Free Radical

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 12, 2009

Filed under: Projects 44 comments

Occasionally I mention my book, but if you’ve missed that particular aspect of the site then allow me to offer you a drink from the fountain of trivia: I wrote a book.

Now, before you get all click-happy and run off thinking this is going to be some text-based DM of the Rings, or vast pool of scorching and unconventional game reviews, I need to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into here. The novel in question is a work of fiction, it’s cyberpunk, and it’s fanfiction. Odds are that I’ve already duped you into reading some of my fanfiction, but this is an entire book that exists under that classification. The book is based on the 1994 classic System Shock. And if you don’t know about that game, then perhaps you’re acquainted with its mutant grandson.

I have had people email me that it is the best novel they’ve ever read. Now, this is absolutely not a position I endorse, but I offer it here as an opinion that exists, and is held by multiple people I’ve never met and who seem otherwise lucid. I offer their opinion here as a sort of recommendation. If some people are willing to go recklessly waving the word “best” around, then perhaps the book is not completely awful. I wrote it five years ago. I’ve improved a lot since then, and like many writers my pride in my accomplishment is overshadowed somewhat by the realization that I could do so much better now.

Since the completion of the book I’ve had people asking for a hardcopy in one form or another. I’ve always pointed them in the direction of the printer-friendly version, which isn’t exactly something you can read while curled up on the couch, even if you’ve got the spare paper and ink and a printer that’s up to the job. I realized that this was not what they wanted, but I didn’t want to get mixed up in publishing, or self-publishing, or whatever. Fanfiction exists in some legally questionable area, and I didn’t want to become embroiled in a losing conflict with one of the many System Shock IP holders.

Clint (left) and Peter. (Right)  Clint is holding the first printed draft.
Clint (left) and Peter. (Right) Clint is holding the first printed draft.
Reader Clint Olson and his brother really wanted a hardcopy, and so they took the time to convert the entire book into a PDF and upload it to Lulu. Clint then sent me a copy as a gift.

Holding a copy of my own book in my hands was an amazing experience. I actually found it to be deeply and personally moving. I didn’t realize what it would mean to me until I had the thing in hand.

And so I am no longer shy of providing a way for people to obtain a hardcopy. I proudly offer a link to the Lulu page where you can buy a copy. I hasten to add that the money is only to cover the cost of printing, and that I make zero profit from the work. (You can download the PDF for free, and of course the original version is available in HTML flavor.) If a System Shock IP holder is out there and looking for something to do with all these lawyers and money he’s got laying around, I want him to understand that going after a broke guy who has never profited from this work – which might not even be technically infringing – is probably not the best way to expend one’s resources. The book is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0, a sprawling label which is nearly a legal document in and of itself.

Thanks again to Clint and his brother for putting this together. It’s a step I never would have taken on my own. I’m impressed with how carefully they recreated the style and formatting of the original, from the crazy text used by SHODAN down to the page numbering.

Thanks again to Clint & Co for putting it together.


From The Archives:

44 thoughts on “Free Radical

  1. Saint Rising says:

    Ahh, publication… a beautiful thing, is it not?

  2. Joel D says:

    For reference, I also think it’s a good book (or pseudo-book? Whatever, it’s good).

  3. Gandaug says:

    I downloaded the .pdf. I plan on reading it when there isn’t much else to do on the computer. I like your work on the site so I figure the book can’t be worse than some of the writings I’ve been subjected to.

  4. Flying Dutchman says:

    There are not many writers whose work is so appreciated that others set the wheels in motion to achieve publication. And most of those authors that this publication-by-fans-scenario did happen to, were unable to publish their own work due to minor inconveniances like death.

    Havings fans do this, is a nice compliment!

  5. Benjamin O says:

    I enjoyed it.

    Shamus, if you ever decided to set pen to paper (or commit electrons to permanent storage, as would more likely be the case, I suspect) and write a completely original work of science fiction, fantasy or other genre, I think you could probably do well enough as an author. I say this as a not uncritical reader who plows through books at a pace that frightens librarians and makes booksellers light up with greed and delight. My bank account shrieks with fear whenever I am within sight of a bookstore. I could easily purchase and read the entire sci-fi/fantasy section of Border (or Barnes & Noble if that’s your store) and come back hungry for more within a year.

