Monday, June 4, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 74: Stargate: Equestria

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

Summer doesn't really start until you haul the snow shovels back up into the rafters and out of the way, if you ask me.  So if you were wondering, the official start of the season occurred over the weekend.  Next up: clean the gutters, which could really use it.  I can literally see corn stalks (planted by overzelous squirrels, who harvested them from our corn feeder) sprouting out of the gutters from the ground.

My review of Stargate: Equestria, after the break.

EDIT:  Sorry guys!  After I wrote the review for this story (I write them in word docs), I forgot to paste it into Blogger.  So if you came here right at midnight and found the entire review part missing from my review, mia culpa.

Impressions before reading: Another post containing an in-progress sequel, another review comprising only the completed first story.  The note at the top of the story page has me worried going in: "It is primarily for Stargate fans, and sort of begins assuming you are into the show, but the non-Stargate pre-readers liked it, even if they were a bit confused at the beginning."  I know I saw the Stargate movie, but that was... fifteen years ago, maybe?  It was a long while back, and I couldn't tell you anything about it other than that it involved sci-fi and the titular gate to another world.  Hopefully there's enough here for me to at least pick up the meat of the story.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The SG1 crew make a blind dial and end up in Equestria.  From there, they need to figure out how to get home, and how to help keep the locals safe from the trouble they may have inadvertently brought.

Thoughts after reading: Apparently, this story is actually based on one of the multiple TV series which the movie I saw spawned; Stargate: SG1, to be precise.  And I really hope that anyone who's already read this story before coming across my review had some familiarity with that franchise, because this story really isn't written for the reader unfamiliar with the crossover setting.

For the non-Stargate-watching crowd, there are a number of problems with this fic.  First of all, there's the difficulty of unfamiliar and unexplained terminology: saying someone's a Jaffa or might be working for a Goa'uld doesn't mean anything to such a reader.  There is a very brief summation of some of these elements in chapter four, but even after finishing the story I'm not sure if Jaffa are supposed to be kidnapped humans, or a separate breed of humans used by the false gods, or if "Jaffa" is an even more generic term than that.  Jaffa-ness appears to be permanent (a character named Teal'c is a Jaffa who abandoned the false gods, but he's still referred to as a Jaffa), which makes me wonder if there's a genetic or cultural aspect to it, but I really don't know.  Past chapter four I had enough grounding to follow what was happening, but a number of Stargate elements were left unexplained.

More frustrating than this, though, was the way the human characters (yes, it's a HiE story) were denied any sort of introductions.  From the first line of the first chapter, the narrative assumes reader familiarity with character names, personality traits, and mannerisms.  Dropping four unfamiliar characters on a reader right away, without taking the time to establish any defining characteristics, is a good way to induce confusion, and the early going was indeed unrewarding as a result.  Thankfully, the characterizations of all four were clear and competent (and I assume in-character as well, though I can't personally attest to this), and after a few chapters they began to fill out for the non Stargate-er.

Of course, these problems apply only to readers who, like myself, lack familiarity with the crossover material; for SG1 fans, the above pose no problem.  But I think that accessibility is a legitimate criteria to judge a story by; if a story is only enjoyable for Stargate fans, or for whoever else, then that's a sign to me that more care should have been put into the initial chapters.  Other stories (Creeping Darkness and Jack and the Ponies come immediately to mind) managed to write full crossovers which were perfectly comprehensible to readers unfamiliar with their non-pony inspirations.  That was not accomplished here.

Even for those who have no trouble with the setup though, there are some issues with this story.  Perhaps the largest one in terms of plot is the lack of conflict between the humans and Ponyvillians.  I don't mean "conflict" in the sense of combat necessarily, but in plot terms.  The humans are apparently used to encountering alien civilizations (even if this is there first contact with equines), so I'm prepared to accept their no-nonsense reactions, but the casual acceptance they receive from the other ponies (the worst they get is a few curious and concerned looks) is a stark contrast to the way ponies as a population usually seem to react to new creatures, let alone self-described aliens twice their size.  The fact that language, among other things, is common between the humans and ponies apparently didn't strike anyone as odd, either (even assuming that there's some Stargate explanation for this, that doesn't excuse the ponies for not asking why the strangers from another dimension happen to speak flawless Equestrian).  And in terms of literal conflict, the "climactic" conclusion is resolved far to quickly and painlessly to be believable after all the effort that's put into building up the resilience and convictions of the antagonists.

A few strictly comical inclusions are very hit-or-miss.  Several lampshades of the episodic and formulaic nature of life for both the ponies and the SG1 crew did cause me to grin despite myself.  On the other end of the spectrum, hints of romance between one of the humans and a pony are played mostly for laughs, but the dialogue strays into decidedly uncomfortable territory--my reaction was one of mild disgust, personally.

