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Twig – a biopunk fantasy

By yuigahama, member

Dec 9, 2015: "Some people are born to be the hero of a story. I was born to be the villain. I see the charming, good looking, obnoxiously noble type of guy and I feel compelled to start a battle I’m doomed to lose."

If you asked me to pick between Marvel and DC, I’d be a hipster and tell you I like neither. I would pick DC if hard pressed, because I actually enjoyed The Killing Joke, despite my aversion to Batman. My dislike of superhero genre notwithstanding, I’ve consumed a fair share of the material throughout the years. Some of you have probably heard about Worm, currently one of the most popular web series. It gets often mentioned in recommendation threads around here. I have to say, Worm is one of the best stories of any genre I’ve ever read.

Wildbow’s third series Twig is in some ways similar to Worm. It follows a party of gifted children. They are not really superheroes this time, more of a smarter and stronger humans genetically enginereed to fight as a part of a group, and each of them has a specialty – a tank, group leader, analyst, planner. The protagonist and first person narrator Sylvester (aka Sy or Sly) is the Ender or Miles Vorkosigan type of guy – a smart kid, but mostly useless in a fight. He’s a manipulative bastard and self proclaimed villain who does the dirty work behind the scenes and comes up with the group’s general gameplan. (Or so he says. He actually always gets in the brunt of the action by virtue of being The Main Man.) Twig is biopunk fantasy set in an alternate history Earth at the end of the 19th century. The course of science took a slightly different turn here. Biology is the main discipline of this world and cloning, reanimated corpses and gene manipulation are commonplace. The whole world is ruled by Academies, which create everything from zombie workers and horses to gigantic supermutant monsters designed for fighting wars. Our heroes are results of experiments of one such academy and work as its problem solvers.

It won’t come as a surprise to readers of Worm, that the writing and worldbuilding of Twig is on par with some of the more famous authors that are getting published in the genre right now. Most characters are carefully crafted, with diverse motivations and complex psychology and their interactions with each other are a pleasure to read. Character and group dynamics is something that wildbow focuses on a lot, he did a great job of it in Worm as well. Sy’s speech when he’s taken hostage somewhere during the first arc really stands out as a clever piece of writing and the fight sequences are also well thought out. The MC always comes up with smart plans on the fly and pulls them off in big style.

Not to only heap on praise, there are also problems inherent in the web serial medium. A chapter needs to be published in a short window and then the author has to move on, because there ain’t no gettin’ offa this train we’re on, till we get to the end of the line. I’m not saying the prose is bad, wildbow is a competent writer. But it’s not on the level of polish one would get it to with a couple of months of corrections with an editor. Wildbow gets unnecessarilly wordy at times. For example in the beginning of the first chapter, the one that’s in theory supposed to captivate the reader, he spends an entire page on describing a drainage ditch, which turns out to be completely irrelevant to the story. He can’t also decide if Sylvester’s nickname is Sy or Sly and uses the two interchangeably, which induces in me a mild case of pain behind the eyes. The other issue is pacing. This was even more apparent in Worm, but in webserials each chapter tends to end on a cliffhanger. There are no significant peaks and valleys in the story, which makes for a fast paced read, but there’s no time for the reader to unwind. Because I’m the type that can’t stop reading until the book is over, after reading Worm for 17 days straight I was hitting levels of fatigue comparable to studying for finals. Twig is not as long as Worm just yet, it’s starting its 8th arc right now, with each arc being around 100 regular pages long.

I recommend Twig to all readers who like antiheroes, complex characters and good worldbuilding. I rate it 8/10.

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