination of President Bush, which was a pretty good moment. Still, maybe justifiable with the Tetragrammaton being significantly more potent than other names (It did keep working the longest)?

    14: Given that the crew finds a placebomancer via lucky chance in New York (Which is appropriate given how placebomancy works) maybe the captain (or someone else) finds some kind of kabbalistic correspondence that justifies going to San Francisco?

    Harder issues:

    1: I liked it. I think it’s an effective hook, and not too long.

    2: Of those 3 chapters, chapter 5 is definitely the strongest. I think “Kickstarting the apocalypse” probably isn’t the kind of thing that should be handled offscreen, but I’m unsure how to handle it.

    3: Personally I prefer having it mixed up. I think authors mix perspectives on the basis of “Well, they have to like at least one of my plot lines, and if I give them a chapter of that for every 2-3 chapters of something else, they’ll keep reading”. In a web serial mixed plotlines can be a bit of a drag, since an entire week might be a “Dud” from one person’s perspective, but this is less of an issue in a completed book.

    8: I’m unsure if you have an ultimate stance on freedom of information vs. strict IP. The story goes through the basic arguments of “IP promotes inequality” vs. “IP maximizes productivity” but doesn’t really ultimately decide on a correct answer (Endorsing either mainstream position would be kind of boring. If you had some kind of super interesting, take-a-third-option perspective here it would be great). Also, were all the names for nothing in the end? It seemed like Thamiel’s offensive was primarily stopped by Sohu/Uriel and a few side characters/angels. And TOK’s offensive wasn’t stopped at all, so this whole “We need to stockpile names in order to fight off the apocalypse” was a complete bust.

    10. Malia is a potentially interesting trope (Half devil whose nature is evil but who decided to do good), but functionally she’s just a “Mysterious bad guy” up until her single monologue, after which she immediately dies. Something like an entire PoV chapter would help flesh her out maybe?

    Actually, how does perspective work in this story? It’s all being told by Aaron, and other character’s PoV (Like Sahra, Sohu or Ana) is justified by them psychically fusing with Aaron at the end. But TCK never fuses with Aaron, so his chapters (like Ch. 29 for instance) are a bit weird right? As far as I can tell, the narrative never gives TCK first person perspective, but it does do things like report his private conversations (and even thoughts) in ch. 54. Maybe changing the narration style of Comet King chapters to make them sound more like a legend/story, rather than events being recorded as they happen.

    15: I agree the peace conference needs a bit of a rework, and the P-zombie thing, while potentially interesting if developed, isn’t a good throwaway plot element. As for how Thamiel turns them against Uriel, maybe he tempts them with power? Like, he could subtly suggest to the diplomats that if the powers of reality were turned over to the nations, it could be used for the good of their countries. They could then take turns criticizing Uriel’s ability to run the celestial machinery (The only thing he seems to have any real pride in) and that could upset him enough to angel nuke the city (Or he could let the diplomats attempt to run the machinery in order to prove a point and something equally bad could happen).

    16: The obvious choice is to give Aaron a hairbrained scheme which he thinks might protect him from the drug lord, thus giving him an excuse for doing what he wants to do anyway (save Ana), and have this immediately fail. Something like mixing the peyote with another drug to try to give himself partial immunity to the drug lord’s power. In the end he’s still being stupid (Risking the entire world for the life of his Platonic-not-really-girlfriend), but there’s at least a sliver of a chance everything works out fine, and he’s willing to risk everything on a hope.

    Your “Malia is really Sohu” plot makes economical use of characters, which I like. “Magically corrupted by evil” seems like kind of a lame trope though. It would be better if Sohu chooses corruption for some reason, like to conceal her identity, or more easily run UNSONG with scary demon auras. I will point out you need to find out a new way to kill Dylan (also, how does Erica die in the story? Just offscreened by a burning building?), but that shouldn’t be too hard, Plot contrivance Placebomancy is the only thing keeping him alive in the first place.

  143. Scarbrow says:

    Scott, you finally made me create a user just to answer to this. So, this is important to me. Yet I have no strong opinions on some of the issues, so I’m only suggesting for a few of them

    Simple issues
    3. It’s worldbuilding. I love worldbuilding. Keep it.
    4. Passover at the Comet King’s is very important, and engraved in my mind. I almost can’t remember any more of the chapter. Shoehorn it elsewhere.
    7. Fully agree
    9. Disagree strongly. Thamiel is whole even if broken. Don’t merge him with anybody
    11. Not a metaphor was a great joke. Keep
    13. As many others have said, keep the Names as they work now.

