Fall From The Sky

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 21, 2017

Filed under: Personal 49 comments

Five years ago I quit working on a sci-fi novel. It had a few cool ideas and there were a lot of things I liked about it, but… I don’t know. I just couldn’t work on it.

So I uploaded the half-a-book to see what the internet thought of it. Paul Spooner took the book and finished it. He sent me the completed work. At the time I said to him via email:

This is amazing. You’ve gone in a radically different direction from anything I’d imagined. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’ve been skimming my way through.

Before you sent this to me I wondered: If this story was released, would anyone be able to see the seams? Could they tell where I stopped and you started? Then I realized that I’d already released my half of the book, so anyone that read that would know.

But still, this has gotten me thinking about how we consume and invent stories. We often divide stuff into “authentic” (stuff written by the original author) and “inauthentic” (fan fiction). I wrote an entire fan fiction novel myself, and I’m aware of how strange this line can be. People who never played System Shock before were far more receptive to my book than people who were familiar with the source material. Their understanding of the original work changed their perception of my story. Would that work in reverse? If someone was told that the game was based on my book, would they dislike the game for its “inaccuracies”? (Setting aside the fact that the game is hard to find, looks terrible, had a horrible interface, and the gameplay hasn’t held up over time.)

My own version of the novel uses very few characters from the first half. Rin doesn’t really talk to the other crewmembers. The whole story takes place on this alien world and the only person we see again is David. My book ends shortly after returning to Earth. It’s entirely possible that your version, which is tied more to the first half of the book, would seem more plausible as the “true” ending.

I haven’t read enough to give you useful feedback on what you’ve done, and I keep getting caught on, “This never would have occurred to me!” I don’t have much in the way of feedback, except to say I don’t think you’re doing anything obviously wrong or bad. I realize that this isn’t really useful, but this is a strange experience for me and it’s hard to read objectively.

Annoyingly, reading his version kinda made me want to go back and work on my own. (Spoiler: I didn’t. Too much other stuff going on.)

Creativity is obnoxious sometimes. Imagine if, after decades of dicking around and not working on the prequels, George Lucas finally let someone else make the prequel movies. So then Spooner steps in and takes a shot at it. After years of work, Spooner brings the completed movies to LucasSTAR WARS Episode I: The Spooner Menace.. Lucas begins watching the Spooner cut. After halfway through the opening crawl, Lucas stands up, exits the theater, and announces he’s going to make the prequel movies after all.

What an asshole, right?

I didn’t want to end up doing that to Paul, so I haven’t actually read his completed version of the book. I’ve read some chapters, and it feels pretty strange to to mePaul left out Jar-Jar Binks? Jar-Jar was the key to everything..

But if you read the half-novel back in 2012 and were frustrated by the cliffhanger, maybe the Spooner cut of the story will give you some closure. Or maybe it will just kill some time on a Tuesday when I don’t have any content for you.



[1] STAR WARS Episode I: The Spooner Menace.

[2] Paul left out Jar-Jar Binks? Jar-Jar was the key to everything.

From The Archives:

49 thoughts on “Fall From The Sky

  1. lllVentuslll says:

    That’s awesome Mr Paul Spooner! I’ll definitely have to check it out. After reading Free Radical I devoured the half finished story and was always disappointed to see it left unfinished so I’m glad someone looked into it :)

    P.S. You should totes do more writing Shamus. Maybe if you removed sleeping from your timetable? I’m sure you’d have enough time then :P

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

      1. Licaon_Kter says:

        Thanks for the story, but you kinda spoiled us with the audio version on Free Radical. :)

        Any time frame for this one too? :D

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Oh man… See, the thing is, I’ve got a backlog of feedback to incorporate in version 1.3, so I keep telling myself this isn’t the final version, which makes me not want to invest in recording it, but I should probably just bite the bullet and decide that not working on a book for a couple of years means I’m not going to get back to it.
          So, I guess I’ll start reading it to my kids at bedtime, and record that. If I can convince them to be quiet for that long.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Okay, so, nearly three years later, I made a reading of just the good parts, along with a general plot summary. You can find it here:

