Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shadow Unit

I've struggled with how to write about the ending of Shadow Unit.  I have a friend who has never watched the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation because if she doesn't watch it, the show really isn't over.  There is still one more episode to watch.  There is still one more story out there.  There is still one more.

I didn't really understand before. No matter what series I read or show I watched, I would devour the ending. Sure, I might be sad when it was all over, but I wanted to see how it finished and to feel those emotions.  And then there was Shadow Unit.

Sometime in 2007 I became aware of a "sekrit project" which involved Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, and Will Shetterly. At the time, all I knew was that it was titled "Shadow Unit" and had a website which had very little information on it. I was (and still am) a very big fan of Elizabeth Bear's fiction and so I was curious as to what was going on.  Little did I know that I would spend the next seven years anxiously and eagerly awaiting each new episode.

The word "episode" is used very specifically here.  Shadow Unit was imagined as an episodic television show that never existed, so each episode was a discrete story building the larger mythology.  My description of it was always "Criminal Minds meets The X-Files, but the monsters are human."  It's as good as it sounds, and probably better than that.

It is one of my very favorite things ever.  Shadow Unit invited a community to grow around it, to participate through character livejournal accounts that were written in real time - as if the characters were real people living their lives, which is what they became.  The creators interacted with the fans on a regular basis via the message board, and it became a thing.  A community. A community of which I was a part for a number of years.  I fell away, as happens sometimes, but I still followed the episodes, I still had my heart ripped out after one particular episode midway through the run. The first season finale was a short novel worth of material, but it played out over real time - so when the livejournals went silent, we don't know if there is anyone who makes it out okay. 

It was a beautiful and moving thing.

The series finale went live on July 6. "Something's Gotta Eat T. Rexes" was written by Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, and Emma Bull.  It has taken me the better part of a month to muster up the courage to read it. 
I've been afraid of how it is going to end.  Not that the writers won't do a stunningly fantastic job, but that I'm going to lose someone else from the show.  I don't expect that everything is going to be okay. Not on this show. 

I'm just not sure I'm ready for it to be over.

In between writing the last sentence and this one, several hours have passed and I have finished reading the final episode. If I talked about my emotional response to "Something's Gotta Eat T. Rexes", I think I might give far too much away.  Suffice it to say that I had one. The thing is, I don't see nearly enough people talking about Shadow Unit.  Maybe it has to do with the small corner of the internet which I inhabit, or because like most short fiction, it isn't something that gets talked about, but it should.

So, let me say this: Shadow Unit is one of the most engrossing, moving, painful, and wonderful things that I have read.  I have enjoyed every moment of the last seven years I have been reading this collaborative project, even the painful ones. Especially the painful ones, because those are the moments that remind me that this is something I've truly connected with, that they mattered to me.  Shadow Unit may be finished, but these are the characters that will linger. 

If all of this is new to you, if you've never read Shadow Unit or even heard of it before, let me just invite you to begin with the very first episode, "Breathe", written by Emma Bull. There's a whole lot of story out there, just waiting to be discovered. Shadow Unit is something special.

And to all of the writers who worked on Shadow Unit: Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet, Amanda Downum, Chelsea Polk, Holly Black, and Steven Brust: Thank you. That was one hell of a ride.

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