Monday, November 14, 2011

6-Star Reviews Part 9: Today, Tomorrow, and Forever

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

In case Bubbles and Memorial weren't enough, today's review features yet another tearjerker about Derpy.  Can't this poor mare ever catch a break?

Speaking of breaks, look below for the full review of Today, Tomorrow, and Forever, by Chopper's Top Hat.

Impressions before reading:  This is one of the better-known pony fanfics out there, and I suspect most people who are reading this review already know what the twist is.  Still, I'm going to stick with my "no-spoiler" policy, in case anyone reading this isn't familiar with the plot.  Also, I see that there's an alternate ending/continuation.  Since it's by a different author (and so presumably not "official"), I won't be including it in the review, but feel free to check it out on your own, if you're into that sort of thing.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Dinky comes home from school one day, she discovers that her mother is acting even stranger than usual.  At first it seems fun, but Dinky can tell something isn't right...

Thoughts after reading:  I really don't understand the impetus for most of the plot here.  The big reveal hinges on the reader knowing that Derpy has a "unique mental situation," yet there's nothing in this story that implies that she's not of sound mind.  She talks oddly (and by oddly, I mean that most of her dialogue is a random mish-mash of gibberish and video game shoutouts), but she otherwise is behaves completely normally, and she demonstrates that the problem goes no farther than her voice when she's shown to be able to write coherently.  If Derpy is a normal mare with a speech impediment, then the central conflict of this story becomes nonsensical.  There's no reason for the parties involved to act the way they do if Derpy isn't mentally retarded.

I suppose it's possible that the reader is supposed to view the party responsible for the central conflict (how's that for a spoiler-less description?) as being unreasonable and cruel, or even downright evil, but if so then this is presented poorly.  The party's real-life equivalent simply wouldn't act this way.  I've been peripherally involved with them concerning several cases, and they invariably err on the side of inaction.  To return to the story, I simply can't imagine that the party in question, if it's anything like its IRL counterpart, would do anything at all unless Derpy were severely, demonstrably retarded.  Even then, they'd probably refuse to act without some sort of evidence that she was a danger to herself and others.  And again, since Derpy doesn't appear to be any of these things, the actions which drive the conflict become inexplicable.

On a more positive note, the opening scene involving Twilight and Spike was well-done.  The conversation between the two is not forced, nor is it laden with unseemly exposition, yet it perfectly sets the stage for Derpy and Dinky's introduction.

The writing throughout was adequate, but not always ideal.  When I say that, I'm talking about sentences like this: "Not far away, Ponyville's post office, which doubled as Derpy's home, bustled with activity."  From a technical standpoint, there's nothing wrong with this sentence as written.  However, it doesn't flow well; the three commas in close succession make the line feel choppy and disjointed, where a little rewording could have conveyed the same information more elegantly.  Again, there were only a few actual mistakes in this story, grammar-wise, but the particular sentence structures used were not always those most conducive to immersive reading.

Returning to plot issues, there were a couple more that didn't make sense at the end, but I'm going to need to put them behind a spoiler tag.  Sorry, but I just can't think how to word these without giving away the ending:

So, there's that.  Maybe I'm being to closed-minded--after all, most of my complaints are about how a fictional set of people/ponies aren't behaving like their real-life equivalents--but the fact is that in fiction, readers will assume that things work the same way as in real life unless the author states otherwise.  And there was no explanation for these actions that I could easily see.

Star Rating:   (what does this mean?)

This is the first time I've one-starred a story in these reviews, and honestly I feel a little guilty about it.  I mean, the story isn't's just that large parts of it don't make sense.  I can't in good conscience say I enjoyed it, or even that I got a good cry out of it.  Instead, I spent most of my time scratching my head and asking myself, "Why on earth did she do that?  What possible set of circumstances could lead to this happening?"

Sorry Chopper.  Nothing personal, but this story left me confused and a little annoyed.

Recommendation:  Obviously lots of folks like it, or it wouldn't have gotten 6-starred in the first place.  If you don't know anything about child welfare laws (or if your familiarity with them starts and ends with Oliver Twist, I suppose), then maybe the plot holes won't be as visible.  But to be honest, I can't think of any particular group to whom I'd recommend this one.

Next time: The Circle of Friends, by Kiyyik


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  2. I can not comment on the story (as I have not read it), but I will express my displeasure at "Word Salad" Derpy. The idea that Derpy would speak in gibberish has always struck me as poor characterization and at its heart is nonsensical; and, not to mention, stereotypical.

