Wednesday, April 4, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 54: Half the Day is Night

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

Just when I was getting back ahead of the posting schedule, this happens.  First we have this sucker right here, weighing in at about 60,000 words, and right behind it are several more multichapter fics (not the least of which is Dangerous Business, at nearly 150,000 words).  Consider this fair warning: I'm going to do my level best to get through everything in a timely manner, but if I have to choose between skimming a story and writing a mediocre review or postponing, I'm going with option #2.

Hopefully it won't come to that, though.  I'll do my best to fit a little extra ficreading into my life for the next week or two.  And in any case, I'll make sure to post something at all the usual intervals, even if it's just an apology for delaying.

AugieDog's Half the Day is Night, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  Sethisto's quote on the page (remember when he used to do that?) says, "The Author is promising an epic 15 chapter tale! Will he hold true to his word?"  Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.  Fifteen chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue of S1 Luna.  The description and tags promise swashbuckling, adventure, and romance, but don't give me a lot of specifics to go on.  Oh well, I guess the best way to find out is to dive in and give it a read.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Celestia puts Luna in charge of both day and night so that she can take her first true vacation in a thousand years, Luna calls upon Twilight and her friends for assistance.  When the group arrive in Canterlot, they quickly become embroiled in a conspiracy which they must unravel before ponies start getting hurt.

Thoughts after reading:  Figuring out what tone to set with a story is a tricky thing.  Lots of pony fanfics take on grimmer or more mature topics than the show, and while there's nothing wrong with this, a balance needs to be maintained between telling one's story and staying faithful to the characters and the world which that fanfic is based on.

Half the Day is Night struggles at times with that tone.  For most of the story, AugieDog maintains an atmosphere very much in keeping with FiM; lighthearted, brushing aside even potential disasters with calm assurance and the knowledge that nopony was hurt, and focused on forgiveness and life lessons.  As such, I found several scenes that had a darker tone to them somewhat out of place.  The principal one which springs to mind involves a group of three ponies being surrounded and attacked on a dark street; they're threatened in no uncertain terms, and blood is quickly spilled.  There was never a question of excessive gore or the like (this is a perfectly PG fic), but the presentation didn't match the tone set in the rest of the story.

The overarching plot behind the Half the Day is very well conceived.  Many Luna fics assumed that she was welcomed back with open arms (forelegs?) by the citizenry after the Elements of Harmony freed her, while others supposed that she was treated with the same indifference upon her return which presumably caused her to become Nightmare Moon in the first place.  AugieDog instead focuses on the friction and inevitable displacements which the sudden reappearance of another princess might cause, and combines courtly politics with classic mystery writing to great effect.

Of course, there's more going on in a novel-length piece like this than a simple whodunnit.  Dozens of sub-plots fill the story.  Most of these relate to what each of the main six are doing to assist Luna, and who they're interacting with.  For the most part, these shed welcome light on the complex goings-on in the Royal Castle and throughout Canterlot.  A few threads are left hanging (for example, there are hints towards the beginning and end of the story of heightened tensions between the Earth Ponies, Pegasai, and Unicorns, but this is never addressed), but all of the major points are resolved by the final chapter.

One side-plot that didn't work for me, however, was a shipping angle between Rarity and a Canterlot stallion.  The presentation seemed to waver between "they're just infatuated with each other," which I could buy easily enough under the circumstances, and "they really are falling in love," which would be a much harder sell given the time constraints.  Still, as romantic sub-plots go, this one was far from offensive.

The editing throughout the story was excellent.  However, the writing suffered a few flaws.  The biggest problem was the number of run-on sentences, such as, "Twilight set her horn glowing, tried to look around, but the darkened space was so big, she couldn't see anything other than her friends standing in the puddle of light she was casting and craning their necks as well, the cart full of Rarity's luggage sitting half in shadow," or, "The two princesses started forward in perfect step, Twilight moving to follow, so Applejack did, too, kept pace with her friend, heard the shuffle of the others behind them, Pinkie Pie whispering in a voice that seemed to echo from every wall in the building: 'Are we heading for the buffet?'"  Also, as both examples show, the author had a tendency to eschew conjunctions, which in some cases left me uncertain whether actions had occurred simultaneously or sequentially.  I feel I should also note here that the entire story is in Courier font, though I admit I'm not quite sure why I feel it's important to note.  I don't know much about the impact of font choice myself other than what's hard to read or so bizarre it's distracting, and this was neither.  Still, it is unusual.  It didn't bother me, but I would be interested to know why this fic was presented in that format.

