Bootleg eBook Preview: Shadow Unit

There are pictures under the cut, yes.

Shadow Unit is damn good horror/science fiction/fantasy combined with the gritty reality of real spycraft a la Sandbaggers—or, if you’re more up-to-date, Queen & Country. And so, like with many things I love these days, I wanted it on my Kindle to look at whenever I want (among other things, the Kindle has increased the amount that I re-read). There were complications of course.

Shadow Unit is an odd serial work: the kind that can only arise in a hyperlinked environment like the web. Its structure isn’t just a linear story. For example, there are hidden easter egg links that take you to “deleted” scenes, extra story bites, back story, even character sketches. There’s even a PDF script book somewhere in there.

In other words, Shadow Unit not something you can just straight-out textify without losing a vital part of its personality.

One thing that the MobiPocket format is especially good at is capturing a super-linked work—in particular because it’s based off of HTML with some extensions, and also is essentially a directory archive that can store separate image files and HTML text, all zipped up together. This is perfect for, say, reference works that live and die on the index, or anthologies of stories; something like Shadow Unit fits right in.

So I decided to create a “bootleg” eBook for Shadow Unit and distribute it for free—and naturally DRM-free. The final copy will be ready by Sunday, I think. It’s mostly ready right now, but I have some kinks to work out.

Don’t worry, I’m not violating copyright; the creators—Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Amanda Downum, and Stephan Shipman are using the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license. As long as I’m not selling it and I provide attribution to them, it’s alright. I’m also going to be using the same license.

There is an extra addendum to not alter the prose, which I also complied with.

Among the things I learned during this process:

  • eBooks take some thought to lay out professionally, even if you’re just aping it like me. Which makes sense, since digital “printing” is still printing, just with different considerations and angles;
  • putting together an eBook that draws even somewhat heavily on linking is even tougher than just a normal eBook like I did yesterday;
  • making the Shadow Unit eBook is a bit like putting together a TV show DVD, with so many fussy details and extras to get right.

I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I have lots of respect for publishers.

But anyways, on with the current features—and pictures!—below the cut.

You can clicky on each image to enbiggen it.

Because it’s so important (well, actually it is, as any good publisher will tell you), I designed a cover. Here it is, in its gritty Shadow-Unity glory. It’s not bad for amateur work, but that’s because I’m using the Shadow Unit website’s look.

The cover sports a tell-tale BOOTLEG watermark to distinguish it from any professional works that might appear later.

Of course, on the grayscale of the Kindle screen, things don’t look as good.

See what I mean? I’m going to have to do something about the text across the top; it’s the only thing that doesn’t work so well.

Here we are at Episode 1: Breathe. The little “Act I”, “Act II”, etc links all work for each individual episode. You’ll want them, too, when you go easter egg hunting.

There’s a real table of contents I designed myself, and which comes up in the menu, as you can see, instead of being grayed out. And here’s a link to Episode 2: Knock on Coffins if you’re interested.

Unfortunately, the nature of the Kindle and other eBook readers is that all links are highlighted, even if you try to hide them. Makes easter egg hunting a snap, although not so much if you can’t remember later just where in all the text they are, hence the usefulness of the links above.

One thing I’ve found is that on the Kindle, links that go straight to images (as opposed to a page that embeds an image) don’t work. You can see it not working since neither Todd nor Worth show up in the menu to click on. I’ll have to embed the images instead.

The pictures all by themselves work fine, it’s just that links to them don’t.

Links to text files, like the “left hand” easter egg, work just fine on the other hand. In the background is Episode 3: Dexterity which friggin’ creeped me out. But in a good way.

The display of the table of contents could use some formatting work. Stat. By the way, the creators of Shadow Unit are kind and cruel at the same time; there is no clean listing of the easter eggs in the episodes under “Teasers and Deleted Scenes”, which are instead more new material. Like I said: cruel and kind.

I hope you enjoyed this preview of things to come, and that you stop by the Shadow Unit site for some oggling. I mean, some of the characters have their own LJs and interact with readers in the comments, all Heroes-like. The Kindle actually is able to capture that, because it will follow URL links from eBooks (and is also how I’m handling the script PDFs).

4 thoughts on “Bootleg eBook Preview: Shadow Unit

  1. Hi, Emma!

    You guys do wonderful work. I look forward to the second season!

    By the way, I loved Territory.

  2. This is ten flavours of awesome!
    I’ve been holding off reading SU because I don’t like reading fiction off the computer screen (and yet I spend all day writing software. Yeah. I know). But I don’t have the same issues with Stanza on my ipod. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome. I really need to get Season 2 all done up, but I got blindsided unpleasantly for the past several months.

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