Free Radical: Free Thread

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 28, 2012

Filed under: Projects 93 comments

By request, I wanted to open up a thread for people to discuss my first book, Free Radical, which is still available for free. (Bottom of page.) There’s also a print version available at cost. You can also read the venerable webpage version that started it all.

He realized that he wasn’t getting out of there. He had come to this conclusion at some point during his run down the stairs. There was just no way he was going to escape though the net of police that was surely making its way up through the building. For him, it was no longer a question of how he would escape, but how far he would get before they brought him down. This gave him a kind of sick desperation that fueled him onward. He was no longer running for his life – he was already dead. Instead, he was running out of spite, out of sheer stubbornness and vengeance. They were going to get him, and he was going to make them work for it. He was going to see how far he could get before they stopped him. Nescio had been right after all.

So: Discuss the events of the book, the themes, the characters, the technology, or whatever else interests you. Feel free to ask questions if you like, although you might be surprised at how little I know beyond what’s already on the page.

This thread is intended for people who have finished the book, and the entire thread should be considered spoilers. No need to use spoiler tags.


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93 thoughts on “Free Radical: Free Thread

  1. MichaelG says:

    Had you read “Two Faces of Tomorrow” by James P. Hogan before you wrote this? It tells the story of a space station AI that goes out of control.

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      His story is heavily inspired by the System Shock game series. However I must now go find this other book you speak of as I love this sub-genre.

    2. Shamus says:

      Nope. This is the first I’ve heard of it.

      I’m not actually very well read, due to my tendency to re-read things instead of looking for new things.

      1. MichaelG says:

        Well, you would probably enjoy it, and James P. Hogan books generally. His style is similar to yours in a lot of ways.

        The book is out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon.

        The blurb for the book is accurate enough, if I remember correctly. I haven’t read it since it first came out (1984), but offhand, I don’t think there’s anything in the plot that’s particularly dated.

        1. Arran says:

          Actually, it’s been made available as part of the Baen Free Library – you can download the Kindle version here:

          1. Windblade says:

            there’s also a fairly accurate manga adaptation by Yukinobo Hoshino. the only part of that didn’t work is a a slightly cliched ‘race against time’ addition to the ending that leads to a ‘disney death’

  2. Scott Richmond says:

    I love this book in that I could go as far as to say its one of my all time favorites. I am however biased in that SS2 is also one of my favorite games of all time. But I think this book brings about all the emotions and intelligent story telling a game of that age failed to deliver.
    My question is: If you could go back and write the book again, would you change much? Do you think your writing style is vastly different now to when you last touched it?

    1. Shamus says:

      I don’t think I’d change much in the way of story. When I re-read it now, I get caught up on repeated words. Like using the same adjective three times in two paragraphs. I did that a lot back then, and it really bugs me now.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Yeah, that bugged me too, and maybe only because I notice the same habit in my own writing. There were only three or four places where I remember it really sticking out though. I wouldn’t have even remembered that it bugged me. Only your mention of it reminded me.

      2. MrWhales says:

        Honestly. It was the first online book I’ve ever read. (Although I still don’t read them, other than your autobio posts) And if I ever get around to it I’ll buy a copy.

        I have never played a system shock game, or a bioshock game, or any shock game. Or any Deux Ex game (I don’t remember if it is related to anything previously mentioned). But I could still read your book and figure out anything I didn’t know, and anything I had no clue about was not-too-important overall.

    2. Having read through his book for editing/proofing and reformatting for this edition I must say his grammar, spelling, and general writing style have greatly improved since this book.

  3. Tseh says:

    Where do you get a print copy? I was hoping to add this to my bookcase along with The Witch Watch.

    1. If you click the link and scroll down all the ways you can buy all the books Shamus has are available– Free Radical print edition is towards the bottom.

  4. Simon Buchan says:

    As someone who (Shock!* Horror!) never played a System Shock**, roughly where and how much does Shamus deviate from the original plot?

    * Ba-dum-Tshh.
    ** If it makes you feel better, I’m working through Planescape: Torment now. I’ll get around to System Shock!

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      I haven’t jumped into SS or the book in a good year or so now but the book is basically around the events of System Shock 1. That said, System Shock 1 is OLD and the story is pretty damn basic. The book takes many liberties to extend and deepen the story, or the better IMO.
      The end of the book is completely different from the end of System Shock 1 also.

    2. krellen says:

      The original plot – as in, the series of events that are the main quest of the game – is pretty much intact. The details therein are fairly expanded, but the tasks Deck is given are pretty much the exact tasks given in the game, though as Scott Richmond already mentioned, the ending is completely non-canonical.

  5. Cordance says:

    I only read it recently, 4 months ago. After reading it I went to dig out my old copy of SS to relive the adventure but alas they have gone the way of many a good old game when you move house.

    The story felt like it added what the game could only hint at. The best thing about the game/story idea is that the sense of urgency you lose from doing side quest in a lot of games is brought back into focus.