    Complicated issues
    1. Hell yeah! The prologue is riveting. Maybe a little shorter, maybe merge with other section. But no removing.
    2. Absolutely start with current chapter 1. Aaron as minimum wage drone hooked me
    4. Brilliant and terrifying Malia Ngo knows what Aaron is doing, lets him do it anyway, slips some subtle hint of this into his person, a personal (and obviously kabbalistic) code for “you’re being left free with a warning”
    5,6,7. As a non-American, I find the geography confusing anyway. But I like the hippy city the way it is, and the desolated grandeur of the Comet King’s kingdom does not mix with it.
    15. As otherwise indicated, probably safer to de-soul some other place like France. Maybe tie peace conference with first Hell appearance in UN, diplomats heeding to the Prince of Lies was genius.
    18. Sohu = Malia. BIG NO. Apart from, as mentioned elsewhere, “all villains are heroes in disguise”, to me the deformed and contaminated 8-year-old-in-appearance girl is much, much, more triggering than “mere” rape of a strong-willed, decided, grown woman. Robin West plot made me love her. Thamiel’s attack on Sohu (the current, lighter one) made me hate him. Your proposal would probably make me hate the Thamiel character so much it may actually make me jump to “hate the work, hate the author, hate everything forever”. I may need to say at this point that while I found the whole of UNSONG riveting, I had to leave Worm unfinished because I was getting depressed (and not lightly so) with so many bad things happening to so many good-or-neutral people. Sohu dying in the current form was terribly sad, but still had a dignity, even a glory when she refuses to curse her father’s name. Sohu’s deformity has nothing of this, is pure evil. I just hope that by saying this I have not set you further in choosing this option as maximally triggering. For what I know of you, Scott, that is the kind of thing you try very hard to avoid.

    Other than these specific answers, I want to echo the sentiment of others: send UNSONG on its current form to a professional editor/publisher. If their demands align with your ideas, so much the better. If they don’t, you’ve worked a lot for nothing, or worse, may need to rework again some difficult sections. You lose nothing by getting concentrated feedback on the book (the same as you’re requesting here, but more professional) before you start reworking.

  144. Tibor says:

    Coincidentally (or was it?), I read Unsong some two weeks ago so it is still rather fresh in my mind. Here are my five cents:

    Action scenes are ok as far as I can tell, this is not a sword and sorcery fantasy. Unless you want to highlight some character traits in an action scene, I don’t think they should get overly illustrated as that is unlikely to be entertaining anyway.

    What I would concentrate a bit on were Aaron’s “kabbalistic intermissions”, analyses of the words (which sometimes resulted in worldbuilding but in a very drawn out fashion). Now, some of these were a lot of fun but revising the frequency and length of those bits. The problem is that they get repetitive after a while and towards the end of the book (roughly the last third)

    I found the Madrid conferrence chapter a lot of fun but also the resolution a bit weird. Uriel cannot be harmed by those diplomats and nuking them helps him in no way at all. He also knows that Thamiel is present and Uriel is trying to avoid killing him even at the cost of Thamiel hurting Sohu. And as you point out – the diplomats suddenly acting like an outraged twitter crowd isn’t very convincing either. Uriel being sort of a “rationalist evil robot” type, it would be more intereting if Thamiel could somehow twist the words of the diplomants and manipulate Uriel into blowing the place up thinking it is actually a good thing to do (and only realizing his mistake afterwards)…Perhaps they boiled a goat in its mother’s milk!

    Mixing storylines vs. keeping them in blocks – I am 100% for mixing. This is a technique which I find somewhat frustrating when reading a book but one which also makes me want to continue reading. I want to read the next chapter so that I can get to the one after and find out what happens next in the first storyline…and by the time I reach the end of that chapter the process repeats itself with the second storyline 🙂

    Malia Ngo ended up being somewhat underdeveloped. She is established as someone very important and crucial to the story at the very beginning of the book but then turns out to be a relatively minor character.

    The prologue is great, you should definitely keep it. The presidential interludes were great until and including Nixon, then they became a lot less relevant to the story. Obama and Trump seemed very inconsequential, I’d scrap those completely. The presidency becomes rather unimportant after Nixon anyway. After that the US is mostly a formal institution and the west – where most of the story takes place – is de facto independent.

    I was at first confused about who those shroudies were and then I was a bit disappointed to find out they were just a cool sounding name for the secret police. I’d either develop them into something specific or use a regular sounding name instead.

    Important if you don’t want people to yell at you online – Iranians are not Arabs and their language is nothing like Arabic. In fact they tend to dislike Arabs and look down upon them, considering themselves a more ancient and cultural civilisation…so what about a resurgent Zoroastrian Persian Empire instead? Zoroastrian priests are called magi, that seems kabbalistically significant 🙂

    I would also scrap the Multistan, since mixing the latin multi- and the central asian -stan to describe a Muslim Caliphate seems a bit strange.

    The Soviet Union is supposed to have been almost completely overrun by demons but all of the sudden there is an Orthodox country which is a big player in world politics. There are other Orthodox countries as well, so maybe if they all united into a single entity it would be quite important.

    Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire sounds a bit cliché and not very inventive. Since the Terracotta army was made for Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China maybe something something kabbalistic with his name or re-estabilishing the Qin dynasty and you can use Qin (or Qin China) if you want to change the country name.

    I’d personally call the Catholic European country The Holy Roman Empire, setting their capital to Rome and adding a quip about how this time it was actually holy, Roman and an empire (referencing the Voltaire quote about it being neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire).

