The Mongoliad: The Future of Reading?

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

Joel Naoum is a Sydney-based book editor, publisher, blogger and writer. He is passionate about the possibilities of social media and digital publishing opens up for authors, publishers, booksellers and the whole book industry.