I just finished reading Worm, a smartly written and relentlessly intense web serial by Wildbow. It’s about an introverted high school girl named Taylor who’s one of many individuals with superpowers. But her power is rather unique for the genre: she can control and perceive essentially any number of bugs within around 1500 feet. We see Taylor fight insanely high powered capes, deal with steadily more impossible situations, and face the dilemma of “doing the wrong things for the right reasons.”
The Wormverse is punishingly intense. There’s no convenient “good” and “bad” dichotomy; people act based on their own individual value systems in a manner you’d expect from a history book. The heroes aren’t necessarily winning the war and in fact the whole world seems to be accelerating towards total annihilation. Taylor finds herself questioning the utility of playing the role of a hero, comparing how the costs and benefits play out for villains, heroes, and neutral capes and estimating the possible good she can effect in the world. People are deeply characterized and they question the roles they play, acting more than just dumb NPCs.
What I really like about Worm is that the capes with perceptual and cognitive powers (clairvoyance, super powered intuition, limited pre-cognition, instant cost estimation of various actions) are the real players on the board. In many other stories, characters with such game-breakingly powerful cognitive enhancements don’t act like it. Usually, we’re told someone is a genius but we see them act stupidly.
This trait of the action matching the description also applies to the entire Wormverse. It’s gloriously consistent and it plays by the rules it sets. It’s so pleasantly natural that when I switched to reading something else, it was jarring to see the lapses in attention to detail.
But Worm isn’t simply about crushingly intense conflict and a world that only seems to get worse. It’s actually one of the most deeply satisfying stories that leaves you awestruck at its scope and power. It is a story about parahumans but it is a very human story. In fact, if I had to sum up Worm in a single word, it would be Resilience.
I’ll keep this short – try out Worm. Read the first two arcs (until 2.x). It might be a little rough going but it’s quite possible that for you the payoff is immense. If not, it’s one less thing on your reading list. The story does pick up very quickly. I think it was by arc 8 that I knew I was in love.