    Neu Hansa sounds incorrect to anyone who speaks German. It should either be Die Neue Hanse or possibly Neuhansa (as a Lufthansa pun). Or, to keep with the religious theme, they should be called the Schmalkaldic League or the Protestant Union (those where the names of the protestant alliances in the 30 year war). This might be adding too much backstory to the names but it would be fun if there were more references to the wars of religion in Europe. For example, a (fourth) defenestration in Prague could trigger the Protestant union’s split from the Holy Roman Empire a consequence of which whould be to actually relocate its capital to Rome.

    Generally the country names could be a bit more clever and less random. I liked the Slovenia/Slovakia (followed by 2 or 4 almost identically sounding countries) joke though. It would also be fun if Uriel had to deal with a bug where Austria and Australia are switched geographically.

  145. FormerRanger says:

    So, I more or less binge-read the book last week. It was very difficult to put down (…click away from…). I honestly think most of your ideas for “fixing” it should be tossed out. (Examples: Sohu -> Malia, Colorado Springs -> SF).

    The book as it stands has some issues with pacing: a lot of people have already commented on the slow start, and the somewhat rushed ending. I agree with the first and somewhat agree with the latter: as a book races to its climax things often seem a bit rushed.

    Something that I found confusing/annoying was the too-fast switches among viewpoint characters and between “present-day” and “past” between chapters. The dates helped, but I often didn’t notice them until I was well into the new chapter and realized things didn’t make sense. It took a while for me to realize that the 2017 dates weren’t referring to when you had posted the chapter.

    I disagree with the idea that the dates should be “X years ago”, as someone suggested. Events happen at specific dates in the past that are tied strongly to the real past and the real present we are living in. Someone reading the book in 2030 would be utterly confused. You could possibly steal an idea from GRRM and have the chapters be subtitled with date and viewpoint character. (Keep the Blake lines, of course.)

    Do not mess with Sohu and Uriel! They are two of the best characters in the book. It is bad enough that the the Other King turns out to be TCK. Very pulpish, very TV/comic plotting, but you actually pulled it off really well, I thought. But Sohu->Malia is a terrible idea. Malia’s backstory is terrifying (all the Hell stuff is terrifying); I wouldn’t throw it away.

    Setting a lot of the action in Colorado and inter-mountain west opens up the story and allows some fun things like using NORAD as TCK’s fortress (no doubt of adamant…). Don’t change it. SF as the hippie paradise is perfect, don’t change that either. I suppose you could moderate it a bit, but then their appearance at the Apocalypse becomes a problem, and it is very cool.

    All in all, your book has a some problems which are less about plotting than pacing and (here and there) characterization. Beyond those, I would not make major changes. Keep in mind that a present-day kabbalistic fantasy is going to be a niche enthusiasm even in the fantasy market. (To be fair, Neal Stephenson’s “Fall” has elements of that; I don’t know how it’s selling, though.)

    More later.

  146. alexmennen says:

    A couple small details I thought needed fixing when I read it:

    The part where Ana is running away from Malia Ngo and Malia insists that they are “on the same side”; it seems strongly implied by the text that this is intended to be the truth, but it just isn’t. Malia does have good reasons for what she’s doing that Ana would become sympathetic with quite a lot later, but they are, in fact, on opposite sides of a conflict at that moment. The “I won’t hurt you” and “I just want to talk” are important pieces of information, but “we’re on the same side” is not a truthful, helpful, or useful thing for Malia to say at that moment. Her telling Aaron that they were “potentially on the same side” in the previous chapter is more accurate, but still seems like it would have needed a lot of elaboration to be a useful thing to tell him.

    “To the east of Jerusalem was the giant dungheap where the Israelites would throw their refuse; to the east of San Francisco is Oakland.” is rude and will offend a lot of people. You’re definitely going to want to take that out if you try to get Unsong published.

    > Also, everyone on Goodreads said the Sohu/Uriel chapters were the best but also that there was too much boring worldbuilding, but I don’t know how to cut out the worldbuilding except by changing the Sohu/Uriel chapters.

    In contrast to these people, the worldbuilding is one of the things I love about Unsong, and I hope it doesn’t get toned down.

    > Should I keep the prologue?


    > Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”, to emphasize LA connection.

    A very minor point, but I’ve always thought that “Queen of the Angels” flows better than “Queen of Angels” does.

    > In Chapter 37, for plot reasons Aaron has to decide to cave in to the Drug Lord’s demands (and save Ana) rather than let her die. I’m still not happy with how I handled that – it’s such a monumentally stupid thing to do that even Aaron admitting he’s scared and young and stupid doesn’t seem to cover it. How else can I handle this?

    Seems fine as is to me. He was in love, which can be a hell of a drug.

  147. 4thwaywastrel says:

    If I had to spit out unedited bullet points off the top of my head for the moments that stuck with me years later:

    – The scene with members of the share-house singing and having dinner together, and the female lead (Anna?) telling her theory about 0 and 1. Not sure if they were the same scene but they both stuck with me.
    – Uriel’s two state solution, also him telling someone they didn’t have a soul had me crying. If you’re worried about it being Africa make it about the suffering of the Rich or something, “he sure felt like he had a soul” was hilarious.
    – Uriel’s Joke
    – In fact all the scenes with Uriel and Sohu
    – The sacrifice of the comet king’s wife
    – When the comet king met his wife
    – Feeling clever when I realised it was all a metaphor for the pharmaceutical industry (though I’m not sure if people would get that without being familiar with your work. Also not sure how to make it more obvious without it being naff…)
    – The ending, again 0 and 1 and all the complexity in between
    – Obviously the whole system with the names and people pirating them was cool too, doubling down on that would be a nice idea

    Good luck with the process!

