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Today I'm reviewing the first of an impressive four 6-star stories by Bobcat. My take on Forever, after the break.
Impressions before reading: For any of you who aren't aware, EqD's policy is to give 6 stars to stories that have 60+ ratings and an average rating of 4.9 or higher. It is also their policy not to reduce a story's "official" star rating, even if the number drops. I've already reviewed a couple of stories that were technically only at 4.8, but which had presumably been at 4.9 when they were assigned their official rating.
I mention this because as of my reading it for this review, Forever has 97 ratings with an average of only 4.7. I guess it must not be very popular among its most recent readers? Hopefully this isn't a bad sign.
Also, there's a sequel to this story, Beyond Forever. Since it got its own post (and is 6-starred itself, to boot), I'm going to follow the precedent I established with Phoe's Rainbows stories and give each post its own review, rather than lumping both stories together.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Pinkie Pie finally gets a chance to travel to Fillydelphia to meet her sister, the world-famous Photo Finish. But despite being the one who issued the invitation, Ms. Finish doesn't seem very happy to see Pinkie...
Thoughts after reading: This story deserves its [sad] tag, no doubt about that. In many ways, it's actually a lot sadder than stories that kill or maim one of their characters to draw a few quick tears, because emotional violence doesn't feel as out of place (and thus, as unbelievable) in the MLP universe as physical violence and death do. Couple that with the fact that the characters are complicit in their own (emotional) destruction, rather than being hapless victims, and the tragedy is almost palpable.
And despite that tragic air, the story doesn't ever entirely abandon its pony grounding. It's true that the mood is grimmer than even the darkest of episodes to date, but Photo Finish's explanation for her behavior wouldn't sound out of place in any episode. Heck, I half-expected Sweet and Elite to involve Rarity behaving the same way Finish does in this fic (although the episode would have had to have a completely different ending, of course). While this story may be the literary equivalent of a punch to the gut, it doesn't feel contrived, nor does its drama ever seem out of place in the Equestria we all know and love.
From a technical standpoint, the writing is good. Photo Finish's accent is rendered phonetically, but to a fairly mild degree which never impinges on readability. The story is only a couple thousand words, and the writing is terse and direct. Whenever he can, Bobcat lets the character's dialogue (and Pinkie's inner monologue, rendered as direct narration) speak for itself. By declining to ladle on adjectives and descriptive prose like it's going out of style, the author highlights the conundrum of the characters, refusing to let any secondary details distract from the central conflict.
I said earlier that Pinkie and Photo Finish were complicit in their downfall. I think that that's an important point to consider. Many sad stories involve lots of suffering, death, angst, etc., but make the target of all this bad juju hapless victim. That's sad, sure, but it's not tragic. Just like true heroism requires that one willfully take risks which could have been avoided, true tragedy requires that one's suffering be a product of one's own decisions, not mere happenstance. By framing the conflict in such a way that both parties are culpable, the story becomes not only distressing, but truly heartrending.
The ending, as I said, is definitely not a happy one, but it doesn't feel forced or tacked-on. Indeed, it feels like a perfectly natural and organic way for events to unfold, albeit in an unhappy manner. This story may not have a "happily-ever-after" conclusion, but that doesn't make the end less thematically satisfying. Also, tying the story into established canon is a nice touch.
Star rating: ★★★★☆ (what does this mean?)
This story is basically a kick in the gut. But I can't argue with the execution, nor with the logic of the characters. For such a short story, there's a lot of emotional heft here.
Recommendation: This is a wonderfully (terribly?) depressing story for any readers who find cathartic release in the emotional anguish of others. It's certainly one of the best sad stories I've read, and I'd suggest it to anyone looking for such.
Next time: The Truth About Pinkie Pie, by Batty Gloom