Wednesday, June 13, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 77: The Light in the Darkness

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

When I'm not reading and critiquing 6-star stories, one (fanfic-related) thing I like to do is go look at fimfiction's most recent updates.  It's a very unpredictable lot; sometimes, I'll find a couple of surprisingly good stories floating in the mix.  Other times, like a few afternoons back, I find three Conversion Bureau spinoffs and seven plotless grimdarks (pony torture porn: apparently, it's a pretty big thing?) occupying the ten most recent posts.  Eh, they wouldn't call it a crapshoot if you didn't roll snake eyes every once in a while.

Below the break, my review of zaptiftun's The Light in the Darkness.

Impressions before reading:  None.  Seriously, I've got nothing.  The normal and friendshipping tags don't really tell me much other than that it's not flat-out grimdark or anything, and the description's vague enough that this could be anything from an episode-style story to a maudlin character sketch to a psychological thriller in pony form.  I've got no idea what I'm getting into!

Huh.  This is kind of exciting.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Pinkie has a terrible nightmare about murdering all of her friends, and Dash comforts her.

Thoughts after reading:  After the first few paragraphs, I was worried for this story.  It opens with an obviously Cupcakes-inspired dream fragment, uses unnecessarily pretentious descriptors (there are very few circumstances under which it is desirable, let alone needful, to describe the sky as being "cobalt-hued"), and drops a "Luna's Moon" in for good measure (although far from my least favorite pointless embellishment to come across while reading pony fanfics, "Celestia's Sun" and "Luna's Moon" may well be the most pointless).  Thankfully, things did improve after that shaky start... somewhat.

Let's start with the language, since that remained a weak point throughout the story.  Although the purple prose I feared I might be in store for based on the opening was thankfully avoided, story/word synergy throughout was pretty weak.  Sometimes this reached comical levels, as with "Dash's mane and left shoulder were soaked, but considering the circumstances it wasn't worth noting," though more often the issues were relatively minor; the most common problem was poor word selection and/or a seeming lack of familiarity with the exact connotations of the language used (Dash smiling "whimsically" when she thinks about that day's trip to see the Wonderbolts perform, for example).  Coupled with some occasional confusion over comma placement resulting in the odd run-on sentence, the overall quality of the writing was sub-par.

The characterizations of the ponies, however, turned out to be quite good.  Although the idea of Pinkie dreaming that she's a psychotic murderer seems a flimsy premise to me (if there's one thing the world needs less than Cupcakes knock-offs, it's "take that"s against the same.  Moreover, writing an otherwise very lighthearted story which has Pinkie's dreams of mass murder as its primary source of conflict makes for an uneasy fit), I thought that her reaction to that dream was about as in-character as could be expected.  Dash's attitude was similarly well-conceived, though her dialogue was marginal.  Pinkie sounded basically like Pinkie throughout the story, but Dash's voicing proved extremely variable.

As for the story itself?  I think its general arc was as strong as it could be, given the premise.  Unfortunately, the pacing was very poor throughout.  The initial conflict is resolved about halfway through the piece, and there's no real impetus moving the action forward after that.  Some ponified TV and bakery shenanigans were competently executed in their own right, but ended up feeling like an over-long denouement rather than a necessary part of the story proper.  It seems strange to say considering how brief it already is, but The Light in the Darkness would have benefited from being significantly shorter.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Although I know giving a story a single star probably makes it look like I hate it, that's not my intent here.  I certainly wouldn't say this is a "bad" story; compared to some of the above-mentioned detritus I find when trawling fimfiction, it's positively sublime.  "Mediocre" would be a better summary of my opinion: a marginal premise, adequately executed, with tolerable writing.  Certainly, there are plenty of worse stories out there than this one, and few readers are likely to actively hate it.  But is it one of the best stories this fandom has produced?  In a word, no.

Recommendation:  For all its flaws, this piece does a very competent job of showing Pinkie and Dash being friends and getting through a minor crisis.  If that sounds like your kind of story, maybe you'll enjoy this.  But those looking for high quality pacing, plotting, narration, dialogue, or concept are likely to be disappointed.

Next time:  Ditzy Doo and the Blustery Day, by uSea


  1. The minute I saw this was going to be Cupcakes related, I walked away from this story. I have a deep, seething hatred for Cupcakes and all the other abominations that sprung from its blood-covered loins. That being said, I finally read it just so I could get a frame of reference going into this review, and it's honestly not too terrible. It's actually a pretty decent expansion of one of the original alternate endings to Cupcakes.

    Should it have been six-starred? No. It's a high four at best. But still, it's a nice little story, and I'm glad I read it once.

    That being said, I hope this is the last Cupcakes-related thing to show up on this blog. I don't mind Grimdark (I threw in a scene of Celestia getting mutilated in my own stuff, after all), but those fics are just...ew.

