Monday, January 9, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 28: The Logical Option

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

I really stink at contract bridge.

Just thought you all should know that.  I've been playing for more than a year, but I'm still just awful.  If there was such a thing as strip contract bridge, I'd be typing this naked.  Luckily, my slightly less incompetent partner was a good sport about all the games I cost us over the weekend.

Anyway, my review of ADriftingThought's The Logical Option, which has nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of card game, is after the break.

Impressions before reading:  Well, it's very long.  That's an impression, right?

Unfortunately, the first impressions I'm getting (other than length) are mostly not the good kind.  The main character's an OC with amnesia who's the key to Equestria's future?  There are just too many ways for that to be done poorly.  The star rating (which must have been at least 4.9 at some point, or this wouldn't have been 6-starred) is all the way down to 4.4?  That's not even a 5-star story by EqD's measure--another warning sign.  And with both of those observations in mind, Sethisto's note that, "This one has apparently been pretty popular on ponychan for a while, so I skipped the pre-readers," starts to look pretty ominous.  We'll see, but I've got a bad feeling about this story.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A group of ponies mapping the Everfree discover a strange colt who's lost his memories.  Amnesia is rare enough by itself, but as time passes more and more inexplicable events begin to pile up around the stranger.

Thoughts after reading:  Well, the first thing I noticed when I opened chapter one was the author's note up top.  Apparently, he's made some major revisions (as of late November, so this is fairly recent) in preparation for an upcoming sequel.  I'm not a big fan of making significant changes to a story once it's been published--I think it's disrespectful to those who've already read your work, to tell them that they need to go re-read it if they don't want to be left behind by future chapters/sequels/updates.  But hey, if Tolkien can do it with The Hobbit, who am I to tell ADriftingThought that he can't?  That doesn't mean I have to like it, though.  Anyway, what I've read and reviewed is this "updated" version.

By in large, the story is decently edited.  Most of the mistakes I found probably crept in during the most recent revisions ("What took her less than five minutes for her to traverse," and "you already know all of this already," look to me like the kind of mistakes that come from rearranging a sentence and then forgetting to delete the extraneous words), and they were, for the most part, not too distracting.  There are many commas scattered throughout the text in places where they really aren't needed, but it never devolves into the wholesale comma abuse that renders so many amateur writers' stories unreadable.

The narration tends toward dullness.  I think this quote highlights one of the major problems: over-wording.  "Sigmund recoiled back a little bit, attempting to avoid the sparkling dust. However, shortly after the gas left the dragon’s mouth, it quickly materialized into something. Once the glow died down, Sigmund could see that the ‘something’ was a scroll."  Here's how I'd rewrite something like that, using the author's words as much as possible: "Sigmund recoiled, attempting to avoid the sparkling dust.  However, after the gas left the dragon's mouth it quickly materialized into something.  Once the glow died down, Sigmund could see that it was a scroll."  I've conveyed all the same information there, but in about half the words.  This isn't to say that the only appropriate way to write a sentence is the most direct one, but the story suffers from overly wordy narration throughout.  It's not that there's too much detail, it just takes the author too many words to say what he wants to.  The overall effect is that the writing feels kind of boring.

Character voicing was extremely variable.  Big Mac and Celestia both stuck out as having a number of lines which didn't read like something their characters might have said, though some of the other ponies (Rarity comes to mind) were pretty good.  Overall, the dialogue was less consistent in quality than the narration, but was somewhat better on the whole.

The plot through the first eight chapters is handled with workmanlike skill: not especially awe-inspiring, but adequate.  There's some very heavy-handed shipping setup in the first chapter, and everything involving the manticore came straight out of left field, but there was nothing so out-of-place that I couldn't go along with it.  Stories involving amnesia are always a hard sell, if only because memory loss is such a convenient crutch for writers that it's been done to death in every medium.  Still, there's enough going on with Sigmund the mind-wiped earth pony that I found myself mildly interested in what was going to happen, cliche plot device and dull narration notwithstanding.

Then came the last three chapters.  If I may paraphrase a famous author (and I wish for the life of me I could remember which famous author), any writer can shock his readers; surprising them is something different.  A surprise must be impossible to see before it is revealed, but seem inevitable in hindsight.  The key takeaway here is that you have to set up your big reveals; otherwise, you're just yanking plot twists out of thin air.

The end of the story makes just as little sense to me in hindsight as it did when I first read it.  I honestly have no idea where the reveal came from, as it completely upended everything we (the readers) thought we knew about not just the major characters, but the land of Equestria itself.  And when there's no setup for such a reveal...well, it comes across as a gigantic asspull.  There's no sense of satisfaction, no relief that the moment of revelation has finally come.  Instead, I was left scratching my head and asking myself, "Did I really just read that?"