  148. alexmennen says:

    > “Treaties are delicate things; the Treaty of Rome alone probably has a hundred articles – ”” “Two hundred forty eight.” I didn’t notice this when writing the chapter, but an alert commenter pointed out that the 248 articles of the Treaty of Rome correspond to the 248 positive mitzvot in Judaism.

    > [I’m stuck with seven people in my head?!] A physicist reading this book noted that the structure of kabbalistic marriages inside Aaron’s head right now forms the graph E8 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E8_(mathematics) ), generally considered to have some kind of mysterious tie with the source of the laws of physics. If they are actually recreating the universe in their own image, that would be a reasonable explanation for this.

    The Lie group E8 is 248-dimensional.

  149. John Thomas says:

    To your specific points:

    First Set:
    1. I think either works. I just think you should always reference Singers with a capital “S” to make it clear it’s a group.
    2. I kind of like the backstory…but it might go over better if told by someone else as some kind of a legend, rather than a 3rd-person-omniscient relation of facts.
    3. I think it’s tangential, so could be dropped.
    4. Agreed. The mixing of both times and places in it is confusing.
    5. Agreed. I liked it, but it’s one of the points that broke my suspension of disbelief.
    6. Why not just make the Comet King/Metatron scene an interlude, all by itself?
    7. Works for me. At the very end of “Agony in the Garden” she could go looking for a book in the library (and then reference her using a book in the scene where she summons Thamiel).
    8. Agreed. Was waiting for a payoff on that one. But it would make a good location for the UNSONG black site…
    9. Maybe keep it the same, but instead of killing off Sataniel, reveal that Thamiel’s second head is actually Sataniel?
    10. Valerie/Valkyrie? Not biblical, but there’s plenty of grist for word associations there.
    12. You could make up an actress or other personality, or maybe make it a younger version of Erin (who Ana meets on the boat).
    13. As others have said, if there’s a machine to detect it, Aaron wouldn’t have been able to keep the name when he found it. So it has to be something only the speaker can detect. But also the “feel the rush” doesn’t make sense for a computer (e.g. Sarah) to feel. So something only the speaker can detect, but which a computer could also be programmed to detect. So what sensors does a computer have that a human also has? And maybe Aaron would have to buy some sensor accessory for Llull to work at all?
    14. It worked for me because the crew is trying to lay low from the Other King, so they stop where he can’t find them. But if it’s a concern you could just have one of the crew members say that the Captain told them to stop in San Francisco, which is unusual and they didn’t know why.
    15. Maybe Princess of Angels? Queen seems too high up, and Princess of Angels also conjures a little Princess Grace and Princess Diana for me (both celebrity princesses).

