Wednesday, February 13, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 133: 4 Conversations About 1 Thing

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

I have to say, I'm really bummed that Pope Benedict is resigning.  Not because it actually impacts me personally in any way (or at least, in any immediately obvious one), but because when he was elected a Catholic friend of mine explained that he was just a placeholder between John-Paul II and whoever was going to come next, and therefor "didn't count."  Now I'll have to stop making fun of him for not having a "real" pope.

Below, my review of Gofindnova's 4 Conversations About 1 Thing.

Impressions before reading:  I remember first reading this when it was posted.  I almost didn't, because the use of numerals struck me as an ill omen going in, but by the time I finished reading I was glad I had.  I remember thinking it was very sweet and had some wonderfully poignant passages, though we'll have to see how well it holds up to a critical re-reading.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Four semi-related conversations between Princesses Celestia and Luna, taking place at various times during the year or so following the show's pilot, and interspersed with a semi-related series of letters from the past.

Thoughts after reading:  After I finished this, I went online and looked to see if the author had written anything else.  Not only hasn't s/he (at least, nothing pony related under that name), but this story appears to be his/her singular foray into the creative side of the fandom, period.  That's a shame, because I'd have liked to see what else Gofindnova was capable of.

There is, at best, a very loose arc which binds this story together.  But unlike far too many unfocused stories, it uses that loose structure to its advantage.  The individual scenes here are perfectly capable of standing alone, and what they gain when read sequentially is largely inferential.  Rather than writing a series of unconnected scenes, Conversations provides a series of evocative vignettes, which all thematically flow into one another.

What really sells this story, though, is the clever use of language, specifically the way that it is changed throughout the story to match the narrative's needs.  Although this is most obvious in the letters which divide the scenes, ranging in style as they do from archaic to modern, it is the more subtle variations in the narrative which really impressed me.  Vocabulary ranges from extravagantly effusive while describing the royal city ("A mellow half-light suffused the landscape, bathing the gold-thatched mansions of Canterlot in cerulean tones.") to far simpler word choice when speaking of Ponyville, and narrative quantity is a nearly perfect match for the intensity of the scene--high-energy exchanges are often handled with little or no narration, while lower-stress conversational segments often have extensive comments and movement notes mixed among the dialogue.  Shades of meaning likewise show through in character dialogue; inflection is conveyed clearly through word choice throughout.

Moreover, the characters themselves are vividly presented.  There's nothing particularly earth-shattering about the portrayals of Celestia and Luna in this story, but what does set them apart here from the legions of angsty immortals who run roughshod through innumerable fanfics is that here their doubts, insecurities, and private moments are handled with a wonderfully soft touch.  At no point does this story attempt to beat you over the head with its characters' struggles, and scenes which if poorly handled could easily come of as trite and uninspired (Celestia's first appearance in the last vignette comes to mind as one that has been done wrong many times) are here treated with the respectful reserve necessary to inspire genuine empathy.  This is, to me, all the more amazing in a fic which runs less than 8,000 words.

In addition to that sense of reserve, which keeps the more serious moments of the story from ever becoming maudlin or otherwise ridiculous, it is immediately obvious upon reading this story that genuine consideration was given to the characters and their emotions.  This is most obvious in the more serious segments; the simple, understated grief of realizing that one's memories of a loved one are fading is poignantly presented here.  However, the comic stretches of the story show the same consideration.  Celestia and Luna have often been shown playing jokes on one another, and that is indeed a common element of sibling interactions, but wacky hijinks are one thing.  Showing two characters interacting like sisters is another altogether, and I dare say that in the brief moments when it drifted into lighter territory, this story managed exactly that.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

Offhand, I can think of three things I didn't like about this story:

1) The numerals in the title.  For small numbers you should typically use the words themselves, and the use of numerals has no relevance to anything in the story.

2) It shouldn't have been tagged as random.

3) Quoting Down By the Sally Gardens, while relevant to the scene (literally and thematically) and not immersion-breaking in the way that quoting a more modern song would be, does require the unfortunate insertion of the word "hands" into an equine-centric world.

Since only that last one is actually a complaint about the story itself, I think it's safe to say that my reaction to this fic was very much a positive one.

Recommendation:  This is a story I'd recommend to almost anyone looking for a good MLP fanfic.  I think it will be especially enjoyed by those who value thoughtful word usage and stories which require one to connect a few of the dots on their own, but it's eminently accessible to even more casual readers.

Next time:  The Moonstone Cup, by Cyanide


  1. Ooh, looks like I know what to read next! Perfect length, too

    I'm very disappointed in you, Chris. Using "s/he"? You're better than that

    1. I'm using non-gender-specific constructs, and no (wo)man can stop me!

  2. You know, until I saw this story I hadn't realized just how odd it was to not have seen a single "X things" fic before this one. Yet one more on the list of how the pony fandom is a fandom of its own. Now, on to actually reading the fic...

    1. The title of this fic is actually a reference to a 2001 movie, "Thirteen Conversations about One Thing". In other words, this didn't originate within the fandom, at least not as far as the story's name is concerned.

    2. I was talking more of how pretty much every other fandom besides pony-dom has a glut of "X things" fics, i.e. characters studies done by taking one subject and showing X instances of it. For example, "5 Times Twilight Swears at Celestia", "10 Times Rainbow Dash Is Afraid", etc.

      I don't know if that 2001 movie is the originator of all these other fics, though, nor what it's actually about.

  3. Don't know why I missed this story when it first came out... must be the Google docs thing. Very enjoyable.

    The Down By the Sally Gardens inclusion was a bit of a shock. More so for me, because I used the tune to structure the lyrics of Luna's song in my own fic Hooves of Clay. I thought the music was a perfect match for Her Majesty of the Night. Glad to know someone else thought so, too.


  4. May have to read this now. I hadn't even heard of this before.

  5. I think I remember skimming this quite some time ago, yet I didn't remember anything about it.

    Having read this again, I'm left with a not much better impression. Whatever is selling this to you is most likely flying right over my head. Wouldn't be the first time.

    I do agree that it is great to not be slapped in the face with angst.

  6. The numbers in the title would've actually been one of its draws for me. I've always considered the rule about writing out the words representing numbers to be completely moronic.

    1. I'm on the opposite side, myself; I wish that writing out "five thousand and twenty" was considered the standard, rather than "5020;" inserting numerals into text always feels like shorthand to me, a sensation not terribly welcome in most fiction. But as long as we both agree that the standard "word for numbers ten or less, numerals for numbers 11+" rule is arbitrary, I suppose that's the part that matters.

  7. "Quoting Down By the Sally Gardens, while relevant to the scene (literally and thematically) and not immersion-breaking in the way that quoting a more modern song would be, does require the unfortunate insertion of the word "hands" into an equine-centric world."

    This seems to have been edited since you last read the story, since the quoted lyrics now use "hoof" instead of "hand".