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When I was at the market recently, I came upon a chicken-based processed lunch meat being marketed as "halal Spam." Well, with a pitch line like that, I had to try a can.
Sadly, it was pretty marginal. I guess there's just no substitute for mechanically separated pork shoulder. Oh well, live and learn.
George Pollock Jr.'s Tales, after the break.
Impressions before reading: I found this story very engaging when I first read it. Hopefully my first impressions will hold up, but in previous reviews we've seen that that isn't always the case. Those dangerous words, "alternate universe," appear prominently in the description, after all.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Now in her waning years, Twilight Sparkle looks back on the ponies she knew, and the way they shaped both her and Equestria at large.
Thoughts after reading: Well, let's start by talking about that AU thing. This story was written over the course of several months, starting in February '11, and wasn't submitted to EqD until it was complete. By then, season one was over and large swaths of the story (Spike's backstory in particular, and a number of smaller matters) had been refuted by the later episodes. While I understand how this can be off-putting to some readers, I have never had any problem with stories that were valid when written, but have been disproved since. After all, and if taken to its illogical extreme, holding such a standard would mean I'd have to downgrade every season 1 fanfic that called Derpy "Ditzy Doo," or which didn't have Luna speaking in the third person.
Tales is written as a series of short vignettes, most under a thousand words, chronicling Twilight's recollections of her friends. Each chapter jumps freely backwards and forwards in time, pulling out highlights from her life as they occur to her (although there isn't really a framing device, it's obvious that she's telling the story to someone--to the reader, to one of her grandfoals, whatever). Handled poorly, this kind of chronological freewheeling can make it difficult to parse order of events and can really weaken a narrative. Here, the author has shown the potential of such a writing style.
I think a great deal of this success can be attributed to the masterful structuring of Twilight's remembrances. When she's recalling happy times, the narration dithers over irrelevant asides and tends to repeat itself. In another story that kind of repetition might be a flaw, but here it nicely mimics the "yes grandma you told us that twice already"-ness which is the hallmark of these kind of reminisces. When more personal and tragic memories surface, the tale becomes crisper and more succinct. Having spent most of my life in the American Midwest, where stoicism in the face of tragedy is considered a virtue, the almost clinical way in which Twilight speaks about the anguish of losing a loved one resonates strongly with me. George Pollock Jr. really captured the understated pain and suffering of such a loss in several places, and I admit to tearing up myself more than once as I read.
The Equestria which the author writes about appears somewhat darker than the one in the show, but never is this taken to unbelievable extremes (again, taking into account the time frame during which this was written). Also, those "personal and tragic memories" I alluded to above do involve ponies dying--and in one case, that death is described in a manner that I found disturbing. Not gory or excessively graphic, you understand (I have little taste for gore myself, and I know many readers feel likewise), but the clinical, almost emotionless description of how that pony died left such a vivid image in my mind that I couldn't shake it. I'll credit the author for very effective writing there, though I won't deny that a large part of my reaction is probably because the tone of the narration matched so well my own when I talk about a family tragedy. As I said before, the author has done well to capture the reaction to past sorrow so powerfully. I know it left me shaken to read it.
Large swaths of the story are never fully explained (like what was up with that damn cloak...). Often, this is because Twilight's perspective is the only one available, and she didn't know all the details herself. While this is obviously a necessary restriction of the format chosen for this story, it left me incredibly frustrated at times. There was just so much more I wanted to know! Yet these unknown elements serve their purpose well; by giving the reader tantalizing hints that Equestria may be a bigger place than this story has room to tell, they expand the scope of the world they inhabit and make its residents more believable for it.
Star rating: ★★★★★ (what does this mean?)
The writing and structure of this story are homey and welcoming, at once relaxed in manner and eager to share. Some of the plot details may be dated in many ways, but I refuse to fault it for that. For anyone like myself, anyone who's sat wide-eyed at the kitchen table, listening to their grandmother telling stories of friends long departed and events long past, I have no doubt that this story will resonate strongly.
Admittedly, I had a very Norman Rockwell-esque childhood. But that doesn't change anything I've said about Tales.
Recommendation: Everyone should read this story. The only objections I can imagine stem from inconsistencies between this fic and episodes/word of Faust that came after it was written. For all readers who can overlook that, this is a stunningly engaging read.
Next time: Trouble Comes in Threes, by Slowpoke