Do you ever have one of those moments where you're staring at your computer screen, and you know academically that you should be typing, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect between your brain and your fingers? I've been having a lot of those moments, lately; hopefully, it doesn't linger.
Click below for my slightly-longer-in-production-than-should-have-been-strictly-necessary thoughts on a few fanfics I've recently read. As always, these are reflective of my casual reading experience, rather than any concerted effort on my part to delve into the stories' fundaments, but hopefully they're still enough to inform your ponyfic experience.
1) The Syndicate, by Bok
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The main six's pets run the mafia.
This is their story.
A few thoughts: I didn't make it very far into this one--only through the first chapter, barely a thousand words deep. While there was nothing in that first chapter that really set off any alarms as far as plot goes, I was pretty disappointed by the quality of writing.
It's not that it's terrible--there are many, many worse examples out there--but the errors made tended to be the type which impeded readability. When authors do things like mix up "its and "it's" (I'm looking at you, Thanqol) or "whose" and "who's" (I'm looking at you, um, me) that annoys me, and it can definitely pull you out of a story, but those are problems that don't really inhibit comprehension. When I kept coming across lines in The Syndicate like "He opened his eyes to expect some giant muscle-bound pegasus ready to deliver the final blow, but instead there laid only a scrap of paper," on the other hand... I can pick up the gist well enough, but I consistently found myself re-reading sentences to try to parse the author's exact meaning, trying to figure out through context exactly what was going on. That's not a good thing.
Recommendation: Again, I didn't get nearly far enough into this story to speak to its actual story. But readers put off by awkward, unwieldy, or just plain incorrect phraseology will want to skip this in any event.
2) Biblical Monsters, by Horse Voice
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Two men, manning a remote lighthouse alone save for each other, discover that a purple winged unicorn has appeared outside their home.
A few thoughts: This reminds me very much of a collection of short stories I read a few years back by an author whom I cannot for the life of me recall. Every short story in his book was full of dark, vivid characters who existed in a morally dubious universe wherein their actions took on an air of tragic necessity despite being gruesome, unethical, repugnant, or worse (depending on the exact story). Anyway, that pretty well sums up what's going on here: two complicated, ambiguous men are trying to make momentous decisions as they view the situation through the prisms of their own biases and expectations, some stated, some merely implied.
Recommendation: It's a pony on Earth story, in case you didn't get that from the description, and it takes exactly nothing from the MLP universe except for the titular "biblical monster." That said, if you're looking for a bleak but intelligent character study, this is an excellently constructed short story which practically screams "literary." And taken in that context, I absolutely loved it.
3) The Celestial Mechanics of Midsummer, by TwilightFlopple
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A story of Luna's reintegration into Equestria, told from Celestia's perspective.
A few thoughts: I can't think of any way to say that I only got halfway through this story without making it sound like I didn't think it was a good story. Even something fairly neutral that places the impetus on me for quitting--"It just didn't grab me," or somesuch--carries the whispered implication: "...because it was boring/dry/stilted/disjointed/etc."
So let me be perfectly clear: I don't have anything bad to say about the first half of Midsummer. It's an unfocused jaunt through about a year's worth of time, told in snippets and scenes, with an overriding focus on Luna's growth and adaptation that leaves plenty of room for all sorts of valuable asides; the bits of characterization and worldbuilding that litter the margins of this story are nicely handled, interesting in their own and never swamping the work completely. It's true that not as much is done with Celestia's perspective as I'd have liked (too often, her thoughts don't rise above the obvious; "Luna alienates ponies when she uses the Royal Canterlot etc." isn't really much of an insight), but it's entirely possible that the second half of the story leans more heavily on her viewpoint. It just didn't hold my interest, and as hard as it is to express, I mean nothing negative by that.
Recommendation: I think the reason I couldn't get into the story is because I was trying to read it in spurts. If you have the time to tackle it in one sitting (it's under 10k words, so that shouldn't require much of an investment) and are interested in some rambling but quite pleasant storytelling, give this a look.
4) A Hyena's Laugh, by Burraku_Pansa
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight hosts the hyena ambassador, who shares with her a tale about his races famously raucous laughter.
A few thoughts: This story was written as part of one of The Worldbuilding Alliance's regular challenges, and it shows: it's really more worldbuilding than story. That said, I've never had any problem with a bit of headcanon musing, as long as it's engagingly presented and makes some nominal amount of sense.
Laugh succeeds on both counts, for the most part. The poem which makes up a good chunk of the story is pretty well put together, and although the hyena Twilight's hosting doesn't come across as "alien culture" so much as "skillfully obfuscating," Twi's distress comes through clearly enough without becoming an informed element. I was disappointed that little was done to directly address the predator/prey dynamic, but then I tend to feel that way about all explicitly carnivorous sapients in ponyfiction.
Recommendation: If you're interested in a short, solid bit of setting expansion, this is an excellent place to start. Past the worldbuilding though, there's not a lot of depth here, and readers hoping to find out more about Twilight or the ambassador than the hyena's history will probably not find this to be to their tastes.