Friday, February 1, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 2

It's back!  I've got a number of short fanfics that I've read recently, and here are some opinions!

To recap: these are all stories that I self-selected, either based on an EqD posting, another review, a recommendation, or just from seeing it pop up on FIMfic.  Most of them are recently-posted, but there are a few older selections mixed in as well.  And of course, these don't constitute full, in-depth reviews: think of it more as a casual guide to several works which happened to catch this reviewer's eye.  Click below to see what I've picked out for myself, and what I have to say about it!

1.     Author, Author!, by Pascoite

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Pinkie speaks to Princess Celestia about her fourth-wall awareness, and the two of them examine the implications of being able to alter reality with a swipe of a pen.

A few thoughts:  There are lots of stories about Pinkie breaking the fourth wall.  This is one of a very small number which uses that device not as a comedic device or (or crutch, more often), but as a stepping stone to ask some very fundamental questions about free will and personal responsibility.  Author, Author! is one of my favorite kinds of stories: the kind that demand a bit of introspection in order to appreciate.  I suspect some might find that the story gets a little preachy at times--Pinkie learns some very blunt lessons about the prices of both action and inaction--it was never condescending or unbearable.

Recommendation:  This is an all-around excellent short story which takes a cliche and overused plot device, and breaths new life into it by examining it from a new and unexpected angle.  Any reader looking for something which will provoke a bit of thought will likely find this to their tastes.

2.     A Tale of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and
3.     Her Happily Ever After, by Dal

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A history of the three goddesses who define Equestria, followed by its sequel: a look at how Celestia comes to grips with the burden she's laid upon the ponies who wielded the Elements of Harmony for her.

A few thoughts:  I won't lie, the dominant emotion I feel towards the upcoming alicorn-Twilight episode is resignation.  Still, plenty of time to dwell on whatever's coming after the show's aired.  In the meantime, here's a story that presents a theory for how Twilight might ascend to Goddesshood which I found quite palatable--a difficult enough feat by any stretch.  The framing device was uninteresting, but the author wisely kept it to a minimum, focusing instead on the history of the three celestial sisters.

The sequel, however, wasn't particularly to my tastes.  Ponies (or vampires, or anything else, for that matter) moping about immortality has never been something I've inherently found enjoyable, and Twilight and co.'s solution to Celestia's anguish doesn't seem to really address any of the issues at hand.  I ended up skimming through most of it.

Recommendation:  A Tale is a very nice piece for those who enjoy fan histories, and don't mind a bit of discontinuity from canon (even before the new episode has aired, it's clear from the summaries we've seen that Hasbro's version of Twilight's basis for princesshood is far different from Dal's).  Her Happily might be enjoyed by those who still get a lot of mileage out of the unelaborated-upon concept of the burden of immortality, but those looking for something similar in tone, style, or worldbuilding to the first story will be disappointed.

4.     A Final Question, by Grayson Gears

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Celestia speaks to Twilight, as her now-aged student lies upon her deathbed.

A few thoughts:  There are some very nice things about this story.  The early going looks at Celestia's routines in a way which shows quite a bit of thought, and her emotions are never overstated (at least, not to a mood-breaking degree).  In the end, though... well, I didn't like the end.  At the risk of spoilers, was this whole story just a setup to write about Celestia singing "You Are My Sunshine," or did the author decide as he was writing that that would be a fitting ending?  Either way, it was an uninspired and disappointing way to wrap up a promising short story.

Recommendation:  Despite my disappointment with the ending, I still enjoyed this one.  It's a very short, easily digestible what the comes of being an immortal monarch with a penchant for taking ponies in close to oneself.

5.     Princess Celestia and the Laser Pointer, by Countsmegula

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  It's all there in the title, really.

A few thoughts:  This is one of the vast legion of stories which are, ultimately, an eye-catching title with nothing else behind it (eg: Fluttershy Goes to Hell, Rainbow Dash Reads a Sex-Ed Book, Lyra Tries to Play Rock-Paper-Scissors).  That said, it's very well executed, technically (a rarity among these types of stories), and if it doesn't have much too offer beyond the initial premise... well, at least it's honest.

There was a funny, if ever-so-slightly risque, bit of dialogue between two guards in there as well, actually.  I guess that's two things it has to offer.

Recommendation:  I read this because I thought I could use a thousand words of mindless comedy, and that's exactly what I got.  If that's what you're looking for two, I can wholeheartedly endorse Laser Pointer.  Just don't expect anything more: this story is its title, nothing more, nothing less.