    There simply aren’t enough books to satiate my hunger for reading, so when I say you write well enough to be a welcome addition to the field of existing authors, you should be glad of that. The story may not have been uniquely yours, but the telling of it was well executed. Ultimately that matters far more than the originality of the tale.

    I’ve had this argument with a number of people, and in the end I’m convinced I’m right on this (it helps that several famous authors agree with me): the mark of quality is more about how you tell the story than about the originality of the plot points. Coherency of the plot points is necessary, but originality is hardly to be expected. So many stories can be so reduced to a few sentences to make it seem as if they are all just a variation of a dozen or so ideas that selling a story on originality is hardly the way to go.

    Free Radical was well executed and you should be pleased. Good work man.

  6. Dustin says:

    This is awesome news, Shamus. I’ve read Free Radical three times now, and would love to have a physical copy of the thing. For anyone who’s interested, I took some time a while back to convert Free Radical to .epub format for use with Stanza, an ebook reader. There’s even an iPhone/iPod Touch app for Stanza, so you can take Free Radical on the road in your pocket.

    I don’t have the epub file published anywhere, but with your permission Shamus, I’d be willing to distribute to those who ask for it via email, or I can give it to you directly to post to your site somewhere.

    *disclaimer* I had to rework some of the text formatting for viewing in Stanza, for some reason the iPhone version doesn’t display colored text. It’s pretty nearly perfect, could use a little work though. I’ve read through the book at least once on my iPhone and only ran into a few differences from the version Shamus has been providing in the printer friendly version of the book, mainly small punctuation errors and the afore mentioned text color and formatting.

    I now realize I never really took the time to write an email to tell you how much I enjoyed the book. Well, I did.

  7. Nawyria says:

    Free Radical deserves most of the praise it gets from its fans. I find it quite refreshing to see two fans working (and managing) to get it out in hardcover.

    Double thumbs up for Clint and his brother and triple thumbs up for Shamus Young… uhh, triple?

  8. Clint Olson says:

    Hi Shamus!
    It was a pleasure doing it, and it’s cool to see our work put to good use. By the way, my brother’s name is Peter, if you could update the image caption. He’s the one who actually did most of the formatting stuff you were talking about — page numbers, various fonts, the like. Thanks again for writing such a great book!


  9. Strangeite says:

    Thank you Dustin. Last night I just finished my first book read entirely on my iPhone using Stanza (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) and was going to post a comment asking if Shamus would be so kind to allow it to be distributed this way as well.

    Shamus: Would you allow Dustin to distribute the Stanza version? In addition, have you considered distributing the work to Project Gutenburg? This is how I found Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. You should read the history of that novel, it is pretty interesting because he has released the novel via the Creative Commons License AND had the book published with a real publisher (I think it was Tor). The author is the editor of BoingBoing, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the book.

  10. Dannerman says:

    About the book…

    Is it worth reading if you have not played any of the System Shock games? Will I find it easy to get into approaching from an angle of complete ignorance?

    I’m interested in a new book, you see…

  11. Ben N. says:

    Re: Dannerman, it is entirely possible to read it without having played System Shock or the sequel. That’s how I went into it, and I still loved it.

  12. Dannerman says:

    Re: Ben N.

    Thanks mate! I’ll set about getting myself a copy.

  13. Jason says:

    @ Dustin: I’d love me a copy of the book in epub, please. If it’s okay with Shamus, that is…

  14. Locri says:

    I’d be interested in getting an epub copy too. Have to do something with my shiny new iPod Touch :P

  15. Alex says:

    One Free Radical is given renewed life, while another Free Radical is bought out by Crytek.

    COINCIDENCE? Yeah, most likely.

    A physical manifestation of many toiling weeks of effort is always a nice thing to have. The electronic age is great and all, but it’s always good to have something solid and tangible that you can hold in your hands, that you can feel, smell, and even taste, if you’re curious. Something that exists in the same space and dimension and time as you, and whose existence may far outlast our own.

