So, I read A Game of Thrones

I recently read A Game of Thrones. My impression was “not for me.” Not necessarily bad, but just not for me. GRRM isn’t quite the best at pacing or immediacy, and I’ m not the biggest fan of the premise.

It’s kind of how I feel about Worm as well-not hated by any means and I can understand why people like it, but just has a premise I personally don’t find the most interesting mixed with iffy pacing and fundamentals. That I’m not normally the biggest fan of fantasy makes it harder to progress through a megaseries too.

So, yeah, it’s not bad but not for me.

The AH conundrum-Solved?

A long time ago, I made a post wondering why there was so little “middle-tier” alternate history. Why was there so little alternate history that wasn’t either blatant or technical. There was a discussion to this end on Sea Lion Press some time ago, and (at least partially) from seeing and participating in that, I had an “ah-hah!” moment that might help explain the reason why.

The reason is simple: What would be “middle-tier” alternate history isn’t sold as or even considered alternate history most of the time. Using a ridiculously expansive definition, anything that isn’t an explicit reenactment/retelling of a historical event can be considered “alternate history”. A fictional city? Alternate history. A fictional political leader? Alternate history. A never-was weapon or car being used because the author liked it? Alternate history.

Even in lesser cases, where there’s a clear timeline divergence, it could be considered alternate history, but isn’t. For instance, since the timeline diverged in the 1980s with the arrival of Scion, Worm could be considered alternate history.

The sad truth (for alternate history fans) is that there isn’t much gain in labeling something alternate history. It’s known, but it’s known as a genre where the divergence is clear and blatant. For a more mainstream audience, it’s been shown that it’s better off being labeled as just what its genre is-a thriller, a mystery, or whatever it might be.

Plot Device Characters

Some characters in stories are obvious devices to make the plot go in a certain way, instead of being actual characters. They serve as a very interesting example of how personal taste matters-people who agree that the characters are there simply as plot devices can still disagree on whether or not that damages the actual story or not.

In my opinion, I view an overabundance of plot device characters as a big problem in Worm. Without spoiling anything, there’s one character notorious for having the most blatant and ridiculous plot-device power imaginable, but most of the others still have it to some degree or another.

Then again, because I never got into the immediate prose of Worm, I notice small issues like that in outsized terms. So it’s back to personal taste, I suppose.

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.

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?