Wednesday, August 1, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 88: Raiders of the Cutie Mark

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

Not being a farmer, I don't usually pay too much mind to ruminations about drought or excessive rain (farmers, for those of you who don't know any, will complain about either with equal gusto  And if conditions are somehow perfect, they will switch to dourly commenting on how low crop prices are sure to be with everyone's else's fields coming in so well.  There is no pleasing these people).  However, the lack of water seems to be affecting the quality of this year's sweet corn, and as far as I'm concerned grilled sweet corn is one of life's simple pleasures.  This is no good.

Below the break, my review of DJLowrider's Raiders of the Cutie Mark.

Impressions before reading:  I admit that, despite liking the original three Indiana Jones movies (even Temple of Doom; what can I say, I'll forgive a lot if Harrison Ford is involved), I've been lukewarm to the idea of either direct or spiritual crossovers between that and MLP (of which there have been scads, though most were written following the premier of the Daring-Do episode).  That said, I'm willing to give a story about the CMC going on an epic quest a chance.

Also, it bugs me that there's an unnecessary apostrophe in the cover art, but I'm guessing that's not the author's fault.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Following up on a lead from one of Twilight Sparkle's books, the CMC set off to find the Holy Oat Pail, said to grant to those who eat from it their heart's desire.

Thoughts after reading:  To begin with, I'll point out that the ties connecting this story to anything Indiana Jones are tenuous at best.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but anyone looking for a ponified version of Raiders of the Lost Arc based on the title and picture will be disappointed.  Rather, this is a story about Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo going crusading for their cutie marks, and the ties to Indy (such as the aforementioned Holy Grail Pail) are nothing more than polite nods.  With that established, let's move on.

As far as the story concept went, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It took a simple, slice-of-life conceit, which had little in the way of unexpected twists and turns (I suspect most readers will have a pretty clear idea where the story's going by the end of the first chapter), but the pleasure to be had from this fic was never going to hinge on concealing its "surprise" in any case.  Instead, it focuses on just following the CMC around on yet another of their half-baked quests, guided by their enthusiasm and some not-so-subtle external prodding.  There's nothing earth-shattering about it, but it's definitely the kind of premise that could easily be spun into a pleasant bit of light reading.

Sadly, the execution didn't always match the quality of the concept.  Although the piece was near-flawless technically, pacing was a weak point throughout the story.  Digressions to fill in each of the ponies' early childhoods relied too much on factual recitation rather than actual storytelling, and gave the first few chapters a dull, ploddy feel.  Dialogue was decent on the whole, but word choices didn't really reflect the characters speaking--take out the apostrophes from Apple Bloom's speech, for example, and it would be difficult to tell most of her lines from Scootaloo's or Sweetie Belle's.  And then, there's the matter of the ending--or rather, the endings.

DJLowrider wrote two conclusions to the story; without going into too much detail, let's call them the plot-advancement ending and the status-quo ending.  Either one by itself would have been okay, but I feel that publishing both was a mistake.  Reading them back-to-back highlights the problems with each--problems which would have been less obvious had only one been published, and presented as the ending.  The status-quo version is just that: it brings everything around so that all the characters end the story in pretty much the same position as they started.  While I think it's both more amusing and better fits the characters than the plot-advancement ending (problems, again, which would have stuck out less had the plot-advancement version been the only one I'd read), it does feel unsatisfying when there's another arc that isn't afraid to move away from the show's setup.  I don't know that I have a strong preference between the two personally, but reading both makes for a weaker ending than reading either alone.

The CMC have to solve several very basic clues in this story, one of which revolves around knowing the acronym ROYGBV.  Now, back in my day there was an I in there, and though I was aware that sometime in the last ten or fifteen years many schools began moving to teaching a six-color spectrum, I didn't really know why.  Curious, I did a little poking around, and it turns out that Issac Newton was the one who established red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet as the "colors of the rainbow" in modern conception.  Initially, he only listed five colors (red, yellow, green, blue, violet), but being a devoted numerologist, he was convinced that a rainbow was supposed to have seven colors.  So essentially, he stared at a prism until he convinced himself that he saw two more distinct colors in there: orange and indigo.