  2. Echo Tango says:

    I have to say, that until you said this was based off of System Shock, I was going to pass on reading the book. It’s not like I have an abundance of good sci-fi books; I’m actually sick of the series I’m reading right now[1], since it seems to already have explored all of the useful ideas of the author, and the remaining stuff seems like it wouldn’t even work in our universe unless you started rewriting huge sections of how physics worked. I guess “this book will have robots, space-ships, and monsters” is more interesting than “anything you could possibly imagine might happen in this book”. Maybe because With the latter, I have to guess at where the author’s imagination will wander, whereas with the former, I can know if I’m in for the type of material I want to consume right now? Either way, I look forward to finishing this book! :)

    [1] Also the previous series, and the one before that. Also the sci-fi/fiction series before that…It seems to me, that most of the authors I read need to learn when an idea has been explored, and move on to something else. :)

    1. Syal says:

      Free Radical was based on System Shock. This one is based on… well, I haven’t read it yet, but the foreword implies it’s about technology sucking.

      Although page 1 already has robots and spaceships.

    2. Shamus says:

      For the record: THIS book is not related to System Shock. I was alluding to another book at the time.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Dangit! I’m still tired/sick, so I mixed up which things were being referenced. Either way, this one is still about FTL, robots, and other cool stuff, so I’m going to finish reading it! :)

  3. Vermander says:

    I guess “this book will have robots, space-ships, and monsters” is more interesting than “anything you could possibly imagine might happen in this book”.

    You’re on to something here. Even works of outright fantasy need to establish some kind of “rules” for the universe or the story will end up sounding like it was written by Unikitty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with defying genre expectations or combining elements of different genres and settings, but if you’re constantly breaking your own rules then it will eventually start to feel like events have no real significance.

    1. Vermander says:

      Sorry, this was supposed to be quoting the previous comment from Echo Tango.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Also, you have an extra blockquote that should just be after the actual quote, as a response. :P

        But yeah, the stuff I’ve been reading recently felt like it was starting to be in ass-pull territory, which is a bit sad, since otherwise the books are very good. The other thing I’ve noticed, is that these authors are very good at writing sci-fi that doesn’t need to break too many rules from how we humans currently understand physics, but then they went ahead and invented new physics anyways. Bit of a shame, since the stories would have felt even more better, knowing no physics needs to be violated. i.e. They have really good politics, personalities, characters, and extrapolation of tech based on current-world physics, but then they added rule-breaking FTL and super-materials anyways…for no good reason?

  4. I didn’t read Shamus’s half-finished version because I hate unresolved cliffhangers. I did read the Spooner Cut, and I can’t point to any particular place where I can see seams. I think I did notice some subtle shifting of the focus of the story, and of the author’s “voice”, but it wasn’t jarring to me. I likely wouldn’t have thought anything of it if I hadn’t known how the book was finished.

    I did think the book, all of it, was very good.

  5. Zak McKracken says:

    “the game is hard to find”

    Just bought it, from the Humble store, and it’s been announced at GOG. There’s a refurbished version and the original too.

    I’ve never played it, and I’m very much looking forward to criticising the game based on Shamus’ novel.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      The story based on System Shock is Shamus’ “Free Radical” and, if you haven’t read it already, please do so! If you prefer listening, I made an audio-book version for just such a purpose.

      The story linked in the article, “Fall From the Sky” is set in Shamus’ own one-off setting. It still has robots, spaceships, and monsters though.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        I meant to imply that I have read the novel (and liked it) but not played the game, so yes, I will go against the traffic, and will gladly tell everyone why the game is a bad adaptation of a really cool story.

        …I have also read most (not all) of the unfinished piece Shamus posted here a while ago. I intend to read what you made of it, too, but that might take a while, unfortunately.

        1. tzeneth says:

          I too have read the novel but never played the game. I found the story interesting to the point where I was kind of curious about the game as it was before my time when I was old enough to be into those types of shooters. And now I don’t want to have to deal with badly designed…or less mainstream keyboard setups.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Here’s the demo:
            They say they’ve got new control schemes and lots of other updates, so it should be bearable for a non-oldschool player.

            …aaaand this is where I realize that the version I just bought is the “enhanced edition”, not the one which is about to come out (named “System Shock”, just to confuse people), which looks so much better. Oh well, that explains why it was in a humble bundle, I guess.

        2. Benjamin Hilton says:

          Same here, Loved the book, know enough about the game to see the influence, never got around to playing it.

  6. Primogenitor says:

    I like to think that Paul Spooner wrote that all in 6 months, and Shamus has had this post sitting around for 4-and-a-half years before his content well ran sufficiently dry to use this.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      You are not entirely wrong. It looks like Paul finished in August 2014.

