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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