Monday, May 14, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 66: Macintosh

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

The Tour of California started on Sunday!  Ah, one of the few chances the average American has to watch professional cycling on live television (plus you don't have to get up early for an entire month to do so, unlike with the Tour de France).  On the downside, it means I'll be spending several hours a day parked in front of the TV for the next week, but that's a small price to pay for televised cycling.

After the break, my review of TotalOverflow's Macintosh.

Impressions before reading:  Judging by the tags and description, this looks like it's going to be a character study of Applejack's big brother.  Nothing wrong with that as far as it goes, but the story is 16+ chapters and nearly 100,000 words in length; that's awfully long for a piece of this sort.  Hopefully it doesn't bog down.

A look at comments on the story (both from readers of this blog and elsewhere) reveals that attitudes toward it are, to put it delicately, "mixed."  Well, I've never been one to temper my opinions based on those of others, but the fact that there are a significant group of folks (albeit a minority, again going by the comments I see) who strongly dislike Macintosh probably isn't a good sign.

Finally, the author notes that some portions of this story (specifically, the bits involving Rarity and Derpy) are based on his previous story, Opposites.  However, this is not a sequel, and reading the one is not required to make sense of the other.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  At the urging of his family, Big Macintosh leaves the farm and spends a day in town for the first time in ages.  Little do any of them realize, that day out is just the start of a whole new beginning for the farm pony: making new friends, opening old wounds, and learning a bit about the town and himself along the way.

Thoughts after reading:  Let me start by observing that I have no trouble understanding why some readers would react negatively to the central plot of Macintosh.  Depending on how one interprets it, this story can be read either as a tale of personal growth and emotional development, or a screed decrying any attempt to break from one's predestined role.  Obviously, the latter interpretation is one that a lot of folks will take exception to.

But the story certainly doesn't need to be read that way, and I found the former interpretation more natural (and presumably, more in line with the author's intent).  Big Mac, at the start of the story, is virtually friendless, and allows his every action to be guided solely by a sense of long-suffering duty.  By the time "the end" rolls around, he's developed a much healthier, more collected sense of himself.  The manner in which this comes about does indeed raise questions about the role of free will vs. self-determination in Equestria, but I personally didn't find this to be excessively detrimental to the story.

Which is not to say that Macintosh is without issues, the biggest for me being the writing itself.  While the piece was near-perfect when it came to out-and-out technical mistakes, a number of frankly bizarre decisions which I can hardly call anything but errors are present throughout.  From always putting the phrase 'Summer Sun Celebration' in single quotes to constant mid-word capitalizations on compounds (BloomBerg, AppleLoosa, etc.) to the occasional misused said-ism, there were a number of issues with the writing on the piece.  The biggest problem, however, was the overly tell-y narration.  In a character study, the usual rules about minimizing the amount of stated interpretation (rather than description) in the narration can be relaxed somewhat, since the nominal purpose of the piece is to describe the attitudes of the focus character.  While encouraging readers to infer as much as possible is still generally the best way to tell one's story, a certain amount of telling can be acceptable.  But this story still bucks the show-vs-tell rule of thumb far too often for my taste.  Sentences like "The tremendous amount of excitement overwhelmed Macintosh, so he headed home, where he hoped he could find some peace and quiet, and maybe even spend some quality time with the family," are sadly the rule, rather than the exception, in this fic.  Also, as the above sentence almost-but-actually-not-quite demonstrates, there were occasional problems with run-on sentences.

One other issue: fan references.  Having the town newspaper be named "The Equestria Daily?"  Not to my taste, but tolerable.  Having one of the books in the library be titled "The Adventures of Captain Sethisto?"  That took me right out of the tale the author was trying to tell.  Any attempt at serious storytelling suffers when it starts including out-of-story jokes like this, as they break immersion--indeed, their purpose is to break immersion, by calling attention to out-of-story people, things, or events.  There were only a few fan references like this, but they were a major distraction for me.