For the most part, the characters were excellently written.  AugieDog handles each of the the main six throughout the course of the story, and with a few early exceptions (in the first few chapters, Dash's lines occasionally sound more like something Applejack would say) everypony's personality and voice were well portrayed.  AJ's accent is overdone in the early chapters, but this is scaled down to less silly levels fairly quickly.

I do want to talk a bit about Luna's portrayal specifically though, because I was very impressed by it.  Luna in this story is an intriguing mix of strong-willed and uncertain; she's prone to act without consulting others and expects obedience from her subjects, yet she's fundamentally unsure how to take on the mantle of co-ruler of Equestria, or even how to interact with modern ponies (and modern times, more generally).  I thought she was a fully realized character, and this depiction of her stands out as one of the better ones I've come across.

Finally, there's the epilogue.  I'm of two minds about it: on one hand, it's a very sweet idea (if one doesn't think about it too hard--otherwise, there are some potentially horrifying implications, but given the presentation I think it can be assumed that these aren't intended).  On the other, its ties to the rest of the story are tangential at best.  In essence, it's answering a question that the previous fifteen chapters never asked.  Frankly, I think it would have been better as its own story; that would also have given it room to be fleshed out a bit more, which I think it could use.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

Although it suffers from inconsistent tone and a few incomplete or unsatisfying sub-plots, there's a lot to like here.  An excellent portrayal of Luna (now that I think about it, AugieDog was pretty close to her S2 personality, in spirit if not in TRADITIONAL ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE), not to mention the other ponies, combine with a main arc that's both exciting and intriguing to make for a story that's very readable despite its length.

Recommendation:  Although this is a long story, it's almost never dull or draggy; those who normally skip over larger works based on those grounds might want to give this a look.  And for readers who like to try and guess the villain, this is a well-executed (if hardly devious) mystery.

Next time:  Kindness's Reward, by Avery Strange


  1. Back in the days when 60,000 words was long. Cute. Best of luck in keeping up, Chris. Haha. You might need it! ;)

  2. Have to break this into two parts because Blogger has a character limit:

    I’ve had this in my “to read” list since September, so this was a way for me to finally read something that I held off for a long time. Unfortunately, I can’t say “I wished I read this sooner.”

    Let me start with a stylistic complaint. Underlines, they stick out way too much. Sure emphasis may be the point, but they distract in ways that italics and even bold do not (there’s a good reason why the Chicago Manual of Style says to use italics) and when there are so many of them, particularly in the early chapters, it’s a struggle to read the page you’re on.*

    Now as for the rest of the fanfict, I have to admit it was rather slow-going for me. It takes till about chapter 6 for something to happen and the plot to really start (the mystery) and even then I didn’t feel until the end of chapter of 11 that it had moved an inch forward (that is to say act 1 felt over). So, quite frankly I thought this was a slow moving fanfict. It doesn’t help that are one too many subplots for a fict this short (Dash and the guard, Rarity and Ory, Twilight with her parents, etc.) and it seemed to me that only the first two mentioned got any real development and they were still too undeveloped. I should also point out that if AugieDog/Mike meant for Luna’s development (learning how to work with others, getting acceptance from her subjects (and thus gaining more friends), and reestablishing the night ministry) as the main plot, I have a to say a inadequate job was done to indicate it was at the center of the stage, partly because of Luna, herself.

