Friday, October 21, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 1: Junior Speedsters Forever!

To read the story, click on the picture or follow this link

Woohoo, my first review!  We're starting with the earliest-written story to ever get 6-starred by Equestria Daily, Pacce's Junior Speedsters Forever!  Check it out after the break.

Impressions before reading:  I remember reading this back when it first came out, all of... wow, has it really been nine months since this story was written?  Anyway, it's been long enough that I don't remember a lot of specifics about it, just the general plot.  I understand that the author did a revision at some point; I could be wrong, but I think it was just general cleanup.  Either way, I'm just going to read what's posted and use that as the basis for this review.

I recall that when I first read this story, it seemed really long.  Not that I remember it dragging; it was just so much BIGGER than most of the other pony fics out there.  The fact that I thought so seems laughable, looking back; I mean, it's probably only 10,000 words or so, and the fandom is now full of stories that are high in the 6-digits, in terms of word count (and a few, like Fallout Equestria, that are in the MILLIONS.  Jesus, how can anyone write so much?  How can they write it so fast?).  I suppose that just goes to show how much has changed since last winter, when the pony fandom was in its infancy and writing pony fanfics was still a novel idea.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  It's the story of Gilda at Jr. Speedsters.  As you may remember from Griffin the Brush-off, Jr. Speedsters is the camp where Dash and Gilda met and became friends.  Although the story focuses on those two and their trials, tribulations, and budding friendship, a crew of background ponies/OCs/G1 shout-outs rounds out a surprisingly large supporting cast, considering the length of the story.

Comments after reading:  Right off the bat, I noticed a tendency to eschew commas where a pause in the sentence is really needed.  "The blur circled the field twice and then came to an abrupt stop in front of the line revealing an adult pegasus with two lighting bolts as her cutie mark," to cite an early example. That aside, I noticed a few other technical issues, missing words and the like. These were rare enough for me to mostly overlook. However (and this may just be a result of the sparse punctuation) in some sections of the story, the writing seemed rather dry.

The various characters' dialogue is mostly juvenile. But then, so are the characters themselves. Honestly, I think the author did a great job of capturing the essence of middle-school speech patterns (and although I haven't been a middle-schooler for a long time, I still have to deal with them on a regular basis at work, so I know of what I speak). The biggest difference is that most real middle-schoolers tend to swear a lot when they don't think any adults are around, but obviously that wouldn't have fit within the aesthetic which the show has already laid down for us.

The realism of the characters, in terms of development and motivation, becomes obvious as the narrative progresses. This story isn't about justifying Gilda (although some have called it that), nor is it about pressing any moral judgement onto her actions. She and Dash are a couple of kids, at a camp full of other kids, all under minimal supervision. The fact is, their actions are totally natural, and really are obvious in context. The cliquishness, the bullying, the oh-so-clever taunting... it's all exactly what you'd expect, under the circumstances. One of the hallmarks of good fiction is delivering believable characters, and nothing that happened in this story (even some of the more, let's say, "aggressive" stuff) ever made me say, "Wait a minute, why would so-and-so think that was a good idea?" Every character in the story, youth and adults alike, are possessed of very human (equine?) foibles, and the protagonists and antagonists alike are easy to root for, easy to empathize with, and yes, easy to get mad at.

One thing I'd forgotten since I last read this story was how much I liked Derpy. She only plays a small role, but this interpretation of her is one of my favorites. And, uh, that's really all I have to say about that.

As for the ending... well, I can tell you right now that it won't be everyone's cup of tea. It leaves several minor plot threads unresolved, and is ambiguous enough to support multiple theories as to what resolutions Gilda et. al. will arrive at in the coming weeks/months/rest of their lives. Although I admit that there are some things I really, really would have liked to hear more about (like Derpy...), I feel that the ending was handled respectfully. That is, the author here respected his readers enough that he didn't feel the need to force a conclusion to every single unresolved issue down their throats when the narrative wouldn't support it, and instead left some details to our collective and individual discretion.

Star Rating:  (what does this mean?)

Back when this story was first "published," it was leaps and bounds above what everyone else was writing (well, with the exception of one or two other authors I could name). If it were written today, I'm not sure it would stand out from the crowd. That's not a slight against Junior Speedsters Forever! Rather, it's a tribute to the many authors in the months since who have either begun writing, or who have improved their craft.

There are some technical issues with this story, and it lacks cohesion. In many ways, it is clearly a product of its time. Still, the characterizations are excellent, the story is easy to relate to, and although the lack of a moral stance from the story itself (there are no 'good guys' or 'bad guys' here) may not be to everyone's liking, I think it appropriate for the tale being told.

Recommendation: Anyone who likes Gilda should read this, for sure. If you can't handle kids who talk and act like kids (hint: if you still can't stand the CMC, this might be you), maybe you should give it a pass. If you can't handle a bit of moral ambiguity, then perhaps this isn't going to be your cup of tea either. But really, I would have no problem recommending this story to nearly anyone else. I glanced at a few other fanfics written around the same time as this, and let me tell you: most of them haven't aged gracefully. Even as the amount of fanfiction in this fandom has exploded, Junior Speedsters Forever! remains among the top tier of pony stories.

Next installment: Ponies Discover /co/, by Slywit.

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