Friday, August 10, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 91: Moonbeam

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

I've always had a pretty decent vocabulary, and I've never been afraid to use it (even when I didn't know how to pronounce the word in question).  So lately, my friends have started singing this song from a beer commercial at me every time I say anything that involves stringing more than three syllables together.  I want to be annoyed, but honestly it's pretty catchy.

Below, my review of Laurence Brown's Moonbeam.

Impressions before reading:  Well, looks like we're not out of S1 Luna stories yet.  This one also has an in-progress sequel (in fact, it looks like it updated just a few days ago), but as usual, this review will be only of the completed first story.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Following the Nightmare Moon debacle, Luna finds that few ponies in Canterlot can overcome their fear and mistrust of her.  So, she decides that the only way to make some friends is to leave the capital and disguise herself, so that she can engage ponies without the burden of her past as a barrier to friendship.

Thoughts after reading:  Different people like different things when they look at stories.  Although that's a pretty obvious thing to say, it's also something that can be easy to forget.  And it's not just a matter of looking for different things in terms of characterization, (un)predictability, or the like; stories can be aimed at different levels of readers, in terms of both technical proficiency and complexity.

That all makes Moonbeam a little hard to judge, because it so clearly isn't aimed at me.  I didn't enjoy it, but that's not necessarily the same as saying it was a bad story, or even a poorly-executed one.  This story appears to be very stylistically similar to upper-elementary-school chapter books, and while that's not generally where I turn for entertainment myself, that doesn't mean that I think Beezus and Ramona is dreck--it's just not something I'd read for my own edification, at this point in my life.

As it was, I found the story extremely dull for two primary reasons.  The first was the sheer level of repetition throughout the story; to give one example, we learn a bit less than halfway through the story that Haystack (one of several major character OCs) grew up next door to Pinkie's family, and that she pulled a lot of pranks on him and used him as a guinea pig while she was first learning how to make ponies smile.  As a result, he's always had a healthy fear of her.  This particular story is repeated no fewer than four times (I think it was five, but I didn't mark all the passages and I'm too lazy to verify the exact number) over the course of the story, in its entirety, for no obvious reason.  The relationship between Haystack and Pinkie was relevant each time, granted, but it was the exact same story being told over and over again.  Many bits of character background or important events are likewise not merely mentioned or summarized, but repeated in their entirety multiple times across the chapters, which makes this at times feel less like a 65,000-word story than a 40,000-word story being told by someone payed by the word.

The other source of dullness was the massive number of scenes or sub-scenes which seemed to serve no purpose in either advancing the narrative or expanding the characters.  Often these seem to take the form of minor riddles or non-problems.  For example, several pages are spent on Luna puzzling out what a large bit of machinery (a flour mill) is, while her friend gives her a series of clues.  It did nothing for the story, in terms of characterization, plot, or even just setting a tone; from a story standpoint, these were pages that could have been culled without doing the slightest harm.

But as I mentioned before, if we treat this as a beginner's chapter book, these problems (the latter set, anyway) seem less problematic.  A steady stream of simple, easy-to-solve riddles is a great, easy way to keep young children engaged while their reading, because figuring out the solutions as they go gives them a sense of achievement.  I don't know that the author was aiming for the 8-12 age range when he wrote this--in fact, I assume he wasn't, since that's not a major demographic among the online pony fandom--but as it turns out he wrote a story that I think would probably do a good job of appealing to fans of that reading level.

And it isn't simply the pacing and structure that appear aimed at younger readers.  Word choice throughout the story tends towards simplicity, with clear and concise language which avoids too much complex vernacular.  Overly simple problems with frankly silly causes (most of the story happens because Luna couldn't be bothered to read the description of the transformation spell she decided to cast until she'd spent a full month incognito) are frustrating to most adult readers, but generally play better with young children than more subtle, nuanced difficulties do.  Characters are uncomplicated but lively, each vividly defined, albeit fairly one-note.  While I might find their tendency to constantly think/talk through their attitudes and stratagems distressing, elementary-level readers (remember, those of you already mentally composing comments to the effect that you/your child were/was already reading Virgil in fourth grade, we're talking about reading level, not actual age) often benefit from having emotional reactions spelled out for them--extrapolating character emotions from text is something people learn, not something they're born with.

