Free Radical Reviewed

  By Shamus   Feb 5, 2007   16 comments

Goblin Paladin has posted a review of my cyberpunk novel. He focuses on the book’s strength and and quite positive in his review. Thanks for that.

When the book was new I coaxed and hinted around, hoping someone would write a review of the thing. (In an act of hubris, I tried to get a Slashdot review. Now I’m glad that didn’t happen. I’d have gotten savaged.) Writing fiction without an editor is a bit like working without a net: If I screw up, there isn’t anyone to keep me from making a fool of myself. I think most authors want a (positive) review that will entice readers to read their work. I wanted a review so I could get some objective analysis of what worked and what didn’t. Even five years later, I’m still grateful when someone is kind enough to email or post their thoughts once they finish the book.

And now I am going to do something unseemly. I am going to respond by reviewing my own book.


Maybe not review in the sense of “a critique” so much as review in the sense of “revisit and look back on”.

Like a lot of my other work, I have a love / hate relationship with the book. When I finished it I was quite proud of myself. Hey! I wrote a whole book! All by my lonesome! And spelled most of it right. Sometimes. Then later I re-read it and was so ashamed that I wanted to take it down. Then I let it stew for another couple of years before making substantive revisions.

After five years, I’m finally far enough away from the work I put into it to be able to have some perspective on the thing. It’s not bad for a first effort, but some parts are sophomoric. Most of the current flaws – typos, repeated phrases, and the occasional lack of pith – is just the sort of thing that would get cleaned up if I had an editor.

I can see that the book gets better, smoother, and more articulate towards the end. Reading through it now, I can see my work improve as I learned to write. Around chapter 21 I hit my stride, and that final third of the book still holds up for me today. The middle is competent but a bit bland. The beginning is interesting but suffers from syllabic incontinence common to new writers: It would be much stronger if there were a lot less of it.

Thanks again to GP for reading. It’s nice to know the book is still attracting new readers.

1624 comments. (That's 10 in Hexadecimal.)


  1. Tallain says:

    Your book was one of the first things I looked at when I first came to this site. The first was, of course, the Roller Coaster Tycoon video, then I checked out your most recent posts and then the home page where I found the link to the book. It’s the first full novel I’ve read online and I enjoyed it very much.

  2. Malkara says:

    I’ve really got to get around to reading that thing. Maybe one of these days in class, I’ll get around to it. God knows I don’t have anything better to do.

  3. Robin Z says:

    I read it as well, after The Gneech linked DMotR back on December 5th. I’ve never played any of the System Shock games (woe is me!), but your story gave me marvelous “Snow Crash” vibes.

    That said – yeah, that first sentence is a monster. You could probably submit that to the Lyttle Lytton contest unchanged.

    (By the way, what about DJ Qualls to play Deck?)

  4. bkw says:

    I’ve seen you reference your novel a couple times and I keep intending to (and forgetting to) take a gander. Now I definitely will.

    With regards to publishing — you might find lulu.com interesting. I self-published a novel I wrote some 15 years ago as a lark — cost me around $20.

    No one will ever, ever, ever read it, but it’s kind of neat having it on my bookshelf.

  5. Shamus says:

    “That said – yeah, that first sentence is a monster. You could probably submit that to the Lyttle Lytton contest unchanged.”

    Wince.

    And that isn’t the only sentence like that. There are a few awful duds scattered throughout the book, like landmines of rotten prose that will kill the mood. I clench my teeth when I get to them. I have to resist the urge to go back and do more revisions.

    A while ago I decided that the solution isn’t to revise works that suck, it’s to go out and write something better. Otherwise I’d be revising the dang thing forever.

  6. Shamus says:

    Robin Z: DJ Qualls is perfect.

  7. Robin Z says:

    Robin Z: DJ Qualls is perfect.

    Well, I thought he could work. He’s got that freakishly-emaciated thing going (mostly because he’s 9-¾ feet tall), brown hair, and The Core already established him in people’s minds as a hacker – the only question would be the facial hair and gymnastics. And he can act, too.

  8. Long-time reader, first time poster, I guess.

    Thanks for the nod! I did notice a few spelling mistakes and suchlike, but turned a blind eye to them. They were exactly the sort of thing that an editor would fix, and you lack(ed?) an editor. It would have been mean and childish to have pointed them out and cackled maniacally.

    Besides, it should be noted that your grammar and spelling are WAY better than mine most of the time and far greater than the majority of stuff on the intertubes.

    You say that the middle was a little bland, and that’s true in parts. However, you are trying to be true to a game that was a little repetitive in pieces. There is only so many “Deck runs away from the giant cyborg” scenes that you can write to be exciting, after all. I felt it worked really well- certainly enough for me to keep reading text on a screen, something I normally avoid.

    Anywho. You’re very welcome. If you like, I can always do a more thorough review at some point. I keep my ‘thumbnail reviews’ fairly short and positive, to encourage people to read the books I like.

    Thanks for the link.

  9. Zonk says:

    Careful. You never know when an editor is listening. :)

    Let me know if you are still interested in a Slashdot review, sir.

  10. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I should be ashamed of myself, I am your little brother and I have still yet to read your book even after all this time.
    How about that “Dreaming Dark Book” series that was written by a mister Kieth Baker. Pretty good huh!

  11. bkw says:

    I am a few chapters in, and there are several really nice turns of phrase. It’s also pretty obvious it was written by a programmer. ^_^

  12. Shamus says:

    Zonk: I am still somewhat apprehensive, but sure. It doesn’t make sense for me to leave it up and then fear people reading it.

    Thanks.

  13. Liritar says:

    I just found your site, and I’m going to have to read that. It sounds interesting. And as a trying writer without an editor, I really feel your pain. I’ve just gotten to chapter seven in a really strange scifi novel, and half of the time I’m convinced that it’s utter genius, and the other half I’m sure it’s utter shite that no one wants to read. *Laughs*

  14. mom says:

    I LOVED the kinetic bike. Someone should really get around to building one of those.

  15. Matt says:

    I was wondering whether I’d read it or not, went and took a look and was thinking “was it that one with the , then thought that story (the events I was thinking of) had been in an actual physical book, then looked at the thing and remembered that it had in fact been your onine book thingy.

    Then I remembered that I read it pretty much in a single sitting (maybe 2) because I thought it was cool

    (consider your self praised)

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