That last paragraph has nothing to do with the story or any criticisms thereof, by the way.  I just thought it was interesting.

The one thing which I did like better about the status-quo ending was the lack of musical links.  While giving Sweetie Belle the voice of a thirty year old soprano is certainly amusing, it doesn't really add anything to the story, and for many readers (myself included) it ends up being a distraction.  Besides, is there really any risk that readers won't know the tune to Danny Boy?  The link presentation in an earlier segment, where a musical link is included in an author's note after the chapter, just seems like an all-around better choice to me.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

Although there's a solid idea for a show-feel story here, there are a number of structural problems which prevent it from excelling.  Still, as far as light-tone CMC fanfics go, this isn't by any stretch a bad one--just underwhelming.

Recommendation:  One of the reasons I include that relatively long "thoughts after reading" bit in each review is so that potential readers can get an idea not only of what did or didn't work for me in a story, but why they did or didn't work, and whether or not those are opinions they're likely to share.  I'm sure plenty of readers will find the multiple endings, music links, and uneven pacing less problematic than I did, and for them I suspect this will prove a very satisfying read.  For other readers, this will probably prove an adequate but unexceptional story.

Next time:  Progress, by Andrew Joshua Talon (aka: the Luna Vs. series)


  1. I really don't have much to say about this one. Once the crusaders left Sugar Cube Corner, I knew where it was going and once at Sweet Apple Acres, I had figured out the why. That's fine if what happens in the middle is exciting enough. But quite frankly, there isn’t much that really happens; the crusaders just go to different places looking for the keys and do tasks for the ponies (everyone at least seemed in-character) at those locations that were not interesting to read about. However, I did laugh what the crusaders did at the temple in the first ending, though; it’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek humor that I enjoy. But as I said with The Worst Bakers of Equestria, please do not give your readers any options in story telling (worst, it was obvious why two were written, although I respect the fact that neither could truly be classified as “good ending, bad ending”).

    Overall, I wouldn’t call it bad but too much got in my way to really enjoy myself.

    Hmmm… Progress is next. Jul qb V trg gur srryvat gung zbfg pbzzragf jvyy or sbphfrq ba gung?

  2. I had no idea schools dropped indigo. I'm fairly young, but was still taught the 7-color spectrum. I thought Newton was trying to conform it to diatonic scales, though

    1. >I thought Newton was trying to conform it to diatonic scales, though

      Short version, yes.

      Longer version? It ties back to Aristotle's concept of the "Music of the Spheres," where each of the seven celestial spheres (the sun, moon, and five known planets) is associated with one of the seven notes of the diatonic scale, and that their revolutions produce perfect harmony (never mind that all seven notes playing simultaneously would hardly be aesthetically pleasing). Newton believed that there should be seven colors of visible light to match Aristotle's numbering of the heavens, and so he came up with seven colors.

    2. Ah, I should really start reading more Aristotle. Curse my lack of a classical education!

      I'd think playing all seven notes at once could be pleasing if they were spaced according to the overtone series and among multiple instruments that complemented each other. Then again, I'm not a musician, so I could be wrong

  3. After looking at this story again, I think I realize why I got upset and forgot about it the first time I read it: I felt cheated. The title and picture promises an epic Indiana Jones parody, and while we get some bits and pieces of adventure, it feels like a rather generic CMC story.

    So...yeah, that's about it. Really, this story is that unexceptional, and I doubt it would have gotten six stars were it not, like in the case of Past Sins, the excellent cover image.

    But Progress is next? As someone who once liked the story, I can't wait to see you pass judgment on that one.

  4. Oh god, Progress! The first fanfic that really really stole my heart (only to break it later).

    It was, last I knew, in the middle of not one but two arcs, so I wonder just how much of it you'll actually be reviewing.

