Web Serial Review: Worm and Ward

Skitter by NeoWorm

Fear Skitter. Credit to NeoWorm.

Okay, it’s taken me a while to get around to this one. I just had a lot of other posts I wanted to get through, and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. I’m going to try to do this spoiler-free because you really need to experience this for yourself.

Worm is an epic web serial written by Wildbow, also known as John C. McCrae, set in a world of superheroes and supervillains, known as “parahumans.” It’s basically a series of 31 short web novels, or “Arcs,” telling one massive story. It’s hard to get your arms around everything Worm entails. The main character is Taylor Hebert, a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to be a superhero despite her not very publicity-friendly power of controlling bugs. On her first night, she gets mistaken for a supervillain, and things spiral out of control from there.

Worm was completed in 2013, and it now has a sequel, Ward, which is currently in progress. And above all, it’s incredibly well-written. Definitely worth reading, at least through Arc 3, if nothing else.

My rating: 5 out of 5, easy.

The world of Parahumans, also known as the Worm-Verse, is a dark and gritty place, as much a horror novel as it is a superhero story. You can pretty much assume there is a Trigger Warning for almost everything there is to have a Trigger Warning about. On-screen sex is just about the thing that doesn’t apply. Think Watchmen, and you’ll start to get an idea of what I mean. There’s certainly no black and white morality here. Actually, that’s wrong. There is black, but it’s mostly grey and gray in the end.

The second thing to know about Worm is that it’s a reconstruction of the superhero genre, tearing it down and rebuilding it into something more realistic and better. In this world, the villains are actually smart and often win. People die, die often, and stay dead. Parahumans find endless creative uses of their powers to help them in a fight instead of relying on a few family-friendly comic book gimmicks. They’ll find horrifying, deadly uses for the most innocuous of powers, and they’ll find heroic uses for the most nightmarish of powers.

But beyond that, there’s the sheer creative variety of superpowers in this world. Take all the comic books on the shelves today, and they would look positively mundane next to the power to conjure a hail of steel knives in midair and telekinetically drop them on enemies, the power to cover an area with ash and teleport through the ash, or the power to grow wooden armor on your body that you can also shed and turn into remote-controlled golems to fight with you. And those aren’t even characters we see on-screen! Wildbow’s worldbuilding is incredibly expansive and detailed, and it would take more space than I have here to fully appreciate it.

The other amazing thing about Worm is how much makes you think. Fans who all absolutely love the story will debate endlessly about the morality of many characters’ actions, and this is not a bad thing because like I said before, there are no clear answers in this world. Within its virtual pages, you will see children so evil that you want them to die horribly and villains who have done unforgivable things acting more heroic than the heroes. It’s not immoral or even amoral, mind you. Many of the characters, including Taylor herself, are genuinely trying to do good. It’s just that it’s very hard to figure out what that good is.

If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve convinced you to give Worm a try. It’s a big story, to be sure. It’s one and a half times the length of the entire Harry Potter series, or about equal to the five currently-published Game of Thrones novels. But you can always just try it out for a while to see if you like it. Many fans say you should read through Arc 8 before deciding, but honestly, that’s a tall order in itself. Instead, I join a sizable minority who say you should read through Arc 3 before deciding whether to put it down. This is a more manageable task, about the same length as the first Harry Potter book on its own. And I think if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll eagerly read on.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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