    Second Set:
    1. Personally I think the story is better without it (I actually missed reading it the first time through, and didn’t realize I’d missed anything). The opening of chapter 1 is a much stronger start, and nothing in the prologue is needed for anything else in the story to make sense.
    2. Start with chapter 1. It’s a very strong opening, and makes the reader want to know what happens next – which is about the single most important thing you can do in the first chapter.
    3. The mix is good. What you don’t want is large parts of the story that are in the past, back-to-back. Mixing it up allows you to keep the main story (in the present) moving forward, and to make the pieces from the past relate to the present story. And if you don’t keep the present story moving forward, many readers’ interest will die on the vine.
    4. I kind of liked that sequence, and I think it works well (especially this early in the world-building stage of the story). But it might be a better sequence if Aaron did *not* tell us (the readers) what he was doing. Maybe he reveals through his thoughts that he has a plan, then sounds like a raving lunatic reciting the story, then we learn at the same time as Malia that he said the Vanishing word.
    5. The overlap of LSD with the Drug Lord is a little off, so yeah, maybe no LSD. The part where the San Franciscans go up to help Sohu at the end also seems a little off (and not really necessary…and by the way, where were the Strategic Angel Reserves in that final battle?). But honestly the whole right-hand-of-God part of it didn’t seem to fit either, since good old Neil just sat around meditating while the left hand of God tore the world down. For it to work *well*, I think Neil and his flock might need to have a hand in turning or delaying a few other critical events (and in particular thwarting Thamiel once or twice) somewhere along the way. Though maybe it would be a mystery who was doing it until the end. And you might need both Neil Armstrong and Thamiel involved in the Epilogue (like maybe Neil summons Thamiel and tells him it’s time, and then the 8-fold Aaron unifies the hands of God). Anyway, I think if you integrate the right-hand-of-God better, what to do with San Francisco will probably fall out of that.
    6. I don’t think having the Comet King in Colorado Springs is a problem, and NORAD headquarters is a good location for his stronghold. Though the symbolism of having his original base in S.F. and then the Other King maybe penetrating into Oakland before being turned back or held off is tempting… But do whatever you’re more comfortable with (which I’m guessing is the Bay Area since that’s where you live).
    7. Could you have the Cometspawn living with the monks, like Jinxiang originally told Aaron?
    8a. Maybe give the theonomic corporations their own goons, trying to get ahead of the other theonomics by trying to catch Aaron and Ana before UNSONG does. Maybe even have UNSONG or the theonomics goons help Aaron or Ana avoid someone else (like the Drug Lord) so they can get their hands on the name first. You could start this line by having the goons from the theonomics corp Aaron was working for come after him when he doesn’t show up for work (and since they know what sequence he was working on before he disappeared, they may have a leg up in trying to figure it out – and also another possible way for Sohu/Aaron to get the un-confounded name back).
    8b. I’m not sure if you want to make it cooler or what, but maybe throw in the word “syndicate” or “conglomerate” in there to make them sound a little more sinister and untouchable. Maybe add a backstory about how one of them evolved from some crime cartel or something.
    9. I think theonomics corporations taking over works well, and better than having UNSONG take over. Even if they’re really only running the country from the shadows, with puppet presidents (possibly actual puppet presidents=golems, but for that to work you might need to modify the whole constitutional amendment to prevent golems thing). Consider if the leaders of many of the remaining countries/states were actual golems controlled by (and fought over by) the various theonomics corporations? Maybe not where you want to go (maybe gives them *too much* of a role in the story), but might check a few boxes.
    10. I don’t think she needs to be Robin’s child for this to work. Maybe she’s a golem controlled by Thamiel, and only came into her position after the death of the Comet King? Maybe she’s Lilith (or a child of Thamiel and Lilith)?
    12. Yeah, either you need her to have Thamiel’s blood, or you need her to have something else that makes the sail work (like maybe something that used to belong to the Comet King?) So daughter of Thamiel and Lilith could work, golem could work if it was some special kind of golem that requires Thamiel’s blood to gain his powers or something (with appropriate setup to indicate this kind of golem exists).
    13. I think the Untied States bit could work regardless of the geography. You just need at least 3 (and probably 4 or 5) separate groups of states.
    14. Maybe consider interjecting some “action” scenes (happening in other parts of the world at the same time) into the middle of the Sohu/Uriel scenes? Maybe threats like Thamiel or Samyazuz, or theonomics corporations discovering powerful names that are used later, or something like that? Haven’t really though through much here, just throwing it out in case it sticks.
    15. No ideas. If I think of any later I’ll comment.
    16. Maybe he has a plan to use a klipot, and is arrogant enough to think he can do it? So instead of just admitting he’s willing to destroy the world for one person, he justifies it, thinking he’s smart enough to outsmart the Drug Lord (and then finds out how wrong he is, and gets saved by Jinxiang).
    17. Goals, Stakes, and Urgency. The people fighting have to have clear goals the reader knows, and that will be crushed if they don’t succeed. The stakes have to be high – which ideally means the stakes get *increased* during the fight (like the opponent revealing during the fight that they have the hero’s family captive and will kill them if the hero loses). And there has to be urgency; the simplest way to do this is to have a “clock” – a time limit in which the hero must win the battle, or else the hero loses anyway. And then you need to show the “clock” ticking closer to the time limit. Clocks can be anything with a fixed time limit. For example, a hero fighting an enemy while the love of the hero’s life is trapped underwater and running out of air is a clock; to up the urgency you need to keep referring back to the trapped person and show them running out of air. Urgency also comes from *increasing* the pace. Start with long sentences and esoteric descriptions of the kabbalistic relationships if you want (e.g. changing 6 or 7 letters, but make the sentences and actions to change the words shorter (e.g. frantic changes of just 1 or 2 letters at a time) and more back-and-forth as the battle goes on.
    18. Honestly there’s nothing wrong with merging two chapters into a single chapter with 2 parts to it, as long as there’s some connection between those parts (the most common of which are same people different times/places, same time but different people/places, or same place but different people/times – but in this story could just as well be connected by the same kabbalistic meanings).

    19. Malia as Sohu could work pretty well actually. I mean at least as long as Sohu isn’t trapped being 8 years old (which doesn’t seem to be a critical part of the story, so should be no harm done). I guess my question is why does she need to be tainted by Thamiel’s magic at all – maybe she keeps a vial/amulet with Thamiel’s blood as some kind of weapon against Thamiel – and that’s how Mark gets it (and then without it she becomes vulnerable to Thamiel for the final fight)? Does there really need to be “something very wrong” around her – and if so, could that feeling just come from the token of Thamiel’s blood she keeps instead of from her? And she could easily take over UNSONG at an early age, because she’s cometspawn so I assume she probably grows fast like the Comet King. So yeah, that makes more sense to me than having her the daughter of Thamiel and Robin.

    But I also think Malia needs to have a bigger role in the story, if only as a threat. I expected to see some scenes of her trying to hunt down Aaron and Ana, but she’s basically persona non-grata after they both escape. Note that having someone (like Malia) hunting down Aaron and Ana will up the stakes and add urgency to what both of them are doing, so you could use this to increase the sense of danger throughout, and by having the potential for her closing in on other action scenes, you could up the stakes and urgency for other scenes as well. (For example, imagine Malia and her goons chasing Aaron and Jane on their way to Vegas… with just that little change, having something like Wall Drug to slow them down actually increases the pace – via urgency and stakes – instead of slowing it down).

