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You know those idiot amusements which lurk in the lower-rent sections of your head? The ones that can't even be called "inside jokes" because they're not so much "jokes" as "things that make you smile for no good reason?" Well, here's a story about me: When Antipodes first got posted on EqD way back when, I looked at the title, and suddenly thought to myself, "If you put a hyphen in there, it could be Anti-podes." Then I started wondering what the anti-podes were like, why they hated podes so much, whether they were able to sit at the same Thanksgiving table with pro-podes without getting into family-destroying arguments, and the short version is that every time I see this fic mentioned anywhere I always giggle while thinking to myself, "heh, anti-podes."
Click down below the break for my review of PK's (sadly pode-less) Antipodes.
Impressions before reading: Pode-related mirth notwithstanding, I read the first chapter of this when it was still shiny and new, wasn't impressed, and never came back to it. I don't remember exactly what I didn't like, but the first chapter definitely left me underwhelmed then. So, I'm not really optimistic. Then again, the first chapter is something like one percent of the story's total length; even if my ancient indifference turns out to be justified in retrospect, plenty of good stories have weak introductions.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: In a distant future where the sun and moon hang frozen and unmoving in the sky, two ponies find themselves cut off from their home, and thrust into an adventure that could determine the fate of (what remains of) their world.
Thoughts after reading: Let me begin by summarizing the first chapter: the reader is informed via omniscient narrator that, 10,000 years before the story begins, Celestia and Luna mysteriously went missing and the sun and moon froze in the sky. We are then introduced to Jigsaw, a pony charged with ensuring the water supply to a clan of cave-dwelling ponies who escaped incineration via eternal day is maintained, and Tiptoe, his new assistant. These two make a point of mentioning that the area they're in is full of monsters, turn on a bunch of lights and machinery, and are immediately attacked by a giant monster.
It's not so much that this was a stupid thing to do that bothers me--there's at least some hint of an explanation in the first two chapters for why this bright, noisy monster attractant is located in a now monster-infested area. What bothers me is that every indication is given that this was an unexpected development. That until the story began, the water control station had never been attacked, and that neither Jigsaw nor anypony else had ever had to consider what might happen if it was. That somehow, this incredibly obvious development had not only failed to come to pass all the previous times that the control station was attended, but that the thought that it might happen was never seriously considered.
Unfortunately, this kind of willful blindness is common throughout Antipodes. From the first chapter right up to the reverse-deus ex machina ending (that is, a bittersweet ending whose tragedy comes without any real foreshadowing -see the writings of Philip Pullman for further examples), all the characters which dot this story show remarkable lack of foresight. Not one, but two millenia-old creatures meet their maker in this story, not so much because they were outwitted, but because they made obviously bad decisions, then acted shocked when the inevitable occurred.
Another recurring problem throughout the story is the passage of time, or rather, the lack thereof. Whether it's a pony defecting to join a rebel cell and becoming a "trusted member" of the group in less than an hour, a romantic triangle that fully manifests perhaps a week after all the relevant characters first meet, or the fact that the entire sprawling narrative seems to take place over the course of one to two months tops, I was often left wondering why, exactly, everything in Antipodes seemed to happen at a breakneck pace. Besides leading to a lot of immersion-breaking examples of incredibly (in)convenient timing, the chronology makes the world in which the story is set feel very small--perhaps appropriate considering that most of the planet is uninhabitable, but not exactly an ideal tone for a wide-flung tale of adventure.
Editing is mediocre at the start, and some problems persist throughout the story (its/it's confusion, most obviously), but for the most part the technical worksmanship shows marked improvement as the work progresses. The quality of the writing itself also improves markedly--most notably in a section a bit more than halfway through, where three characters are all given individual, simultaneously occurring chapters with small bits of overlap, which managed to avoid redundancy and give each of the three characters a bit of individual focus time. The plotting decisions I referenced above may not really improve as the story goes on, but the skill with which they're presented certainly does.
Speaking of things that improve as the story progresses character development is a weak point early on, but in later chapters the ponies (and non-ponies) are far more fleshed out. Jigsaw, especially, is defined far more by his magical prowess than by anything related to his personality or temperament in the early going, but later chapters manage to develop him into an actual character rather than a walking bag of tricks. Although several of the minor characters remain distressingly one-dimensional, all of the fic's major players are eventually given backstories, ambitions, and definable personalities. And while it's easy to say that these aren't the sort of thing one should have to wade through a hundred thousand words to find, I think it's important to recognize authorial growth when one sees it. One thing that definitely shows in this work is how PK's writing skills have improved since early 2011.
Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
All that authorial growth notwithstanding though, there are a lot of problems with this fic, especially in the early going. It's easy to see this story as a product of the time when it was begun (well before the end of season 1), when demand for fanfiction often outstripped supply and many readers were willing to ignore structural problems if it meant exploring an interesting premise (actually, that last part's still pretty true among the community at large). But unlike some of the other early entrants into the MLP fanfic milieu, this one hasn't aged all that gracefully.
Recommendation: It's hard to recommend this story, just because it requires such a large time investment and the early going suffers from myriad problems with both concept and construction. Readers who want to verse themselves in the fandom's more popular and/or influential stories should certainly give this a look--it's both--but on its own merits, it just doesn't stand out from the crowd the way it managed to two years ago.
Next time: Background Pony, by shortskirtsandexplosions
...Yeah, that's not gonna be ready by Monday. Any brilliant ideas for filler posts, feel free to shoot them to me.