Wednesday, May 8, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 141: Background Pony

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

Yessiree, the review you've been impatiently waiting for is finally here!  Late, no less--was there any other way?

Below the break, my (looong) take on shortskirtsandexplosions's Background Pony.

Impressions before reading:  I read the first chapter of this story after reading Inquisitor M's review of it (review of the first chapter, that is), and was definitely intrigued.  In fact, I've been really looking forward to picking this back up based on that first chapter, despite what I've since heard about the ending.

Though in truth, I don't know much about the ending other than that it's a downer--although I could hardly help but notice people ranting about it, on this blog and elsewhere, I've made an effort not to read their comments, to avoid spoilers for a story I knew I was going to be tackling sooner or later.  So, if you're one of those ranters, sorry for ignoring you!

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Lyra Heartstrings is cursed: she can't leave Ponyville, and everyone she meets forgets who she is and everything she's said or done as soon as they leave her presence.  The only clues she has to her condition are the ancient elegies which haunt her, songs she is determined to learn and play in hopes that they'll help her regain her old life.

Thoughts after reading:  Let's start with the colored text: this story uses colored text.  As such, you need to read it on a color screen to get the full effect of the fic.  However, I gave some thought to the matter, including re-reading a couple of key chapters on my e-ink reader, and would like to suggest that the story is actually stronger when read in black and white.  Although it's difficult to explain why without getting into spoilers, I will say this much: there is little or nothing to be gained from the colored text which a reader can't discern from the words themselves (albeit at later points in the story), and the presence of chromatic writing calls attention to the framing device in needless and distracting ways.  Nevertheless, SS&E obviously intended for the work to be read in color, and I definitely recommend doing so if you want the full Background Pony experience.

A bit more on the framing device, now: the entire story consists of Lyra's diary, starting not too long after the curse that turns her into a living ghost takes effect.  Although journal-format stories often struggle to balance the needs of the narrative with the limitations of containing only what the focus individual would plausibly chose to write in a journal (or, even more often, completely ignore the latter in service to the former), Background Pony's central plot justifies much of the meticulous recording of conversations, musings, and other such: Lyra literally has no one else to talk to, after all.  Indeed, the author does a commendable job of showing just how starved Lyra is for meaningful interaction, from the obvious (when she talks about how starved she is for meaningful interaction, natch) to the subtle (describing Applejack's twang as "something that violins can only dream of" sounds like a stretch, especially coming from a musician... until you realize that Lyra isn't really commenting on AJ's timbre, whether she herself realizes it or not).  The dense, rambling style in which Lyra writes further drives home the nature of her plight; I've seen people bash the "purple prose" in this story, and while it's true that there are plenty of pretentious excesses here ("As a matter of fact, ponies have always been cursed since the beginning of time--not by a frigid dome of amnesia, but by a transitive sphere of ignorance that constantly threatens our very dreams and aspirations from their genius conception to their desperate expression."), they serve an important purpose: they serve as a gateway both to the depths of Lyra's isolation, and a window to her character.

Of course, dense and pretentious prose isn't for everyone, even when it has a concrete purpose.  But it's important not to confuse dense and pretentious prose with pointlessly dense and pretentious prose, and this story clearly belongs in the former camp.

No, the biggest problem with Background Pony (outside of yet another mediocre Zecorah ("Come and enter, stranger or friend.  For I have brews for all ills contained herein.")) lies in its inconsistent tone, and its beyond-languid pacing.  To start, the former: each chapter of this story has a wildly different tone, almost as if each were separate stories.  From the domestic desperation of Lyra trying to help a pony with an abusive father in one chapter to the psychological horror of some of the "discovery" chapters to the whatever-the-heck-SS&E-was-thinking-when-he-wrote-the-Pinkie-chapter chapter, this fic is all over the place in terms of mood.  To some degree, that makes sense; each chapter is a different journal entry, and one would expect a prevailing attitude to carry each such entry.  But these don't just feel like different moods; they sometimes seem to lack any relation save their protagonist and her plight.  Especially the Pinkie chapter.  While there is the odd reference gag throughout the story (I managed to both scowl and smile when Twilight explained that robots were banned from Equestria after the Coltlerian Jihad), Pinkie's chapter is basically one giant meta-joke, an unending stream of fourth-wall allusions, memes, and show/fanon name dropping.  Personally, I wouldn't have enjoyed reading it on its own, and when it interrupted a story I was interested in, I found it an incredibly unwelcome intrusion.