    Final note that if Malia = Sohu then Sohu won’t be able to appear in the middle of the UNSONG practice session to get Erica’s memory of the Vital name. But then there’s still the possibility that Aaron’s former employer could have the first part of the Vital name, Malia could get it, and then work with Aaron to put it together later (or that Malia could capture Erica during the assassination attempt and extract it from her mind before Dylan breaks her free, or something like that).

    Annoying question: Why don’t the theonomics companies use the Confounding name on all employees leaving work (to ensure they don’t lie about finding a name and then take it home with them)? Possible answer: They do, but Aaron uses a code and/or klipot to keep the name somewhere (deck of cards? ID card? Knots in his backpack cords or shoelaces?) without them realizing he has it. (Note: This is another possible way the un-confounded Vital name might be retrieved – and might be in possession of UNSONG since they take all Aaron’s stuff when they arrest him).

    I’ll try to stop asking annoying questions now. Good story, looking forward to seeing what you do with it.

    I had a few more suggestions…but the comment won’t post. If you want more, please follow-up and I’ll figure out how to send you

  150. John Thomas says:

    Also regarding #17 (action scenes), I recommend you read the section on action scenes in “The Secrets of Action Screenwriting” by William Martel. https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Action-Screenwriting-fully-revised-ebook/dp/B006KTHKSA

    Yes, it’s targeted at screenwriting. But most of it applies to novels as well (and short stories, and whatever).

    No, that’s not an affiliate link and I don’t make anything from the recommendation. This is just the best source I know of for good, fast, doable techniques to improve action scenes.

  151. wiserd says:

    RE: “Comet King’s boat will keep being named “All Your Heart”, not get gag-renamed “Not A Metaphor”

    Could you just slip in a subtle explanation for your original gag? The renaming came off well in the original because it seems to work even if people don’t understand it. (I figured the crew was just sick to death of ‘all your heart’ riffs)
    And then you casually drop the actual reason for the name and it becomes a wonderful example of hiding an important reveal in plain sight.

    “Would like to completely rework Sohu chapters to make them less worldbuildy.”

    Pun intended?

    Conrad Honcho says: “Can you get rid of the part about Thamiel blubbering at the end? Where he just wanted to be good after all? That implies that he and hell did not have to be destroyed in order for the world to be net good. ”

    Yeah, I didn’t quite get that either.

    Re: China.

    Despite the lack of linguistic connection between Hebrew and Mandarin Chinese, Chi/hi in hebrew means ‘life, breath, spirit’
    and Chi in Mandarin means the same thing. I don’t know how to work this in, but it always seemed interesting.
    Maybe an ontomatopoeia?


    “You could have that be a common hobby in the UNSONG verse, coming up with your own Name churning program, ”
    Bet coin


  152. ArisKatsaris says:

    Haven’t yet read other people’s suggestion regards this but in relation to reworking the Israel-Palestine conference, I think these three suggestions might reduce real-life outrage, while mostly making the sequence of events salvageable:

    – You could make Uriel *propose* that he should remove en-masse the souls of hundred millions/billions of people, rather than indicate he’s already done it. (The bad reaction ends up dissuading him from doing so in the end, of course)
    – You could have him suggest he removes the souls of *poor people*, worldwide, rather than have it be an “East African” thing.
    – In order for Uriel to prove that nobody would be able to tell the difference between a P-zombie and an ensouled human, he randomly removes the souls of 1/2nd or 1/3rd of the ambassadors, as they enter the conference room, doesn’t reveal he’s done so until late in the chapter.

  153. Dacyn says:

    Probably should get rid of the reference to Santa Barbara in Chapter 24: it is not between San Bernardino County and LA (i.e. Aaron and Jinxiang’s route).

  154. Dacyn says:

    I found the last chapter a bit jarring. It didn’t seem like the author really alieves that the Comet King is wicked enough to go to hell, i.e. that he is really doing everything just for Robin and not for everyone. For example, at one point he says “We’ve won”, falsely implying that he and Aaron have the same objective, and later he repeats his phrase “Somebody has to and no one else will”, suggesting that he still has the same motives from when he has said this previously (and anyway the phrase makes little sense if he is referring to Robin, since why would anyone else save Robin). The things he says in between those two sentences also seem to me to suggest he isn’t really doing it just for Robin, though it is more subtle.

    In general, I would expect the Comet King’s interactions with Aaron to have the flavor of a strategic alliance, rather than an alliance based on alignment of fundamental goals. And e.g. when he described Robin implementing her strategy to get him to save Hell, I would expect him to react more like “Dammit Robin! Why did you have to kill yourself just to try to get me to save all the people in Hell! Don’t you realize you are more important than any of them? Ah well I guess I have to save you now (and incidentally all of Hell)…”

    Of course this kind of thing will make the Comet King less sympathetic as a character, but I think he has to be because if he is fundamentally good then why would he go to Hell? After all it’s not like The Good Place where you go to hell for being French, the rules for getting into Hell actually seem pretty reasonable (although the torture is pretty extreme)…

  155. hnau says:

    Just putting this out there… “California” is thought to be derived from “caliph” (i.e. a combination monarch and religious leader), via a fifteenth-century fantasy novel of all things.