6.     Blueblood's Blush, by Marcella Howard

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  At the behest of Celestia, Blueblood goes out to mingle with the "common ponies."  When he comes across a poster for the Great and Powerful Trixie's show, he decides to attend (having nothing better to do), and this idle decision sets off a chain reaction that ends... well, it's a shipping story, so you can probably guess where it ends.

A few thoughts:  To be honest, I have no idea why I saved this story to my e-reader.  I'm not much of a shipping fan, let alone a fan of shipping Trixie (though I'll give points for not shipping her with Twilight, I guess.  It seems to have dialed back in recent months, but there was a time when Twixie was just as prevalent, and often just as bad, as ScratchTavia).  But I did, and then I saw it sitting there waiting to be read, and I said "why not?" and gave it a go.

I didn't finish the story, but to be fair, I didn't particularly dislike it.  It struck me as a very traditional shipping story, full of the kind of forced interactions that drive me batty (Blueblood asking Trixie to dinner for no particular reason after spending a show being insulted by her, for example), but which fans of the romance genre are typically much more willing to swallow.  Not for me, but from what I read, not bad for what it was.

Recommendation:  Fans of romance, and particularly those with an interest in the particular ship at hand, will find this to be a well-executed story of that form.  There's nothing from what I saw that would make me recommend it outside of its target demographic, though.

7.     Elements of Excess, by cleverpun

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After failing to defeat the ponies by making them act opposite of the Elements they stand for, Discord hits upon a new way to cause, er, discord: to drive the main six to act upon their Elements to their logical extreme.

A few thoughts:  The story started out reasonably funny; I particularly enjoyed Applejack's brutal honesty in the early going, as she started flat-out insulting friends and relatives (granted, honesty is probably the easiest element to skewer, but it was still entertaining).  I found the story lost steam after that, though, for two reasons.  First, I didn't get much out of Dash's portrayal; "clingy" doesn't strike me as the hyper-emphasized version of "loyal," so I didn't find her antics all that entertaining (beyond the inherent comic value of reading about Dash being clingy, anyway).  Second, there's an increasing amount of retreading between chapters as the story progresses, and although some readers may find reading about the same events from the perspectives of two different ponies enjoyable, I felt it was needlessly redundant.  When I read the story it stood at six chapters, and although there are more coming, I don't think I'll be following this story.

Recommendation:  Readers with a higher tolerance for repetition than I may find this to their liking; there are some quite nice, if fairly obvious, bits of comedy in this story (even if Dash didn't work for me).

8.     The Last Tears in Tartarus, by shortskirtsandexplosions

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Ten years after the inhabitants of Tartarus broke free and conquered the surface world, a pony slave, Number 83, struggles through life in a world which seems to lack any redeeming qualities.

A few thoughts:  Did you know that I've never read anything by SS&E?  Not because I've been avoiding his stories or anything--I just never actually got around to reading any of his stories until now.  But I saw this story pop up in a story recommendation thread and thought it looked interesting.

I enjoyed this story, but with one crucial caveat: I didn't think it was a terribly good fanfic. Honestly, it would have taken a minimal amount of effort to change the ponies to humans, remove a reference or two to cutie marks and Princess Celestia, and showcase this as a piece of original fiction, and I think the story would have been much stronger for it.  The thematic and conceptual ties to FiM are tangential at best--this isn't a story that gains anything from its grounding in the MLP universe, which tells me that it really shouldn't have been written as an MLP fanfic to begin with.

Recommendation:  To fans of dark, dystopian sci-fi, this is an easy recommendation: well-plotted, with vivid setting, memorable characters, and more than a hint of poignancy at the end.  People looking for something which relates to My Little Pony in any way beyond a few names and the species involved will want to keep looking, though.

9.     George Bush Invades Equestria, by Crass McWriter

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Once more, it's all right there in the title.

A few thoughts:  After reading this marvelously insightful review, I figured I had to check the story out and at least see if a review of "Dafuq?" meant hilariously random, or atrociously random.  I read about fifty words into the story, even though I had my answer after the first sentence.  Then I closed the tab.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something silly and random, there are much better stories out there.  The editing is nonexistent, the writing style is offputting... there's not a lot here to recommend.


  1. Of all the fics here, the only ones I've read are 1 (which I loved), 2 and 3 (which were pretty good), and the first part of 8 (which convinced me to never touch another SS&E fic again).

    ...Have to say the last one sounds gloriously horrid, though.

  2. I was wondering about Excess. It was on my "maybe" list.
    Also, though I don't read Post Apocalyptic settings, an author an friend of SS&E, Ponky, tells me I am apparently a cameo character in Last Tears. Weird.

