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Book Note: Emma Bull, The Unicorn Evils

I read this book about 13-Feb-2010. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2010. This note was last modified Sunday, 14-Feb-2010 19:35:12 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


By Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear. First episode of season 3 of Shadow Unit, an imaginary TV show, distributed free and supported by reader donations. (The TV show isn't produced, but stories, not in script form, are being written and posted. There's also an active fan community that I'm not involved with, and blogs by some of the characters, and so forth.) I guess because they're shorter, I havn't been recording the episodes I read, but everybody is very clear that this one is, excecptionally, a full novel-length episode, so I don't see how I can dodge logging it.

Just a little background; the "Anomalous Crimes Taskforce" is an FBI unit that handles the cases too weird for the BAU. Some people might think that Elizabeth Bear's tremendous fondness for Criminal Minds may have something to do with this show's location. So what is an "anomalous" crime? It's one commmitted by a person infected by the "anomaly", whatever that is. It gives them super-powers of some sort, and either drives them crazy or else maybe they're all crazy to begin with. Also accelerates their metabolism to an extreme extent. They become "gammas". There are also a very few known cases of people affected by the anomaly who aren't crazy and who aren't evil—including two people on the team.

So this episode begins badly, for the team—they're coming back from some case, without one of their betas, who didn't show up for the plane. Everybody is worried that she's gone evil, crazy, to the dark side. The best they can hope for is that she's "off the reservation" for some strong personal reason not related to the anomaly. Strangely, they don't seem to worry that she's been injured. It really ought to occur to them.

Also, she's their computer wiz; so they need to be extremely careful while looking for her that she can't ambush them; they're hoping she's not going to try, but they're not willing to bet their lives on it. Nobody knows much about the anomaly (one of the flaws, typical for a TV show, is that nobody has time to think much about that, and the people supposedly working on that in the background never accomplish anything), and nobody knows much about betas.

The other case that members of the team are working is a huge mass killing by cyanide on an indian reservation in South Dakota. I'm reasonably confident that their use of "off the reservation" to describe Hafidha's behavior is not totally coincidental.

In end it's determined that Hafidha's behavior involved the Anomaly in her, which she takes to calling the "bug", is becoming more active, trying to influence her. She's put into Idlewild, the mental hospital equipped to handle anomalous patients. Apparently Chaz had promised to shoot her rather than let her be put there, but he gets talked out of it in a rather tense scene.

Mostly, this book is about characters under emotional stress. There's lots of emotional stress going on in this team! Unfortunately for me, I feel like I've been losting my grip on the characters. They're getting somewhat less distinct to me over time, rather than more. This is probably partly due to my starting to watch Criminal Minds; I have discovered that the Shadow Unit team is enough like the CM team that I feel as if the serial numbers weren't adequately filed off, and I've been a bit confused ever since.

Love the title (and the obvious typo). It relates to the unsub on the reservation, who has a unicorn fetish focused on the magic ability of the horn to unpoison things. That's why she killed 167 students and teachers in the reservation school, you see.

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David Dyer-Bennet