Although I may have especially disliked that chapter, the entire story is full of intrusions of varying levels of offensiveness.  You could probably gather as much without my telling you; a story with a simple conceit (if one ripe for exploration, admittedly) doesn't get to a half-million words without some padding.  Some of this came in the form of Lyra's wordy and self-absorbed musings, with their tendency to ramble and repeat.  More came from extended side-stories, which often ran tens of thousands of words themselves.  The relationship between Twilight and Moondancer, a childhood friend (and Lyra's non-role in the lives of both) is interesting territory to cover, certainly, but thematically it doesn't really add anything over its 70-pages; it merely reinforces what previous chapters have already made explicit to the reader.

This kind of dithering directionlessness is endemic to the fic as a whole, and as such there are places where the work loses all momentum.  There's a sort of meta-appropriateness to that, I suppose--Lyra's path forward is as nebulous to her as the story's direction is to the reader--but it's certainly easy to see how one could begin skimming large segments of the story, trying to find the end of one seemingly interminable sub-plot whose only purpose seems to be to reiterate what the reader already knows for emphasis (a not-unreasonable thing in and of itself, but taken to ridiculous lengths here).

Voicing is hard to judge, as all dialogue is transcribed by Lyra.  Thus, when one comes across overwrought philosophical arguments which seem out of place for the ponies having them (I'm looking at you, Twilight and Moondancer chapter), it's easy to suppose that Lyra's voice is merely slipping into the words she's attempting to write from memory after the fact.  Likewise, when characters begin to adopt vocal mannerisms which seem strangely formal (Pinkie using the phrase "atop the hill overlooking Ponyville" in a casual conversation, say), it's quite possible to interpret that as a feature of the journal format, rather than an error.  Nevertheless, I found issues like these to be a distraction to me.

As I mentioned in the last post, SS&E has a habit of writing "even still" for "even so," which irked me to no end as I read.  Past that though, the story is mostly well-edited, at least considering its size--such technical issues as I did encounter were isolated incidents, and widely spread.  About a half-dozen editors are credited at the end of the fic, and one a work this scale, I imagine they were every bit as necessary as the author insists they were.

And now, we come to the ending.  Alas, I'll have to break out the spoiler tag again; if you don't want the ending, er, spoiled, then don't click it.  Up here, I'll just say this: it's clearly not for everyone (I used the word "downer" above; for the sake of not giving away too much, I won't elaborate or correct myself up here), I had no problem with the ending.

So there's that.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

At its best, Background Pony is intelligent, insightful, and demands reader investment.  At its worst, it's an interminable muddle which seems to aspire to nothing more than finding a way to make in 20,000 words a point which it made in 500 in a previous chapter.  Still, even the muddle is usually interesting in its own right.

Recommendation:  This isn't a story for readers who aren't willing to make a serious time commitment  obviously.  Readers with a low tolerance for lethargic pacing and tone shifts will probably lose interest in this after a few chapters, and anyone who needs a "happily ever after" to complete their pony stories will be sorely disappointed.  But those looking for an immersive journal experience, an intriguing hook, and plenty of food for thought should give this fic a try.

Next time:  The Immortal Game, by AestheticB

Yeah, I'm not diving from one 500,000-word behemoth straight into another.  Instead, let's go pick up a few 6-star stories and sequels which have completed since I passed by them the first time, starting with...

The Vinyl Scratch Tapes (Season Two), by Corey W. Williams


  1. On the intrusions: that's very much a quirk of SS&E's longer writing. It shows up to an even more extreme degree in End of Ponies and to a lesser extent in Austraeoh.

    I wrote about it in a half-finished Background Pony review that may or may not see the light of day:

    "It feels weird to say this about the guy who's written three different ponyfics around the length of Lord of the Rings, but I'm not sure SS&E is all that good at long-form material. This is not a question of effort, or even of pacing (although there're plenty of problems to be had with the latter), but one of focus. He'll spend hundreds of thousands of words hewing relatively close to his initial prompt and then abruptly lose interest, peppering the story with digressions into whatever he'd rather be writing at the moment. I get the impression the only reason his longer stories are better is because, faced with the prospect of having to continue writing them, he puts more effort into making them not, y'know, suck. This wouldn't be so bad if he could wrap up his stories in a reasonable timeframe, but ninety percent of the time his ambition outpaces his ability to follow through. Even when he makes things work, the effect is less that of a continuous narrative than an episodic story that just happens to share a few characters from arc to arc."

