Nerd Report: The Mongoliad

Local author Neal Stephenson crafts avant-garde science-fiction sagas

While pundits ponder the future of the novel, Seattle author Neal Stephenson has lodged it securely in the past. Stephenson (Snow Crash; Cryptonomicon), whose avant-garde science-fiction sagas explore cryptography, math and philosophy, recently released the first installment of his latest work, The Mongoliad, a parallel-world version of the Mongol invasion of Europe co-authored by several like-minded scribes. But you won’t find this serialized novel on paper—it’s being released digitally via Subutai Corporation (, an online “social book platform” maintained by Stephenson and a group of artists, technologists and business people. Subutai aims to amp up the literary experience with extratextual and interactive material, such as illustrations, interviews and documentaries available online. Stephenson sees a connection between new-school technology and the old-school serialization format, popular since the early 19th century. “Subutai Corporation is hoping that the emergence of apps, social networks and other new technological wrinkles will turn serialization back into a successful publishing strategy,” he explains. To access the novel, readers purchase a subscription ($5.99–$9.99; and are granted access to chapters released weekly on the website—or sent directly to a smartphone or Kindle. Subscribers may also influence the direction of the novel by engaging in online discussions and rating various plots. Sounds like the stuff of science fiction.