Wednesday, September 12, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 101: Rest Stop

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

In a shameless bout of self-promotion, I'd like to mention that my CYOA, The Purloined Pony, was featured in one of EqD's semi-regular Blast from the Past posts.  Anyway, it made me feel good to know that someone remembered it, and liked it well enough to get it into that collection (along with the excellent if incomplete Fair Feather Friends, the maddeningly inconsistent and incomplete Memories of Days Long Past, and a story I haven't read).

On a semi-related note, it's a shame to see the state that EqD's comment section is in.  Once they moved over to IntenseDebate, I stopped commenting on that site altogether (I wasn't prepared to make a new online account just so I could comment on a pony blog), and haven't really looked down there since.  If the comments on that post are any indication though... it's not youtube, but it's not all that far off, either.

Below the break, my review John Perry's Rest Stop.

Impressions before reading:  This author has written multiple stories that are on my radar (his Legion of Gloom and The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded have both been recommended to me previously), but I've never actually managed to make time to read one of his stories.  However I've heard some more, let's say, "mixed" comments about Rest Stop.

Of course, I don't know one way or the other--yet.  The tag and description don't give me a lot to go on, but nothing is triggering any warning sirens right off the bat.  I guess we'll see.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  During a rest stop on a long train ride, Twilight shares a chance encounter with a past acquaintance.

Thoughts after reading:  To begin: the author very explicitly doesn't mention who the "past acquaintance" is in the description, intending that to be a surprise.  Although I don't think it really detracts from the story to know who Twilight meets, I can respect that desire, so we'll just go with "the other pony" for purposes of this review.

If I had to pick a word to describe this story, it would be "mundane."  It is a story in which nothing happens, wrapped around a bit of banal, everyday introspection.  Although I realize that calling something banal (or mundane, for that matter) hardly sounds like a complement, I don't necessarily mean it negatively; I'm just trying to say that what's at the heart of this story isn't so much world-shattering revelations as it is questions anyone might ask themselves when grappling with a brief bout of boredom.  This can be fertile ground if carefully handled, but unfortunately there's little to elevate this piece above its simple but unexceptional premise.

Perhaps the biggest problem was the writing (though not the editing or technical construction, which were near-flawless).  A laconic, slow-paced narrative style, falling heavily on the "tell" side of the show-vs.-tell scale, makes the first half of this story a chore to get through.  In a sense, this is quite fitting: Twilight is bored and frustrated, so the lugubrious structure of the early going fits the narrative.  Still, if this was deliberate, it was dramatically overdone--the first couple thousand words are scenery, recounting of the events which set Twilight on the train, and some idle musings and recollections, none of which are presented in a terribly engaging manner.

When the other pony shows up, the story becomes a bit more lively, but (without going into too much detail) doesn't have much depth to it.  The way Twilight compares and contrasts herself to the other pony is interesting enough, but there's no actual hook.  By that I mean that Twilight doesn't actually do anything with the comparison, internally or externally: she doesn't find some way to help the other pony, she doesn't come to any sort of personal realization as a result of the meeting... there's the potential for some interesting introspection here, but Twilight's thoughts and actions never touch on any potential deeper issues or connections between the two of them.

To be fair, I kind of liked that about the story.  Not every fanfic (or every piece of literature, for that matter) needs to be about some life-altering moment in somebody's life; I rather enjoyed the non-importance which was placed on the conversation.  It really wasn't the sort of thing that merited a lot of soul-searching, and it was refreshing to see a story that didn't try to force more depth into a premise than it could support.  Still, in the end I felt like I was lacking any essential conflict which would give this piece some impetus.

Even the initial meeting between the two ponies, which had great potential for conflict, is strangely subdued.  This is a very low-key piece, through and through.  And while I don't have a problem with that in and of itself, the fact that nothing really happens in this story is hard to ignore.  That summary up top?  I'm really not leaving any major plot points (again, other than a name) out of the story in that one sentence.  From both an emotional and a physical standpoint, this story just doesn't have much meat to it.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Some stories stick with you after you read them; this isn't one of them.  It is an unobjectionable but also unexciting bit of ephemera; competently executed, but frankly dull, and quickly forgotten.  That said, a story can do far, FAR worse than fail to be memorable.  The banality of the premise was definitely captured in this story, and I mean that as both a complement and as a criticism.

Recommendation:  Those looking for a bit of ephemeral, relatively shallow introspection on Twilight's part will probably have no cause to complain about this.  For other readers, I doubt that this fic will inspire much passion, either for or against it.  Such is the nature of mundanity.

Next time:  Sparkle's Law, by AestheticB


  1. EqD's comment section is... well yeah. My story that was posted the other day got 26 comments. Two are about the story and two are by me. The rest are about something that I still can't quite work out.

    As for Rest Stop, I read this a very, very long time ago, so it seems very strange to go back and think about it now. I remember feeling very 'slice of life' afterwards, if there even is such a thing. Not bad, but not particularly memorable in any capacity.

    The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded on the other hand was real good fun.

    And Sparkle's Law? Heck yes! Haha. I have incredibly fond memories of that story. Looking forward to it.

