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