    While Luna as a personality was good (I could buy her actions and her desire to be independent), I never once felt she grew as a character in a naturally and interesting way. It was also hard for me to see her in the role of protagonist because the main six did most of the work for her (they do something and she basically accepts it like reestablishing the night guard, searching for suspects, being at the center of the action, etc.); I felt she really needed to work harder and carry on more of the workload for her victory (otherwise she’s no better than a Disney princess). And the main six didn’t grow as well, even if they were passable as well (in-character for the most part and enteraining enough to keep me from yawning but not remarkable), which is partly why the subplots fell flat for me. I will admit that Rarity’s was a bit of an exception because it didn’t end completely happily for her, but she didn’t make the sacrifice, Ory did. And that’s part of what growing as character is, one adjusting him or herself (usually at a price) to a different world. But the rest of the OC’s didn’t click with me, “Bad Guy” (just not to spoil it for others), for example, was just there and his/her/its revelation and breakdown while understandable (motive wise), lacked the twists and set-up to surprise me. I admit that the joke references to the show or fandom didn’t work either (although, personally, the Sergeant Sprinkle references was a nice time capsule, if only to indicate a time when Seth wasn’t “the Brony every Brony should know”) but they don’t lose points. I also felt the epilogue was unnecessary, the story had already ended on a very positive note, so it’s not like we needed a pillow at the end. Luckily, the only part that really annoyed me was Celestia’s decision not to inform Luna ahead of time about the “bad guys” complaints to her (I’m sorry but I didn’t buy the excuse she gave, not when lives where at stake as witness the chandelier, this was Dumb-ledore logic at work).

  3. Now for what I did enjoy, there were some nice comedy bits with Pinkie that made me laugh outloud, I felt that the ideas were there, only just not given enough time to work, and I did mention praise for Ory. While he’s not a Kering (the living incarnation of “don’t judge a book by its cover” amusingly enough) when it comes to OC’s, mainly because he lacked that spark that would have made him more distinct as a character, he did have to make a choice between love of nation and Rarity, and I thought the music side of him was a nice touch (he also seemed to play against type, although what kind of type he was, I’m not exactly sure). And while I didn’t think the subplots and main plot were properly done, everything did come full circle and I don't think anything was left loose hanging.

    Really, I think this work could have been improved if Luna took a more active role, if the story had more energy so that it didn’t feel so slow, if most of the subplots were removed and maybe the work was shrunk down to size or if the narrative’s length was expanded so more time could devoted to the plot and growth in the characters and the personalities of the OC’s (this is coming from a guy that values brevity in fiction a lot).

    Sorry Mike, I didn’t think this was bad but I was let down in the end.

    *Side note: I should point out that read this in the larger pdf file that Veers made, so I didn’t see the courier style writing as Chris and I think that the adjustments in font type in the pdf made the underlines stick out more but I think my original point still stands. Plus Courier would have been worse for me, because it creates way too much white space for my taste because the font is really paper-thin. But that's a stylistic compliant and a small one at that.

  4. I had a quick look over at the comments I put on PFV, and they still hold true, so I'll just copy them here (with some grammar edits):

    "While I felt Pinkie's dialogue was frequently uncharacteristic, the wider sense of how Pinkie actually works well very well done, and thoroughly satisfying. Especially the 'uncles' explanation...perfect way to present Pinkie as making far more sense than most people give her credit for.

    I couldn't really work out why the Rarity romance plot was there at all, since it really had nothing to do with the overall story. However, for what it was, it was far more delicately and sensibly handled than almost any dedicated shipping fic I've read, so it still added to the whole for me, if only marginally.

    It did bring up one of my recently discovered new pet peeves (in fairness, I have a LOT of those). I really don't like sentences cutting off in narrative, and that happened quite a few times. I'm sure many readers won't care, but it definitely stood out to me.

    Otherwise, very well edited, sufficiently in-character to never raise and eyebrow, and I really liked this rendition of Luna. I could say that I found the realisations of personal discovery a bit 'twee', but to be honest, it's perfectly in keeping with the show. Therefore it's just personal opinion and I won't mark down for that.

    The epilogue kinda ruined it for me though. Finishing a story on such a hollow 'get-out-of-jail-free' note really left a bad taste in my mouth. I was looking forward to a really good answer to Luna's question, but then the answer actually diminished the strength of Celestia's character, in my opinion. It's a very valid, real-world problem we all face, so the 'we're magic, we get to cheat' instead of a hard-won lesson felt like a massive cop-out."

    Much love to all,

    Scott 'Inquisitor' Mence


    Actually, between that little aside and part of Bugs' post above, I have to wonder, and present this as a discussion point: how important is formatting? And I'm not talking indents vs. extra whitespace (although that plays into this somewhat), nor the sloppily overformatted fics -- which I'm sure are out there -- whose overuse of bold, italics, centering and whatnot render them honestly unreadable.