  5. I'm a bit surprised you plan on doing Progress. I love it, but it's very much incomplete. I'm not sure it will ever be truly complete, it's the sort of story that can merrily ramble along indefinitely until the author stops updating it.

    And of course you have the bonus challenge of "which version of Progress"? The version on fanfiction is the original, and the version to earn 6-stars on EqD. The version on fimfiction is, I believe, the version the author wants considered "canon" and notably omits chapters the author decided weren't ready as well as adding at at least one new chapter. I'm a bit sad at the removals, I enjoyed the PONIES IN SPAAAACE sequence, even if it did eventually run out of steam.

    1. Yeah. I'd have to say that if you wait until Progress is "complete", you'll never end up reviewing it. The Complete tag on EqD is probably true in many ways, even though the story can't be considered done done. It was complete after the first chapter was put out. It was complete after the second. Complete after the fifth. Complete after the sixth. The only time it's not complete is during arcs.

    2. From what I understand, the series was supposed to end after "Luna vs. Ponyville." At least, that's what he said at the time. Unfortunately, he decided to keep going...and going...and going...

      Also, are you covering the guest and bonus chapters? Because I actually liked "Luna vs. Threesomes" and "Celestia vs. Time."

    3. I actually found it kind of uncomfortable to read Luna vs. Threesome. At times it got a little bit too serious and I didn't really need to read that much about pony sexuality. At other times you get lines like this:

      “Well hello there Luna!” said Sundance far too cheerfully, “what seems to be the problem?”

      “Celestia is trying to rape me.”

      Which are probably worth enduring any sort of horror and awkwardness for. XD

      (Fluffershy is probably more indicative of the best of FriendlyUncle. You have Pinkie Pie watching an... "adult" video, bouncing up and down and exclaiming how much she loves the music. How is that not amazing?

      "We should watch the video," said Pinkie.

      "Excellent suggestion!" agreed Spike.

      "What! Look you two, I'm as curious as anypony, but one thing I am NOT curious about is watching Fluttershy mate, and DEFINITELY not for three hours!"

      "What in tarnation did ah just walk into?"

      They startled, then turned to find Applejack standing in the doorway, staring at the three of them in shock. Twilight blushed and used her magic to swing the library's door securely closed.

      "Oh Applejack!" Pinkie nearly sobbed, "It's just terrible! Fluttershy's a whore!"

      Applejack's face slowly exploded into an expression of horrified confusion. Twilight sighed and levitated the DVD case in front of her. The confusion left Applejack's face as she examined the cover, but the horror remained.

      "What... y'all aren't telling me that's Fluttershy? You seriously think she cashed in her candy cooter for cold coinage? Ah can't credit it."

      "I don't know if I believe it either," said Twilight gently, "but the evidence is right there. Either somepony is presenting pictures of her posterior to peddle pony pornography without permission, or Fluttershy's a pornstar."

      ... I was dying with laughter at that point.)

    4. Sessalisk pretty much hit the nail on the head: Progress is a series of arcs, ranging from one chapter to more than a half-dozen, and I'll be limiting my review to the completed arcs. I'm also breaking the review into "early arcs" and "later arcs."

      I didn't realize the FIMfiction version had omissions/additions, though. I'll have to check that out, and see just how significant the variations are.

      As for bonus chapters? I'll touch on them, but they won't be the meat of the review.

    5. Okay, just from glancing and comparing the two versions, here's what I noticed that's different.

      The Fimfiction and versions match up perfectly up through the last chapter of "Luna vs. Ponyville," although the Fimfic version turns two of the Interludes into proper chapters and moves them back to before the Ponyville series. Everything on the version after that (save for Luna vs. Dreamlands) is not on Fimfiction. A new chapter, "Luna vs. Wedlock," was made for the Fimfic version to cover an important event that was in the omitted chapters.

    6. Took me a minute to realize why Fluffershy sounds so familiar: Mic did a dramatic reading of it back in February. Good stuff

  6. "even Temple of Doom; what can I say, I'll forgive a lot if Harrison Ford is involved"

    Heavens above, it's so true! D: