It’s not Worm

So, there’s a dirty little secret about Worm fanfiction, the kind that has taken SB/V by storm so much the mods had to make separate boards. I didn’t realize this secret because I (wisely) stayed even farther away from the fanfic scene than I did from the original story, but then I found out once I discovered more.

It’s not based on Wildbow’s original story.

It isn’t. A lot of Worm fanfic writers admit to having never read the original. Now, under normal circumstances, I would denounce that. And I still do. But even if it’s hard to defend, I can at least understand why people wouldn’t want to slog through a story that’s about as long as War and Peace and In Search of Lost Time put together. And has terrible pacing and other fundamentals.

And going for more fanfics makes it more flexible, since there’s nothing in the way. This explained everything when I came to that conclusion in one of the many Worm discussions. It explains why Wildbow’s later stories, including Worms own sequel, have generated basically nothing in terms of Spacebattles fanfics. It explains why everything is so divergent and why certain elements are latched on to beyond the usual “fanon” misunderstandings.

Wildbow writes, long dark, fantasy stories. The Worm fanfic writers write in a superhero sandbox, and the original work might as well have been an RPG sourcebook that was never meant to be treated as anything more than a vague guideline for the GM to fill in the blanks.

Now I’d be honestly interested to see what the main stories were that sparked this “fanon Worm”, the critical mass of early fanfics. Because it’s them and not the main story that are the real source material.

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Fictional Legacies

A lot of fiction has the issues with “legacies”, the sense that it’s there because that’s what everyone else in the genre does, and you somehow have to have them. Nearly all points and lives systems in video games for anything other than arcade machines, especially early ones, are “legacies”.

Legacies are not necessarily bad, and from a commercial standpoint they make sense-you don’t want to diverge too much and have a work as alien as the 1996 Ford Taurus. But sometimes legacies feel a little off to me.

I think one of my least favorite legacies in military fiction is the “conference room scenes”. Not the ones where it’s an excuse to infodump-I may not like those, but I can understand them. I’m talking the near-invariably badly done political maneuvering and setup before the action takes place.

And I may be misinterpreting the target audience, but at least I don’t really get anything out of most of this “””intrigue””” (quotes deliberate). It sours the tone of the work to come, takes up too much time, interrupts the plotting, or all of the above.  I’d rather prefer trying to develop the characters.

But I must add that this may be more a symptom than a cause. If the overall story is good, I tend to forgive conference room intrigue. If it isn’t, I zoom in on it.

But, thrillers pale in comparison to the genre that has decades of baggage-superhero comics[1]. You have to have a story where characters in 1930s strongman outfits jump around punching dudes. You have the legacy of the Golden Age, and, most importantly, you have the legacy of the Silver Age.

I like the Silver Age. It’s what my family’s comics collection contained. It has a lot of goofy stories that have inspired me. I don’t blame the silver-age writers for what they did. They were laboring under the Comics Code, at the time at its most restrictive. (For instance, the Adam West Batman could and did actually get away with more than what the comics did).

But the way comics steered away from the Silver Age, as the Code loosened, did not work. I don’t know how much of it is the legacy’s internal effects, how much of it was appealing to what had become an insular market thanks to comic book stores, how much of it was the never-changing soap opera world of comics, and how much of it was that you couldn’t take out one part without knocking everything over (metaphorically).

Maybe it was because the Silver Age comics were so light and fluffy that simply doing what other stories had done for thousands of years was viewed as profound in comics. But there’s just too much baggage, and the best symbol lies in one of my favorite characters, Arcade.

I like Arcade as an anachronistic Silver Age villain. But in any superhero story that wants to be slightly realistic or have a slight amount of sense, he cannot exist. And characters like him weigh down everything. You can’t make a serious statement when your villain group has a Silver Age name. It’s harder to show true drama when you’re in an outfit that was viewed as out of date in the 1960s.

But adaptations take a cutting torch to the legacies. Notice that Arcade has not appeared in any X-Men movies[2]. Notice how changed the costumes are. Notice how even with a ton of movies and cartoons, the least deserving (tend to) stay behind. So legacies can be overcome.

[1]I’m referring to mainline Big Two, stuff like Watchmen or even Worm which is more tightly plotted is different.

[2]Though I think he would fit in a Deadpool film, simply because that’s knowingly ridiculous.

“Crunchy”

I’ve found myself using the word “crunchy” a lot to describe settings with a lot of detail. I could think I read it somewhere, but haven’t been able to find someone else using it in that way. As for how I took to the word “Crunchy”, I think it might be two things.

  • A derivative of “number-crunching”.
  • A metaphor for density-it’s dense, “solid”, and thus crunches when you bite down.

A use of it in context could be “Worm has a lot of crunchiness to it, making it a favorite on a board [Spacebattles] that likes such things.”

Worm’s Appeal and My Growing Distaste

So how did a minor but incredibly long story about a superheroine end up dominating Spacebattles to the point where it needed its own forum? (NOTE: I’m being a little vague and general due to the desire to avoid spoilers-I may go more in-depth later if I feel like it)

Well, even I can think the concept is interesting enough, and I think it could be due to some other factors:

  • This is not anything having to do with Worm itself, but rather its rivals. Big two superhero comics have the bar set so low that you need a microscope to see the gap between it and the ground. For all the many problems with its own structure and worldbuilding, Worm has a massive advantage in that it’s a contained narrative written by one person.
  • Unconventional superpowers. This is where I think Worm shares an unlikely fandom with the infamous Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. The characters have unconventional superpowers and use them, and the appeal is there.
  • A sort of “crunchiness” where people like the mechanics. Of course, as someone who dislikes excessive “crunchiness” where it doesn’t matter, this is not the case for me. But people do like it, especially on a place like Spacebattles.

