Fantasy cabal sells off novel-as-app platform

Neal Stephenson’s Subutai splits into content and publishing software companies

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Subutai Corporation, the brainchild of Neal Stephenson, has sold its Personal Ubiquitous Literature Platform (PULP) to a company called Brainstem Media. Brainstem is founded and run by the PULP’s developers.

PULP was developed to deliver chapters of a serialised novel to an iOS and Android app. The novel in question, The Mongoliad, is a sprawling and swashbuckling tale set during the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Europe.

Several authors, including Stephenson and Greg Bear, wrote chapters of the book. The creative team referred to itself as “The Cabal”.

The book also appeared on a website that incorporated forums and a reader-editable Wiki.

The Mongoliad has since been republished as a conventional dead tree trilogy (two volumes out so far, inc. Kindle edition) by Amazon.com’s SciFi imprint 47 North. The authors now consider this their preferred version of the text. Brainstem says the web-and-app version was a " collaborative, transmedia publishing experiment."

While Subutai Corporation always planned to publish The Mongoliad as a book, the company’s strategy changed as it became apparent that the goal of delivering a chapter a week was not easily met. That hiccup and the 47 North deal have now sparked the offload of PULP to Brainstem, one of whose founders, Gary McCoy, told El Reg the new company will soon productise PULP and try to sell it to publishers of all stripes.

“We're focusing on indie and niche publishers, but we already have one big publishers trying it out,” he wrote. “We have a few other projects already underway in beta. While book publishers can produce any type of project (e.g. serial, vanilla ebook, collections, channels, etc.) of any genre, our initial focus is on scifi and fantasy due in part to us being devoted sci fi and fantasy geeks. We have already been approached about projects for distinctly unrelated genres, however.”

The platform will also get a refresh and McCoy said “Amongst other things that readers will see are an all new e-reader and a facebook-like timeline of fan community activity.”

“Much of what PULP is, however, readers will never see because it is focused on constructing eBooks that are tightly integrated with the fan community and handling much of the considerable production and business detail behind the scenes. This is the living book concept. The stories themselves can evolve on the basis of fan feedback and the discussion and contributions of the fan provide another dimension of enjoyment. We are working towards going much, much farther on these aspects.”

Subutai Corporation was cagier about what the PULP selloff will mean, but has posted the image below (and pointed out the URL www.foreworldsaga.com) and hinted at future stories, games and even movies.

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Mark Teppo, one of the authors on The Mongoliad, also suggested El Reg consider the Subutai Corp web page as it hints at future projects.

There’s not a lot on offer, but a job ad for an animation programmer to work on “a next-generation motion controlled video game” is certainly intriguing, especially if you consider that The Mongoliad was reportedly inspired, in part, by Stephenson’s desire to write more authentic sword fighting scenes after criticism of some fights in his Baroque Cycle.

The Mongoliad's fight scenes were elaborately choreographed with help from sword fighting experts, so it's not too much of a stretch to imagine hyper-realistic Kinect sword battles could be on the drawing board. ®

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