Lock up your doors, close your shades, phone in sick. You’re about to disappear, pulled down by the rapturous embrace of another internet fic. It will keep you up late, and get you up early. For those of you with a hankering for excellent stories and an intelligent treatment of what happens when the superhumans come home to roost, I have to share the new drug in town. As with all good drugs, the first hit is free. Unlike most, the other hits are free too.
I was jonesing for more Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality yesterday (you know, that fic that I liked so much), and thought I’d check in to see whether there was a new post. While I was out of luck on that front, the author, Eliezer, did post a new note on November 1st. Better yet, he recommended another piece of internet-based fiction: Worm. The name isn’t much, I know, but bear with me.
Worm is excellent. As I write this, I’ve just lost an hour and a half of my afternoon to its charms, and I’m only pulling myself away because I absolutely have to force myself to write something. As soon as I have enough of this written that I can put off finishing it until Wednesday morning, I’m certain I’ll dive back in. It is compelling and appealing, and I really don’t want to stop. I don’t want to write my own material, I just want to read more Worm.
Whew, ok. That was all I got down before I fell back into the fic. If you want to know more about the story that’s grabbed me, read on.
As per usual, I’ll try to avoid dousing everything in spoilers and setting it on fire. But I will ruin just a bit of the start of the story for you a little further down, after I’ve waxed rhapsodic about how well this story has caught my attention. No worries, I’ll warn you before I say anything too revelatory.
So, first off, here’s the opinion from Eliezer that caught my attention in the first place:
Worm continues to be awesome (I’m up to Vol. 13). I didn’t even notice until I was halfway through what I’ve already read that all of the characters were using their superpowers intelligently, that none of the supposed geniuses were behaving like idiots, and that the flying bricks who would be the central Powers of other tales were properly taking second place to the real movers and shakers, namely anyone with any sort of informational, cognitive, or probability-based talent. Doing this so smoothly that I don’t even notice because my brain considers the resulting world to be ‘normal’ really ought to deserve some kind of epic bonus points. For many readers, though not all, Worm should be a strong candidate for treating HPMOR withdrawal (the author updates very quickly and regularly).
That, in my mind, is about as ringing an endorsement as you can get from the author of HPMOR. Heck, I’m not really sure what more I should say. Maybe a brief introduction of the premise?
From what I’ve read thus far, Worm is the story of a high school girl named Taylor. She lives in a world with recognizable culture and geography, one very much like our own but with the addition of supers. The technical term used to describe them is parahumans, heroes and villains alike, but most people just call them capes. They are people with abilities that are beyond human, and the setting feels very comfortably familiar to anyone who has enjoyed reading a superhero story or two.
Well, maybe comfortable is the wrong word. There are very few things about this setting that are comfortable. Discovering this for yourself is part of the joy of the piece, specifically because of how well the author, Wildbow, constructs a believable reality without airbrushing over the failings of our various heroes. Or, you know, anyone’s failings. Many of Wildbow’s characters are sympathetic, but few of them are without flaws of their own. In that way this story is very similar to Watchmen, but its focus and interpretations make it wholly its own.
I don’t want to actually ruin anything for you, but if you want to read a bit more about how and why this story is so gripping and believably uncomfortable… well, there’ll be some *MILD SPOILERS* involved. Or you could just read the first chapter and find out for yourself. After you’ve read the first arc or three, feel free to come back and read the rest of this.
Right, I presume that if you are reading this, you’re ok with learning a little more about the story. If you’re just lazily reading on after the warning, seriously, click that link above and start reading Worm. Wildbow’s skill with pacing and presentation is something best seen for yourself.
I mentioned Taylor earlier, our high school protagonist. She is a fifteen or sixteen year old girl, tortured by her school’s bullies and living as a social pariah. Though she has powers, she steadfastly refrains from using them on any of her tormentors because, you see, she wants to be a hero. And she’s pretty certain that a heroine wouldn’t use her powers to get revenge on some high school bullies, no matter whether or not they made her life a living hell. Honestly, reading about her struggles is painful and harsh.
As Taylor grows and sees more of the world, high school comes back to nag her again and again; in many ways, we see the struggles she faces in school foreshadowing or mimicking her other difficulties in life outside school. The system, it appears, is simply rigged against her, and those who have power do not want to listen to the honest pleas of those with less. Like I said earlier: perfectly believable, not comfortable.
So why the hell am I reading something that looks like it’s going to be a total downer, at least for a good deal of the time? It’s really good. Regardless of whatever poor choices our heroine makes, I want to see her do well. I want to see what she does next. She’s smart, she’s sympathetic, she’s … good, for lack of a better term. She’s a good person. Even if she did things that were despicable, I think I’d still sympathize with her. I’m only on the sixth arc at the moment, so we’ll see. I understand that things could get worse pretty soon. I might recant my love for this piece, but I doubt it.
So, uh, yeah. Look, I’m distracted because I just want to go back and read more. I think you should do the same.
Wow, I’m so distracted that I forgot to mention how much I admire Wildbow’s skill. Wildbow, if you read this, I just want you to know that I’m totally a fan of your story-telling. You’re really good at this.