Then, there's the matter of characterization.  This was pretty hit-or-miss in the supporting characters.  Applejack and Applebloom both were totally convincing to me; the portrayal of AJ in particular had that conflicting combination of common sense and stubbornness which I associate with her, and which many authors seem to struggle with.  On the other hand, none of the three "wacky" ponies in this story (Lily, Granny Smith, and (of course) Pinkie Pie) really worked for me.  All three, but Lily in particular, were marked by an over-reliance on non-sequiturs and total, as opposed to obfuscating, nonsense.  The minor characters in this story varied greatly in this sense; some were very well realized, while others were sadly unconvincing.

But of course, the biggest question in this story is the characterization of Macintosh himself.  It's his story, after all, and it's on the author's interpretation of him that the success of the story ultimately hinges.  Personally, I was able to relate to Macintosh very well; the sense of stoicism and the willingness to indefinitely, even permanently, defer his own wants and desires played well in the context of the story, and fit his on-screen characterization (such as it is) perfectly.  Likewise, his social ineptness but general good intentions made him a believable doofus, occasionally sticking his nose where it didn't belong or saying something utterly tone-deaf, but ultimately redeeming himself with his good-natured commitment to keeping his promises and doing right by others.

That said, there was the issue of how all this came to be.  Put simply, the "present" in which the story is set doesn't mesh terribly well with Macintosh's backstory in tone.  The impetus for the entire fic is that Macintosh goes into town for the first time in years, where he instantly starts making friends and solving problems.  The pacing is ridiculously fast, and the suggestion that Mac had literally no contact with anyone from Ponyville for the past few years is a stretch, but I was able to buy it.  After all, and whether deliberately or not, it ends up mirroring the pace of social growth of a certain purple unicorn in the pilot episode of the show.

On the other hand, Mac's childhood is revealed to be a very dark, unhappy time.  In another story, this might work, but it contrasts so strongly with the show-tone of the present that the two feel almost like different stories.  When the larger part of your tale feels like the Ponyville (pre-NMM) portion of the pilot episode in tone and pacing, but the rest is full of child abuse and abandonment issues, it's hard to forge a cohesive feel for the piece.  That said, the backstory set up Mac's character just fine; the issue was the construction of the relationship between the two narrative elements.

While this fic doesn't go in for heavy-handed moralizing, it does have a very definite viewpoint.  For my thoughts on the matter in a broad sense, refer back to this post.  In regards to this specific example, I will say that the piece expresses very clearly a bias towards duty to family, the importance of honesty (and not merely in the most literal sense of "not telling a direct lie"), and placing others before oneself.  Again, this is not a polemic, but these values are very obviously expressed over the course of the story.  Naturally, how highly one regards these values relative to others (of the top of my head: personal happiness, self-determination, and community welfare) will strongly affect how one reacts to some of the plot elements.  What I feel TotalOverflow never failed to do, however, is to show why Mac dealt with the situations he encountered the way he did, and how he came to his conclusions.  It's possible to read the end of this story as being a fairly straightforward happy ending or as a bittersweet tale of acceptance, but in either interpretation Big Mac's motives and logic are clear and understandable.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

There are a number of problems with the writing of this piece, and the characterizations of the minor (i.e. not Big Mac) characters varied from excellent to cringeworthy.  Furthermore, the dark backstory seems almost like it came out of a different world than the bubbly Equestria we see in the rest of the fic.  But what rescues this story is the thoughtful and nuanced interpretation of the character traits most often associated with the Apple family: loyalty, honesty, and sense of family.  To my pre-reading concerns: this is a lengthy tale, but it creates a complete, complex, and for me, a believable character over the course of its 100,000 words.

Recommendation:  This is obviously not a story for those looking for a short read.  Frankly, the writing is unexceptional at best (though the actual editing is good), so I'd point those looking for master wordsmithery elsewhere.  But the emotional growth of the main character was very well done, and readers looking for a story about personal (pony-al?) development will find this a very thoughtful tale with a well-articulated view of the meaning of responsibility.

Next time:  The Old Stories, by Thanqol


  1. "and the suggestion that Mac had literally no contact with anyone from Ponyville for the past few years is a stretch, but I was able to buy it."

