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While I have no intention of injecting politics into this blog (that goes for the comments too, please), I have to ask: who thought it would be a good idea to name Mitt Romney's former private equity firm Bain Capital? I mean, I suppose it was probably someone's name, but did nobody ever say, "Hey guys, 'bane' has some kinda sinister connotations, maybe we should call our company something that doesn't suggest we're a merciless enactor of wanton destruction?" It just seems to me like the equivalent of calling your restaurant "Nausea."
Anyway, Conner Cogwork's On a Cross and Arrow, after the break.
Impressions before reading: I've reviewed two stories by the author previously: Ah Ain't Got No Ack-cent! and Crimps and Prance. While I thought both were conceptually solid, they were also absolute messes to read. I really hope that Conner's editing improved between those stories and this one.
As for the premise? It sure doesn't seem like something with a lot of promise; "gimmicky" is how I'd be inclined to describe it, with the potential to be mind-numbingly, painfully stupid if handled poorly. But I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt going in, based on his previous track record in that regard. Even the strangest setups can be made to work if properly executed, after all.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: While trying out a new type of teleportation spell on herself and her friends, Twilight accidentally sends them all to a completely different universe. Well, maybe not completely different; the only thing that separates the world they find themselves in from the Equestria they know and love is that the gender of every pony is reversed.
Thoughts after reading: Since editing was perhaps the biggest problem with the previous stories by the author which I've read, let me start by saying that On a Cross and Arrow is miles ahead of them on that front. That's not to say the technical aspects of this piece were good--they weren't, especially--but it was never a chore to parse the author's meaning from a pile of homophones, mangled punctuation, and oddly constructed sentences. That's always a good start.
However, there are still a lot of misplaced commas, and other strange punctuation choices. Coupled with some poor/inconsistent decisions on how to show emphasis (character thoughts are alternately marked by italics, secondary quotation marks, or asterisks, for example, while inflection is tagged with italics, underlines, or capitalization (both of the entire word and of the first letter only) at turns), the whole piece comes across as very messy. Totally readable, but messy.
The writing quality is similarly functional, but lackluster. Word choice is repetitious throughout, and voicing is sometimes variable. Giving Dash lines like "I'm a bit annoyed," and "Sorry I've not been 'round a lot" doesn't fit her speech patterns on the show; in fact, the only pony likely to say "I've not" is probably Pipsqueak (and maybe Rarity when she's being melodramatic). In addition to this, Applejack's accent is inconsistently rendered. While I prefer that authors err on the side of underwriting accents, I have no real problem with thicker ones as long as they're readable and uniform. When "I" is rendered as "Ah" only part of the time, that's when I really take exception as a reader. Sadly, that was often the case here.
A final note on the writing front: this story contains some really absurd LUS (lavender unicorn syndrome, aka. fear of proper names and pronouns). An occasional "the demure pegasus" in place of "Fluttershy" is one thing, but when the story starts regularly referring to its characters as "the yellow one" and "the purple-maned one," it's hard to overlook. Coupled with the above-noted writing and technical issues, the whole effect is distinctly amateur. Of course, pony fanfiction is amateur writing by definition, but if I were inclined to write off any issues I had with stories based on that, these reviews would be a lot shorter.
As for the plot, "gimmicky" really is the right word for it. To his credit, the author seems to recognize this, and isn't afraid of playing up the campiness of the story. Sometimes this falls flat, especially in the opening chapters, but I think it was probably the only way to approach the premise. Indeed, the places where Cross and Arrow fails are generally when it tries to take itself too seriously. The attempts by Twilight to explain to her friends the theory behind their universe-hopping invite the reader to examine the setup, which of course falls apart under close scrutiny. By contrast, Rarity's interactions with her gender-swapped self are sublimely over-the-top, and encourage the reader to simply enjoy the carefree absurdity of meeting one's self and discovering how very much alike you are.
As for characterization, the main six are all very vividly realized (leaving aside the occasional dialogue slip, as I noted earlier). While I don't want to get into their counterparts too much for fear of spoilers, I will say that I thought they were too similar to the females to support the premise. Yes, that similarity is a plot point, but it begs the question: if the male ponies were going to act almost exactly like the originals, then what was the point of changing their gender in the first place? Why not simply have Twilight and co. meet their true doubles? The shipping tag should probably give some hint as to the main reason, but I think more needed to be done with the possible differences, both mental and emotional, between men and women. To do otherwise seems like its wasting the premise.
As for that shipping? It varied. Conner plays with the idea that each of the mares has some sort of cross-dimensional connection to their opposite, which leads to different ponies wrestling with different feelings for each other. Although this idea was underdeveloped, the author uses it to explore various relationship angles. The best recognize the uncomfortable campiness of the situation, calling to mind Asimov's famous bit of doggerel (Clone, clone of my own, / With your Y-Chromosome changed to X / And when I’m alone with my own little clone / We will both think of nothing but sex!) and were suitably ridiculous, playing up the discomfort without ever becoming too tasteless. Attempts to find a more serious connection across the planes were generally less successful, though I did like the familial spin by Applejack and her alter-ego.
Star rating: ★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
There's a lot about this story that isn't very good. From both a writing and editing standpoint, there are some definite issues, and the varying tone of the piece sometimes hits its mark, but often puts the triteness of the premise in stark relief. And yet... I kind of liked it. It wasn't what I'd call a great story, but despite its failings I had fun reading it (though the first chapter was tough to get through, I admit). As an exercise in playing with the show's main characters, On a Cross and Arrow is a success.
Recommendation: I think that for many readers, "rule 63 ponies" is all they need to know about this story before they decide whether or not they want to read it. For those still on the fence, I would say that this is one to look at if you want to see some very good characterizations of the main six, and a story which is consistently entertaining once it hits its stride. The writing and premise may be workmanlike, but there's still enough underneath that to consider checking it out.
Next time: Solar Flare, by Dragryphon