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The Mongoliad, Book 1
Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E.D. DeBirmingham, Cooper Moo, Neal Stephenson & Mark Teppo
47North, 434 pages

Greg Bear
Greg Bear was born in San Diego, California, in 1951. With a father in the navy, Greg Bear had travelled to Japan, the Philippines, Alaska and all over the US by the age of 12. At 15, he sold his first story to Famous Science Fiction and in 1979 he sold his first novel, Hegira, to Dell. His awards include Nebulas for his stories "Hardfought," "Blood Music" and "Tangents" and one for his novel, Moving Mars (1993), plus Hugos for his stories "Blood Music" and "Tangents." As an illustrator, Bear's artwork has appeared in magazines such as Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction along with a number of hardcover and paperback books. He was a founding member of ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction Artists. He did the cover for his own novel, Psychlone, from Tor. Heavily involved with SFWA, Greg Bear co-edited the SFWA FORUM, chaired the SFWA Grievance Committee, served as VP for a year, and President for 2 years.

Greg Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
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Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson's background shows clearly in his writing. He was born in Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency (NSA), and grew up in a family that included biochemistry, physics, and electrical engineering professors. His own studies included physics and geography.

Stephenson is the author of Zodiac, Snow Crash, and the Hugo award-winning The Diamond Age. He also writes with his uncle J. Frederick George under the pseudonym Stephen Bury. Stephenson currently lives in the Seattle area with his family.

Neal Stephenson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
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SF Site Review: Anathem
SF Site Review: Snow Crash
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SF Site Review: In the Beginning... Was the Command Line
SF Site Review: In the Beginning... Was the Command Line
SF Site Interview: Neal Stephenson
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SF Site Review: The Cobweb by Stephen Bury
SF Site Review: The Diamond Age

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

The Mongoliad, Book 1 Oh, this was RIGHT up my alley -- the back blurb begins: "Fusing historical events with a gripping fictional narrative, this first book in the Mongoliad trilogy reveals a secret history of Europe in the thirteenth century". In point of fact, if I had known about this particular sandpit way way back when it was first being mooted, and if I had known that there would be this many contributing writers involved, I would probably have tossed my own hat into the ring for a chance to do something with this material -- perhaps particularly because as somebody of Slav heritage which I can more or less trace right back to this period of history this was my own past, so to speak. I went back to the website and played around there for a bit -- but it's mostly a done thing now, that the books are starting to come out. On a video on the site, Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson, the flagship authors of the endeavor, discuss the background and historical scope of the project -- and specifically mention the "historical lacunae" in this particular period of history. Oh, this was so a discussion I would have loved to have back when -- but somehow I missed the social media window of this entire project -- and here I sit now with the book one of the Mongoliad trilogy in my hands.

Let me just say that my first and instant concern was the too-many-cooks potential issue -- because I've seen collaborations between two people, and those generally work seamlessly; I've seen collaborations between three people, and SOME of those work seamlessly; any more than that, and it becomes a herding-cats project, in a way, and a certain amount of scattershot is inevitable. And here, with no less than seven named authors and at least three diverging plot lines, this becomes a little bit of an issue. I can see the seams. There are parts where the writing is invisible and the story is allowed to just keep going. There are parts where the story is buried underneath vast paragraphs of narrative background, infodump, or character introspection which becomes fairly tedious when the character's THINKING about things is about all that happens; there are parts where a slight lack of verisimilitude or a case of plotty aimlessness is covered by what I have no doubt is meticulous research but which leave this particular reader, at least, with mostly a sense of "But WHY?...". There are also bits, particularly towards the end, where someone on the writing roster has fallen into the trap of "writing fosoothly" -- by which I mean, using words such as "ken" for "know" and not in dialogue, where I would have accepted such expressions as period language, but rather in the narrative part of the story where they kind of stick out hard enough to trip me up -- that, and an apparent inability at times to basically make a decision as to whether there would be an attempt at period speech or whether dialogue would just get treated as "translated modern" which makes for some uneasy conversations between people who are as if one of them speaking as if (s)he had just stepped off a Shakespearean stage and the other using modern slang and even modern swear words which make my eyes kind of water in context.

Given that a number of the listed authors are weapons enthusiasts and re-enactors, there is a number of descriptions of battle and fighting in this book and it is something that I can believe to have been instrumental in the crafting of the story, and close to the authors' own hearts. But I've read accounts of battles before, and nothing I've seen in this book takes me and carries me. And the descriptions of individual fights -- like, for instance, the bout between Haakon of the Brotherhood and the Japanese champion of the Khan -- are presented very clinically, in a manner which might make it easier for them to be re-enacted but which simply does not go far enough towards making me hold my breath in the story itself while I wait for the outcome. I don't feel the fire of battle here. These fights are DESCRIBED, the readers are not immersed in them. It can be done. It has been done. Just not here.

Book One of the trilogy is certainly not a standalone -- and if you're allergic to cliffhangers you're going to be screaming blue murder at where this thing leaves off -- but happily as I understand it you won't have to wait too long for the continuation because I believe Book Two is coming out fairly shortly to help staunch this particular plot bleed. I will probably pick up the second installment -- if only because there are so many unanswered questions from this one (WHAT lies beyond the Red Veil? WHY is that important? WHO exactly is Lian (and her identity as a slave is clearly not the end of that story, she is far too cultured and educated to have been born one, and I do have to say right now that if she is revealed to be a lost princess of a conquered empire I am going to be plenty disappointed…))

In summary -- an entertaining summer read. But it fell short of what I was hoping for or expecting from this project -- it's just a little too fragmented and mis-focused, and there is too little of the immersion which I was hoping for. I kind of feel as though this is a manual for a role-playing game such as World of Warcraft, with things set out in the story "bible" but the reader expected to find their own way around -- and while that's fine in a game where you're interacting with other players and things can change quickly and you have to react rapidly to save your own hide, it is not quite ideal for a novel, a full-length work of fiction. I wanted more.

Copyright © 2012 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days.

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