Monday, January 28, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 129: A Colt's Best Friend

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

Sorry for the non-post on Friday, guys.  See, I was going to be out of town through the weekend, so I wrote up the review in advance... and then forgot to set it to post.  So, it was done!  You just didn't get to see it.

Anyway, I got home Sunday afternoon and figured that at that point, it'd make more sense to just call it a loss and schedule it for the usual time on Monday.  So here's your slightly delayed review of MisterClacky's A Colt's Best Friend.

Impressions before reading:  The fact that one of the additional tags on this story is "D'awww" doesn't inspire a lot of confidence going in; that's just behind "manly tears" on the list of warning signs that a story will be dealing in uninspired cliches and/or contrived angst, rather than actual emotion.  That said, the story isn't tagged sad, so maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After young Applejack leaves for Manehattan, Big Mac (nee Little Mac) is left alone on the farm with Granny Smith and an infant Applebloom.  Then, he finds someone else who's been abandoned--a puppy.

Thoughts after reading:  Unfortunately, my fear going in turned out to be pretty well justified.  From the opening paragraph, this story relies heavily on naked emotional appeals, rather than plot or character building, to establish an emotional tone.  It seems crass to me to use dead parents as a backdrop to establish tone, though perhaps I'm simply expecting too much development from a story that's only a few thousand words long.  Be that as it may, there's an unselfconscious insincerity which pervades this story, both in its sadder moments and in the more slice-of-life bits.  I've heard others describe similar stories as having the effect of the author standing over their shoulder saying, "Okay, now be sad!  That's it, now feel better!"  In truth, that's not too far of the vibe I got throughout this piece.

As for the overall story, it's constructed very poorly.  Best Friend essentially breaks down into three distinct sections: Mac's sorrow and feelings of abandonment at the start, some semi-comic slice-of-life hijinks in the middle, and a "heartwarming" reunion and denouement to wrap it up.  These three sections are not well integrated with one another, however, and although there's a consistent plotline throughout, the changing emotional center and writing structure make it feel almost as if one is reading three separate micro-fics.

Word choice is decent, but tends towards the overblown.  "A solitary tear clung to his quivering chin, each tremor threatening to send it plummeting to the rich soil below," is a representative example of the adjective-heavy style which the author uses throughout the story.  The injudicious use of these flourishes unfortunately contributes to the feeling of melodrama in the story's sad sections, and tends to be a poor fit in the livelier bits.  With that said, actual word use is quite good; if nothing else, the author refrains from mangling words by actually misusing them.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

The review and rating as written seem to me a bit harsh, compared to how I feel about the story itself.  It's not awful by any stretch... just disjointed and trite.  Of course, "disjointed and trite" is hardly a ringing endorsement itself, but there you have it.  This is a type of story of which many, many examples exist in any fandom: it does little with its characters, and tries to demand an emotional reaction without earning any particular investment from its readers.  Sadly, it doesn't stand out from that crowd.

Recommendation:  That type of story does, however, seem to have a lot of draw.  At a guess, I'd say folks who liked My Little Dashie will probably enjoy this one, too.  Although the setting is completely different, and the tone and structure have little in common, both treat their characters (and the reader) in similar ways.  In general, however, I would say this is not a story that rises above "typical fanfiction" in any way save perhaps editing quality.

Next time:  Sword, Hammer, Stallion, by RedSquirrel456


  1. Oh boy, one of these kind of stories again. Really, stories like this just bug me to death. It's very easy to tell someone that they should be sad, but it's a lot harder to actually make them feel sad.

    And I share your disgust with the term "manly tears." First, it perpetuates the gender stereotype that men are not allowed to cry, and thus "manly tears" are something special. Second, it again tells you that the story is sad, instead of simply showing you what it has to offer and letting you decide whether or not to feel anything. And third, it's just a stupid term.

    (I do admit to using "D'AAAAAAAAW," but only as a joke, and never to describe a story.)

    As for this didn't make me sad. And considering that was kind of its thing, that's a bit of a failing. In fact, I can honestly think of three stories in my whole pony fanfiction career that have made me cry, for different reasons:

    A) Happy Birthday, Fizzypop! - Because I've been in situations like that in the story and know the pain.

    B) Family Matters - Because the story doesn't pull any punches with the Ditzy/Dinky/Sparkler relationship and presents everything with an air of cold maturity.

    C) Background Pony - Because shortskirtsandexplosions stole eight-to-ten cumulative hours of my life to give this story a crap ending. And no, I will never be over this.

    1. I could cry just seeing someone say that about Background Pony. There aren't many fics that I actually despise, but that'd be one of them.

      And yeah, this sort of fic is why I had a period of rating stores in baseball bats to the face--"You will have emotions NOW!!!!"

