Wednesday, February 6, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 131: Daring Do and the Ivory Idol

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

Okay, here we go!  Lucky baseball hat is on, lucky cat tummy has been rubbed, and the Song of Get This Done has been started (the Song of Get This Done consists of me strumming I, IV, and V7 chords on the ukulele I keep near my desk while singing "Let's get this;" I'm not allowed to resolve it back to a I chord and sing "done" until I finish whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing (you think I'm kidding, but the Song of Get This Done does wonders for my productivity.  In related news, I am five years old)).  There is no way this review is getting botched again!

Below, my newly disaster-proofed review of Fedora's Daring Do and the Ivory Idol.

Impressions before reading:  From the description, this looks to be heavily inspired (thematically, not necessarily literally) by the Indiana Jones movies.  No surprise there, seeing as the Daring Do story in Read it and Weep borrowed heavily from those movies itself.  I don't know that a high-action, visually charged source like that makes for a particularly easy transition to a written medium, but there's certainly no reason it couldn't be done well.

It's got a sequel, too!  Looks like something that will be very similar, tone-wise.

NOTE: This top section is only a review of Daring Do and the Ivory Idol. My review of Daring Do and the Curse of the Lost Tomb is featured after it.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Famed archaeologist/explorer Daring Do, together with her diminutive companion Scootaround, set off in search of the titular idol after discovering that it may hold the key to the survival of the natives, from whom it was recently stolen.  As they investigate, they quickly discover that the stakes are far higher than they first realized.

Thoughts after reading:  Considering the source material, one of the most important things this story should be able to accomplish is to inspire some excitement.  Excitement is far more difficult to generate in literature than in a visual medium, it's true; there's simply no substitute for the visceral immediacy of film when it comes to evoking a sense of urgency (which isn't to say that books can't do exactly that; it's just harder).  Unfortunately, this story is not exciting.  It is, I would go so far as to say, pretty dull.

A look at the reasons for that sense of dullness is in order then, but let me start with what wasn't dull about the story: the overarching plot.  The tale which Fedora lays out is clearly inspired by the combat-filled supernatural adventures, but doesn't simply copy-paste the events from one or more of the movies; this is a wholly original story, and one which does a remarkably good job of capturing the essence of the source material without plagiarizing.  If one were to consider just the storyline itself, one would have to conclude that it was a well-conceived fusion fic.  There were some mild hiccups melding the tones of Indy and MLP (there is some light swearing in the fic, for example, which given the overall tone felt out of place to me), but certainly nothing worth complaining about (much).

Unfortunately, lackluster writing and poor pacing decisions are endemic in this work.  To begin with the latter: Ivory Idol is full of unnecessary asides.  Depending on where in a work an aside which doesn't directly advance the story appears, it may represent an acceptable decision on the author's part; as long as the aside is interesting in and of itself, and isn't breaking up the flow of the story, it can probably be justified even if it is tangential to the larger work.  When an irrelevant aside appears right in the middle of a high-action scene, however, that can be a significant problem.  And in this story, seemingly every tense situation is swiftly defused with a steady barrage of barely-relevant commentary.

Even more distressing, though, were the wholly unnecessary and directionless scenes which fill Ivory Idol.  I don't usually give lengthy quotes from a work, but this bit from chapter one left me flabbergasted.   Feel free to skim down to the bottom if you don't feel like reading the whole thing.  The passage below opens with Daring and Scootaround having a plot-relevant conversation while Daring shuffles and deals a deck of cards, before they transition into the following (unabridged and unedited) conversation:


"You ready to go, Dr. Do? You dealt all the cards."

"Sure, why not?" said Daring. She separated her cards into stacks, and the filly across from her did the same. "Do you know how to play war, kid?"

"Yeah," replied Scootaround, flipping one of her cards over with one hoof, displaying the markings on it. It was a five of clubs.

"Alright, let's see..." Daring mumbled, flipping one of her cards over. It had an image of a pony covered in white make-up juggling multicolored balls while riding a unicycle. It was a joker card.

"How much are those ones worth?" asked Scootaround, raising her eyebrows.

"Nothing," said Daring as she shook her head, "They're not even supposed to be there. Look- I can't ask you to go and look through your pile for them, 'cause then you'd know your deck. So, if either one of us gets one, just toss it aside and draw the next one down. Deal?"

"Yeah." agreed Scootaround. She kept her five card out on the table, waiting for Daring to swap out the joker with a legitimate card. Daring did so, and the card she drew was a nine of diamonds. Scootaround sighed, and Daring took both cards. She then drew the next one in her pile, a jack of spades. Scootaround was quick to slap one of her cards down on the table as soon as Daring did.

