Monday, April 16, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 58: Feedback

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

So, how about that Pens-Flyers game on Sunday, huh?  Between all the fights and goals, I think I spent more time watching fist-pumping/fisticuffs than I did watching actual hockey.  Hey, at least it was entertaining though, right?


Okay, I'm guessing there aren't a lot of other hockey fans reading the blog.  I'll stop talking about sports now.

After the break, my review of Kegisak's Feedback.

Impressions before reading:  Not only does the author break the Octavia/Scratch ship, but now Vinyl's a heterosexual too?  No way this would have gotten six stars if it was posted today.  Anyway, this post contains two separate stories, but it looks like both combine to form a single narrative, so I'll review them together.

Although I don't read much shipping, I have high hopes for this story.  The author wrote what is without a doubt the shipping story I've enjoyed the most in this fandom (My Time Among Clothes Hangers, for those of you keeping score at home), so I know he's capable of writing something I'll like, even in a genre I generally feel lukewarm towards.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Ziggy Stardust moves to Ponyville and picks up a part-time job as bouncer at a local nightclub.  There he meets Vinyl Scratch, the resident DJ.

Thoughts after reading:  One of the things I love about Kegisak's writing is his knack for describing perfectly ordinary, everyday events in such a way that they remain interesting.  Take this passage, where Ziggy is deep in thought as he bathes: "Ziggy was jolted back to Equestria as he slipped lower into the tub, stirring up the water and splashing it into his nose. He snorted the water out of his sinuses and sneezed, the violent movement stirring up the water further and forcing him to sit up, lest he drown himself. He gave a coughing laugh and let his forelegs hang out of the tub, staring up at the ceiling again. The thought was gone, and it probably wasn't coming back."  Nothing exciting, just a passing description of what happens when you relax a little too much in the tub, yet the presentation is engaging and fun to read.  Throughout both chapters (they're listed as separate stories, but the second picks up literally hours after the first concludes; to my mind, they're really two parts of a single story), the way the author brings everyday occurrences and minor events to life invariably brought me pleasure.

Unfortunately, I was far more impressed by these countless sub-scenes and descriptions than I was by the overarching story.  "Meandering" is probably the best way to describe it: Ziggy and Vinyl meet, and then... well, and then nothing in particular.  Despite the shipping tag, this story is very light on that front, so there's never much drive to bring the characters together.  Another female pony appears at turns throughout the story, and at various points it appears that there's going to be some sort of love triangle, but that angle never really takes shape (and she abruptly disappears from the story altogether about halfway through chapter two).  The story does a bit with Ziggy acclimating to Ponyville, but once again it provides little impetus from a plot standpoint.  Looking at the work as a whole, there just isn't much direction to it.  The story exists, and it's pleasant enough at any given turn, but it lacks any forward impulse.  To put it another way: I enjoyed reading the story well enough, but I could have quit at any given point without feeling like I was missing anything by not finishing.

The first chapter does relatively little with its characters.  Ziggy, a background character from season one, is given little development.  In an interesting twist, Kegisak's Vinyl is blind, but he does little to flesh her out at first beyond making her sightless.  Thankfully, chapter two quickly expands upon both characters, and by the end of the story I had a much fuller idea of who both of them were.

Oddly, the editing suffered as the characterization improved.  Chapter one contained a multitude of  errors following quotes, where words which should have been lowercase were capitalized, but was pretty well edited otherwise.  Chapter two, on the other hand... well, allow me to quote the very first line: "The sun rose over a new day in ponyville, spreading it’s golden light across the sleepy little town like honey."  There were a large number of technical errors of every stripe in the second chapter which simply didn't exist in the first, which I found surprising; usually, authors get better about editing as they go along, not worse.  In any case, it was a significant distraction in the second chapter, with a distressing number of missed words, homophones, and similar errors clogging up the story.