    I mean little things, like "they used bold and I hate bold" or "I can't stand single quotes even though that's British". How often do we allow ourselves to discount stories based on small but entirely consistent stylistic deviations from what we're used to? That second point is entirely salient: many of us are encountering other forms of English for the very first time. Just yesterday I heard someone griping about not putting periods after titles like "Dr." or "Mrs.". "But that's British," I told him. "Yeah," he replied, "but I'm having a hard time getting used to it."

    Do we really have a right to say, "This doesn't live up to my stringent standards, therefore I will not read it"? Are we spoiled? I know on more than one occasion I've found a story written in a ridiculous font, whereupon I ctrl-A'd and copypasted the whole thing into notepad so I could read it properly. With tools like that at our disposal, it should never be the case that we cannot format a story to our liking, yet time and again, I hear this come up.

    Well, I dunno, discuss?

    1. I'd say that it shouldn't be the only reason to skip a fic, but it does strike me as a valid straw that broke the camel's back. If a fic is already looking shaky, and you're having to deal with a format that you find annoying or hard to read, then that's a good reason to give up on it.

    2. I'm more talking before you even try to read it. Certainly if it's not hitting you, formatting might be that straw.

    3. It's interesting, because I often use font or formatting as a deliberate stylistic feature. It can add complexity or help keep the style sparse. Whether or not that has any tangible effect on the reader... I'm not sure. But in my mind it does.

      Of course, the goal there is to reach a balance and ensure that it is still readable and that it won't send people insane.

    4. The only story I've ever left in its original formatting before reading is "White Box". I always read stuff on my own terms.

      So, when I start reading a story, it's a case of either copying all the Google Docs to a single Word Doc, or of doing the same with FIMfiction's handy HTML download option. Then I put the text into size 10 Arial and find-replace double spaces. I remove tab indentation and add vertical space between paragraphs as necessary, and run a few more find-replaces like "hooves" for "hoofs".

      For a story like this, I'd use Word's find-replace formatting feature to replace icky underlines with beautiful italics.

    5. That, sir, is above and beyond the call of duty. Seriously, that sounds like an awful lot of work just to read something. D:

    6. While formatting itself may not stop from reading a story, it can make me back burn it. It's part of the reason this story might have been on my list since September (it was part of a larger group that I had selected way back then). Now which do you read first when all their descriptions sound equally enticing: the story with the easy-to-read font or the tale with hard-on-the-eyes styled one? I think the answer is obvious.

      Plus, downloading 'x' number of chapters just to change the font is quite a bit of work for something that's rather minor (I'm on a tight schedule as it is).

      There's another reason why not to mess with the font in a fanfict; sometimes the writer uses more than one for a certain purpose like to show the difference between something that is described and something that is written (I know I used wingdings once as a way of mocking the "Black Speech" for that reason).

    7. I kind of really hate it when authors change fonts mid-story. But theoretically, if one is embracing the digital medium for storytelling, such things should be embraced, it's just a question of making it serve the narrative. Certainly, using wingdings in the manner you said is totally legit.

  6. Fair and honest critiques:

    That's the reason I keep visiting here!

    As for me and Half the Day is Night, it continues to be one of the finest "free writing" experiences I've ever had, going from knowing nothing about the show at the end of January 2011, to finishing a 60,000 word pony novel at a rate of a chapter every 10 days five-and-a-half months later. I'm just amazed that enough of it holds together for folks to find it an interesting read.

    Oh, and about Courier. It's just that I'm an old, old man. I mean, I wrote the first draft of my OC novel on a manual typewriter, each page a patchwork of Liquid Paper and overtyped corrections! And typewriters all use Courier. So at this point, it's the only font--does anyone even use the word "typeface" anymore?--that looks right to me when I'm working.

    Creature of habit? That's me!

    Thanks again, Chris, for this whole project of yours.


    1. Given that I can't decide what font I actually like enough to use...and that GoogleDocs has such a poor choice, I'm thinking you may have the better part of the deal by sticking to Courier...

    2. Given that I stubbornly insist on double-spacing my sentences even though it drives a certain subset of readers batty, I'm in no position to criticize anyone for sticking to their fontological (which isn't a word, but should be) comfort zones. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and of course, thank you for writing this story in the first place.