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Pen Stroke and Batty Gloom? Now where have I heard of those two before... ah, never mind, it'll come to me. In the meantime, feel free to peruse my review of their VERY long Portal crossover fic, Better Living Through Science and Ponies, tastefully stowed behind the break.
Impressions before reading: As I mentioned in a previous review, I generally don't read crossover fics unless I'm already intimately familiar with the source material. So I might as well come out and say it: I have never in my life played Portal or its sequel. I sometimes think I may be the only person not in a retirement home who hasn't, but there you have it. What can I say? I don't play a lot of video games.
In fact, I don't really know much about the game at all. Thanks to cultural osmosis, I know that "the cake is a lie." Likewise, I've gathered that there's something called a "space cube" which is, appropriately enough, a talking cube that wants to go into space. Other than that, all I really know about the game is that you use "portals," one-way wormholes if I understand correctly, to get from point A to point B. Hopefully that's enough to get me through the fic.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Following the events of the second game, Chell is sucked through a dimensional vortex to Ponyville. The bad news? The entire Enrichment Center has come along with her, and now GLaDOS has been loosed upon an unsuspecting Equestria.
Thoughts after reading: If I weren't planning to review this story, I'd have given up three pages in. I made it through the first chapter with only the vaguest of ideas what was going on. Such is the peril of trying to read this fic without already knowing who Chell, Wheatley, Caroline, or GLaDOS are. After bulling my way through the first chapter, I gave up and read an online plot synopsis of the games, which cleared things up a bit. But really; look at my summary. Does that mean anything to anyone who doesn't already know who the characters are? This is clearly not a story for people who aren't already familiar with the Portal games.
Once I had a firmer grasp on who was or wasn't a robot, what GLaDOS is and what it's doing, and how portals actually work, the going was a lot smoother for me. A few game references/shoutouts I caught, a few more I knew were present but couldn't pinpoint (Wikipedia is only good for so much, after all: I may be able to recognize that a reference exists, but that doesn't mean I know what the reference is), and a fair number more I'm sure went completely over my head. The whole reading experience was quite frustrating as a result, but with the information I'd gleaned it was manageable.
The ponies in this story are all excellent. Being subject to GLaDOS's "psychological experiments" requires the authors to demonstrate a firm grip on those canon personalities, and they succeed brilliantly. As for the Portal characters? As far as I can tell, they're equally deftly written. Very good characterization all around.
There are a few technical errors scattered throughout, mostly homonym mistakes (hold for holed, for example) and missing words, but given the size of the fic, the number of problems is small. Editing-wise, I'd put this fic in the "enough problems to be mildly annoying, but not so many that it really detracts from reading" catagory. The writing and word use are perfectly serviceable, if occasionally blase. All in all, the technical aspects of the story are good, but not great.
The plot is thin, providing just enough impetus to keep the action moving. Basically, the idea seems to have been, "Let's combine ponies and portals, and see what happens!" Not that there's anything wrong with that, I hasten to add. In this case, that sort of open attitude allows the narrative to jump from pony to pony, and to freely alternate between advancing what plot there is, highlighting elements from game play (but with ponies!), or just taking advantage of the chance for humorous asides.
The only real failure among these for me were the actual portal levels. Once more let me state that I think people who've played the games would enjoy them a lot more than I did, but reading a description of a video game level is about as exciting as it sounds. Okay, it's a little more exciting than that when Pinkie Pie's involved, but I'm still not any more interested in hearing about Portal gameplay than I am in hearing my friend's son tell me about the "epic" Pokemon he just caught.
A final observation: prior to reading this fic, I'd never heard of Chell. The story assumes its readers have played Portal and its sequel, and thus assumes that they've spent a lot of time being Chell. Naturally, that's going to create a lot of empathy for her character, empathy which I don't share. I suspect that certain aspects of the story, especially the ending, are going to resonate much more strongly with these people than with me.
And an extra note (which is different from a final observation, so it's totally okay to have both of them in one review. Honest): there is an additional "bonus" chapter, edited by Pen Stroke and Batty Gloom but written by Joe England. It fits in with the main story and is extremely funny. If you're going to read the story, I (and all of the involved authors) recommend reading it as well, in between chapters four and five.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
To me, a 6-star fanfic should at least moderately accessible. After all, we're talking about the best of the best here, right? It should have broad appeal within the fanbase, enough to make folks look past the tags and appreciate the story on its own merits.
This story fails on that count. It appeals only to one subset of the fan community. And while I am the first to admit that "people who have played Portal" isn't exactly an insignificant segment of the population, this fic still leaves all other readers out in the cold.
Recommendation: I think I've made it pretty clear, but I'll say it one more time. If you've played Portal and its sequel, you'll probably find a lot to enjoy in this story. Just make sure you have a few hours to spare--it's the longest fic I've reviewed to date (What will I do when I finally get to Fallout: Equestria?). But if you haven't played the games, don't bother. This is a crossover story that doesn't make any allowances for lack of familiarity with source material.
Next time: Jack and Ponies, by Moabite