But all that doesn't mean the story gets a pass, either.  I may not read be reading Beverly Cleary's stuff for fun anymore, but parents can still enjoy reading her books with their children.  I have to ask myself, "Would I enjoy reading Moonbeam aloud to someone?"  And as it turns out, the answer is "No, not really."

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

To be honest, I'm not sure what to put for the rating.  This just wasn't all that enjoyable for me to read, but it wasn't written for me.  Although it does have some problems no matter how it's read, I can see this as a reasonably good story for kids who have recently graduated to chapter books, and that's definitely not something I want to be dismissive of.

Recommendation:  For relatively young fans or those who aren't big readers in general, this might actually make a better introduction to fanfiction than some of the more technically and structurally complex stories out there.  Those looking for something they can read to/with a child might also consider it.  But for advanced readers looking for something more "literary," this will probably disappoint.

Next time:  Ponies Play D&D, by Lucres


  1. Moonbeam is kind of an odd beast for me. When I first read it, I had just gotten into the fandom; in fact, the only fics I read before starting Moonbeam were Fair Feathered Friend and Ponies Discover /co/. Back then, the story was still in production, and I was just happy to find something that caught my interest and seemed worth following.

    However, I really can't find myself disagreeing with this review. What made Moonbeam work was that it was very simple and accessible. It is by no means the fandom's best piece of art. It has a lot of dull moments, some of the OCs are not very well realized, and a lot of the story is just dry and a tad repetitive. In the end, this isn't a great story, and five stars would have probably been a more appropriate rating.

    That being said, I still appreciate some things about this. When you get down to it, this is another "Sad Luna" story, where Luna is depressed and must find friends to get instantly better. What makes this different for me from so many others, however, is that this one actually remembered it had to be a story. Things happened, characters were developed, and there was actual conflict. Granted, it was on a very simple level compared to other stories the fandom has produced, but back then it actually got my interest.

    Nowadays, it's nothing special. But as far as introductory fics go, I would rather have an army of Moonbeams than a single My Little Dashie.

  2. It's been probably close to a year since the last time I set foot in the chatroom that suggested I read this story. As time went on and I became involved in other circles in the fandom, I left that first chatroom behind and it filled up with excitable young people who I couldn't keep up with. But it's quite the landmark for me, this story, and that's the memory I associate with reading it.

    That said, I don't remember it too well. (Looking at the "coming next" on the previous review, I was going, "Wait, is that the one where Luna...") I seem to recall having enjoyed the cast of OCs, and that's about it. Being a Luna fanboy and not having read a lot of fanfic (for there having not been a lot of fanfic to read at the time) helped, too. Somewhat disappointed to see a story I consider a classic panned, yet I'm not feeling overly possessive of this one, so I'll just agree with pg13 and move on.

  3. Haven't pointed out any typos in a few months (HOLY HELL has it really been that long?!) but it should read "while they're reading" in paragraph 5 of the Thoughts section, not "their." I've made that mistake more times than I'd care to admit, and it frustrates me to no end!

    Sadly, I won't be able to read your reviews until Friday, as I'll be in Vegas with my family. Ponies Play D&D was one of the first fanfics I read. I don't recall the quality, only that I enjoyed it, but I was experiencing a major D&D itch at the time, so I may not've been in the most objective state of mind. That's part of what got me into the fandom, actually

    This blog has a few older readers, so I'd like to mention that I'm not referring to 3.5 or, worse, 4e. Maybe it's silly to care what strangers think of me, but I'd rather be judged by what's true about me (like that I overuse commas) than what they merely assume

  4. "Perfect! If we were celebrating a six-year-old's birthday party."


  5. "extrapolating character emotions from text is something people learn, not something they're born with."

    I actually read somewhere that this, the ability to understand literary metaphors, implied emotions and symbolism and stuff, is actually something that (even if they are educated) most people are unable pick up until their late teens. Supposedly 'cuz of some mental development stuff, sort of like how babies and very young children can't form coherent memories.

    It would certainly explain a lot!

    1. Sounds about right. If a child doesn't learn speech recognition at an early age, they never can at all. They can learn all the words, but the concept of words combining into grammar is actually not something natural to the human mind. It's just as plausible that certain nuances are impossible until the base set of 'rules' has been cemented.

      A bit like waiting until a jelly has set to be able to get decorations to sit on top of it, to use a rather oblique metaphor.