Friday, November 4, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 6: Constellations

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

I don't know about you, but I've had enough tearjerkers for the time being.  Let's move on to Constellations, a Luna-centric story written by RPGenius.  Since it was written something like 8 months ago, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that there won't be a lot of TRADITIONAL ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE in this fic.  Still, I love me some Luna; hopefully this portrayal will knock me on my back with its expert writing, if not its sheer volume.  All the good stuff after the page break!

Impressions before reading:  This story is indexed as [normal], one of my favorite tags.  Normal stories may not always be good (in fact, fanfiction being what it is, most of them are really quite atrocious), but they rarely make me throw my hands up in the air and exclaim, "Who on earth thought this was a good idea for a story?!"

Other than that, I really have no idea what I'm getting into.  Here we go!

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Luna's return from orbital exile has been difficult, but there's one thing she can count on to make her feel better: listening to the wishes of her subjects.  But there's on pony who's wishes she can't hear...why could this be?

Thoughts after reading:  Conceptual repetition (not to be confused with its even more temperamental cousin, literal repetition) is a difficult trick to pull off effectively in literature.  Done well, each restatement of the idea being repeated builds upon the last, overwhelming the reader's natural feelings of separation from the story through reiterated statements which each bear the same message.  Done poorly, that same feeling of repetition can dull the reader to the impact of each subsequent passage, weakening the message and promoting reader detachment instead of mitigating it.

This story does not make good use of conceptual repetition, especially in the early going.  We are treated to a half-dozen variations on "Luna swore she would do better this time," none of which effectively builds on the last.  Each introduces new information, or a new angle from which to approach the idea (nopony notices her beautiful nights, but she'll stay strong!  Sadness threatens to overwhelm her, but she'll stay strong!  Etc.), so at least there's still narrative movement.  But the overall effect is really kind of boring.  I eventually began mentally rolling my fingers at my computer screen, invisibly and ineffectually urging the author to get to the point.

This is an archetypal "Sad Luna" story.  If you aren't familiar with how these work, let me explain: Luna is very sad, because of the whole Nightmare Moon/banished for a millennium thing, coupled with the fact that nopony notices her night, even now that she's not evil.  Then somepony, usually one of the main 6, says something nice about her and/or her night, and she feels better.  Then if it's a shipping story, they kiss.  The end.

Now I realize it might sound dismissive when I word it like that, but what I've written above is really a pretty solid basis for a short story.  The problem is that this idea was old in January, when I joined the fandom, it was certainly old in March, when this story was written, and if someone's still writing sad Luna stories now, after Luna Eclipsed has aired, then God help us all.  My point is, there's nothing really original about the premise.  Some folks don't seem to think that originality in writing is all that important, as long as the execution is decent (see: the people who read harlequin romance novels), but I have always felt that one of the prerequisites for a high-quality story is that the author bring something new to the table.

Thankfully, there is some originality to this work.  Although the basis is as tried-and-true as can be, it adds several twists along the way (at least one of which I've seen in several subsequent fics, but which I believe RPGenius was the first to use in a story).  These additions lift the narrative from "Oh look, another cookie-cutter sad Luna fic" to something more.  Indeed, I would say they raise it to something worth reading.

Specifically, Luna's ability to hear ponies when they wish upon a star was a worthy idea.  Although it isn't played with as much as I'd like, the idea that Luna can hear everypony's most intimate desires is thought-provoking.  More interesting still is her decision (at Celestia's recommendation) not to answer wishes on principal.  Although they aren't really addressed in the story, this passage raises questions about the responsibilities that come with power, both to act and to hold back, which demand consideration from the reader.

On a lighter note, it was fun to hear the wishes of various canon ponies.  Although they aren't named (Luna's just hearing the wishes, after all, not seeing the ponies themselves), it's immediately obvious from the description and dictation who each pony is, and these shout-outs to the show are amusing without breaking suspension of disbelief.

The ending is exactly what you would expect.  Between the title and the premise, I was less than halfway through the story when I figured out exactly how it would conclude.  But if the destination was obvious, then it was also well written, save for the last sentence.  That felt far too abrupt, a hasty attempt to throw a "happily ever after" onto the story.  Still, take it off, and the ending is technically flawless.

Star rating: ☆ (what does this mean?)

This is the best sad Luna story I've ever read, bar none...but I haven't really read any good ones, so that wasn't much of a challenge.  There were some original ideas in here, and most of the latter portion of the story was well-written.  On the downside, the writing was dry and repetitious through the early going, and I was really disappointed by the inclusion of the final line.

Recommendation:  Let's be honest: one of the reasons there are so many sad Luna stories is that people read them and enjoy.  If you are one of those people, this is the cream of the crop.  If you aren't, I don't think I'd recommend it unless you have a surfeit of free time and a burning desire to read above-average but otherwise unexceptional pony fics.

Next time:  Singing to the Moon, by uSea


  1. Ouch. This is literally the first serious criticism of my story that I've seen (it's all been so positive otherwise), and it does cut to the quick. Up to this point, I'd been proud of Constellations and thought I'd really done well with it, but...well, now that they're pointed out, I can't deny these problems are there, and they do suddenly seem quite glaring.

    I'll say in my defense that I really wasn't aware of the archetypical Luna story when I wrote this; I hadn't really read any Luna stories beyond a very quick glance to make sure that the wishes thing hadn't been thought of previously. Of course, I don't know how much of a defense that is, since it could just imply that I can be unoriginal without any outside help, but...

    The ending line does look terrible to me now, but I'd like it if I could try to explain that, too. One of my favorite ending lines I've read that's stuck with me was in the third Animorphs book, by K. A. Applegate. The last line, "Be happy for me, and for all who fly free" is a wrap-up that I found particularly pleasing. I won't ramble about why I think this line so appealed to me (I had a long paragraph here before I realized I was getting entirely too verbose on the matter), but I think Constellations's last line was an attempt to recapture the feeling I had from that book's last sentence, to bundle the entirety of the story up and use it to create a sense of positive hope. The fundamental problem with it seems obvious now (Applegate's line inspires a retrospective of positive hope in a story that's at surface-level a downer, while my story was already positive and hopeful so this was pointless to add), and it IS too abrupt. Still, I did have a thought for it beyond just trying for a transparent "Happily Ever After" line, so I hope that makes me look at least a little less of a hack.

    The conceptual repetition I have no defense for. I thought I was doing a good job. Sorry.

    At any rate, thank you for reading Constellations, and thank you for giving it a critical appraisal of quality. I'm a bit ashamed, but grateful. I really hope that I'll do better by you with Sweet Apple Capers, whenever (or if ever) you read that one, and I'll use this review to try to ensure that future stories are better worthy of 6 Stars.

  2. I think you can still be proud of Constellations, RPGenius. There are some problems with execution, as you yourself recognize, but there's a whole world of difference between writing an imperfect story and writing a BAD story. Like I said in my review, this is unquestionably an above-average ponyfic.

    I was briefly infatuated with the Animorphs books, and I think I recall the one you're referring to. If I'm remembering correctly, you hit the nail on the head with your assessment. That line was important to her narrative because it injected some much-needed optimism into what would have otherwise been a downer ending (too much of a downer for her target audience, specifically). You already had a satisfying ending, and didn't need that kind of denouement. Reading your post, I understand why you wanted to include it, and if it makes you feel better I don't think you're a hack for it.

    In any case, I'm glad you aren't taking my criticisms personally, and I look forward to reviewing Sweet Apple Capers.

  3. Given this review, I can't wait for you to tear Luna vs. A new one.