Friday, August 17, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 94: The Birds and the Bees

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

Anyone who's under 18 and/or not a US citizen can go ahead and skip down to the review now.

Everyone else still with me?  Okay, here's the deal: elections are less than three months away, and depending on what state you live in and your voting history (if any), you may need to get registered pretty soon if you want to vote in November.  I have said before, and I will reiterate now, that I have no desire to discuss politics on a pony fanfic blog (I assume few if any of you do, either).  However, taking the time to register, and then to cast an informed ballot, is an apolitical decision.  It's a civic duty, and at the risk of sounding hopelessly idealistic, it's the cornerstone of our democracy.  If you need help figuring out how to get registered, this nonpartisan, government-run site can help.  Please, do your part, and make your voice heard.

Okay, with that public service message out of the way, let's move on to my review of theworstwriter's The Birds and the Bees, after the break.

Impressions before reading:  Between the author's own comments regarding this story and his pen name, I detect a faint whiff of self-loathing (hopefully coupled with a healthy dose of humorous self-effacement, or else I'll feel bad for grinning at his pseudonym).  Classic traits of comedians everywhere, and wouldn't you know it--here's a comedy!  No random tag though, so I assume we're going more for show-style comedy than flat-out absurdity.

At only three thousand-odd words, this is the shortest story I've reviewed in a long time.  I know I'm hardly the first to observe this, but the average length of pony fanfiction has dramatically increased as time has passed; nothing against epic-length tales, but it's nice to see that there's still a place for smaller works, too.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After overhearing a bit of idle gossip from Rarity, the CMC decide to figure out where babies come from.  Unsurprisingly, the ponies they ask prevaricate, which only leads to greater confusion.

Thoughts after reading:  One trap that many short stories fall into is that they try to tell too much: essentially, they attempt to fit a novel-sized story into a few thousand words.  While brevity is a virtue, especially in fiction writing, trying to wedge too many side-plots and asides into a short piece is a recipe for disaster.  Overstuffed short stories are a constant in any fandom, but it seems to me that they're more common in the MLP fandom than normal.  Perhaps the abundance of fanfic epics encourages authors to take on more, in terms of worldbuilding, backstory, and subplots, than their stories can hold?

Whatever the case, this is a trap theworstwriter avoids.  The story he sets out to tell is a simple one: Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo make some adults very uncomfortable by asking "the question."  By not weighing down such a simple story with needless digressions, the author ensures that it remains cohesive despite choppy construction, and makes sure that the jokes don't get buried.

Unfortunately, the choppy construction is sometimes an issue.  The entire story plays out like a series of setpieces, as the CMC travel from pony to pony.  While these are generally funny and in-character for all involved, the repetitive structure does feel predictable, and the need to include all six of the main cast results in a series of scenes that don't always feel organically connected so much as shoehorned together.  This sense is combated by several brick jokes and callbacks which attempt to connect these setpieces, with only partial success.

As for the humor itself?  While generally amusing, the story was somewhat uneven.  Most of the comedy, as can probably be guessed, stems from each of the ponies trying to answer--or rather, to get out of answering--the crusaders' question.  Some of these did edge towards the ridiculous (I'm thinking specifically of Rainbow Dash), but I found these to be in the service of the story, by and large.  However, it does take a while to get going (relatively speaking, anyway), and it isn't really until Twilight makes her appearance, nearly a quarter of the way through the story, that things really pick up.  Even then, most of it isn't belly laughs (though Dash's method of dealing with the CMC did merit a snort), but the milder humor that comes from watching well-recognized characters put in uncomfortable situations.  Were the subject matter less risque--there is nothing even slightly explicit or "adult" about this story, lest you worry--it could easily be considered a slice-of-life tale.