  3. I've read 1, 2, 3 and 8.

    1 is one of my favourite fics to come out of a write-off and, as I've said before, the best meta fic.

    3, I've gotta say, was really a let down after 2. And the reproduction of Smile at the end seems written to be skimmed. I'm not going to say that songs can't work in prose, but, well, they mostly really don't. But I loved 2. Really, that was a super clever

    8 remains the only story I've turned off mature filter for. It was worth it, but I agree that it was hardly fanfiction. Skirts's other Tartarus story, I Met a Pony in Hell (and We Kicked Ass Together) is a little closer to that mark (and wildly lighter in tone).

    1. That one I loved. Although the lack of a resolution at the end pissed me off.

  4. So many errors tonight! All that fanfiction's starting to wear off on you, Chris :}
    Let's see... that last sentence for #1 should be "... will likely find this to their tastes." Then, you repeated an "a" in your thoughts on #4. Perhaps because you repeated "that"? I have no idea what you're trying to say in the last sentence of your recommendation for that fic. Finally, in your recommendation of #5, you committed one of my pet peeves: the classic to/too/two confusion. It's OK, though. I know for a fact I've mixed up "its" and "it's" here before

    I have way too much fun pointing out your mistakes :)

    1. Part 2 - My Thoughts Whilst Being A Critical Ass

      I take it you're not a fan of Anne Rice?

      #5's title conjures to mind an image of Celestia jumping at a wall trying to catch a red dot. I'm guessing that's not what this story's about, but I'm curious as to what those guardsponies are talking about

      Isn't the name for the Vinyl/Tavi ship "OctaScratch"? Also, regarding the sentence immediately following "ScratchTavia": Can you do that? Can you "and" thrice?

      I can't imagine choosing a name like cleverpun. Sets expectations too high. Also, I know you enjoy being an unfun fuddy-duddy by not spelling it "mane", but you should still use capitalization :P

    2. I should really learn to read descriptions. I guess Celestia does try to catch a red dot

    3. I really need to get an editor or something...

  5. I've only read a few of these, and by a few I mean I've read Elements of Excess and nothing else here. I've got to say though, I disagree with the repetition thing. I don't think it's nearly as noticeable or as much of a problem as you're making out, Chris.

    Then again, if your reviews are anything to go by, you have a much more critical eye than I do. I personally don't really notice problems in fics unless they're a real hindrance or I'm actively searching for them, like when I'm on pre-reader duty for someone.

    I would still encourage you and others to give EoE another chance though.

    Also I've never known how to feel about SS&E. I like some of his stories, and he comes up with some good premises, he knows how to you entice you into reading, and everything's very well done from a technical standpoint. But I don't know what it is. There's just something about his writing I just don't like the style of. I wish I could pin it down, because it always bugs me when I read his work.

  6. Glad you liked it, Chris. That may be the story I'm most proud of. I haven't read anything else in this list.

    1. Oh, and a big second on being resigned to Twilicorn. I'm betting they don't take a realistic look at how such a thing would radically change the interpersonal dynamics.

    2. Eh, it could go either way. It's all in the execution. And unlike the Discord episode, the guy writing this one is competent in his MLP work, so it might still work out.

    3. Excuse me? Dave Polsky wrote some of my favorite episodes, and he clearly knows a thing or two about writing for Pinkie Pie - something most authors in this fandom could stand to learn. If you're going to suggest any of the writers are incompetent - which seems a little rude to me - it should be Merriwether Williams, though she's getting better

    4. Let me rephrase. Polsky has written my single least favorite episode in all of FiM (Over a Barrel) and had a hand in my third-least favorite, Spike at Your Service. (Although a good chunk of the blame for that one lies with Williams.) The only episode that I was truly impressed by was Too Many Pinkie Pies, but that also doesn't excuse the incredibly awkward moral from Feeling Pinkie Keen, the borderline racism and Idiot Ball-driven plot from OaB, and the infuriatingly rushed Keep Calm and Flutter On.

      Williams went through much of the same development, starting poorly before delivering a great episode with Wonderbolt Academy, and then throwing away the good will I had built for her with Spike at Your Service.

      Sorry if I sounded rude, but that's how I feel about Polsky.