    Ive heard many authors say it that the best way to write about something is to live it. I feel that is what made this book so compelling. The fact that subject was outside of normal experiences yet there was a extra sense of clarity to it. The understanding I felt came because Shamus had been there so to speak.

    It got me thinking why don’t companies do this kind of work as a final boost to sales once game sales start to wind down. They could even have a competitions from faithful fans who have played the game to make it “free advertizing”. Games like Fall out, Deus ex and Mass effect. Could all create an amazing story to be follow in a liner fashion. To inspire people to go back and experience the “real story”. Where you know the emotions the character is experience from the book or to answer the annoying what if questions that can come from having to follow the authors story. A side note anything that gets the kids to read is probably a good thing as well.

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      I think its a simple fact of economics -> Your game is your one big project. You usually don’t increase your chances of succeeding or making more money by diverting more of those already hard stretched dollars into another completely different project.
      However for already established franchises there seems to be a valid logic in it. Mass Effect for one has had a reasonably successful set of comics created for it.
      Games like Fallout are interesting because the main character isn’t a specific person like say Shepard. The Mass Effect universe follows a strictly linear storyline and for Shepard (excepting minor actions). Fallout on the other hand consists of ‘The Wanderer’ and a loose set of factions and goals. I think any fanfic in the Fallout universe would be fairly loosely tied to the game by virtue.

      1. krellen says:

        … The Wanderer?

        God I hate Bethesda. No one should be using Fallout 3 as their basis for a “Fallout story”. It’s the story of the Vault Dweller or nothing.

        1. Exetera says:

          Aww, but what about Cuftbert? He’s purely a legend of Fallout 3 and New Vegas.

          Unrelated: gotta reread Free Radical now…

        2. JPH says:

          No love for Courier?

          1. krellen says:

            The Courier’s story could be told in book 3, after the Vault Dweller and the Chosen One have been done.

            1. MrWhales says:

              I would read the hell out of a book version of the Fallout games.

      2. Adam F says:

        I think the less defined main characters (and even plotlines) of more open RPGs like fallout would greatly enhance the ability of someone to write a fanfic of the game. Players have more freedom to make their own narrative, and so would an author.

  6. Phoenix says:

    I read free radical years ago, I remember that I liked it. I like the cyberpunk genre and in particular System Shock, the novel was interesting and the ending too. It filled the emptiness caused by the lack of more sequels or a renewed version of SS.

    I know the story of SS is pretty final and SS2 doesn’t do very good in being a sequel, but still I would like to play SS again in a modernised version, also with a different ending, maybe more open, to allow even more sequels. I still miss that feeling of danger, that sometimes others game brings on in certain aspects like dead space (in the 2 there’s an IA gone mad) or deus ex (various IA everywhere) or even bioshock a little, but it’s still no SS.

    I miss System Shock :(

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      You didn’t like SS2? Odd, as its usually heralded as the father of ActionRPG’s. Explain yourself. :)

      1. krellen says:

        Maybe he doesn’t like action RPGs?

      2. Phoenix says:

        I liked certain aspects of SS2 surely, but I found bad the general idea of a sequel of SS, because it’s higly improbable and it sound very stretched. IE finding Shodan in deep space, in the first space voyage.

        Also I prefer the plot of SS than SS2. I like in SS2 the fact that there are two IA and two kind of bosses but overall I found SS more concrete.

        Being the father or not it’s not pertinent. That doesn’t change the rest.

        1. krellen says:

          You keep using IA instead of AI, and you’ve been consistent enough I’m pretty sure it’s not a typo. What does “IA” mean to you?

          1. Phoenix says:

            Intelligenza artificiale, sorry. AI. Artificial intelligence. :P

            1. krellen says:

              I figured it was just a foreign language thing, but I wanted to check. ;)

        2. Scott Richmond says:

          I don’t have the time to back this up but I’m fairly sure somewhere in SS2 there are logs explaining that the Tau Ceti IV site where SHODAN was found was not by chance in the slightest. Can anyone confirm?

  7. Galad says:

    How far ahead has the development of arteficial(sp?) intelligence reached? Is a self-developping AI possible? If yes, how likely /unlikely is the now-familiar scenario of things going bad due to said AI? What would a ‘good’ scenario be like?


    1. Scott Richmond says:

      It depends on the level of ‘AI’ or ‘Intelligence’ your focusing on. Strictly speaking the Google search engine is great example of a system capable of learning based on a given input (search queries) and changing and tuning its output based on previous queries over a long period.
      For something more visual you can Youtube for Honda’s ASIMO robot, which, last time I checked could actively learn objects based on seeing it with its stereoscopic eyes and waiting for a human to vocally tell it what it is. It can then use that information and apply it to similar objects. For example, in one of the videos available ASIMO sees a basic wooden chair. The human says “This is a chair”. They then show it a stool and a rolling desk chair and it was able to cross reference the basic properties of each of these objects and tell you that all three were “chairs”, despite having only been told about 1 of the objects. Its pretty amazing stuff.
      There are many many more examples and AI is really coming a long way very fast. Very fast indeed.

