Friday, April 19, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 140: Antipodes

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

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

*Checks wordcount*

...Yeah, that's not gonna be ready by Monday.  Any brilliant ideas for filler posts, feel free to shoot them to me.

25 comments:

  1. A) Where's the zero-spoiler summary?

    B) I have nothing to say about this one other than that I never read it and probably never will.

    C) See you in a month when you finally finish Background Pony. Oh, the things we shall talk about...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Re: A): Um, looks like my copy-paste-fu failed me. Let me go clean that up (days after it was posted...)

      Delete
  2. Antipodes takes place in a post-apocalyptic ten thousand years after the disappearance of the two princesses. Unlike Fallout: Equestria (the other well-known post-apocalyptic pony fanfict), PK’s Equestria (and its backstory) is pretty much a prop with locations such as Stalliongard or Totemhoof just pop up when the plot calls for them. There’s no sense the place is real or for that matter plausible (I’m convinced that the whole sun and moon are stuck on opposite sides and the effects they would have was forgotten at various points, for one, as well as the ignoring the effects of decay and rusting), and certainly it never becomes interesting (what little culture was created for either society was drowned out by other things) or exists in the reader’s mind. To put it another way, PK dropped his characters in the middle of a jungle and called it a day.

    And in theory, that can be acceptable. Too much time spent on worldbuilding can suffocate the plot by overbearing it with unnecessary details (as it does with LOTR) so that the pacing becomes an issue. But the problem here is that the plot isn’t very good. It’s nonexistent in the early chapters, and whatever the main goal of Jigsaw and Tiptoe was changed too often between getting back to their home or finding the fragments (and sometimes didn’t seem concerned with either one). When one gets the feeling the characters are just meandering, that’s not a good sign. A lot of parts carry an anticlimactic feel such as the death of a villain or the defeat of another’s army (in how their handled). That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it actually works in some ways here (I know I’ve read people being disappointed about the former, but to me that was the point, it was supposed to show how powerful Tantalus was). But overall, it doesn’t generate much excitement or sense of accomplishment for me.

    Characterization could have made up for much of that, but even there I had problems. The personality I got from Jigsaw and Tiptoe was almost “Dr. Who with assistant”-lite early on, but that quickly vanished and I was left with nothing from either one for far too long. Not only do their back-story mean little to their presentation (loss of a partner is not something anyone gets over that quickly, besides the incredible cold), but their relationship moved far too fast to have any sort of response besides “already”, rather than having their emotions for each other develop a lot longer (I would also add the “cave of inner demons”, my term not the author’s, as another such example of something placed too early). I do believe that characterization improved when Incendia joined, not because she was a great character herself (for one, I thought her sexuality was tacked on), but because she’s different enough from either Jigsaw or Tiptoe that the interactions have a little more edge to them and because she gets more emotional than the other two. I would have liked to see more tension in this group, after all they are trying to save the world and the great big evil from the past is trying to kill them, and to be honest, there’s nice bits. But it doesn’t change the fact that these three characters are not just uninteresting (at least for me), but don’t have a lot of depth or vividness to them; they never surprise you (except when it comes across as unnatural). Neither does the supporting cast, whether it was Tantaulus or Moonbow.

    Probably my biggest compliant was the pacing. I was reminding of “Parilament of Dreams” (probably the worst multi-chapter fanfict I’ll admit to have read) in this regard, where everything just seems to move along way far to fast, both in terms of words and in actually time.

    The thing is much of Antipodes gets a “meh” response from me. I don’t find either the early chapters that made this fict popular to be gripping, nor do I find the plot centered ones to be engaging. There’s always something in the story that makes me wish PK developed more, whether it was his world, his characters, or his plot, than what was given.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh lord, Background Pony. Not to sound unfaithful in your reading abilities, Chris, but I'd be honestly surprised if you got that done before May. It would be a very pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

    Now get in there and prove me wrong!

    Or... don't. It's cool. Whatever works for you.

    ...But seriously, get that review done! Don't let us down now!

    ...Or, don't. You... you lazy bum, you.

    (...I don't think I'm very good at this reverse psychology stuff.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I also giggle when I see "Antipodes", but because of this.

    I'll admit it, this is one of the fics that inspired me to get into writing fanfiction myself. I loved the premise, but only managed to read until about the end of the city arc before it lost my interest. I was prepared to deal with dodgy writing and too-fast pacing for the sake of the sheer potential of a sprawling post-apocalyptic adventure (it was between FOE updates), but, as Bugs said, the world-building didn't deliver and there wasn't much of a plot either. The thing about the shards just made me taste videogame excuse plot (which I don't even like in my videogames) and that was it.

    But still, props to PK for writing (probably) the first story of this kind and thanks for the inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Argembarger is a beautiful human being.

