Wednesday, November 7, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 114: Postal Blues and Grey Feathers

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

Another story with the sad tag!  I seem to be hitting a bunch of these, lately.  Oh well, it never rains but it pours...

Below, my review of The_EE's Postal Blues and Grey Feathers.

Impressions before reading:  From the EqD description, I gather this is mostly going to be about Twilight and Dinky, Derpy's fanon daughter, with Derpy sidelined to the role of "hospital occupant."  There's certainly some potential to the premise, but we'll see.  Twilight playing surrogate mother seems to me like a more natural fit for comedy than for drama, but I'm hoping for good things from this fic.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Derpy suffers a life-threatening injury, Twilight takes temporary custody of Dinky, and tries to help her cope with the traumatic situation.

Thoughts after reading:  On a conceptual level, I don't have anything exceptionally negative to say about this story.  Although the premise is obviously geared towards creating an atmosphere of sadness at the expense of any sort of narrative or thematic arc, there isn't anything inherently wrong with so-called "mood writing."  Although the depictions of social services and medical practices in Equestria seemed to me to be based more on a need to move the plot in its intended direction than on anything approaching real-life examples of either, there were at least passing attempts to explain these within the story.  And although many of the story's beats (especially Derpy's hinted-at secret towards the end) feel contrived, none are particularly laughable, nor offensively trite and lazy.  As far as the idea of Postal Blues is concerned, I'd definitely describe it as adequate, at least.

Sadly, the quality of writing on this piece is lackluster at best.  Editing is below-average but not awful; besides a maddening tendency to write "lied" for "lay" or "laid," The_EE demonstrates a general ability to use words and spell them correctly, but run-on sentences and misappropriated commas dot the fic.  A plethora of meaningless modifiers conspire to rob the story of forward momentum.  And while this lack of momentum is partially the result of story construction decisions (although Derpy's injuries provide an obvious source of conflict, no cohesive and coherent narrative is ever forged from that event; it's simply used to set up Twilight's and Dinky's interactions), a major factor is also the passive, laundry-list narration.

That list-like quality is a common problem in amateur fiction: too many authors seem to think that just presenting a series of facts which add up to a scene is something other than breathtakingly dull.  Sets of sentences like "The coming weekend didn't really mean as much to Derpy as it did to most everypony else, as she had been working Saturdays for a while now.  The pay was roughly the same, but the hours were shorter and as such she was usually back before noon, leaving the rest of the day to herself.  Sundays, on the other hoof, were dedicated solely to Dinky and as such were something she was always looking forward to" may succeed in conveying information, but the repetitious focus, the lack of obvious direction, and the preponderance of at best tangentially relevant information in that example all make for a less than engaging reading experience.

The writing problems extended into character dialogue as well.  Ponies would, at seemingly random intervals, eschew contractions for a page or two at a stretch, before resuming more normal speaking habits.  All of the characters' speech had a stiffly formal quality to it, which was often wildly at odds with the mood which the fic was trying to set.  Sometimes, it was difficult to tell whether the problem was the writing, or simply poor characterization; Pinkie, for example, makes a brief appearance in the story, but acts shockingly subdued and companionably aloof, more like a friendly grandmother than the Pinkie Pie from the show.  Honestly, it's hard to tell how much of that was poor decision-making on the author's part and how much was simply poor communication, but based on the portrayals (and writing) of the other characters, I'm inclined to guess it's mostly the latter.

Star Rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

The underlying story, as I said, isn't particularly bad.  But the execution on this piece is sadly subpar.

Recommendation:  Readers who aren't put off by dull, flighty writing may be able to enjoy the workmanlike but nevertheless competent efforts by the author to repeatedly tug at the heartstrings.  Most, however, will find the presentation too much of a barrier to immersion to really enjoy this story.

Next time:  Reading Rainbow, by Corejo


  1. Replies
    1. Huh. I've never read that one, but I recognized the author as that guy who wrote that story about Scootaloo — the one with prose more florid than almost anything I've seen outside of a parody. (Sorry, Cerulean Pen takes the cake there.)

      So, I just checked it out myself, just to see what the big fuss about it was. And... well...


      I know I'm pretty bad at figuring out rhythm and meter myself, but, eh. I'll just shut up and wait till Friday.

    2. "'‘A form ne-neer? Nerr?’'

      'I think you mean ‘ne’er,’' Twilight happily supplied. 'It’s a Shakesponian contraction used to remove excess syllables and keep a poem’s meter in check, though this one seems to be in free verse.'"

      ... Why am I raging so hard right now? Is it because the definition of "ne'er" is correct, yet Twilight does not seem to realise that rhyming couplets are not free verse?

    3. Sorry. I kept reading and then I exploded.

    4. Should I try reading Transcendence? I remember attempting some months ago and not being able to go through the first chapter. Is there some kind of big pay off at the end, or at least the writing gets a little less flowery?

    5. It's on hiatus, so if there's a big payoff I don't think it would be there yet. And to my knowledge, the prose is pretty consistent, although I only made it up to chapter 7 or so.

      "The wind swept through Scootaloo’s mane as she flew just above the treetops, tailing her prey with an insatiable zeal. Her muscles ached with fatigue and the growing buildup of lactic acid as her metabolism switched to anaerobic respiration."

      That happens some time in a later chapter. I am not kidding.

    6. Actually, looking at the chapter in question, it's been edited since then.

    7. Why all the hate for lactic acid, man? D:

    8. Because lysergic acid diethyalamide is way better. Duh!

    9. I am unable to launch a convincing counter-argument. Therefore, I am forced to concede defeat.

      ...Well played.

    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I know my writing in Transcendence sucked huge monkey butt (and RR doesn't fair too much better), but I have learned much through my time writing and have been rewriting the whole thing from the ground up. It needs it.

    Prose is fixed from chapter 12 on, and as mentioned above, will be for the rest soon, too.

    I'm curious to see how hard Chris bombs my story. It'll be fun.