Monday, March 26, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 50: Out in the Cold

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

Jesus Christ, fifty reviews?  When I started this back in October, I had no idea I'd still be at it nearly six months later.  I also had no idea that there were a significant number of folks who'd be interested in following my journey through the fandom's highest-rated stories.  I don't know how many regular visitors I actually have, but the site averages more than 2000 page views per week now.  Not exactly Equestria Daily numbers, but pretty darn good for a pony fanfiction review site, IMO.

So thank you, dear readers.  Thanks for inflating my ego with your praise and attention, thanks for keeping that ego in check and helping me improve with your criticism and corrections (and for presenting both so politely and, dare I say, professionally), and thanks for directing your friends and fellow readers to this site.  You guys are awesome.

Now, on to a hundred!  Below the break, my half-centennial review of EsperDerek's Out in the Cold.

Impressions before reading:  I should start out by explaining why I'm reviewing this at all, since it's not technically a 6-star story.  See, it's the prequel to Moonlight Over Midnight, which was going to be my next review, and it wouldn't make much sense to review the one without the other now, would it?  Besides, I have it on good authority that Cold did indeed meet the criteria for a 6-star story (50+ ratings with a 4.9+ average) at one point, though it was never "officially" given the tag.  Eh, good enough for me.  I'm calling Cold an honorary 6-star story, and will be reviewing it as such.  Hopefully I haven't just set a precedent for myself which I'll come to regret.

As for the story itself, I've read it before, but I haven't read parts two or three, nor the "bonus chapter."  I recall the first chapter having some pretty significant flaws, both in execution and premise--hopefully my impression after a second read-through will be kinder.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Unable to bear the alternative, Trixie returns to Ponyville to collect some very personal items which she left behind after the Ursa incident.  There, she realizes how damaged she really is, and begins to rebuild her life.

Also, it's a shipping story, so you can probably guess what "rebuilding" entails.

Thoughts after reading:  When I first read chapter one, I came away with the impression that little to no editing was involved.  After reading it again, I remain convinced that this was the case.  Run-on sentences ramble on to their non-destinations, it's and its are interchanged freely, and competing plot elements are poorly juggled, switching from "shipping" to "tragedy" to "angst" as if these emotions could be called and dismissed at the press of a button.  I'm certain that this chapter's been worked on since I last read it, since I recall there being some spelling errors and a tendency to say paw for hoof, but the writing on this piece is still uninspiring.  The subsequent chapters are progressively cleaner, but none are particularly well-edited or stirringly written.

The storyline became progressively stronger with each chapter.  The first, dealing with Twilight and Trixie meeting and falling in love, is painful at times to read.  While I recognize that "Twixie" triggers a Pavlovian response from significant sectors of this fandom, such that they are unable to help but love any work shipping the two unicorns together, readers who are not so easily swayed by the presence of a preferred pairing will rightly roll their eyes at the speed and ferocity with which the two fall for one another (apparently, they were both in love ever since they met in Boast Busters, though I hope I can be forgiven for not noticing this when I watched the episode).  As I touched on earlier, broadsides of emotion are blasted haphazardly at the reader without regard for the pacing or structure of the story; the scene based on the story's cover art was the most prominent example, but the connections between the shipping, Trixie's backstory, and her emotional growth often feel like they were nonexistent, because any given chunk of writing tended to focus on one of these elements to the exclusion of the others.  Since all are supposed to share a climax, this is a major structural problem.

By comparison, the second chapter more deftly combines its two major themes (reconciling Trixie with Twilight's friends, and showing Trixie's personal growth).  And the third chapter goes in a wholly unexpected direction, exploring Celestia's relationship with her favorite pupil.  While I didn't really buy into the background EsperDerek assigned to Celestia, I thought it was a bold move to bring her into the story, as both a princess and a mother figure to Twilight, and to my mind her actions were some of the most intriguing of the entire story.

As for the "bonus chapter..." let's just say it was definitely not my cup of tea.  While it wasn't dirty, exactly, I do not recommend it to anyone who doesn't like their ponies on the "adult" side.

I mentioned that the shipping in the first chapter was abrupt and jarring.  Interestingly, the subsequent two chapters deal with Twilight and Trixie's relationship fairly well, painting a reasonably convincing picture of how a fundamentally insecure but lovestruck mare and a social neophyte might interact with their friends and each other.  I only wish that the first chapter had been as convincing in setting them up.

