Friday, March 2, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 42: Carousel

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

I just recently discovered that there's a reality show/contest to find the best tattooist in America.  Every week the tattooists have to put a particular style of tattoo on a volunteer client, and the worst one gets sent home.  Now I'm not the sort to run out and cover my body in indelible ink, so it's true that I just don't understand the appeal in the first place... but where do they get these volunteers?  Who offers to have their body permanently marked up by reality show contestants?  That just sounds like eight different flavors of bad idea to me.

On what I assume to be a completely unrelated note, I present my review of Vanner's Carousel.

Impressions before reading:  This is one I've been meaning to read for a little while, having heard some good things about it not too long ago.  I hadn't gotten around to it, but it looks like now's the time to dive in and see what I think.

This was apparently the author's first piece of fanfiction.  He's written a fair amount since then, including one story (One Last Quest, for those of you wondering) that I really liked despite some editing problems and a few bits of backstory that never got satisfactorily fleshed out.  I may not give out any bonus points to authors who I know are capable of writing something I'll enjoy (if anything, I have to fight the urge to judge them against higher standards because I know what they're capable of), but I admit it's always reassuring to me to see a name which I associate with quality.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Fluttershy becomes curious about where Rarity learned her skills with needle and thread, but the answer turns out to be more personal than she realized.

Thoughts after reading:  Vanner is a reviewer on Ponychan's /fic/ board, and a quick look at his thread reveals that he is one of the people at the forefront of the crusade against what is known in this fandom as LUS: Lavender Unicorn Syndrome.  Simply put, LUS is when you substitute descriptions for names or pronouns; instead of calling Dash by her name or referring to her as "she," you say things like "the rainbow-maned pegasus," or "the  cyan-coated pony," or even "the magenta-eyed mare."

Since avoiding LUS is generally a good thing (though I don't feel nearly as strongly about it as /fic/ seems to), I'll give Vanner due credit for almost always avoiding it in this story (almost).  However, he fell into another trap: overusing character names.  Consider this exchange:

“Hi Miss Fluttershy,” said Sweetie Bell. “Did you need something?”
“I did, Sweetie Belle,” said Fluttershy. “Can I ask you some questions? About your sister?”
“About Rarity?” asked Sweetie Bell, incredulously. “I guess. What’s do you want know?”
“Well, um...” started Fluttershy.

Seeing all those character names wedged together can be very distracting to a reader.  And in cases like this, it can be avoided without even resorting to LUS.  Getting rid of or modifying some of the attributions would go a long way towards smoothing out the example above.  Sadly, this sort of thing was a constant throughout the story.  Otherwise, the writing was very clean and the story well-edited--a few missing or misused commas and one or two incorrect words (his for he, for example), but these were few enough not to distract.

The example above does bring up one other problem I had with the writing style: its heavy emphasis on direct statement.  Too often, the story would begin to read like a grocery list of quotes and character actions. "..." said X.  "..." said Y.  "..." answered X, etc.  Coupled with the names issue, the writing tended to be pretty boring.

The story itself was touching and easy to relate to.  The delicate balance between being oneself and remembering and respecting one's parents is something that everyone struggles with at some point in their lives, and the author lets this struggle take center stage rather than allowing it to be overshadowed by family tragedy.  Although the fic earns its sad tag, the focus here is really on Rarity learning to meld her own ambitions and desires with what her family wants and needs, the sad parts serving to highlight this conundrum rather than distracting from it.

Also, there was one section of the story that was unclear to me.  During the first of several flashbacks which this story contains, Rarity is a young filly who has yet to earn her cutie mark.  All subsequent flashbacks are set several years later, when she's the pony equivalent of a high-schooler.  It was not immediately clear that the later flashbacks weren't set in the same time frame as the first, which caused a little confusion for me until I realized what was going on.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

Despite some significant flaws in the writing itself, the story is touching and never excessively maudlin.  I admit, I got a little misty-eyed towards the end.

Recommendation:  As both a study of Rarity's attitude towards generosity and responsibility, and as a moving story in its own right, this was a success.  Anyone willing to put up with the well-edited but workmanlike telling will find something to treasure here.

Next time:  A Study in Rainbows, by Thanquol


  1. I remember really liking this when I first read it, pretty much how I liked everything when I first started reading fics.

    Opening it now just to examine what you mentioned about the name-dropping, what really stands out to me just at a glance is more the said-bookisms. Oh my goodness there are a lot of them.

    1. Yeah. Even in the example you can see some tendencies of the overuse of proper nouns.

      I really have to agree with that LUS thing, though. I winced a little when one of the official EqD fanfiction guideline things suggested replacing character names and "she" or "he" with stuff like "the sky-blue pegasus".

      Well, I thought in response. If you just wrote your sentences in a way where references to characters didn't become awkward and repetitive, you wouldn't have to go out of your way to make up descriptions for every pronoun in the first place.

      That particular suggestion really came across as fixing the symptom rather than the problem.

    2. My only saving grace on this point is that I hate doing it. The fact is, that at this point I'm just not good enough to consistently avoid LUS, but I'm at least aware of it and leave it as the absolute bottom of the barrel option.

      Beyond that, I just have to be content that I'll get better with practice!

  2. Oh, so it's /fic/ in general crusading against LUS? That's enlightening, as I don't consider it a horrible, horrible thing to be doing, myself. It's just one of those things that, if overused or used poorly, like everything else in writing, weighs a narrative down.

    But I am getting sick of reviewers jumping down my throat every time I do it. :|

    1. Not all reviewers at /fic/ are against it. I, for one, don't mind LUS when used in moderation. It allows for a bit of variety.

    2. Well, it's just a question of, after a (admittedly lengthy) gap between one story and the next, LUS went from "Something I've never heard of" to "Cardinal sin #1". I'll take /fic/ as the driving force behind that, though I'm sure there's more to it.

    3. I'd literally never even heard of LUS before this review, but I had noticed it being used rather poorly in a number of fanfics.

      Off the top of my head, Dangerous Business is a pretty bad offender. I remember someone pointing out that Rainbow Dash was called a "sky-blue pegasus" something like twenty times in a single chapter.

      I can believe it too.

      I had no idea what this thing was (and until now, I had no idea that there was even a name for it) when I read the story for the first time, but I still found it extremely jarring.

      It's something that's fine when the sentence structure calls for it. It really depends on the context.

    4. It's interesting that in Homer's time, this was a respected and deliberate technique ("rosy-fingered dawn"), and today it's considered bad style.

  3. I didn't expect this to turn up here, that's for sure.

    Oddly enough this was my best reviewed story from way back when I first started in this fandom, and my writing was rusty to say the least. It really shows here, but I'm glad that people enjoyed the story nonetheless.

    1. It's always interesting (and at times, infuriating) to see which of an author's works the general public labels "the best."

      Despite the problems which I mentioned though, I think the concept and thematic execution of this story are both very strong. And if the writing is "rusty to say the least," it's still a sight better than most fanfiction. I suppose that's faint praise, but that doesn't make it less true. Thanks for commenting!