Monday, May 7, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 64: The Dread Chitin

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

Over the weekend, this site passed 50,000 pageviews.  That's about 49,900 more than I honestly expected when I first started up.  Moreover, 50,000 has been sort of an unspoken goal of mine for a couple of months now; in addition to being a nice, round figure, it's the minimum number of words to a novel!  I don't know why that makes it a more relevant number to me, but it does.  Anyway, thank you all for helping me achieve one of my aspirations for the blog, no matter how arbitrary!

Below the break, my review of Karazor's The Dread Chitin.

Impressions before reading:  Two BattleTech crossovers in a row, eh?  Okay then.  Going by the description, this looks like it's going to be more or less the opposite of The Thessalonica Legacy in terms of setup; rather than humans traveling to Equestria, it's ponies going to a "desert world" and trying to find their way home.  Not much else to go on going in.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Twilight screws up a spell, she and Rainbow Dash are transported to a twisted hellscape.  There, they must try to survive and figure out how to return to Equestria with the aid of a strange bipedal alien, a victim of a similar mishap.

Thoughts after reading:  I suspect I lost a few readers at "Twilight screws up a spell."  Twilight messing up a spell is one of the most used (and most abused) plot devices in the fandom, right up there with Dash losing her ability to fly or Lyra having a human obsession--both of which are also present in this story, though the former is not explicitly permanent and the latter is basically a fanservice aside.  Anyway, I didn't think the author used Twilight's miscast in an unusually stupid or suspension-of-disbelief-shattering way, but the entire introductory setup was, for lack of a better word, cliche.

Since I had no warning going in, I think it only fair that potential readers should know that this is unquestionably a grimdark fic.  No, it's not Cupcakes, but blood, mutilation, and stomach-turning injuries repeatedly show up throughout the story.  That's not to say that these are particularly gratuitous; Karazor's story is about ponies reacting to a world that could have come straight out of any of your more terrifying sci-fi movies.  But there was no indication in the tags or story description that The Dread Chitin was going to be nearly as violent as it was, which to me seems a major oversight.

Throughout the piece, the narration is excellent.  Vivid and detailed descriptions make it easy to visualize the world in which the ponies find themselves, and the author has a knack for describing the monsters which inhabit the land in vague enough terms to let the imagination run wild while still maintaining clarity.  On top of this, word choice was consistently good, and the editing on the piece was unimpeachable.  While I'm not a fan of's formatting, this story was basically as good as it could be on the visual front.

Since Dash is the focal character for most of the story, it's worth talking about her portrayal.  In general, I thought the author did a good job of expanding on both the loyalty and the tendency to violence which we see from her in the show.  The conversations she and Twilight have about killing shed welcome light on both characters, and although initially they seem perfunctory, this in turn ends up offering insight into the differences between human and pony thinking.  However, some of the sexuality-based humor seemed out of place in the story Karazor was trying to tell.  A running gag about why everyone back home thinks Dash is a lesbian just feels out of place in an otherwise serious setting.  Other attempts to lighten up the proceedings, such as a prank war between Dash and the human they meet, are less jarring, but most of the sexual humor and awkwardness fell flat.

My other complaint about Dash was her internal dialogue.  Throughout the story she occasionally talks to herself.  When she does, it almost always comes across as a lazy way to fill in the reader.  For example, look at one of her longer monologues from early in the story: "Okay, so we're obviously not in Equestria anymore. [The human] said he'd been here for years without having anyone to talk to, so he hasn't seen anypony. I should ask him, just to make sure. I should probably ask what a 'starship' is, too. Sounds pretty dangerous, whatever it is; I should have asked earlier, but I was too upset about not being able to fly. Which sucks, yeah, but I'll live, as long as Twilight can get us home. I'm sure she'll be able to; she's not Celestia's star pupil for nothing."  By way of comparison, Dash's dialogue (and that of the other characters) is usually unobjectionable, but these mental asides were often painful to read.

At the end of the last chapter, the author suggests to the reader in a note that they need not continue on to the epilogue if they don't want to ("This is pretty much the end of the story.  You can end it here if you want,").  After reading the epilogue, I wished I'd taken that suggestion.  Essentially, the epilogue reads like a plot summary for a sequel that was never written, a seemingly endless series of Cliff's Notes for a grand tale that, if it were to be written at all, deserved its own story.  Furthermore, the ultimate fate of the human felt arbitrary and contrived (though I understand the original epilogue was even worse in that regard), lacking as it did any hint of foreshadowing in the story proper.

Oh, one last thing: this isn't a BattleTech crossover, so far as I can tell.  At least, it doesn't have any Mechs or Mechwarriors or anything, the human doesn't appear to be from the Battletech universe, and the planet isn't one from that setting, either.  Looking over the comments, it appears there are a few very minor references to the setting, but there's no significant crossover aspect to the story proper.  For readers coming in looking for something with the flavor of BattleTech, this will probably be a disappointment.  For those (like myself) who come in without expectations for the non-pony portion of the crossover, the labeling is a little confusing, but the story itself is perfectly comprehensible.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

The author creates some wonderful imagery, and uses the extreme setting to expand Dash's character in a (mostly) interesting, believable way.  But between the unoriginal plot (which contrasts with the highly original setting), the questionable internal dialogue, and the entire epilogue, there's a lot of lazy storytelling in this fic.

Recommendation:  Readers interested in some light grimdark will probably find that Karazor has a real knack for driving home the extremity of his characters' plight, and that his monster descriptions find that delicate balance between overly detailed and frustratingly vague.  Setting enthusiasts will likewise enjoy reading about the world the author's created.  But the story itself simply doesn't stand up as well as the setting and narration.

Next time:  A Day for Spike and Twilight, by Jetfire


  1. Once I wrapped my head around the universe crossover, and came to terms with it not being a BattleTech crossover as advertised (there's a reference to NAIS and the technology is lifted from BattleTech, including a never-identified-by-name Hauberk battlesuit), I started to enjoy it much more.
    I really enjoyed Dash's character, and I didn't have a problem with the lesbian gag--I saw it as good-natured lampshading of the fandom's expectations; a subtle way for the author to nudge the fandom-seeped readers into accepting his version of the character for the duration of the story. Likewise, I actually really liked the inclusion of the prank war. I saw it as an expression of them trying to stave of cabin fever during their time trapped in a drab subterranean facility, and in-character for how Karazor established them.
    My only problem was that the pacing, especially during the first half and the very very end (i.e. the epilogue), was rather plodding, and at times nigh impenetrable. I had no problem with the human's ultimate fate--a bittersweet ending to a bittersweet tale--and if anything thought it suitable.

    It is one of the few Pony fanfics I've read that I have found myself actively musing over months after having read it. I love a story which I can lose myself in like that.

    1. Late to the party, but you may be pleased to know that the author, Karazor, has a sequel recently started and also a pretty decent Warhammer 40K crossover.

  2. I love these reviews, because they are pretty much the only place where someone consistently agrees with my standards of quality for fanfiction. Pretty surprised, then, to see the rating you gave this one. I agree with everyone of your criticisms, but this fic was a helluva lot more enjoyable and interesting than the majority of other stories I've seen you give two or three stars to.

    Eh, I'm not sure why I'm bothering to comment. I'm not a huge fan of this story or anything--I'd forgotten about it by the time I stumbled across this--it's just a bit surprising to see how you weighed various aspects of the story.