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).