  7. The Mich says:

    Probably a dumb question, but what’s the title (or working title) of the book? Just FFTS? Or is that an acronym for something?

    1. The Mich says:

      Nevermind, I figured out it stands for “Fall from the Sky”

      1. The Mich says:

        I’m dumb :/

        1. Baron Tanks says:

          Hey that’s fine, you still got three comments out of it. And then I did one too. Happy Tuesday!

    2. Syal says:

      Final Fantasy Tactics: Space!

      1. Lachlan the Mad says:

        You jest, but this would be an automatic contender for my personal Greatest Game Of All Time Ever list.

    3. Philadelphus says:

      Fast Fourier-Transform Spectroscopy.

  8. Paul Spooner says:

    If you are just looking to read the “good parts” and don’t mind skipping around, my favorite chapters are:
    Dread, the first chapter, so no spoilers here.
    Ontology, discussing with a robot what it means to be human. My wife’s favorite chapter.
    Orientation, discussing sex with a sex-bot.
    Overturn, the happiest chapter.

  9. The Spooner Cut sounds like an AU Spoony Experiment.

  10. Jon says:

    I made an epub version.


    I just ran it through Calibre’s conversion, so there might be glitches.

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    Is this comments section the right place to report typos in the book?

    Chapter 3:

    Behind Ando, David have her a single, self-satisfied nod.

    1. Syal says:

      Is this comments section the right place to report typos in the book?

      Definitely not.

      …Descent, “dozy” should be “doozy”.

      1. Ninety-Three says:


        So I can either eat this or go into caffeine withdraw.

  12. Philadelphus says:

    Reading this post, my mind jumped to imagining a sort of alternate-universe of NaNoWriMo where someone writes…well, half a novel would be a lot of work, so let’s say something like the first chapter of a novel, setting of the basics of a setting and universe with some interesting but unexplained hooks, and then all the participants finish it in their own way, free to invent or do whatever they like, even contradicting the original chapter if it turns out “It was all just a dream!” or something like that. I can’t decide if this would be really interesting, or get tiring really quickly as all the works sort of slowly diverge over time.

    1. Jon says:

      I read a book like that, written by a bunch of South Florida authors. It was mediocre.

    2. Kathryn says:

      Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer wrote a few books based on the “letter game”, where their characters wrote letters back and forth without the authors consulting each other on their plans. They are pretty good. Set in Regency England plus magic. The first is called Sorcery and Cecelia.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Interesting, thanks. I’ll give it a look.

    3. Mr. Son says:

      Years back you used to see things like that in fandom circles. They called them “round robin” fics.

    4. Lachlan the Mad says:

      A young-adult example (emphasis on “young”, we’re talking 5th-6th grade reading level here): the Australian authors Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman wrote a couple of novel series this way, called “Wicked” and “Deadly”. Both series are 6 books long, although each book barely breaks 100 pages. Both series are written with chapters alternating between two different characters’ points of view, with Jennings writing one character’s chapters and Gleitzman writing the other’s. Insofar as I understand it, the authors did have a general idea of the flow of the series but would often move to surprise each other when sending chapters back and forth.

  13. Son of Valhalla says:

    Might have to give this a read. I also just ordered The Witch Watch.

  14. mac says:

    I never read the original, just finished reading the complete version and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I couldn’t spot the seams.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Glad to hear it!
      Any favorite parts?

  15. Decius says:

    I’d like to use the chapter Moribund as a place to launch discussion about the problem described by that chapter. Is that acceptable, and if so what attribution is preferred?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Mmm. Corporate and personal responsibility.
      That chapter is largely un-changed from Shamus’ original, so you should probably credit him.
      I would suggest the 20-sided forums, but they are under the same politics moratorium as the comments here. I’d probably just start the discussion in some other public forum and post a link.

      1. Shamus says:

        I’d be okay with the discussion happening in the forums. Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic, but I don’t THINK this one is likely to blow up.

  16. Diego says:

    Second sentence of the book: “The light was sudden and sharp, even though her clenched eyelids.”

    Am I mistaken in thinking that it should say through instead of though?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      You are not mistaken. Thanks to you (and the others in the comments above) for catching these typos. I’m not responding to them individually, since that seems gratuitous, but I do fix them in the text.

  17. Ninety-Three says:

    Typo patrol: “When molly asked”, Molly is lowercase.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.