Friday, March 29, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 6

While watching college basketball today (Thursday), I was shocked--pleasantly so--to hear one of the commentators use the word "alacrity" in a sentence.  That's a great word, the kind you too rarely hear sports journalists break out, and it was a welcome breath of fresh air amid a sea of overuse cliches and truisms.  Good for you, sports commentator whose name I don't remember.  Good for you.

Below the break, check out my thoughts on a few stories I've recently read.  I'll try to use one or two good words, if I remember.

1)  Dinky's First Kill, by PresentPerfect

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Between the title and the word "arachnophobia" in the tags, I think you can piece together what this story's about on your own.

A few thoughts:  "Cute" is probably the operative word for describing this story.  This is a story that doesn't overburden its exceedingly light premise with much in the way of flourishes or asides, but instead sets its premise, mines a bit of humor from its protagonists histrionics, injects some mild, harmless angst, and wraps it all up in a candy bow which is saccharine, but not cloyingly so.  At less than 4k words, "cute little slice-of-life fanfic" sums it up pretty well.

Recommendation:  If "cute little slice-of-life fanfic" describes what you're looking for, then this is absolutely one to check out.  It's not a weighty or substantial piece, nor is it one likely to inspire much passion, but it's not trying for either of those things.  Instead, it's a short, pleasant jaunt through a minor crisis, and it excels at being precisely that.

2) The Amazingly Awesome Adventures of Tank the Tortoise (by R. Dash), by Bradel

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Tired of waiting for the next Daring-Doo book to come out, Dash decides to writer her own adventure story: one starring her own pet, Tank.

A few thoughts:  Each chapter involves a bit of setup, and an excerpt from Dash's in-progress story.  These excerpts were a bit of a hindrance at first; the initial two chapters weren't very good by design, but the passages stretched on significantly longer than was necessary to get that point across.  Past that, the story got much more interesting, but unfortunately the story-outside-the-story got pretty ham-handed towards the end.  Tank's personality is never firmly established, going from unflinchingly loyal to easily offended (I mean, the perceived insult in question was pretty darn mild) and unsociable, and without a more solid sense of his personality his behavior seems pretty erratic.  That said, the titular Amazingly Awesome Adventures (and the discussion of them) are the real draw here more than the outside narrative, and once they get going they're an  entertaining mix of action parody and tribute.  And the shots at a few common writing pitfalls are entertaining without being too direct and spoiling the lighthearted mood.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for some silly action and writing parody should check this out.  Those who are put off by slow beginnings and inconsistent characterizations shouldn't.

3)  The Sound of Sunlight, by Chicken Vortex

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Octavia is a musical prodigy, attending a prestigious school, and primed to become a great performer.  There's only one problem: Octavia hates the cello.

A few thoughts:  Stories that deal with music run in dangerous waters, as far as I'm concerned; poor portrayals of musical performance or theory take me out of a story as quickly as anything.  So although I was unconvinced by the final scene, where Octavia masters the art of improvisational performance without ever practicing the style, I will give the story kudos for its portrayal of Octavia's (and others') musical life, which are sadly representative of some prodigy's childhoods, and for not flinching away from showing just how damaging to a person those kinds of regimens can be.  The last chapter or so sadly ladled on a number of contrivances, but to that point the story did a good job of balancing dramatic coincidence with plausibility, and the conversational tone of the story keep it engaging throughout.

Recommendation:  This is an old one (written in the summer of 2011), but it's held up much better than many of the stories from that era.  For readers who don't mind a rather forced ending (and some comma issues, though editing's quite good otherwise), this is worth revisiting the vaults for a look at.

4)  Derplicity, by Jeffery C. Wells

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Malpighi is an elite changeling infiltrator, and Queen Chrysalis has given her a job of the utmost importance: to infiltrate Equestria and report on Princess Cadence, in preparation for an attack which will be years in the making.

Also, Malpighi's "sister" is a wall-eyed, "Derpy" klutz.  This will be relevant.

A few thoughts:  This story blends dark comedy and simple absurdity in equal measure, and it's great.  Painting a fairly malign vision of changelings as a race, the fic manages to find the humor in death, betrayal, and general changeling-ness while still finding an excuse to make its protagonist charmingly likable.  And as an explanation for why Chrysalis's invasion plan seemed so ill-conceived... honestly, I think I like it better than whatever the "official" answer is or would be.

Recommendation:  I highly, highly recommend this one to any reader looking for something just a bit on the dark side, but unerringly comic and surprisingly, not really all that far removed from show-tone.

5)  Lord of the Rings Return of the Ponies, by Stainless Steel Fox

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The main six show up at the Battle of Pelenor Fields (i.e. the battle outside of Minas Tirith, i.e. the big battle in RotK)

A few thoughts:  The words "typical fanfiction" come to mind here, as the story takes LotR, tosses in some ponies, has them observe or affect the outcome of all the highlight scenes from the Battle, and then makes one last joke out of going completely off the rails.  Writing is serviceable, but riddled with simple errors and prone to laundry-list-style cataloging.  There's just nothing here to make this stand out in any way as a quality piece of work.

Recommendation:  I can't really summon any antipathy towards this story; most fanfiction is "typical fanfiction" by definition.  That said, there's really nothing here that makes it worth recommending, except perhaps to die-hard Jackson aficionados looking for something with plenty of references to scenes from their favorite movie (which, sadly, is the source here, rather than the books).