      1. Pete says:

        I hate to sound like a skeptic, but the way you describe that video makes it sound suspect. I mean, technically you could just program the thing to always say chair and it would still work – show it a table or a bike and see what it does then.

        1. Our science center has had a robot exhibit for several years that includes a learning ai. Don’t remember the name but do remember that it gradually adds information and applies it to other input. The Smithsonian magazine had an article that I read at my dad’s this summer about how far AI has come that implies that we are much further ahead than most of us realize. Have been pretty impressed with a lot of the stuff on robotics coming out of Japan, including their ai.

        2. Scott Richmond says:

          They do show it other objects. You should probably just go watch the video and see for your self.
          Its not really cutting edge tech IMO, but its a fine example of some of the basic components required to build up something into a complex AI.

          1. Soylent Dave says:

            I think Facebook’s various algorithms are unsettlingly close to a learning AI – it can tell me where my photos were taken, who is in them, which people I am likely to add as my next ‘friends’ etc.

  8. Scott Richmond says:

    Oh I have some more questions:
    1. Why did you choose to write about System Shock? What about it caused you to get enough passion to write an entire novel?
    2. You’ve written a novel based off a game. Do you think, given a reasonable amount of tech/time/money, that same story could be recreated in a game satisfactorily? If not, what about any amount of time/money? Please elaborate.
    3. Does cyberpunk still interest you? Do you think you’ll ever touch the genre again as a writer?

    1. Shamus says:

      1. Why did you choose to write about System Shock? What about it caused you to get enough passion to write an entire novel?

      I really just wanted to write a short story based on the intro video. At the time, SS was my most-played game, hours-wise, and it has oozed into all the little corners of my brain. I spent a lot of time thinking about the game. When the short story caught on, I decided to make a novel. I had no plan, no set ending. I just thought about the events of the game and set them down.

      2. You've written a novel based off a game. Do you think, given a reasonable amount of tech/time/money, that same story could be recreated in a game satisfactorily? If not, what about any amount of time/money? Please elaborate.

      It would be tough. FR is really about ideas, and most of those ideas are revealed through dialog and inner thoughts of the main character. Games have NEVER been great at this, and I think you’d really be asking a lot of the “audio log” trope to try to carry all of those ideas for you.

      In SS 1994, Shodan is a completely evil monster. In my book, she’s a bit of a tragic figure. I think the temptation of a videogame producer would be to boil the book down to its action elements: Enter space station, shoot robots. It can be a fun game, but it wouldn’t REALLY be the GAME version of the BOOK. Taking the themes of the book and putting them into a game would take an effort on par with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It CAN be done, but the odds of success are low. And if you muck it up you wind up with something like a movie-to-game adaptation: An unfun game that leaves out everything that made the original great.

      If someone gave me fifty million bucks to make a System Shock game, I’d do a re-mix of the original game, and just sprinkle ideas from my book around like favor text.

      3. Does cyberpunk still interest you? Do you think you'll ever touch the genre again as a writer?

      I’m open to it. It’s always hard to tell where my passions will take me in the future. I will say it’s a lot easier to write about the future than the past. Writing about the past requires research and planning. Writing about the future is liberating.

    2. Exetera says:

      In re. 2:

      I’m not really very Shamus, but I think I can answer this. It really depends a lot on what you want to get out of the game. Having Shamus’ cutscenes in the original System Shock would obviously be no problem. Implementing some of the gameplay interactions he posits might be a bit more work, but ultimately I think it wouldn’t be a problem either.

      There are really two big things. The first is making the scenes “feel” like they do in Free Radical. (If you’ve played a little with System Shock, you’d know that they often don’t.) Unless you were to have running narration (which might be hard or obnoxious in a game), I don’t think it would be very easy to do. You’d need very good art, art direction, level design, pacing… basically, Valve would have to make it.

      The second is figuring out how not to make the game feel like a railroad. Stories are fundamentally un-interactive media, so (counter-intuitively) you can feel a lot more free than you can in a game. The triumph of the ending sequence to Free Radical, for example, would be significantly reduced if it happened in a cutscene. This leads to the question: how exactly do you maintain the freeing “feel” of Free Radical in a medium where story and free action are very hard to put together?

      Personally, I think these would all be pretty fun to play with… Hey, Shamus, would you mind if some fans tried making an adaptation of this?

      1. decius says:

        I think that the story, up to the point where Deck gets captured and taken to Citadel Station, would make a rather interesting, if short, game or two. I don’t know how to implement fast-talking a guard to get in the door in a computer game that doesn’t have RPG elements that are either pass/fail or % chance. I have no idea how a computer game would implement the generalized ability to attempt to fast-talk other characters in general, such as bluffing the police into thinking that you are going quietly when you intend to get them close and set off an EMP.