On the technical front, there are a few isolated errors, but nothing obviously systemic, and nothing that impinges upon readability.  The writing is very dialogue-intensive, which I thought a good match for the story itself--over-narration can slow down a story as much as anything, and once it begins to hit its stride, The Birds and the Bees benefits from keeping its tone light and easy.  A simple, lighthearted premise should generally translate into a quick, breezy read, and that's exactly what this is.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

This story doesn't bring a nonstop barrage of jokes like some comedies do, but it's no less enjoyable for that. It's a very simple, uncomplicated bit of character-based humor, and acquits itself quite nicely in those terms.  It is a bit uneven, but the individual scenes which make it up are, for the most part, quite enjoyable.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a little fun, light reading might want to look at this.  It's an uncomplicated, straightforward bit of comedy, which makes it ideal for reading during a short break or between errands.

Next time:  The Silent Shore, by The Descendant


  1. I've given the explanation before that I am not, in fact, the worst person to ever put words on a page. I instead draw a line between someone who has written something and someone who is a writer, and that line is somewhere around the point where technical flaws fall away.

    Working from that definition, I am most assuredly the worst writer because I still have not learned to put things together decently. I can construct a sentence and I can dream up a plot, but I cannot for the life of me WRITE.

    And so we get exactly what you see here. It's technically competent enough that you don't immediately hate it and the events are interesting enough that you might decide to finish it, but it lacks that sparkle that makes for truly compelling reading.

    It is a flaw I am unlikely to ever overcome due to a lack of time and a great deal of stubbornness with my writing process and refusal to seek guidance.

    Still, it's fun to write. So I'm gonna keep doing that. Thanks for the inflated rating, but you devalue your stars by doing this.

    Fun story time:
    The Birds and the Bees was written in two or three hours. Conception took a handful of minutes, then I sat down and this fell out. I scanned up and down once for errors and sent it on its way. My little one-night one-draft one-shot miracle.

    1. Right there with you, Bro—only I'm the other way round.

      I received my copy of the Penguin Guide to Punctuation today and will be pawing over it for some time before attempting my much-needed rewrite of Shades of Grey. It's just plain weird to have people say such nice things about it as a story, and yet know how much better it ought to be as a piece of writing.

      Seriously though, if you did that in one go, you can't possibly be that bad.

    2. *snort*

      Almost as quickly as that demon panther! XD

    3. *insert overplayed Fifty Shades of Grey joke here*

      Don't you dare write forty-nine sequels.

    4. It is unwise to tempt one as antagonistic as I.

      More importantly, it is also unlikely I could if I even wanted to. I'll be happy when I finally finish just the one!

      (Besides, that would be rather unsubtle for me. I'd prefer turning the heat up with something like: Shades of Grey II: Shaded Pink)

    5. @theworstwriter:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment: your thoughts on the difference between a writer and a "person who writes" are interesting, to say the least.

      As for the rating I gave the story? I admit this is one that was somewhere between a 2 and a 3 for me (fun fact: most stories I don't have any trouble figuring out what number I want to give. When I do have difficulty though, it's almost always either between 2 and 3 or between 4 and 5. 3-4 and 1-2 just don't seem to give me many issues), I think you're story's definitely in the same general category, in terms of quality/enjoyability/that-ineffable-otherness-ability, as similar 3-star stories, like Casscore's Friendship Is... or Geldon's Blueblood Returns. Of course, that's just my opinion--but for what it's worth, I'd say that this story, while not particularly memorable or ground-breaking, is very competently executed and on the whole is more enjoyable to read than the majority of fanfiction out there.

  2. "I found these to be in the service of the story, by in large." -Some geezer.

    I think you'll find that's 'by and large,' which means to sail both with and against the wind.

    Apparently, it's a common mistake, but thanks for making me look up the real meaning behind the phrase!

    I shall now prepare both the cake of victory and the stone of shame, depending upon the response this gets...

    1. Oy vey--I've been saying "by in large" since forever! Well, now, that's embarrassing. Especially since I'm such a pedant about things like "moot/mute point" and "kit and/kitten caboodle." Sheeshers.

    2. Kitten caboodle? That's just freaky.

  3. Ooh, the Silent Shore is up next! I really enjoy that one - that is probably the most atmospheric story of any I've read from this community. I look forward to your detailed and fair critique of it.