The Mongoliad: The Future of Reading?


by - May 27th, 2010


Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and ‘friends’ this week launched a new media project called The Mongoliad. Part novel, part fan-fiction and part game, The Mongoliad is a new media experiment designed to explore the future of the written medium. There’s not all that much to The Mongoliad at present, but it raises a bunch of very interesting questions about what is possible – particularly considering who is involved.

For those of you who don’t know, The Mongoliad is a sort of serialized story, created by Neal Stephenson, and written by Neal, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, and a number of other great authors. It will be told via custom apps on iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Android, and will be something of an experiment in post-book publishing and storytelling.

Neal Stephenson, who from the reports appears to be the driving force behind this project, is a well respected SF writer with serious cyber– and steampunk chops. Anyone who has read his book The Diamond Age could be forgiven for seeing the similarities between the fictional Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer and this new project. In The Diamond Age, the Primer fulfills the function of parent, teacher, friend and entertainment. It is an interactive work of fiction intended to guide the reader towards a more interesting life, and plays a pivotal role in the novel.

I think if this project had been conceived by anyone other than Stephenson, I’d probably just snort with derision. These new media projects come along every once in a while, but they always seem to remind me of my childhood of reading choose your own adventure stories. They seem immature, poorly developed and lacking in essential depth. But Stephenson does depth very well. The scope and ambition of his novels have been on a grand scale to date.

So far, it seems, attempts at this kind of storytelling have not gained mainstream success or acceptance. They fall between mediums, and readers don’t know how to take them. But it seems there is a potential market for it, particularly now with the release of tablet devices like the iPad. A number of gamer friends of mine have been hooked on games like Hotel Dusk for the Nintendo DS and Heavy Rain for the PS3 but never read books. Could something like this project lure them into reading? What do you think? Will it bang or will it blow?


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Joel Naoum (113 Posts)

No Responses to “The Mongoliad: The Future of Reading?”

  1. Sam Says:

    It sounds like a gimmick. Was it James Patterson who last year had something like this going on? Online, where readers were encouraged to add to the story?

  2. J9 Says:

    Hi Joel,
    I’m hopeful that it is utterly way-cool and exciting and genre busting and drives gamers so wild with excitement that they beg to read NS’s Baroque Trilogy …. but I doubt it. Mostly because there’s still such a bit gap/jump between the type of escapism we turn to books for and the type we look for in games.
    NS is massive on depth of the footnotes and miscellany variety, so maybe if this is a puzzel/immersion game it will work really well. Keen to see.

  3. kypt Says:

    For some reason, this concept of an immersion game reminds me of Myst. At the time (1991), it was very unusual because it was a graphically beautiful (if I remember correctly) and immersive game – in that you wandered about this abandoned environment with no directives on what your objectives were and, strangely, with no other characters to interact with.

    The description of The Mongoliad is not very explanatory. But I am imagining some awesome world-building if Neal Stephenson is driving it, with the narrative driven by where you ‘go’ and what you chose to ‘do’ in there. Very curious to see this.

  4. Joel Blacklock Says:

    Yes, there’s very little info on it right now, but if anyone can do it, Stephenson can. I’ll be updating as I know more.