    I understand why someone would resort to a "Word Salad" Derpy. Effectively portraying cognitive disorders is hard, especially for someone with no experience with them. Therefore, Derpy speaking gibberish is a quick route to that characterization. The reader instantly knows something seriously is off with Derpy, and the author only needed one line of dialog. The end result being Derpy is weird because she is walleyed and talks in gibberish. That's all the characterization the reader gets.

    More importantly, authors use gibberish to show Derpy's mental retardation, which is totally incorrect. Someone who is speaking in an incoherent mishmash of words is not slow. He is suffering from a major mental or physical problem. Either he has a sever mental disorder which requires long term care and treatment, or he has extensive brain damage. I don't believe there is any fic that characterized Derpy in that manner.

    Then there's the fact that it's stereotyping. She has a physical deformity, therefor she must have some mental handicap. Most people with mental disorders don't have any physical disabilities, and the reverse is true.

    I am partially speaking from experience. I had a neighbor growing up who had a club foot and hand; and was cross-eyed. He was probably the smartest man in the apartment complex. Some of my best childhood memories came from time spent with him.

    That's my rant. "Word Salad" Derpy is terrible characterization because it is lazy, unrealistic, and stereotypical.

  3. Can't say I agree with this review. I think you dwell too much on the foster care issue, to the point that you miss a lot of what's going on in the story.

    It's true that it's an unrealistic story as far as how it portrays child services. What happens to Dinky in this story simply wouldn't happen in a real child services situation (at least not in the US. Not all countries have as good a system as we do.)

    But I don't really look for realism when I'm reading a story about a magical flying pony who delivers the mail and talks funny. I don't see Equestria as a reflection of the real world, but as a unique fantasy world that runs on its own rules. So I don't think this is meant to reflect on the way a real foster care issue would go.

    I did dislike the part where Dinky's name was changed, though. It seemed excessive, and kind of mean. But other than that, I have to say I think your criticism is way off on this one.

  4. @ Anonymous:

    My problem with the whole foster care thing isn't only that it deviates without explanation from real-world experience (though I do feel that is a significant problem, for the reasons I outlined in my review), but also with the assumptions it requires us to make about Equestria as a place. In order for the story to work, we have to accept that ponies as a group are slavish devotees of bureaucracy, willing and able to trample over the wants, needs, and best interests of any individual in the name of a nebulous and unclear "greater good." It requires us to believe that Princess Celestia would condone such a system, and that nopony sees fit to challenge the proscribed order. In short, it requires us to believe that ponies are basically humans, but more self-centered, cowardly, and weak-willed.

    Of course, this doesn't really get to your point. I'm still worrying about realism and the socieo-political implications of this piece, and you appear to feel that's not a valid criticism of a story which is supposed to be about "A magical flying pony who delivers the mail and talks funny." In short, I'm over-analyzing the whole thing.

    If I'm representing your opinion fairly, then I can only say that I respect your opinion, and that I probably did harp on my problems with the premise more than was necessary. I still feel my original criticisms are valid, however. As the title of my blog suggests, I deal in personal opinion more than fact, and I think that the concerns I had with this piece are legitimate, if not universal to all readers.

    I want to thank you for your thoughts on the matter. I'll keep them in mind when writing future reviews.

  5. I've enjoyed a number of stories that give Ditzy/Derpy unusual speech patterns. Her stilted speech in "My Sweetie" worked for me. (It's a flawed story; I'd only recommend it to people craving [sad] and Derpy.) But "Today, Tomorrow, and Forever"'s Derpy just comes across as fake. It's a shame

  6. (same Anon as before, for the record)


    I guess it goes to show how different people's perceptions of Derpy are. I really liked TTaF's Derpy because you could sense that there was a caring, intelligent pony hidden behind the silly speech patterns. On second reading I noticed that some of her sentences work as metaphors for what's going on, like she's still communicating in her own way.

    The Derpy in My Sweetie just sounded like a caveman to me. It took me out of the story because I felt like the author tried too hard to have it both ways: make Derpy speak understandably but still have her sound weird. The result was that neither aspect came across as real to me. Anytime Derpy wasn't speaking, though, the story was great.

    But I love how in both stories, she becomes really articulate when she writes. I can't believe Chris didn't even mention Derpy's poem in his review!

    (So you know, Chris, I've enjoyed your other reviews very much. This is the only one I have an issue with.)

  7. I completely agree with you about this story. Good review.