    I was a prereader at the time this story came through, and I fought against posting it for that reason. The idea that Big Mac had NO contact WHATSOEVER with anyone in town struck me as utterly unbelievable. To me, it required that Applejack and the rest of the apple families be utter monsters.

    1. Yeah. I thought that might've made sense if he was homeschooled or something. I know that some homeschooled kids don't get a lot of interaction with people outside of their immediate family.

      Then again, wasn't it mentioned that he was classmates with Cherilee?

    2. But why wasn't APPLEJACK like that? I didn't read past Chapter 2, but unless his dad was dead by the time she was born, why did the GIRLS get off easy? Why would Applejack, who's gregarious in her own way, let her big brother go his whole life without getting him involved!

    3. That's why I said "might've". It turned out he wasn't even homeschooled at all.

      But I have to say - just because his sister is sociable and has lots of friends, it doesn't mean she'd necessarily introduce her brother to everyone. Big Mac always struck me as fairly reticent and withdrawn. Not everyone needs large amounts of social interaction to be content, and it would have made sense for him to be downright uncomfortable around people outside of his family. Even after repeated attempts to get him used to non-family members, he could've been all Boo Radley about it and it would have totally explained the whole "no contact".

      And that would have been reasonable, except then they go and make him spend a day in town... meaning that they actually aren't all that accepting about him being asocial. Also, that would have been a very different story from what this one. Big Macintosh is clearly not that kind of person and that kinda makes me wonder exactly why they were using him as slave labour. lol

      No matter which way you look at it, it doesn't really hold up.

    4. I just remembered the other stupid thing: Fluttershy's "unnaturally" large wings. If this was an original story that didn't have a visual medium source material, then sure. Go for it. But we've seen Flutter with her wings out int he show. On several occasions. Her wings are nothing special. I think that was the moment in Chapter 2 when I said "No more."

      Also, I think part of why I was so angered by this fic (Chris was reasonable. I was hoping for an Angry Video Game Nerd/Nostalgia Critic hatchet job) is that Big Mac was one of my favorite side characters, and the prospect of a fic about him made me happy. Then I actually read it, and felt let down.

  2. Great review once again! Admittedly, there were a lot of interesting and well-done character development moments, but at the end of the story, the extremely depressing moral clamped down on the rest of it like a vise. ...To me at least.

    Part of my problem with the (most likely) unintended message, is that the story seemed to present little alternative. It was not a grey, or a personal decision, but an absolute. Family and duty (and honour? *rimshot*) are always better than personal happiness. Not just more important, but better. There were no alternative viewpoints. There were no characters who chose otherwise (at least none who were given any screentime). It was portrayed as objectively the best way to go about things.

    As for destiny and agency.


    That was one of the most horrifying things in the story for me. I read the story, thought about it a little bit, and then literally shuddered. I thought about cutie marks and what they meant, and I came to realise it was a little like those prophecies where no matter what you try to do to avert it, you end up fulfilling it. No matter what a pony wants, or what a pony tries to do, his cutie mark is what defines him. And through some twisted law of the universe, he will be happy about it.

    When presented with a chance to have any sort of happiness outside of his predestined role, Macintosh denies it. Using that flutterwings spell wouldn't have annulled anything he'd learned in that story; it would not have allowed him to fly off into the sunset without a care to the world; he would not have suddenly lost all responsibility towards his family; it wouldn't have even lasted for longer than maybe a few days. Still, it might have undermined the affected happiness of the role he'd built for himself.

    So he denied it.

    I felt sick.

    And to add a little jaywalking to that, the shipping at the end felt waaay out of left field.

    1. Those were my feelings exactly.

      What makes it worse for this story's Big Mac, though, was the way his "inevitable destiny" was presented. He didn't discover his love for his family or a sense of familial duty by himself like Applejack did in Cutie Mark Chronicles. Instead, he got the idea (literally) beat into him by a jackass, POS deadbeat of a father. So there's another screwed-up moral this tale brings us: if your dad's beating the crap out of you and calling you useless because you aren't naturally gifted in the one way he considers useful, it's because he's right and you should feel ashamed for disappointing him!

