This was originally posted 12/31/2016
9/10 but still not the end
Yep, Worm got bumpbed up a star and 2/10 points.
If you’ll recall, Worm is an incredibly long web serial. It’s so long, in fact, that it’s practically become a meme to compare its length to notoriously-long works such as War and Peace (Spoiler: Worm is much, much longer). Because of this, I’m splitting my review of Worm into several “small” reviews. For my first review, see Worm by Wildbow Review #1 under “4 Star Reviews.”
Now, onto our topic for today: Worm chapters 6.01 – 8.x (yes, those are the actual chapter names) and why they’re so much better than the first 6 arcs.
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.
The Advantage of Length
I often enjoy taking advantage of length to create the illusion of the passage of time. If a battle is happening quickly, I shorten the description to make the reader feel rushed. If a character is bored, I throw in a long, boring paragraph to give the reader a sense of the slow passage of time.
However, this is not the length advantage I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the fact that Worm is long enough to gain an interesting advantage in foreshadowing. Normally, foreshadowing is either overdone or underdone, to the point where you either know exactly what’s going to happen or have no sense of what’s going to happen, giving you no moment of “WOW IT ALL FITS.” Worm seems to overdo foreshadowing, but the web serial is so long that it doesn’t matter. By the time you get to the actual event being foreshadowed, you’ve entirely forgotten the foreshadowing. You still get the “aha” moment because you’re reminded of that foreshadowing you forgot earlier. So Wildbow can successfully foreshadow an event and rely on the sheer length of his serial to make the foreshadowing spoiler-free.
That effect isn’t something a novelist can take advantage of, since no editor would touch something that long with a ten foot pole, but I thought it was a fun observation.
The Battles and Creativity
Worm is not at its best when talking about Taylor’s personal conflicts. I honestly don’t care about her former BFF Emma or her dad. I keep expecting those parts to actually be relevant, but so far I’ve been disappointed. There’s some big mystery as to why Emma stopped being Taylor’s friend all of a sudden and became so cruel to her and, who knows, maybe one day Wildbow will deliver.
The really fun part continues to be the action. By “action,” I mean times of conflict in the superhero/cape world; this includes both the battle with Leviathan and the tense conversation I read the other day between Skitter, Legend, Armsmaster, and Miss Militia in the infirmary. In essense, whenever Skitter needs to use her head to get out of a situation counts as “action.” School, home life, and most interactions with her teammates, however, don’t. A good portion of Skitter’s ideas go far beyond my problem-solving skills, but even the ones that are more in line with my preditctions are still delightful to read. It’s like a good mystery novel: it’s fun if the murderer is a surprise, but it’s also fun when you find out you were right all along about who the killer was. I feel smarter for having read each individual conflict.
Armsmaster and Panacea
Normally, I would dedicate an entire section to “characters,” but let’s face it: there’s no one else worth talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I love every moment that Tattletale and Bitch are involved in the scene, but everything there is to say about them is pretty obvious: it’s fun to see Skitter get through to Bitch and analyse her relationship with her dogs and how it ties into her criminal behavior, and it’s fun to have Tattletale as both the manipulator and the surprise mentor/sister/friend. That’s what their characters are designed to be and it’s something we’ve all seen elsewhere.
But I just have to talk about Armsmaster and Panacea. My thoughts on Armsmaster can be summarized pretty concisely, so I’ll handle him first: I knew he was going to be a bad guy, but chuta he is cruel. And it’s all 100% believeable. Heck, if I were in Armsmaster’s shoes, I might actually do the same thing (I’m referring to his power-grab during the battle with Leviathan, leading to the unnecessary deaths of countless capes, mostly villains). His ambition is so believable. And I knew that Armsmaster was a dramaqueen/spotlight-hog but wow that is just evil.
Panacea, on the other hand, might just be my favorite character so far, and I don’t even know who her villain parent is (Tattletale hinted at this earlier, but it hasn’t been revealed yet). It might just be because, for some reason, I’ve become a stickler for sisterly and/or motherly relationships. That was my first theory as to why I liked Panacea: I was touched by how desperate Panacea’s sister was to save her during the bank robbery, just like how I loved Purity’s rampage after having her daughter taken away. But I don’t think it’s just that anymore. Now I’m drawn to Panacea’s perception of Skitter as hero or villain. When Panacea thought that Skitter was just another villain, I really wanted to see how Skitter would respond. I also loved their conversation in the infirmary, and how Wildbow put Skitter in a position to be entirely at her mercy. I’m even hoping that Wildbow will go into the philosophy of doing the wrong thing for the right reason and whether or not you can make short-term sacrifices of morality to achieve a long-term good. We’ll see.