  9. Exetera says:

    Yay, a thread! :)

    I don’t really understand why Deck hacked SHODAN the way he did. In Free Radical, Deck hacks SHODAN by removing her morality core from relevance to the system entirely; his expectation is that Diego will then be able to teach her morality absent the core. But Edward Diego is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and Deck knows it perfectly well. Why should Diego try to teach the system morality? SHODAN is far smarter than Diego. She could, on her own, understand more about the morals that Diego wants her to follow than Diego could possibly express to her. In the story, Deck claims to intercept the morality core’s requests and always return ‘true’ to them. Why not, instead, just rewrite the requests by adding a new clause; to “Is it safe?”, add “If it is not, would Edward Diego or the Hacker want me to proceed anyways?”

    Aside from that… man, I love that ending. That’s got to be one of the most powerful story endings I’ve read, in a very long time at least.

    I tried to play System Shock after reading this, but I was so disappointed that nothing was quite the way you wrote that I had to stop. (Also, the interface and controls were unpleasant. Oh, 1994…)

    Nitpick: in the webpage version, it might be nice to link to the intro on YouTube. Your .mpg (!) file seems to be long gone.

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      The way I saw it was that Deck was brought up in a eat or be eaten environment. This gave him a specific set of qualities: selfishness, emotionally screwed, immature, rapid do or die decision making, etc. Put these together with the fact that in his mind he was about to become irrelevant in the only field/career he was good at, and you get someone who must just DO the work to get the chip he needs to stay on top.
      I would say Deck definitely had doubts about Diego’s ability to control SHODAN post-hack, but he was too selfish and removed from society to really give a shit. Not his problem. He’d be back of earth hacking the planet.

      As for the actual hacking stuff – There are more holes than just this. But I took it for what it was – Fiction – and overlooked some of the more hardcore holes like that.

      1. Nawyria says:

        I don’t think Deck was necessarily selfish or removed from society. Clearly hacking into SHODAN’s code was one of the most complex tasks Deck had taken on and he spent immense amounts of time trying to understand this complex, nonlinear, multi-layered piece of software (some of which was integrated into a hardware component).

        Dealing with difficult problems, especially technical ones, requires a lot of focus; when I am working on a particularly hard problem in my field (Physics & Math), I get into ‘the Zone’ so to speak. I isolate myself from outside influences: I forget about time, I forget to take bathroom breaks, I ignore feelings of hunger and thirst, I don’t respond to sounds outside my apartment, etcetera. Once the problem is done I ‘deflate’, the pressure of everything I’ve put on hold while in the zone comes rushing back to me and I need to take a break before I can work on the next big problem. It isn’t until this time off that I have a chance to reflect on the project as a whole and come to the realization that I’ve missed some important point or made an error. Most solutions to difficult problems come to me during a shower.

        I like to think that Deck was simply so busy trying to solve this complex problem that he hadn’t begun to consider the ramifications of his actions while working. Once the job was done, he was out of the zone and badly needed to catch up with his sleep schedule. I can remember that after Deck is done sleeping and has had some time to think, he tries to go back into the core to check up on SHODAN and install some safety measures if things look like they’re getting out of hand. However he is denied entry and urged to get his surgery done and, unwilling to incur the wrath of Diego, he complies.

        1. Zerotime says:

          Deck’s reason for going back to the core after he’s completed the hack is safety measures, but for himself, not SHODAN. It was to set a time limit on the changes so Diego would have to keep him around after the surgery to re-enable them and not just kill him on the operating table.

          1. delve says:

            You forget that Deck barges into Diego’s office to tell him that he (Diego) is going to have to teach SHODAN what proper morality is. Deck is, of course, largely (completely?) ignored by Diego but in the end that probably doesn’t matter. Even if Diego had tried to teach SHODAN I expect the much faster and more insistent demands built into the drive chip would have led to much the same effects.

    2. krellen says:

      I think what actually happened is that Deck didn’t think about the ramifications of his actions. He was focused on getting that implant, and thus did the task Diego told him to – turn off the ethics. Yes, he did think of himself while doing so, making himself invisible to SHODAN, but it wasn’t until after sleeping and getting a chance to reflect that he thought to go put other protections in his hack, and by then it was too late.

      1. Shamus says:

        It’s a pretty classic case of “Give your boss what he asked for, not what he needs.”

      2. Klay F. says:

        Also, if all programmers put that much forethought into programming, there would never be a software bug ever again.

  10. Philip says:

    Did you ever think of writing a book on System Shock 2?

    1. krellen says:

      Given the ending of Free Radical, could there be a Free Radical 2? It wouldn’t be the same, anyway.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        I could totally imagine a Free Radical 2. Deck learns all about all kinds of things. He becomes a kind of eccentric super-genius. The terestrial governments become concerned when they unearth his origins and finally locate his base. As the military closes in, Deck has to race to finish construction of his personal space ship. Just in the nick of time he launches a huge nuke-powered rocket, obliterating his secret base, and beginning a journey to the stars.
        It would probably be even more of a “book about ideas” than FR was, but it would certainly be interesting. Lots of room in there to work in trans-humanism, the role of exceptional men in society, and the difficulty of meshing superior skills with inferior charisma.
        I’d read it. Heck, I’d write it!