      Destiny is not one of those themes or tropes that should be used carelessly. If you don't know what you're doing, you can find yourself with a lot of disturbed, upset readers. A cutie mark just represents what a pony is talented in doing, not what they should be locked into doing for the rest of their lives. Just watch a few episodes, and you'll see the Mane 6 all doing things well outside of their normal comfort range, and actually enjoying them. It's not because their cutie mark covers whatever it is they're doing, it's because the activity is fun, and the ponies aren't a mindless bunch of slags being dragged around by magical butt tattoos.

    2. Just to add to that, Rarity always struck me as a very interesting character because her talent is for finding gems, but her passion is for designing clothing. She only even uses her talent when applicable to her work.

      And I thought that was such a great message for everyone, not just the little girls this show is obviously aimed towards. It's one of those subtle things that warms your heart.

      Just because you are the best at something, better than everyone else even, it doesn't mean that you are locked into doing that one thing. You can still choose to do the things that you love, and you can choose not to use your talents outside of when you need it. You might fail, like Rarity often does (Photo Finish certainly doesn't seem to like her work very much), but that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy the things you love - even if you're not the best at it. Even if it's not the thing you were "meant" to be.

    3. I'd still say that cuts both ways Sessalik. Rarity is shown to be literally dragged along by a subconscious desire to discover some gems that couldn't be seen from the outside and would not have been revealed without the timely sonic boom. That's pretty heavily steeped in determinism that implies a lack of free-will.


      It also was never said that 'her talent is for finding gems'. It could just as easily be said that her PASSION is for gems, and gem-finding is just a single interpretation of that via her unicorn magic. The fact that to Rarity, gems equate to beauty means that her designs could be considered a direct extension of her cutie mark, and argued to be both free-will or determinism.

      Fun, fun, fun. On the whole though, I thought cutie marks were a pretty dark concept from the first time I saw G4. As an armchair philosopher, that's hardly surprising.

      ...and yes...Rarity is best pony :P


    4. An interesting interpretation as well!

      Personally, my interpretation of that was that Celestia set the whole thing up with the Rainboom. She has that knowing look on her face the whole time, and she even had that dragon egg all prepared for Twilight and Twilight alone.

      And your idea is so fun that now I have a burning desire to write a fanfic-of-a-fanfic followup of Macintosh. One that will certainly get me a ton of hate.

      Dammit. XD

    5. You'll get my up-vote Sessalisk. Just do it!

    6. About the cutiemark thing ...

      I've seen arguments on how it contributes to a fate or destiny controlling ponies, but I can't really buy that in context of the show. Cutiemarks appear AFTER a pony discovers what she enjoys. Cutiemarks, therefore, are about exploring and creating self identity. They'd only affirm the destiny bit if they were marked at birth.

      Their names however ...

  3. Ooh, finally at The Old Stories. Time to see if another fandom classic lives up to modern (lol) scrutiny.

    1. What? A story Drak likes is up next? Break out the one-stars!

  4. All I got out of this was "The Adventures of Captain Sethisto".

    If not for my fatal aversion to tripfics, I would so write that.

  5. Interesting conversations going on here.

    First off, I share Bob's opinion on Big Mac being that isolated, it really doesn't add up. Let me also add this just because it mirrored Twilight's, doesn't make defendable. In fact, part of my problem with the pilot was there her growth was unbelievable because she didn't really do anything to gain her friends and the show made it their job instead (friendship goes both ways after all).

    I also have an negative opinion towards cutie marks. Okay, let's face it, it originated (back in the 80's) probably as something that Hasbro wanted so that they could sell the same toy over and over again ("but mommy this one is blue and it has a pickle on it's rear"). And truth be told (and I have no problem saying this) it's one of the few things that Faust actually made worse, when she added the talent part to it and implied that this was your destiny. I'm a huge defender of free will and nurture over nature and that goes against both.

    As for the fict, I didn't finish it. The writing just got in the way for reasons Chris said, as did the slow pacing. Shame because this was on my to read list.

