Friday, December 21, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 121: Trains, Carriages and Airships

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

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!


  1. >Yup, we're jumping around a bit to pick this one up. I'll explain why in the review!

    Grr. : P

  2. One of the advantages to the delay between reviews was that I was able to finally read this one. The title always intrigued me (as I said before, I love "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"), but now that I finally had an excuse to read, I have to say I really enjoyed it. I can't really disagree with anything in the review, both good and bad, so there's that.

    And now there's only four more to go before...

    Next time: My Little Denarians (sequel to Forever!), by Chengar Qordath

    B-But there were only four...and now there's's not's not fair...

  3. I cracked up at the line "the morass of Bataan Death March comedies." People need to use that expression more often.

    It's probably a bad sign that I had to look up what the word "malapropism" meant. Now I'm feeling the need to read this story over again to see what I did. Maybe I can fix some of the wording up along the way.

    But all in all, three stars is all I dared hoped for, and I'm pleased the story got them! Thanks for reviewing!

    1. I forgot to mention this - I actually prefer using the Oxford comma, but I've been forced to ween off it because the EQD prereaders are pretty picky about its use. If there doesn't *need* to be a comma there, they don't want to see it.

      Of course, in the particular case of the title, I didn't use the comma to more accurately reflect the title of the movie.

    2. What doodies!

      From all of the prereader responses I've seen, they go all sorts of heavy punctuation on shit, and not following introductory phrases/statements/clauses/words (or nonrestrictive modifiers) with commas is one of the little nitpicks they tend to throw back at people. Heavy punctuators railing at Oxford commas is like middle-management railing at their own incompetence!

      (tbh, I usually eschew the Oxford comma myself, unless there's gonna be some crazy ambiguity—mostly because I know that Oxfordcommalessness pisses a lot of people off, even though it's technically acceptable... and I'm an asshole like that. >:D)

    3. Wait, do other pre-readers actually tell people not to use the Oxford commas?

      ...pardon me. I have some bones to pick in Skype.

    4. Ye! When a website is openly tolerant of regional spellings, refusing to give comma use the same courtesy is just rage-inducing!

      Once I threw a bitch-fit when I saw that a prereader specifically instructed a writer not to capitalize a familial title, even though it was being used as a proper noun.

      ...and I've said some very unkind things to an individual who jealously defended every single little comma splice and awkward word choice in a story we were both editing.

      That said, you might want to take what induces my rage with a grain of salt.

    5. Glad that pisses y'all of too. Not seeing the Oxford had become weird for me, but I couldn't even imagine calling someone on a preference between two legitimate styles.

    6. And now I find out I could have been using the Oxford comma this whole time. *headdesk*

      Mind you, this was long enough ago (as in 'I can't even remember when' long ago) that it's quite possible whoever said it isn't still advising against the comma. All I know is I read it, internalized the info ("okay, they don't like that") and changed my behavior to accommodate it.

      Well, now that I know better, look forward to my upcoming sequel: "Trains, Carriages, and Airships 2: Comma at Me, Bro"

    7. Wow, I actually feel a lot better about my own writing now. Traditionally, I've tried to make my writing match my speech, so there've been Oxford commas aplenty, but lately I've been dropping them after learning it's considered a no-no in many circles. Reading Chris' comment on them and the discussion it's spawned feels pretty liberating! :D

    8. Oh dear, it seems I may have caused a PR schism. Um, my bad?

      Glad you appreciated the review, Mr. Perry!

  4. This is the story that pulled me into John's world and he has yet to let me go. Apparently I'm useful for something.

    I loved the pacing and the humor along with all the absolutely crazy ways that the three characters took to get back on track. Pro tip: Don't get between Twilight Sparkle and her need to be somewhere at precisely the time she wants to be. Bad things will happen to ya.

    Great review! Ever forward!

  5. Great review. I avoided reading this story because I expected another Bataan Death March comedy. Nice to know I can add another good comedy to my to-be-read list.

  6. I read this story some time ago and got halfway through before I lost interest. I don't exactly remember why, but yeah.

  7. Replies
    1. Actually my "last" was meant to be the last post before the end of the end of days. You're post was made on the dawn of the new age, so you're good... for now.