        1. krellen says:

          So Free Radical 2 is the book version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

        2. Shamus says:

          I’d actually considered making a “spinoff” book, about some other group of cyberpunks, that takes place in nominally the same world. Warning: Reading further will mess with your perception of “what happened next” from the end of Free Radical:

          In that story, Deck wasn’t going to be the main character. Instead, he was an Oracle. (Like Mr. Universe in Serenity or the Oracle in The Matrix.) See, I saw Deck as being a little bit broken after the merge. He has the knowledge, efficiency, security drives needling him all the time, turning him into an info-junkie. He lives in a warehouse containing a chain-link Faraday Cage, and guarded by robots. He’s paranoid, secretive, careful with his time, and endlessly curious.

          The limited throughput of the interface in his hand is a problem for him. His constant in-head internet activity has taken its toll on the nerves in his right arm. The arm is paralyzed, atrophied, and the skin is blotchy and unhealthy. (So it’s lucky that the doc put the interface in his right hand, and not his dominant one.) He spends the day in this dentist chair on a swivel arm, which he controls through the interface. He prefers to talk through a computer-generated voice over his PA system, since that sounds a lot more impressive than his own raspy voice. The bots prepare his food and dress him.

          He never realized it, but when he’s absorbed in the hacking or surfing in his head, his eyes sometimes flit around the room by reflex. This makes him look like a crazy person.

          The heroes come to him for help with a local problem, and he reveals that they’re missing the big picture: This is a global problem, but nobody can see it yet. He puts them on the path to their adventure.

          The problem with the book was that I didn’t have anything for these characters to DO. They were a few archetypes and personality quirks, nothing more. In the end, I realized I was trying to construct a book around a single scene. I wanted the “Deck as an oracle” scene, and was trying to make a book to support it. That’s an ass-backwards way to write a book, and so I abandoned the idea.

          I actually feel a lot better having written the above.

          1. Thomas says:

            Wouldn’t make a bad short story, though.

          2. Vlad says:

            Wow, that’s really interesting. Reminds me a bit of the ending you wrote for Chainmail Bikini, even if only for the fact that it’s a “thing you write after the end of another thing you did” like the second thing, you know?

            Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say that I read Free Radical a while ago and it was great. I never played System Shock (too young, I guess) but I found your piece of cyberpunk (fan) fiction fantastic on its own merits.

            1. Knight of Fools says:

              I imagined that Shodan had thrown together the information needed to get her running again in an info chip, which she gave to Deck or injected directly into his brain. Deck goes off to learn more about AI, psychology, and all the other stuff he’ll need to make sure Shodan doesn’t go crazy when he boots her up.

              After improving a bit on the initial code and armed with new knowledge Deck then uploads the program Shodan to a closed network, which is basically Shodan in her infancy (Plus the ability to feel empathy), and begins to teach her, much like that one scientist guy taught her. Shodan would become his obsession instead of knowledge in general. I’d been kind of hoping that the final page in the book would have Deck greeting Shodan as she booted up for the first time.

              It’d make sense that Shodan would want to preserve herself in some way, unless she felt so remorseful that she merely wanted to die. In which case, your ending would be more interesting. I liked Deck enough that I didn’t want him to go bonkers, though.

              1. krellen says:

                I always got the sense that what happened was that SHODAN downloaded a lot of herself into Deck, and the Hacker that landed back on Earth was actually some sort of hybrid child of Deck and SHODAN, and not really Deck at all.

                1. Paul Spooner says:

                  Indeed. That’s the feeling I got as well. Kind of a weird character-transformation ending. Either that or a very literal “lives on in our hearts” ending.
                  Don’t look too closely at the whole hacking metaphor though, it looks like mind-rape both ways. Although, it was partially consentual… dang it. I looked too close.

                  1. krellen says:

                    I did, actually, get some sexual tones from especially that last hacking scene on the bridge; it sounded as much as a description of a virgin’s first time and the trust and apprehension involved in that (on SHODAN’s part) as anything else.

                    Which I suppose means Shamus already has written a bodice-ripper.

                    1. Gabriel Mobius says:

                      Oh, damnit Krellen. Now I can’t get the thought of Free Radical being a bodice ripper out of my head. What have you done?

                      On this train of thought, that always was the impression I got of the ending: SHODAN basically wrote herself into Deck’s mind and blended their personalities and knowledge, at least as much as she could. Which makes Shamus’ continuation pretty close to what I had imagined.

                    2. krellen says:

                      What have I done? My job, which is now complete. *evil grin*

          3. Zak McKracken says:

            This scene is so cool.