    On the plus side I'm looking forward to the next three, a lot. Thanqol's Old Stories, Daetrin's Off the Edge of the Map, and Bob's It's always Sunny in FIllydelphia and its sequel. These should be fun to discuss before the batch of Luna stories after them.

    1. Off the Edge of the Map is coming up? AWESOME. Can't wait to see what Chris has to say about that one.

  6. I'm pretty much dreading my stories coming up, but I'm glad you're looking forward to them. Part of what I was dreading was imagining your harsh criticism, since you do harsh criticism oh so well.

    1. I was talking to Overflow, and he's kind of surprised that everyone just so happened to look for the most negative way to look at the fic.
      Harsh criticism? Yeah, but what I see is that people usually comment on what they DON'T like, instead of what they DO like.

      I did enjoy Macintosh quite a bit, and I'm surprised so many people were trying to find all the negativities in it. I almost found it disturbing.

      People, lets not forget we are discussing fanfiction that was written about a show for LITTLE GIRLS. Hell, I love this show, but trying to over analyze stuff based off of material for 5-8 year olds is a bit overkill

    2. Now see, I could buy that argument for the show itself, but this was presumably written by an adult for adults. For more on this issue, you should check out sfdebris gargoyle reviews.

    3. Welcome to criticism. It's not a case of pointing out every negative thing, but of analyzing a text and finding out what works, what doesn't work, and what is implied. Just because someone liked it (and it's a star-6, so at least 50 people really liked it) does not mean it's perfect, or above reproach. That's what this blog is for.

      And like Bobcat said, "it's based on a show for little girls" is not an excuse to not write well.

    4. I'd have to agree wholeheartedly with Bobcat here. The show is aimed at a juvenile demographic, but despite the fact that I did not enjoy certain aspects of this story, it is not a juvenile work.

      There is some seriously dark stuff in Macintosh, what with the child abuse, explicit character death and the realisation of never being able to achieve one's dreams. I would rate it as a teen/young-adult story at the least. There's no way anything like that would have been able to get on to the air. Apparently Faust had trouble just getting the word "egghead" into the script, and some of the jokes in here were definitely far more off-colour than anything I'd expect to see on the show ("BM - Oh, that's not a good name is it?" XD I chuckled when I read that one).

      As for the over-analyzing aspect, please don't take anything I say too seriously, and please let Overflow know not to take anything I say too seriously either. lol. I don't even take myself seriously.

      I love to over-analyze everything. I once wrote a three-page essay on The Giving Tree and why the little boy was a sociopath.

      In the fifth grade.

      After those Moonlight Over Midnight stories were reviewed, I spent several pages of forum discussion going over the intricacies of MPREG/F-FPREG biology and why it wouldn't be possible, even with magic.

      I'm sure Overflow is a really nice person and absolutely nothing here is meant personally. It's generally my policy that when it comes to a work, the author is dead and all exegesis is fair game. It's part of the reason why the eugenic dystopia interpretation of Dinky Doo's Father Revealed is my favourite interpretation of any story here thus far.

      As a character study I would have to say that Macintosh did quite well, but personally the impact of it was overshadowed by what I saw as some of the main themes. As a friend of mine once said, the problem with a lot of the fanfiction that tries to be literary is that sometimes by working with the pre-existing framework of the universe, you end up getting something quite upsetting, with horrible, horrible implications and consequences.

      Personally that's why I love* the more "literary" fanfiction, but if a writer's not fully aware of these implications or is not willing to address something like that, I find that the end result is often much more disturbing than in a more self-aware fanfic. You end up getting things like having absolutely no free will portrayed as objectively positive.

      By tying in his destiny to a cutie mark, one that Big Macintosh did not even want, it locked in his fate with his family. He had to abandon his greatest hopes and dreams to realise his the path that his cutie mark set out for him, and while this would ordinarily be an extremely depressing thing, he was happy with it. He became his father. And then I sat there for a while and saw a perpetuating cycle of child abuse with his own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. None of them in control of their own fates, only re-treading the same lives of their ancestors. All having lofty goals they can never achieve, all giving them up to pursue a family they didn't want, all having the same cutie mark.

      Half of a green apple.