So that’s what gets the appeal of Worm going.

However, I’ve found (and must say that this is my personal opinion), as I’ve read more of it, that Worm is worse than I thought at first. At least, later Worm is. Early Worm (which I define as roughly up to Arc 8) is still in the “not for me” category. Later Worm, well…

  • The powers get more and more contrived.
  • The stakes get raised far too much.
  • The story gets less believable and focused.

And then there’s the final plot twists, which when I saw them, I thought “you’d slog through a million and a half clunky words for this?

 

Ward First Impressions

So, now that the first three chapters of Ward/Worm II have been posted, I’ll give my impression. The impression is simple.

Typical Wildbow so far. You have the detailed, at least theoretically interesting setting, the dark tone, and the mediocre prose that feels kind of “infodumpy” and has trouble moving to different tones. That wasn’t surprising. (Neither is the argumentative discussion on Spacebattles, unfortunately).

The big question mark will be pacing. Pacing was one of the big weaknesses of the original Worm. It managed to be 1.6 million words long, or almost three times the length of War and Peace. Yet it also managed to escalate far too much. Even Wildbow’s shortest full web serial, Pact, is only slightly less than twice the length of that legendary thick book. For me, it’s at least easier to follow if I read from the start and read one chapter at a time (which is easy, I read fast), instead of binging on millions of words written clunkily.

So, I’m not exactly surprised by anything I’ve seen so far in Ward. The question as to whether it can recapture the magic of Worm in SBCRW also remains unanswered. To answer that will have to wait until the story develops more, and then to see how many fanfics use elements from Ward and Ward alone.

That’s Ward after three chapters. More or less what I expected, with all of Wildbow’s strengths and weaknesses. I hope it can improve, but given how it’s checked so many of the boxes already, I’m a little skeptical.

Worm 2 (or Ward) is here.

After nine teaser previews and much anticipation, the first chapter of Worm II (with the formal name Ward) has been posted.

I read it. It’s at least fresh, even if I still have issues with Wildbow’s prose and the excesses of the setting. One literary note is that the narrator’s name (Victoria Dallon) is somewhat clunkily inserted, and done at the very end of the chapter as a cliffhanger.

I’ve hopefully absorbed enough Worm knowledge through Spacebattles to get the general setting view. And speaking of Spacebattles, I’ll just say I’m glad there’s a seperate Worm forum in CRW.

Twig has concluded

So, the final chapter of Wildbow’s story Twig was posted yesterday. Now the fans are understandably eager for Worm 2.

I found Wildbow’s comments on his own work to be very fascinating and illuminating. Give them a read. As for whether or not Spacebattles will become even more overrun with wormfics-I stand by what I previously wrote.

(Also, the belief that Arc 20 was going to be the final one turned out to be accurate. Whether it was truly prescient or just crying wolf until a lupine beast finally appeared is a difficult question).

Twig ending and the Worm dilemma

Although Twig has not officially concluded, much less Worm 2 having started, the first epilogue of that story has been posted.

The question of whether I should try to get into Worm 2 is tough. I tried to get into Twig a bit, but it just didn’t really grab me, however thematically interesting. Reasons I’d want to get into Worm 2 are:

  • I could be pleasantly surprised.
  • I want to know more about Spacebattles’ favorite weird niche webfic.
  • Most importantly, reading it as it starts means I’m not buried by a gigantic overload of previous chapters.

However, the reason why I wouldn’t, and why I haven’t, are twofold.

  • Wildbow (the author) has prose that’s just “meh”. Not terrible, but not the most gripping.
  • The pacing of the stories isn’t very good, which combined with their (admirably) fast update schedule means I catch up on several chapters of nothing.

That being said, I’ll still give it a try, and if nothing else, I might be motivated to read through the many updates of Worm 1 while Twig winds down. Maybe I’ll find it an acquired taste. It’s certainly happened before with stuff that didn’t seem good at first impression.

 

Worms and Twigs

One piece of webfiction in particular holds a peculiar trend. The work of fiction would be the web serial Twig, by “Wildbow”, the author of the Spacebattles-favorite superhero epic Worm. The trend is for fans to declare that the storyline must be almost over.

The claims that Twig must be ending soon first started appearing in earnest around Arc 10. Now Twig is at Arc 20. And there’s talk that, honestly, really, Wildbow’s close to finishing it off.

When browsing through the Worm community, I’ve found an explanation that I felt made a lot of sense. People want Worm II, Wildbow’s announced sequel to the initial blockbuster, and they’re so eager that they want Twig to be over.

I admit to being one of them. A story I could follow a chapter at a time could get me to know the setting better than having to dig through a gigantic million word archive. At the same time, I’ve always felt Wildbow has had pacing issues, and thus I’m not surprised Twig has gone the way it has.

The morbid question I have is “will Worm II overload Spacebattles even more?” According to a running thread, around 15-20 of the top stories in Creative Writing are Worm-centric. I personally feel that if it catches CRWs attention again (which is not a guarantee-Pact has only two fanfics written on Spacebattles, and Twig has zero), most of the “victims” will be other wormfics.

So I guess I’ll have to wait and see. For what it’s worth, Worm itself ended after 31 arcs, and Wildbow’s next work, Pact, wrapped after 16.