Monday, June 10, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 12

I've been feeling pretty listless, lately.  I don't know exactly why--I guess I'm just in a funk.  That being the case, I've spent more time in the last week or so idly staring out the window or fussing over cups of coffee that I only fixed in the first place to give myself something to do than I've spent actually reading.

I have done some reading, though, and a bit of it was even ponyfiction!  Click down below the break to see what's caught my eye recently, and what I thought of it.

1)  Tears of an Empty Sky, by Norrie McFly

What it is:  In a distant future, a dragon returns to the land from which he was banished to learn why the sun and moon have failed to rise.

A few thoughts:  I'm afraid I didn't really "get" this story.  It's very tragic, both on a personal level for Spike (I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that the dragon is Spike--I mean, he's tagged as a major character) and on a more general level for Equestria, but there wasn't a lot of pathos associated with either tragedy.  The latter is something that "just happened," while the former is presented as more of an unfortunate inevitability than anything else.  As such, there's not a lot here for a reader to invest in or relate to.

The real strength of this story is in the setting, which is described in a conscientious yet detached manner.  On the whole, the writing was excellent, complementing the tone of the story nicely.  I was awfully disappointed by the author's decision to explain what every grunt and gesture Spike gave translated to, however; it completely robs him of the mute eloquence which I assume was intended, and frankly gets quite silly in places, which somewhat muted the dramatic impact of much of the "dialogue" for me.

Recommendation:  This story paints a very vivid image of a post-tragedy Equestria, and anyone who enjoys such vivid imagery may well find this story worth reading for that alone.  However, the "action" which that setting frames is less impressive.

2)  The Not So Odd Outcast, by JJGingerHooves

What it is:  Lyra's always been seen as a bit weird.

A few thoughts:  That pretty much sums up most of the story, actually.  More than half of the text is an extended summary of Lyra's childhood and teen years, which is about as interesting as the phrase "extended summary" implies.  It's got a nice little moral at the end, true, but after showing that Lyra's social ostracism extends back to elementary school, having everything be solved almost instantly as a result of nothing more than a offhand suggestion is a disappointment; if the problem is that minor and easily solved, why spend so much verbiage building it up?  I suppose one could argue that making the problem seem insurmountable, then immediately solving it, makes it's own point, but when that problem is the entire plot of the story, it does no favors to the work's pacing to conclude with such a quick and easy fix.

Recommendation:  I know there are a lot of people out there who love stories about Lyra's human obsession; I guess anyone interested in a pseudo-deconstruction (I don't actually know what to call this fic, relative to the "Lyra's human obsession" genre in general, but "pseudo-deconstruction" seems to fit as well as anything) of the same might give this a look, but I suspect most will find it dull and unmemorable at best.

3)  An Unepic Pony War in the Non-Distant Future, by anowack

What it is:  Twilight and Cadence will be subsuming Celestia's and Luna's jobs for a while.  The only question now is who gets whose role.

A few thoughts:  Lots and lots of stories trade on comical misunderstandings and confusion due to crucial missing information.  This story does so incessantly, not only with its primary focus, but with seemingly every event that happens within its scope, both those that relate directly to the eventual climax, and those that are, at best, bits of scene setting.  Honestly, it got grating pretty quickly; leaving the characters (sometimes) and readers (inevitably) in the dark is all well and good, in and of itself, but making literally every exchange in the fic hinge on some sort of deliberately absent context is another.

Past that overabundance, though, I really enjoyed this story.  The writing is crisp and clear, the frequent juxtapositions of serious ponies and silly situations was reliably amusing, and the dynamic between Cadence and Twilight was believable and entertaining.

Recommendation:  This is a very solid, enjoyable show-tone comedy.  Like the show, though, the setup is abrupt (and later, is nearly forgotten in favor of the machinations it sets in motion), if that's the sort of thing that bugs you.  Also, deliberate obtuseness is the order of the day, both from the characters and the author himself, if you don't enjoy that sort of thing.

4)  So Long, and Thanks for All the Ponies, by Sir Ginger

What it is:  A ponified version of Douglas Adams' famous Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy, basically.

A few thoughts:  I was shocked when this story updated; I'd given it up for dead long ago.  Anyway, seeing as I hadn't touched it in... months?  A year?  I don't even know.  Seeing as I hadn't touched it in a good while, I decided to go ahead and skim/re-read the previous chapters before diving in finishing the story I started reading almost two years ago.

I'll be blunt: there are lots and lots of things wrong with this fic.  The editing is below-average, tense shifts and the like mar the writing, character voicing is mediocre at best (regular swearing by the main six, only some of it justified or recognized as being a departure from their normal vocabulary, being perhaps the most noticeable example), and most of the fourth-wall jokes which dot the fic fall flat.  The story assumes a great deal of familiarity with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels, lifting as it does many of the main characters from those books wholesale, along with all sorts of references, major and minor.  Both sorts are regularly run into the ground; there must be at least a couple dozen "Belgium!"s spread over less than 60k words.

