Wednesday, October 26, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 2: Ponies Discover /co/

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Another blast from the past!  This time, it's the tantalizingly named Ponies Discover /co/, courtesy of Slywit.  I remember reading this story when it was still being posted piecemeal over on /co/.  At the time, it seemed like a veritable fountain of hilarity.  Will it hold up as well as the also-ancient Jr. Speedsters Forever!?  More importantly, is that the proper way to punctuate the previous sentence?  I mean, the title ends with an exclamation point, but I'm still asking a question, so I need a question mark at the end.  But I can't leave the exclamation point off because it's part of the title, so I have to use both.  Right?

One of these questions will be answered after the page break.

Impressions before reading:  I'm really hoping this is as funny as I remember it being, but I'm apprehensive.  After all, it was about making fun of /co/, circa January.  Will the humor still feel fresh, or will it be uncomfortably like watching a Friedberg/Seltzer movie three years after it was first released?  Or hell, like watching one, period.  ZING!

I see that the version on EqD has "...a bunch of gramatical [sic] fixes and stuff." 1) Sethisto, either your sense of irony is keener than I realized, or you need to learn to spellcheck.  I mean, at least get the word "grammatical" right when you write.  2) Good.  If I remember correctly, the jpgs I first read this story from were draft-quality, and that's being charitable.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  As the title suggests, it's about the mane cast finding /co/--specifically, the pony threads (this was back before mandatory pony general threads).  The cast finds out what people are saying about them online, and each react differently to the revelation.  Although the premise is as meta as one can get, the whole story is still framed like a show, both in terms of plot arc and pacing.  Well, the story would run way over 22 minutes, but it's got the intro music and everything right in the doc!

Comments after reading:  Throughout the story, text coming out of character quotes is, for lack of a better word, wonky.  Capitalization on the next word after a quote seems hit-or-miss, bearing no easily discernible relation to whether a new sentence is being started or a character action is being described concurrent with the quote.  Likewise, quotes end with commas when they need periods, or vice-versa, with great frequency.

Other than that, however, most of the spelling/grammar problems seem to have been ironed out of this version--at least, in the first two-thirds or so.  After the last 'commercial break,' I noticed a significant drop-off in the quality of the editing.  Still better than I remember the version I originally read being, but lots spellcheck errors/homonyms/miscapitalizations/etc.

It didn't take long for me to conclude that the jokes in this piece were still funny.  I do wonder, however, whether some of the jokes would still make sense to someone who's only been a fan for a few weeks or months.  Or hell, to someone who isn't from /co/ at all--there seem to be a fair number of them around the various pony sites these days.  I don't know--maybe Evil Dictator Celestia and candy vag have infiltrated the internet to a sufficient degree that anyone reading should be expected to know about them.  In any case, I can catch all the references, and that's what matters for me as a reader.

And for me as a reader, it works.  I laughed out loud several times as I read, and was grinning most of the way through (thankfully, I was alone at my computer.  No one must hear my giggles!).

Slywit does a great job of setting up scenes which could easily have been taken straight from an episode.  Take this description of Pinkie and Fluttershy (who's hiding in a box at the time): "After only a few minutes, Pinkie had already convinced someone to play tic-tac-toe, despite the fact that Pinkie’s skill was impossible to beat. Fluttershy had accepted and somehow manipulated a stick out the handle-hole to mark down X’s." This is typical of his simple, short descriptions, which nevertheless manage to instantly convey a scene to the reader as surely as any visual medium.

Although I can't really say much on this topic without verging into spoilers, I'd just like to note that this was written before Feeling Pinkie Keen aired, so it's no fair complaining about certain inconsistencies between that episode and this story.

The way that the characters responded to what /co/ had posted didn't always make sense to me. For example, AJ trying to prove she's doesn't look goofy by...doing jumping jacks? Or maybe that's just supposed to prove she's not "silly" somehow? I will say this, though: even if some of the pony's responses don't make sense, the way they act is still funny. In a story like this, I think that's the most important thing.

But although the humor may be the most important thing in this story, this still is a story. As such, I feel I must note that I felt at times, but especially at the end, that the narrative was lost sight of (and that, my friends, is the most passively-worded sentence you will ever read). Although I realize that it might not have been funny, I really felt like there needed to be some sort of conclusion to the quest which Twilight et. al. were sent on. Skipping straight from soaking in the river to Canterlot nearly gave me whiplash.

