Friday, November 2, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 113: Eternal

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

A sign of just how terrible my sense of humor is: I spent most of an afternoon recently idly trying to figure out how to make a workable joke with the punchline that in bizarro-universe England, all the subway signs would read "Lacuna Matata."

Take your time...

Okay, finished groaning?  Sometimes, there's a fine line between brilliance and stupidity when it comes to punnery.  Clearly, this was not one of those times.

Below the break, my review of Device Heretic's Eternal.

Impressions before reading:  My familiarity with this story is mostly limited to the drama surrounding its author (whose pony-related accounts have been repeatedly hacked, and who has apparently been a magnet for abuse at the hands of trolls of various stripes).  That doesn't give me much of an opinion about the work itself going in, though.

A 150,000-word story with the sad tag is concerning--that's an awfully long time to keep up a tone of despair and hopelessness--but I do have a soft spot for stories which deal seriously with the implications of immortality, which this would appear to be.

Also, it appears there's a sequel.  Or rather, there was--it's since been deleted, so this review is Eternal only.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Celestia's realization that her relationship with Twilight has cooled over the years triggers a cascade of events which threaten the very fabric of Equestria.

Thoughts after reading:  Trying to believably portray an immortal in literature (or anywhere else, for that matter) is a task fraught with peril.  As countless depictions of vampires, elves, demigods, and slash-happy Scotsmen have shown, watching the world turn and the people you love grow old and die while you remain the same isn't something that happens without leaving a few mental marks.  So when addressing the concept of immortality in fanfiction, one of the biggest make-or-break elements is invariably going to be the amount of thought that went into what living thousands of years, with the promise of living thousands more at the very least, does to a character.

This awareness of the ways in which unending existence might affect someone is present in Eternal at all points, and is without a doubt the greatest strength of the story.  Celestia's entire characterization is informed by her knowledge that she will continue, and both her tragic flaw (I use the phrase in the classical sense) and her emotional makeup are examined in detail, yet show no cracks in their believability despite being focused upon so unsparingly.

Indeed, this story is primarily a psychological study of its major characters, and on all counts shows a great deal of thought and insight into the ways in which the mind can be made to turn on itself.  Many things which might seem to be plotholes at a glance (Luna's counterproductive behavior early in the story, for example) turn out to have clever and often insightful explanations.  Better yet, many of these explanations (including that of the example just mentioned) are never directly stated, the author choosing to rely on his readers to be able to make the necessary connections between revealed information and behavior.  Reading this story requires a certain level of involvement, which necessarily creates investment, and I thought Device Heretic did a great job of fostering and encouraging that sense of investment throughout.

However, there are some occasions where the desire to let the reader come up with the answer on his/her own results in frustrating ambiguity rather than thoughtful introspection.  The most significant of these being one of the major reveals, I'm going to have to hide it behind a spoiler tag, I fear.  If you aren't prepared to just take my word for it and don't mind me talking about the ending, click below:

On a point related to that ambiguity, there were times throughout the story when information was parceled out far too stingily.  There's a fine line between leading the reader on and jerking the reader around, and the steadfast refusal to clearly express what the stakes are in certain areas right up until the epilogue smacks of the latter.

The writing quality is quite good through the first three-quarters of the story or so; although there are a few too many meaningless modifiers for my tastes (saying that someone nodded "a bit" or smiled "a little" is only effective if used sparingly.  Otherwise, it becomes a mere linguistic tic, rendered meaningless through overuse), it never reached ridiculous levels, and the language structure was otherwise good.  Towards the end, however, I began coming across pacing issues relating to narrative detail.  Too many times, perhaps in an attempt to keep the story from becoming any longer than it already was, paragraphs detailing secondary characters or sub-plots devolved into mere lists of actions.  While it's certainly true that an author should match the narrative focus to the importance of a given scene, this can be taken to unfortunate extremes.  When the shifts are abrupt, as when there are several pages of tense dialogue rendered in full, followed by a one-paragraph description of a several minute long fight (for example), it gives the whole story a feeling of disjointedness.

Still, and I cannot emphasize this point enough, Eternal is a story that encourages the reader to think.  The sheer amount of energy expended on imagining and realizing the psyches of three very different ponies (Celestia, Luna, and Twilight) is astounding, and throughout its 150,000-plus words, it never falls into pointless navel-gazing.  Indeed, the navel-gazing here is invariably done with purpose, and the story as a whole not only generally holds up well to inspection, but positively demands it.  That's not something you often see out of fanfiction, and it's definitely worth recognizing.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

The best parts of Eternal are those where it examines, subtly but deeply, the worldviews of its major characters.  The actual story itself, however, suffers from some unfortunate ambiguities and pacing issues, especially in the later sections.

