Sometimes, it seems like there aren't enough hours in the day to go to work, get a good night's sleep, keep up with family, have any sort of social life, do some pleasure reading, watch Top Chef (we all have our oddball indulgences), spend some quality time watching the squirrels in the backyard every now and then, and still read any bits of ponyfiction that happen to attract my interest. My "read later" list never seems to shrink, but over the last few weeks it's grown ridiculously rapidly. So today, I'm going to clear out a dozen or so of the shorter and more recent additions to that list, and provide a few comments on each.
These aren't full-blown reviews, but they're my comments as a reader on each story. The selection is by the rigorous criteria of "Chris heard about this story and thought he might like it," so feel free to keep that in mind as you ponder how these stories made the list. We've got a good mix of stories I found on EqD, stories I found by watching the author, a couple that were recommended to me, and one I think I picked off the FIMFic feature bar (though I can't remember now--I might have found it elsewhere). Oddly enough, I think all or nearly all of them are on EqD as of this posting, though. I guess my fan-lit net doesn't cast as wide as I might wish. Check it all out, below the break.
1. The True Legend of S. Guard, by Solar Phoenix
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The tale of a semi-mythical hero from the time of Nightmare Moon, presented as an in-universe history.
A few thoughts: I like the concept, and love the execution of the idea: there's a lot of (deliberate) loose ends and speculation here, as befits a history assembled from scraps of folklore and third-hand accounts. I'm a big fan of histories, so the style really worked for me. That said, the writing is dry and unengaging. Frankly, it reads like a lot of real-life histories; too few historians are competent writers. Nevertheless, I was disappointed by the frequent awkward phrasings.
Recommendation: Despite the writing problems, I still enjoyed this story. I suspect readers who enjoy historical reconstruction as much as I do will find those problems forgivable, as I did, but those less inclined to the subject and style are likely to be turned off.
2. Pro Corvo, by RavensDagger
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A representative of the ravens comes to Ponyville, hoping to secure some much-needed land and resources. Unfortunately, pony and raven mores turn out to be vastly different.
A few thoughts: I was a little put off that the author insisted on referring to a group of ravens as a "murder," and the A/N where he explains that it "sounds better" than unkindness leaves me unmollified. Once I accepted that, though, it turned out to be a wonderful little story. The indignant confusion of the raven over his treatment is endlessly entertaining, as tales of cultural collision so often are, and although there were a few in-jokes scattered about the story that I could have done without, these were rarely intrusive.
Recommendation: This story will probably appeal to anyone looking for a fun but not slapstick bit of comedy, with an occasional twinge of dark humor thrown in, leavened by the sheer entertainment value throughout and the highly recognizable (read: well-executed) canon characters and setting.
3. Warmth, by Dark Avenger
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A look at Pony Joe's bar and its denizens, come Hearth's Warming Eve.
A few thoughts: There's a quietness to this story which I found endearing. It's not exactly about anything in particular, but it invites the reader to consider a great many things. I enjoy it when stories don't talk down to me or oversimplify, and there's none of that here. That said, I felt like I could have used some direction to the narrative; reading this was more of an experience than a story. I mean that neither as a positive or a negative, particularly, but simply as an observation.
Recommendation: Readers looking for something short to ponder over might get a lot out of this; readers looking for something with action, (direct) character-building, or just some semblance of a plotline are better off looking elsewhere, though.
4. Two Nights in Hoofington, by Swashbucklist
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Ponified Statler and Waldorf (aka. "the two old guys in the balcony from The Muppets") heckle Trixie.
A few thoughts: I read this story because I like Statler and Waldorf (they're second only to the Swedish Chef in my muppet pantheon; I apparently have a thing for one-note characters from those shows), and I was not disappointed. This is a story about Statler and Waldorf mocking Trixie's show, simple as that. There's actually a bit of character-building for Trixie that goes into the story, but it's a mixed bag; while the introductory scene did a nice job building up to S&W's appearance, I didn't think a story that's mostly about trading puns and insults needed to spend quite so much time on Trixie's thoughts and actions outside of the show proper. Though not poorly written, they tended to break up the more straightforward dialogue-comedy of the shows themselves, which are clearly the selling point of this fic.
Recommendation: Go read the summary again. If that sounds good to you, this is a story to read. There's a nice blend of classic S&W lines and original zingers, so it's not strictly retread jokes, either. If you don't find their brand of humor to your liking, though (or if you don't think it's something you'd enjoy reading as much as you enjoyed watching it), then you're probably right.
5. Remnants of the Crystal King, by Troutking
Zero-ish spoiler summary: In the Crystal Empire/Kingdom/City's library, Twilight comes across the diary of King Sombra, which she takes back to Ponyville to study.
