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In Jeff Noon's Vurt, there are five pure modes of being:

  • Human - self-explanatory
  • Dog - apparently regular dogs, but somehow able to cross-breed with humans
  • Robo - some sort of advanced nanotechnology
  • Vurt - some sort of collective conciousness originating in Hobart's dream
  • Shadow - ???

As far as I can tell, shadow is never explained nor any origin even alluded to. Hybrid Shadow beings appear to have telepathic powers, have a visible smoke coming from their body, and are sleepy. I don't think a pure Shadow ever appears.

Perhaps this is expanded in Noon's other works? What is Shadow, and where does it come from?

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From the official Vurt RPG:

As a pure Shadow, you are the physical embodiment of death itself—a dark and mysterious figure. To a passing observer you appear to be human, but careful examination may reveal you to be something else. You are cold and pale, having no pulse or warmth of body. You are nearly always silent, but if you choose, you can speak directly into another person’s mind. With enough practice, you might learn to become shapeless and ethereal, able to pass silently through small openings like a mist, or sharpen your telepathic abilities into something controlling or deadly.

When confronted with death, most will cower, flee or fight. If you are discovered to be a pure Shadow you will inevitably be hunted by those who want to destroy you. To these people you’re an abomination, a devil, demon, vampire, spectre: an intrinsic evil to be persecuted ruthlessly. For this reason, keeping your nature secret is so integral to your survival that even the members of your group may not know that you are pure Shadow.

The sequel book, Pollen, features a Shadow cop as a main character.

That welcome rarity, a science fiction sequel that surpasses its original (Vurt, 1994). In Noon's fractured, unrecognizable future Manchester, England, human genes have mingled with other species, not to mention corpses, while an alternate dream reality, Vurt, can be accessed by all except Dodos; still others can reach into the extrasensory powers of Shadow. Independent cab dog-driver Coyote picks up a fare, the young girl Persephone, on the Zombie-haunted moors and takes her into the city.... Shadow cop Sibyl Jones investigates the killing, her footsteps dogged by dog-cop Zero, an informant for her double-crossing boss, Kracker, who's sold out to Columbus....

Based upon the confluence of those two data, it sounds like the Shadow are intended to be the Undead, derived from corpses in the same way that Dogs came from animals, Robos from technology, and Vurt from dreams.

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  • The plot spoiler doesn't really add anything. There were shadow-cops in Vurt too, but just that fact reveals nothing about what shadow is.
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 15, 2021 at 12:28
  • @OrangeDog: As far as I know, that one line doesn't really spoil much, and you did also ask if any of the books featured a Shadow as a main character, so it seems relevant to me. That said, is the answer sufficient to you? I haven't actually read the books in question, but I could try poking around a bit more.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 15, 2021 at 12:30
  • Yes, I think it's pretty clear now that Shadow = Undead. In hindsight the main shadowgirl in Vurt has a lot of vampire vibes (see e.g. Marceline). I was just waiting a bit before accepting. Is Sibyl a pure shadow though? I might have to read it again, but the shadowcops in Vurt weren't pure (a shadowrobo and a shadowrobovurt IIRC).
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 15, 2021 at 13:35
  • I'll let you know once I've read Pollen how much of a spoiler the double-crossing is :)
    – OrangeDog
    Jun 15, 2021 at 13:41
  • @OrangeDog: Doing a quick paging through the novel (available on archive.org), they don't really clarify, although she does have a father, as well as a husband and daughter, long estranged. She's reference to once as a "shadowgirl", but it seems more like a cutesy nickname because she replies that she's seen to much to considered a girl (and indeed, she's about a century and a half old).
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 15, 2021 at 14:01

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