Recommendation:  Readers who enjoy character studies will find this one positively incisive in that regard, and to them I definitely recommend this story.  Those looking for lighter reading will probably not get very much out of it though, and anyone looking for tight construction will be disappointed.

Next time:  Postal Blues and Grey Feathers, by The_EE


  1. Call me biased, but I've always had one heck of a soft spot for sad, introspective stories. Personally, I find characterization to be the single most important thing in anything I read. If I can't completely fall in love with a character, their story always comes out a little bit flat to me.

    That being said, I completely agree with you about the pacing issues. Even while reading this story for the first time, I was more than a little disappointed at how the story arcs of the characters besides Twilight, Celestia, and Luna were handled.

    But by then, of course, I was already far and away taken by Device Heretic's interpretation of Celestia.

  2. I hope you're happy, Chris. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out that pun, largely because I didn't know what the word "lacuna" meant. Even when I looked it up, I kept thinking "...okay, but what does that have to do with the Underground? I just don't...OH! LACUNA! I GET IT! ...oh."

    Well, at least now I won't be losing any sleep over it.

    1. It took me a while to get it too. If I had never been on the London Underground before or not looked up the meaning of Lacuna then it would've been totally lost on me. That certainly was a subtle pun, Chris.

    2. Around here, you have to earn your stupid puns!

    3. Is the penalty for not understanding the joke at the beginning of this review... Eternal punishment?!


    4. DAMN IT!

      I swore I wouldn't laugh at that! But the longer I looked, the funnier it became. D:

      You are a terrible person Chicken Vortex, and you should feel bad!

    5. There are some occasions where the desire to let the reader come up with the answer on his/her own results in frustrating ambiguity rather than thoughtful introspection, Chris.

  3. Curses! There aren't any extreme opinions begging for rebuttal from this story's die hard fans and haters! Looks like I'll have to go elsewhere for my Friday night drama. :(

    In any case, I do remember enjoying this story a fair bit. I did find the ending to drag on for a little too long, but honestly, that's an objective criticism and it didn't really impact upon my enjoyment of the story in any significant way.

    By mere virtue of the effort and thought placed into this story's construction wherein it aspires to be a real literary piece and not just a derivative piece of fluff, it already wins points in my book. In that sense, I think more stories/authors in this fandom would benefit by learning something from it. Good stories take time, effort, and thought!

  4. >navel-gazing

    I detest both sadfics and fics about immortality. Use of immortality in pony fanfic seems to be code for "You be sad now, 'k?"

    And yet, go figure, I'm interested in this story now entirely because of your review. I may regret reading it, and if so, I'll make sure you hear about it. :B

    1. The amazing thing is, I typed the phrase twice in just four words, and couldn't even be bothered to spell it the same way each time (never mind correctly)...

      Anyway, all better now!

    2. My problem with "sad immortality" stories is the extremely singular stance most take. It always just shows the sad. What happened to the good, the bad, and the ugly? Those stories jump at the one most obvious take and run with it to the exclusion of all others.

  5. Ahh, it's Dangerous Business all over again. On this review, I would be hard pressed to disagree with you more, Chris.

    Put simply, I thought the first half was truly excellent, and the second have a textbook case of exactly how not to build a story. To me, it stuck out as a malformed story to express an idea, wherein the story got kicked to the curb when it got in the way. The third quarter dragged on in painfully slow expose, starting with a dream delve that rapidly became boring, and going on to reach such heights of significance at to lose sight of the emotions it appeared to present.

    Firstly, the dream.

    When dealing with Luna's delve into Twilight's mind, the repetition was used to excellent effect, breaking through barriers and twisting the dream with a sense of progression. I really enjoyed that, but in Celestia's dreams, I found the repetition of doing sequence after sequence frustrating and trite. Honestly, I'd love for someone to prove to me this I was just missing the point, but the whole sequence, shy of the finale, just felt like filler with little or no emotional relevance. The whole section could have been shortened to the end and the story would have lost nothing for it (and potentially gained some much needed brevity).

    Secondly: 'The Core'

    This whole pseudo-reality section struck me as grossly overplayed and verging on emotionally vacuous. Not so much that there wasn't any emotion there, bit it felt forced and stretched out far too thin to conjure empathy. It felt like a poor excuse for professing an idea on the part of the author, relevant to the situation but not actually the story. One chapter of it felt overdone, but a second just struck me as silly.

    Then, after two excruciatingly drawn out segments that made very little real sense to me, the story proposes an ending that might qualify the weight it has placed on the expose. Having done that, it proceeds with the biggest cop-out I can recall ever reading outside of a children's book. It felt like I'd been told that I was supposed to feel that Celestia's actions were truly horrid, only for it all to blow away without significant ramifications. Celestia, Luna and Twilight (and friends) all get what I felt was actually a perfect ending: perfect in a way that is entirely unfulfilling. No penance, no price attached, no deep and meaningful discovery, and even that was stretched to the point of becoming dull.

