Travel Documents 72: Shadow Unit 1

Shadow Unit 1

Emma Bull (Author), Elizabeth Bear (Author), Sarah Monette (Author), Will Shetterly  (Author), Kyle Cassidy (Illustrator) 
Genre: near-future,  techno-fantasy, procedural, mutation

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The Dust Cover Copy

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity’s worst nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn’t dream are real.

The BAU sends those cases down the hall. There, Stephen Reyes and his team pursue criminals transformed by a mysterious force: the anomaly.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.

The Shadow Unit series was created by award-winning authors Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear.

Contains four novellas:

“Breathe” by Emma Bull
“Knock On Coffins” by Elizabeth Bear
“Dexterity” by Sarah Monette
“A Handful of Dust” by Will Shetterly

The Deets

The Scene

World building

It’s just like here. It’s just like now. Except…

That’s one of the most interesting ways a story can begin. It’s almost here, except… And this anthology works that angle for all it’s worth. Showcasing all the ways the mask of normal can fall off, it hits the sweet spot between the X Files, the Fringe, and Bones: there’s plenty of communinty building between characters. There are worthwhile challenges and terrible monsters to be faced. And all the monsters are a truly terrible thing: everyday people, given the ability to do just as they please.

A strange parasite has begun to infect humans; a creature that channels the host’s greatest needs or fixations and gives them the ability to fulfill their secret needs. This can be benign; one character becomes a living wireless hotspot. Or it can be as terrible as a Vietnam vet who can put his PTSD into the heads of others. Story by story, we explore the heights and the depths humans can reach when given power.


The Crowd


Can I just say that I love a good team story? Each character in this team has their unique sets of skills, quirks, and abilities; together, the sum of their parts is woven into a powerfully effective tapestry of intelligence, ability, loyalty and strength. Each character gives something to the whole that it would not be complete without.
Through the first half of the book, we see through the eyes of Worth, newest member of the team. As she gets to know each of the others, their strengths and weaknesses shine through to wonderful effect. Action is carefully balanced with downtime, allowing us to get to know this team very well indeed. You’ll love everything you discover about resilient Worth, gawky Chaz, razor-smart Hafiddah, and the rest.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Sharp and energetic, this story moves at a wonderful clip. If someone hadn’t told me, I never would have noticed that the series had multiple writers.

I am going to ding it for one thing, though: somewhere in the layout process, a glitch happened. The next word after every italicized word is missing its space, so you get a smash word. It’s annoying as anything.

The Moves


In the spirit of a well-done TV show, this story flows steadily from episode to episode; each one an intricate gem that stood on its own merits, but greater than the sum of their parts when they’re read together. It was a book I had trouble putting down, but due to its episodic nature it would be absolutely perfect for a commute.

Overall Rating

This is the first entry in a fascinating and darkly amusing exploration of what it means to be human, and what it means to do good. Have fun…and don’t turn the lights out tonight.