      Yeah. I'm reading too much into it, but that's how I saw it when I read it. lol.

      * Hence my undying fangirling of Somewhere Only We Know.

    5. @Anorax: Obviously, I can't speak for all the commenters here (luckily, they seem to do a pretty good job of speaking for themselves), but hyper-analyzing is one of my favorite parts of taking in both the show itself, and the fanfics based on it. Indeed, one of my core beliefs about fanfics is that there's no reason they can't be judged by the same standards as original fiction.

      As for the "harsh criticism..." again, I can only speak for myself, but it's absolutely true that I try to be harsh when writing critiques. It's my goal to write reviews that will help guide potential readers to stories they'll enjoy, and part of that is examining what in a story they might find less than enjoyable. And yes, the bar is set pretty high here, as I think a look at some of the other 2-star fanfics will reveal (incidentally, remember that 2-stars here is not the same as 2-stars at EqD: if you haven't already, click the "what does this mean?" next to the rating for clarification).

      While I fully realize that for many it's no fun having their story criticized, I hope TotalOverflow isn't too put off by my review and the comments here; if he feels I've been unfair or have misjudged his story, I'd love to hear why.

    6. If anything, a writer who truly wants to be good should listen to your "harsh" reviews of their fic and take note. You seem to me to carefully detail the problems in ways that foster understanding and growth.

    7. @SlyWit: Sadly, that's probably the hardest lesson for writers to learn. Good criticism (like the kind seen on this site) isn't a personal attack, but a critique on your work. Readers don't want to see a story or writer fail; they just want to make sure what they're reading is of the highest quality possible, and you can't get that high if your ego doesn't take a few bruises.

      Writing is just like anything else. You have to keep working at it, retooling what doesn't work and molding the story into what you want others to see. And if readers complains, listen to what they have to say and learn from it. Rewrite the story from the ground up if you have to. Or if you don't feel like changing what's already uploaded, then just keep their advice in mind for the next story you write.

      And really, the criticism here is harsh, but it's also fair. This isn't about tearing the story a new one. It's about pointing out what works and doesn't, where the story shines and the narrative fumbles, or which scenes work and which don't. Indeed, this is probably one of the nicest fandoms out there when it comes to constructive criticism, as there are plenty of writers out there ready to help someone that's willing to actually put in the effort. This story had genuine failings, and they need to be pointed out so TotalOverflow and others can learn what to avoid in their own works.

    8. I think what makes this lesson so hard to learn is not the ego bit. There are many disciplines in which constructive criticism is very easy to take. Snagging an example from my personal background, Martial Arts, hearing how to position your leg to have more stability is as offensive to your ego as being told which direction it is to the nearest Starbucks.

      A story though? Many people bear their soul in their work. Fiction is a mix of desires, experiences, personal hurts or triumphs, fantasies, insecurities, understandings of the world ... I mean, a story you write isn't just about your skill in telling a tall tale, it's *you.*

      So, criticism takes an immensely personal edge to it. People do not feel like you are giving advice on how to make it read better, but that you are criticizing their very being. You find flaws in their soul.

      Well, you aren't. You're just trying to help it read better, as a fan of a good story. The thing a writer must learn is how to accept criticism as an assessment of the craft, and not a criticism of your inner, secret self.

  7. I for one would like to mention that while the Tour of California is great, the Giro is pretty damn exciting at the moment. My Greenedge boys are doing rather well! :D Bring on the Tour!

    1. I wish I could watch the Giro... but stupid NBC thinks that Americans will only watch the Tour and American cycling! Arg!

      Anyway, come Tour time I'll be cheering for Voeckler and Europcar; the first Tour I ever watched was the one where he defended his yellow jersey from Armstrong all the way into the mountains, and I've rooted for him ever since. Gotta love me them plucky underdogs.

      Hope your sprinters kick Cavendish's butt!

    2. Oh man, Voeckler is a trooper! Now that Evans has had his win, I will not be upset at all if he clinches it this year. Still, he's gonna have his work cut out for him fighting off Andy Schleck. That guy has been second for like four years now. That's gotta burn! Haha.

