Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 5

Not much to say up here; head down below the break to see what I've been reading fanfic-wise lately, along with some informal blurbs about the lot of it.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Princess Celestia's reading lamp goes out just as she's about to reach the thrilling climax of her book.  Electricity still being a novel concept to the ruler of Equestria, she's at a loss for what to do next.

A few thoughts:  I didn't get into this story right away; although I was willing to accept a contrived setup for the sake of a short comedy, the way the narrative twists itself in knots explaining why Celestia needs to fix this particular lamp right this second was far too forced for me.  Once it got past the setup though, there was some great dialogue-based humor.  A take on Twilight's alicornification (this story was written shortly before Magical Mystery Cure aired), it's not afraid to poke some fun at the concept itself, and the characterizations in the last half of the story are amusingly over-the-top, even if in the early going Celestia and Luna seem a bit flat.  The language use isn't great (and the author indulges frequently in one of my greatest sources of quibbling; assigning sentience to individual portions of a character.  "Luna yelped as her body instinctively leapt away..." instead of just "Luna yelped as she leapt away..." and so on), but it's very unobjectionable for the most part.

Recommendation:  Once I got about halfway through, I found the story to be quite entertaining.  Since the whole thing's only a few thousand words long, that's not really much of a wait.  Anyone willing to push through a bit of unexceptional setup to get to the good bits will find themselves rewarded, but the less patient might not find it worth the wait.

2)  And I Shall Name Them "Cuppins", by Bob from Bottles

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The author attempts a free writing exercise, but Pinkie keeps trying to correct him and do her own thing.

A few thoughts:  Ah, metafiction.  Usually I avoid "Pinkie breaks the fourth wall" stories, but this one looked promising.  Besides, it's from the same author who wrote The Worst Bakers In Equestria (among other things), so I decided to give it a look.

I'm afraid I didn't particularly care for this one, though.  Not that any particular aspect of it was poorly done--it wasn't--but there was nothing here which really elevated the story beyond its premise.  The narrator tries to tell a story, Pinkie keeps interrupting, they yabber back and forth... it's funny enough for what it is, but the humor here is ultimately of a very shallow sort.  Again, I'm not trying to say that's bad; I just didn't find it satisfying.  It was ultimately a decent but forgettable sort of story.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for a short piece of very competently done fourth-wall gaggery to fill an idle fifteen minutes, this will do the job nicely.  I'd even go so far as to specifically suggest it, in that context.  But there's nothing really exceptional here.

3)  The Baffling Case of Pinkamena Pie, by Don Quixote

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A famous researcher from Canterlot is sent by the Princess to investigate Pinkie's mysterious "Pinkie sense."

A few thoughts:  Although it's not obvious from the title or description, this is another story that trades on Pinkie's fourth-wall awareness.  In this case, I thought the concept was interesting, but the execution fell flat.

The problem was the lack of conflict.  The story quickly introduces its OC, has some nice characterizations, and introduces an interesting, not to mention valid, problem (that Pinkie's powers could destroy the universe if weaponized).  But almost immediately after that problem is introduced, it's swept right under the rug.  Without any meaningful conflict between the introduction of the problem and the resolution, this story ends up feeling like some of the more rushed episodes of the show on which it's based: everything needed to be tied up quickly at the end, and the pacing suffered.

Recommendation:  As I said, the introduction is decent, and the characters are well-portrayed.  There are some quite funny bits in there, too (okay, I mostly just enjoyed the author's depiction of Twilight "geeking out" over seeing one of her childhood role models in the flesh).  But this is one to avoid if a rushed-through central conflict is a turn-off for you.

4)  A Door Jam, by xjuggernaughtx

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight and Applejack agree to help the Cakes by getting Pinkie out of the bakery so that they can work in peace.  However, Pinkie's taken it into her head to spend the entire day watching the pantry door...

A few thoughts:  This one may or may not go up on EqD in the not-too-distant future: according to the author's blog, it was last seen being rejected without a strike for some comparatively minor retooling.

