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I started watching Firefly this week; I'm only a couple of episodes in, but what I've seen so far has been good. Plenty of humor, good casting--I can see why it's become a cult classic.
Below, my review of Pegasus Rescue Brigade's Shipping and Handling.
Impressions before reading: Ah, it's been a while since I hit a shipping story. It is shipping/comedy, usually my favorite form of shipping. And if the joke which is the premise (based on the fandom's alternate definition of "shipping") doesn't do much for me, that doesn't mean the story proper can't be entertaining.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After failing to read the fine print on an employment contract, Ditzy Doo finds herself working for a matchmaking service. Together with a wide ensemble of OCs (conveniently pictured above), she works to help ponies find love, and to make sure that their love is reciprocated.
Thoughts after reading: If I say that this story has a chapter where a ponified Sethisto is transported to Equestria and hires Ditzy to ship him with Trixie, do I really need to write anything further for this review? I imagine that most potential readers can decide whether they find the fic intriguing or cringe-worthy based solely on that bit of information--do I need continue?
Shipping and Handling starts off with a lighthearted but not flippant tone, one which relies heavily on readers to "just go along" with the setup not just of the story proper, but of each of the (mostly self-contained) shipping scenarios. I didn't find this inappropriate for the story being told--indeed, I thought it was a nice fit for the first couple of chapters, where Ditzy takes her new job, then immediately gets handed an assignment which falls firmly on the "cute" side of the adorable-to-sensual romantic scale. And through the first few chapters, reading about Ditzy bumbling her way through pairing up ponies was amusing, even when the ponies themselves weren't.
But the inconsistent tone and setting really proved to be a problem, in the end. At various points, the story revolves around Ditzy helping a pair of foals learn how to talk to girls, various permutations of main six-shipping, and some wholesale fourth-wall breakage, with characters directly addressing the audience and all. This all in addition to the aforementioned EqD crossover. Elements that disparate don't readily blend into a cohesive whole, and here, they come across as an unfortunate mish-mash. I don't have much patience for stuff like Lyra having a human
Although editing is good throughout, there are some major writing problems. The most immediately obvious is the lack of differentiation between different ponies' dialogue; it's hard not to notice that every pony, from those repeatedly described as unusually brilliant to canon simpletons, share essentially the same vocabulary and vocal mannerisms. Over-explaining in the narration is also a consistent problem; although the structure of the earlier chapter makes it easy to write this off as a stylistic choice at first, having it explained that the seething unicorn "was probably very angry" gets old fast.
Characterizations are very flat. Ditzy's co-workers can be described as the Potential Love Interest, the Wacky One, the Villain, and the Third Wheel, based on their initial introductions, and nothing they do over the course of the remaining 130,000 words significantly adds to those descriptions. To be fair, they were all very consistently characterized (to and past the point of self-caricature), but they simply weren't all that interesting, save as foils to straight-mare Ditzy. A role, by the way, for which she wasn't a terribly good fit, given her own lighthearted cheerfulness and occasional forays into comic relief. Characters with canon personalities, such as the main six, were much better handled, but whenever the author was writing a character from scratch (whether an OC or a background pony), the results were one-dimensional and disappointing.
Star Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although the first few chapters were sufficiently engaging to inspire some hope for the overall work, Shipping and Handling ultimately is nothing more than cliche, trite characters working through a series of setpieces so tangentially related in tone and style that they might as well have been from completely different stories. There were plenty of individually entertaining segments, but they were poorly linked, and often poorly executed in any event.
Recommendation: As I mentioned, I did find it enjoyable to see how Derpy went about doing her job at the beginning, absent any training. Readers who enjoy shipping for its own sake, and who don't mind a fair bit of tonal inconsistency, may likewise enjoy the story for those elements. For other readers, this story will probably disappoint.
Next time: Shipping Goggles, by AbsoluteAnonymous