Parahumans 2 Starts Today

November 11, 2017

Categories: Misc Tags: Books

Thought I might depart from my usual ways and write about a fiction that I liked now that the sequel is set to start today and I am might follow along as the chapters come out, which I haven't done for any of the author's previous works. From the title you probably have an inkling that this is going to be about Worm. I can give you a bit of background if it doesn't ring a bell.

Worm is a webserial written by John McCrae (more familiarly, Wildbow). That page has the synopsis, but to recap it's an epic superhero fiction. Now, there is so much of trash blighting pop culture, you should be wary of the genre. But Worm is well influenced and fairly rich in tropes. I began to find everything else very primitive once I was through with Worm.

The epic tag partly pertains to its length. It's about 1.7 million words long. Compare it with some known quantities if your scale is off. Suffice it to say, Worm is big and will keep you up for a few weeks at the least. But mostly though, it's epic because of the sheer breadth of its scope. Starts with the troubled life of the protagonist, a young introverted girl named Taylor Herbert, in a world where people triggers when they are encounter a genuinely horrible and traumatic experience and get powers that help them survive said ordeal, so the nature of power reflects the nature of the trauma. Considering this setup, in the long term the types of people who have powers are inevitably more skewed towards the unstable and violent, and a direct implication is that organized Villainy is a thing and is precariously balanced by Heros on the other side. Except these labels barely correspond to 'good' and 'evil', and we immediately face moral ambiguity when Taylor chooses to become part of a villain group for greater good.

If there is one word to describe Worm, it would be 'escalation'. Things only go from bad to worse and it's relentless. We catch glimpses of it through regional inter-group conflicts and politics which then escalate for city wide control and so on. But the big picture is that at the root we have ever increasing cape to non-cape population ratio. And once it exceeds the tipping point, well…

There are a few things unique about Worm. It's probably the first big success story of 'webserials' and inspired other writers to follow this model. In fact Wildbow didn't really put much effort into advertising his work, the reputation spread entirely through word of mouth. It's only towards the end of Worm it began getting good recs, but that too in niche corners of the internet. I myself came to know about it when lesswrong (Eliezer Yudkowsky) recommended it in one author note in-between long awaited chapters of HPMoR towards the end of 2013. What Wildbow did was to keep writing. And his output is pretty incredible, he also never failed to deliver a chapter in time, which means thousands of words twice a week with the 'business model' being a bonus chapter is delivered when reader donations hits a certain point.

Output does raise concern about qulity. Arguably the story is quite rough in some parts, with the start being perhaps the most difficult. Wildbow has a "show, don't tell" kind of style that creates immersive experience so those things kind of fade in background. Keep it in mind that this is his first work and the story gets quite better as it progresses. As for later works, since Worm he has finished two more stories. Pact was a million word long urban fantasy, and Twig was a Bio-punk similar length of Worm. I am not done with Twig yet, but both of them are quite different from Worm and portrays the author's strength as a writer. Pact had the most well thought out world, meticulously structured and eerily abstract as opposed to open-ended like in Worm. It's also considerably bleaker and that's quite saying something. Twig had some of the best characterizations. Even Worm had some quite complex characters, if you appreciate this aspect in literature but feel in Worm they were lacking in some dimensions then Twig would be right up your alley.