  2. I actually did finish up reading this story specifically so I could read your review. Don't worry--I was already 3/4 of the way through when I picked it up again. Spoilers below.

    I've come to the conclusion that this story is at it's best when it's NOT being introspective. It's an odd thing to say, considering that introspection is a big part of Background Pony, but I believe it. The actual scenes in this story are some of the liveliest, most well-crafted I've seen in this fandom. The Discord chapter comes to mind as one of my favorites for this reason (although, I can't really remember most of the ones that came before considering I started reading this last year). It's a shame, then, that so many paragraphs are dedicated to Lyra making all of these ridiculous cosmic metaphors about music and the universe that do more to confuse than to engage. I think SSE really wanted to make a lyrical narrative, considering that music is a big theme. I understand the intent, but I personally got tired of it. For me, I think a lot of that frustration came from how intertwined SSE's "philosophizing" seems to be with the actual plot, specifically when talking about the mythology around the Unsung World. It was hard for me to distinguish when he was being literal or metaphorical, causing some headaches.

    You're awfully forgiving about the narration, I've noticed, and you make a good point for it. It does make sense for Lyra's character that she would have this rambling, imposing narration throughout. I know that I was repeatedly put off by dialogue sounding far too sophisticated for some characters, but you made a good point about this being Lyra's recollections. So, there's that.

    I didn't like Lyra. I think that's really the embodiment of what irks me in this story. There's a ton to be liked here, the scenes as I've already mentioned, the various relationships and character explorations that occur, the intriguing concept. Yet Lyra just irritates me. I just find it hard to sympathize with somepony who is just so eloquently miserable. With all those rhetorical questions she asks at the start of each chapter, I can't help but feel like I'm being lectured to. I honestly don't really sympathize much with her until the Discord chapter. All her introspection just nauseated me.

    Would this be considered picaresque? It seemed to follow that formula up until the last couple chapters. Definitely another thing I liked about this story.


  3. Oooh... Spoiler tag. I was hoping there wouldn't be one of those. Now I'll have to come BACK to this review when I'm done with the story myself, and that might not be for a long time considering how many other things I have to read yet. I read up until chapter four a long time back, stopped reading to finish reading other things, and still haven't yet picked up again.

  4. Well, this has been a long time coming, and I'm ready for some catharsis.

    I hate this story, and I don't mean that as hyperbole. Even by chapter three I found it to be horribly redundant, repetitive, and generally trying to hard to pretend to be insightful (or at lest intelligent). I suspect that a big part of my vitriol is how it turned something I still think is one of the best short stories going and pissed all over it. I could read the accursed Twilight Saga and feel like my time had been better spent than on this fic.

    Having read a few other of SS&E stories, I can only conclude that as a writer, he has almost no idea how to tell a story. The writing is mostly good, the ideas are great, but the execution is... let's say tepid would be being kind.

    Usually I can find something positive about a story no matter how much I dislike it. In this case, I suppose my comments about the first chapter will have to do, because after that I didn't find a single, damn thing to write home about. I now have a list of forbidden authors and it has only one name on it.

    Yep. that was cathartic.

    1. Why do you get so angry at BP for being overly sentimental, when the first chapter (which you claim to love) contains an incredibly cheesy Derpy subplot that's basically the pony version of "Christmas Shoes"? It doesn't make any sense to me. I personally felt that the story hit its stride around when you started finding it insufferable, as that's when it moved away from the trite glurge that characterized the first two chapters and started sinking its teeth into the show's characters.

      Maybe you're offended because you feel the "philosophy" insults you, but I don't think that's really what BP is about. It's a bunch of character studies wrapped in ostentatious flowery language. The thematics are far more English class than Plato or Socrates, and are both easy to skip and not actually necessary to enjoy the story. It's okay if that's not your thing, but to vitriolically hate most of it while holding part of it up as amazing is just silly. It's a fairly homogenous narrative for the most part. There's diminishing returns, sure, but never a sharp cutoff like you seem to suggest.

