Mongoliad is live: Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and friends create participatory, epic fantasy for the web

The Mongoliad is live! This is the collaborative, participatory shared-world project from Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and pals. It's an epic fantasy novel about the Mongol conquest, told in installment form, with lots of supplementary material (video, stills, short fiction, etc), and a strong audience participation component in the form of a Wikipedia-style concordance, fanfic, etc. You can read the free samples without registration, but you need an account to edit the "Pedia."

For $5.99 you get a six-month subscription to the main body of fiction; $9.99 gets you a year (you retain access to the fiction after your subscription expires, but don't get any new material until you renew, which is a major plus in my view -- much fairer than most online "subscriptions" that lock you out once you let your sub lapse).

The first (paid) chapter went up yesterday, and I've just read it. The word here is epic, a swashbuckling swordplay novel with the sweep, charm and verve of the major Stephenson epics, such as System of the World. A very strong start and well worth the price of admission. This is a great experiment in new fiction business-models that welcome audience participation and work in a way that is native to the net.

These men were likely knights of the Shield Brethren--the ones she had been instructed to find. If there was anything to their reputation, they would have responded within days to the Khan's unlikely invitation. The Shield Brethren were scattered all about, but their closest branch was in Petraathen, an ancient crag-fort in the mountains south of Kraków, just a few days journey from here. Their instinct--the reverse of the Mongols--was to camp in the woods, and their scouts had spied this old monastery, long since abandoned. To her, it had the look of a converted pagan temple--perhaps Mithraic. Long ago, many of her people had been Mithraic. Now, it was an impromptu chapter house, a sanctuary where they could wait and train, while they reconnoitered the territory around the blood-soaked battlefield of Legnica and the great, stinking tent city that Onghwe had built there.

A horseman emerged from behind the graveyard wall riding a big blue roan stallion. Cnán flinched at the sight of a Mongol-style bow, striped and jointed like the leg of an insect, held out in the man's hands. But this was no Mongol: his hair was brown, long and full, and below his sharp nose drooped a luxuriant moustache. He pivoted his mount and galloped along the curve of outbuildings, then pivoted again and rode back and forth through the grass. His apparently aimless movements made no sense until she understood that he was practicing archery. When his eye fell on something that looked like it might serve as a target, he loosed an arrow from the bow, sometimes galloping past, sometimes away, or jerking his horse up short and shooting from a standstill.

She did not know these knights other than by reputation, but she saw the rider as one who had suffered under the power of the Mongols and had learned from them, adopting and adapting their weapons.

The Mongoliad


  1. I just read the registration “agreement”. I’ll read the site eagerly, but boy-oh-boy, I’m not about to post anything on there!

  2. Me neither – those terms are dreadful. Basically, you are providing free labour to a company. This isn’t ‘participation’, it’s appropriation.

    1. It’s worse than that: you’re also agreeing to pay whatever expenses they incur to establish that what you posted is really yours to hand over to them.

      Curiously, the terms don’t seem compatible with U.S. copyright, which requires an explicit written instrument to tranfer ownership. The “agreement” might amount to a contract requiring you to provide such an instrument on demand, but that’s not the same thing as the instrument itself.

      About the content: some sloppy writing, there: How can somebody wearing a medieval helm glance behind him? And our hero concluding his opponent is a boy based on lack of facial hair seems odd when he is clean shaven himself.

  3. Didn’t Tad Williams try something a bit like this with Shadowmarch?

    Wake me up when they publish it in novel form instead.

  4. Their TOS are scary. They automatically own anything and everything you post there, and can press charges against you if you use your (now thier) stuff anywhere else. Any disputes go to one of those horrid forced arbitration things. Also, their privacy policy is “you have none”. Yikes.

  5. And don’t even try to pick up weapons, armor, and potion in the “shoppe”, it an’t even online yet! What am I supposed to do, fight with an old stick and in a peasant’s cloak? BS!

    It’ll be interesting to see how this goes. Brave experiment. And who cares if you give some content away? You impart your wicked cleverness on BB every day and no one gets charged a cent.

    I can see how the whole thing could get massively unwieldy though once it gets going. I too would rather read it in novel form.

    1. Making comments is different from creating content — they are hoping that people will be writing stories and building games and painting pictures and etc., all of which *they* can re-sell for profit, but *you* can’t even post on your own website, or they’ll sue you. Also, they can sell your personal details to Russian spammers if they want. It’s bizarre. I thought these guys were Good Guys. I can see why they would want to be able to republish all the cool stuff they hope people will create, but why not use a CC license instead of this evil You Agree We Own You EULA ? Why *not* have a decent privacy policy ? It’s not cool when Facebook does it, but if it’s Subutai, hey that’s fine ?

  6. I’m actually pretty psyched about this, but the page design…ugh. Reminds me of a Magic the Gathering video game, circa 1999.

  7. This is an awesome concept and I hope it goes well.

    However the true reason this is being done is so that Neal never has to write another ending. Everybody who’s read Diamond Age knows what I mean :-)

    1. What are you talking about? _Anathem_ had THREE endings! He’s getting much better about ending books.

  8. According to some long-forgotten pre-internet interview with John Colicos, the morning he was supposed to start working on “Errand of Mercy” the makeup people asked him what he wanted to look like. It wasn’t specified in the script. So he got to decide, and he said he thought the Klingon concept was inspired by the Soviet Union, and by Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes. All the other Klingons were based on the look he asked for.

    Long before the fanboys took over the asylum, the Klingons were Stalinist Mongols in space.

    So attention Star Trek fans: Anytime you see anything about the Mongols, take notes.

    (And forget about the dang Vikings and the samurai, they are not relevant.)

  9. I have no problem with the way Stephenson wraps up his books. He’s not a generic sci-fi writer, not sure why people expect a 1970’s sci-fi ending to all of his books. My only issue was that he radically changed his style for the end of Anethem and I’m convinced it’s because critics made him neurotic about his endings. If you want nice traditional story structure go read Heinlein and leave Stephenson alone.

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