And yet... I really enjoyed this story.  The thing about it is that, when the author isn't riding some reference or another into the ground or interacting directly with Pinkie, he shows a wonderful knack for imitating Adams' style of humor.  Not just repeating his jokes, mind you, but coming up with original asides, conversations, and entire plot points which are undeniably of a type with the original (an example of the asides, since they're easiest to quote out of context (the irrelevant context being that the ponies are in a ship traveling "198R," if you must know): "R is a velocity measure, with 1R representing about the right speed to be going to get to a destination safely, but roughly on time.  Its invention and subsequent use on all vehicles has become very convenient for the consumer, if inconvenient for anyone wishing to know how fast one is actually going.  As such 198R is not a specific velocity; it is, however, clearly far too fast.").  Furthermore, the long-awaited ending did a remarkably good job of tying back to many of the tangential characters and settings which the ponies had left behind as they journeyed through the cosmos, in a way which I found both funny and endearing.

Recommendation:  Although I can't really say that it's a good fanfic, So Long etc. is one which I got a lot of pleasure out of.  I suspect it's one mostly for readers who are willing to overlook a lot of (truthfully quite significant) flaws, if doing so means getting a healthy dose of original humor which does a fantastic job of mimicking the style and flow of the late Douglas Adams.


  1. I started reading So Long back when it was first posted, and wasn't able to keep up. If it's finally done, I'll definitely have to check it out again. I'm not surprised that it's got editing issues, though; lots of old longfics seem to.

  2. With all apologies to Bugs:

    I'm quite the curmudgeon when it comes to Douglas Adams.

    See, I'm a fan of the original Hitchhikers' Guide, and by that I mean the radio series that started the whole thing. When the books started coming out, I found them way too wordy and slow paced: Adams's incredible wit really sparkled when forced into the half-hour constraints of the series, but the jokes got a little too sprawling and uneven when let loose across the largely unlimited vistas of the novels.

    His Dirk Gently novels work much better for me as novels since, well, they're actually novels. But all the Hitchhikers' Guide stuff other than the radio plays never really clicked in this flailing mass of protoplasm that I call my brain. Add that odd predisposition on my part to the already-mentioned problems with So Long, and you'll maybe see why I couldn't even get through the first chapter.

    I did enjoy anowack's story, though.


    1. I actually prefer the books to the radio play (which, I've been informed by others in the past, makes me a soulless heathen). Still, I suppose referring to the books as "the original" in the post is at least slightly disingenuous. I was struggling to find a word; "source material" and the like don't really work, since a crossover has at least two source materials (sources material?) by definition.

    2. There are many things that make you a soulless heathen, Chris (barbaric colonial punctuation and spelling aside), but that isn't one of them.

      I do love the radio play and BBC TV production, but you need to read the book to get the full effect of Adam's sense of lunacy. It certainly a style I aspire to.

    3. I'm not sure what exactly the apology is for. I mean, yes, I do like (not love) Adams' works in general, and that includes The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book (I've never listened to any of the radio plays; my interest in that medium is limited to things from the 30's and 40's like Jack Benny or Baby Snooks, because there are jokes from and references to them in the cartoons from the time and because there a few radio actors (like Mel Blanc) that voiced a number of cartoon characters), but I don't have any problems understanding why someone wouldn't care for the books. Adams' style of prose does have a tendency to take too long to get to the point or punchline, amongst other things. It's like abstract art, you can't fault someone for not liking it.

      So no Mike, I'm not offended by the fact you don't care for the books. You've haven't been spreading inaccuracies about Golden Age animation, suggested that bleeping Roy Lichtenstein is a better painter than Pablo Picasso. Those are unforgivable.

    4. Bugs:

      I was just apologizing for applying the word "curmudgeon" to myself. I'm more an "old coot" when one gets right down to it... :)

      Mike Again

  3. So...where IS that last story? Has it gone AWOL from the internet? Why is there no link to it? (Yes, I could go looking for it, but how boring would that be?)

    1. What are you talking about? The story link's right there, just like it always has been from the very start.


  4. A funk you say?
    Well, being the resident expert in funks, I feel like offering you some advice.
    ...Well, I feel like it, but I can't, 'cause I got nothing.

    Anyway, I read #3 when it came up on Equestria Daily. I too found all that being left in the dark business quite grating. Also, it's not just the setup that's abrupt, but the ending too. Unless I missed something, It left something rather major completely unresolved.

    With all that, I ended up not enjoying it.