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It's amazing how quickly someone (myself, for example) can go from being thrilled about work being canceled because of winter weather, to being stricken by the realization that that stupidly long driveway isn't going to shovel itself. Oh well, the exercise is probably good for me anyway.
Below, my review of John Perry's Trains, Carriages and Airships.
Impressions before reading: I'm a strong believer in using the Oxford comma in all situations where doing so wouldn't cause confusion (which, it seems to me, are far rarer than those where the reverse is true), if only because it mimics more closely the average person's speaking cadence. But I suppose it would be just a trifle petty of me to hold that against the author, and his insufficiently comma-ed title. On the plus side, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a very funny movie (even if they, too, refused to punctuate according to my preferences), so a ponified version of the same has a lot of potential for comedy.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash (see? That's how you do a list!) have plans to visit Manehattan together, to see the sights and attend a Wonderbolts convention. But adversity imperils their trip, and not everypony handles the pressure gracefully.
Thoughts after reading: I've mentioned before that comedies are slaves to pacing to a much greater degree than other stories. An over-long humorous story, or one which simply doles out jokes too infrequently, can rarely recover from such a misstep. There are few things worse, at least in the field of story construction errors, than a so-called comedy which drags.
I'm pleased to say that this story does not. Although the author does opt for a "straight opening," an introductory chapter which eschews most of the craziness present in later sections as a way to build contrast, the story as a whole is well-paced. Most of the humor is either character-based or is a product of the travel difficulties which the protagonists suffer along the way. The latter, despite incorporating such elements teleportation and airships, generally succeeds at feeling relatable who hasn't had the dubious joy of sitting next to an excessively obese passenger on a bus, or losing one's luggage?
There are some flaws in the actual writing, however, and in places these end up detracting from the story. Although TC&A is very well edited, on the whole, word use is often repetitive--whether it's a lack of pronouns or otherwise needless repetition of names ("Fillydelphia sought to ensure it was on the cutting edge of this bold new era of travel. So as part of a failed bid to host the Hoofball World Cup, Fillydelphia raised the money to construct a lavish and state-of-the-art airport that frankly was far larger than a city of Fillydelphia's size warranted."), or using the same relatively uncommon word two or three times in the same paragraph, word choice is often problematic. Over-wording is also a regular problem, which nearly succeeds in bogging down the story despite its overall pacing being so good (and resulting in at least a couple of amusing malapropisms, when the author tries to wedge two expressions together).
With that said, I want to emphasize that these problems were not representative of larger writing problems--although word use may have been clumpy, actual word selection was invariably appropriate. And despite the unwieldy turns which the narration sometimes took, there was always some little nugget of humor to move the action along, whether it was a subtle shoutout of some sort, a bit of empathy-inducing consumer suffering, or one of an endless stream of name-puns. There's a very nice consistency to this story, even as the stakes gradually rise.
Characterizations are quite good throughout. Each of the three main characters has their own goals for the trip, and while they aren't working at cross-purposes with one another, the varying ways in which they react to different setbacks does make for nice contrast. There are occasionally some issues juggling the three ponies, with AJ's motives seemingly forgotten for several chapters towards the middle of the fic, but by and large each of the ponies is well-represented.
Star rating: ★★★☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Mr. Perry does some very nice things with the story's pacing, and Twi, AJ, and RD are all very well handled. There are some language problems which occasionally threaten to drag this fic down into the morass of Bataan Death March comedies, but the consistent humor ensures that this never does happen.
Recommendation: Anyone looking for a comedy that mines most of its humor from believable characters and situations (as much so as MLP can be said to have believable characters and situations, anyway) should give this a look. Readers who are easily put off by poor word choice may find this one grating, though.
Next time: My Little Denarians (sequel to Forever!), by Chengar Qordath
Yup, we're jumping around a bit to pick this one up. I'll explain why in the review!