Characterization was broad and unsubtle, but pretty decent for that.  If we're to grant the usual "shipping exemption," then all of the characters were recognizable and acted predictably.  Luna was given a brief appearance, and had a significantly more meddling and bubbly personality than most S1 incarnations of the goddess of the night.  Personally, I liked this interpretation of her quite a bit, though she was given only a small role (not including the bonus chapter, but let's not talk about that).  And although I didn't think Celestia's backstory seemed all that believable, I really liked the idea that she might not approve of Twilight's love life, and thought that this idea was executed well on a conceptual level.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

The first chapter just isn't very good, at least not by the standards to which I hold 6-star stories.  But the subsequent two show significant growth by the author.  From the first to the third story, the plot line goes from cliche and predictable to original and thoughtful, the writing goes from mediocre to merely unexceptional, and the romance goes from painful to believable (if over-dramatic, but this is Trixie we're talking about).

Recommendation:  This story has a few really nice elements, coupled with some pretty uninspiring ones.  Fans of Trixie/Twilight shipping will no doubt enjoy this, but I wouldn't suggest this to a more general reader.  It has its moments, but the poor editing, lackluster writing, and weak opening chapter make it difficult to recommend.

Next time:  Shades of Midnight, by Phoe

Actually, let's not do that.  Then this entire week would be nothing but reviews of Out in the Cold and its sequels.  Let's move on to the next 6-star fic and come back to this set of stories in a couple of posts.

Next time:  Luna's Goodwill Tour, by WTFHIW

Oops, that one's not quite dead yet.  Although it's been forever since there's been an update, I'll take the author at his word and hold off on reviewing for now.

Next time (for real):  Two Ponies, by Twilight Snarkle


  1. Hmm I might actually check this one out now that I know it gets more interesting after the first chapter. The whole suddenly in love thing just really threw me off the whole story the first time I read it.

  2. *apparently, they were both in love ever since they met in Show Stoppers, though I hope I can be forgiven for not noticing this when I watched the episode*

    Boast Busters, not Show Stoppers.

    Ignoring that error, I haven't read this and I'm not sure I want to after reading this review and for other reasons.

    I'll try to keep it brief as possible, but frankly, I probably have a lower tolerance for shipping than Chris does. Mainly because I feel that writers often just break the personalties of character A and character B in order to match them together, which raises the question of why don't they just make up their own characters instead. There's also the common lack of set-up between the pairing, the melodrama, and the little backing from the show its self (there's a huge gap between the platonic and the romantic, in my book).

    Plus, Twilight/Trixie pairing is one of the few shippings (for this fandom) I really can not tolerate in any work of fiction. This is do to reading numerous bad fanficts and comics of these two together, in addition to its absurdness. Plus, I find a lot of Trixie fanon to be... eye-rolling to put it nicely.

    This is all just the cross-section of one person's mind, not a law that everyone has to follow.

    1. I think what really gets me about all of the Trixie fanon is this:

      They always treat the Trixie incident like it was one of the highlights of Twilight's life. Now, as of Episode 6, I can see what they're talking about. However, as of episode 50... Trixie's nothing special in the larger context of the show. Now that we've had Flim and Flam, we've had better villains of the same stripe.

    2. Er, yes. Boast Busters.

      Fixed, and thanks for pointing that out.

    3. Of course, Flim and Flam will never be as popular as Trixe because they're from season 2 and adult males (and thus less shippable). I suspect though she would be less popular than even them (instead of being in the top five most overrated character in the fandom) if she did something bad to Fluttershy (you know it's true).

      But your other point I think is correct, Bob. I mean, I remember liking Boast Busters a little more than the episodes before it, when I first tried the show out, but it was never a favorite either.

      Chris: Glad to be of service.

    4. I think there was exactly one Trixie fic I ever really enjoyed. I forget the name, but it featured her having adventures in Appleoosa, helping defend the town against bandits. It was because it was show Trixie, not fanon Trixie.

      I always thought it would be hilarious if Trixie showed up again, out to get vengeance against her One True Rival... and nobody remembered her. At least, not at first. They'd probably remember the Ursa Minor before her personally.