  2. The beginning instantly set off an alarm in my head, the one that makes me brain go “Oh god, it’s Cupcakes”. Let me just start by saying that using that fict (which I refuse to read so long as I live) as a basis for a work is not going to win points with me. And really that’s what this fict reads like, a response to it.

    But my biggest compliant is that it’s lacking in the meat department. Pinkie has bad dream, Dash hears her scream, finds her, comforts her, and then resolution. There’s no drama anywhere in this. There’s a problem that needs to be resolved (Pinkie’s fear of what she may do) but it’s resolved way too quick for my tastes and nothing of it seems to possibly damage the relationship of the characters. It makes the fict unexciting, light, and quite frankly, huggy-wuggy (even for the source). And then there were some strange parts that had like the TV and the Marx bros. reference (they exist in Equestria?) as well as some comedy bits that didn’t work (“My Little People” is not funny in any context and “confound that pony” just makes me mad). I suppose some people might like it, if they want something cute and a hug to go with it. But I don’t want that.

  3. >although far from my least favorite pointless embellishment to come across while reading pony fanfics, "Celestia's Sun" and "Luna's Moon" may well be the most pointless

    Heh. You know, I think reading "Celestia's Sun" just once too often is what finally gave me the opening line I needed for Lacuna. : P

  4. Glad I missed this one. I suppose that, early on, it wasn't all that hard to get a 6-star rating.

    I wonder if there have been any recent fics that have gotten 6 stars. I follow EQD fairly closely and I can't bring any to mind. Times have changed.

    1. Apparently, the most recent story to get six stars (as in, a whole new story and not an older story that finally finished) is Gofindnova's 4 Conversations About 1 Thing, which was posted May 25th of this year. A few others have managed to reach that rank as well, although most are incomplete and getting their rating based solely on the premise.

      So yeah, the stars are still being handed out in sets of six, but they aren't being given for free anymore. It takes a great premise, awesome writing ability, and a lot of luck and timing to get a story to be beloved enough for such a high rating.

    2. The rate seems to be about four or five per month, mostly short stories or one-shots.

      It does seem 6-star has gotten harder to get hold of. Part of that, I feel, may be that I'm almost certain there's a dedicated star-bombing team now who just downvote EVERYTHING. You very rarely see a straight-up 4.9 these days, it's all 4.5s or 4.6s. Maybe the fandom has just become more discerning.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oh, you do that too? The front page of FimFiction is a raging vortex of "wtf" with a few tattered leaves of "oh, hey, this is really good" swept up in its wake. But it's worth trawling through for those gems!

      Double-post because "too" typo'd as "to" made me die inside.

    2. You know, in most fandoms the only way to find fanfiction is to sift through undifferentiated masses of garbage in search of the odd gem. Ah, I don't miss you even a little bit. But yeah, fishing for decent stories is a fun game to play every now and then.

  6. Heh, I was wondering how badly this would get torn up (I apologize if it seemed sub-par, it had been a while since I had written anything like this). Ah well, que sera sera...

    When I wrote this, it was mostly just a therapeutic kind of thing after I came across some "Cupcakes" stuff and it helped me out quite a bit - not only me but apparently numerous others who have also read it. I certainly don't claim to be a great writer and I definitely won't get mad with you for stating your opinion, but I would like to say that my goal was just to write something others might enjoy. Even if it only applied just a couple of people, that's perfectly fine with me, I had fun writing it.

    Anyhow, on to the next review!

    1. Well, I'm certainly glad you aren't mad at me. As far as the story was concerned, it was perfectly adequate as a "therapeutic sort of thing," but of course that's not how I was evaluating it; it's biggest "problem" was that it was 6-starred. There's a difference between "this is a great story" and "this is a great story to read if you need something heartwarming to get the taste of Cupcakes out of your mouth. I mean no offense by this, but the story was clearly in the latter category.

      But you had fun writing it, and clearly plenty of people did enjoy your story, which is arguably what's important. And although I didn't really enjoy this story, I thought it was competently executed. That might be a backhanded complement coming from some folks, but it's something I wouldn't say about most of the fanfiction I've read.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. This scraped a three-star rating (using my current standards) when I reviewed it, but my criteria were very different: simply, how much I enjoyed it. And by those standards, I think this was a decent fic. Not in any way one of the greats, and I don't expect I'll be digging it out to read again just for fun, but by no means disastrous. I didn't like the Marx Brothers reference at all, the Cupcakes reference teetered on the edge of annoying me and some of the writing was a bit rough, but the central hurt/comfort stuff I found fairly sweet. Even by late-2014 standards, I don't think it's too bad judged on its own merits rather than whether it deserves classic status (no).