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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Monday, June 4, 2012 1:01 pm
Hostile Questions: Neal Stephenson
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

You’d think I’d be intimidated by Neal Stephenson. Only a madman berserker could turn out such unwieldy tomes as Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle,” REAMDE, and the new multi-authored, community-driven interactive serial novel The Mongoliad. But you’re looking at one hostile questioner unfazed by Stephenson’s hyperliterate cyberpunk — or, if you prefer, postcyberpunk, or scifihistoricalcyberpostcyberpunk, or… Yarrg! Already the nefarious blackguard bends my mind!!!

Just who do you think you are?

For present purposes, a pretty small part of a team of writers who embarked on a quest a couple of years ago to co-write an epic novel and release it in serialized form on the Internet. We’re having this conversation because we actually managed to get through to the end of the project without killing each other (or ourselves) and 47 North liked the results enough to print them on dead trees.

No matter where you move in the room, these eyes follow you.

Sometimes I wish I could get off, since I seem to be better at getting on to elaborate projects like this one… but in this case it all started with a longstanding interest in the techniques of medieval European swordplay, which turn out to be way more sophisticated than most people have suspected. Hollywood hasn’t done us any favors in this department, tending to depict sword fights as ponderous sledgehammer contests interspersed with the occasional twirly bit.

What’s the big idea?

We decided that there was an opportunity to write an adventure story rooted in a better-informed picture of European martial arts. In typical fantasy-novelist fashion, we ended up creating a whole world–Foreworld–as a prerequisite for telling just this one story… with the inevitable result that we thought up a whole lot of other story ideas set in different times and places in Foreworld. The Mongoliad is set squarely in the middle of Foreworld’s map and historical timeline… having put that stake in the ground, we are already laying plans to branch out in other directions.

What is your problem, man?

I can’t stop once I get going. Sometimes, getting going can be a bit of a problem… especially when I’m spending my time doing rubbish like this.

Haven’t you done enough?

Some would say I’ve done too much. But I have not yet begun to write. Leave me alone.


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