  3. Start was cringe-worthy, end was...diabolical.

    If there was anything redeeming in the middle, it likely got drowned out by ire. Maybe that's just what worst-case shipping does to me, but I suspect it's likely that the lack of context - that is to say very little, is any, examination of the basis of the relationship - leaves me unconvinced by anything that comes after it.

    What I CAN say that was positive about it, was that when I finished it, I thought to myself, "That story would have been okay without the shipping." Which I figured was pretty damning for an unrepentant ship-fic, but I guess there is a positive to that too. therefore I accept that my opinion of this story is a knee-jerk reaction to the shipping.

    I still hates it though... *hissssss*

    Go figure.


  4. So, wait, what are you doing next? I thought you said Moonlight Over Midnight, and then you crossed out a bunch of things and I'm very confused. ;_;

    1. I figure he's doing 'Two Ponies' next, then going back and doing the whole 'Out in the Cold' series in between other reviews.

      1. Out in the Cold
      2. Shades of Midnight
      3. Dreams of Midnight
      4. Moonlight over Midnight

      There's also Cried on the Autumn Wind, too, but I have no idea where that fits.

  5. Two Ponies by Twilight Snarkle? I've never read it myself, but I say, the concept sounds riveting.

    1. *sniff*

      Do I smell...SARCASM???


      Oh...right...that would be me.

  6. Good review but... Luna's Goowill Tour isn't dead?!?

    (deep breath) YAHOO!!!

  7. Huh. I thought this fic was beloved by all. I thought I was the only one who couldn't get past the weirdness of the setup... to say nothing of the origins of Midnight.

    1. You aren't the only one.

      This is basically female MPREG.

    2. So... pregnancy, in other words? (Sorry, it's just the way you phrased it.)

    3. MPREG is when a man becomes magically pregnant. The impregnator ranges from another man to magic. Basically just so that a gay couple can have babies and the drama that comes with them. Maybe. I avoid them when I can.

      Female MPREG would be the same thing except with, well, females. It's only slightly less weird because females already have uterus and all that, but still smacks of fanboy fantasy, in this setting.

    4. What Anon said.

      The gender-swapped version of MPREG does make slightly more sense*, but most of the time (and no mater what sex) it just feels like wish-fulfillment. It's not that using it in a story is necessarily bad, but it's often handled very poorly.

      I have this theory that Sturgeon's Law applies to MPREG twice. Once for being fanfic (if it's a fanfic) and then another time for being MPREG. That said, despite the strange premise, I think the rest of the stories in this series are actually much better than I expected them to be.

      They step out of the shadow of the shipping, and are about growing up and coming to terms with who you are.

      * Do not read this if you're easily grossed out - but technically it *could* be possible for a male to have at least an ectopic pregnancy, if the embryo is surgically implanted, and the male is flushed with pregnancy hormones. Still, there is no built-in exit strategy, and the abdominal cavity wasn't designed for carrying a baby, so most likely the poor guy would die and die horribly at that.

      It wouldn't be so much the power of love overcoming biology, but more of a, "Let's do this awful and incredibly dangerous thing for the sake of science."

      ... Which actually, I heartily approve of! :D

  8. Another piece of my heart, riven!

    Like so many of the ones you've reviewed, this one's packed away with other fond memories where the haze of nostalgia is probably covering up the flaws you mention. That, or I'm just not a very good critical reader.

    This one set the stage for me for Trixie becoming a more palatable character--before, I'd seen her around in the fandom a lot and kept thinking, "Really? Why?" Then I started going through a recommended reading list and got to this one.

    I do remember thinking that the romance was just a tiny bit contrived, but I was a pretty forgiving sort back then and let it slide.

    1. One Man's Pony Ramblings, AKA: Everything Drakmire Likes is Terrible.

    2. True. There was this one story I read called "The Purloined Pony" that I quite enjoyed, but I'm sure that you'll rip that one to shreds too.

      Also: "We'll although it's been forever" I think that apostrophe is lost and would like to go home.

  9. "...little to no editing was involved... I remain convince that this was the case"

    That had to be the best possible place for you to forget a letter. At first I thought it was intentional. The only other typo I noticed was an unnecessary apostrophe after you decided not to do Luna's Goodwill Tour

  10. Oy vey! Now you guys know why I try to write reviews a couple days ahead: I need the extra time to get rid of the silly mistakes. I've made the corrections--thanks Drak and anon!