Technical inaccuracies combine with a shoddy search-replace of c-binary-esque terms in this uninspired smut

Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2017

The majority of this review will be rather negative, but I'd like to quickly mention a few positive points too. I like how the male lead was written, outside of the sex scene. The few snippets of his internal monologue had a good mix of weariness, self deprecation, and humor. The last few paragraphs of the book were also quite good and it really did end on a nice humorous note. It also had one pun I liked; the "I'm booting!" bit. Unfortunately, those few enjoyable paragraphs were unable to redeem the book in my opinion.

On the whole, I found 'Savaged by Systemd: an Erotic Unix Encounter' an unenjoyable experience to read.

In this review I'll be covering some broad problems and detailing other specific issues I had with this piece of writing.

First of all, I don't really understand the intended audience.

The audiences that come to mind are:

  1. Tech-savvy readers looking for actual erotica.
  2. People wishing to become informed about systemd via clever or funny parody and analogy.
  3. systemd lovers or haters wishing to read a humorous critique of the software via analogy.

I'd say the book attempts to dip its toes into 1 and 3, but failed to target any of these groups well.

Before I go further, I'll mention a convention the author uses which I'll keep throughout this review. The word 'systemd' (lowercased) will always refer to the software. When capitalized, as Systemd, it will refer to the anthropomorphization of systemd. Normally, I'd be a stickler for systemd always being lowercase, but in this case the distinction is helpful, and I think following the book's convention makes sense.

First, let me break down what the book focuses on by page count:

There are about 38 pages (excluding the copyright, title page, etc). There are roughly three pages introducing the male lead, a sysadmin. Another two introduce Systemd. The next 27 are the drawn out, uninspired, sex scene. The remaining 5 pages are some light systemd bashing and cleanup. (Yes, I know I'm missing a page. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

As you can tell from the numbers, the majority of the content in this book is the singular sex scene. This scene is handled via anthropomorphising systemd as a lady, and referring to her anatomy metaphorically.

So, with that basic summary of the components, I'll now discuss the quality of the erotica, the quality of the metaphors, and the quality of the technical information.

The Erotica

A potential reader might expect decent erotica, given the title. Unfortunately, the quality of the smut in this book falls below even the lowest of low bars set by "My Immortal."

The formula, as best I can tell, is to take a single uninspired smut scene and search-replace anatomy with a few technical terms, such as replacing "hair" with "elf headers" and "breasts" with "signal handlers". This search-replace job came off as lazy, but also detracted further from the writing. I'll get into that more in the "metaphors" section further on.

The characterization was also quite poorly done. Perhaps the most damning bit of evidence I can provide is the following problem: on my first read through, I assumed Systemd was male for the first 35% of the book. The phrase "round, firm signal handler" (aka search-replace of 'breast') was the first hint that Systemd probably wasn't male. The second hint was the use of the pronoun 'hers' 6 pages later, a full 50% of the way through the book. Let me repeat that: a self-proclaimed erotic novel fails to specify the gender of the title character for the first half of the book.

The lack of pronouns, I think, also indicates poor writing style. By 50% of the way in, the author has only referred to Systemd via pronoun twice (once by 'it', once by 'her').

Even ignoring little details like the gender of a character, the erotic writing is not good. Phrases like "the tip of Systemd's tongue, just the finest tip, glided across me" is about as erotic as it gets. Even if you're into sysadmins and poorly described leather-clad software, you'll be hard-pressed to find pleasure in the virtual pages of this work.

However, it's not the lack of good writing that disappoints me the most; rather, it is the low quality metaphors.

The Low Quality Metaphors

The primary way this book makes itself not just a bad smut scene is by naming a character Systemd, and then drawing metaphors between her and the actual systemd software. This is where I expected the book to shine. Going in, I wondered whether the author would use some play on "systemd-nspawn", or perhaps use "systemd-inhibit" and "systemd-escape" in a bondage scene. Unfortunately, the catalogue of metaphors is short and doesn't even approach my expectations.

