Eryk Banatt's Reviews > Worm

Worm by Wildbow
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really liked it

Review contains heavy spoilers:

I finally managed to finish this monstrosity of a story - clocking in at well over a million words this story took me several months of on-off reading to complete (Most of which was consumed by the mostly-excellent Worm Audiobook, which is high-quality roughly 80% of the time). However, this is a great read and well worth the time commitment to read through.

My favorite thing about this story is the aggressive min/maxing almost every character does with their unique power, which is central enough to the story that every character feels more like a person with superpowers trying to make themselves as powerful as possible, rather than being a generic shonen anime trope in a sea of other powered fictional characters. You can compare this to something like Boku no Hero Academia, where the second-strongest powered individual in the universe is just a big muscular guy that makes fire. Taylor especially frequently brainstorms ways to make her seemingly-niche power surprisingly versatile, seemingly growing more powerful with every chapter.

Likewise, the interactions between powers is something heavily explored which is rarely (if ever) similarly developed in other stories of a similar genre. Although you might see the occasional two-power combo in other superhero works, almost everything I can think of in the genre (see: The Avengers, Yu Yu Hakusho, BnHA, etc) instead focuses on the strength of the individual, typically in head-to-head confrontations (which might explain the pervasiveness of "tournament" arcs in these stories - what better way to cram a bunch of head-to-heads into a short period of time?). By contrast, Worm is built around the concept of superhero and supervillain teams, with each member's power working synergistically together to create an exponentially more powerful unit. This is so pervasive that solo capes are generally looked down upon in the story, almost always either failing, eventually joining a team, or being exceedingly powerful enough to not require help. Worm abuses power interactions enough such that solutions to almost any problem seem to exist, and rarely feel like huge reaches - I particularly enjoyed Taylor defeating Lung by coating a cockroach in the blood of a cape whose bodily fluids act as hallucinogens and flying it into Lung's eyes.

When Worm uses tropes, I think it handles them reasonably well. I thought the ultimate twist regarding Scion was a great callback to Superman and roughly represents the exact fear that people in that universe had towards the beloved Clark Kent - he's invincible, and he can defeat anything, and sure he's nice to us now but what happens when he decides he wants to hurt people? What are we supposed to do about that?

It's a superhero fantasy epic that borders on science fiction at times, and it's an engaging, if long, read.

There are some issues, most of which have to do with pacing. These are mostly forgivable, considering Wildbow was writing something like two NaNoWriMo's per month, every month, without fail. That said, a byproduct of the length of this story is that sometimes things happen at weird speeds. Taylor changes sides to become a superhero (which involves a hugely dramatic name-change) and that lasts what feels like 2 arcs before her mission to rebuild the PRT ultimately fails and she sort of just becomes a villain again.

Likewise, the threat level in this story bothered me more than it probably ought have to - a big thing you'll encounter frequently in this story is a seemingly monumental threat, followed by a new, much bigger threat that makes you feel like the last arc wasn't so bad, repeated ad infinitum, going from petty gang wars in a bad part of a city to a multi-universe catastrophe with a death toll in what is likely in the billions or higher. This is a fun part of the story, but is sometimes not handled particularly well. One example that springs to mind is the Slaughterhouse Nine - a threat that spanned over several arcs due to these single-digit number of capes being so absurdly dangerous. When the Nine manage to get a hold of cloning tools and suddenly become the Slaughterhouse Two Hundred Something, I remember thinking oh shit, they're like twenty times more dangerous now. Disappointingly, Taylor and co suddenly become able to kill members of the Slaughterhouse Nine like they're normal enemies, which just felt bizarre to me - if they were all this easy to get rid of why couldn't you do this when there were only nine of them? It felt rather like watching someone play an RPG and seeing them visibily not improving their ability to fight monsters intelligently, but the monsters growing easier due to their accrued +EXP.

That said, it's a great story that I can only imagine being fantastic once Wildbow gets around to editing it to be 22 published books. Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

July 8, 2017 – Started Reading
July 8, 2017 – Shelved
August 22, 2017 –
December 25, 2017 –
January 13, 2018 –
January 13, 2018 – Finished Reading

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