I don’t know how many of you have read the ongoing comics series Unwritten (Vertigo), by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The plot follows Tommy Taylor, whose father is the famous author of a series of fantasy books closely resembling the Harry Potter series. His father has based the eponymous young protagonist of his books on young Tommy himself, who now, after the sudden disappearance of his father, makes a living by attending conventions etc. After a few intriguing confrontations with some shadowy individuals, Toomy gets caught up in a conspiracy of sorts and realises that the world of fiction isn’t as fictional as it seems and/or that he might be a fictional character himself…The series interweaves myriad well known narratives from various genres, in a sense following the Borgesian idea that religion, philosophy etc are but branches of fantastic literature (or, rather post-modernistly, that stories are all we can have). It’s a story about stories, the intersection of reality and fiction, the role of narrative and the notion of identity, among other things.
Now, the interesting thing is this: When Tommy was a boy, his father, Wilson Taylor, taught him countless trivia concerning the actual geography of fictional events as they are described in works of fiction, from chivalric romances to the novels of Dickens and beyond. On which streets characters lived, in which cities the action took place etc, thereby giving them a semblance of reality by spatialising them. It seems that Wilson knew about the situation in which Tommy would find himself and taught him that as a means of protection.
I loved the idea when I started reading the comic, so imagine my surprise when I came across GoogleLitTrips. GoogleLitTrips is an educational resource that endeavours to teach students about literature by showing them the routes and travels undertaken by characters in famous road trip novels. It does this by taking advantage of certain features of Google Earth. At this stage, it offers a very limited number of such spatialised versions but it doesn’t take much to see how far this could go as an educational and creative tool. Yes, people have been going on literary tours and creating soundtracks for works of fiction for years, but this model could add various multimedia dimensions to the way we approach the act of writing and the act of reading literature itself. Obviously, I do not view this as a substitute for reading and writing but as a level of extension of the creative and experiential aspects of those processes.
For example, Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear have been collaborating on a project called Mongoliad that combines the freeform storytelling aspects of MMORPGs and the externalised, spatial aspects of GoogleLitTrips:
The Mongoliad is a rip-roaring adventure tale set 1241, a pivotal year in history, when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world. The Mongoliad is also the beginning of an experiment in storytelling, technology, and community-driven creativity.
Our story begins with a serial novel of sorts, which we will release over the course of about a year. Neal Stephenson created the world in which The Mongoliad is set, and presides benevolently over it. Our first set of stories is being written by Neal, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo, and a number of other authors; we’re also working closely with artists, fight choreographers & other martial artists, programmers, film-makers, game designers, and a bunch of other folks to produce an ongoing stream of nontextual, para-narrative, and extra-narrative stuff which we think brings the story to life in ways that are pleasingly unique, and which can’t be done in any single medium.
Very shortly, once The Mongoliad has developed some mass and momentum, we will be asking fans to join us in creating the rest of the world and telling new stories in it. That’s where the real experiment part comes in. We are building some pretty cool tech to make that easy and fun, and we hope lots of you will use it.
People will be able to get The Mongoliad over the web and via custom clients for mobile devices – we’re going to start out with iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle apps, and will probably do more in the not too distant future.
This platform could develop as an updated form of Second Life and MMORPGs, much like the one envisaged by Greg Egan in Zendegi or the platform that Neal Stephenson envisaged in Snow Crash.