Why would an author give away an unlimited number of copies of her book for free?

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 landscape.

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.

By releasing this book for free on the Net, I'm hoping more people will not only enjoy the story of how the international computer underground rose to power, but also make the journey into the minds of hackers involved. When I first began sketching out the book's structure, I decided to go with depth. I wanted the reader to think, 'NOW I understand, because I too was there.' I hope those words will enter your thoughts as you read this electronic book.

Michael Hall, a supersmart lawyer on the book's legal team, told me in July last year he saw a young man in Sydney reading a copy of Underground beside him on the #380 bus to North Bondi. Michael said he wanted to lean over and proclaim proudly, `I legalled that book!'. Instead, he chose to watch the young man's reactions.

The young man was completely absorbed, reading hungrily through his well-worn copy, which he had completely personalised. The pages were covered in highlighter, scrawled margin writing and post-it notes. He had underlined sections and dog-eared pages. If the bus had detoured to Brisbane, he probably wouldn't have noticed.

I like that. Call me subversive, but I'm chuffed Underground is engaging enough to make people miss bus stops. It makes me happy, and happy people usually want to share.

There are other reasons for releasing Underground in this format. The electronic version is being donated to the visionary Project Gutenburg, a collection of free electronic books run with missionary zeal by Michael Hart.

Project Gutenburg promises to keep old out-of-print books in free ''electronic'' print forever, to bring literature to those who can't afford books, and to brighten the world of the visually impaired. Underground isn't out of print -- and long may it remain that way -- but those are laudable goals. I wrote in the `Introduction' to the printed edition about my great aunt, a diver and artist who pioneered underwater painting in the 1940s. She provided me with a kind of inspiration for this book. What I didn't mention is that as a result of macular degeneration in both eyes, she is now blind. She can no longer paint or dive. But she does read - avidly - through `talking books'. She is another reason I decided to release Underground in this format.

So, now you can download and read the electronic version of Underground for free. You can also send the work to your friends for free. Or your enemies. At around a megabyte of plain text each, a few dozen copies of Underground make an extremely effective mail bomb.

That's a joke, folks, not a suggestion. ;-)

Like many of the people in this book, I'm not big on rules. Fortunately, there aren't many that come with this electronic version. Don't print the work on paper, CD or any other format, except for your own personal reading pleasure. This includes using the work as teaching material in institutions. You must not alter or truncate the work in any way. You must not redistribute the work for any sort of payment, including selling it on its own or as part of a package. Random House is a friendly place, but as one of the world's largest publishers it has a collection of equally large lawyers. Messing with them will leave you with scars in places that could be hard to explain to any future partner.

If you want to do any of these things, please contact me or my literary agents Curtis Brown & Co first. I retain the copyright on the work. Julian Assange designed the elegant layout of this electronic edition, and he retains ownership of this design and layout.

If you like the electronic version of the book, do buy the paper version. Why? For starters, it's not only much easier to read on the bus, its much easier to read full stop. It's also easier to thumb through, highlight, scribble on, dribble on, and show off. It never needs batteries. It can run on solar power and candles. It looks sexy on your bookshelf, by your bed and in your bed. If you are a male geek, the book comes with a girl-magnet guarantee. The paper version is much easier to lend to a prospective girlfriend. When she's finished reading the book, ask her which hacker thrilled her to pieces. Then nod knowingly, and say coyly `Well, I've never admitted this to anyone except the author and the Feds, but ..'

And the most important reason to purchase a paper copy? Because buying the printed edition of the book lets the author continue to write more fine books like this one.


Suelette Dreyfus

January 2001


Literary Freeware: Not for Commercial Use.

Copyright (c) 1997, 2001 Suelette Dreyfus & Julian Assange

This HTML and text electronic version was arranged by Julian Assange proff@iq.org and is based on the printed paper edition.

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this publication provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies and distribution is without fee.