This is a re-port from 8/6/2016
7/10 would recommend
I am currently reading a web serial book known simply as Worm. Its author, the anonymous Wildbow, began publishing sections one by one on his WordPress blog a few years ago. Worm is now finished, and even has a completed audiobook, despite the fact that it is ~1,680,000 words.
Let that sink in for a moment.
That is roughly 3 unabdirged copies of Les Miserables, and far more than War and Peace. It’s actually become a fun game for some avid web readers to make charts comparing the length of Worm to other novels traditionally seen as the longest books in existence.
So, especially with college and inevitable reading assignments coming my way, I decided I would just go ahead and review what I’ve read so far. I just finished the Hive section (assuming all chapters are of equal length, this is 1/6 of the way through).
This is Worm Review #1.
Worm is a soft science fiction, superhero novel. Its main character, Taylor, has full control of any and all insect(s) around her, and desires to one day be a superhero. Additionally, she is intensely and irremediably bullied at school, though she refuses to use her powers on the bullies, in case someone figures out her secret identity. According to my friend, who has read all the way through, the book is about Taylor discovering how to be powerful despite having a relatively weak power…and figuring out why it’s called Worm.
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My Opinion so far
I find this review difficult to split up into sections, because few parts of the novel are “remarkable”. I’m not saying that few parts are good–it’s the most impressive web serial I’ve ever seen, and everyone who reads it becomes obsessed with it–but rather that most parts are relatively normal.
For instance, the story is told in first person POV (luckily not present tense) by Taylor herself. She speaks like most people do in first person, though I will say that Worm has taught me quite a few new vocabulary words. The characters are mostly pretty one-dimensional, with the so-far exceptions of Taylor, Armsmaster, and Hellhound. I refer to Hellhound as Hellhound, keeping with the tradition of the media inside the Worm universe. Her actual “cape name” (superhero name, such as “Wonder Woman”) is a curse word, so inside the Worm universe, she’s referred to as “Hellhound” in public.
I truly admire both Taylor and Hellhound as characters. I want to some day write characters this well. While most characters in the series have one, maybe two traits, Taylor never fails to surprise me. I identify with Taylor enough to see her point of view, but I don’t identify quite well enough to predict exactly how she’ll react to certain things. I’m always amazed when she acts without thinking, and I’m always equally amazed when she shows morality that surpasses mine, despite doing/having done/planning far more immoral things. In short, the protagonist often surprises me.
While Hellhound doesn’t often surprise me, I always love a good anti-hero. And boy is this a good anti-hero.
Armsmaster is another can of worms (ha) altogether. He often surprises me, and so far very little has been said about him. I’m convinced that he’s somehow going to be an antagonist, but every turn of the story leaves me speculating more and more of what his role as an antagonist will be. Is he the secret boss Tattletale keeps mentioning? Does he even have powers, or does he always just take credit for other peoples’ jobs like he did with Taylor? Did he hire some of the other gangs?
Is he the “worm”?
I do also admire the way that Wildbow has incorporated certain “problems” with superhero arcs into his book. For instance, there’s a strange phenomenon in the Worm universe rendering most powers nearly ineffective on living creatures; so a telepath can’t just blow up your mind or anything, and the one who teleports things can’t teleport your heart out of your chest. It essentially keeps certain “capes” from becoming overpowered. That effect, and the Undersiders’ theory that every superhero and supervillain is mostly in it for the kicks and glory, and the city’s OK with it because it brings in tourism. I love how, just like there would be in real life, some supervillains have fans on the Internet, and everyone speculates about which superheroes are dating.
The big thing
I hate not knowing how to title these sections.
Like I said, most of the book is pretty unremarkable. The writing is good, the characters are ok, the pacing is pretty good, and Wildbow has a good use of cliff hangars, more in some chapters than others. Most of the time, I just keep reading because my friends gave such glowing reviews–they say that Worm has ruined other books for them. It is the single best book they’ve ever read. They stayed up until 4 a.m. reading it. Etc.
Here’s the aspect of the book I’m most enthusiastic about: the creativity.
Never, I mean never have I ever seen such shocking levels of creativity. I wasn’t impressed by Harry Potter or Avatar: the Last Airbender (though to be fair, I was introduced to those at a young age). But Worm? I normally hate action scenes, and end up zoning out. But in Worm, people have such unexpected powers, and use them in such unexpected ways, that I just can’t stop reading once a battle starts. Taylor using her bugs to freeze Clockblocker in place? Absolutely marvelous. I first caught a glimpse of that kind of creative genius when Taylor made her entire costume of black widow spider silk–very durable, if you can manage to weave it. I now enjoy speculating about how Taylor could make her power even more useful. For instance, fighting in the dark and using her bugs to detect her enemy, using ants to file through or lift objects, etc.
I can just imagine a young man, sitting alone in a room, or possibly joking around with a buddy, speculating “but wouldn’t people be able to trace costume purchases back to the superhero wearing that costume? And what if Clockblocker froze something that was surrounding him? Could he move? And what wouldn’t…”
It’s the kind of thing that takes real thought. I’m sure I could come up with a creative way to use a “lame” superpower” if I actually had it. If you had a superpower, wouldn’t you think of ways to use it 24/7?
The fact that Wildbow comes up with these things shows that he’s thought this through pretty well.
Or maybe he’s a discovery writer like I am. Perhaps there is hope in the realm of serials…
Either way, this also makes me marvel at the genius of some writers. Despite never having experienced the situation for themselves, many writers are able to transport their minds into the bodies of their characters, inferring things that would happen if their story were real.
What rating would I give the book right now? Probably about a 3.75, rounding up to 4 stars. Essentially, the book’s only two defining strengths are the creative uses of powers and the unique way Wildbow works around the question of superheroes/villains being overpowered/acting illogically. But since that in itself is unique, and since Wildbow has managed such high quality work from a serial–a web serial no less–it’s admirable enough for 4 stars.
I look forward to being obsessed with this book.
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