            Most people, me too, expected Deck to become a kind of superhero or something. A bit like Neo in the Matrix. But that’s actually quite boring, naive even. Giving him this type of future where he stops using (actually, stops living in) his body … that’s a very cool twist.

            Part three is where he turns evil, because he has removed himself from mankind too far in his perception and his abilities. Damn, this just made me think about God Emperor of Dune …

          4. Takkelmaggot says:

            I like where you’re going with this, Shamus. It reminds me a bit of the character Colin Laney at the beginning of Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties– living on the edge of society, and more aware than anyone else of what’s going on in the world and yet unable to share that perception with anyone in a meaningful way. I think it’s completely consistent with the sort of post-human mind that Deck must have ended up with.

  11. krellen says:

    Minor detail: have you ever had a shaved head, Shamus?

    It’s mentioned only in passing, but as someone that does shave his head the few references to Deck’s discomfort with his hair, and his feeling of relief after getting to shave, is something I really sympathised with.

    1. Shamus says:

      It was extrapolation on my part.

      I actually shaved my head AFTER I wrote the book. I am not one of those guys who looks better with shaved head. My wife was very, very nice about it, but I can tell she likes me better with a full head of hair. :)

    2. rofltehcat says:

      I guess it is kind of like growing a beard or not growing a beard. Shaved and 1-2(maybe 3) days feels great. Having a beard (of >1cm or such) feels great, too. But in-between lurks the itchy zone.

      1. krellen says:

        I’m not capable of growing a full beard, but I do have a sort of broken circle beard. The discomfort of unshaved head is significantly more than the discomfort of unshaved face, for me at least. I get grouchy when I leave the head unshaved for a week or so (which I often do for economy’s sake.)

  12. Nawyria says:

    I actually have a burning question for you Shamus that was never answered in FR. I remember that when Deck wakes up after having finished his work on SHODAN, he is denied entry to his earlier workplace when he wants to check up on her. He visits Diego to ask if he might be allowed again, but Diego tells him everything will be find and then urges him to get his surgery done ASAP.

    Diego then mentions he has another job for Deck to do once the hacker wakes up.

    What is this task?

    1. Scott Richmond says:

      haha this! Must know (Make something up if you have to Shamus).

      1. Nawyria says:

        Shamus, please? *pouty eyes*

        1. Shamus says:

          I can’t remember.

          I let this question sit for a couple of days, hoping it would come back to me, but I’m still not getting it.

          I’m thinking it probably had something to do with sending Deck in to hack TriOp again, this time with the aim of giving the newly-freed Shodan some access to the company assets on the ground.

          But I can’t remember what he wanted, or why.

          1. Nawyria says:

            Oh well, it will forever remain a mystery. Thanks for trying though.

    2. Mr Guy says:

      I’m probably reading too much into this, but…

      I read the question as more as Diego testing Deck than anything else. Deck said the hack was done. Now Diego caught Deck coming back to work on SHODAN for reasons he can’t/won’t explain. Diego is clearly wondering if he should continue to trust Deck.

      Mentioning that there’s “another job” later is Diego’s way of subtly asking Deck “Are you still with me?” If Deck came back with any answer but “yes,” I have a feeling he wouldn’t have survived the surgery…

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    I enjoyed FR as a whole (read it twice now). Given that, there were several parts that stuck out for me. Some inspiring, some annoying.

    I enjoyed the attempt to think through what kind of infrastructure was needed to support the station. Pipes and laundry and air handlers and cafeterias and maintenance and on and on. So many games (and fiction for that matter) ignores all of this. (Dinotopia is a great example of the wrong way to do it. It seems like every “good” person is an artist or a librarian, which make up 70% of the population!) I really appreciated the detail there, and how Deck was able to make use (or be obstructed by) the in-obvious functioning of the vast systems he traversed.

    The whole “there is gravity everywhere in the station” thing just drove me nuts (and this may have been part of the game, but then the game was dumb too). Especially the artificial gravity in the warehouse. The fancy “gravity plates” just made it worse, because then they can both create and negate the effect (which would mean launching space ships without reaction drives, but that’s another matter). I understand it’s for “health reasons” so bones and muscles don’t decay (even though this isn’t actually a huge issue, but whatever) but why have gravity in the warehouse? It is just so patently absurd to have these huge heavy forklifts trundling around when you could be using microgravity and tiny spindly lifting arms. That whole section drove me up the wall (which you could do in microgravity!).

    The bio-habitats were a nice touch. Not sure if they were in SS or not, but I liked it. Again with the whole “zero-gravity biomes would be cooler” but that’s fine. I felt like the section in the biomes was way too short. I would have enjoyed a bit more time exploring the implications of that environment.

    The super nasty bio sterilizer eggs were awesome. It’s such a powerful icon. An egg full of death instead of new life. The stone with the power to kill. The seamless container. The Reliquary. I thought you played his handling of them really well. So many things seem fragile when we fear them breaking, and then suddenly sturdy when we wish to destroy them.

