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The Mongoliad Book One

10 Nov 2012

Great fun, and a good read.

So The Mongoliad is an experiment by some authors to do something new with books. It’s a serial multimedia fest, with maps, illustrations, videos, and that kind of thing. It’s also a collaboration between multiple authors. It’s that last bit that most interests me. Which is a good thing, because my Kindle workflow is what I’m using and I’m missing all of that extra content. Also, Kindle borrower’s library, can I get a HELL YEAH!

Anyways, collaboration. I know that in the world of software, we get feedback all the time on our writing (and I don’t think it’s so different). The more feedback, the better it is. If authors can work together, surely they’d get the same benefits?

I think that’s the case here. It’s really great writing. The pacing is perfect, the timing excellent, the details are there for their target audience and skipped when they’d be boring. And their target audience, make no mistake, is their existing audiences, so it’s a male, sword-swinging action book; it’s samurai Rambo for smart kids. It reminds me a lot of REAMDE that way.

But the subject matter, while interesting, isn’t treated with any kind of unique spark. It’s historical fiction without the quirks and spark of, say, The Baroque Cycle or even of REAMDE. The characters are pretty one-dimensional. So far, we’ve got the good guys, starring a few sturdy, modest knights, the quirky alchemist, and the mysterious stealthy orphan. We’ve got the bad guys, starring innumerable interchangeable Mongol horsemen. We’ve got bad guy headquarters, starring what are perhaps the most interesting, multifaceted characters, but get the least screen time. And we have a few other also-ran cameos.

I don’t think I’d mind seeing more of the world through the eyes of these one-dimensional characters; I’ve never read about 1241AD. Sometimes a nice one-dimensional point of view is a great window onto a world; the simple step of interpreting their voice makes it easy. But I don’t feel like I’ve learned cool details about the world like I did after REAMDE or The Baroque Cycle. They’re all too busy doing things to notice the cool bits of their world; there’s a plot to get under way. When we learn a detail, like Mongolian plank executions, it’s laboriously explained by someone rather than implied from the point of view of a nameless Mongolian horseman who wants to get it over with and get lunch.

That distracting plot, though, is a fun, romping plot, full of swords and the kind of cool battle detail and strategy that I’ve come to love from my favorite sci fi authors. I don’t really care about the descriptions of clothing and whether or not someone’s face is grizzled that many books seem to care about. Tell me about the naginata. They’re rocking it here.

So the book is easy, fun, and fast, and well written. The details are great, every chapter is great, but the overall story is…well, let’s say traditional, so far, and the world is a backdrop for a plot, instead of something to get a feel for. It’s supposed to be long and serial, so there’s time to fix all of that.

Can author-by-committee produce something amazing? I’m not sure yet, but it’s produced something fun, and I’m going to read the second book and not feel bad if we never rise above fun.