    So it would certainly make sense if the Comet King had ruled from California. Nothing is ever a coincidence.

  156. Cato the Eider says:

    Fer heaven’s sake, everything has a crack in it. Print and ship, and start working on the sequel!

  157. bensen.daniel@gmail.com says:

    Hello! I’m sorry I’m so late in responding to this. I wouldn’t, except that I’m a published author (one book out in January 2019 and contracted for another), Unsong is the best book I’ve read this year, and I want to help make sure it and you succeed.

    Big picture: I’m lazy, so I usually call projects “good enough” when I get tired of them, then apply lessons learned to the next project. So in general, my advice tends toward “leave Unsong as it is.” The other reason for that is the way the publishing industry works. Your best chance is to write another book with different setting and characters from Unsong, don’t post it anywhere, and send it to agents/publishers with a mention of Unsong in the cover letter (“my self-published web serial novel unsong has X million views and won Y award”). Publishing Unsong will be harder, but not impossible, especially if you can quantify how popular it is and convince publishers lots of people will buy it.
    If you do go ahead with editing and trying to get Unsong published, balance how perfect you want the manuscript to be against how much of a slog the edits will be. It’s easy to get too ambitious, and I’ve done a lot of harm to myself and my stories by trying to push edits too far.
    Finally, I don’t think you should worry so much about making the story tight. I like your pointless asides and ornamentation. It’s part of the charm of the story.

    I haven’t read the other comments, so I apologize if I’m repeating anything. Here are my votes:

    1. (“Unitarians” and “Singers”)
    >Thumbs up!
    2. (Probably will delete Chapter 17, “No Earthly Parents I Confess”)
    >I agree
    3. (Probably will drop “the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire” as a random gag when referring to China.)
    >I think it would be sad if other parts of the world get funny names but China doesn’t. Maybe there’s a historical word for China that’s sufficiently flowery.
    4. (Will delete Chapter 18 (the Passover chapter))
    >I kind of like that chapter. It gives air-time to members of the Comet King’s family who don’t otherwise get much.
    5. (Will delete Interlude Nun (the Rosh Hashanah Changelog interlude))
    >Thumbs up
    6. (Would like to delete the whole solar eclipse sequence, which led to a lot of really boring unnecessary Sohu chapters.)
    >I don’t remember it much, so I agree 🙂
    (But I don’t know where else to fit in that scene where Metatron takes the Shem HaMephorash away from the Comet King. And that scene is really important. Any advice?)
    >I don’t remember that either.
    7. (Delete Chapter 60 (Robin visiting Dylan to learn how to summon Thamiel))
    >I agree
    8. (Probably remove Wall Drug.)
    >Please no! This is what made me write to you. I love Wall Drug. It doesn’t need any more screen time. It’s just a lovely little aside, and I urge you not to get rid of lovely little asides.
    9. (Merge the characters of Sataniel and Thamiel.)
    >I agree. I was confused about them. The two heads kind of works, though.
    10. (Rename Erica -> Valerie, for kabbalistic reasons.)
    11. (Comet King’s boat will keep being named “All Your Heart”)
    >I guess so.
    12. (If so, how do I rebrand Sarah?)
    >Ask a lawyer, but I think you’ll be okay if you’re vague. Just say “a popular 90s vampire slayer” instead of “Buffy.”
    13. (The thing where you feel the meaning of a Name )
    >It would be cool if you reworked that, but it might take a lot of rewriting.
    14. (Might rework the part where All Your Heart discovers Ana in San Francisco)
    >Same as above. It could be too much work.
    15. (Might switch Gadiriel’s earthly nickname from “the Lady” to “the Queen of Angels”)
    >I like it!