      Delete
  5. One star. Yeah, that's pretty much what I expected. Even when I was still actually reading and liking this fic, I kept thinking along the lines of 'That happened awfully fast, didn't it?' whenever any type of conflict was resolved. And in retrospect, those logic holes in the plot you pointed out are pretty obvious.

    I was actually the narrator for the audiobook of this fic as well (don't waste your time on it, though. I'm not a very good narrator), which was fun to do at the time, but it is worth mentioning that we did stop doing those by about chapter 8. It hasn't really aged all that well, has it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Background Pony next, eh? There's something important you should know about it: don't read it in black and white. It has something of a gimmick utilizing colored text, but if you don't know it's there you wouldn't think to look for it otherwise. I think I'd read about eight chapters on my Kindle before reading one of them while sitting at my computer, and after I did had to go back and skim all the previous chapters for prior instances of it that I had missed. Its relevance does become apparent somewhere around the midpoint of the story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have the same experience. The "Reader" functionality in Safari stomps the colors flat. I decided it wasn't worth rereading the previous chapters; I missed a little as a result, but not a lot.

      My recollection is that Background Pony has come up in the comments earlier. The general opinion was not positive. So much so that I wondered if I was the only fan here. I'm looking forward to the review and discussion!

      Delete
    2. The parts that had that formatting were added in around Chapter 10, so in a way you actually got a more authentic experience!

      Delete
  7. I like Background Pony, but even I'm not crazy enough to read it all in one go.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Gee Chris, way to kill a guy's slew of podes jokes from the get-go. :(

    So from Antipodes right into Background Pony? You poor bastard.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Must... resist... bad pun involving Achaeans...

    It's kinda disappointing to know I'll be skipping over another "classic", but then I remind myself that's 120,000 words less in my queue and I feel loads better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to look that one up, there really are too many obscure characters in The Iliad to keep track of. You must've been thinking along the lines of "Menelaus had a definite anti-podes policy", right?

      Delete
    2. Sadly, no. That's actually a teensy-bit funny. Mine involved substituting "Achaean" in place of "aching", even though they sound absolutely nothing alike. Yeah, when I say "bad", I mean bad

      Delete
  10. I'm pretty lucky then. I started this one a while back, but was unimpressed with the first chapter and abandoned the fic. Looks like I called it right. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Personally I missed the timeframe in which the story itself happened because I just couldn't get over the 10'000 year figure from the backstory. The apocalypse happened 100 centuries ago. You know what's more recent than that? Ancient fucking Egypt and Stonehenge. Yet the whole setting feels as if it's been post-apocalyptic about as long as Fallout. Two-three centuries.

    The author has completely no handle on time. For every important event in the story PK fails to answer why it didn't happen a dozen times over already. The circumstances don't feel extraordinary at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I had a quarter for every fanfic I've ever read where a timeskip longer than the sum total of human civilization is introduced, yet the degree of advancement/regression in the population and state of "ancient" equipment suggests that only a century or three has passed tops, I could quit my job and review fanfics as a full-time hobby.

      And if I had a quarter for every time I've seen that happen in original fiction too, I could hire someone to write all those reviews for me, to boot.

      Delete
    2. I really really regret putting it that far in the future for what it's worth ._. I've mentally retconned it to closer to a thousand years

      Delete
  12. I tried starting this some months ago. I don't think I got past the first chapter. It was one in a bunch of big epic stories that I tried at the time and none succeeded in hooking me.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This was a fantastic review. Thanks so much for doing it! I agree with all the points you raised here, pretty much- Antipodes was a HUGE learning experience for me. I like to think I grew a lot as a writer doing antipodes, and it was definitely a labor of love. I realize it has a LOT of problems- reading the first chapter is PHYSICALLY PAINFUL for me to go back and read- but it has a special place in my heart. I'm really proud of the ideas presented in the story even if I didn't develop them adequately due to lack of skill and the characters (particularly chapter 19!) and I hope people can still wring some amount of enjoyment out of it. I know I certainly loved writing it and the experience of writing the story and the response it got I treasured.

    You may be interested to know that I've started a sequel to Antipodes called Lodestone, which you can find here: http://www.fimfiction.net/story/70738/lodestone /shameless plug

    I really appreciate you taking the time to do this- I hope I can take it in my stride and make my next story succeed where Antipodes failed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was a very gracious reply to what is not the most flattering of reviews. Considering that, I admire your attitude, and I wish you luck in future writing endeavours!

      Delete
    2. Glad to hear you appreciated the review, PK. Trust me, I know exactly how it feels to look at a passage you wrote a couple of years ago and cringe, but I always just remind myself that it would be far more depressing to look back and see that my writing was totally static after all that practice and experience.

      Good luck with your sequel; I'll be sure to keep an eye on it!

      Delete
  14. Ahh, Antipodes, the pony fic whose ending I am fairly sure caused my high blood pressure diagnosis.

    ReplyDelete