  2. Hey, I take offense to that! I'm one of those commenters. Actually, I'm probably not helping with the overall quality of EqD's - or YouTube's - comments section

    In the second paragraph of the "Thoughts after reading" section, and again in the second to last paragraph, shouldn't that be "compliment," not "complement"?

    1. Funny story: after posting that, I started to think I'd made the same mistake as Chris and had to look up the difference between "offence" and "offense." Turns out (as I'm sure everyone else is already aware) it's just one of those geographical differences English is littered with, which is odd considering I've used the former on multiple occasions

    2. "Compliment/complement" is my Achilles Heel, in that like Achilles, I know it's something I really need to keep my eye on, yet I nevertheless seem to metaphorically go off to battle wearing open sandals. Thanks for the catch, Oats and Anon!

  3. Chris, you wrote "complement" when you meant "compliment" twice.

    EQD's comments have definitely fallen in quality since the site started using IntenseDebate, especially fanfic ones. Many of the comments on story update posts are "nothing I'm reading" or "why doesn't X update?!" and many of the comments on stories are "will read this later" or "I'm not going to read this." And that's when they're actually on-topic!

    And on the more negative side, the comment section of Do Not Serve These Ponies is mostly taken up a delightful little argument about the "Lyra is obsessed with humans" fanon, between people who obviously haven't read the fic.

    At least on FIMFiction comments are usually made about the story and after reading it. In that way, it's a little funny that EQD is this place with prereading and high standards whereas FIMFic is a dumping ground. I mean, you may be forgiven for thinking the opposite if you based your judgement solely on the comments on each site.

    1. The story update posts at least appear to be hug free, so there's a plus

    2. Haha, yeah that was a huge facepalm moment for me. I was honestly never so glad to see the star system gone as when I saw that argument happen.

  4. One should always be shameless in their self-promotion, as it is often the only waREAD MY STORY.

    And yes, the YouTubity of EQD comments is approaching legendary status. It hurts most on fanfics, since there's no other way to gauge interest (unless you have a fimfic link). But you can't really blame it on Intense Debate, not that I'm sure that's your intention. The switch simply came at a time when the fandom, and thusly EQD's readership, was exploding, and with more members come more... shall we say, less than insightful insights.

    Also it helps to remember that a large percentage of the fandom is comprised of teenagers. We all did dumb things in the name of entertainment when we were teenagers. Yes, I'm talking about you. If you think you didn't, that just means you were full of yourself, which is also dumb.

    1. That was some pretty effective marketing, considering that was the first fic I've read in a month (I think). Here's my completely honest, totally not facetious review of your work

      Seriously though, I'm no Chris (well, technically I am, but you know what I mean), but I'll still offer my opinion. I liked it. I've never read, or even heard of Machine of Death before, but I thought the premise was wonderfully interesting, if overly familiar. Then again, don't the best things seem as though they were always there? As much as I enjoyed the idea of the strikeout technique, its execution came across as mishandled. Its early appearance undermined its later use to underscore Twilight's growing fear and frustration. Some of the crossed out writing seemed unnatural. Twi's use of the "F word" seemed especially out of place, considering she's addressing a god-princess. The writing in general, while not poor, seemed out of character for Twilight. Her comment about the Cake twins was something I'd sooner expect of Pinkie

      Pretty sure I was gonna say more, but real life issues demand my immediate attention. As I said, I liked the fic, so 3-stars

    2. I do agree with your points about the strikethroughs, but against the backdrop of a well above average fic, it barely even occurred to me at the time.

      Except for the F-word. Seemed completely reasonable (outside of whether it's appropriate for an MLP fic on ANY level) under that level of stress, and she's not a 'god-princess', she's a princess and a beloved friend and mentor during a crisis. To me, that seems a bit like criticising someone else for not sharing your head-canon.

    3. I totally understand where Oats is coming from, but M has what I was going for. :)


    4. How is that head canon? She's over 1,000 years old and controls a celestial body! Maybe they don't view her as a god, but that wasn't really my point. She's extremely important. More so than we would consider anyone in our world. Twilight loves her, but has also been shown to fear her power. Even if she didn't think Celestia would punish her for using foul language, I don't think she'd ever send her a message where almost the entire word was present but crossed out. I could see her blurting it out loud, but not writing it, and I don't know why Twilight would do such a poor job of covering it up if she didn't want the Princess to see it

    5. What say we forget it and stab PP through the internet?

    6. I have already been threatened with being eaten tonight. D: Won't you think of the ponies?

    7. That sounds less like a threat than a promise ;D

      Sorry, blame Bugs and Sessalisk for that

    8. I will eat all of you! And then write a filthy limerick it!

      There once was a fatty named Sessalisk,


      Curses. Foiled by my own stupid name again!

      (Who went and stole your three-and-a-half inch floppy disk,
      Don't copy that floppy,
      For jpegs are choppy,
      And then she ate everyone. Suck on that.)

    9. You're a girl? Huh, I'd assumed all the regulars were male. Wait, this seems familiar... *remembers Derpy's Bebop post* Wow, I'm just the worst kind of person, aren't I?

