Monday, December 31, 2012

6-Star Reviews Part 123: For Those We Left Behind

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

I can't say I cared for the Timber Wolves in Spike at Your Service--I'm not enough of an artistic connoisseur to express what about their appearance sat so poorly with me, but they looked very... computer-generated.  I know the entire show is done in flash, but visually, they just didn't jive with the rest of what we've seen, I thought.

On the plus side, Rainbow Dash writing self-insert Wonderbolt fanfics is now canon, which is something that I've always privately supposed.

Below, my review of Drakmire's For Those We Left Behind.

Impressions before reading:  I actually read this before it was published, and offered the author a few bits of advice, so this story isn't new to me by any stretch.  I thought at the time that it was very powerful, moreso for the very low-key, understated way it dealt with the central tragedy.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Twlight's mother passes away, Twilight realizes that she barely even knew her.

Thoughts after reading:  One of the best things a story can do is inspire a bit of introspection.  This story does precisely that.

Superficially, of course, this is a story about Twilight dealing with the loss of her mother, and it works quite well on that level.  But the questions which are asked of the reader go deeper.  Much more than being a story about something, this is a story about what wasn't: a meaningful relationship between Twilight and her mom.  There's no grand declaration at the end, no blame assigned, no sides chosen.  Instead, room is left for the reader to interpret how (or even if) Twilight and her mother failed one another--a welcome bit of open-endedness, given the subject matter.

The author adopts a very minimalist style for this story, limiting the narration mostly to succinct but functional descriptions of character actions and events, and letting the dialogue do the talking.  As with the story itself, the dialogue is more often notable for what's left unsaid than what's actually stated.  Drakmire does an excellent job representing the awkwardness of conversation in the wake of a death; a conversation near the middle of the story where Twilight's curtness, bordering on rudeness, and her conversational partner's inability to think of something more useful to say than "I'm sorry," over and over, was as strikingly realistic as it was (intentionally) uncomfortable.

The pacing is fairly episodic, skipping from scene to scene with little in the way of transition.  This, combined with the above-mentioned minimalist writing, give the entire story a hollow, empty feeling--one very appropriate to the story being told.  Twilight's needing to speak at the funeral loosely ties these scenes together, and this does inadvertently weaken the ending: although her speech may be perfectly natural and appropriate, it hardly feels like a climax.  Rather, it's another in a string of scenes which show how Twilight is coping in the wake of a family tragedy, one for which she was even more unprepared than she realized.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

I don't have a lot more to say about this one.  I didn't when I first read it.  In fact, my exact words to the author were "Frankly, I didn't have much to say; you had a story to tell, and for the most part I think you did an excellent job telling it."  That right before I handed him a dozen or so paragraphs worth of suggestions, but bah.  The point is, this story is remarkably effective for what it is: an unflinching look at a squandered opportunities, put forever beyond correction.

Recommendation:  This is one of the most emotionally honest pieces of ponyfiction I've come across, and anyone interested in as much should definitely give this a look.

Next time:  Shipping and Handling, by Pegasus Rescue Brigade


  1. I've never lost anyone close to me, and I hope that I won't for a long time to come.

    However, several people close to me have. I did my best to be as honest with Twilight's reactions as I could, based on my limited, outsider experiences with the subject.

    I don't really have a lot to say here, but thank you for taking the time to look this over with a critical eye. I'm happy to see that my writing from months and months ago still passes muster.

  2. This is one of the most powerful FiM stories I've ever read. I've been lucky for most of my life - I've never lost anyone important to me - but this was a rather blunt wake-up call, a reminder that it might happen at any time. And the way Twilight handles it, sadly, is how I probably would. Even though I've never had anything happen like what occurs in the story, I could still feel it strike me right in the heart. And that, I think, is the sign of a good story.

    I wish I could say more, but I feel that this work pretty much speaks for itself. If you haven't read it, do so now. If you have, then do it again. Good show, Drakmire. Good show.