    Although I have to say, that is one boring cover. =P

    Benjamin O- I’ve heard about this before. Reading addiction! It’s only a matter of time before you start directly injecting literature into your bloodstream. Sure, it seems glamorous at first, but then where does it lead you? One minute, you’re living the sweet life with your posse of Shakespeare and Cormac McCarthy, the next you’re in a back-alley, snorting sludgy molecular fragments of the works of Stephenie Meyer to get your fix.

    The first step is admitting that you’re Hooked on Phonics. =P

  16. Clint Olson says:

    Feel free to design a cover of your own and send it in. We only settled on that cover after attempting more complicated stuff and realizing we simply didn’t have the graphical design skills to pull it off.


  17. I was going come on and complain that I couldn’t give you money. Then I realized what you said about this being fanfic. And then I was a little bit sad, because I’ve always wanted to have a real-world copy of this and it seems unfair to get it at no benefit to you.

    I guess this is my most-awkward way of saying “Thank you” both for a book which I always loved and for making it available to us.

  18. MintSkittle says:

    I also read Free Radical without playing any of the ‘Shock games. Great work, Shamus.

  19. R4byde says:

    Well done, Clint and Peter!

    It’s too bad Shamus can’t write anything original, he could probably make a good bit of money if he did. <-JK ;)

  20. Michael says:

    Having written 2 books myself (and hopefully starting #3 soon), I also found the experience of holding a copy of my work in my hands very satisfying and know exactly how you much have felt. Kudos!

  21. Strangeite says:

    Oh Captain, My Captain (it is Lincoln’s birthday after all), give Dustin permission to distribute your novel to us eagerly awaiting fans in the .epub version so that we can read your prose on your iPhones.

    Pretty Please.

  22. Alex says:

    Clint- I’d be happy to give it a shot. What kind of resolution are we talking? Does this include the back cover and the spine as well?

    Maybe there should be some sort of competition to let readers come up with the best/worst cover suggestions possible? There’s a lot of blue space there, and I can visualize a lot of wacky results when paired up with Google Image search. ;)

  23. Shamus says:

    By all means, translate to whatever platform you need. It’s a Creative Commons license – the only thing you can’t do is make money from it or take my name off of it. Other than that, it exists to be shared. Please do so.

  24. Strangeite says:

    Horrary!!! I have a new book for bed tonight.

    Alright Dustin, I sent you an email to the address listed on the profile of your blog. If you would be so kind to send me a copy, I would be greatly appreciative.

  25. radio_babylon says:

    put it up on the digital text platform on amazon and id buy a copy.

  26. Clint Olson says:

    You can see the current cover PDF here. The cover needs to be a PDF with those dimensions exactly. If you’re going to be using any non-standard fonts, you’ll probably want to convert them to vectors before uploading the PDF. I used CorelDRAW to create it.

    I actually have a version of the cover with a quote from SHODAN on the back, but I ended up deciding to go without it, since I was afraid the quote might be too spoilery.


  27. Sharon says:

    Very very good. Thank you Brother of and Clint Olsen.

  28. Jabor says:

    Awesome. Will be purchasing (though I’d like to see what other covers we come up with first ;) ).

    Also, I wonder if Shamus would write a different (and more appropriate) foreword for the actual published edition…

  29. Joel Sieh says:

    Wow, congrats on the publication and fan base! I just downloaded the PDF. I haven’t played System Shock, but it sounds like that’s unnecessary. I’m looking forward to it!

    I’ve been writing for a while, mostly focusing on short stories. I keep meaning to send these out to prospective publishers, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Gotta love procrastination.

    Lately, I’ve been writing something a little different. It’s novel-length, which is exciting. It’s in blog format, which is interesting. And I feel like the story is compelling. However, it’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to even look at it, even friends.

    How did you promote your work?

  30. David W says:

    I suppose this would be an appropriate time to mention that I, too, have previously read and enjoyed your work; in fact, it’s what got me into the cyberpunk genre (and, honestly, I think I liked it better than some of the ‘classic’ cyberpunk authors).

