Worm by Wildbow Review #3

3 STARS

6/10 less now than then

worm
Image from ParaHumans.Wordpress.com, home of the Worm web serial

 

Yep, chapters 9.01 – 20.3 dropped past 4 stars and down to 3. Why? Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you, now isn’t it?

The Pros:

Emma:

Before, I thought it was pretty unrealistic that a bully would so persistently go after one particular person (Skitter). I also wasn’t optimistic that Emma’s plot line would have an interesting payoff. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Wildbow has proved very adept at giving each character an outlook on life, and so far, Emma’s is the most believable. She was attacked by gangsters and felt vulnerable and humiliated. But she tried to fight back. She was saved by Shadow Stalker, a violent vigilante who found her a few days later and was impressed by her bravery. Shadow Stalker shares her world view—one I didn’t previously understand—with Emma:

According to Emma and Shadow Stalker, the world is composed of two types of people

  1. People who succumb to tragedy
  2. People who become stronger after tragedy

 

While I don’t think this is accurate (it depends on the tragedy, the timing, the aftermath, etc., not necessarily on whether or not you’re a “strong” person), it’s certainly believable, and it’s easy to see how someone feeling victimized would give into something like that. It’s therapeutic. It’s healing. And now, her incessant bullying of Skitter made more sense: she was trying to bully Skitter into standing up to herself and become a survivor instead of a succumber. Shadow Stalker’s original interpretation of “the world is made up of predators and prey” still doesn’t make sense to me and doesn’t seem to align with this particular world view, but it seems to have influenced Emma: if you don’t want to be a victim, you have to prove you’re strong, constantly.

I was also very pleasantly surprised that Emma didn’t turn out to be a cape. I thought it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Wildbow to make Emma a cape, or psychotic, or something else unlikely. Overall, very well done. Perhaps one of the most believable and compelling bully backstories I’ve ever read.

The Philosophy:

Finally, what I’ve been waiting for. This entire time, Skitter has been building up a sense of rebellion against the system, a belief that the bureaucracy as it stands isn’t as effective at solving problems as the good-willed but rule-breaking vigilante. And now, she finally debates someone in the story with that: Clockblocker, who is quickly becoming my favorite superhero in the saga. And he had some good points, and pointed out to Skitter that most of the effects of her rule-breaking were negative. I suppose I like that part because I think many people take the “down with regulation” thing a little too far (both Batman and George Zimmerman are self-proclaimed vigilantes, after all). It’s nice to find a more moderate viewpoint…even if the rest of the story is 100% supportive of “down with the establishment it’s so inefficient.”

Wildbow has done such a good job of establishing characters’ worldviews, but he’s never really bounced them off each other. The characters have simply been confident in their views, but they’ve never gone head to head or tried to change each other’s opinions. It’s nice to see some reflection on how the events in the series could apply to the real world.

The Creative Solutions:

I would like to reiterate that the main strength of this series is Skitter’s creative solutions in the face of incredible odds. How does Wildbow come up with this stuff? It almost makes me want to have powers myself, only to see how well I would do in Skitter’s shoes (I’ll give you a hint: I’d be dead).

The Cons:

Panacea and Dragon:

These two were the characters I was most excited for. Panacea because of her role in a sisterly bond and Taylor’s redemption plot line (revealing that she was a good guy the whole time). I’ve a sucker for sibling bonds, and I was enjoying seeing her interact with her superhero sibling, Glory Girl. Not only that, but she seemed to be the main person there to witness the big reveal that Skitter was secretly a hero, and I was looking forward to see her reaction. I feel like both of those things have been stripped from me. Panacea was revealed to have a crush on her adopted sister, Glory Girl, and in a fit of panic accidentally modified her sister’s brain to reciprocate those feelings. Her crush came from out of nowhere, and I hated the way that a split-second mistake on her part didn’t allow it to develop any further. It was unexpected, and we had no time to get used to it because it was over as soon as it appeared; the rest of the time, Panacea and Glory Girl simply fight or argue about mending Glory Girl’s psyche. As for the redemption plot line, Panacea drowned in her own mistakes (modifying her sister and helping the villains) instead of conquering them, so her role in the story felt undeveloped and unresolved. While it’s plausible for someone to succumb to their fears, this character full of potential became little more than a foil to Skitter’s confidence (in breaking the rules) and creativity in combat. And then, of course, she physically disappeared form the story; she voluntarily sent herself to the Bird Cage, the big prison for capes. Wildbow is hinting at her and her father playing a larger role later on, but I’m not optimistic.