A few thoughts: I didn't finish this one. I read about a thousand words, then skimmed ahead a bit to where the actual diary entries begin (which didn't happen until about a quarter of the way into the fic). While there was nothing terrible about any of it, there was a lot of over-explaining in this story; "yes Twilight, I know that making everyone slaves and killing the queen is bad, thank you for pointing that out to me" kind of stuff.
Recommendation: I can't make much of a recommendation, having read just under half the story all told. It didn't appeal to me enough to continue reading, obviously, but for all I know the last half is completely amazing. In any case, readers with an aversion to rambling, over-long setups and characters with a penchant for stating the obvious will probably, like me, find that this story isn't to their tastes.
6. As the Sun Sets, by Mystic (prologue +chapter 1 only)
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Celestia is called to the dragon lands to help with something she'll describe only as "diplomatic assistance." Twilight is invited to come along with her. Meanwhile: evil stirs!
A few thoughts: I don't usually start incomplete stories these days; too much to read without investing in something that may or may not ever get finished. I made an exception for Mystic for two reasons, first, I figure that if he ever stops updating I can take a tire iron to Cadel Evans' knees when he comes to America for the Tour of California or whatever other cycling race gets him on my continent, and then we'll be even. More importantly, the word "Tolkienesque" was floated at me, and I could hardly refuse its siren call. There's not much yet, but I'm getting a very good vibe from the first 8k words. Despite a wandering tone in the narration (it has a tendency to adopt the inflections of whoever is speaking in its vicinity, going from near-biblical in places to more casual phrasings like "It felt wrong asking the question, but it kind of slipped out"), the powerful prologue and the hints of worldbuilding scattered throughout the opening chapter have me excited so far.
Recommendation: For anyone less reticent to jump on incomplete fics than I am, this looks like it could turn into a highly memorable story of the adventure/worldbuilding variety.
7. Bing Bang Zam!, by Pegasus Rescue Brigade
Zero-ish spoiler summary: After discovering that a celebrity chef has been using the phrase "Bing Bang Zam," the Flim Flam brothers sue her for trademark infringement.
A few thoughts: This is a pretty simple story, with some obvious bad guys, a fairly straightforward plot which nevertheless manages to conceal most of its turns pretty well, and its humor mostly deriving from the exaggerated personalities involved in the already ridiculous premise. By that measure, I thought the story was excellent. I did have a problem with Carrot Top telling Derpy to "shut up," but I admit that's just because I have my own private conception of how the two get along--not exactly something I can fault the author for, that.
Recommendation: Although there's nothing particularly earth-shattering about the story, it's a well-executed bit of SOL/comedy. Anyone looking for such probably won't be disappointed by this offering.
8. Checkmates, by xjuggernaughtx
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight tries to teach Rainbow Dash and Applejack to play chess, which goes about as well as you'd expect.
A few thoughts: Although I finished this story, I ended up skimming most of it. It wasn't bad, really; it was just not what I was hoping for. I was expecting there to be some actual chess involved, with plenty of character-based humor. Instead, the joke here is mostly that Dash and AJ don't care about chess, and aren't paying attention while Twilight tries to teach them the rules. As I say, it wasn't poorly written, but it was a much shallower approach than I was looking for when I saved the story link.
Recommendation: If you go in expecting nothing more or less than a short story about mounting frustration and audience apathy, this fic will deliver. There's not a lot more to it than that, though.
9. In Their Highnesses' Clandestine Corps, by AugieDog
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Blueblood's after-hours job as one of the most skilled secret agents in Equestria takes an unexpected turn when Luna takes control of the Clandestine Corps from Celestia, and sends Blueblood to Ponyville to pursue an old nemesis.
A few thoughts: I absolutely loved this story. It plays heavily on Blueblood's attitude and general insufferability (stories which write off an antagonist's faults are a major peeve of mine), and sliding in just a dash of Bond-style cool-under-pressure-ness fits his character surprisingly well. The frequent cuts between characters and scenes are never confusing, the narration is engaging... this story was great. If I had to gripe, it would be that I've never been a fan of bellicose (literally or figuratively) threats justified by "the greater good," and Luna's actions come off as precisely that, but this is still a great story.
Recommendation: Any readers interested in a great blend of humor, action, and attitude (mostly of the "bad" variety) should give this a look.
Well, that helped clear out the list a bit! Maybe I'll start doing this a little more regularly; I often end up putting stories I want to read on hold because I'm reading something for a 6-star review, but this way I don't have to chose (as often)! Or maybe not, we'll see what I think. Either way.