One thing that nagged at me as I read was the sneaking suspicion that the story simply wasn't "pony" enough.  How "pony" a piece of pony fanfiction should be, or indeed can be and still be called a ponyfic, is a fiercely debated subject, and ultimately comes down mostly to personal preference.  Still, there were a number of issues that I thought were jarring in the context of FiM.  The presence of swearing, albeit mild, always seems to me horribly out of place in Equestria, especially in a casual context.  The presence of alcohol doesn't really bother me, but I know many readers think it has no place in a "serious," aka not silly/random comedy, pony fanfiction.  And then there are the many references to things which probably don't exist in Equestria.  This is one of those "personal interpretation" things: does Equestria have Coca-Cola?  Dropping a brand name really stuck out to me, but maybe it wouldn't to everyone.  What about GPSs?  I can't see it, but the technology level on the show does fluctuate according to what the writers need.  How about poutine?  I suppose if there can be a France in MLP there can also be a Canada, but still.  My point is, I wasn't always convinced that the Equestria Kegisak was writing about was the same as the one from the show.  And when that connection to the source material is lost, it's never a good thing.

But with that said, I don't want to give the impression that ponies are tangential to this story, or that it could as easily have been told with humans in the real world.  I thought one of the most insightful parts of the story was the discussion of Vinyl's cutie mark (on an unrelated note, I'm never writing a fanfic about Ms. Scratch, if only because I'm chronically unable to type her first name correctly), and the realization that, because of her blindness, she'd never personally seen it.  So in the sense of "is this a story about ponies," there's obviously no problem here.  

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

If you asked my opinion about any given scene, I'd probably tell you I enjoyed it.  But taken as a whole, there's just not a lot to this story.  It's unlikely to offend anyone, but the lack of any message or overarching plot also leaves it without a strong hook.  And yes, I admit it: when a pony goes to a bar and orders a rum and coke, it just doesn't feel right to me.

Recommendation:  I can see a wide variety of readers enjoying this as a casual read, but I can't think of any group who would be particularly enamored with it.  The shipping's light and inoffensive, so even those who don't like shipping might consider giving this a go, but those who want complete show accuracy from their fanfics might be better served to look elsewhere.

Next time:  Dinky Doo's Father Revealed, By RoyGBiv


  1. "My point is, I wasn't always convinced that the Equestria Kegisak was writing about was the same as the one from the show. And when that connection to the source material is lost, it's never a good thing."

    This feeling is SO important in a ponyfic. Your wording nailed it on the head.

    Y'know, now that I think about it, I don't think I ever read a single fic about Vinyl. Certain background characters appeal to me and beg to be fleshed out (see: Photo Finish). Others... I'm satisfied to leave them completely in the background. Vinyl's one of this.

    Also, if this is the same fic I'm thinking of coming next time... well, I personally wasn't a fan, due to major logic issues. But, I'll see what you think about it before gabbing about it.

    1. Hmm. I have to admit that I am curious; does this mean that, in your opinion, stories like Fo:E and Ponies Make War (as two random examples from the top of my head) are 'inferior' (if you will forgive to crude wording) because they lose, or quite frankly flat out abandon, that 'feeling'? Or are they, or stories like them, exceptions for other reasons? Again, in your opinion.

    2. It's entirely possible to get that "feeling" Bobcat's talking about while completely diverging from the tone of the show. FO:E, though admittedly flawed in some places, is probably the best example I've seen yet of a fic that shouldn't in any way resemble MLP, yet contains enough skillful worldbuilding to not only make Kkat's version of Equestria believable, but also one of the most interesting parts of the story. Equestria, in my opinion, is not defined by actions, but by attitude; if you go about things with the same overall themes of friendship and magic, and a baseline of the world once being a kind and gentle place before or during the story's events, it's very much possible to create a horribly violent and depraved Equestria that still "feels" like Equestria.

    3. Of course, this is going to be incredibly subjective by its very nature. What triggers that 'feeling' will invariably be very different from person to person, which is definitely the reason, as Chris mentioned, that it is such a hotly debated topic. Does that make anyone wrong then? Does that mean that if the feeling is there for someone, but not someone else, that the fic is inherently bad? I would hope not.

