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Worm (Parahumans, #1) de J. C. McCrae
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Worm (Parahumans, #1) (edició 2013)

de J. C. McCrae

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As of my reading, this "novel" -- actually somewhere in the neighborhood of the length of more than twenty "conventional" novels, at something like 1.7 million words -- has not been through a final edit by the author*. The author has plans to improve on the story as well as clean up any minor inconsistencies, typos, and so on, apparently, then officially publish it as an ebook and (maybe, if there's enough demand) in some kind of dead tree, hardcopy form. Thus, my rating of four stars is based on what will probably turn out to be a slightly less excellent form than the final edit. Even so, I had to think about it for a bit to decide whether it needed a fifth star.

The premises of the tale and the world(s) within which it takes place are interesting and rare, if not earth-shaking, fully original, and unique. The author writes with a very engaging style that does a really magnificent job of endearing characters to the reader, humanizing them (both good and bad) in a way that helps one to understand them rather than just giving them cardboard cut-out roles to play. Sympathizing with the perspective character is so easy that it tends to eclipse any differences of motivation, opinion, or philosophy with her, to the point that one may not even immediately recognize when her (all too human) hypocrisies and plain ol' wrong-headed decisions come to the fore. In those cases where such errors of judgment and personal flaws are inescapably obvious, they register as entirely believable mistakes.

Most remarkably in the way characters are represented, intelligent people make intelligent decisions, fraught with the common flaws of human thinking of course, but still the kinds of decisions one might expect from intelligent (and sometimes thoughtful) people -- and intelligent decision making is rewarded with the outcomes that should be expected of intelligent decisions. If there is any failure in how decisions lead to outcomes in the world of Worm, it is in the fact that institutions tend to be very strong suppressors of positive outcomes for good decisions -- the reason that individual people without massive resources fail to make a difference in the real world, and the most intelligent of them just realize that before they can make a big difference they tend to need to make some ugly decisions to gather resources. Mitigating that potential flaw, the people who actually make such a difference in the story have resources nobody in the real world seems to have (superpowers), and against the most difficult challenges they sometimes actually do ugly things to amass more resources (the final major climax including quite a bit of that ugliness).

I have seen Worm praised by Eliezer Yudkowsky, an icon of the modern rationality movement (they often call themselves "rationalists" despite namespace clash with an older tradition by that name; other times, they refer to themselves, tongue-in-cheek, as the Bayesian conspiracy) and author of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. He refers to people being rational, and the rational tending to come out on top, which he finds refreshing. Some within that rationality movement have commented that people are not sufficiently rational in Worm, though I think they're missing an important point: in the real world, people really are not that rational, which means that the way things play out in Worm is pretty shockingly "genuine" feeling. To the extent that what we should recognize as "realism" in the real world does not match up with events in Worm, I think we can attribute that divergence to a very different set of conditions in that world that would seriously shake up a lot of the socioplitical infrastructure that creates such "realistic" expectations.

Character growth is a very important detail to work into any story, and Worm's author does an incredible job of it. Cohesive storyline, despite events sprawling all over the place and a cast of scores of significant characters, is another important component of good storytelling well-represented in this work. Concepts and premises that are well fleshed out and convey verisimilitude are nothing to sneeze at, and characteristic of Worm's construction.

I only have two real points of contention with Worm. One is unrelated to the story itself: I rather suspect that the author will assert and enforce copyright restrictions in the work, which I find rather contradictory with good ethics and good sense. The other is the sometimes subtle, and sometimes ignorable, but sometimes quite central themes of authoritarianism that sneak into the story. That latter complaint, however, is a bit conflicted, as there are themes quite contrary to a simplistic authoritarian worldview, too. Perhaps the real problem is a kind of utilitarian sense that the story conveys that the ends justify the means, so long as the ends are sufficiently grand in scope.

The author of Worm has expressed some desire to write a sequel some nonspecific day in the vague future. Perhaps some of my concerns about the underlying themes will be addressed there.

In the meantime, this is an excellent story, well worth the read, and much more deserving of the adjective "epic" than almost everything to which the word is applied today.

* Note: Despite not having been through a final edit, Worm enjoys a surprisingly good state of editorial quality, comparable to the condition of many novels from major publishing houses. ( )
  apotheon | Dec 14, 2020 |
This book was good. It was very long and parts of it dragged but overall it was worth reading. ( )
  Yugmodnar829 | Apr 1, 2020 |
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