I feel that removing one line from the story would have made me feel better about Dragon’s plot line. At the end of Dragon’s interlude, where we find out that Dragon is secretly an AI pretending to be a cape, and where Dragon finds out Skitter’s secret identity, Dragon plans to approach and speak with Skitter as soon as she resurfaced. This never happened. Dragon has done plenty of things since then, but she hasn’t spoken to or contacted Skitter. I was really looking forward to that. I was also looking forward to her obtaining a human body, but so far, we haven’t gotten to see any of the background behind it. Who made the body for her? How does it work? If she dies in her human body, does her consciousness still get backed up to the satellite? Is her consciousness existing in multiple places and, if so, why is her programming no longer subjected to the “only one consciousness for the dangerous AI” rule? How is Armsmaster able to bypass the “if anyone tries to alter your code, kill them” rule? Oh, they’re also hinting at a romance between Armsmaster and Dragon. I’m all for that…if that showed any of it. With this romance, it’s very much telling, and not showing. I haven’t seen any chemistry or sincere interaction between those two since the Mannequin attack, when Dragon revealed her true nature to him.

The Interludes:

Let me quickly say that “donation interludes” sound like an awesome idea. I think they’re a great way to get the fan base more involved, and they allow readers to view more of the humongous world of Worm. But can they please not be in the middle of an arc? Wildbow nearly loses my loyalty every time that an interesting plot line is interrupted by an important but intrusive interlude. Can we please keep those at the end of the arcs? Or the beginning? Not right after I wonder whether a character is alive, or what’s going to happen with this portal to another dimension? It’s rather distracting.

The Lack of Breaks:

Another reason to put multiple interludes at the end of each arc is the pacing. I understand that Worm was originally published one chapter per week, but reading it at one chapter per day feels exhausting. At any given moment, the characters can’t catch a break. They never relax. There’s always some threat or another, and the stakes only ever seem to get raised. Whenever the characters do get a break, we never get to see it: it’s skipped over and told in flashback. Supposedly, good storytelling is meant to keep a reader engaged, but does it have to be life-threatening action 100% of the time? Why can’t there be small moments where the characters just goof off, or have fun? Yes, I would want to read that. I would much rather read that than hear “Hey, you know how we just fought off a giant monster that makes evil clones of us? Well, while we’re waiting for that to continue, let’s bust open a portal to another dimension!” No. Get some sleep. Tell some jokes. Heck, if it must be suspenseful, at least let it be character development or an intellectual standoff or foreshadowing. Just please, no more stakes, no more sense of urgency. It’s tiring.

The Overall Rating:

I wouldn’t say that the rating dropped because of all the cons I listed, per say. It’s more from a lack of the positive aspects. I rate books on two things: presentation and content. Presentation is the series’ ability to keep me engaged and addicted, or just by being well-written. Content is what I take away: new epiphanies about the world, enviable writing strategies, unforgettable characters. If a series does well in one of those two categories, it gets 4 stars. If it does well in both, it gets 5 stars. If it doesn’t do well in either, it gets a 3 or lower. I think I’ve built up a tolerance to the main strength of the book: the creative battles. There does the content. And, for whatever reason, the series doesn’t addict me anymore. It certainly did around the time of the Slaughterhouse Nine, but not anymore. It comes and goes. So the ranking of the series will likely be shifting up and down a lot in the coming year, for those reasons. It’s been very interesting to look back on my previous reviews and see how my opinion of the saga has changed over the past half a year.


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