    2. Ok. First things first. I didn't say I was angry at it for being overly sentimental. Please don't invent things I didn't say--that's pretty dishonest.

      Second: to try and dismiss my subjective opinion based on your objective opinion is... flawed. You'll notice, I hope, that at no point did I say is bad, or that anybody shouldn't read it. I only said what I thought and felt about it. That's how stories work: each to their own.

      Now, I object to the assertion that holding up one section while hating the rest is silly. In fact, I think that notion is incredibly silly in itself. For one thing, your question collapses upon itself when I present it thus:

      "Why am I claiming that you get so angry at BP for being overly sentimental, when the first chapter (which you claim to love) contains an incredibly cheesy Derpy subplot that's basically the pony version of something you've never heard of in your life?"

      Aside from the self-defeating nature of the question, the sensible answer (which I'm not even sure you deserve, given the way you asked) is easy. Chapter one creates an an entire sub-world and allowed me to fill it out in my mind, complete with a sense of determination versus melancholy. It was emotionally rich, and let the details speak for themselves. Thereafter, I found that Lyra's introspection was necessary because the story itself did not show the conclusions she reached. In that sense, there are only two ways the story can go: either it is a case study of Lyra, wherein the nature of her interpretations is relevant (that never became the case), or it's just telling on what I think is a fairly egregious level. This is exactly the same problem I found in SS&E's other stories. He has to explain the plot because it has not been successfully put forward, which feels about as dynamic as a shopping list to me. That moment that should be 'ah!' is more like a stoic grumble.

    3. Inquisitor, if you found so much to dislike about Background Pony by the third chapter, why'd you bother reading the rest?

    4. Same reason I went to see the Hobbit. I knew I wouldn't enjoy it, but there's something to be said for being primed for discussions about a popular subject. Sometimes reading is just research, and sometimes it's so that you can escape what ifs.

      One way or another I wanted a complete opinion of it, and to be honest, after the opening I wanted there to be a gem hidden under all those words. 400k words is a small price to pay for being clued-in, sometimes.

    5. This story managed to drive me away by the Applejack chapter. And I'm the guy who stuck with "Wheel of Time" until volume 8, and with the Midkemia cycle(s) until the bitter end (coming this year, no less). "Slow" doesn't begin to describe this; "glacial" is still too fast. Heck, "unmoving" is fast compared to this story.

      The first chapter was fine; from the second onward, it became clear that this was trying to evoke sympathy for the plight of its main character, and doing so in increasingly blunt and in-your-face ways. Yes, SS&E, I get that Lyra is in a bad place, yet plucky and determined to make a difference. I got that by chapter 2, I didn't need any more chapters to that effect. If you are intent on bashing me over the head with your story's message, the cleverest reaction on my part is to simply get out of harm's way, and that was what I did. Good story? Perhaps, if you cut about half the words. For me? No. Not at all.

  5. Ah yes, Background Pony.

    ...Oh God, Background Pony.

    I've pretty much blown through most of my unbridled rage for this story, but suffice to say that the technical quality of the writing does not make up for the languid pacing, insane shifts in tone, and the ending.

    The story, to put it simply, is an exercise in futility. Lyra is pushed face-first into the dirt time and again, doomed to a cursed existence for absolutely no reason. This becomes even worse as the narrative drags on and on with seemingly no point in mind save for one: philosophizing about the nature of life, the universe and everything over and over again. And that's the biggest flaw for me. SS&E isn't telling a story; he's making a statement. And he gladly screws over everything that would make the story good so he can make his point.

    And then there's the ending. It's not that it's a sad ending that irks me. The rest of the narrative was depressing, so it'd make sense that Lyra's only way out was bittersweet at best. No, it's how it got to that point. The sadistic choice is forced in for the sole purpose of trying to wrangle one last philosophical musing, regardless of how it completely wrecks what the story seemed to be building towards.

    TV Tropes has a thing called Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, for when a story becomes so overwhelmingly dismal and hopeless that the audience loses interest. That's what Background Pony inspired in me. The story is a hopeless affair, without anything that I could even hold onto to keep me engrossed in Lyra's continued suffering. The only reason I finished it was to say that I had read one of the longest stories in pony fanfiction history and to see how it ended. And that only made me decide to never read another SS&E story as long as I live.

    1. "SS&E isn't telling a story; he's making a statement."

