Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Why would an author give away an unlimited number of copies of her book
That’s a good question. When ‘Underground’’s researcher, Julian
Assange, first suggested releasing an electronic version of the book on
the Net for free, I had to stop and think about just that question.
I’d spent nearly three years researching, writing and editing the nearly
500 pages of ‘Underground’. Julian had worked thousands of
hours doing painstaking research; discovering and cultivating sources,
digging with great resourcefulness into obscure databases and legal
papers, not to mention providing valuable editorial advice.
So why would I give away this carefully ripened fruit for free?
Because part of the joy of creating a piece of art is in knowing that
many people can - and are - enjoying it. Particularly people who can’t
otherwise afford to pay $11 USD for a book. People such as cash strapped
hackers. This book is about them, their lives and obsessions. It rubs
clear a small circle in the frosted glass so the reader can peer into
that hazy world. ‘Underground’ belongs on the Net, in their ephemeral
The critics have been good to ‘Underground’, for which I am very
grateful. But the best praise came from two of the hackers detailed in
the book. Surprising praise, because while the text is free of the
narrative moralising that plague other works, the selection of material
is often very personal and evokes mixed sympathies. One of the hackers,
Anthrax dropped by my office to say ‘Hi’. Out of the blue, he said with
a note of amazement, ‘When I read those chapters, it was so real, as if
you had been right there inside my head’. Not long after Par, half a
world away, and with a real tone of bewildered incredulity in his voice
made exactly the same observation. For a writer, it just doesn’t get any
better than that.