Monday, July 9, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 81: Utter Madness/Happy/Burlap

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

What the heck is that brown... thing in the picture supposed to be?  A potato?  A walnut?  A morbidly obese pine cone?  Maybe it's a fossilized dinosaur egg or the decapitated head of a dirt golem.  I have no idea, but it's weirding me out.

Lawnpygmys' Utter Madness, Happy, and Burlap, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  Equestria Daily has a length requirement for submissions (2500 words, I think), but it used to be that collections of shorter stories were occasionally posted together, as was the case here.  I don't think the pre-readers allow that anymore, which is a pity; I'm sure the average quality of short-shorts is abysmal (and I'm sure the pre-readers are overworked enough without being buried under a tsunami of "here's twenty 300-word mindvomits"), but I do enjoy the all-too-rare good ones.  And judging from the rating, I'm hoping this is one (or rather, three) of the elusive "good ones."

Zero-ish spoiler summaries:

Utter Madness:  The Joker (as in, the one from the Batman franchise) watches MLP.

Happy:  Fluttershy cares for The Incredible Hulk.

Burlap:  Twilight and company have a belching contest.

Thoughts after reading:  There are a number of different ways to write a successful piece of flash-fiction, but all three of these examples attempt the same route: showing a ridiculous premise, mining some comedy from the inherent absurdity of said premise, and then wrapping up before the joke gets stale.  Sadly, none were particularly stellar examples of this kind of story.

The problem with all three is that there are significant stretches of each which just aren't very funny.  That in and of itself isn't a problem in a longer story, even a comedy.  But in a comic-absurdist short-short, the humor to be had from the setup is the story.  Dallying and repeating oneself defeats the entire purpose off the writing style.

Take Utter Madness as an example.  We have Joker watching MLP while a couple of his goons are standing by, listening to him ramble about Pinkie Pie.  Okay, that's funny.  Then he spends several paragraphs explaining why he thinks the show's so wonderful, which isn't.  Developing the Joker as a character and explaining the premise not only is unnecessary to the story's purposes, it's actually antithetical to them.  By throwing in what amounts to filler, the final product is diluted.  And since the final product is basically a single joke anyway, that dramatically weakens the story.  Both Happy and Burlap suffered similar problems.

Still, the essential humor in each isn't compromised to the point that it can't be enjoyed.  Burlap is consistently goofy, even when it becomes too focused on the competition itself, rather than the inherent comic value of burping ponies.  It has a few chuckle-worthy ideas (the ending comes to mind), but they're so spread out that they can't really hold the entire product together.  The end result is a story which, when read, produces a reaction more along the lines of "Eh, it had some funny ideas, I guess," rather than "Wow, what a trip!"

The writing style didn't do the stories any favors in that regard either, due to repetitive paragraph structure.  Though the first story is a bit more stylistically eclectic, well over half the paragraphs in both Happy and Burlap follow the structure "[character name/pronoun/description][actioned].  [dialogue]."  That's not hyperbole, by the way; Happy was short enough that there was no reason not to count, and Burlap used that pattern more often, if anything.  While there's nothing wrong with structuring a paragraph so, to do it over and over again creates a needless sense of dullness, which these stories sadly could not afford.

Oh, and I should mention that Burlap gets a little gross.  Nothing really shocking to anyone who didn't grow up in Victorian England, but if toilet humor (I use the term broadly; there's nothing precisely scatological here) isn't your thing, then consider this fair warning.  Then again, if that's the case you probably should know better than to read a story described as "Twilight and company have a belching contest" anyway.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

To be fair, none of these are terrible for what they are.  But they're hardly exemplars of flash fiction, and each commits the one unforgivable sin which can damn any short-short: they waste words, and in so doing become dull.  These aren't particularly amazing examples of the writing style, and unfortunately, in flash fiction even a couple of missteps can take a story from excellent to unexceptional.

Recommendation:  While many readers might find one or more of these three to be moderately humorous, I don't believe anyone's going to be blown away by anything they read here.  Since they're so short, they might make a nice palate-cleanser between darker stories or during a work break, but I wouldn't recommend them for anything more than that.

Next time:  On a Cross and Arrow, by Connor Cogwork


  1. The brown thing is a wall-nut from Plants vs Zombies. The plant on the left is a sunflower, and the plant on the right is a peashooter.

    1. And so, yet another aspect of my pop-cultural ignorance comes to light. Thanks for explaining!

      And while I'm here...

      pg12fresno: I'm about to go proofread the review right now, so expect to see it posted in a few hours. Hey, I don't always take an extra two days for multi-chapter fanfics...

      Monkey Boy: Thanks for the catch; I'll go clean that up. Could be worse though; at least I didn't also omit a p.

  2. I actually noticed you skipped these the first time through. And nothing of value was lost.

    There's really nothing to say about these. All it comes down to is that they aren't funny. They're just the kind of stories that make you wonder how they got six stars to begin with.

    And you're finally doing On a Cross and Arrow? Considering the amount of fanon (not to mention sheer creepiness by the end) that story generated, I can't wait to hear your opinion. Hopefully it'll be ready Wednesday rather than Friday.

  3. "and then rapping up before the joke gets stale."
    I think you meant 'wrapping up'.

    not much else to say as I haven't read any of these and have no plans too. Looking forward to On a Cross and Arrow though, if only because of my terribly mixed feelings about it.

  4. "and then rapping up before the joke gets stale."
    I think you meant 'wrapping up'.

    not much else to say as I haven't read any of these and have no plans too. Looking forward to On a Cross and Arrow though, if only because of my terribly mixed feelings about it.

  5. I think it says something that I read the descriptions, went, "Oh, those!" and remembered at least the first and third as being quite hilarious.

    To comment on your pre-review thoughts, I think the last compilation posted featured EbonMane's "The Cough" (quite possibly the best grimdark fic ever written). I don't know if the pre-readers are still open to the idea of posting stories in that manner, but I would also assume that writers of short fiction tend to not be writing short fiction on purpose, and thus aren't likely to think about submitting more than one at a time.