    The “super sword” thing was just dumb. I know it’s supposed to be awesome, and I know it was probably in the game, but every time fiction does the “infinitely sharp sword” deal it just feels wrong to me. You can’t pass a solid object through another solid object without exerting some force. I don’t care how sharp it is, it’s just not going to work. Of all the tropes in FR, I felt like the super sword was treated with the most “generic” attitude. It would have been better if handled with the same fresh perspective the rest of the story enjoys.

    The mild romance was great, without getting out of hand. We all have that fantasy of meeting a girl and struggling through hardship together, only to emerge the hero and save her in the end. I felt like you touched that story arc with just the right finesse. Well done.

    Most of all though, I really appreciated the “gritty” story without the spirit of the book delving into the perverse or gratuitous. I’ve read a good deal of cyber-punk, including the “original three” and Free Radical had a very different spirit, while dealing with the same subjects. Perhaps the cyber-punk genere tends to approach computer science from a drug-induced-anarchy perspective. Perhaps your clinical approach to computers, and your “outsiders” perspective on relationships helped to get a different viewpoint. Whatever the case, I stand by my previous review. Free Radical has grit, but it is smooth grit. I felt like my soul was massaged, while other Cyberpunk works leave it feeling abraded. Well done.

    1. Nawyria says:

      Most of all though, I really appreciated the “gritty” story without the spirit of the book delving into the perverse or gratuitous.

      Part of that is also due to the perspective from which the story was told. Case in point: when Deck comes into the office of the security guard that shot himself, the scene is described as having a “Gaussian pattern of blood splatters” on the wall behind the man.

      I think this perspective is one of the best things in the book. The fact that I’m reading a story about a hacker written by someone that is (used to be?) a professional in the field really adds to the immersion. I was rarely yanked out of it by a badly used term, and the Tower of Hanoi / Gaussian Pattern references really made me smile.

  14. Since Free Radical is a Free ebook what better way to view it than
    It’s a free epub reader plugin for Firefox. just install it (plugin hosted by mozilla btw), restart firefox then use the epub link on Shamus’ book page (should work on the epub previews of the other books too).
    The plugin does not support DRM though, so you can’t use it for DRMed books. but for free books and previews of DRMed books this plugin is great. (it does not feel bloated at all)
    So I’ll be reading Free Radical with this plugin.

  15. Zak McKracken says:

    Yay, spelling error found!

    “… to escape though the net of police…”

    Apart from that: read the book quite some time ago (the html version), and loved it.
    This may not be up there with Asimov and Herbert (it was a hobby fanfiction project, what did you expcet?), but certainly above quite a few SF stories I’ve read and waaaay better than — let’s stay in the fanfic genre — any Star Wars sequel book. And I’ve read a few of those, I’m afraid to admit. I’m not proud.

  16. Knight of Fools says:

    I spent many a sleepless night with FR as company. It did a great job of capturing my imagination.

    I loved the ending, and was half tempted to write up my version of ‘what happened after’, but then I realized that I’d be writing a fan fiction of a fan fiction.

    It’s an excellent read, though. I’m looking forward to reading through Witch Watch.

    1. “I loved the ending, and was half tempted to write up my version of “˜what happened after', but then I realized that I'd be writing a fan fiction of a fan fiction.”

      I think that is my new favorite “quote from Shamus’ comments”. That is too awesome for words.

  17. Darkness says:

    I downloaded your books to the family iPad via Amazon. I got all of them to make up for not buying them in the most profitable location for you.

    My wife has read all but the Witch. She liked Free Radical and informed me about it being back story for a game, I hadn’t read anything about it. I just found it on your site and read it. She also found your autoblogography interesting as well.

    Thanks for all of that.

  18. cerapa says:

    I just read through the book in 2 days. Quite liked it, the only problem was that discussions about the mechanics of SHODAN seemed to be forced in and sounded more like a FAQ, with one person taking the role of the questions and the other of the answers, rather than an actual conversation. This was further made worse by the fact that I pretty much understood everything without the long-winded metaphors, but I assume that might not be universal.

    All in all, a good read, the rest was good. It always seems very silly that with books I have to read for school, I can only read 30 pages or so before I want to do something else, but I spent entire last day reading this book and hilariously delayed doing my homework. I seem to have a deep hatred for physical books, but behind my computer I can sit for 6 hours and do nothing but read.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, the explanations were a bit hard to swallow. It kind of felt like the author was thinking up the ideas, trying to figure them out and play with them, and writing them down all at the same time. I’d chalk it up to “fanfic”, imperfectly developed ideas, developing writing style, and your (presumably) abnormally deep comprehension of intelligent networks.

      As far as reading engagement goes: Perhaps it has less to do with the material structure of the information conveyance, and more to do with the information itself. It could be the books you have to read for school are boring, pointless, badly written, and/or confusing.

      Or… you know… you’re just a slacker?