      Ok then, so following on from that, what about if the characters are 'in-character', but yet the 'tone' feels completely different to the show? How do people feel about that? I ask this is a point of discussion; it's always fascinating to hear other people's opinions.

    4. Honestly, back when I was reading ponyfic (I've given up on it), there were so many hours in my pony day, so I didn't read a lot of fics that looked to be wildly diverging. A lot of fics that DIDN'T have wars in Equestria and such couldn't capture the feeling.

      When you're reading about technicolor diminutive horses, consistency of the world is so important.

    5. To your question, Mystic: I have read neither Fo:E or Ponies Make War, so I can't comment on either of them specifically. But I have read plenty of stories that were anything but episodic in tone, yet were able to justify those discrepancies. The Color You Bleed, another story by Kegisak, comes to mind as one example. The story mostly takes place in a nation bordering on Equestria, where slavery is commonplace and casual violence is an accepted part of life. Obviously, this abandons the "feel" of the show almost entirely, but in that story I found there to be ample explanation for the dramatic departures from what we see in the show.

      So no, I don't think such stories which depart from the tone and conventions of a typical MLP episode are inherently inferior. But I do think that such departures need to be justified in-story, or at least that the tone of the show should never be casually abandoned.

    6. I can't stand seeing TV in otherwise-normal Equestria. That just kills a fic for me.

      I think there's a certain degree of "ponyness" that a story has to retain for it to work as ponyfic, but I'm not really sure what that "certain degree" is. I know I've seen some ridiculous cases where an author will write "MLP fanfiction" about OCs in the far future long after the Princess' deaths, and will go on to include rape and swearing and all kinds of things that don't gel with ponies for me... but Fallout: Equestria does all of those things and I enjoyed that and definitely thought it was pony enough – the dark was justified, and it was a story of friendship and optimism in a bleak situation.

      I think the thing is (like Chris said above) just to justify where any darkness or blatantly not-pony stuff is coming from. Fallout: Equestria does that and I love it. Rainbow Factory doesn't do that and I hate it.

      And beyond justification of the darkness, I feel like there's some essential essence of the show's outlook that you need to retain – belief in the magic of friendship? Relentless, sincere optimism that doesn't cross over into sappiness? Something like that. Generally I'll be okay with it if your story doesn't come off as an emo teen's attempt to be edgy and subversive/controversial.

    7. It's sort of like that one supreme court justice's definition of pornography: I know it when I see it.

    8. Can I just take a moment to say oh man Colour You Bleed is amazing. Thank you.

    9. Hmm, I like that notion of retaining themes of the prevalence of hope, friendship and the like, despite the change in setting. Honestly, I ask a lot of this because I have written a fic that is so inspired by Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' that it is flirting with a crossover tag, and anyone who has read that piece will understand just how dark the tone of that book is. So when I set out to plan and then write my fic, I struggled long and hard to incorporate those themes despite the horrendous setting. To me, the exploration and inclusion of those central ideas, even though I was essentially deconstructing pony society to see what would be revealed if I stripped back the 'utopian' nature, was incredibly important. The characters were the lens of old pony society, and it showed how they responded to a world that had changed around them.

      But, despite my attempts, I still wonder if the gross abandonment of the show's setting made it 'not pony'? I am not sure, but I sure as heck like to get other people's opinions on the topic in a broader sense, especially as it hits so close to home.

    10. I would say that there's a difference between "not fitting my definition of the ponyworld" and "bad." So even if, just based on that description, it strikes me as rather non pony, that doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. I've just only ever read, like, three crossover fics for Pony. Ever. Just an example: I loved Battletech in high school. I couldn't bring myself to read that Battlech/pony crossover, because its style struck me as being a sub par Battletech novel.

  2. Gah, next week I'm not going to spend more than the few seconds it takes to eyeball that star rating. It's so bad that it is literally painful to read. :(

    1. Hmm. Sorry you feel that way. If you're willing to tell me what I'm doing wrong, I'd love to hear it. I try to make my reviews both useful and interesting to read in their own right, and if you think I'm failing, then I'd like to know how I can improve.