    1. (Should I keep the prologue?)
    >I almost stopped reading because of the eyeball-plucking and baby-with-extra eyeballs. On the other hand, I continued reading because of the cinemagraphic awe of the recitation of the Book of Genisis as the Apollo crew orbited the Earth. I hope you don’t get rid of that part.
    2. (Should I begin the book proper with …)
    >Start with chapter 1. The first three chapters (and prologue) are gripping. They really got their hooks into me. We see the rules of the world, Aaron’s place in the world, and why he’s unhappy with it. Then we get the Singers (a possible solution to his problems) and Anna (a better solution). It would’t work in another order.
    3. (Should I keep everything intermixed, or separate a few things out into separate chapters/books?)
    >The original order is organic, and switches characters enough to stop the reader from getting bored, but not so much the reader has trouble getting invested. I say keep the order of chapters as is.
    4. (How should Aaron escape UNSONG at the end of chapter 14?)
    >Oh, please keep it the way it is! I really loved it. It rang a gong in my chest. It just seemed PERFECT.
    (it requires brilliant and terrifying Malia Ngo to sit quietly while a random kid says sentences)
    >Yes, that is a weakness of the scene. I think you can solve it by letting us know that this sort of thing has worked for Malia before. Or she has some other good reason to let Aaron talk.
    I do think, though, that Malia doesn’t get enough screen time. She’s my favorite character 🙂
    5.( Should I keep San Francisco basically as is?)
    >yes. It’s not central to the book, but it’s nice. Don’t sacrifice charm for streamlining.
    (especially with my reusing the weird drugs trope later on with the Drug Lord)
    > I took that as worldbuilding. The world is broken now, so altered mental states have physical consequences. Or altered mental states were the last remnant of magic after Uriel’s patch took hold.
    6. (Should I relocate the Comet King from Colorado Springs to the San Francisco Bay Area?)
    >No. First, because SF and the Comet King represent different solutions to the problems of what to do with a bad universe (SF would have us descend into ecstatic madness where evil can no longer touch us, the Comet King sees evil as a flaw in need of repair). Also, Unsong is supposed to be a story about America, and without Colorado, you’re missing the American interior and the story is just about New York and California.
    8. (How do I increase the role of UNSONG the organization and the theonomic corporations?)
    >Yes, I think that is something you should do. If it were me, I’d plot out an outline of Unsong from memory, then give UNSONG/the theonomics something to do at in the general area of each major plot point. Some of them you already have covered.
    One idea that occurs to me is you could give BOOJUM a more specific reason to assassinate Malia Ngo. Maybe UNSONG did something really awful.
    (Relatedly, is there a cooler name for the name-finding corporations than “theonomics”?)
    >No. There is no cooler name 🙂
    9. (How do I end my fake version of US history?)
    >I thought it was fine. But, perhaps when you tie UNSONG more tightly to the plot, a solution will present itself. I do like the idea of the theonomics taking over and the president reduced to a figure head (don’t get rid of the office entirely because I like the “and a man named Trump won” joke)
    10. (Who or what is Malia Ngo?)
    >I do think Malia Ngo is under-written. I think you can solve that by having her react to each of the major plot points. Perhaps also an attack on BOOJUM that shows her power. As for her back-story, I thought it was fine. I suppose she could be another one of the cometspawn. That would be interesting, although then she wouldn’t have the blood of Thamiel. Maybe Thamiel fathered Malia on the Comet King’s mother?
    Or, as you said, she’s secretly Sohu. That would save you from having to give her more things to do.
    12. (There’s a weak thread of relevance)
    >I think so too. Perhaps Malia attacks Anna and Dylan defends her? Then the blood of Thamiel wouldn’t have to travel so far? Maybe Malia doesn’t get killed and commands the black sail herself (but that’s just because I’m such a Malia Ngo fan)
    13. (May have to rework the history and geography of the Untied States.)
    >I vote no. It would be a lot of work, and I like what you have already
    14. (Would like to completely rework Sohu chapters to make them less worldbuildy.)
    >I disagree. The chapters where Uriel says “rest and recover, or is that something else humans cannot do?” and where Sohu says “I have to teach you faith” made me cry. They’re the heart and soul of the story. They’re also short and scattered between action-y chapters, so they aren’t much of an imposition.
    15. (Would like to totally rework the Israel-Palestine peace conference chapter.)
    >I agree. The soul-less thing made me uneasy. It makes Uriel less sympathetic, too. However, I really like the lesson of “don’t listen to people who say “I’m so great” and “how dare you.”” Maybe the catastrophe is something internal to Uriel. Like he gets depressed and lets Thamiel do something terrible. Or maybe Thamiel is going to do something terrible and Uriel blows up Madrid to stop him.
    16. (In Chapter 37, for plot reasons Aaron has to decide to cave in to the Drug Lord’s demands (and save Ana) rather than let her die.)
    >Give Aaron a reason to think he’ll succeed. Or give him a reason to think that Ana’s death would have some sort of horrible consequence, so he’s obliged to drop what he’s doing for any chance to save her.
    17. (Everyone’s reviews on GoodReads, even the otherwise-very-positive ones, say I can’t write action scenes.)
    >I disagree. But if you want to improve, here are some exercises: (A) draw pictures of the scenes, like a storyboard with stick figures (B) write the names of the characters present across the top of a piece of paper, have each make one move (downward) toward their goal or away from their fear. How do they then react to each other? (C) write a list of everything the point-of-view character sees, feels, hears, etc. (D) have characters react psychologically after the crisis is over (D) watch youtube videos of people fighting the way you’re describing them
    18. (With all of this chapter and interlude deleting, seems unlikely that I’ll keep a perfect 72 chapters spelling out the letters of the Explicit Name + 22 interludes.)
    >Sounds like a good reason not to do it. You can’t perfect work once you’ve made it. Better to focus on the next thing.

    (is that Malia Ngo’s secret identity is Sohu.)
    >Huh. Yeah. It could work. It might not even take a lot of rewriting. It would require Ana gets her blood of Thamiel from somewhere else. Unless one of the women the Comet King slept with was Thamiel in disguise? Or one of his children??

    I hope this feedback was useful. I’m scared of internet discussions and generally avoid them, but I think your fiction is fantastic and I want to see more of it out there. If you think I can help in any other way, please don’t hesitate to ask.