If More Gyms Had Sword Fighting Classes....
June 3, 2012 8:28 AM   Subscribe

"I'm in a nondescript warehouse in Seattle, to which I've traveled so that award-winning science fiction novelists can demonstrate how they could cut me in half if they felt like it." i09 Talks to Neal Stephenson about working on the multi-author IP-experiment *thing* The Mongoliad and sword fighting as a heart-healthy hobby.
posted by The Whelk (29 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I have just started reading The Mongoliad as a book - the article mentions that it was "significantly revised" from it's online format. What am I missing? Maps and stuff?
posted by The River Ivel at 8:50 AM on June 3, 2012

Serialized chapters often have redundancies and repetition that are consolidated in a single long form manuscript.

My brother mentioned his theater troupe practiced in the same building as Sword fighting group. They really should collaborate.
posted by sammyo at 9:08 AM on June 3, 2012

Who needs European Samurai when there's a Cross-Time Engineer?

Actually, this is really cool.
posted by notsnot at 9:13 AM on June 3, 2012

IIRC Snow Crash started as a similar multimedia thing.
posted by Artw at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2012

Artw: It did. I've always wondered if that was why the first section of the book was far, far better then the rest of it. (Read: everything up till when YT makes the first delivery)
posted by Canageek at 10:06 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anyway, this has gotten me really interested in reading The Mongoliad, despite having opted out of the last couple of Stephenson bricks and cooling on him generally due to some of the company he keeps.

Greg Bear can be a great writer from time to time too.
posted by Artw at 10:15 AM on June 3, 2012

Artw: Up until this year, the only Stephenson book that I could actually finish (and not have chucked into a wood stove) was Cryptonomicon. I have to admit, though, that REAMDE was a great book and so far, The Mongoliad has been excellent.
posted by NoMich at 10:30 AM on June 3, 2012

So, I am a big Western Martial Arts enthusiast, and I have also read almost all of what Neal Stephenson has published, and let me tell you, there's very little I wouldn't do to get a chance to kick Neal Stephenson's ass with sword and buckler. Where do I sign up?
posted by agentofselection at 11:00 AM on June 3, 2012

we should really have yearly gladiator style tournaments of SF/F authors.
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My google is weak...who is E.D. DeBirmingham? My brain wants it to be Ursula K. leGuinn, but I suspect that's unlikely.
posted by Shutter at 12:22 PM on June 3, 2012

I was told that Mary Gentle is a trained swordswoman. Some googling turns up the website for her husband, Dean Wayland, who runs a course that will teach you how to fight with swords.

Which, if we're going to have a yearly gladiator-style tournament of SF/F authors, seems like stacking the deck a little. On the other hand, the estate of L. Ron. Hubbard has a navy.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:37 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

She's in the right area, but I can't see her really getting on with that crowd.
posted by Artw at 12:39 PM on June 3, 2012

I'm a few chapters into Mongoliad and man is that thing a mess. It seems so far to be the classic camel: a horse designed by a committee. It's heavy going so far, not to mention gory as hell. I had to put it down and start rereading Cryptonomicon to remind myself why I love Neal Stephenson so much. I wish he'd write a sequel to that - I want to find out what happens to everybody twelve or so years down the line with new, updated technology (the tech in that book is really dated now) - instead of clonking around medieval Mongolia hitting people in the head with big chunks of steel.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wish he'd write a sequel to that - I want to find out what happens to everybody twelve or so years down the line with new, updated technology (the tech in that book is really dated now)

Cryptonomicon is a spiritual prequel to Snow Crash.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:17 PM on June 3, 2012

Reamde is a spiritual sequel to Snow Crash.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2012

Waves tiny Diamond Age flag.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on June 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Sits in back, sullenly re reading the Baroque Cycle.
posted by The Whelk at 4:46 PM on June 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Cryptonomicon might be spiritually a prequel to Snow Crash but it's definitely physically a sequel to the Baroque Cycle. It even has Enoch Root in the flesh and multitudes of later generations of Shaftoes.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:05 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read the first book of the Mongoliad. I can't see myself reading the second unless I'm desperate. It's choppy both in style and in POV; the story is stupid; and I had great difficulty caring about anything or anybody in it. By the end I was rooting for the Mongols to start killing everybody again.