The writing throughout was competent, and the dialogue often a cut above average.  The humans' voices were distinct and exaggerated enough to stand out without being silly or excessively over-the-top, though the ponies were all a little bland (though not out of character) by comparison.  Clear descriptions were occasionally lacking, however: the first two chapters contain some segments where the passage of time becomes unclear, and topographical and battle descriptions near the end are often muddled.

I should mention that the author makes a few assumptions about how magic in Equestria works that are obviously at odds with what we see in the show (and with what was known at the end of season one, when this was written), such as unicorns being unable to use telekinesis on anything not related to their special talent or Twilight having great difficulty performing multiple magical actions simultaneously (using telekinesis on several objects at once, for example).  It bothers me that these inclusions exist, as none are necessary to the story and collectively.  While it's true that none are really massive either, casual disregard for the way things function in the world one is writing a fanfic about is a pet peeve of mine as a reader.  Altering tone or creating lands/races/etc. whole cloth are one thing, but what's the point of writing fanfiction if one feels the need to directly contradict the way things work in the source material?

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

There's too much left unexplained here to justify recommending this story to readers unfamiliar with the source material for this crossover, even allowing for what clarification eventually does come.  Leaving that aside, there's just not a lot of story conflict, and what does exist is trite and quickly brushed away.  The technical and writing elements aren't bad, but there's nothing about this story that makes it worth recommending.

Recommendation:  For anyone unfamiliar with Stargate: SG1, this is a story to avoid; it simply wasn't written with non-Stargate fans in mind.  For those who enjoy both of the franchises this fic is built around, Stargate: Equestria may hold some appeal, but the length of the story belies how little there really is to it.  Even for such readers, I'd have a hard time recommending this story.

Next time:  Past Sins, by Penstroke


  1. >Next time: Past Sins, by Penstroke

    Now we come to it at last. It will be interesting to see how much of the vitriol that Ponychan throws at Past Sins is warranted. I only read it in the long ago times, and even then I had some issues with it. I'm eager to see what someone with a more critical eye will find, though I've heard that it's gone through several proofreading passes since then, so who knows.

    1. I can still remember when everyone was making a HUGE fuss over Past Sins. Mud was slung from every direction, Ponychan became a minefield, the comments section on EqD was littered with trolls and anti-trolls, and that was just in the first week. The story itself is nowhere near as interesting as the simultaneous hype and backlash it received from every corner of the Internet.

      Personally - and I know I have to turn in my right to write fiction for saying this - I liked Past Sins when it was coming out. Mind you, it's not a great story, but it was still a pretty decent time waster while waiting for Season 2. The central idea was very good, although the execution wasn't quite up to par. It still didn't deserve the fanatical levels of worship it got, but when separated from the hype machine, it would be either a two-or-three star story.

      Well, I guess we'll see you Friday, considering how UNGODLY LONG this next story is.

    2. I think you hit the hail on the head there PG. It was good at the time because there was a huge need for it, but on reflection, it fills me with mediocrity.

      Of course, I did read if off the back of Fallout: Equestria, which I still hold a big torch for, so it had some pretty big shoes to fill.

    3. Past Sins... Hmmm. The name sounds awfully familiar...

      In other news, I agree with you on how annoying crossovers can be without proper introduction or explanation; it really does terrible thing to emotional investment!

    4. >Well, I guess we'll see you Friday, considering how UNGODLY LONG this next story is.

      What? No, Past Sins is definitely being posted Wednesday. I definitely didn't put together a filler post just now explaining how I'm still reading...

  2. Past Sins already? I thought there were still like 3 or 4 more stories before it. :o

    The reason I view that as worth mentioning is because I'm pretty sure, based on the combination of an interview with him I listened to a few weeks ago and the fact that he's purposely saving it as his last story to upload to FIMFiction, that Pen Stroke is doing a big post-season-2 edit of Past Sins which is going to go live some time in the not-too-distant future, and therefore the review is going to be outdated within a couple weeks, and I'm not sure whether or not this is a run-on sentence but it probably is when you include this pointless tangent.

    Speaking of that, Chris, how do you handle things like that? I imagine you have some sort of solution to the story-getting-a-big-edit-after-you-review-it thing, but I don't know (or possibly just don't remember, if you've actually said what it is before) what it is.

    1. Reviews of both versions would be very interesting. I'd love to see what impact the revisions have on the overall quality

    2. While it would be nice to compare the current version with the post-Season 2 edit, I personally feel that the one we have now is more than ready to review. The Season 2 edit may not be for weeks, and even then, this is the version people have read.

