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Well, I saw The Hobbit, and I have lots and lots of opinions about it. I'm thinking maybe I'll put that into a post for Monday, if for no other reason than because I wouldn't mind getting some of my thoughts off my chest. For now though, it's time for another fanfic review! Below the break, Blayze Kohime's Substitute Harmony.
Impressions before reading: Apparently, this story was completely re-written at some point during its publication. If I'd been reading it up to that point, I'd have been annoyed--I always find it frustrating when an author metaphorically pulls the rug out from under you, even if the change is for the better. But since I'm coming into this one fresh, I don't expect that revising to impact my enjoyment at all. The presence of G1 ponies isn't particularly encouraging to me--I've never found G1 plus/vs. G4 to be a particularly interesting dynamic for a fanfic--and the combination of tags (dark, random, and comedy) has me concerned, but I'm prepared to approach this with an open mind.
Also, I see there's a short sequel. I'll cover it in the main review.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The main six's G1 equivalents kidnap Twilight and her friends--except for Pinkie, who meets up with an unlikely group of (mostly) ponies, and must attempt to save them. Also, the fate of Equestria and the stability of the universe hang in the balance.
Thoughts after reading: "Show, don't tell," is a standard bit of advice given to nearly every budding author (fanfic or otherwise) at an early stage in their writing. In fact, TD did a very nice guest post on the subject of show vs. tell on this blog just recently, if you're looking for a little more explanation and expansion on the concept. The gist of it, though, is that it's usually better to allow a reader to determine something via inference than by straight-up informing them.
One problem that isn't brought up as often as regards writing, though, is what happens when you show AND tell. The lack of commentary on this pitfall has always seemed a little odd to me, since it's a fairly common one for beginning authors to make. Essentially, show and tell is when you demonstrate something, then turn around and inform the audience of it anyway. In case the reason why this is a pitfall (rather than just a thing) isn't obvious, this style of writing is invariably dull, because it constantly repeats what the reader already knows. Also, it can make the reader suspect that the author must have a rather low opinion of his/her intelligence, what with the constantly pointing out the obvious and all.
Substitute Harmony is full of examples of show and tell, though these are especially prevalent in the early chapters. Passages such as this one, where AJ needs to lie about her name: "'Oh! I'm... Apple... Juice. Applejuice.' The fact that she had just made that name up on the spot couldn't have been much more obvious," take a perfectly good line, then beat it into the ground. Although I'm sure it's unintentional on the author's part, the frequency with which Blayze feels the need to explain what's happening in his story is almost insulting.
The author credits an editor on the EqD page, but I suspect that either this person was brought on partway through the work, or else improved his/her skills (or the author did, or both) as the story progressed. Although Substitute Harmony is mostly free of spelling and word errors throughout, the first third or so of it is dramatically under-punctuated. Commas substituted for periods, or simple spaces substituted for commas, combine with the above-mentioned show and tell problem to sap the early going of any forward impetus.
Then, there's the story itself. In truth, there are some very interesting elements to it, including some quite intelligent playing around with time travel, a bit of alternate character interpretation which generally passes the smell test, and an occasional spot of real hilarity (my favorite scene in the fic revolves around the twin observations that Discord can apparently be freed if people get too upset in his vicinity, and that he's kept in an extremely public location). Unfortunately, these bits are almost all saved for later in the piece, while early chapters mostly revolve around some fairly straightforward (if mostly unexplained) kidnapping and pony-hunting, "buoyed" by Pinkie's occasional fourth wall gags.
The latter brings me to an odd question: why are there G1 ponies in this story in the first place (aside from so that Pinkie can scream about being "dragged back to the 80's")? It's (eventually) made perfectly clear that they aren't supposed to actually be from anything resembling the G1 world, their similarities to the main six appear to be coincidental... yet they each make a big deal about matching up to their respective opposites. I never understood the significance of the decision to use Surprise, Sparkler, and the rest rather than just some OCs, and the story itself seems to vacillate between writing it off as a mild in-joke and treating it as a major plot point.
Oh, and as for the sequel: it's pretty funny, though only tangentially related to the main story. However, the fact that it uses the characters (and characterizations) established in the main story mean that it really doesn't work as an independent piece. Anyone who reads the main story and enjoys the characterizations therein will probably get a kick out of CUTIE MARK.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
It's tempting to give Substitute Harmony two stars in recognition of the fact that there are quite a few interesting and amusing bits scattered throughout the back end of it. But frankly, I have trouble seeing how the average reader would get that far. The first 30k words are a slog through dull exposition, repetition, and some really terrible fandom gags. Well, the fandom gags aren't just at the start--a cringeworthy appearance by Dr. Whooves sours one of the last scenes in the fic. But the point is, that's a long way to go to get to any sort of payoff.
Recommendation: Again: the last half to two-thirds of the story are somewhat better written than the earlier segments, and has both some quite clever and some genuinely funny material. But I only recommend this story to readers willing to accept that there's a lengthy road to travel before Substitute Harmony surrenders its best scenes.
Next time: Trains, Carriages, and Airships, by John Perry