There are a few things that could use cleaning up about it, in truth.  Connecting words are sometimes muddled--using "as" where there's no causation and "and" would be better, that sort of thing--and there are a number of phrases that could be re-worded to avoid over-comma-ing ("You girls have a lot of adventures, you know, and, well, that gets Pinkie...").  There are also a few cases where Pinkie or Mr. Cake adopt strangely formal inflections, though for the most part they're well-written.

That said, this is an amusing bit of writing.  Pinkie's strange brand of, er, strangeness comes through very clearly in both premise and execution, and while the conflict in the latter part of the story seemingly comes out of left field, it's a very appropriate addition to FiM canon, and its sudden appearance is in keeping with the tone of the show.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for a short, show-style tale will probably find this to their liking.  

5)  Shorts, by Cold in Gardez

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A series of short-shorts (most in the 1000-word range), each written in about half an hour, based on various prompts provided by the 30 Minute Ponies site.

A few thoughts:  It's hard to say anything concrete about these stories (three as of this writing, with more coming) in the aggregate, because they're all completely unrelated.  Rather, let's say this: I really, really like well-written flash-fiction.  There's something immensely satisfying about a good piece of such minuscule length; much like the first bite of cake is always the sweetest, there's much to be said for a well-executed minimalist piece.  To run through the three I read in order: I'm Afraid of Changeling is a delightfully, comically dark example of the fun an author can have with deliberate incongruity, One Thousand and One fits a surprising amount of emotion into three short scenes, telling a simple, elegant tale of loss, and The Apple of My Eye tells an old joke (old by this fandom's standards, anyway), but remains amusing because of the deft character voicing.  Although the latter is clearly the weakest entry of the three, each was enjoyable in its own right.

Recommendation:  This is a set of pieces worth tracking if you want to see what a talented writer can do under severe time constraints.  Although they're more scenes than stories, each of the piece which I read has something to recommend it.

6)  The Many Secret Origins of Scootaloo, by defender2222

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  It turns out that every pony in Ponyville has a different idea about who Scootaloo is and where she came from.  And whether she likes it or not, Twilight's going to hear each and every version.

A few thoughts:  In the early going, this story reminded me a bit of the better seasons of SNL: there were some lame bits and forced gags, sure, but it's worth sticking out because there's enough on-target comedy to make the whole thing worthwhile.  Through the first half of the story, I consistently found myself laughing as I read--Iron Will was an especial high point, though I'm admittedly partial to bellicose grandstanding--and enjoyed the piece quite a bit.

As it went on, however, the humor became more and more risque.  Well, not so much risque as simply juvenile; it was about the time that Luna put Twilight in a diaper after she (Twilight) urinated all over Prince Blueblood that I decided that the ratio of genuine laughs to pursed lips had reached a tipping point, and gave up the story.

Recommendation:  The early chapters are ridiculous and funny.  Not every gag worked, but there were enough that the story could coast on the ones that did.  If you don't have a stomach for toilet humor and frequent innuendos  though, the middle chapters aren't for you.  Maybe it gets better again later; I didn't make it far enough to find out.


  1. Secret Origins... I just don't know what happened to that story to be honest. It started out well, but it just seemed to start falling apart towards the end. It wasn't even the toilet humour that got me. I think it was the author self-insert that really made me shake my head.

    I actually stuck it out to the end, because it takes a hell of a lot to get me to abandon a story once I've committed to reading it, but I'll admit I wasn't enjoying it nearly as much towards the final chapters as I did starting out.

    I could say the same thing about Letters From A Disgruntled Friendship Student, actually. That was another story that seemed funny starting out but which seemed to lose it later on.

    1. The thing that really got to me about Secret Origins was the way several ponies were really out of character in the later chapters. Comedy often relies on exaggeration, to be sure. But as Twilight's search for answers regarding Scootaloo's origin refuses to bear fruit she begins to head her towards a Lesson Zero-style breakdown. Despite this impending meltdown being perfectly obvious to anypony who knows her; Rarity, Celestia and Shining Armor all decide to troll her with their own fictitious origin stories. It was horribly out of character.

