Monday, October 21, 2013

Web Serial Review - Worm by Wildbow

As I may have mentioned, I write a pair of web serials, Blue Bloods and Blank. I've actually become fairly fond of the format. It means if I like a series, instead of waiting a year for a sequel I get more every week, sometimes more than once a week.

With that in mind, I've been reading a few of them. The best of the lot I've found so far is a superhero story called Worm, by Wildbow. As a quick aside, that link goes to the first chapter, not to the current one. Serious spoilers if you go to the main site, because the main site is also the current chapter, and the series is almost completed.

In the case of a normal book, that might mean there are, perhaps, fifty to one hundred fifty thousand bits of wordy goodness to read. For Worm, however, it means a lot more than that. Wildbow has been writing two chapters a week since the middle of 2011. He breaks it up into major storylines, each with a name (like 'Gestation', 'Parasite' and 'Monarch') and a number. The current storyline, which is purported to be the last, is arc number 29, "Venom". Overall each one is the length of a medium length novel.

But enough about format. If Worm were a traditional format print novel or an ebook, I'd be just as addicted to it, I'd just have to wait longer for installments. You want to know about the story!

Worm centers on Taylor Hebert, a high school girl with a secret: she has the ability to control any arthropod within a several block radius. In a world where super heroes and heroines have been around since the mid seventies, this gives her two options. She can use her powers for personal gain becoming a super villain, or she can use them to protect others and become a hero. She wants to be a heroine, but not too many people can see the heroism in calling swarms of creepy crawlies to stop bad guys, mostly because they're all shrieking and going squick.

The thing I love most about Worm is the characterization. Taylor is the target of an organized bullying campaign, and Wildbow nails it on every count. The methods of the bullies, the reactions of various bystanders, and the abortive attempts of the school administration to deal with it are all so startlingly true to life I'd almost guess Wildbow has studied his Olveus.

It's not just Taylor who gets that level of detail, though. Every character on the page is fleshed out and unique, whether it's Lung's warlord mentality, Imp's reaction to being a neglected child, Legend's constant struggle to balance work and family, or Rachel's fumbling attempts to deal with a world which mystified her before she got powers. What's even more impressive is that Wildbow even manages to put solid characterization into super-powered serial killers and a sentient AI.

Despite being a story about superheroes, Worm has less action than you might think. That said, when Wildbow does an super-action scene, he does it right. When the supers start swinging, buildings shake and shatter, Skitter's swarms fill the sky, and Grue's darkness blankets the land.

Did I mention Wildbow has some fantastic geek-culture references worked in, like the cape who can create and manipulate darkness who calls himself 'Grue'? It's the icing on the fantastic layer cake of characterization, subtle world building and action that is Worm.

Anyone who likes superheroes, action, or tales with some grit in them should give Worm a read. It's definitely worth the time. Do note that Worm is a bit on the dark side, and isn't recommended for children or folks who want to avoid possible Triggers. As Wildbow puts it, 'it's easier to list the triggers Worm doesn't have than the ones it does'.

Give it a try, let me know what you think in the comments, and I'll see you next month!

EDIT - As noted in the review, the actual title of the web series is 'Worm'. bit of a faux pas to name the character rather than the book in the title, I know. Sorry about that!

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