Wednesday, May 9, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 65: A Day for Spike and Twilight

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

Just a friendly bit of advice (a bit of advice I seem to forget every few months): make sure you have something to eat before volunteering at a food bank-type organization.  Carting around meals on an empty stomach for several hours is no fun at all.

Jetfire's A Day for Spike and Twilight, below the break.

Impressions before reading: This story is set in the same continuity as It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door (which I reviewed here), but it isn't supposed to be a sequel or require that one have read that story.  I remember reading it when it went up on EqD, but I don't have a lot of specific impressions about it.  There wasn't a lot from this story that stuck with me, and while that's not necessarily a bad sign, it probably doesn't speak to undeniable excellence, either.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight wants to spend a day with her friends, but all the other ponies seem to be busy.  That being the case, she and Spike decide to spend some time together.

Thoughts after reading:  In terms of language, grammar, and narrative vision, this story is the equal of Dangerous Business, insofar as all of the above are near-flawless.  However, Spike and Twilight also mimics to a large degree the pacing and structure of that story, and this turns out to be a significant flaw.

The problem is one of detail vs. space.  In a novel-length story, languid pacing and frequent asides are not intrinsically problematic; indeed, they can be used to great effect to expand the story's world and build a more complete setting for that tale.  But in a short story, there needs to be a certain degree of conservation of detail.  Otherwise, it's far too easy for a piece to lose focus.  In a 150,000 word epic, a five hundred word aside about the differences between the Modern Equestrian and Draconic languages is an interesting digression.  In a 10,000 word short, it's five percent of the entire story.  As such, it feels less like a welcome inclusion, and more like a plot point which failed to tie into the rest of the piece.

Which isn't to say that it isn't worthwhile in its own right; Spike and Twilight is full of interesting worldbuilding, much of which was destroyed by season two (and by Dragon Quest in particular).  The problem is that these asides drown out the story they're nominally supposed to be supporting, giving the entire piece a garbled, unfocused feel.

But despite that lack of focus, there are a lot of good things going on here.  Although it takes a while to develop, the dynamic between Spike and Twilight is an interesting one, and Twilight's obliviousness and worry match her show characterization almost perfectly.  And although the last quarter of the story or so is a little over-the-top emotionally, I found it to be "show-silly;" that is to say, the emotion and character reaction was overdone in the same way that actual episodes often are.  In a piece of fanfiction, adherence to the aesthetic of the source material can hardly be called a criticism.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

This story is an excellent negative example of the difference between writing a short story and a novel, and what happens when one fails to adapt to the requirements of one versus the other.  But despite the muddled and directionless telling, there's a very sweet story here.  And while the worldbuilding is a weakness in a narrative and structural sense, it's no less interesting in its own right for that.

Recommendation:  Although it's not required reading, I imagine that most people who enjoyed It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door will also want to read this.  For those who either didn't read that story, or who found it wasn't to their liking, this story may still be worth looking at.  If you enjoy worldbuilding and exploration of the so-called "secondary reality," and are willing to put up with a bit of a jumble of a story to get it, this is certainly one to read.

Next time:  Macintosh, by TotalOverflow


  1. I have to admit I went into this one with suspicion. I’ve read all of Jetfire’s other works and none of them have worked for me (usually they just make me grumpy).

    First the good, I think Jetfire did a remarkable job with Spike. I’ve always had problems with his portrayal in the show because he basically exists to give Twilight someone to talk and because of that his personality (either a goofy, annoying little brother used for gags or a more serious, blunt and sarcastic assistant) is dependent on what mode Twilight is in. Here, he’s neither and that’s a good thing in my book. He’s still somewhat dependent on Twilight but I found this interpretation to be a more natural given what the story was about. Twilight was fine, it worked but I wasn’t blown away. I also found this to be more natural; that is something I could imagine in real life. Some of my favorite MLP fanficts and episodes are the ones were magic is kept low, the plots are less fantastic, and instead have a real life feel to it. I think this one has that feel; and so if I was to visualize this piece, my view would be slightly shaded to indicate that fact, in comparison to a comedy or a more episodic fanfict, despite the gentle tone Maybe the cover image helps, but whatever. In addition, the theme is overall a nice one, about what family really is. It’s not the best when it comes to MLP fanficts, but it does its job.

    Now, the problems: I think the world building like explaining the dragon language got in the way of the story. This is a plotless piece and it is dependent on the characters to carry the load far more than usual. I think they did here for the most part, but again the world building was rather intrusive and it added nothing to the characters. Also, I felt it could have ended earlier. When Spike gave Twilight her gift or Spike went outside, both would have been just as viable for ending the story as when it eventually did. It’s also on the slow side, partly because of the world building and because there isn’t a conflict. Sure, Spike and Twilight argue a little but I never felt those created any sense of tension between their relationship. I’m not a fan of the “IADBTGOYD” references but it has to do that one gets the feeling they're missing something if they never read that. As a final note, I find the egg part to be disturbing.

    Overall, I think this is, for me, Jetfire’s best fanfict because it didn’t revolve around a difficult to swallow interpretation of a character or a story that was crammed with questionable choices. There weren’t any elements that made me raise my eyebrow nor did I shake my head. It’s just missing those extra sparks and it has problems from what I said above. So, I actually liked it. I regret removing it from my to read list back in September.

  2. I greatly enjoyed Dangerous Business, but I've been unable to check out the author's other work, although I had assumed it to be of the same calibre. It seems, however, that Jetfire is more suited to longer epics than smaller more personal stories. Still, someday when I have more time I would like to read some of his other work.

    Ah, looks like my story is next. I've been looking forward to your review of it, hopefully you like it.
    I feel I should point out that while it is not a continuation of my previous story, "Opposites," there are a few jokes and story elements that do carry over. I wouldn't say it's required reading, but it does explain a few things.

    Anyways, I eagerly await your review of "Macintosh."

    (since it won't let me sign in with my google account)

  3. Think it's all been said, to be fair. Nicely written, much better characterisation than DB, in my opinion, but I found it too short for what it was trying to do. Again, Jetfire seems to be trying to explain too much, to the detriment of the story, while not making space for more of a build-up to the important emotional interactions. The dragon language bit is a good example, but I found Twilight's flashback much more jarring. It didn't feel like it actually added anything because it was essentially agreeing with the state the story was in at the time, and as such just seemed to drag out the ending unnecessarily.

    Still pretty good, but just seems like it would be better if it were either longer OR shorter. The premise was nice and fluffy, but lacked sufficient conflict to stop it being a little procedural.

  4. Hm. If this is the same Macintosh story that I'm thinking of...

    I really hope you just tear it a new one. It's just miserable.

    1. While we often don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, I agree with you 100% here.

      Macintosh was one of the most depressing stories I've ever read in my life and I'm almost completely certain that all the unfortunate implications and fridge logic were unintentional.

    2. make me want to read it just so I can hate on it communally!