      And that seems to be the point of these reviews. It's going through old stories that got the highest rating possible on EqD, one of the biggest gathering places of FiM fan material, and viewing them through modern, more critical eyes. It's looking back at things we've read in the past and seeing how they hold up over a year later.

      And personally, I want Past Sins to be reviewed and done with. It's been run into the ground over and over again by everyone. EVERY critic has taken a shot at it. EVERY reviewer on Ponychan has stated their hatred for it. EVERY fan of the story has given their defense for why they like it. And while I would love to see Chris' review, I dread to look through the comments that will inevitably follow, especially if some die hard fan finds the blog, links a bunch of other fans to here, and we get something REALLY nasty going on down here.

      So, in other words, I might check the revision out, but I just want to see the current version reviewed so we can move on.

  3. Stargate: Equestria is NOT a pony-fic. It is a stargate fic crossed with ponies, and therein lay both it's flaw and it's promise.

    Knowing the Stargate universe well, I actually thought this was the perfect way to write the story. Characterisation for SG-1 were excellent, although as Chris noted, they overshadowed the main 6 hugely. So if you know your Jaffa from your Goa'uld, the introduction was flowing, well paced and wonderfully 'Whedon-esque' in it's quality of banter.

    Later on there was some sloppiness as the initial impetus died off. Unclear dialogue, poorly executed fan service, that kind of thing. On the upside, the 4th wall reversal between Pinkie and Teal'c was a masterful idea. Not that well written, but it still stood out as a wonderful concept.

    Pacing was a problem throughout. It cantered along at an even pace, never really sprinting with action or drama, but never dipping into slower emotional interactions either. Variation is key when it comes to pacing, and a lack of it will make any sufficiently long story feel procedural, which it did. As Chris noted, the climax lacked any real conflict, despite it being a fight with a real enemy packing guns.

    As for the dodgy romance plot? Neigh I say! Sure, I get that it might look that way if you don't know Daniel Jackson as a character, but I thought he pulled it off as a NON-romantic plotline very well. The characters are very similar, and their mutual interest makes a good deal of sense, as does the fact that Daniel clearly has issues resolving his feelings for a sentient non-human. Worked for me, but it makes me very interested to know, what it was you find it disgusting, Chris? I've said before, I can't agree enough on the explaining magic thing. DON'T DO IT KIDS! Absolute minefield I tells ya. As is straying away from core MLP background to have your own way within a story, it's just a bad idea unless you're willing to accept an 'alternate-universe' tag.

    I'll give it a 3/5 (though only barely), since I think it's perfectly fair to assume that knowledge of BOTH backgrounds is a reasonable prerequisite for any fanfiction. I mean, how many straight up MLP fics would make zero sense without knowing MLP first? Yes, the pacing was off and SG-1 seemed to unfairly dominate characterisation, but it was really good fun to read, if at times a little clunky.

    1. When writing a story, any story, you need to know your audience.

      Writing for this fandom, the only assumption you can make is that your audience watches My Little Pony. (Not even that they watch it obsessively.) They know the characters, their personalities, the setting, and some of the circumstances of the show. That's it.

      This is why, when writing a crossover, you have to write it for your audience, and you cannot assume that your audience has any knowledge whatsoever of the crossover material. The best crossovers work this way. The rest get overlooked.

    2. Yes, but that assumes that his intended audience is just 'all pony fans'. Maybe he was happy to pitch only to those that liked both. That's really no different than writing shipping and knowing that you're alienating a big portion of the fan-base right off the bat.

      When we're looking at something like the Battletech crossovers, I can see the issue, but SG-1 is an extremely popular show. Over this side of the water at least, it was one of the few programs to rival Star Trek: TNG for prime-time re-run value, so assuming familiarity doesn't seem like a big deal to me.

      That, and maybe his audience is just 'whoever wants to read it'. One assessment is as arbitrary as the next, which is why I didn't pass any comment on Chris' rating; I only gave my own with my reasons for being different. Considering the name of the blog, Chris naturally evaluates the stories as pony fiction, thus the score is low, but that doesn't make it the only way to look at it. I mean, your statement of 'Writing for this fandom' says it all, because you're making the assumption that the author is writing FOR the fandom, rather than for himself. I for one don't know either way, but I see no reason to assume.

    3. He submitted it to Equestria Daily. His audience is "fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic", and definitely not just himself.

    4. Well, for starters, that doesn't prove anything. It's perfectly possible to write something for yourself and then post it around when it's done. Posting to EQ:D only proves that it was posted to EQ:D, not how or why.

      The point is that we (or at least I, don't know, and such motivations must be discarded for the purpose of review.