One final note: the last line of the story was pure gold when I first read it, and it's pure gold today.

Star rating: ☆ (what does this mean?)

It's funny, there's no doubt about that. But a lot of the humor relies on shared experiences which may not be shared by all that many fans these days. Grammatical mistakes abounded in the last third of the story, the plot (though admittedly secondary to the comedy) was jumpy, and various characters' actions didn't always make sense.

Recommendation: Anyone who got into ponies via /co/ should read this story. But then, you probably already have, haven't you? If not, remedy that at once! I'm not sure I'd recommend this to anyone just entering the fandom, or who joined via some source other than 4chan. But, if you want to know what we were all posting about back in December and January (and if you don't mind some sloppy grammar), here's a fun and funny way to find out.

Next time: Chasing Rainbows, by Phoe


  1. Hey, I was just linked this review. Thanks for all the words, Phoe! I really appreciate having a detailed analysis for me to think about and assess where some story weaknesses might be in my writing.

    If you ever want to discuss it, I'd be more than grateful, (particularly, I'm curious about the characters I failed to make clear on their motivations for acting a particular way).

    Good luck on your reviews!

  2. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to this--to be honest, I just didn't realize you'd commented! After this blog got featured on Equestria Daily, I had to turn off e-mail notifications because it was spamming my inbox too much, so I missed this comment. Mia culpa.

    Since it seems I wasn't entirely clear, my problem wasn't that any of the ponies were out of character; its that I didn't understand how some of their reactions related to what they'd discovered people were posting about them. Take Applejack, for example.

    She finds out that everyone thinks she makes funny faces, and as a corollary thinks of her as a bumbling idiot. She responds in several ways. First, she tries to keep her expression completely neutral at all times. That I understood just fine--she was trying to avoid reinforcing the perceptions of /co/ by not giving them any new material to work with. But when it came to her trying to prove her athleticism by carrying around weights and doing jumping jacks, I lost the connection completely. How did that relate to what she'd seen being posted about her? Showing how strong she is doesn't seem to address or refute anything that was being posted about her.

    That was my big issue. As I say, it wasn't really a matter of characterization--AJ still talked and acted like AJ, as far as I was concerned. I just didn't understand the motivation for some of her behavior. Without going back and looking at the fic, I don't remember offhand if I encountered that problem with any of the other ponies, though I think AJ was the only one I had major questions about.

    I hope that clears up what I was talking about when I commented on character motivations. If I'm still being unclear, or if there's anything else you'd like to comment on/discuss, please feel free to either continue posting or to send me an e-mail.

    I'm glad you appreciated my review, and once more I'm sorry for making you wait so long from an answer for me.

  3. Oh, I understand, and no need to apologize (oh, and sorry for calling you Phoe, misread something, but no matter)! I'm very happy that you've reviewed the story in the first place, and talking about it is both really fun for me and informative.

    You actually echoed some earlier criticism I had way back when the story was released, that not all the motivations were clear. I had thought I cleared it up in part 3, but I can see why it was still hard to grasp. This has helped me identify one of my problems in writing being that I obscure what I assume the reader picks up on.

    Again, it's on me. You aren't the first to tell me this, and I've endeavored to improve my writing in this area in my later work.

    If you'll indulge me to simply rattle on about the writing in this next paragraph (I get very Pinkie about certain subjects, wanting to chat endlessly).

    Specifically the line of comedy over clear characterizations, which was not my desire at all. I actually worked backwards and let the characters dictate the comedy. The idea (the unclear one) behind Applejack is that she was redoubling her training efforts in order to pull off more stunts. It was suppose to be obscure until the hill scene, where AJ insists on being the one to tackle the steep climb, despite Dash having an easier time on it.

    I suspect I could have made it more clear, have Twilight state it at the hill scene directly isntead of just piece it together herself and berate AJ.

    The other thing I usually worry about is the interpretation of Rainbow Dash in regards to her sexuality. I could save that until you are interested though.

    Thanks again for these reviews. I really wish this site would take off a bit more, and be a good guide for people wanting to get into fanfiction reading. Being pointed to the right story is the difference between people walking away going "I think I get this Fanfic thing" and "Full Life Consequences."