  3. I died when RD started talking about her fic, but I really want to know what AJ's writing about. A torrid love affair between a gruff, yet deep down insecure sea captain the governor's daughter he's holding captive? Or perhaps a treatise on apples? Whatever it is, it's got to be better than Sweet Apple Massacre. That was one of the most disappointing reads I've had in a long time

    I didn't care much for the CGI timberwolves either, though I've heard some say they enjoyed it because it helps distinguish the Everfree Forest from the rest of Equestria. A good point, but I think there could've been another way to achieve that effect without clashing so much with the rest of the show's style

    Sorry I can't comment on your fic, Drakmire, but I haven't read it... yet. I'm looking forward to it, though, and it sounds like quite the story. Be warned that it's title will work against it, though, as I'm reminded of Memories of Those Friends Who've Gone Before Us, and will likely compare the two. Yeah, I know the titles aren't that similar and such a comparison wouldn't be fair, but that's how my brain works

    1. Also, next story gets bonus points for double-spacing

  4. ...Wait, wait. That description sounds exactly like a recent writeoff entry, one that I absolutely loved (and various people detested). Well crap. :|

    1. Yes, and I gave that entry a very long review, too. I wasn't aware of Drakmire's story at the time, so didn't see the overwhelming similarity. But I have to say, I'm one of the people who thought that particular write-of entry fell short of being effective. I ought to read this one to see if I feel the same way about it, though I doubt Chris would have let such a thing pass unmentioned if it had.

      Good on ya, Drakmire. Sounds like the kind of story I'd enjoy.

      As to the episode, I was glad to see Applejack get some more stage time, and thought it was quite amusing to envision her as a novelist. She's probably one of those ultra-realists. I didn't think this episode was particularly good or bad. A bit weird at first, but average once it hit its stride. Odd that Spike was so quick to leave Twilight, given his worst fear shown in Sombra's door, and Spike as an incompetent cook is a rather disappointing turn of events.

    2. See, I liked that one, but apparently I was able to read a lot of intention into it that others weren't. So a fic with the same idea that is actually effective and well-reviewed I am looking forward to.

  5. > but they looked very... computer-generated.

    That's called cell shading, I believe. And I agree; they were very weird.

    1. Cel shading, actually!

      It was the way they moved. Some animators are really bad at hiding the inverse kinematics they use on their rigs. On top of that, they'll work at 24 fps (or 29.97), but will space their keyframes (CGI keyframes, not traditional animation keyframes*) really far apart and use smooth interpolation between the frames. To get the proper traditional animation effect, you gotta go at least one keyframe every two frames, possibly even with stepped interpolation. It's jerkier and less fluid, but that's what people are used to seeing.

      And to make things even worse, they decided to show off their fancy new 3D models by using rotating camera angles, which is a terrible idea unless you want everyone to go, "LOOKIT ALL THAT CG". Meatpeople (unless they're Richard-fucking-Williams) just aren't that good at envisioning and conveying every minute change of an object's vertices and lines during a perspective shift. And when they are, it looks plain unnatural. (Not CG—that was animated in like the sixties.)

      * Which are like the big, emphasized, difficult, and/or important frames in an animation.

    2. Sessalisk covered most of the issues very well, but I'd like to add that the outlines of the timberwolves were black, something that is very common in other shows but almost unheard of in MLP. Just another bit that made them seem ill-fitting.

      The episode itself... well, the express train to Stupidville doesn't stop at Obvious Solution, evidently.

  6. Shipping and Handling. Now there's one that I've actually read. A pretty good story, in my opinion. Not astounding, definitely had weak points, but I rather liked it overall. Interested to hear your take on it, Chris.

  7. Just read this story. A bit of personal conflict kept me from enjoying it, but I can see it's merits.

  8. Loved this story. The stylistic execution really resonated with me, and I thought it worked very, very well.

  9. A lot of what's been said matches up to my thoughts (although I don't find it quite as open-ended as suggested). However, something about this didn't click with me. Maybe it was my mood at the time, maybe it's because I've read similar pieces that worked better for me (comparisons aren't fair, but they're there), I don't know.

    That's not to take away the strengths here, this is still pretty good.

    *Next time: Shipping and Handling, by Pegasus Rescue Brigade*

    Chris, I hope you got an icepack for this one; you're going to need it.

  10. I tend not to read sadfics...
    Sometimes I wish I did.