I've collected the metaphors used, the word they were search-replaced from, and their total usage-count:

And there you go. There's practically full search-replace as best I can tell.

I don't think this choice of terms adds very much. What's worse, none of them are unique to, nor characteristic of, systemd. In fact, the only one I'd say is even slightly unusual is the DHCP client+resolver bit. Assuming "argument array" means argv, not a vararg function, it's arguably anti-characteristic of systemd since Linux passes no arguments to the init binary executed during boot (hence why systemd parses the Linux command line).

I have little else to say about the metaphors because, well, there's hardly any more to them than the above search replacement. If that list didn't seem funny or interesting, believe me, the constant repetition of those trite terms throughout the insipid smut is worse.

The lack of metaphors isn't due to a dearth of material to draw from. There's a sea of potential. Did you know systemd ships the "systemd-mount" and "systemd-fsck" binaries? You wouldn't learn that from this book! There's also plenty more where that came from: there's systemd-coredump if you feel like doing some scat (and machinectl clean for afterwards), systemd-dissect to attract fans of gore, systemd-importd (emphasis on the d), machinectl pull-raw, systemctl emergency and rescue for safe words... I really feel like I'm only brushing the surface. There's also a huge unit file syntax surface area to scour for more keywords to twist. It seems clear to me, though, that the author makes no serious attempt to work in any finer systemd metaphors, puns, or details.

What I expected going into this was clever wordplay, and getting nothing more clever than "elf header" is disappointing.

Speaking of technical details the author could have mentioned but didn't, let's talk about the details he does mention.

The Technical Quality

This book has multiple technical inaccuracies. This is especially impressive because it is almost entirely devoid of technical content. This is, somehow, smut in dire need of a technical editor

The most egregious falsehood is definitely the statement that "you can't use shared libraries for init, that just wouldn't make sense."

That is flat-out wrong. I have yet to see a statically linked copy of systemd. I don't think systemd's build system even provides support for creating such a binary. It absolutely makes sense for systemd (typically at /usr/lib/systemd/systemd) to rely on dynamically linked libraries in /usr/lib since, well, mounting filesystem containing init is the job of the kernel and/or the initrd.

Shortly thereafter, the author writes "init shouldn't have a DHCP client in it", implying that it's the PID 1 systemd executable acting as a DHCP client, which of course is not the case. This one isn't so bad though. It's a greatest hit of systemd haters, so I can totally understand why he'd want to repeat it.

At one point, Systemd says that "if init doesn't let a process exit, it doesn't exit until init is ... finished with it." This statement is also inaccurate. There's nothing systemd can do about a process exiting. Yes, if it's an orphan it can delay doing some cleanup, but that's a rather atypical case. For the average process, systemd has no say nor way to stop a process from exiting.

Next up, the author writes "I could see Google IP addresses hard-coded right into [the DNS resolver]." This is another sort of greatest-hits thing, but it's something that is less true and, in my opinion, worse to parrot. Yes, systemd has a configuration value that defaults to Google's DNS servers. However, the configuration and documentation also explicitly recommends distros set an appropriate value. This is quite a different reality than the term "hard-coded" paints. Nothing to see here, please complain to your distro if they neglect to configure this option.

Now, as I said at the beginning, it's surprising the number of details that are wrong given how few technical details there were total. I'll be the first to admit that systemd does have problems. I was hopeful going in that this book might poke at, or allude to, technical details deeper than "systemd is an init, and also there's a DHCP client". Sadly, my hopes have been deflated by the content I actually purchased.


In summary, I recommend steering well clear of Savaged by Systemd: an Erotic Unix Encounter. Despite the title, it is not erotic and the character named "Systemd" bears only a passing resemblance to the "systemd" software. Save yourself some money and read the "troll" and "not-a-bug" labels on the systemd issue tracker for funnier and more technically interesting systemd content.

Written by ek, published by Amazon, accessible via