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November 28, 2010

New Neal Stephenson material: The Mongoliad

Neal Stephenson Greg Bear Mongoliad
Neal Stephenson’s most recent project is live. The Mongoliad is a serial novel with some collaborative capabilities, available through iPad and iPhone apps and other e-readers, as well as the good old web. Some of the material is free and some of it is only available to paying users.

I’ve just signed up to get six months’ access for six dollars. I rarely pay for online content, but Neal Stephenson is probably my favourite author so I can’t pass up a chance to read his writing. Still, I have my doubts; I wonder if this project may be missing the point, at least as far as I’m concerned. I don’t really care that the swordfighting is realistic. I don’t care about illustrations or maps. And I’m not sure about the multiple contributors format. What I read for is the author’s unique perspective and sensibility. Will the format of the Mongoliad allow for writing like the following passage?

It occurred to the Judge, before he even read this document, that he could take it to an art dealer on Nanjing Road and sell it for a year’s wages. Dr. X, assuming it was really he who had brushed these characters, was the most impressive living calligrapher whose work Judge Fang had ever seen. His hand betrayed a rigorous Confucian grounding—many decades more study than Judge Fang could ever aspire to—but upon this foundation the Doctor had developed a distinctive style, highly expressive without being sloppy. It was the hand of an elder who understood the importance of gravity above all else, and who, having first established his dignity, conveyed most of his message through nuances. Beyond that, the structure of the inscription was exactly right, a perfect balance of large characters and small, hung on the page just so, as if inviting analysis by legions of future graduate students.

Judge Fang knew that Dr. X controlled legions of criminals ranging from spankable delinquents up to international crime lords; that half of the Coastal Republic officials in Shanghai were in his pocket; that within the limited boundaries of the Celestial Kingdom, he was a figure of considerable importance, probably a blue-button Mandarin of the third or fourth rank; that his business connections ran to most of the continents and phyles of the wide world and that he had accumulated tremendous wealth. All of these things paled in comparison with the demonstration of power represented by this scroll. I can pick up a brush at any time, Dr. X was saying, and toss off a work of art that can hang on the wall beside the finest calligraphy of the Ming Dynasty.

By sending the Judge this scroll, Dr. X was laying claim to all of the heritage that Judge Fang most revered. It was like getting a letter from the Master himself. The Doctor was, in effect, pulling rank. And even though Dr. X nominally belonged to a different phyle—the Celestial Kingdom—and, here in the Coastal Republic, was nothing more than a criminal, Judge Fang could not disregard this message from him, written in this way, without abjuring everything he most respected—those principles on which he had rebuilt his own life after his career as a hoodlum in Lower Manhattan had brought him to a dead end. It was like a summons sent down through the ages from his own ancestors.

—Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

1 comment:

  1. thank you for sharing one of my favorite quotes in all of Stephenson's writings! --- ^z