UNSONG is a web serial by the much esteemed Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex. This isn't Scott's first work of fiction but it is his first multi-chapter story and represents his first foray beyond the realm of short stories and essays. As far as the genre goes it's an alternate history urban fantasy adventure with lots of comedy, drama, social commentary, awful puns, Kabbalah, even worse puns, and absolutely no coincidences ever thrown in for good measure. If that doesn't grab your interest I don't know what will.
In 1969 Apollo 11 slammed into the celestial firmament killing the astronauts and cracking the crystal sphere separating the material world from the divine light. Not long afterward the archangel Uriel began contacting President Nixon. What followed loosely resembles our timeline but with more magic and Canada being invaded. Nixon is still impeached. Every US president that appeared in our time line appears in this one, the Untied States gets into a M.A.D stand off with the other major global power, and future attempts at reaching the moon end poorly.
The story proper begins on Friday May 12th 2017 in Palo Alto where the protagonist twenty two year old Arron Smith Teller is working in a name speaking shop where he spends his day speaking computer generated syllables in the hopes of discovering one of the names of God. Arron works for Countenance a theonomics corporation that looks for names of God that accomplish miraculous things when spoken aloud so that they can patent them. Arron Smith Teller is also the bastard son of Adrian Teller and grand nephew to Edward Teller. Arron was studying Kabbalah(theoretical and applied magic, basically) in university when he stepped on some toes by cracking a proprietary encryption called Klipot and leaked his discovery online. This was not illegal but it was very bad for the theonomics corporations who've made significant financial contributions to Kabbalistic research. Arron was expelled. Arron has an axe to grind with the man. Arron wants to change the world, partly because he's a young man with potential and mostly because he grew up being told how smart and special he is by his mother and more than a little bit because he just doesn't like the theonomics corporations. At the end of his shift he accidentally completes a phenomenally powerful name, one that will let him discover even more names at an astonishing rate.
Arron returns to his dwelling, which is a group house where he and his not girlfriend Ana Thurmond, her sister Donna Thurmond, and three or four other college students (mostly theology majors) all live, eat, and study together. They also host meetings of the Universal Unitarian church a persecuted pseudo-religion dedicated to spreading all of the names of God to all people, though mostly they just share them among themselves. Arron explains his new found super name to Ana and they begin planning how to take over/save the world. Sadly for them they are going to be competing against the titular organization Unsong. Will Arron become the awesome super Kabbalaist grand master of the universe or will he pull an Icarus and fall like a stone.
Meanwhile in another plot thread ...
On September 29th 1990 the Archangel Uriel is in his hurricane in the Gulf Coast trying and failing to get the universe back in working order so that the days of the week occur in the correct order and butterflies migrate at the right times when suddenly an eight year old girl named Sohu in a flying kayak shoots into his domain and nearly crashing into him. She tells him that she needs to learn celestial Kabbalah like him. After proving that; yes, she can in fact manipulate the levels above Malkuth (accidentally made all the rivers flow upstream) Uriel agrees to teacher her celestial Kabbalah.
In yet a third plot thread ...
On May 3rd 2001 the American Board of Ritual Magicians conducts a ritual to locate Dylan Alvarez, disbarred magician and terrorist, in the small town of Agloe, New York. Sadly, for them Dylan has grasped the core of ritual magic and knows exactly how to counter them.
Would you believe there is one more plot thread after that? Actually let's stop.
As much as the constant jumping around can be confusing the world is cool and varied enough that it never lost my interest or felt like padding or chewing the scenery. And all of the plot threads manage to meet in a finale which manages to be expected in content but surprising in its execution.
UNSONG is a very complicated work. It's dripping with obscure references and word play. It takes a serious stab at answering the problem of evil and does it in a way that draws readers into the characters' personal stake in the question. And it does all of this in one of the most unique and compelling alternate histories I've ever seen.
If it's not obvious I heartily recommend this story. It was complete on May 17, 2017 and can be found in it's entirety here.
IRON NODER X: XTREME XCELLENCE