"Easy there, kid. This isn't Slapjack. No need to go and drive your hoof through the table," remarked Daring as she rolled her eyes. She looked at the card, and saw that the face showed a tall stallion with a beard, dressed in a very royal cape and wearing a crown. Scootaround had drawn a king of diamonds. The filly took both the cards with a very smug expression on her face, dragging both back to her side of the table.

"Alright, so you got a king," Daring said. She flipped over her next card with her hoof, revealing a two of diamonds. Scootaround giggled, knowing she was going to win, but then as she flipped over her card they could see that it was also a two, a two of clubs. They looked at each other for a second, and then Scootaround cupped her hooves in front of her mouth and mimicked a trumpeting noise. Both the filly and the adventurer flipped over three more cards apiece, and to Daring's dismay Scootaround's deck outweighed hers, so she had to give them up.

"Ha ha!" exclaimed the filly. "I'm very good at this game, I think!"

"It's all luck, kid," said Daring. As she said this, she drew her next card, which was a four of hearts. Scootaround drew her next one, a jack of diamonds. She gladly took both of them, and Daring raised her eyebrows.

"Alright, now this seems fishy. Did you stack your deck while I wasn't looking?" Daring joked.

"I dunno, why don't you ask the mare that shuffled the cards?" Scootaround exclaimed, laughing. Daring shook her head, feigning upsetedness.

"You're shuffling next time then," Daring said, grinning a moment later.


That was over five hundred words about two ponies playing a game of war.

Let that sink in a moment.  There is literally nothing else going on in the entire quoted section; it's over a dozen paragraphs which is solely dedicated to ponies.  Playing.  War.

That is perhaps the most bafflingly unnecessary and uninteresting passage in the entire story, but the entire story is filled with ramblings like this.  There's no story advancement, no character development, and no obvious source of interest.  Ivory Idol clocks in at nearly 30k words, and I suspect--in fact, I'm quite certain--that it could have been cut in half without doing any harm to the narrative.

As I mentioned above, writing was also poor.  Although editing on the first few chapters was good, there were sporadic but noticeable issues on that front thereafter (I've found this is often the case with long stories on EqD, 6-star or not; presumably, this is the result of the pre-readers only screening the first chapters).  That, however, was not my major problem with the writing.  What really was a distraction, and what combined with the various pacing issues to render the story so much more boring than it need have been, was a combination of redundancy and over-explanation, particularly of character emotions ("'Scootaround, this is the way out!' Daring was excited by the revelation.").  These kinds of writing issues make a story feel wooden and dry, which was precisely the sort of thing which a story full of action and intrigue cannot afford.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

This could have been a very good 10-15,000-word story.  Unfortunately, it's nearly 30,000 words, and most of them are either superfluous, redundant, or both.  If the story were of a more contemplative sort, that would "just" be a major, fundamental problem; for a high-action work whose appeal largely rests on the excitement it's meant to generate, that's anathema.

Recommendation:  I'll say again that the story, in its broad outline, is quite interesting and well conceived.  Any reader who feels like they can enjoy a story based solely on the quality of the premise should by all means give this one a look, but others will probably find Ivory Idol a boring slog.

Daring Do and the Curse of the Lost Tomb:

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Daring Do and Scootaround, together with some new help, set off on another adventure, this time to seek the tomb of an ancient king whose greed was legendary, and whose resting place supposedly houses both great wealth and a terrible curse.  But they aren't the only ones looking for it, and their continent-spanning search soon proves to be full of deadly intrigue.

Thoughts after reading:  There's little to say about the overall plot or the writing/editing in this story that wasn't true of the last, so let's take that as a given.  What did change in this story, and what a pleasant change it was, was the author's penchant for unnecessary and mood-shattering digressions.

That isn't to say that Curse isn't full of digressions; on the contrary, it's brimming with them.  But although they occasionally ramble over-long or interrupt the flow of the story, they are also generally far shorter, far less tangential, and far less likely to interrupt a climactic scene.  Between writing the two stories, Fedora clearly figured something out about where, pacing-wise, it is or isn't appropriate to interject things like a bit of worldbuilding about the existence of cars in Equestria (in the first story, a bit of history on this front is interjected into the middle of a chaotic rescue) or some insight into attitudes towards pony-griffon marriages (in Curse, this knowledge is doled out during a low-key conversation).  Despite being far, far longer than its predecessor, Curse actually feels much shorter, or at least like less of a slog.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Basically, this is Ivory Idol with a longer and more complicated main arc, and a whole lot less of that massive quote I used as an example in the first review.