    I’ll also chime in – I’ve never played either System Shock, and I don’t intend to, as a strategy game fan, but Free Radical is a complete work. It’s not even obvious that there’s a game behind it; the characters and story are good enough that I’m not actually sure how much is from the game. I’m pretty sure the flywheel bicycle delivery scene at the beginning wouldn’t be part of the game, but I have no real idea where the game begins and ends inside the story.

    I think I have to agree with Benjamin O. above – given the writing quality I’ve seen with this blog, DMoTR, the escapist, and Free Radical, I’d be willing to purchase your first novel. Of course, all but the luckiest authors earn salaries significantly below that of a coder, and you haven’t shown any signs of wanting to quit coding, so I suspect I’ll have to be content with the free stuff.

  31. vdgmprgrmr says:

    Awesome! I saw the book image on top of the entry and got excited; “Whoa! Shamus got his book published!”

    Although it is quite bland. I hereby start a movement to put SHODAN on the front cover. (It wouldn’t be spoilery, would it? It’s a book based on System Shock, SHODAN is inevitable.)

    And a summary on the back, to conform with industry standards.

  32. Clint Olson says:

    We did try to go with something vaguely SHODAN-ish on the cover initially. The problem is that we’d have to create something that gives the idea of SHODAN without actually being SHODAN herself. If we just, say, swiped the image from the Wikipedia article on SHODAN, that would suddenly change the book from being in grey territory (as a fanfic) to being in black and white territory (specifically black, as a direct copyright violation).


  33. Smileyfax says:

    When I read Free Radical several years ago, I envisioned Jason Statham in the lead.

  34. Strangeite says:

    Thanks Shamus and Dustin! Just got home from work and loaded Free Radical to my iPhone.

  35. Ben N. says:

    Note: You might want to change the page now. It still says that it’ll never be published, which isn’t really true, is it?

  36. Woo, Shamus got published. :) I’ll have to sit down and actually read Free Radical one of these years. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but never got around to it.

    On a slightly related note, there’s a little issue with the Free Radical page. If you click on the “Author’s Homepage” link on the navigation bar you get a 404.

  37. inafish says:

    Hey, congratulations, man! And many thanks to Clint and Peter – I don’t like reading a load of text on my computer screen, and riffling through loose leaves always feels like university work to me, so I apprecaiate the idea of a real book :-). I’ll get it as soon as I can convince my husband that we need it – I can’t order just yet, as I don’t have a credit card.

    If nothing else, this may help to boost your sales rank, which would be nice.

  38. Mystyk says:

    Strangely enough, I did the same PDF conversion, but for a different reason, about a year ago. Instead of sending the PDF to print, I uploaded it onto my Sony Reader as an E-Book.

    I still haven’t finished it, though.

  39. Derek says:

    So, I’ve been reading Free Radical on your site (very enjoyable, thanks Shamus) but all the links to media are broken. Well, at least the SS intro movie and shodan0.mp3. FYI.

  40. Alex says:

    I’ve decided on the cover imagery: A bikini babe fighting a robot Colin Mochrie with an alligator…

    …Wait, what’s this book about, again?

  41. Jonathan says:

    Thanks, I’d missed this, even having read DM of the rings and your blog for a while. Pretty good so far.

  42. Partsa says:

    I just finished reading Free Radical. I don’t know what I expected from earlier experience of your writings (blog) and works (DMoTR, your campaign, sadistic torment inflicted on virtual little people of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, etc), but it pretty much blew me away. I’m surprised how you managed to write the end in a way that didn’t feel cliched and/or stupid to me. You really should consider writing another novel.
    I think I’ll order the paper version. Just to own it.
    Oh, right. Long-time reader, but first-time commenter.

  43. Sharnuo says:

    Wicked book, man! I haven’t even played system shock and I think it’s awesome.

    (Just stop referring to robots as beasts… That just urks me. =P)

  44. Mark says:

    I enjoyed your book very much. I appreciate the game a lot but you really made a good story out of it while making your own improvements. The discussion of how the simulation of the mind might have been made to work was interesting and the human elements were good including the points that unaugmented humans can be monsters too. Potential for a sequel perhaps? Was the stuff at the end really only the hacker’s doing? I think that, as you hinted, that at least part of Shodan made it into his mind.
    Way to go. I didn’t want it to end.

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