    2. Inquisitor, didn't you have a glowing review of the first chapter awhile back? What happened that you went from loving to despising Background Pony?

      I generally don't cry unless I'm personally suffering (it's not a macho thing. I guess there's just too much of a disconnect for media to affect me in that way), but there have been a few instances (Brian's Song, anyone?) where I've felt a pang in my heart and my eyes got a little moist, just no tears. I think ponies have made me soft, 'cause a couple fics have elicited that response to some degree, the most memorable being The Worst Bakers in Equestria

    3. Hah, bet you guys thought I was gonna say Memories of Those Friends Who've Gone Before Us again, didn't ya?

    4. Only 8 hours for Background pony?

      I felt conned after reading the whole thing. The worst part is that there are interesting chapters in the middle, so I kept reading expecting good ones to come.

      By the way, is End of Ponies any better? I have been putting off reading that one for the last 6 months...

    5. I somehow doubt you read 900+ words per minute ;)

    6. Inquisitor's glowing review was mainly about "Background Pony"'s first chapter, which I agree was brilliant. I also happen to agree that shortskirtsandexplosions then managed to run the fic into the ground, and not just because of its diabolus-ex-machina ending (I actually quit long before that).

    7. Yes, Prof, I did. The first chapter is still one of the best short stores in the fandom, if you take it on it's own. After the that, the story fails to add anything worthwhile to the initial premise. It's ridiculously redundant, thematically repetitive, and beyond poorly paced--I'd say it was barely paced at all.

      Add to that the remarkably trite and arbitrary attempts at philosophy and moralising and I'm already guaranteed to dislike it (self-proclaimed moral philosopher and all), but the ending left me feeling actively angry that I'd wasted my time on it. Sadly, having read some of SSaE's other stuff, it mostly has the same effect on me.

      I don't care about End of Ponies, no mater how many people say it's good. I don't mean this as a direct attack on SSaE, it's just that his style is clearly so diametrically opposed to what I enjoy that I would be an idiot for wasting my time. Which is a shame, because C1 of BP clearly proved he can really write, I just find what he writes to be junk. Which is, in essence, almost exactly what I said about Device Heretic's : The individual concepts are fine, but they seem to lack the knowledge of how to turn it into a convincing story (though I am sure that there are those who would say the same of me).

    8. What's really sad is that InquisitorM's review was what made me want to read Background Pony in the first place. And I would actually say that the first few chapters were pretty interesting. But the story just...sinks into a quagmire of lengthy, pointless prose and depression as it goes along. And that doesn't even include the awful, stupid, downright asinine ending.

      Background Pony feels like it was more about the philosophy revolving around Lyra's situation than the actual story, and that is a serious problem. Your first priority when writing a story should be to create an engaging, entertaining piece that enraptures the audience. If you want to include a moral, then get their attention first and then logically grow the message out of the existing narrative. But Background Pony takes the sledgehammer approach, beating us upside the head over and over and over again and trying to force us to be happy about a disturbing and downright horrific ending.

      ...Sorry for bringing this up. I know we have another story to discuss here, and...well, I can feel the pain of having a story post up and seemingly no one caring. But yeah, Background Pony was a waste, and I don't think I'll be touching anything from SSaE again.

    9. If it makes ya feel better, Chris's favorable review of Bringing Up Blueblood certainly makes me want to take a closer look at some of your work.

      Alas, time is such a scarce resource nowadays.

    10. There's a kind of meta appropriateness to wishing you could unread Background Pony.

  2. With a title like that, this fic had better feature Big Mac stabbing somepony in the shower. :V


    1. I second your obligatory comment and raise one of my own!

    2. Hmm. We'll see. I was on the judging crew for the /fic/ write-off where "Sword, Hammer, Stallion" first appeared. The writing quality was very good, but it gave incredibly short shrift to two of the three major plot elements, including a very convenient ending. It was still good enough for first place, and I voted it as such, but I never considered it as one that I'd want to read again or put on my favorites list. Though, to be fair, I never read the revised version that was submitted to EqD.

    3. Pasco, I love you, but I have come to realize that I'm going to live a happy life not comparing my tastes to yours. We just don't mesh literarily.

    4. Gonna second Present Perfect's comment:

      Though I'm making it in regard to the Background Pony discussion above. I mean, sure, I had some problems with that story--it could use a couple hundred thousand fewer words, for instance--but the ending was as exactly right as the rattling, humming fade-out that finishes Shostakovitch's last symphony.


  3. Wait… People have or expect d'awww reactions to stories? I thought it was solely for images? The d'awww for me is a momentary emotional response that requires the instance of the image (or possibly a short video sequence, e.g., Sweetie Belle drinking a milkshake), rather than the comparatively slower buildup of the text.