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And we're back on schedule. For now, at least. I suspect most of you don't much care if I get a little lax with my updates, but I know myself too well to be complacent--if I don't have a deadline, even just a self-imposed one, then I don't get anything done. The M-W-F posting schedule isn't just for reader convenience (though that's a factor); it's because if posts were made "whenever I feel like it" then this blog would die within a couple of weeks.
My review of Avery Strange's Thunder and Lightning, after the break.
Impressions before reading: A shipping story where Scratch pairs up with someone other than Octavia? If this were written today, it'd doubtless get star-bombed to hell and back by both the folks that one-star all shipping stories and the people who one-star any stories that break their preferred ships. Luckily for Avery, I don't really care who Scratch ends up with, as long as the story is well-written and enjoyable.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Rainbow Dash's friends set out to discover why she spends so much of the day napping, they discover that she has a second life she's never told them about.
Thoughts after reading: Although I like to say that quality trumps genre, that's only true to a certain point. If a person has absolutely no interest whatsoever in reading about ponies falling in love, being murdered, or having sex, then they won't enjoy shipping, grimdark, or clopfics respectively, no matter how well written. So let me start out by saying that anyone who in principle objects to a story where Rainbow Dash and Vinyl Scratch are lesbians should probably give this one a pass.
That said, this story does enough to appeal not only to dedicated shippers, but to the majority of readers who, like me, have nothing against such fics in principle but for whom they aren't a preferred genre. Thunder and Lightning is mostly about Dash coming out to her friends, and exploring the relationships she has with the ponies closest to her. And in large part, it works.
Like many stories involving lesbian ponies, this one implies that Equestria's attitude towards homosexuality is similar to modern America's: depending on where you live attitudes will vary, but there are definitely people/ponies who don't approve of such lifestyle "choices." But unlike far too many such fics, this one doesn't gloss over Dash's concerns or write them off with a simple "We're your friends and everything's still wonderful now that you're out of the closet!" Instead, it treats her fears seriously and, dare I say, realistically, even as it shows them to be overblown.
Speaking of realism, I was impressed by the way that Scratch and Dash interacted throughout the story. The whole experienced mentor thing is common to many first-time gay relationships in the real world, and was portrayed well here. That said, characterization wasn't always perfect: Dash in particular became overly loquacious and (verbally) introspective at times, and Pinkie's more serious moments were pretty hit-or-miss.
When I reviewed Spark, by the same author, I observed that editing was a significant problem throughout the story. Those problems are mostly absent from this piece, which may be attributable to Avery Strange having an editor for it. In any case, there are only a few minor punctuation mistakes, and nothing that really detracts from the reading experience. The language throughout is clear and unobtrusive.
While I said above that this story isn't just for fans of shipping, there are times when it begins to fall into the conventions of the genre. Twilight's subplot is poorly explored, and seems to have been included mostly to get a couple of laughs. Which is a shame, because had it been given a fuller treatment it could have provided an excellent counterpoint to Dash's growing confidence in her own identity. Instead, it feels tacked on and frankly, kind of tacky. And the way Applejack's reaction to Dash's coming out is handled seems overdone for the sake of providing a little drama (as Applejack herself points out, "We country pony's don' have the best reputation [for tolerance], now do we?" Is it any surprise Dash was afraid to admit her sexuality to her?).
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although the characters aren't always spot on, due to a combination of good-but-not-great dialogue and a bit too much reliance on shipping convention, the story itself is well-plotted and believable, and the overall execution is more than adequate.
Recommendation: As I said above, if the idea of Rainbow Dash being a lesbian is a nonstarter for you, then you'd best look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, lesbian Dash is totally your thing, then by all means check this out; you won't be disappointed, I'm sure (unless you're disappointed that she didn't hook up with some other pony, but that's your problem). But for anyone else, even those who don't normally like same-sex shipping, there's enough here to at least merit a look.
Next time: Celestia's Teeth, by Abalidoth