Monday, May 28, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 71: Common Sky

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

Breaking up the run of happy Luna stories, we have a shipping Luna story!  I hope you all like S1 interpretations of the ruler of the night, because this week is going to be very Luna-centric.

My review of Syrinkitty's Common Sky, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  Shipping immortal or near-immortal creatures with regular ponies, as is the case with a Luna x Twilight combo, seems to me like something that shouldn't be taken lightly.  After all, there are a lot of really uncomfortable (for the characters) questions that need to be addressed when dating someone several millennia your junior, someone who's going to die in a few decades (a relative blink of the eye for you, our hypothetical immortal) in any case.  But the additional tags do promise us that things will be "awkward," which is a promising sign under the circumstances, and the author says it's a story more about emotional connection than physical/sexual stuff, which given the premise is probably a good thing.

Also, I can't get over the pre-reader quote on this one: "An eloquent tale of triumph over fear and isolation, 'Common Sky' soars to new heights in the MLP fandom."  Somebody's been reading too many dust jackets, methinks.

Lastly, I'll observe that there's an incomplete sequel.  I haven't read it, and I'm not planning to review it (per author comments, it never really got going.  Doesn't sound like there'd be a lot for me to comment on).

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight goes off into the mountains alone to watch a once-in-a-millennia meteor shower.  While camping there, Princess Luna comes across her, and discovers that someone loves her night.

Thoughts after reading:  Going back to that happy Luna competition for a moment: the impetus for the whole event was the hyperabundance of "sad Luna" stories which this fandom produced prior to Luna Eclipsed.  What is a "sad Luna" story?  To quote myself from a previous review: "Luna is very sad, because of the whole Nightmare Moon/banished for a millennium thing, coupled with the fact that nopony notices her night, even now that she's not evil. Then somepony, usually one of the main 6, says something nice about her and/or her night, and she feels better. Then if it's a shipping story, they kiss. The end."  Common Sky is the very definition of a "sad Luna" story.

Of course, that by itself doesn't mean it's bad.  What it does mean is that this is a story that's been done many, many times before.  In all fiction writing, it's important for an author to put some sort of unique or creative spin on their work; if there's nothing new or original about a story, what would be the point of anyone reading it?1  But again, the fact that this story fits a very common mold doesn't automatically mean it can't have original elements, or a novel and unique take on characterization, worldbuilding, writing style, or anything else.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't deliver on any of these fronts.  Perhaps the most immediately noticeable problem is the writing: while the story has obviously been through the spellchecker a few times, there are a lot of editing problems.  Missing words, sentences which were incompletely split or joined, and the occasional spellcheck error (rage for range, for example) mar the story.  The problem was similar to what I've encountered and commented on in previous stories by Pen Stroke: while the issues aren't exactly pervasive, they are frequent, and at times inhibit comprehension.

The writing quality on the piece was not great, even leaving aside the out-and-out errors.  Syrinkitty frequently has trouble with redundant or meaningless inclusions, as with "Twilight was greeted by Applejack, who warmly greeted her," or "it was dark inside, and none of the lights were on."  Similarly, word choice is repetitive, and the author occasionally appears uncertain what fairly common words mean.  I could go on, but my point is that the quality of the writing itself is severely lacking.

The characterization of Luna was interesting, in both a positive and a negative sense.  In the story she's presented as being emotionally stunted, but what makes this Luna unique is that she appears to be suffering some pretty significant psychological damage as a result of the whole Nightmare Moon/try to take over the world/millennium in solitude thing.  "Emo Luna" was all too common a staple of many fanfics before season two, but here the author clearly has spent a little time thinking about why Luna would be so uncertain, so depressive, and so socially inept.

On the downside, this version of Luna doesn't mesh well with the romantic storyline.  Her crippling need for validation may explain why she latches on to Twilight as soon as she realizes that Twi doesn't hate her, but it doesn't feel romantic.  Instead, it comes across as pathetic, and really quite pitiable: Luna literally doesn't realize that Twilight isn't the only pony in Equestria who will tolerate her presence, so she decides they're emotionally bound to one another.  For her part, Twilight is so naive that she doesn't recognize how unhealthy Luna's actions are, which may be in character, but means that the idea that Luna must be soul mates with her on the basis of mutual toleration never really gets challenged.  Maybe I'm being overly cynical, but it's not like the author even tried to sell this as "true love:" the story is one of an emotionally dependent psychotic (I'm not using any of those words hyperbolically, if it isn't clear) becoming infatuated with the first individual to give her any positive individual attention in centuries.  That's more sad and uncomfortable than it is sweet and heartwarming.

Every emotional event throughout the story is ridiculously overwrought.  To a certain degree, this didn't bother me; Luna at least is emotionally unstable enough that I was totally able to buy her going into histrionics over relatively minor (to anyone but her) revelations.  But even if it wasn't entirely unwarranted from a characterization standpoint, it quickly became fatiguing to read: at one point, I was unable to help but picture Luna doing her best William Shatner impersonation, the writing was so over-dramatic ("Somepony... likes... my night...!" (all punctuation Syrinkitty's)).  On a related note, there are some truly terrible cliches scattered throughout this story.  I have yet to read the story, never mind the fanfic, where a character sheds a single tear and it doesn't come off as just plain silly.