    5. Heh, this conversation reminds me of when we learned about different perspectives from which to analyze stories in school (8th grade, maybe 9th? Something like that). Sometime between learning about the humanist perspective and the feminist perspective (being a typical teenage boy, you can imagine how much sympathy I had for that perspective at the time) I raised my hand and plaintively asked, "Can't we just analyze stories by how good they are?"

      As far as how one can judge this story, I think two criteria are in play here: the fact that it was submitted to Equestria Daily, and the fact that it achieved 6-star status. Although the story's accessibility could be judged differently if it were submitted, say, as a Stargate/Pony hybrid, submitting to EqD means that it is valid to judge it as a piece of MLP fanfiction, and moreover that the author intended this to be, at the very least, a valid perspective from which to judge it, and that's exactly what I did in my review. As Mr. M points out, there are other perspectives from which it could be judged, but as he also allows, that's the perspective from which I'm evaluating the stories I read, and it's not an inappropriate one under the circumstances.

      As for the 6-star tag, that should indicate that this is one of the best stories in the fandom. While not everyone likes the same things, I think a certain level of accessibility is required to consider something a paragon in its field. A great romance should be enjoyable even to people who "don't like" romance novels, a great fantasy series should be able to draw in even readers who don't normally read swords and sorcery stuff, etc. It's true that the author had nothing to do with the rating being assigned, but I'd still consider that a legitimate way to judge the story.

      Oh, and the "mild disgust" I was referring to came from Daniel asking, with apparent sincerity, whether having sex with a pony was really bestiality, since both participants were sentient. That's not a conversation I want idly dropped into a fanfic: it should either be examined seriously (which is something I'm not sure I'd want to read anyway, but that's just me and my hangups), or should be made so ridiculous that it's impossible not to laugh. The presentation here was casual but sincere, and I found it uncomfortable as a result.

    6. Oh yeah. There was that. Point taken!

      That was pretty dark for a joke that is borderline in even being referred to as humour. I guess I moved past that with little trouble as it's the kind of gutter-trawling banter I'd expect from my usual circle of friends. So I guess that makes it more of a general tone issue. In a generally bawdy work, it would likely go unnoticed, or at least easily dismissed as the joke we assume it's intended to be.

    7. While I agree that a FiM fic should appeal to FiM fans, there is no reason a crossover needs to force itself to appeal more to one of it's 2 demographics. In fact, that irks me. I feel that a TRUE crossover should appeal EQUALLY in every way to it's source canons. Even if that means it confuses those who are not already familiar with both.
      But honestly, what the hell are you doing, reading a FiM/SG-1 crossover, if you don't already like both FiM and SG-1?

      Kind of sick of these crossovers getting shafted in these reviews simply because the reviewer doesn't watch much TV or play many videogames.

    8. Hmm. I try not to "shaft" things based on my own familiarity or lack thereof with source material (and in my defense, I'll observe that there are several crossover stories whose second source I was unfamiliar with which rated 3-5 stars, Fo:E, Jack and the Ponies, and Creeping Darkness come to mind), but I take your meaning. Honestly, I usually don't read crossovers when I'm not familiar with both sources, but doing this blog has convinced me that there's no reason why a story can't be accessible to everyone (to use Fo:E as an example again, it's completely readable by those, such as myself, who've never played the Fallout games, and except for a few details about the canon characters, is remarkably accessible to Fallout fans who've never watched MLP).

      And to the question "what the hell are you doing, reading a FiM/SG-1 crossover, if you don't already like both FiM and SG-1?" I would answer: "It was posted on Equestria Daily, a pony-specific site, with a note saying that '[even] the non-Stargate prereaders liked it.'" I don't think a non-Stargate fan could be blamed for assuming on that basis that this story should be relatively accessible to them after the first chapter.

  4. I am amused at how all the comments (baring one or two) are focused on the OMG Past Sins is next! Rather than the reviewed fic.

    Being a Stargate fan (of sorts, I did lose interest as it went on), I was interested in this fic. Maybe I'll still read it, but it'll be a little less high on the list of To Do.

    1. Sorry. It's just the next one is one just about everyone knows, and we're all really excited to finally see it here.

  5. This was a dirty pleasure of mine. Mainly for Daniel getting to sit and read with Twilight ( OH GOD I WANNA!!! <3 <3 <3 ) and the delight in O'Neal's dealing with colorful ponies.

    Yes, this is a story JUST FOR SG-1 fans. It was made as if it was an episode from the series.

    This story is the same as someone having a hard time plopping down into the show half-way through the SG-1 series.

    In the episodic sense, it does fit the theme of the show very well, including the musing over bestiality. The show did frequently throw in little off-color nuggets like that.

    That being said, it was weak at a number of point, and as an SG-1 fan, I'd give it a 3 of 5.

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