Emma Bull & Elizabeth Bear (eds.): Shadow Unit 13

I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end of this series – and not just because there will be no more episodes after that, but also (and possibly even more so) because at this stage, there cannot really be any doubt that things are not going to end well for the members of the FBI’s Anomalous Crime Task Force which we readers have come to know quite intimately over four seasons of episodes and vignettes.

It is not just the length of time we have spent with them that has made these people grow on us, but the at time almost uncannily deft hands the series’ authors have at characterizations, and in particular at convincingly describing relationships, Romantic and otherwise. The introduction of the new team member in this and the previous volume is very much a case in point, and again I was particularly struck by the way his relationship to his wife is shown, which comes across as both moving and realistic.

The series has always been playing with superhero tropes, and I guess it was only a matter of time until one of the Anomalous Crime cases would go meta and cast himself as a supervillain. Leah Bobet’s “Wild Card”, the opening story in this 13th volume of Shadow Unit finally delivers on that, and does so in an almost comedic manner, closing with what surely must be the most bizarre suspect interview in the history of crime fighting ever. The episode sets the tone for this volume, which in general is comparatively light-hearted for what is at heart a very dark, occasionally even outright bleak series. Like in the previous volume, we get a large number of episodes but only a tiny helping of additional material. Elizabeth Bear shows in “Underworld” that she’d make a great author of True Crime books (at least if she gets to make her facts up), in Chelsea Polk’s “Single Bullet Theory” a returning character from outside the team takes the central spotlight, giving us a fascinating glimpse on how the anomaly marks even people it left in its wake, while Emma Bull’s and Will Shetterly’s “Apolysis” is all about spiders, to which all I have to say is – ewwww. And that sometimes I’m glad that this is not an actual TV series…

Shadow Unit is a fascinating project, not just imitating TV crime shows, but actively transferring their narrative structures into writing and coming up with all kinds of interesting ways to achieve a TV series’ effects with literary means and keeping it fun to read throughout. Two  more volumes to go now…

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