Monday, November 26, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 117: Naked Singularity

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

When it comes to TV shows, I actually don't really mind "Very Special Episodes" in principal.  Sure, there's plenty of bad ones, but there's nothing about tackling a social issue head-on and in a particularly blatant way which precludes quality writing/humor/etc.  What I don't like is being told one thing and then given another.  One Bad Apple was a heavy-handed piece of anti-bullying propaganda, and I resent being promised something else far more than the heavy-handedness itself would have bothered me.  Maybe that's petty of me, but I was irked.

I did dig the ersatz version of The A-Team's theme, though.

Below the break, my review of Cold in Gardez's Naked Singularity

Impressions before reading:  Although the story's by an author whose stories I regularly enjoy, I skipped over this one when it was written.  Why?  For a petty reason (there's a lot of pettiness in this post, apparently): the comments and additional tags promise me a tale of Twilight being "adorkable," a non-word which goes far past being a pet peeve of mine; "seething distaste" would be a pretty accurate description of my reaction to seeing it in print, and the fact that it's used by someone whose writing ability I respect for any reason other than to annoy me is discouraging beyond words.  Et tu, CiG?

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight tries to write a romance novel.  Unfortunately, it's... not good, and it's up to her friends to contain any damage to her reputation which the story might cause if the public were exposed to it.

Thoughts after reading:  First off: there are no "adorkable"s in the main text, I'm happy to report.

This story is definitely not explicit, but it's all about writing romance-in-quotation-marks, if you know what I mean.  If ponies talking about sex, even in comedic generalizations, isn't your thing, this obviously is not a story for you.  But if the very idea doesn't take you out of your comfort zone, there's a lot here to like.

Although comedy can take many forms, most of the humor here is ultimately based on parodic exaggeration.  This story starts with a perfectly down-to-earth premise, then builds off of that in exceedingly absurd directions.  Authors who lack talent, experience, familiarity with their subject matter, or all three are something that any reader (especially one who dabbles in fanfiction) has seen countless times, and over the course of Singularity, the tale moves from near-banality (though never dullness) to absolute ridiculousness, both in terms of plot elements and in the excerpts we see from Twi's titular attempt at a romance novel.

The parody aspect, though obvious from the start, becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses.  The author takes barely-disguised shots at such distressingly common writing pitfalls as authorial self-insertion, wish-fulfillment as a plot device, tortured and/or cliche metaphors, and much more.  The beauty of these is that, even as they become more and more over-the-top, it's easy to say to oneself, "yeah, I read a story like that once."  In fact, the only real hiccups on this front come from excessive self-awareness; the line, "He rode her like a train departing Canterlot at 4:27 p.m. at a constant velocity of 35 kilometers per hour and making stops every 20 minutes in Manehattan, Fillydelphia, and Trottingham," for example, is a nicely exaggerated example of an over-extended metaphor... but the line continues, "but the train was actually a metaphor, and the stops were actually heights of passion..." which detracts from the joke by moving away from representation.  Not even a completely clueless author would identify their own metaphors outside of a trollfic, after all (I hope--my faith in humanity prevents me from believing otherwise).  A few other times, attempts at direct mockery like this, as opposed to actual parody, fell flat, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

But the story is more than just on big "take that" at bad writing.  As I said, the story becomes increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, both as a whole and within scenes, as when an increasingly unlikely list of ponies starts showing up for a live reading which Twilight intends to attempt.  The slowly but steadily increasing humor matches the rising tempo of the story nicely, and makes for a relatively short but well-paced bit of writing.

Characterization is definitely strong in this piece.  The ponies are all exaggerated somewhat for comic effect--Twilight is even more clueless than usual, Dash is slow on the uptake even by her own standards, and so on--but all are immediately recognizable and vivid.  For a story which often relies on the discomfort of its cast for humor, as this one does, clearly-defined characters are an absolute necessity (how else can the reader know what a particular character will find discomforting, after all?), and Singularity certainly succeeds there.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Anyone who reads fanfiction (which, I suspect, encompasses most or all of this blog's readership) will immediately recognize and appreciate the many missteps which Gardez demonstrates through Twilight.  But there's much more to this than a mere "how not-to;" the story about Twi's story is as solidly executed as hers is cringeworthy, and is genuinely funny in its own right.

Recommendation:  As I said above, anyone who can't handle 10,000 words filled with lines like I quoted above should give this a pass.  But for pretty much anyone else, and especially those who've suffered at the hands of bad fiction in the past, this is one worth reading.

Next time:  An Old Guardpony's Last Duty, by BuffaloBrony


  1. Possibly the best comedy in the fandom. And my favorite CiG story by far.

  2. It's worth noting that the way I viewed Gardez changed forever after this. Something about working on borderline clop really redefined the interpersonal dynamic, you know? And that would be true with just the stuff that made it to publishing. You should have seen some of the material he had to cut to meet EQD's criteria, heh.

    1. Besides "double-slit experiment"?

      ... I don't think I want to know, but I think I want to know.