    2. Oh jeez, I'm sorry! I totally messed. I meant that I find Dinky Doo's Father Revealed to be painfully bad, and I meant next time instead of next week.

    3. Ah, I see what you meant. All right then, I'll stop wondering what I typed that was "painful to read."

      As for my thoughts on Dinky Doo... well, my review goes up in ten hours, and when you take "the few seconds it takes to eyeball that star rating," I guess you'll find out if we're in agreement.

      Sorry I misinterpreted your first post!

  3. I was going to get a little flustered at your appraisal of this fic, until I realized that I read this way, way long ago. I really enjoyed it then, but I also demanded less from my ponyfic beyond "must contain ponies". I still enjoyed the second part when it came out, but that's because there was more to it, editing errors aside. This still holds a warm place in my heart, of course.

    Going back through these reviews, on the stories I've read anyway, is such a blast from the past. It's really amazing to see how far I've come and how far the fandom has come.

  4. It may be idiosyncratic of me, but my acceptance of the "tone" of a story depends almost entirely on the actions/reactions of the characters. I'm willing to accept an Equestrian anachronism as long as the characters treat it as such. I can enjoy stories with war, cursing, and alcohol without any trouble but one of the established ponies acting out-of-character totally wrecks it for me. And, for that matter, so does any background/OC pony acting in a way that is far from the established norm for ponies in the show.

    I find that almost all stories about BG ponies like Vinyl Scratch are just blank slates for the author's self-created Rorschach Test, rather than an exploration of solid characters in a believable and consistent Equestria.

    I keep hoping one of your reviews will convince me otherwise or point me to an exception to the rule but warning me away from yet another example of personal quirks shoe-horned into ponies is a valuable service, too.

  5. Yeah... there's a reason I look back on these less than favorably...

    It's probably fairly easy to tell, but these were the first things I'd ever written for the fandom - the first things I'd ever written at ALL, really. I made a LOT of mistakes with them, most of which you hit pretty spot-on. The meandering plot, the vague characters in the first part, the editing - I'm a notoriously horrid proofreader, I generally have to proofread it, and THEN send it through another proofreader. The mistakes get worse the longer the story, too, which is why they were worse in the second part - I tend to skim through it more and catch less subtle errors.

    Anyways, I'm by no means trying to defend myself here. I actually really appreciate the harshness of the review. Most of the mistakes are things I've since rectified in my writing(Though the 'not pony enough' remains an issue - Clothes Hangers has traces of it, and The Colour You Bleed is pretty much as far removed from Equestria as you can get without being an original novel), but at the very least I can now point people who tell me how great a story it was towards this review as a point of argument. So, thank you very much for the review! Hopefully someday I'll write something a bit better that'll hit six stars. Well, given my choice of subject mater it's unlikely, but hope springs eternal, right?

    1. I'm glad you appreciated my review, although the idea of you using it deflect praise is making my head spin. As you say yourself, many of the issues which I had with this story are things you've improved in your subsequent writings, and if there's one thing that makes me happy, it's seeing an author grow and develop their skills. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    2. I, ah, have rather significant issues with this story. Mostly to do with the fact that It qualifies for your attention, while my OTHER work, which I consider significantly better, does not. That is to say that Feedback remains my most popular story and I don't believe that it deserves this. I'd much rather people read my more recent work... I also have a tendency to avoid accepting praise in most cases, because I'm funny like that.

    3. Don't blame Chris, blame the folks on EQD who loved it. He's just reviewing star-6 fics, and this is sadly your only one. (For what it's worth, I think that The Colour You Bleed is more than deserving of the label.) The readership has changed so much in the last year that star labels are unfortunately all but meaningless anymore, not to mention if you'd posted Feedback now, it would be down in the low to mid 3's due to shipping starbombers. :/

  6. This is actually one of my favorite shipping stories and it's not because of the shipping. It's about how Pokey comes to terms with himself that really makes the story interesting for me. Not a lot of stories deal with personal growth like that.