      Matty Goss should give Cavendish a run for his money; it all really depends on whether or not Cavendish's new team can get their lead out train together or not.

      I have to say, though, I really do feel for you not getting live cycling on t.v =/ Do you at least get a highlights show every night?

    3. >Do you at least get a highlights show every night?

      Haha, I wish. No, we get "Cyclism Sundays," a two hour weekly segment between April and September that's usually some random heavily edited, tape-delayed day race. Other than that, we get the Tour de France and the Tour of California live, and this year NBC's going to cover the entire Tour de Suisse--but I don't know if it'll be live coverage or more tape-delay stuff.

      So, basically US cycling fans have to rely on the internet to keep abreast of the news and races.

  8. Chris,

    Thank you for reviewing and taking the time to read my story. Overall I found your review to be accurate, and I couldn't really say you were unfair in your assessment (although I would like to point out that Granny Smith, in the show, has revealed herself to be an eccentric and often spouts [apparent] non-sequitors, so she actually ended up fitting into my interpretation of her quite accurately). I am still a new and inexperienced writer. This is my second fanfic, and incidentally, only the fourth story I've ever completed, and the first of this length I'd attempted (my previous stories were all short, 20 page or so stories). I hope to improve the technicalities of my writing through further practice.
    I would quickly like to mention that while you found the story to be very fast paced, Bugs the Curm commented that he found it to be very slow paced, so I couldn't have pleased everybody. In addition, most of my readers quite enjoyed the "brony jokes" in the story. I'm not saying your opinion on them is wrong, but again, I couldn't have pleased everyone.

    1. (It's forcing me to break up my comment)

      Also, I went by the show's appearances with him when I determined how familiar he was with Ponyville and the ponies in town. In season one he is very rarely seen in town or interacting with anyone. Winter Wrap Up was probably the most interaction he ever had with anyone in town. In the story, he was not a complete stranger to town either: he knew Twilight (although not personally), he was familiar with Rainbow Dash (as she hung around the farm with AJ quite often), and he knew both Pinkie and Cheerilee from his childhood while also having acquaintances with Caramel and a few other hired hooves. The only characters he didn't really know before the story were Fluttershy and Rarity.

      But those are little issues. As for the 'meat' of the story itself, I was quite surprised to find how negatively some readers interpreted the message of the story, or even came away with the wrong ideas. For instance, some have felt that Macintosh wound up like his father, while I thought I made it clear to show the opposite. The symbolism of the apple half of his cutie mark reflected the two-fold nature of the Apple family tradition: to run the farm and to care for the family. As Mac's grandfather said, Mac's father's focus fell too strongly on the running of the farm aspect, while Macintosh was more suited to the other half of the tradition: caring for the family. That was when he earned his cutie mark, after all, when he consoled his family after the death of his parents. He and his father each embodied half of the apple family tradition; each one got the missing half of each other's cutie mark.
      As for running the farm, even to this day he refuses to do it. The epilogue is devoted to him giving the farm to Applejack in its entirety, the exact opposite of what his father tried to force him to do. So I cannot understand why so many felt he just ended up like his father, when I went to great lengths to show the exact opposite happen. In fact, at the beginning of the story he was very much like his father: selfish, bitter and prideful, but after the events of the story Macintosh learned to place others above himself, finally forgave his father and apologized for his last words to him, and accepted the Prized Pony award with humility.

    2. His dreams of flight were, while a real desire to actually fly in the air, largely symbolic of his desire to run away from his problems; to 'fly,' if you will. He wanted to just abandon the farm and all the responsibility it entailed. By the end of the story, however, he learned that he had no reason to run or fly away: the life, family and friends he always wanted were right there on the ground with him.
      While actually flying is still something he wants to do, he won't abandon others or break promises to do it. When he stumbled across the flutterwing spell in Twilight's book in the Aftermath, he was scheduled to meet Daisy for lunch; his first real date. He would not break such an appointment for a selfish desire, although he may at some point return to Twilight and ask her to cast the spell on him. That falls outside the realm of my story, however.
      I did make an effort to make the events of the present and his flashbacks mirror each other in tone, such as his flashback to running away from the farm happening close to his encounter with Rainbow Dash in the orchard. Both segments dealt with loyalty and responsibility, albeit in different circumstances. Most of the flashbacks in the story happen simultaneously with similar present events in this way.