    2. It's true. Before I wrote this story with Drak's help, I would have been uncomfortable being naked in a room alone with him.

      Now? 180 degree difference.

    3. And thus the respect curve for Gardez hit its peak and has since down-turned into an everlasting spiral.

      But seriously.

      Once again, I got top billing. Lovely, even though I contributed very little outside of providing a few favors and some post production editing because Gardez went rogue and got it posted without tell me. Despite the fact that I'm around seventy-five percent certain that Rarity's characterization is borrowed from me, this is probably my least favorite of Gardez's comedy fics that he has written that I've read (I can't speak for Michael Bay).

      Now, I love Garry Dez over here: it's why I help him by yelling at him for sucking so bad. But generally, I feel as though the majority of dissenters of dissenters to this story think that this story's comedic merit is rejected by prudes or people who squick whenever sex and ponies are combined. I would reject that notion: I don't find NS funny generally because it stacks transparent euphemism on top of transparent euphemism (to me, this is a simple, "Haha, get it? I'm talking about fucking! That's a social taboo, right? OH THE HIJINKS.") to distract from the fact that is an age-old story concept executed with no more grace than any other story of its kind, with the single exception that the writer is aware of this and constantly stacks up more and more ridiculous scenarios to achieve maximum quirkiness. Don't get me wrong, that sort of thing is funny, but it's not the focal point of the story itself. No, the main draw of NS is having audience react to the god-awful story Twilight wrote and then have the situation in the story revolve around how the characters react to it as a corollary. I'm not sure how much direct quotations from said story constitute NS as a whole, but needless to say, it's a lot. Rarely do I think myself to equivalent to Gardez's skill with the written word—I am acutely aware I'm the bass and drums to his lead vocals and guitar—but if I might indulge myself in an oft-said adage, "I could have written this!"

  3. Three Part Reply:

    A. I actually liked the episode overall. It did get heavy-handed towards the end, but the song was catchy and I was pretty much laughing through a good chunk of it. I also respect it for setting up a plausible scenario for a victim to become a bully herself, and then showing how such things can create a vicious cycle. Far too many shows would have ended with the bullies simply being rotten bastards and their comeuppance being divine in nature or some crap like that. Although I'm pretty sure I'm the only one posting here who'll defend it, and everyone else is going to say how much they hated it and start wishing for Lauren back.

    And yes, the A-Team reference was awesome.

    B. This is one of my favorite stories. I really wish I could say more, but you've pretty much summed up my thoughts. I will note, though, that I really haven't read much else from CiG. Perhaps I should look into rectifying that...

    C. The next story is another one I really like. Here's hoping it makes your grade.

    1. Wrong, I loved the episode! Though I do wish Lauren Faust would come back (why does everyone hate her episodes, by the way?) After hearing several complaints, it seems to me that many misunderstood the episode's lesson, which may be another case of it getting muddled like in Feeling Pinkie Keen. Yes, most of the time adults won't end the bullying and can even make it worse. And yes, not all bullies are misunderstood victims. I don't think that was the point of the episode, though. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo didn't want to be snitches. That kind of mentality grants the bully power over their victims. The episode was more about not allowing bullies to manipulate you like that than it was about how adults will fix everything. And while Babs was a victim, Diamond Tiara's behavior was never justified. The show demonstrated, as you pointed out, how bullying can create a vicious cycle, while deftly avoiding the common pitfall of so many after-school specials. I don't watch the show for it's message, but I'd say that's a pretty damn good one. Whatever heavy-handedness it contained was easily outweighed by everything else that makes this show great (animation, voice acting, music, etc.)

      All this has me thinking, wouldn't it be great to see Blossom done with the Powerpuff of the same name?

    2. I'll add myself to the "liked the episode" pool, but then there really haven't been many episodes of pony I haven't liked for one reason or another. The song was amazingly catchy, there were a lot of funny moments, and the CMC grow on me more and more with every episode they're in. Heavy-handed it may have been, but I've seen much worse special episodes.

      You should absolutely read more Gardez. He is, in my opinion, one of the best authors in the fandom. I'd recommend The Contest, The Glassblower, The Carnivore's Prayer and The Proper Care and Feeding of Monsters. All but the first are sad stories, not comedies, but I personally think Gardez's dramatic stuff is better than his comedy, if not as popular.

  4. Oh man, I love this story so much, haha. It has just the right amount of parody, awkward Twilight and sexual innuendo to hit all the right buttons.

    While I will always be a serious CiG fan, his comedies are pure gold!

    1. My intense physical feelings of desire for you are as elusive as a Higgs boson. Only when our hips are like hadrons, colliding towards each other, can it be seen for all its spin and chargeless glory, existing in a theory we now know as fact.

      My rhythmic thrusts are like gluons, exchanging the strong force between our quarks. They are between the baryons of and mesons our our bodies, colouring our interaction with beads of opalescent beauty. When the second law of thermodynamics causes the gradual equilibrium of all forces in this universe, our passion will be the sole exception, our perpetually gyrating bodies the sole beacon of all hope in what would be the heat death of everything else that exists.