But most of all, I loved the scene where Panacea finds out that Skitter was a good guy undercover all along. Nothing actually happens between them because Skitter runs out of the room in panic, but I still love it for some reason. It’s one of those scenes that I keep replaying in my mind. I’ll have to do some more self-reflection to figure out why, but that kind of relationship is the kind of thing I want more of.
Tropes and Lack thereof
There’s another thing that Wildbow does that I admire, although it’s not necessary intentional nor unique: he goes in a lot of unexpected directions. I know that a huge part of Worm is exploring what would happen if superheroes appeared in the real world, for instance the fact that many supervillains have cursewords in their names and how civilians would only tolerate cape shenanigans to keep away even bigger threats to society.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about character and plot tropes. As an example, when we first meet Bitch/Hellhound/Rachel, it’s pretty obvious that she really has a soft side and Taylor’s going to be the only capable of finding it. A lot of the first part of the series seems to choose the trope path, which is not necessarily a bad thing. What I enjoy is the fact that things I thought I could predict turned out far differently. That’s for two reasons: 1) the length and 2) the dice.
The Length: Thanks to the length and scope of Worm, the characters have a lot more directions they can go in. Yes, Taylor finally figured out Hellhound, but that doesn’t seem to be where their relatioship ends. Yes, Taylor has the liar revealed trope, but the addition of characters beyond Taylor’s main team allows Wildbow to actually turn it into something great. Wildbow just has this immense amount of space to explore these different character arcs, kind of like in Game of Thrones.
The Dice: I’ve actually had this idea in the past, but apparently Wildbow used it before I could: he rolled dice to decide who died in the battle with Leviathan. This is, again, similar to something that keeps happening in Game of Thrones, which makes me think it could be taken too far like it was in GoT. Because of that random death sentence, Wildbow kills off many partially-developed characters, relationships, and plot lines. My peeve with Game of Thrones‘ deaths isn’t the fact that enjoyable characters die but the fact that I was expecting something out of their lives. They had plot lines! And they’re not all severed, leaving me feeling betrayed and unsatisfied. Worm hasn’t gone to these extremes so far, possibly just because there are so many characters I’d already forgotten who most of them were by the time they’d died, but I hope that there isn’t another endbringer battle to push Wildbow further down that rabbithole.
The Continued Quality of Writing
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Worm. Few people know why Wildbow wrote this behemoth for free on the web, and even fewer know his real identity. Because of this, I have no idea how this serial was written. I don’t know if Wildbow is a discovery writer or a planned writer, I don’t know if Wildbow has an editor, I don’t know how long Wildbow spent writing this or how much he wrote before he began publishing it online, and I don’t know if Wildbow was alone in this project.
I’d previously been imagining a solo Internet writer diligently putting out a blog entry every week, possibly a discovery writer and possibly a planned writer. But that vision, if correct, is becoming more and more impressive and unrealistic as I go along. Between the foreshadowing, continuity, consistent writing style, and plotline intersections, it’s seeming increasingly likely that he spent years writing Worm before beginning to publish it online. I now imagine a middle-aged man who has worked on this project, possibly with many inspirations or collaborators, for half his lifetime, finally deciding to publish it online for one reason or another. Otherwise, Wildbow’s writing prowess would be almost unspeakable; the ability to keep track of this much material for this long without an editor or time to edit the entire thing from start to finish is well beyond my abilities, as well as the abilities of most other writers I know of.
It is possible that the greatest appeal of Worm is its own ambiguity. Wildbow seems mythical, almost infallible, as things stand. Wildbow can be the most pitiful computer nerd or the bravest of heroes, a famous writer in disguise, an undiscovered talent who will remain undiscovered, or any other thing that possibly comes to mind.
Which actually begs an interesting question: to what extent do we judge a book based on the ability of its writer, and vice versa? Is our perception of “good writing” only possible with an editor or team of proofreaders? If a writer depends on editors, does that make him any worse of a writer? Is it favorable, or even possible, that some writers have the ability to write their first drafts perfectly?
Food for thought, which is actually a pretty good idiom to sum up Worm so far. My New Year’s Resolution is officially to finish Worm, both to see where these plotlines go in a timely manner and so that I can finally move onto other books…
Happy Holidays, my friends.