    5. B-but... SALOON PIE! I don't get how so many people can hate Over a Barrel (one of my favorite episodes) when several elements are so popular (there's a pun in there; I didn't intend it). The racism issue seems to be the culprit, which I find odd considering the Internet's full of, and even loved for, much more overt racism. Maybe that's the problem: too subtle

      Personally, I enjoy a certain degree of racism in stories and shows. It makes the product seem more real; less sanitized. I get this mental image of some Hemingway-esque writer stooped over a typewriter, drinking whiskey and smoking while he works. That guy would say something in passing about the Jews, as though it were just another matter-of-fact description like the chirping of birds

    6. Personally, I thought Over a Barrel was a great episode that I wholeheartedly resent for instigating that fucking wingboner meme.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Okay, the first time Pinkie does the song is funny. But when she does it again and ends up restarting the whole conflict right as it was about to be solved on its own, it crosses the line between funny and just stupid. Then again, that episode basically gave the whole cast a big case of The Dumb, from Applejack literally babying a tree to Rarity's every line being a high-pitched whine. That's my biggest issue with Over a Barrel; it only works because everyone is either behaving like an idiot or pushing out the two or three ponies who actually have some interest in solving the issue.

      That, and the train was stupid. Yes, the Friendship Express was an obvious toy plug, but I'd rather have that than try and figure out how ponies can pull an entire steel train at the same speed it would be traveling under coal or steam power. Or why coal and steam power haven't been utilized in locomotion in Equestria. Or why they don't use magitek or the like to make the trains run. Or why they bother having a locomotive when it serves absolutely no purpose. Seriously, can someone who understands trains help me out here?

      And yes, I can still like individual pieces of an episode I otherwise find poor. That's actually a pretty good point in FiM's favor; even when it's not at its best, there's still things to enjoy.

      @DPV111: That one was annoying, but the "Fluttershy is a tree" one was even worse. Still, that one at least got some payoff in Hurricane Fluttershy.

    9. Fluttertree was based on something real though. She actually said that. Also, annoying or not, it was cute and harmless. Other than the dendrophilia clopfics... but whatever.

      Wingboners was completely made up by the fans and PinkieDash shippers using a stupid scene that meant nothing to equate open wings as erections. For girls. You cannot compare the 2.

      It is the worst meme to come out of anything presented by the show.

      Worse memes exist but those have no basis in canon whatsoever.

    10. My big problems with OaB:

      -The moral is that settlers and natives could have resolved their differences easily by sharing.

      -Despite this, the conflict is resolved by giving the buffalo (natives) access to sweets that they find irresistible. You know, kind of like how now Native Americans have problems with alcoholism? That parallel is the most reprehensible thing about the episode, if you ask me.

      -The first scene on the train is actually really hilarious, all the way up to the buffalo attack. That an episode could squander such a great opening is slightly infuriating. Same goes for saloon girl Pinkie.

      -Also Pinkie's worst song ever.

      Over a Barrel remains in my bottom five for these reasons. It's one of the few episodes I truly loathe.

    11. While there were some unfortunate parallels, probably intended to be drawn by older viewers knowing Polsky, the moral in OaB is another case of the entertainment value of an episode being prioritized over clear delivery.
      To me it's much more about cultures finding value in each other that they were too caught up to see, and how compromise solves more problems than conflict.
      And how stubborn inflexible personalities are only a strength if they don't lead to disaster.
      And in Pinkie's case, how sentiment does not often translate to reality without addressing actual issues.
      A lot of good stuff.
      Just... Fucking wingboners...

    12. XD You guys are cracking me up.
      Well, I can't pass up this opportunity to state differing opinions so I'm going to say that I loved that episode! everything about it. Then again, I also loved the hell out of Putting Your Hoof Down, and that seemed to get some pretty negative reviews around here.
      WOH NO! Another possible discussion train coming! Bring it I say!

      But wait, lemme circle back to what Mr. AuthorHere said about Applejack literally babying a tree. You find that to be a problem? I find your contention interesting. You know I thought of a fun way to interpret that bit: It's the "earth ponies' special connection with the earth." Notice how Pinkie said "What Tree? You mean Bloomberg?"

    13. I'm just gonna hop in here on the end, now that the conversation appears to be dead, and say that I liked Over a Barrel. I certainly wouldn't call it one of my favorite episodes, but I took the moral at the end not to be an attempt at whitewashing history, but an attempt to point out that mutually beneficial, peaceful co-existence between peoples is possible where grudges and mindless hate can be set aside in favor of rational discourse. Note that the settlers, although individually (via Braeburn) shown to be decent folk, are also unquestionably in the wrong--the show goes to pains to point out that the land was, in fact, the buffalo's first.

      Though I had not considered the parallels between pie and alcohol until this thread, I admit.

    14. It's the pie/alcohol thing that kills that episode dead for me. Though I've decided I hate others (Mare-Do-Well in particular) more, OaB will ever remain on the bottom of my episode list.