  1. YAY

    This post was informative because I never realized that Jeffery C. Wells and Skywriter are the same individual. Different author names on different sites, after all.

  2. I've read Derplicity and Dinky's First Kill before. I think they were both in the feature box a while back. Don't think I've seen any of the rest of these though.

  3. I enjoyed Derplicity. Glad to see it get recognition here.

  4. I've certainly heard good things about Derplicity and the Tank story, but haven't read either. The only one I have read is the Dinky fic. I told PresentPerfect to get his shit together on that one. The fact that it remains a good story is a testament to his ability to ignore me.

    1. What's that? Who's there? I'm warning you, this isn't funny!

  5. Not only did I read Dinky's First Kill when it was posted on EqD, but I actually commented on it! I never comment on story posts. It was pretty good, but that's to be expected from a Present tale. I just wish I could've added it to my 5-star list. That title would've looked pretty great there

    I'll be honest, based on your review, The Sound of Sunlight didn't sound like something I'd be interested in. Then I noticed that Chicken wrote it, and it did get 5 stars, so I'm adding it to my queue (joined by Derplicity). Probably won't get to it for awhile, though

    And now to point out Chris' mistakes! Unfortunately, they're pretty bland this time, so I didn't have much fun :(

    In the spoiler summary section of #2, that should be "write", not "writer". In the few thoughts section of #3, replace "progidy's" with "prodigies'". There's also a break in the recommendation section of #3

    1. I prefer to answer any remarks about my writing with action, not words... which is too bad for all of you, because you're missing out on a very inspiring interpretive dance right now.

      P.S. If you ever do get around to reading it, then please, tell me how I'm using commas wrong! I don't mean to! I'm sorry! Just tell me what I'm doing wrong and I'll stop!

    2. Chicken, why didn't you record that (also, I thought you didn't like interpretive dance)? God made YouTube for a reason! Yes, God is three middle-aged American males (Karim, Chen and the Hurley Ghost)

      There's no "if". I will eventually read it. It's just that other fics, like 4 Conversations About 1 Thing, take priority based on length and strength of recommendation. Your postscript has me feeling bad, though, and now I'm thinking of bumping your story up a bit. Damn your manipulatively adorable avatar!

      I'm really not the guy to ask about commas, though. Long history of abuse there, and I'm technically not allowed with 100 feet of one

    3. Lucky is manipulatively adorable, isn't he? Also it's not that I don't like interpretive dance, it's just that there's a time and place for everything, and when writing a story, it's neither the time, nor the place. I might enchufla into my desk and break something, after all.

    4. But... how can you enchufla without a dance partner?!

    5. Decided this would be a fanfic day, and after the first two (The Contest was hilarious!) I decided to bump yours up to the top - again, damn Lucky's adorableness! That little guy could get me to do anything

      I'm not entirely sure what comma issues Chris was referring to, but I've only just finished the first chapter. I'm not seeing any unnecessary commas, and actually would've added a few in some places, at which point I'd have decided there were too many and restructured the sentences. As I said before, though, I'm probably the last person you should be asking about that

      I have noticed that your typos cluster and you don't seem to like semicolons. Poor thing never gets any love :(

      I'll let you know if further reading reveals what Chris was talking about. He should really provide an example, as I'd like to know too. I do want to add, though, that you made me laugh out loud with that bow tie bit, and I loved the allusion to Suited for Success

    6. I'm very mad at you right now, Mr. Vortex. You made my head hurt!

      The missing commas became absolutely grating (though, to be fair, that may've been because I was looking for comma issues) and I was constantly left with the impression that I was reading about humans instead of ponies. The whole time I was comparing it to the superior Tangled Up in Blues, and I felt the epilogue could've - and should've - been stripped away completely! So why, oh why did I love it so much?

      Once again, I'm going to blame Lucky. There's no other explanation for this sorcery. Five (very reluctant) stars

    7. Typo clusters? Semicolons? Five stars? Now my head hurts!

      Well… if you liked it, I guess that’s still good; meanwhile, my quest for basic knowledge of English grammar continues.

  6. Deplicity was wonderful. It had the added bonus of not dragging in all the silly fannon baggage that surrounds Derpy.


    1. No fannon baggage? But there's clumsiness and muffins. What else does she have?
      Oh well I guess there's the relations to The Doctor, Dinky, and Carrot Top.

  7. Hey, I've read Derplicity, too!
    It didn't stand out to me much though. Perhaps because I have a thing against changeling stories.

    I do generally enjoy Mr. Wells's stuff.

  8. Someone just tipped me off that "Amazingly Awesome Adventures" showed up over here, and I figured I ought to stop by and check things out.

    It's always good to get feedback on how readers felt about the story. The frame story seems to have gotten pretty polarized responses – some people really like it, and other people feel like it drags the whole thing down. I wish I had a bit firmer understanding of the disconnect between those groups, but your comments about characterization give me a good place to start focusing my attention in future stories. I know this is a recommendation blog, but from my perspective, the input is very much appreciated.

    As for the other stories reviewed, I've had my eye on "Dinky's First Kill" and "Derplicity" before now, but I'm still new enough to this particular fandom that I'm running a pretty significant reading backlog. They both sound great, though, and I think I'll have to bump them up my queue now.