I'm looking over the notes I took on this story, and there's a lot that I haven't even touched on.  Applejack's accent is written nigh-incomprehensibly (in some sentences, there are almost as many apostrophes as there are words), the nature of the night sky is poorly dealt with (apparently Equestria is part of an entire universe identical to ours, rather than being possessed a "heavenly spheres" setup, yet Luna has no trouble brightening the entire Andromeda galaxy or moving literal stars around to suit her artistic desires), some aspects of Twilight's temperament are directly contradicted by canon, etc.  What I'm trying to say is, this story has a lot of problems.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

One of the difficulties with writing a story based around a well-worn premise is that it will invariably be compared to other similar stories.  While this is far from the worst sad Luna story out there, it suffers for the comparison; people who want to read a fic with this basic premise have a number of superior alternatives.  But even were that not the case, this just isn't a particularly well-written or fulfilling story.

Recommendation:  There's nothing here that hasn't been done, and better, before.  The writing is poor, the editing spotty, the characterization an ill fit for the plot... I'm afraid I can't recommend this story.

Next time:  Eso Si Que Es, by WTFHIW

1I'm well aware that, in both original fiction and fanfiction, wholly unoriginal stories regularly become astoundingly popular.  I don't think this invalidates my point, but rather shows that humanity as a group is neither possessed of perfect knowledge, nor invariably guided by rational self-interest.  Shocking conclusions, I know.


  1. "I have yet to read the story, never mind the fanfic, where a character sheds a single tear and it doesn't come off as just plain silly."

    I think you mean " 'a' story", not " 'the story'" (same thing with "the fanfic").

    "becoming infatuated with the first individual to give her any positive individual attention in centuries. That's more sad and uncomfortable than it is sweet and heartwarming."

    So Luna is basically Quasimodo, that is rather sad.

    As for the sequel, it's been abandoned (the author says so on their DA page).

    1. Nope, that's totally grammatically sound. The phrasing insinuates that there is but one story or fanfic in which this occurs, and he has not found it.

  2. Warning: Very long, somewhat hypocritical rant!

    There was a big problem I had with the "Sad Luna" phenomenon, and I think this story highlights it perfectly:

    These stories require no effort.

    Anyone with a word processor can churn out a story about Luna going "Oh, woe is me!" for ten pages before either tacking on some utterly contrived happy ending or having her kill herself in about thirty minutes, tops. If they want to at least have a facsimile of editing and proofreading, that half hour turns into a full hour at most. And to make matters worse, they kept making their way onto Equestria Daily, even when it seemed obvious they weren't quite ready.

    Mind you, Luna shouldn't be completely remorseless about Nightmare Moon. She kind of dropped the ball royally right there, and it was fortunate that the Elements of Harmony were eventually able to restore her. But that should not be her entire character. Back when we only had two lines of dialogue and a backstory in the pilot, it was the responsibility of the author to create an actual character for Luna. Having her focused entirely on how nopony will ever forgive her for Nightmare Moon and how nopony loves her nights is NOT enough to pass. This one tries to take a stab at creating a slightly more complex reasoning behind everything, and has a good idea, but it fumbles on the execution.

    This fic was the one that killed "Sad Luna" for me. Not only was the shipping contrived and the writing poor, it used every single cliche I could find in this genre. The story obviously had some effort behind it, but it wasn't spent in the areas that mattered. In the end, it's just another thing to toss on the "Sad Luna" pile and nothing more.

    As for the sequel, the author's comments highlight a particular problem when writing a sequel to a story. Even if fans are clamoring for one, don't rush into it without a solid plan. Treat it like you were writing an entirely new piece of fiction, and not just a continuation of an existing work. And above all else, don't tread the same ground as before. Make the story wholly original.

    It's a shame the sequel never went anywhere, because from the rough bits we were given, it might have shaped up to be a much better story than the original. Not a great one, mind, but a more passable one.

    It's a shame "Giggling Moon" didn't make it to six stars. While "Tonight I Shall Be Laughter" was the best story overall, "Giggling" was the one I enjoyed re-reading the most at the time. Before Luna Eclipsed, I thought that was going to be how the Luna episode would go down. Fortunately, they went a better route, and we can finally have less, "Luna cries about the moon and how horrible she is," and more, "Luna kicks flank and takes names like nopony's business!"

  3. So...

    Whilst there is little that has been said already that I disagree with, this fic does remind me of one thing worth sating here.

    I enjoyed this fic because of it's flaws. Now, I'm not pretending it's a particularly good reason to enjoy a fic, or that it in any way redeems the fic itself. When I started reading MLP fan-fiction, this was one of the early ones, and it actually thinned my reluctance for reading shipping, because it actually felt like the incredible emotions on display said more about the author's perspective than the characters'. No other division of (bad?) fan-fiction seems to harvest this form of expression so frequently.

  4. What about if it's a single tear shining like liquid glass? :D Surely my wonderful simile makes it all so much better?!

    Oh lord, I have been there before!

  5. >Next time: Eso Si Que Es, by WTFHIW

    Heh... almost forgot about that one. Why do I feel like I'm about to be hauled into the Dean's office for loading the basketball team's Nikes with lemon sherbet? ;-)

    All joking aside, I don't think I've taken a look at that particular story since late last year (November, maybe?), and in a somewhat-dismissive way. As tempting as it suddenly is, I think I'll hold off until you've dissected it in your inimitable fashion, Chris. Don't be kind.

  6. Hmm... I want to know which were before this one if you don't mind, because I don't recall any just at the moment.

    1. Which were before what? My best guess is you mean either sad Luna stories, or reviews I did of sad Luna stories. For the latter, see Constellations, and to a lesser extent, both Spark and Nocturne. For the former, about three-quarters of all Luna-centric fanfiction written prior to season two fits the bill.