      Much better choice of words than mine. Thank you.

    2. ...Actually, I do have some unbridled rage left for this thing. Chris, we can argue theme and mood here for days, but how could you possibly call that fuck up of an ending GOOD?!

      The whole story was a hopeless endeavor, but there was an underlying current of Lyra trying to find some way to still do good even when nopony can remember she exists. It was that idea of trying to fight fate that made some of the truly dredge-worthy moments not inspire me to acts of wanton hatred and cruelty. And yeah, I would have been fine with a tragic ending where Lyra ultimately fails, but still managed to accomplish good in the world...

      Except that SS&E rams the twist into the last part of the story so hard that its breaks in half. There is nothing good or passable about the ending at all. It tries to wrap things up on a poignant note, but instead comes across as the final "FUCK YOU!" to Lyra, shoved in there solely to force the point rather than be a natural part of the story.

      I mean, normally we can agree on something, but this time...

      Seriously, fuck this story.

    3. I did not read this story and do not plan to, so I spoiled the ending for myself here. I can easily imagine why it would evoke such a strong negative reaction from some people for this very reason. But I'm sure those who read the story without expecting Lyra to accomplish anything (or die trying) probably came out okay.

    4. IAH, I don't think the ending is really THAT out of left field. There were a couple of chapters, particularly in the one where Lyra reads Alabaster's journal, that support the idea that the Unsung must be kept secret by any means possible. It should come as no surprise, when self-sacrifice is such a big theme in this story, that Lyra would have to lose SOMETHING in the end.

      I think it was probably too contrived to make Lyra getting her freedom result in time turning back and Discord never getting resealed. How would a basically reborn Lyra ever care to go through all of that trouble again when it isn't in her best interest? After finding that diary, much of what she did get that far was BECAUSE of her curse. As a matter of fact, I think it would have made for a far more interesting (and believable) dilemma if the choice was just between keeping her curse and losing her memories. Of course, the problem with that is that it doesn't carry the same amount of thrill as "do this, or the world ends." Also, since Lyra is losing her memories regardless, it isn't much of a dilemma for her to pick the way that breaks her curse.

      It's definitely a good idea to know EXACTLY how your story ends before you start. I'm not accusing SSE of not doing that, but still, working backwards can eliminate problems like that.

      Like Chris and other posters have said, I think that kind of ending was necessary. But as a whole, apart from the final dilemma, those last few chapters did more carry on sentiment SSE had been promoting in the rest of the story than actually concluding things. The sentiment was well-written, I guess; I found the last chapter morbidly enthralling. But it just didn't feel like an ending that justified the fic's ridiculous length.


  6. My favourite chapters:

    1. Discord. I felt like I was living it out, and I screamed and sweated and my heart sunk. Magnificent.

    2. Chapter 18. Intricately woven stream-of-consciousness, the best I've seen. Provides excellent closure to all the subplots

    3. Chapter 1. Warm fuzzy feelings! Which doesn't come in this fic ever again. And the foreshadowing: "Oh shoot! I always get side-tracked with these entries."

  7. I now feel like I need not invest time into this story. Certainly, if I find a completed audiobook I might listen to it. Thanks Chris, for reading long-ass stories so that I don't have to.

  8. Background Pony is one of my favorite pieces of pony fic. It's also an incredibly frustrating work, for pretty much the exact reasons Chris covered. The biggest weakness is that there is a much better 200,000 word story inside that 400,000 word story. As Chris noted, SS&E rehashes the same ideas with different details, and it gets repetitive. There is interesting character exploration going on those scenes, but the toll on reader's is pretty high. I found the dialogue between the various OC's, especially in the first half, very natural, but conversations would hit the important points, then continue on for pages more.

    What hooked me was the mystery. It starts as a strange mystery, becomes increasingly creepy, turns to cosmic horror, and finally manages to pull everything together in a way that reasonably explains how the situation came to be while simultaneously being MLP specific. It captures, overly verbosely, what I like in horror. It was so effective that I entertained thoughts of converting it into a tabletop RPG; that idea got more complicated as the story advanced and it was clear that a search and replace of pony for human wasn't going to hack it.

  9. As I mentioned in the last post, SS&E has a habit of writing "even still" for "even so," which irked me to no end as I read.

    He also keeps using "X and I" as an object. But this is a common plague...

