Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The future of fiction has arrived

I just read today that sci-fi writers Neil Stephenson and Greg Bear are starting a new interactive multi-authored Web epic called The Mongoliad.

There isn't much on the Mongoliad home page just yet, unless you go to your menu bar and click to view the page source, which reads:

"The Mongoliad is a family of apps for handhelds
which enable a new model for publishing, and a new way to
tell stories. At the center of the service is a ripping
medieval adventure by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and other
great authors, about a time when Europe thought that the
Monglol Horde was about to destroy their world, and the
exploits of a small band of mystics and warriors as they
turn the tide of history."

But what makes it even more interesting is that it seems reader participation is actively encouraged - "Fanfiction" additions, wiki entries, and presumably more as this evolves are welcomed.

The "Web as medium" story has been done before. Shadow Unit, is an online story featuring regular updates as well as character Livejournal accounts and a wiki page. The Web site for Warren Ellis' series Doktor Sleepless (which you should be reading) features an interactive wiki, discussion board, and even podcast. And there are probably tons more out there of which I'm completely unaware because I have a job.

But the Mongoliad does seem poised to take it to that next level for several reasons. One, the people behind it. I won't pretend I'm that familiar with Greg Bear's work, but Neal Stephenson is not only very talented at world-building, but he knows his tech (he even has a book out explaining why you should throw Windows and Mac OS out for Linux). The key phrase here is "The Mongoliad is a family of apps for handhelds," meaning all those iPhones and iPads and Nooks and Kindles and whatever else are now going to become proper mediums unto themselves. Or more appropriately, they already are, and this project is simply diving right in to this reality. As Stephenson's own Subutai Corporation puts it, this is "an experiment in post-book publishing and storytelling."

"Welcome to the future."

Comic blogger Valerie D'Orazio, in her now apparently invite-only blog Occasional Superheroine used to say how the enormous popularity in both the Internet and video games showed that today's audiences want a more interactive experience from their entertainment. It looks like we'll soon get to see just how accurate that prediction really was.

And while I won't be rushing out and buying an iPad just yet (no matter how much certain of my friends hype it up), I'm definitely interested to see how this plays out.

Also, now I can't get that Devo song out of my head.

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