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Just thought I'd share: in a rare concession to modern convenience, I recently bought (okay, was given as a gift) an e-reader. As such, this is the first story I've ever reviewed which I didn't read off a computer screen! I have to say, it is a lot easier on the eyes; I can't look at a backlit screen for more than an hour or so without taking a break, but I had no such troubles this time out. Hopefully, this'll let me read and review a bit faster!
After the break, Dashukta's The Thessalonica Legacy.
Impressions before reading: A BattleTech crossover? I know almost nothing about that system other than that it's (among other things) a tabletop game that involves a lot of semi-humanoid robots (post-reading edit: apparently they're semi-humanoid vehicles) fighting each other. But the description promises that it's "Written with those who are not familiar with the BattleTech universe in mind," so hopefully that won't cause me any problems. Also, this is the first story I've reviewed here that carried the Human tag (though a couple others, like Jack and the Ponies, have technically been Human in Equestria fics as well). I don't have particularly strong feelings about HiE fics, other than a general awareness that a disproportionate number of them are awful, but I'm well aware that many readers loath them on principal.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A small spaceship from the BattleTech universe suffers a misjump while traveling between planets, and the crew find themselves circling an alien world in an impossible location.
Thoughts after reading: Despite assurances to the contrary, I was pretty much lost for the entire first chapter. The story begins by bombarding the reader with a plethora of names, places, and weapons, few of which are easily recognizable. Thankfully, the subsequent story is much easier to follow than the first chapter alone would suggest, but I wouldn't fault any non-BattleTech fan who didn't make it that far.
But one problem that remains from the first chapter to the end of the piece is the interchangeable nature of most of the humans involved. A mechwarrior named Ramirez is the closest this story has to a central character, but even after seventeen chapters and an epilogue I couldn't tell you much about him. Sure, I could tell you about his career or his physical appearance, but as for characterization? I could sum up my total knowledge about him as, "he's not an asshole." Most of the humans in this story are woefully underdeveloped, often given a single trait (if that) with which they can be associated. That's a double whammy in a story like this; not only are they generally uninteresting, but the lack of nuance in the characters renders one of the central plotlines, an attempt to find a saboteur among the crew, almost painful in its obviousness. Although the author attempts several twists and turns, it was clear to me by the middle of the story who the traitor was, and who s/he was working for.
On a more positive note, I think Dashukta did a lot of good things with the idea of first contact between the humans and ponies. Showing the tentative first steps from the perspective of both sides proved a nice touch, and I was pleased to see that considerable attention had been given to the most likely hangups in understanding (language barrier, diet, the existence of magic, etc.). Many of these were either brought up and glossed over, or were quickly resolved with technology and/or magic, but the fact that they were addressed at all made the "alien contact" feel much more realistic to me than many other fanfics have managed.
That feeling of "glossing over" wasn't limited to early interactions between the humans and ponies, however. Most of the story's conflicts, ranging from minor personality clashes to world-altering political struggles,were summarily dealt with and subsequently abandoned as soon as they were brought up. The entire story, save one or two larger arcs, had an abrupt, almost reactionary feel to it. This was exacerbated by occasional bouts of move-along-itis, that insidious disease that causes an author to decide that the story needs to hurry up and reach its next setpiece/major plot development, and results in them dumping a paragraph or three of "then X did blah, Y did blah, Z did blah. Then X did blah..." and so on, so that they can move things along. Moreover, the story asks us to feel invested in a lot of things which were never given a chance to make an impact on the reader. To cite an early example, a comrade of Ramirez's dies in the first chapter. He's immediately forgotten until something like 40,000 words later, when suddenly Ramirez is overcome with grief and a sense of responsibility for the death. After that, neither these feelings, nor the deceased himself, are mentioned again for the rest of the story.
Editing on the piece was decent, especially considering its size. There was a fair amount of missing punctuation, mostly prior to dialogue ("Twilight ignored him 'I noticed something a few days ago,' is a representative example), but nothing that really impeded readability. The last few chapters were a bit sloppier, though again, far from unreadable.
For the most part, I liked the tone the piece struck. Keeping Equestria the same basically peaceful place from the show, and using "normal" humans to highlight the differences between their world and ours, can easily turn into heavy-handed aesoping. This story walked the delicate line pretty well, keeping the goals and ambitions of both the humans and the ponies in perspective, and never "taking sides," as it were. Towards this end, and on a more opinion-y note, I personally didn't like the portrayal of Celestia in her role as ruler of Equestria. However, I thought she filled an important role, and was used fairly well in that regard.
I wasn't impressed by the ending. It wasn't particularly offensive or illogical, but the story just seemed to... stop. I think a lot of this ties into what I noted above about the abruptness of plot development/resolution; there wasn't a good way to tie this story together, because there just wasn't much left at the end. Instead, the narrative concludes with the humans still at loose ends, and the ponies in the middle of figuring out how to deal with the fallout of the humans' arrival.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
A lot of stories have tried to show first contact between humans and ponies in some form; The Thessalonica Legacy has one of the best portrayals of it that I've seen. Unfortunately, there's a lot of problems with pacing and characterization here.
Recommendation: While this will certainly appeal to BattleTech fans more than others, the story does a reasonably good job of making itself accessible (with the crucial caveat that it doesn't really start doing so until after the first chapter). I wouldn't recommend this to anyone looking for strong characterizations or tight plotting, but those seeking a first contact story that's had a lot of thought put into it will probably find plenty to like about The Thessalonica Legacy.
Next time: The Dread Chitin, by Karazor