    And SSE really should have put "Tragedy" tag on the story.

  10. A long story deserves a long review!

    Background Pony is one of those weird cases where when I actually read it, I was completely in awe of it. But then when I looked back on it, I started noticing the flaws. It's like anti-nostalgia.

    "From the domestic desperation of Lyra trying to help a pony with an abusive father in one chapter to the psychological horror of some of the "discovery" chapters to the whatever-the-heck-SS&E-was-thinking-when-he-wrote-the-Pinkie-chapter chapter"

    Oh man, you said it. This almost wasn't one story so much as a series of stories. Although I do like your thought that the direction of the story reflects the plight of Lyra. Still, there were chapters that just made no sense in the context of this story. The rare instance where this story actually made me mad was the one with the abusive father; the tone was so nasty and bitter so obviously ginning for an emotional reaction from the reader, and yet it added absolutely nothing to the overall plot whatsoever. The Pinkie chapter I was a tad more forgiving of, if only because it didn't leave me feeling pissed off, but it suffers from the same problem of adding absolutely nothing to the overall story except a sense of confusion.

    Interestingly, the Twilight/Moondancer chapter may have been my favorite (that, or the one with the gardener fellow Lyra had a crush on, I forget his name). Yes, they really only serve to emphasize Lyra's plight when we're already familiar with it, but I also found them effective in driving home the inevitable tragedy that Lyra is powerless to stop and exploring some of the consequences of her condition. They weren't necessary, but I think they added something to the story.

    I didn't get angry over the ending; like you, I thought a bittersweet ending was only appropriate for this story. Although by then I had started to become a little less enamored with the story and was just grateful it finally came to an end so I could say I had finished it.

    1. This almost wasn't one story so much as a series of stories.

      I actually began thinking of it:

      As a weekly television series like "Quantum Leap" or "Doctor Who" with each chapter being the equivalent of an hour-long episode. It's another reason I couldn't imagine sitting down and reading the whole thing through from beginning to end--this concept of "binge television" that Netflix is trying to usher in just seems incomprehensible to me.

      For my part, though, I found looking back on the story has let me edit it--I'd forgotten all about that Pinkie Pie chapter till Chris mentioned it, and I'm pretty sure my mental red pencil has crossed out quite a lot of the rest of the text, too. That ending, though, I continue to think was the right way to go. I kept rembering "Flowers for Algernon," poor old Charley trying to keep up his journal as his mind slowly unravels....

      So, yeah. Three stars, altogether, I'd say.


    2. I think viewing the story as one continuous length rather than in episodic installments is a mistake. It's not a movie, it's a mini-series.

  11. Dammit Chris, you were supposed to wait till I was finished with my thoughts.

    Whatever, I really can't add to much that has been said anyway. This thing had probably the worst pacing I have ever had to sit through in a work of fiction (I suspect anyone who has read the Wheel of Time Series would disagree, but I'm not going to see if that's true). Way too often I found myself asking why parts were include whether they were paragraphs or even chapters (that Pinkie one, I agree with Chris, that the point I felt I could no longer take this seriously) either because they were repetitive or because just flat out pointless. What make's the pacing worse was that SS&E spent too much on the time of kiddie pool deep philosophical musings that I simply couldn't care about (I really felt the rubber mallet every time I read an intro passage). As a plus, I can say that SS&E does a good job at capturing the mental state of a depressed, lonely character (of course, I'm also reminded at how tiresome such characters get as well). And to be honest, some chapters are nice, if you look at them as their own individual story (mainly the shorter ones at the beginning).

    What could have been a good short story in the style of the Twilight Zone, became the kind of story I will pretty much always dislike: overly long, ostentatious, and meandering. I'm willing to punch my way through any story to the end even if I heartly dislike it, but this really pushed my limits.

    1. As someone who has read "Wheel of Time", for comparison's sake: I managed to get eight volumes into "WoT" before giving up. "Background Pony" lost me after four chapters. So no, "WoT" does not have worse pacing, leaving aside "Winter's Heart", the absolute lowpoint of Jordan's opus.

  12. *sees what the next review is*

    Whoo, boy. I'm both really excited and really nervous about this, hehe.

    Just a forewarning, Vinyl Scratch Tapes Season 2 is easily the most polarizing thing I've ever written, for reasons that will likely be obvious once you finish reading it.

