Before we dive into some short and sweet commentary on a few fics I recently read, I'd like to point you all towards the Las Pegasus Relief League: a group which has put together a charity auction to benefit people who found themselves facing financial hardship due to some, er, "problems" at the Las Pegasus convention. If you want to do something nice for some people who could use a little help, consider hopping over there and either bidding on some of the items or services up for auction, or offering up an item or service yourself.
This being a fanfic site, I'm going to point out that some well-recognized names (well-recognized in the field of MLP fanfiction, anyway) are involved. RBDash47 (aka "The Pony Fiction Vault guy"), Bad Horse, Pav Feira, and NickNack are just some of the better-known names, if you want someone to write, edit, or otherwise assist in your fanfiction.
I'm in on it to, by the way. Go read the post, and think about spending some money for a good cause! The auction ends Saturday night at midnight Pacific. But now, on to the mini-reviews, conveniently located just behind the page break.
1) An Earth Pony's Guide to Magic, by Sereg
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Star Swirl the 147th is quite certain that she's destined to be a great mage, just like her namesake. Her lack of horn is a bit of a problem, though.
A few thoughts: There's definitely an interesting idea here, and the author has a knack for show-style humor. But frankly, I felt this story went a little too far towards show-style in places: some of the comedy doesn't translate well to a literary medium, and repetitive jokes like Star insisting on using everypony's full name and title would probably be funnier to hear than to read--that particular gag doesn't take terribly long to cross from entertaining over to annoying. But there are some nice bits here, especially when the author takes the time to poke some gentle fun at the show itself--a recurring theme is that Star is pretty much the only pony who knows anything about history or the world at large, for example.
There's a whole lot of headcanon wrapped up in this story, and while it's not bad by any stretch I admit it wasn't for me. It seemed like there was a lot of potential in this fic to examine the idea of pony roles, but the ending not only takes the safe, expected route (which would be fine, by itself), it seems to take that ending for granted (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here). Also, there are extensive A/Ns throughout. I read the first couple, then started skipping through them; personally, I thought they were an unwelcome distraction as presented, but it's not like they're difficult to avoid.
Recommendation: Again, "show style" sums up the tone and humor quite nicely for this piece. Anyone interested in some light comedy and a simple narrative should give this a look. Those turned off by a sense of medium displacement will probably be disappointed in this one, however.
2) Certain Advantages, by The Descendant
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The royal alicorn sisters compete in the Sisterhood Social. Ineffectually.
A few thoughts: The Descendant has written a lot of different kinds of things, from epic poems to stolid musings to broadside comedy. This story falls into the latter category.
I didn't like it very much, to be honest. That's not to say it was a bad story; on the contrary, it was well put together on the whole, combining three narrative foci and tying them all together neatly by the end, and the writing quality was excellent. It's just that lowest-common-denominator humor isn't really my thing (usually). Let me put it this way: there's a running gag in this story about the aperture in Celestia's bucket. If jokes about "Celestia's bunghole" are your thing, that's great, but it wasn't really what I was looking for.
Recommendation: If you're interested in the kind of humor outlined above, dive right in! This is a very nice piece for that style. But if you're looking for something a bit less infantile, or if you're going to get all bent out of shape about flanderized, psuedo-OOC characterizations, this isn't the piece for you.
3) Applejack Anonymous, by Clavier
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Applejack finds out that virtually every mare in Ponyville is attracted to her, and that they have a weekly support group to talk about their feelings towards her.
A few thoughts: This definitely isn't the kind of story I typically read, but it was floating around at the top of FimFiction's feature bar for, like, a week straight (I'm probably exaggerating, but it definitely stayed up there a while), so eventually I caved and took a look at the first few chapters.
It was pretty much what I expected. The writing was pretty good, and the pacing was nice through the bit that I read--it wisely used a minimal amount of setup and got quickly to the chase, but still managed to introduce its key players in that time--but in the end, it's a story about every mare in Ponyville going gay for AJ. If it was a comic one-shot, I might be willing to buy into that, but it's an ongoing romance/comedy. Not my cuppa.
Recommendation: I didn't get far enough to tell whether the author was going to keep things silly or eventually start trying to craft a "plausible" explanation for the mares' unrequited lust, but I feel comfortable recommending this story to anyone who's intrigued by the summary. The writing and construction so far are solid, and if this is the sort of thing you like, I'm guessing you'll like it. For those of you who, like me, aren't particularly drawn to the premise... this won't offend your sensibilities, but there's nothing here that's going to make you re-evaluate your taste in fiction.
4) The Lessons of Eternity, by Fedora Mask
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Princess Twilight pays a visit to Princess Celestia, a century after their they stopped being a couple.
A few thoughts: I didn't finish this story. Honestly, I don't have a lot to say about it, because I gave it up pretty quickly--not because it was bad, particularly (what I read of it), but because it was mostly Twilight and Celestia going out of their way to make each other uncomfortable via verbal sparring. Those kinds of conversations I don't find enjoyable to read about, any more than I find them enjoyable to witness firsthand.
Recommendation: I can't recommend this based on such an incomplete reading, obviously. I will say that I find a lot of "awkward comedy" somewhat unpleasant to experience, even vicariously--I gave up on The Office after this scene because I found it so uncomfortable to watch--but lots of people find cathartic pleasure in that stuff. If you're one of those people, maybe this will tickle your fancy; I'm afraid I didn't really get far enough to say.
5) Seriously?, by RainbowBob
Zero-ish spoiler summary: I'm just going to copy the summary from FimFic: "The Helicoprion, a long-lived genus of shark-like cartilaginous fish that went extinct millions of years ago. This predator certainly was a strange one, seeing how its lower jaw was basically a mix of a fruit roll-up and chainsaw. I make a living studying fossils, and this guy certainly takes the cake for the number one in the weird factor. So imagine my surprise when I inexplicably turn up in Equestria of all places. As a Helicoprion. Guess it's just one of those days."
A few thoughts: Well, with a premise like that I could hardly not take a look. As you probably can guess, the story (at least through the first few chapters) is ridiculous; the tale of a foul-mouthed wannabe archeologist who goes to the magical land of Equestria, transformed into an aquatic monster out of prehistory, could hardly be anything but.
I actually liked what I read, though it's definitely the kind of story you need to take on its own terms. There's something charming about the obvious joy the author takes in writing about, say, the protagonist going on a feeding frenzy in Fluttershy's pond, and the biology of the helecoprion (and the effects of being transformed into a magical talking one) is surprisingly well thought-out and expressed. There are some editing shortfalls, but nothing which makes the final product unreadable.
Recommendation: I definitely enjoyed the story for what it was, but I don't think I'll continue following future chapters. The shock value was a big part of the story, but I have my doubts that it can be sustained over more than a few chapters. That said, this is one worth at least starting, if the summary makes you as curious as it did me.