Recommendation:  There's nothing in this story that really requires that one have read the first fic, so readers who are interested in some solid, Indiana Jones-inspired (but quite original, plot-wise) action, and who are willing to put up with some dull writing to get it will want to give this a look.

Next time:  Tiny Wings, by DeadParrot222


  1. ♫ Say the words you long to hear... ♩

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I actually read very little pony fic that I'm not reviewing, so I'm not familiar with most of these star-6 stories. And with what little time I get to read, I'm not going to look for something this long that will take me hours to finish. So, I can't really speak to the quality of these things, but I wonder if there isn't an effect going on here.

    In the writing events that /fic/ occasionally hosts, there is a definite bias toward word count. There are certainly reasons for or against that. Sure, a writer that feels passionate about his story (which generally shows in the quality of writing) can pour it out more quickly and have time to create a more expansive tale. But on the other hand, an author can also pad his story with useless fluff to push up the word count. However, even that tends to impress readers. So while the longer entries may do well because the author told an engaging story, there are also instances where they finished high merely because the sheer enormity of the thing was impressive. And if "impressive" is what lasts in a reader's mind, for whatever reason, it's going to guide his opinion of the work. However, shorter works can be just as powerful, and in some ways are more impressive (to me, at least) when they are, as the author's done just as much with less.

    I'd be curious to see how star rankings correlate with word count, though for a lot of these longer fics, they got their ratings when only a couple of chapters were posted. Even in those first couple of chapters, however, the reader can usually get a sense of how long the eventual story will be. It'd be interesting to know. Maybe I'm just seeing something that isn't there, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of the star-6's got their rating by grabbing for word count that doesn't hold up when someone with a more critical eye takes a look, and whether that also holds true of this blog: do the longer stories get lower ratings from Chris more often than the shorter ones do?

    Now, someone who's not lazy needs to research this. Might be a cutie mark in it for you!

    1. I've wondered the same thing but I'm too lazy to do the research. Not sure there's enough data to test the correlation between high word counts and Chris' ratings, anyways. I'd imagine there's enough for a middle range, but I doubt we'd find anything at that point

      I'd suggest using FiMFiction's thumb system as a measure of popularity, as this would provide a greater sample size than restricting ourselves to ones with EqD star ratings. Chris' ratings would be a good measure of actual quality. A random selection of, say, 100 stories from FiMFiction would be tested, as well as all of the stories Chris has reviewed. Then again, this could've been a trend at one point in time, so maybe we should restrict our samples to fics from a certain range of dates...

    2. Glancing through my ratings, there doesn't appear to be any particular correlation between rating and word length when comparing stories that I remember being especially long, and ones I know were quite short; both have a wide spread.

      However, the ones I remember as being long and short are mostly the ones over 100k and under 5k words, respectively. I have a suspicion that the tendency towards padding is most prevalent not in the epic-length stories, but in the short-novel-length stories. At least, that's where I would most expect to see cases of "this could have been a good short story, but the author tried to expand it beyond what the narrative/writing skill could support." But that's all speculation; someone would need to go do some word counting on the stories I reviewed to check that, and that person's not going to be me.

  4. Hmm....

    It's good to hear stuff like this. I'll take this criticism into account in future endeavors.


    1. It's always good to hear when an author takes a fairly negative review constructively. There was a lot of potential in both stories, and plenty of improvement in the second; good luck with your "future endeavors!"

  5. I hope you don't mind my commenting on a 3-year-old blog post, but I can't really agree with one of your points:

    >The tale which Fedora lays out is clearly inspired by the combat-filled supernatural adventures, but doesn't simply copy-paste the events from one or more of the movies; this is a wholly original story, and one which does a remarkably good job of capturing the essence of the source material without plagiarizing.

    Daring Do and the Ivory Idol lifted a lot of scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Just off the top of my head: Daring agreeing to retrieve the magic artifact on behalf of the otherwise-doomed village; sneaking into the cult's temple and watching a ceremony (where one hapless individual gets brainwashed before their eyes) and getting captured immediately afterwards; Daring being brainwashed, while Scootaround gets pressed into slavery; Scootaround bringing Daring back to her senses. (To Fedora's credit, I don't recall him copying large swathes of dialogue at any point, and the scenes are adapted to better fit into MLP.) But, on the other hand, there is quite a bit of original material outside those scenes, enough so that anyone explicitly looking for a ponified version of Temple of Doom (though I don't imagine there are very many) would be disappointed.

    Overall, Ivory Idol exists in an awkward in-between spot: too derivative of Temple of Doom to call it original, but too original to call it an adaptation.