Do We Want Multi-Media Storytelling?

The Mongoliad is the latest attempt to expand fiction into the multimedia realm, adding video, wikis and other elements to a traditional novel-style narrative. But just how much demand is there for the merging of different kinds of media?

The Mongoliad project is the brainchild of a group of writers, headed up by Neal Stephenson. It officially launched in September, and will run for at least a year. The project was initially inspired by Stephenson's dissatisfaction with the accuracy with which sword-fighting is portrayed in many novels (including his own). No matter how skilled the prose writer, it's not hard to understand that watching someone fighting with swords is more evocative than reading about it. From that thought has sprung the notion of a fiction project that will involve writers, graphic designers, videographers and others, with content delivered via mobile phone applications rather than just as conventional text blocks. You can read much more about the concept on the official Mongoliad site, linked below.

Most major book publishers now develop an extensive web presence for major releases, and the expansion of fictional franchises into other media is not a new phenomenon (the most obvious example being the many and varied incarnations of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy series). The Mongoliad concept is relatively unusual in planning its existence across multiple media right from the start, rather than expanding organically over time.

Whether this appeals to you will depend, in part, on whether you find the general swords-and-sorcery genre appealing. The sample chapters on offer did nothing for me, but that doesn't mean that the general concept isn't worth pursuing — given that this isn't a genre of fiction I often consume, I'm in no real position to judge whether it will appeal to readers who already enjoy that kind of work.

It's important not to fall into the trap of saying "this is the way that all fiction will be created in the future", or that it is necessarily superior by virtue of covering multiple platforms. One of the most obvious but often ignored lessons of the last century is that new media doesn't automatically displace existing media. It doesn't necessarily kill off its predecessors, though it may alter their audience or scope. TV did not kill cinema; VCRs did not kill TV; repeat as necessary.

It's also become evident in the Internet age that while some people enjoy getting deeply involved in a fictional universe across multiple platforms, that doesn't mean everyone does, or even that most people do. There are thousands of contributors to Wookieepedia, the fan-driven Star Wars wiki, but there are millions more people who have watched the Star Wars movies and are happy for their involvement to end there. We should be happy to accommodate both viewpoints, and not automatically push on or the other as superior.

The Mongoliad's decision to use mobile phone apps to distribute content has already led to some technical issues. Because of Apple's app approval system, the release of iOS versions of Mongoliad content has been delayed — as I write this, you can sign up for email notifications of when the service happens. If I was a fiction author, I'd be nervous to the point of non-participation about letting a company as opaque as Apple decide what I was allowed to produce. But its current dominance in the apps market means that we won't really know how successful the project is until that happens.

Does the idea of truly multi-media fiction appeal, or are you still having trouble coming to grips with the idea of ebooks? Tell us in the comments.

The Mongoliad (Thanks Simon for the pointer!)

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    I'd be more interested if it wasn't tied entirely to Apple's iOS platform. I'd rather not have to buy another piece of hardware to be able to take that with me. So, where's my Android option?

      Android is in the works, along with Kindle.

    Louis, this is obviously aimed at people that can read so you really don't need to worry. For those that can read, the linked article says "Right now, The Mongoliad is available on the web. We’ll have iPhone and iPad apps on iTunes any day now. Android and Kindle apps are in the works too, if that’s the way you swing." So its primary platform is the web. Last time I checked that wasn't exclusive to iOS.

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