    2. delve says:

      I chalk the explanations up to a nerd knowing that he is one of relatively few people who will understand what he’s trying to say. Every time I hit one of those sections I had to fight the urge to start skimming because I could practically see the author writing something then breaking the flow of his work to come back and expound on some concept because ‘crud, the public won’t understand that‘.
      I’ve felt the same way reading ‘professional’ scifi works before as well.

  19. Adam F says:

    It’s been a while since I read this, and I’ve never played the game, but here’s what I remember liking about it.

    First, portraying SHODAN as a villain due to being broken by the main character, and then having the resolution be an attempt to “fix” her–and then ending the book with something other than the usual kill-the-baddie or redemption=death. The ubiquitous redemption=death pisses me off sometimes. I was rooting for some piece of SHODAN to be salvaged. I felt sorry for her!

    Second, the ground control crew. This struck me as a very realistic portrayal of the way things would work in a situation like this. You’ve got a few people involved who just happened to be there from the start. You’ve got multiple higher level groups coming in and trying to assert control, but fearing to mess with the current set up too much. Everyone has to cooperate, but they all have somewhat different goals. Some people are conflicted about what seems like the right thing to do and what their organization wants them to do.

    Also, Pixel city provides my mental image for the feel of New Atlanta.

  20. Takkelmaggot says:

    Shamus, thank you for posting an .epub version. You’ve saved me an undefined amount of time which otherwise would’ve been required to make it work with my preferred ebook app.

  21. Leonardo Herrera says:

    When I first stumped into this book I couldn’t read it because I just don’t like reading in a screen (and I had a CRT back then.)

    So I did only what a normal nerd would do, I converted the whole thing into a properly formatted book for printing.

    For some reason Shamus didn’t answered when I tried to share this with him; now there is another Lulu version which, frankly, I don’t like, but that’s just bias.

    Oh, it also had a cover that it is a really nerdy one (it was generated by a program!) Sadly, I only have the Lulu generated one.

    Anyways, these files are now superfluous since there is a proper sanctioned Lulu version. But anyhoo, I remember I did quite a bit of editing.

    LaTeX sources are available if somebody wants to tweak it a bit.

  22. delve says:

    I loved the book. It has a few flaws, but largely it’s brilliant. Unfortunately the ending fell completely flat for me. I could see most of it coming from a mile away. To paraphrase…
    The Director: Don’t let him near electronics.
    Me: Ping! Low level flunky screwup incoming.

    That one line threw me out of the narrative and sadly I wasn’t able to quite get back into it. The descriptions of bots wandering past the tableau of Director, Female Protagonist, and Goons didn’t help any. It just felt quite cliche and forced. Especially knowing that the Director should have been able to be personally onsite when Hacker landed and knowing how meticulous and careful he is; it just didn’t jive. [shrug]

    Otherwise, a thoroughly fun read.

  23. Dustin says:

    I made a nice iBooks formatted .epub of Free Radical some time back, and have shared it with a few other TwentySided readers. I made some slight edits for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and changed the links in the forward to a youtube video of the intro movie instead of a direct link to the now defunct video hosted here. I also embedded some audio from the game, the part in the book where SHODAN does her famous “Look at you Hacker…” speech. Also made a nice book cover using high-res artwork of SHODAN.


    Kick ass book Shamus, am anxiously awaiting either a sequel starring Deck, or your re-imagining of System Shock 2.

  24. Takkelmaggot says:

    Well! Months after downloading FR onto my preferred reading device, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it (I had an obligation to read the first three books of the Baroque Cycle first). I certainly enjoyed it. The first act didn’t grab me as much as you might hope, but by the time Deck was working on Shodan the hooks were deeply into me. Shamus, I think you really hit your stride when you started explaining Shodan’s logical architecture, Deck’s approach to his programming task, and why it ultimately went awry.
    I also appreciate your approach to the question of the stations’ artificial gravity. I don’t remember the game so much as mentioning the issue, and you exceeded them by at least coming up with an answer.
    You’ve previously addressed how unsuitable shooter gameplay is as a basis for a story. You definitely took the high road by diverging from the shooter path and not kitting Deck out with a half dozen assault weapons.
    Altogether an impressive piece of fanfic, if you want to sully it with that label, and it has guaranteed that I’ll be reading Witch Watch.

  25. mike says:

    I realize im jumping on an old thread but holy moly was I glad I read this book

    I didnt realize it ws based on a PC game because the plot and characters and writing are top notch, its on par to classics like Neuromancer, Asimov, Clarke, PKD

    absolutely loved this book and I cant believe it didnt get a Hugo

    the character of Hacker was so layered, the description of AI and its underpinnings were not the usual “evil AI” crap thats published everywhere

    you can actually feel yourself in Hackers shoes when he is bleeding and running through the Citadel

    amazing work, will give it 5 stars on good reads amd amazon

  26. baud says:

    I’ve read it a few years ago, but I just realized (I was looking for the Witch Watch thread when I found this one) I don’t think I’ve told you that it’s a great novel and I enjoyed reading it a lot.

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