Chapters 20.3 – 29.6
If you’re familiar with Worm, you may think it odd that I put the title “Final” Worm review over a review ending at chapter 29.6. Well, let me verify your suspicions: I’m stopping here.
I know it was my New Year’s Resolution to finish the series, but it wasn’t that I couldn’t keep my resolution, or that I didn’t want to anymore. You see, when it comes to writing, two things are of the utmost importance: writing and reading. Both of these things give writers a sense of their trade, and the fact of the matter is that after a full year of reading Worm, I felt choked. I’m not sure how else to describe it: I’ve since started reading Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon, and the writing is so charming and the descriptions so entertaining that I really felt like I was taking a breath of fresh air. I’d forgotten what other books were like! Worm was a full year of one writing style, one premise, one genre. I felt like I was keeping my writing life on hold just so that I could power through the last few chapters of Worm.
I didn’t stop reading Worm because I didn’t like it, just because it was too long. Optimistically, I would read the serial as it was meant to be read: one chapter a week. Sadly, though, that’s not how I read, and I don’t trust myself to stay invested with 168 hours in between each new chapter.
So let’s get down to the review to end all Worm reviews.
Worm is a soft science fiction, superhero novel. Its main character, Taylor, has full control of any and all insect(s) around her. She wants to be a superhero, but winds up becoming a powerful supervillain alongside the Undersiders. She finds herself struggling to fight for good while wearing an evil mask. 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.
I’ve gotten far enough that I think I know why it’s called Worm.
As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, there are two things I base my review score off of: how much I was entertained and how much my life was impacted, poetically and somewhat lamely shortened to the “heart” and “mind” of the book.
Was Worm entertaining? Absolutely. 100% of the time? No.
Reading Worm felt very similar to reading Harry Potter: bouts of extremely captivating arcs interspersed between boredom. I was sometimes addicted to Worm, which is likely why my friends were able to finish the serial in a month and I was unable to do so in a year. When I was enthralled, I would read for several hours at a time. If not, it was difficult to keep up with my daily chapter quota.
This problem was further exacerbated by the Interludes: every eight chapters or so, the main arc goes into intermission while a single chapter is dedicated to highlighting a different character in the series. These Interludes aren’t bad by any means, but they’re extremely annoying when I’m invested in the main plot. Of all the days where I procrastinated reading, probably 90% of them were the days I was supposed to read an interlude. Then, if you’re invested in the interlude, it ends there, and you might not see that character again for dozens of chapters.
The ironic part of that, I think, is how Worm makes a point of ending on cliff-hangers and keeping its characters in constant turmoil. There is never any time to rest, and it honestly feels exhausting. But one thing I discovered was…often the most captivating parts weren’t the plot-heavy scenes. They were often just scenes where the characters were talking before a battle, or talking about their lives. There was an entire arc dedicated to (**SPOILERS**) Taylor saying goodbye to her Undersider teammates. All she did was visit each person in their homes and have a chapter-long chat, reminiscing about the past and speculating about the future. (**END SPOILERS**) I think I read that entire arc in just one night. The action scenes are fine (mostly when Taylor inevitably figures out some clever solution in the end), but by far the most interesting scenes involve characters, dialogue, and philosophy: (**SPOILERS**) the interlude from Dragon’s perspective, the Jessica Yamada arc, Taylor and Clockblocker’s arguments about choosing superhero or supervillain. (**END SPOILERS**)
Not every book that has a high mind score has to be didactic (ex. A Christmas Carol or Candide). Worm is didactic, though. The friend who recommended (understatement) Worm to be said that it was about those with weak powers discovering ways to still be powerful. I might have gotten that vibe once or twice, but overall, I definitely caught a different overarching theme: is doing good always the best way to do good? I probably could have put that more eloquently, but I assure you that you’re all very familiar with this question. Does following regulations, being transparent, being honest, and playing fair always mean that fewer people get hurt? This is more or less inherent in superhero media, since superheros are normally vigilantes breaking a few rules to pick up the slack left behind by organized law. In Worm, Taylor constantly expresses that, as a supervillain, she is more powerful to help people, more ruthless to take out the villains who need to be taken out, and less bogged-down by well-meaning regulations.
I was…pretty unimpressed with that. I’d heard it a million times before: breaking the rules to be the true voice of order. Just because it’s law doesn’t make it right, yada yada yada. Wildbow seemed married to these sentiments until Taylor had a nice chat with Clockblocker. They debated back and forth the good and bad consequences of her actions, comparing them to how things would have been handled by the superheroes alone. They don’t finish the conversation, but its final conclusion was…ambivalent. Taylor had destroyed about as much as she’d prevented from being destroyed. And later on, she acknowledges this, even going as far to turn her back both on the supervillain world and the superhero world. She and the other characters begin to acknowledge that yes, sometimes rules get in the way of justice, but sometimes they’re also there for a reason.
That, at least, appears to be the intended message. Maybe there’s a more one-sided conclusion in the works that I didn’t get to, but where I’m at, the theme is on hold as the plot continues to thicken.
What I’m most impressed about in terms of “mind” are the characters’ outlooks on the world. Those interludes I mentioned earlier? Well, every new character who’s introduced also gets an entire chapter to contemplate their own world-view: Sophia’s predator-prey view, the Number Man’s money view, etc. They don’t necessarily get closure or come to a head, but it’s nice to think about them when they’re brought up.
If Worm hadn’t made a big impact on me, I wouldn’t have written a review this long. You’ve read most of my peeves: the interludes come at bad times, the characters never get a break, the descriptions are boring, etc. But you’ve also heard me comment on the sheer creativity of the world, the fantastic resolutions to fight scenes, the number of wonderful characters so large that there are dozens of interludes just to get them put in the story somewhere, the fact that Wildbow was able to undertake this massive project for years…
Worm isn’t perfect. If someone tries it and doesn’t like it, I’ll understand. Will I go back one day and finish it? I don’t know. But I am fairly certain of one thing: Worm is going to have a special place in my mind and my heart for a long, long time.