  5. Suddenly I'm feeling this strange compulsion...

  6. Yeah, this probably won't be that memorable for some, but how memorable is this moment for Twilight? This fic, to me, seems to have the feeling of one of those odd seemingly mundane memories that decide to stick around in your head forever. It's more of a picture of that strange feeling than a story, really, and Twilight is more of a person than a character here.

    I have to disagree with you, this is one of the most memorable short pony fics that I've read.

  7. It's really funny to see you remark on how bad EQD's comments have been getting, because I just did a blog post about this a few days ago:

    Anywho, yeah, I knew this fic was gonna take a beating here, as it should. Rest Stop has a strange history, and the fact that it got a 6-star rating still baffles me to this day.

    Firstly, the initial spark of inspiration for this fic was an actual experience of getting stuck at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere (only I was on a bus instead of a train) and I just channeled my frustration into the idea for this fic (plus on that trip I had nothing to do except stare out the window and brood, hence the focus of the fic). I had a brief rush of creative energy after I got back home that night, wrote it up and posted it (this was in the days before I thought to get a proof-reader to look over my work) and decided to submit it to EQD.

    Now, the pre-reader kindly pointed out a lot of errors, most of them minor that were easy to fix, but also a couple of major ones. The one I chiefly remember was that the first part is EXTREMELY heavy on exposition (or 'telling', as you pointed out). In the end the pre-reader said it was postable, but suggested I work on these issues. I wrote back saying I'd work on it.

    So I went back, fixed up the little stuff, and then sat on it. I couldn't deny that the fic was too heavy on exposition, but fixing that would mean reworking the story, and that burst of creative energy I had while writing it had already dissipated. So I left it alone with only the minor stuff fixed, figuring either I would get to it when I felt like it or just not bother submitting it to EQD.

    But then it got posted to EQD anyway. I'm not sure what happened; maybe there was a goof-up with the pre-readers or something, but the next day they went and posted the fic anyway. As if that wasn't weird enough, it walked away with a 6-star rating.

    Like I said, I'm still baffled over that. This was something I just wrote in a quick bout of energy to get it off my chest. It really in no way ought to be considered among this fandom's best stories, and frankly I don't consider it among MY best stories. I'd much rather be judged as an author by my more recent work, like Trains, Carriages and Airships (my other EQD 6-star claim to fame) and The Final Quest of Star Swirl the Bearded. Not that those fics are without problems, but I'm much more proud of them than I ever was of Rest Stop. In my mind, Rest Stop was really more of a happy accident than anything else.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mr. Perry! I find the disconnect between what authors consider their best work and what fans most readily consume to be endlessly fascinating, so thank you for sharing your insights into the creation of this piece. In any case, I look forward to (eventually, someday, when I have time...) reading a few of your other stories.

  8. Sturgeon's Law, like entropy, can be violated locally. Unfortunately, with a rising number of samples, this becomes harder and harder to do. The explosion of the size of the fandom is directly responsible for the state of EqD's comment section. The drop in quality was, unfortunately, inevitable.

    The only way to avoid the phenomenon is to select one's samples. The reason the comments here are so worthwhile is that the participants are self-selected for people willing to participate in fairly high-level, in-depth discussions.*

    * At a rough estimate, 0.00003012% of internet users.

  9. Yes, most of EqD's comments now seem to be discussions between users that are unrelated to the story. Shame, since part of the reason for abolishing the star rating system was the notion that you could gauge a story's quality from the comments. So, I signed up for one of the accounts anyway... and have used it once. In a short, fruitless argument with a troll. So it goes. Poo tee weet?

    And then there's the always-baffling: "Not gonna read this." Then why are you...? It hurts my brain.

  10. “I'd like to mention that my CYOA, The Purloined Pony, was featured in one of EqD's semi-regular Blast from the Past posts. Anyway, it made me feel good to know that someone remembered it, and liked it well enough to get it into that collection (along with the excellent if incomplete Fair Feather Friends, the maddeningly inconsistent and incomplete Memories of Days Long Past, and a story I haven't read)."

    Okay, it had to be said, but I personally felt that most of the ficts chosen for the Blast from the Past posts to be questionable if not poor choices.

    “On a semi-related note, it's a shame to see the state that EqD's comment section is in. Once they moved over to IntenseDebate, I stopped commenting on that site altogether (I wasn't prepared to make a new online account just so I could comment on a pony blog), and haven't really looked down there since. If the comments on that post are any indication though... it's not youtube, but it's not all that far off, either.”

    Welcome to the internet; there’s always the occasionally oasis (that soon descends into madness), but nine-and-half circle of hell is usually a cesspool of teens spouting absolute twaddle, a bunch of immature twats throwing everything from off-color jokes to death threats at each other, older people who claim that everything created these days is gunk and look back at the good ol' days when they were a kid, and the occasional, misanthropic egomaniac. The fact that EQD has descended to those levels should not to come as a surprise.

    And just to say something about the story the post is about; I read it too long ago to recall anything specific besides not disliking or liking it.

  11. "a bunch of immature twats throwing everything from off-color jokes to death threats at each other,"


    Filthy jokes are the best kind!