Equally frustrating is the fact that several crucial points are never explained.  I can't figure out how to express that frustration clearly without resorting to massive spoilers, so I'll hide my thoughts on this matter behind the tag:

So there's that.  I wasn't expecting anything wonderful from the last three chapters, but what I got just made me shake my head in stunned disbelief.  It was almost like the ending to an entirely different fanfic was tacked onto the end.  Not a good way to close a story.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

I hate to use derogatory language, because it's so easy for it to come across as an attack on the author rather than a statement about the work itself.  But the end of this story was monumentally stupid.  There's no other way to describe it.

Recommendation:  I don't recommend this one.  There's nothing in the style or execution that makes it particularly noteworthy, and the only things that stand out about the overall story are negative.

Next time:  Tomorrow, by Jera


  1. I did some catching up from Part 18 where I last left off. I just want to say thank you for doing this - it's not just your opinion, but the way you present it that draws my interest, and I have spent the past twenty minutes happily reading away (I'm a fast reader). So, good job, Chris, and keep 'em coming (at your own good pace of course)!

  2. I apparently started read this, probably back when it was posted, and 2-starred it. I don't remember having read it in the least and there's no doubt a good reason why.

    Also, this is why the pre-readers are always wary of "My story is really popular on X website!" Not to mention why Seth should never skip us. <.< And then it brings up horrible questions like "how did this get 6 stars in the first place?"

    If I may address you directly, can I just say you've inspired me to want to do my absolute best? I frankly want to have one of my stories go star-6, just so I can see what you'd say about it. :) I hope that's not too self-serving a goal, but your analyses are certainly helping me reanalyze my own writing.

  3. Present Perfect,

    Sounds like a pretty good goal to me. Can't say I feel any different myself (although I'll be happy just to *finish* mine!).

  4. Thanks for the kind words, all. I admit that I'm a bit nonplussed by the idea that getting reviewed by me is considered a perk of having a six-star story, but if that inspires you to do your "absolute best," then more power to you!

    1. Don't be. Most amateur writers' feedback is vague and unhelpful praise, some of it praises specific aspects of your work, and even less of it is actual useful constructive criticism. And even the most helpful comment is usually brief and only addresses one or two specific issues. What you do is something else entirely and invaluable for anyone who actually wants to improve their writing.

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  6. Top quality review. Your observations are clear, honest and obviously weighted with an impressive understanding of literary form and merit. Needless to say, I love this blog! Keep up the great work!

  7. Ouch.

    I’ve been looking for a review of my story since its revision, and I somehow missed this one until now. I expected criticism over certain aspects, but... damn.

    Looking back on it, my fanfiction should not have received its six-star status. My belief is that some people initially ‘five-starred’ the story without reading it, or because they disregarded the major faults. The six-star tag only gave me undeserved confidence, making me ignore my mistakes. Months later, I thought that if I could revise the last few chapters, they would be better. But after reading this, I realize that I took out some flaws, and replaced them with new ones.

    Still, I have to work with the new conclusion, and end what I began. My writing will be haunted indefinitely if I move on to other things. Plus, there were people who somehow enjoyed my story, even when the ending chapters were much worse (which you may find hard to believe).

    So thank you for the review, Chris. Reading my story and writing about it sounded painful, and I’m truly sorry for causing that pain. When I update this story on Equestria Daily, I’ll make sure the six-star tag is removed.

    1. First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to respond to my review. I know it can be difficult to answer a dissatisfied reader, and I really do appreciate you leaving a comment. Plenty of authors leave responses to my posts, but it's mostly the ones to whom I've given higher ratings.

      For what it's worth, I don't think your story is some sort of hideous pox on the face of fanfiction. Since my reviews are all of 6-starred stories, I try to be harsh in rating them--to separate the merely good from the truly exceptional. So although I did rip into your story, please don't take that as a sign that I think it's completely without merit.

      While I wouldn't say I found your story painful to read, I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it. Obviously many readers did enjoy it however, and I certainly don't want to take anything away from them for liking it, or from you for writing something they enjoyed. I'll be the first to admit that I hold fanfiction to a higher standard than many readers, and while I consider that a virtue in the context of these reviews, it also means that my analysis is less forgiving than most readers'.

      Although my reviews are aimed primarily at readers, rather than authors, I hope that you found my observations useful. I wish you the best with your sequel.