      At the end of the story, he discovered what he always wanted all along: a stronger connection to his family, a strong network of close friends, peace with his father and even the chance at true love. I do personally believe in the importance of duty and responsibility, and those were themes I really wanted to deal with, especially when concerning a member of the honest Apple family. All his life he believed his cutie mark was exactly what some commenters felt it was: his forced destiny to live his whole life on the farm. At the end he realizes what it truly meant: his passion for the Apple family. If anything, the story is about him breaking from what he felt was his destiny and what his father tried to force him into.

      I know my story is far from perfect and there are lots of things that I would do differently now, but I do not regret writing it. I only ask that the readers try to read it for what it was intended to be: the journey of a person who had forced himself into the role his father desired for him, who convinced himself that that was his destiny and his passion, but through making friends and learning about friendship, manages to finally forgive and apologize to his father and move on with his life, realizing that his true passion all along was for his family and the importance of placing the needs of others before himself.

      Thank you for your time, and I hope this addresses some of the issues you or your commenters have.

      (Since it STILL won't let me sign in with any account)

    3. I do not intend any rudeness by this, but I strongly believe that part of the joy of literature is being able to apply many different interpretations to any given text, including but not exclusive to the author's original intent.

      I remember the first time I read Life of Pi and how it spoke to me. Not about religion, or the depravity of survivors, the fictitiousness of endings or even storytelling... but about the ingenuity of those who are forced into harsh situations under great duress. Of how necessity is the mother of invention, and how great and improbable things can happen, yet there is something so human about the sheer sensibility in which these unlikely events can be treated.

      Also, it had a tiger. :D

      I respect and acknowledge your interpretation of this story, but I've always believed that a work speaks far, far louder on its own than any critical analysis, even that of its creator. It is its own thing, whether it be a fanfic, a doodle on a wall, or something straight from Chaucer (which is probably more lewd than either the fanfic or the doodle <3*).

      * Chaucer/James Joyce** OTP. Make it a threesome with Shakespeare, so we can throw some bawdy puns and metaphors into the mix. We'd be set for vulgar literature for the next 500 years.

      ** Warning, the following link contains James Joyce's infamous love letters. They have historical and perhaps even literary merit but they are very NSFW and possibly not safe for your sanity either!

    4. I happen to ascribe more significance to the author's intention than my interpretation. However, I feel like I have final veto power on whether the story was any good. And boy oh boy, this story might actually be my all time least favorite Pony Fic.

    5. Thanks for taking the time to comment so thoroughly, TotalOverflow. I think a lot of the difference in interpretation that many of the commenters have expressed here stems from the fact that Big Mac's growth is almost entirely internal: at the end of the story, he's essentially in the same position as he was at the start. Yes, now he's got friends in town, but his job, his responsibilities, etc. are basically unchanged. What has changed is how he sees his situation.

      Depending on the reader and their own interpretive inclinations, this can easily make it seem as though Big Mac hasn't so much developed a healthier view of what he does as he has come to accept the role in life to which he was slotted. That's not how I read the story (the message I came away with is pretty much the one you intended, though I didn't see Mac's breakthrough being that he was the opposite of his father; I saw it as him realizing he didn't have to relate his life to his father at all), but I can understand that interpretation. And as you can see, a number of readers did come away with that message.

      Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to lay out your thoughts like this, and I wish you the best in your future writing.

    6. I feel I may have overstated it when I said he became the opposite of his father; your interpretation, where he realized he didn't have to live his father's life or relate his life to his father is actually more accurate.

      Thank you for your response. How you explained it, that it can "seem as though Big Mac hasn't so much developed a healthier view of what he does as he has come to accept the role in life to which he was slotted" really helps me understand why so many readers have interpreted it that way.

      Thank you for your review, advice and support. Hopefully I'll grow into a better writer through time and practice.