  2. Whoa, this is weird. I was all set to call you out on including a story you'd already posted, but you didn't seem to like it, so why would I have read it. I looked at the date and realized you couldn't have reviewed it before. Oddly enough, I had decided to read The Baffling Case on a whim last week, which is why it sounded so familiar. Then you end things with Secret Origins and I think, "I know I've read that before, but I don't remember the diaper bit." Turns out I just happened across that one and skimmed a chapter before deciding it was a waste of time

    The odds of that just seem incredible to me since I don't very rarely read fanfics on a whim with no prior recommendation

    Oh, and lose that apostrophe in the last clause of your few thoughts on A Door Jam

    1. I don't think I should be allowed to correct you ever again...

  3. I enjoy these short collections, too, and due to minimal time investments, they're probably the only things I can virtually guarantee I'll get around to reading if I think they might be interesting. I haven't read this one yet, but enjoyed the few that Miyajima posted (he of Binky Pie authorship). I enjoy writing shorts myself and have participated in a few mini write-off events (as did Chris! Read them!), then tossed them all together into an anthology, but it's rare that I go back after the fact and really spruce them up; if I'm that invested in them, I'll revise them as one-shots or work them into another longer story. That's where "Nom de Plume" came from, and I've got four others I intend to redo as well.

    The only one I've actually read was "A Door Jam." I thought it was very cute as well and gave the author a bunch of advice when it got its first strike.

    Bob from Bottles. Hm. He writes some very good things, and I liked "The Worst Bakers in Equestria." He's come through The Training Grounds with a couple of stories, but by far, the most vexing one has been "Sweet Escape." I was on the judging panel that awarded it first place in its respective write-off, but multiple attempts to revise it since have only succeeded in making it worse. It's unreal.

    1. Why doesn't anyone mention An Imaginative Performance when talking about Bob From Bottles? That story was cute, and at times really funny.

      Also, it's interesting to see what Cold in Gardez "can do under sever time constrains."

    2. Sever time constrains (That one was Lucky Roll) are Fhe Best!

      Also, An Imaginative Performance! I agree!

    3. Oh, come on! Who cares about spelling and... oh, wait...

  4. It seems our paths have crossed once again! How lovely!

    1.) I just read this story on your recommendation and I didn't enjoy it. Probably because something's off with the show/tell ratio. Was it showing and telling? Yeah, I think that was it. And a bit too descriptive. Also a touch of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome. Heh, now that I think about it, I suppose we should be calling it Lavender Alicorn Syndrome now.

    2.) Read this when it popped up on Equestria Daily some time ago, and I just read it again. Pinkie-and-the-fourth-wall humor is something that I was never fond of, but this, this pleases me. What pleases me just as much if not more was not-fourth-wall humor, such as Luna's letter. So this falls somewhere in my list of favorite comedy fics though I will not dispute the fact that the humor is pretty shallow. Thus, I can understand why it would not be memorable for many.

    4.) Read this one some time ago. I don't remember how I found it.
    I don't have much to say about this one. It was not bad.

    5.) Ooh! More stuff from Cold in Gardez! I'm all over that! You know what else makes for great reading? His blog posts. The tales he shares there from his deployment are quite gripping.

  5. Chris, could I persuade you to mention or link Thirty Minute Ponies as the source of Cold in Gardez' prompts? More publicity is always nice. : )

    1. Sure, I'll throw that up there. CiG just mentioned it to me on FiMfic, too--seems like something that'd be fun to try my hand at.

  6. Thank you very much for reading A Door Jam. I will have to defend the commas in that sentence, though. I'm the first to admit that I have a comma problem, but those commas are needed to give the sentence a feeling of hesitation. Well, maybe it's not NEEDED, but it is the best way I know of. I think of Mrs. Cake as having a slight Northern Minnesota style accent, and the woman I know from that region peppers her sentences with a lot of 'well's and 'you know's, breaking up the flow of speech. I'm not married to it, though. If anyone has a better way to structure her sentences that doesn't have so many commas, I would love to hear about it. I could DEFINITELY do with less commas in my stories. I can't defend the over-commatization of the rest A Door Jam. That's just novice writing. I'm working on it.