Did I say by the end? Because all that happens in the first book is that the playing pieces are moved a bit closer to where they need to be in order to be able to get ready to start the first stage of doing something. You know how some books have bits you can skip without missing anything? In this case, it would be the white papery bits between the covers.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:16 PM on June 3, 2012

I'm the only one that enjoys the Mongoliad? Fine, now I feel dumb. If anybody needs me, I'll be in the Two Princes thread.
posted by NoMich at 5:22 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god, thank you for posting this! I just got the Mongoliad and I am glad that I am not the only one having a terrible time getting in to it. It is.... so... very... bad. Clunky. I don't give a shit about any of the characters. Generic. I know how all the characters are going to act based on their initial description. I can't tell many characters apart. This is not the Stephenson that I know and love. Same shame shame.
posted by rebent at 8:55 PM on June 3, 2012

Something about this smacks of nerd arrogance. Haven't myriad medieval re-enactment groups been doing exactly this thing for decades? Are they thinking all those folks are hopelessly off-course?
posted by ga$money at 10:40 AM on June 4, 2012

ga$money, WMA (western martial arts)/HEMA (historical european martial arts) groups are closely connected with re-enactment groups--some of them they might be defined as re-enactment groups whose interest is specifically research into medieval combat. There has certainly been sword fighting going on in re-enactment groups for a long time, but for many years that fighting was founded upon A) modern olympic fencing, B) Kendo, or C) nothing at all. In the past 10-20 years, there has been an explosion in serious research into how medieval Europeans really fought. This research is founded in manuals recorded by various fencing masters throughout the middle ages and renaissance (a few names to get you started: Fiore dei Liberi, Johannes Liechtenauer, Ridolfo Capoferro, George Silver, MS I.33), but it is also informed by other martial arts, e.g. jiu-jiutsu. With serious scholarly and hobbyist interest in HEMA, there have recently been many good translations of historical martial arts manuals that weren't previously available in the vernacular, as well as tons of interpretation of those (often cryptic) manuals by modern martial artists.

In short, I don't think most HEMA practitioners would say that combat re-enactors of the 70's and 80's were hopelessly off-course, just that there is a ton of material to learn, and we know a lot more about the subject now than we did then.
posted by agentofselection at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

agentofselection, thanks for a serious answer to an admittedly snarky question. It was really helpful. I think my skepticism is somewhat due to the tone of the article, which presents what they're doing as borderline unique, but also due to my own experience. I played in the SCA back in the 90s, and there was at least some awareness of some of the sources you mention (IIRC), though to be sure, I think a lot of our combat practices were based on what worked for us based on our equipment.

I am curious how martial arts like jiu-jitsu come in. I've been training BJJ for over a year now and I love it, but it doesn't seem like there is much connection to European medieval combat either in terms of history or style. The same goes for bartitsu. I've seen a copy of one of Barton-Wright's manuals and it seemed mostly based on Asian martial arts. Is it just a matter of people interested in HEMA also being interested in jiu-jitsu and its off-shoots, so the influence finds it way across historical lines?
posted by ga$money at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2012

I am curious how martial arts like jiu-jitsu come in.

There are only so many ways the human body can move - there are certain vulnerable areas on every person. Regardless of the cultural connection, the solutions to the problem 'I want to cause injury to that person / prevent that person from causing injury to me' overlap from system to system.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:02 PM on June 9, 2012

Neil Stephenson and Subuto are working on making a video game about sword fighting. Here is the kickstarter
posted by rebent at 5:11 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

wired writeup; mongoliad/subutai previously...
posted by kliuless at 1:27 PM on June 11, 2012

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