    I myself am still proud of Season 2 and the Vinyl Scratch Tapes as a whole, but I do still recognize that it has flaws, much in the same way I recognize the flaws in the first season (which you did a good job of fairly pointing out in your first season review).

    I look forward to seeing your review. Regardless of what your opinion of season 2 ends up being, I can't wait to see what you have to say about it.

  13. Professor WhoovesMay 10, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    If "Background Pony" were half as long, it would be twice as good.

    1. I disagree. It would have to be a quarter of its current length before it could be twice as good. The quality would be inversely proportional to its length, kind of like the gravitational pull of a body like the Earth.

    2. Inversely proportional to the square of its length, to be more precise.

    3. Darn, I did it wrong. If quality doubled when the length of the fic was cut down to a quarter, then the length must be inversely proportional to the square of the quality, not the other way around! You'd have to turn two into one over two and square the result (one over four) to get the length, ergo the length is equal to the inverse of the square of the quality.

      Sorry, anyone reading this. I'm posting this correction just to make sure you go away with the correct mathematical idea. I'd hate to have that on my conscience.

      Also, I like cake too.

  14. Ooh, snubbing AestheticB. I wonder how he feels about that.

  15. I would say that the meandering side stories were the story more than the main plot itself. The main plot was just the vehicle to explore a life in a unique state of limbo, that I am sure is a thousand metaphors crammed into one. At first I also felt that chapters like Rarity's and the Twilight Moondancer thing were ancillary to the plot or only served to illustrate things that could be done in far fewer words, but eventually I realized that the story was not about the curse, the curse was just the premise. The story was about life.

    As for the ending, while I did not have a problem with a tragic ending, as I realized the scope of the curse. My main problem was that I still do not understand how a curse that, for lack of a better term, censors awareness, can retroactively affect physical events.

    1. My main issue is just how inconsistent the curse is. Its effects seem to be fitted to whatever direction SS&E wants to take the story. I wouldn't have a real problem with this kind of "soft-magic curse", but the problem is that he also wants to structure a story about Lyra understanding the nature of the curse, and building a whole story and cosmology around this curse. This inconsistency ruined the fic as a whole for me, and I honestly think it would be a lot better if it was simply a collection of interconnected stories about "A pony nobody can remember lives in Ponyville". It is not like you can't write a story built around something completely unexplained happening (like Metamorphosis).

      Still, there are a lot of interesting stories here. I loved the one with the elder pony, the one with the romantic interest, and there are a bunch of other great ones in the mix.

    2. Actually It makes me feel like there are 2 stories at war.
      There's Lyra and her curse and all the other characters serve to drive her plot and frame her perspective. They are just additional plot and conflict while the main story sorts itself out.
      Then there's the stories of all these other characters and how their lives are affected behind the scenes by a catalyst.
      Unfortunately the side characters and the catalyst are both fleshed out to the point that they have grown out of their roles.
      Lyra's main story and the side stories are like a siamese twin. Too attachet to be separated and too distinct to be one.

  16. Ah yes - Background Pony. The story that could have been great.

    The real pisser about this story is that the concept seemed fresh and original and could genuinely have been one of the greatest stories in the fandom if only SS&E had a first-class editor that could be brutal with him and keep him to the point. Despite the hideous word-bloat, the first five or so chapters were readable, until the pointless digressions and side-stories took hold in earnest for the sole purpose of repeatedly slamming the readers' nuts in the heavy desk drawer of wangst, despair and futility. Grimly, you press on desperately hoping that things will pick up because you have this vision of just how great it could have been, but no! More painfully-awful characters and plot-lines which are very clearly going to do X, Y, and Z, and then proceed to do so at utterly interminable length just to grind Lyra's face into the dirt some more, then stamp on her, club her in the guts and set her on fire. As for the ending? Sure, it could almost have worked if it hadn't been such a slog to get there. Instead, I was left with a feeling of 'What a complete load of old pony that was!'.

    In summary; there's the bones of remarkable story in there - in the same way as there's the bones of a supermodel in a 600lb housebound recluse. Trim it to 1/3 to 1/4 of the length and you could have something incredible. Instead, you're left with a depressing sense of just what could have been.

  17. God, I hate this story. Everything I could add has already been said. But yeah, it sucks.