The internet’s been a phenomenal tool for a lot of things, some good, some bad. One of the things it’s been good for is distribution of original writing. 30 years ago, if you’d written something, the only distribution option if you wanted to bypass traditional publishers was to pay (a lot) to print it yourself, and sell it out of the back of your car, pretty much.
But now? Write whatever you want, any idea, any genre, any length, and smack it on a WordPress page, and millions of people can see it at a click. Granted, actually getting millions of people interested in your writing is another job entirely, but the possibility is always there.
As someone who fundamentally loves reading long-form fiction above all other forms of entertainment, I was happy to discover that there is some spectacular, amazing, truly creative writing out there, for free, right now, if you know where to look.
Let me show you what I’ve found and perhaps you’ll agree.
Someone went ahead and finished A Song of Ice and Fire
It’s called The North Remembers. It picks up right after Book 5 (A Dance With Dragons) and finishes out the series. Let me state that again: it finishes out the series. And this isn’t someone scribbling absurd wish fulfillment where Jon Snow finds out he’s a half-unicorn and everyone learns the True Power of Friendship. No, this is someone with a solid handle on George R.R. Martin’s style and tone, his characters, his world, and the very real ways in which the plot has written itself into a corner.
It’s 617K words long. A Dance With Dragons is 422K words long. Infinite Jest is 575K words. If you’ve never read that one, have you at least picked it up in a bookstore? That book is a doorstopper. So take that, add about 40,000 words, and you’ll have The North Remembers .
Length is no guarantee of quality. And I’m not going to tell you that this is genius-level fiction. It’s very good, it does a good job of cribbing Martin’s style, and of cutting the Gordian knot of some of the more tricky plot problems. But even if you don’t even read it, let’s just sit here and be baffled and amazed and kind of pleased with humanity in general – in particular, the author – that this is even a thing that exists. The point of the length is that someone started this, someone worked on it, and then finished it (which is a big deal) – for no reward other than the reviews people left, the words of criticism and praise he received, and the pleasure he got from the task itself.
And I think that’s kind of beautiful. You want to read the next Song of Ice and Fire book, right now? The link’s up there, go for it. It’s at least as good a job as Brandon Sanderson did finishing The Wheel of Time.
Would you believe me if I told you there was a well-written, tense, darkly funny, epic novel about a girl whose superpower lets her control bugs?
You should, because there totally is. Worm is a web serial, fairly recently finished, about a vaguely Watchmen-esque world except the masks (“capes,” in this world) have actual superpowers. Heroes and villains alike form teams, battle it out in cities, the tourism revenue generated by the fans of both sides limiting the nastiness of the fighting to a somewhat playful, but still dangerous “cops and robbers” level, except…
… that the nature of getting superpowers (“trigger events” being massive psychological trauma) means villains drastically outnumber heroes, and mass killings and attacks and property damage are shockingly common,
…and there’s a more-super-than-super class of things with powers that are bent on systematically destroying the world, and every confrontation with them has been a Pyrrhic victory at best,
…and the way powers keep appearing, everyone lives in constant fear of the inevitable day when someone wakes up with something really, really nasty for a power and kills a lot of people,
…and the main character is a 15 year old girl who is systemically bullied in high school, and what she goes through is somehow worse than all of the above.
So this isn’t exactly a lighthearted series. It has its darkly comedic moments, to be sure, but this rates pretty highly on the Crapsack World scale. It doesn’t, however, fall victim to Darkness Induced Audience Apathy – there’s always a little hope, always a door left open.
The protagonist, Taylor, is way more likable than Katniss Everdeen, and the reason I say that is that if you want a comparison, she’s not bad. They’re both classic Take-Charge Girls doing their best in a shitty world – except, unlike Katniss, Taylor’s decisions make sense most of the time. Seriously, was I the only one shaking my head at Katniss in Mockingjay at like every 5th page when she did something so unbelievably stupid it pretty much had to be willful blindness on her part?
Anyway. Oh yeah, Worm is 1.65 million words long. I’ll just refer you to the novel length comparisons found above and let you chew on that one for a while. You start this one, and you like it, and this could be your primary source of entertainment for a month. Or six.
And more and more and more
Would you believe someone wrote a compelling, poignant piece of fiction starring Calvin and Hobbes? It’s pretty short, have at it. If it seems almost heretical to write a story about something as sacred to your childhood as Calvin and Hobbes, well, I thought that too. And was blown away. How about that ending you always yearned for for Lyra and Will after the soul-destroyingly beautiful cauldron of emotions that the end of The Amber Spyglass conjures up? Here, same author, same eerily on-the-money characterization and talent for picking just the right words.
How about a trilogy of post-apocalyptic high tech techno thrills that gets real dark and gritty with it, with a protagonist who makes Lisbeth Salander look well-adjusted? Again complete, again free? Starfish is the first book, here it is.
My point is, this stuff is out there. And it’s awesome. The sheer size of the internet makes it hard to find some of the unheralded gems, but, in true double-edged sword fashion, the sheer size of the internet also makes it possible that you could stumble, by accident, onto something great when you click something on a whim – like one of the links on this page. You could click one of the books I recommended and fall in love. Go on, try it…