The Mongoliad by Various authors

Rating 8.2/10
An exciting peek into a possible future of interactive, serialized publishing.

I am a huge Neal Stephenson fan – Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle, Anathem – even Raemde. So I, peripherally, followed an experiment by him and Greg Bear (someone I’ve never read, but have a few books on my list) and 5 other writers, as well as a dozen other artists, technology, and fight choreography experts to create an online interactive media experiment. They wrote a serialized story, releasing it online and via apps, over an almost 18 month period. You paid for the content upfront and, aside from the story, it included video, illustrations, maps, and portraits. The content has been polished up, stitched together a bit, and broken into 3 books (a trilogy!), the first of which was released recently.

The Mongoliad takes place in Europe during the time of the Mongolian invasion in 1241. Book 1 follows two different story lines – a group of knights who seek to protect all of Christendom by killing the Kahn of Kahns, and a Mongol war leader who is sent to end the Kahn of Kahns excessive drinking and save the Mongol empire.

Overall, I found the story and writing to be excellent and very engaging. There is a lot going on – a large number of characters – but their backgrounds and motivations are at least touched on. You care about some more than others, but there is an attempt to humanize each. And there has been a lot of care taken to depict the action and make sure it is realistic. The entire online experiment began as a means of making sure that the sword fighting in the authors books was accurate and realistic. As with any book that is written by numerous authors, there are some jumps in narrative style and points of view. I went into the reading knowing there were 5-7 authors, so expected this. And I wasn’t put off by this, it allowed certain characters to have their own voice, although it could be abrupt at times.

This is a complex, involved world that closely resembles our own historical one. My understanding is that future projects in this world will be written and transmitted online, further developing certain characters, events, and time periods.

As a book, The Mongoliad stands on its own, but as an online interactive media experiment (members can post their own fanfic, pictures, maps, etc.) it is an exciting peek into a possible future of interactive, serialized publishing.

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