“We are the Borg Collective…we are writing a wiki book….”

By Mark O’Neill

As a professional writer (and one who is also working on a novel), I found the following project quite amusing and also quite cringing in its own way. Penguin Books and De Montfort University wanted to see if a novel could be written by a collective group of people using wiki software (the same software that Wikipedia uses) and thereby blow away the image of the solitary writer sitting toiling away at his craft year after year.

So someone can help to write chapter one, then someone else can come along and rewrite that part if they didn’t like what the previous person had written and so on… sounds like a recipe for total anarchy if you ask me.

1,500 people ended up taking part in the project which came to be known as A Million Penguins and it is now finished for you to read. If you can make it as far as Chapter Two without losing the will to live that is.

The critics’ verdict? Bloody awful. That’s not just my opinion but everyone’s. As one blog pointed out, being a wiki, the project was plagued by vandals from day one. Gawker too didn’t really have nice things to say about it either. I mean, just look at the opening paragraph :

The deep waters, black as ink, began to swell and recede into an uncertain distance. A gray ominous mist obscured the horizon. The ocean expanse seemed to darken in disapproval. Crashing tides sounded groans of agonized discontent. The ocean pulsed with a frightening, vital force. Although hard to imagine, life existed beneath. It’s infinite underbelly was teeming with life, a monstrous collection of finned, tentacled, toxic, and slimy parts. Below its surface lay the wreckage of countless souls. But we had dared to journey across it. Some had even been brave enough to explore its sable velveteen depths, and have yet to come up for precious air….”

Jesus… it’s enough to make my English teacher have a multiple coronary!   As a social experiment, I’m sure it was interesting but it sure isn’t Shakespeare!