Monday, September 3, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 98: The Contest

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

Rather than go on vacation or have a picnic, which I understand are the normal things to do over Labor Day weekend, I decided to scrape and re-caulk the exterior base of my parent's house.  In retrospect, a picnic probably would have been slightly more enjoyable.  Also, I can't get this gunk off my fingers.

Below, my review of Cold in Gardez's The Contest.

Impressions before reading:  I know the author's been quietly waiting for me to review this story since approximately forever ago, so here we go: it stinks!  One star!

Okay, fine, I'll go read it first.

Actually, I already read this one last November when it was published, and I enjoyed it quite a bit then.  But comedy's a fickle thing; hopefully this is as funny as I remember it being, and my good vibes aren't just a product of me being in a weird mood when I read it last time.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  While they're relaxing together at the spa, Fluttershy lets slip to Rarity and Twilight that she's the defending world champion in the cutthroat, high-intensity sport of... keeping quiet.  And with the Quiet Game World Championship nearly upon them, the girls decide to go watch Fluttershy try to defend her title.

Thoughts after reading:  As those who've watched the show enough to have most of the lines memorized have probably already guessed, The Contest is inspired by one of Fluttershy's lines from Stare Master: "It’s called ‘Shh.’  It’s a game about who can be quiet the longest. Sound fun? I’m the world champ, you know."  One of the things I love about fanfiction is how the most trivial, insignificant scene, or the most offhanded reference, can be spun into its own story.  Of course, this can be taken too far (hello, Star Wars), but I've always enjoyed this kind of expansion of a throwaway character or idea.

But the fact that I like the idea for a story is far, far removed from saying I like the finished product.  Luckily, I have mostly good things to say about this one.  The Contest shows well-considered language usage, and I have no complaints about it on the technical front.  Cold in Gardez observes in an author's note at the end that this was the first story he had major editing help with; it shows in the finished product.  This fanfic is very well polished, linguistically and stylistically.

However, that polish doesn't completely hide what is perhaps this story's most significant flaw: it's too short.  Now, I'd always rather see a comedy run too short than too long; nothing's worse than a piece of entertainment, fanfic or otherwise, that keeps plugging along without realizing that the joke's gotten old (sometimes I refer to these as "Bataan Death March comedies").  But there were a lot of things here that could have used some expansion.  For example, Nightmare Moon is one of the contestants in an early round of the championship.  Although her appearance is amusing ("Didn't we beat her?" Rarity quips), it's so tangential that it feels almost wasted.  After the round is over, Twilight announces she's going to go talk to her, and then it's on to the next scene and the subject is never brought up again.  Here and in other places, a little follow-through would have helped the fic breath.

Although it may have felt a little rushed at times, I definitely did enjoy the humor of this piece.  The "Shh" contest (and its overwhelming popularity) are just silly enough to fit into Equestria, and a lot of the comedy comes from the unwinking seriousness with which all involved take something so totally absurd.  Yes, feel free to mutter "Just like [insert sport you don't like/don't understand here]."  The parallels which are all to easily drawn between this contest and certain real-life sports add a welcome parody aspect, though this is thankfully kept very subtle; there's no John Madden expy doing the announcing or any such.

Comedies, I think, generally have more leeway when it comes to tone than do more serious stories; so long as something's funny, a lot can be forgiven.  Still, a bit of gallows humor near the middle of the fic stuck out to me.  While I still thought the scene was amusing, it felt to me like writing extensively about a dessicated corpse was pretty far removed from the clear show-tone which the early scenes set.  But as I said, it was still funny, and that's the important thing.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Although pacing was sometimes an issue, The Contest was consistently entertaining; I laughed a few times, and had a smile on my face through most of the story.  Moreover, it never failed to take its conceit totally seriously, and this dedication to premise made the final product both believably Equestrian and deliciously absurd.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a well-written, consistently amusing, and all-around enjoyable story should consider this one.

Next time:  The Best Night Ever, by Capn Chryssalid


  1. I almost read this one back when it was published, but I wasn't really into fanfics at the time. Add yet another item to my long list of regrets. As I've said before, your ratings correlate very closely to how much I'd like a fic (eerily so), and comedies are my favorites, so I'm really looking forward to this

    I can't confirm this right now, as I'm unable to watch any videos at the moment, but I believe you've quoted Fluttershy incorrectly. She actually said "I'm the world champ, you know."

    Bugs, it looks like you've won this round, but the war's not over yet!

    1. What's that Daffy, it seems that Elmer- I mean Chris, has posted a review (as well as forgotten a space between "any" and "such").

      As for this fict, it's good and well written (seriously, the prose is great, a prime example of "invisible writing" from this fandom), but the best it does is make me cough. If I had to guess why, it's because, despite being absurd, all of the gags feel very low key and subdued (I bet if Gardez turned this into more of a satire on the ludicrous nature of contests and competitions in our own world, I might have enjoyed this more). Basically, it reads like an Avery cartoon on Ritalin.

    2. If you can compare it to Tex Avery's work, even one on Ritalin, then I have a feeling I'll really enjoy this story

      Great, now you've got me feeling all nostalgic for those old Merry Melodies cartoons. I need to expose my younger siblings to Wackiki Wabbit and the old Daffy Duck (you know, the one that's actually daffy and not just a jerk)

    3. "I'm the world champ, you know..." I've listened to that two-seconds of the show about a dozen times now, and I think you're right. Oops.

      Anyway, that and "any such" are now fixed. With that done, feel free to continue your high-stakes battle for...well, whatever the stakes are.

    4. Your very soul, Chris. Your very soul...

      Or was it your soles?

  2. I loved this story immensely. It was my first real exposure to comedy in this fandom, and I was definitely not disappointed. I will always be a 'dark/adventure' CiG fan, but this was an absolute gem.

  3. I read this one when it came out and I enjoyed it immensely. I think I'll have to give it a re-read.

  4. I read this story a while ago and enjoyed it immensely. I thought the length was just about right. Any longer, and it would've started to run stale. Most important to me, all the characters are just right and completely consistent with the show. Then again, I enjoy character-based comedies the most. I think this is one of the finest stories in fandom, and I would've given it 5-stars, but I can accept 4-stars too. I would say something about next entry's story too, but I don't want to bias the judge!

  5. Ah, this one - the story that led me to the realization that CiG is truly one of the best writers in the fandom.

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  7. Ah the first of many collaborations between Gardez and I. You're right on the pacing, Chris. I'm not sure about "too short" as you put it, but the explanation you gave regarding what needed more attention was spot on. I had recommended several changes that were not put into the final product due to large amounts of restructuring from a dramatic standpoint (I had preferred the Angel Encounter to be placed earlier, the corpse much later, and as you suggested, more attention to Nightmare Moon), but it was difficult to commit to such a complete reorganization.