      Seriously, you should be a poet or something! Or a writer! A writer of comedies that even Shakespeare himself would be envious of!

    3. Well now it's rated parrrrrrticle physics.

  5. So, it turns out that when I responded to Present in last week's post, I was actually conflating this story with Two Peas in a Pod, which I either did not 5-star or simply forgot about when making my recommended reading list. Unfortunately, the answer to that question - which you all must surely be dying to know - has been lost to the æther. After mentally seperating the two fics, I realized how stupid I'd been. How could anyone not like this fic? In fact, I think I'll have to re-read it once I'm done with Fallout: Equestria. And Peas, too. I can't stand the idea that my list might be incomplete!

    1. Two Peas is incredible in ways that only Blueshift can manage.

      I'm finding myself mentally blocked on being able to respond to this post, so I'll respond to you instead! >:V

    2. Yeah, I can't think of much to say about the review itself either. I actually enjoyed the metaphor identification, but I can see why others might not

  6. Chris, has it really been 5 months since you last complained about the word "adorkable"? Seems like only yesterday. I'll admit, my position's wavering a little, though not based on your arguments. I've never thought "cork" or "fork" were unpleasant words. Maybe "Rourke," though that has more to do with the image it conjures than the sound. While I still have no problem with the word's existence, it doesn't seem to fit Twilight when you consider that "dork" implies a lesser intellect

  7. Gardez is a great writer and a nice guy to boot. I've really enjoyed the three stories of his that I read. I was interested to see if the review would make me want to read this one, since I was on the fence, mostly because I didn't know much about it. Alas, it was not meant to be.

    That's not a knock against this story's quality in any way. I just don't enjoy reading things that are heavy on innuendo, pony or otherwise. Similar situation with "The Wind Thief." It's a very well regarded story, but I have zero interest in Skyrim, and pony plus meh is less than the sum of its parts. And there's nothing wrong with that. No story will appeal to everyone, and these just aren't for me. I can recognize when a story I don't enjoy is a good one, but it's only nice to encounter those as a reviewer, not a reader.

    Anyway, good on ya for another Star-6, Gardez. I have no doubt it's deserved.

    As to the new episode, I was alright with it. The song got awfully repetitive in both the music and the visual, and it had more of a pop sound than most of the show's songs do, but I suppose it does hearken back to the style of those 1980s after-school special or even earlier Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I do find the CMCs to be quite cute, and the episode delivered on that front. The clips of them bouncing around Applejack and getting drinks were d'awww-inducing, and Sweetie Belle had a couple of great lines: the "that's what i've been saying all along" and the Homer Simpson-esque "Why does life have to be so ironic?" I didn't quite buy that Babs would be willing to start up a new CMC chapter so readily, given the teasing she'll surely endure. I also shudder to think what new dictionary memes we'll see since Scootaloo was the one who wrote the induction speech.

    All in all, it didn't stray too far from average for me, but that's not bad.

  8. Geez, I didn't even realize we were promised something other than a heavy-handed message. Then again, I didn't know anything about this episode save the title before I saw it, so that kept expectations low for me.

    I enjoyed it for some good gags (my face lit up when I heard the A-Team theme and I liked the song) and a couple really funny lines (Sweetie Belle had some great ones) but the message weighed it down towards the end.

    Frankly, I think the episode would have been stronger if they took the "kid takes advantage of being a guest" route. I know it's a cliche, but damned if it isn't true. I can tell you from personal experience that while I may not have gotten into outright bullying as a kid, I would take advantage of being a guest any chance I could. When you're a kid, you realize you can get away with a lot when your parents aren't around. That would have also made Babs position over Apple Bloom more realistic than just this vague insult of "tattle-tale." Maybe it's just me, but I think even as a kid I could have seen through that one. It's not being called a tattle-tale in and of itself that's threatening, it's the implication that there will be repercussions if you tell. I think even kids know this.

    As for the story - to be honest, while I like Naked Singularity and have nothing to criticize in it, I was never wild over it. There are plenty of examples of fics making fun of bad fics in this fandom, so even if this one is far and away the best, it just never quite rose to a position of "OMG this is the best comedy ever!!!" for me.

  9. Hey hey, I'm here, but alas. I have nothing to add.
    Why you guys always gotta cover everything? Harumph!

  10. Adorkable:

    1. (adj.) Equally adorable and dorky.

    I'm afraid that Adorkable is a new word that has already been used several million times by English speaking humans and will continue to be used into the foreseeable future. You may hate the word, but many others love it. It's highly probable that your hate is petty and getting in the way of your enjoyment of language, but it's your right to choose to hate words and I respect that.

    1. If we hate it enough it might go away. I'm hoping that's the case for "plinth". DAMN, I hate that word! *fume*

  11. Gradually English language is headed for vocabulary enrichment. Words such as WYSIWYG or what you see is what you get is one of the few additional new words in English.