  7. Ho ho ho! I've read Elements of Excess! Apparently, a seventh chapter came up just two days ago. I'm guessing you missed it but oh well. It's a premise that has been done in times past, but that is, in my opinion, the most awesome execution of it. And Clingy!Rainbow is my favorite part. In fact, cleverpun is my new favorite author! I'd highly recommend his other story, Think Pink! or: How I learned to stop worrying and love parties, to anyone. But maybe that's just because I am biased towards the Twilight-Pinkie dynamic. There's a comedy tag on it, but personally, I don't see any comedy in it. It's awesome though.

    Also, I see you're gravitating towards Celestia stories, going by those first 5 choices.

    Also also, I keep hearing about Mr. skirtsandexplosions (maybe I should just call him Shorty) lately. No such thing as bad publicity, eh? Of all the stories I haven't read on here, I suppose his entices me the most. Followed by Author, Author!

    Also also also, I gave Princess Celestia and the Laser Pointer a skim. Indeed it is exactly what it says on the tin.

    1. I noticed as I was typing these up that more than half the stories I read recently had been royalty-centric. I guess I'm on a Canterlot kick.

      ...Which, now that I think about it, would make a great euphemism, though I'm not sure what for. Nor am I sure I want to know.

  8. I had hoped the comedy mitigated the slow pacing, but I can't argue with that point. The backtracking narrative stops after chapter 6, but perhaps it was unreasonable to expect readers to put up with that long.

    I AM surprised you found Rainbow's the weakest exaggeration of them all, and you're the first person I've heard take issue with hers (personally I think that Pinkie's Element is the weakest).

    Even if my pacing missteps scared you off, thank you very much for reviewing my story!

    1. I read Laser Pointer, and it simply could not hold my attention. There was a lot of weird grammar and non-events in it, and that hampered my enjoyment. Although the very first scene where she encounters the dot gave me a hearty lol.

      I haven't read the others.

    2. Glad you appreciated the review! I got a fair bit of enjoyment out of the story, so I hope you haven't come away with the impression that I thought it was garbage--I assure you, I'd have said as much. Just not quite what I was looking for, I suppose.

      And to Dash (and to answer DeftFunk's question below, while I'm at it): I found the portrayal funny enough, but as I said, I didn't really see the connection between clingy and loyal. Yes, Dash hanging off AJ's neck is amusing, but it didn't feel to me like a natural outgrowth of the concept which she embodies so much as an author saying to himself "You know what would be funny? RD getting all touchy-feely with an increasingly uncomfortable and hilariously direct Applejack!" Feel free to correct me if that wasn't the general line of thinking--and to be fair, you were right: it was funny--but it didn't seem to me like it connected to the character and the element all that well.

      What do I think would have been a better fit (were I the author, which I am most certainly not)? Well, the obvious direction to me would have been to turn her into a sycophantic yes-mare. There was some of that in your story already (“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Rainbow said. “Yes it does! That’s a horrible idea!” “Yeah, AJ’s right, that’s a horrible idea!” was my favorite exchange in the entire story, I think), but that's the route I'd have gone. That's just me, though.

    3. I didn't exaggerate the Elements based on what I thought would be funny, although that may have created a cleaner result. For each one I asked myself: what would too much of this look like? How would that excess be bad?

      Loyalty is devotion to others, so I sort of warped that into the inability to be alone (early drafts had every Element based on a mental disorder as some kinda terrible attempt at irony: Loyalty was autophobia). The yes-mare aspect was included, but I wanted the ponies to retain some depth, and I didn't think that alone could carry her character for the entire story.

      My "logical extensions" of the Elements--if you dare call anything I do logical--make sense to me, but ultimately they are still personal interpretations.

      I've disagreed with plenty of author's executions of ideas, and I've taken my fair share of criticisms, so I can assure I wasn't slighted by your review. Perhaps a tad surprised, or a dash empathetic to that reader reaction, but certainly not offended!

  9. I absolutely adore The Last Tears in Tartarus. Although, whether or not something is a good 'pony fic' has never had as much sway with me as it does for other people. A good story is a good story, and the world building in that was brilliant.

  10. Hey Chris! I just had a thought. If "clingy" doesn't strike you as the hyper-emphasized version of "loyal" then what does?

  11. I have an unfinished "Twilight deals with becoming an Alicorn" one I've been following with interest. Gotten me hooked because of how emotional it gets while still staying completely grounded or at least grounded as possible.

    If you are accepting recommendations for stories that are still in progress I suggest checking out "Cry for Eternity" when you have the chance