    So to summarise, I loved all the concepts in this story, especially DH's take on Twilight and Celestia's relationship and Luna's character, but the actual rendition felt like he had to explain thing in minute detail because it wouldn't actually make any sense on it's own. As it is, I think this was the first story on FimFiction that I actually downvoted.

    Mystic, you may now shout about how wrong I am :)


    1. P.S. I don't get the pun. I'm an idiot.

    2. You're wrong!

      No, but seriously, while I don't have much to say in the way of the dream sequences (after all, you know just how much I love my dreamworlds), I do have to disagree with you when you say the end was a cop out.

      I'm not going to bother dancing around spoilers so...


      Celestia's punishment was appropriate for two reasons. 1) It forced Celestia into a position of humility where she has to re-learn the inherent beauty of mortality and all the woes and joys that come with it. By stripping her from her power, it tears her masks and... 'aloofness' away, all of which are so present throughout the story. I know it's easy to say that she's given her power back, so what on earth is the point, but that's how crime and punishment works in the real world. Terms of imprisonment are rarely served in the knowledge that you will never get out. This leads me nicely to... 2) It does all this while advocating second chances. I love this point because it stresses the importance of being able to atone for your mistakes. Because if we don't have to opportunity, how will we ever learn?

      Forgive me if I completely misunderstood what part of the end you were referring to, but I know a lot of people felt the same way, haha.

    3. That would be fine if it was sold as such, but it isn't. That sounds more like making excuses to me.

  6. I dunno why, but I could never get into this one. I would read and my eyes would skim over the same line three times, and I'd give up and move on to the next paragraph, and so on and so forth and I found myself skimming over the whole thing. That would keep going on until I got to an infodump section, where I would pay rapt attention, and then lose it again right after the infodump ended.

    I guess I'll just chalk it up to my two-second attention span.

  7. I can't get into stories like this, I'm afraid. Yes, immortality does have its downsides, but so does mortality, and I firmly hold on to the belief that any being equipped with such lifespans would be mentally fortified against the side effects, otherwise the species would have gone extinct or never have developed in the first place. This obviously doesn't apply when a creature's lifespan is extended way beyond the norm, but honestly, it's incredibly difficult to tell the difference from story descriptions, and "who wants to live forever" stories are so easily done wrong that I stopped bothering with them a long time ago. Life is too short to waste on bad fanfics.

    1. I'm pretty sure you never read the story. That's not what it's about.

    2. No, perhaps not. But it's what it appears to be about at first glance, and that's more than sufficient to drive me away from it.

  8. I agree with Ospero about the flawed reasoning behind most Who-Wants-to-Live-Forever?-type stories. Presumably, immortal beings would find some way to deal with their nature instead of whining about it. Leave some angst for the teens, geez.

    But "Eternal" is not that sort of story. It is, as Chris said, a character study. It is about Celestia's mistakes, Twilight's significance, and the masks they wear for each other.

    At times, DH drops information in large, unwieldy chunks, and at others, he describes events so briefly that the average reader would miss them. I'm ashamed to say that I had to reread a few chapters to fully understand Luna's act of remembrance. This is not a story for those who seek simplistic or lighthearted fiction (a perfectly legitimate reason to read FIMfics).

    That said, I do not see how you could justify downvoting "Eternal", Scott. Sure, it drags on at times, and I grant that DH does occasionally "explain thing [sic] in minute detail because it wouldn't actually make any sense on it's [sic] own", but the language is nice enough that you don't feel cheated out of minutes of your life.

    I think you should save your downvotes for fics that suffer from improper grammar, self-inserts, or red-and-black alicorn OCs. That "Eternal" offended you with its length and resolution is hardly reason to downvote it.

  9. CHRIS



    MY GOD

    IT TOOK GOING TO A SUBWAY SYSTEM 5000 KM FROM HOME (which actually wasn't the tube but still)





    If you're having gap problems, I feel bad for you son


    I don't get Eternal. I mean, I understand what the prose says and all, but I'm one of the readers for whom the subtleties of the story -- especially its characterization -- fly over his head. And I notice it flying right over my head but can't seem to figure anything out.

    Like, for example, I don't get any of the romance that people gush on about in this story. And I don't get how this story tells of "what it means to be a Faithful Student". And then I don't get how or why Celestia's connection with Twilight has cooled.

    I suck at literary analysis in general, but this is going to bother me until the end of time... Any help?

    Also someone should definitely have a ponyfic literary analysis blog somewhere. Just sayin'.