Friday, June 28, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 13

They're reviews, they're mini, and they're right here, right now.  By "right here," of course, I mean "down below the break."  And by "right now," I mean "whenever you decide to read them, it's not like they're going anywhere."

Admittedly, I have a fairly liberal understanding of the phraseology in question.

1)  Hearth's Warming Eve: A Princess Promenade, by Cloud Wander

What it is:  in the winter after Twilight's coronation, Rainbow Dash decides to put on Ponyville's annual Hearth's Warming Eve play herself, which includes some... "questionable" casting and rewriting.

A few thoughts:  When I go "story shopping," I tend to pay more attention to titles, tags, and descriptions than I do to authors.  However, there are a few ponyfic names out there which, when I see that they've written a new story, are pretty much assured of getting a reading, based on track record.  Cloud Wander is one of those authors; I don't think I've ever read anything by him which I haven't enjoyed, and this story was no exception.

That said, it's definitely not my favorite piece of his, either.  As usual for his stories, Princess Promenade is a mix of gentle comedy and genuinely touching moments, but the latter sometimes take the characters too far from their canon voicings and into the realm of narrator-influenced dialogue for my taste.  "You should be the Princess, not me, Twilight thought. I swear to you, Derpy, that your wisdom will guide me, today and from now on," when presented with total sincerity, just sounds too formal for the character in question.  That said, this was an occasional issue rather than a pervasive one, and although the voicing may have felt a little off at times, the blend of humor and uncloying sincerity upon which the story is predicated never falters.  This is, in the end, a very simple story without much in the way of "larger purpose,"  but it manages to touch on some thoughtful and introspection-worthy character examination while never losing the light, pleasant air which is the author's hallmark.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a light, pleasant story will be well rewarded by this.  I realize that's painting with a pretty broad brush (who doesn't like "light, pleasant stories?"), but the fact is I think most fanfic readers would enjoy this.  That said, the story doesn't have much direction; "tightly plotted" is not a phrase I would use to describe it.  Readers put off by unfocused narratives or authorial tone creeping into dialogue may be less enthusiastic about this story.  Those put off by alicorn Twilight too, I guess, but that's not Cloud Wander's fault.

2)  The Trouble With Phoenixes, by Cold in Gardez

What it is:  One day, Sweetie Belle brings a phoenix home with her to Carousel Boutique.  This would be enough of an annoyance for Rarity, but several hundred of his compatriots shortly join him.

A few thoughts:  Speaking of authors who I generally trust to write something I'll enjoy, there's CiG (to be fair, I've never checked out his "mature" stories).  Phoenixes is a classic "illogical extreme" comedy: the humor here mostly derives from characters doing ridiculous things that make perfect sense, under the equally ridiculous circumstances.  As with most of Gardez's comic stories, the humor is delivered in a steady stream of puns, turns of phrase, situational irony, character-based comedy, and so on; this is a story of the "I was grinning the whole time" school of humor, rather than the "when I read X, I almost died!"  Personally, I find the former more to my taste as a rule, but that's neither here nor there.

My only real problem with the story is the ending, or lack thereof.  I suspect the author realized after getting five or six thousand words in that the joke would overstay its welcome if he didn't end soon (it would have), and simply cut the fic short at the first logical opportunity.  Still, the lack of resolution (complete resolution, anyway) at the end is a bit disappointing, considering how much I enjoyed everything leading up to it.

Recommendation:  This is a consistently funny fic, silly and absurd at all times, yet never quite so much that one can't imagine the characters behaving exactly as Gardez has them.  Anyone looking for a high-quality comedy should definitely try this.

3)  Infalliable, by Pegasus Rescue Brigade

What it is:  Celestia has a terrible(?) secret: she's perfect.  And it's not as much fun as it sounds like.

A few thoughts:  An author's note on this fic says, "Unfortunately [this story] didn't work nearly as well as I'd hoped, but hopefully someone gets a cheap chuckle out of it."  I can't speak to the first half of the sentence, obviously, but "cheap chuckle" is exactly what I got out of this.  And as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that.

The joke here is that Celestia tries to mess something--anything--up, and can't.  That's pretty much the story, right there.  But I still got a laugh out of the escalation of actions, and at barely 3000 words, the story doesn't stick around long enough for whatever novelty the premise has to curdle and stick in one's craw.  Also, I have to give the author points for writing the inevitable logical paradox scene towards the end (you know... "You failed at failing, but that means you succeeded, but that means...") in a way that wasn't tortuously unfunny--no mean feat, that.

Recommendation:  This is one of those stories where, if you're looking for a competently executed one-note joke that delivers exactly what it promises and doesn't do anything else to ruin the reading experience, you'll come away happy.  If you're looking for anything more than "Celestia fails at failing," though, it's not here.

4)  The Keepers of Discord, by Hoopy McGee

What it is:  After he's imprisoned in stone again (this was written before Keep Calm and Flutter On), Celestia decides to appoint a pony to tend to Discord while he's trapped: to clean him, and--in case he can hear or see what's going on around him--to keep him company.

A few thoughts:  This story gets off to a bit of a rocky start.  Considering that it's told entirely from Discord's perspective, and considering that Discord has probably the most distinct personality of any of the show's villains to date, the fact that McGee struggles to find his voice early on is a significant issue.  Both the vocabulary and attitude he shows at the beginning of the fic are significantly more dark and vicious than De Lancie's interpretation (the fact that Discord's probably still smarting over the whole "trapped in stone again" thing only partially ameliorates this).  But around the time the third keeper comes into play, the story really picks up.  Discord's changing mood is shown clearly where he recognizes what's happening to him, and subtly but unmistakably where he isn't.  Moreover, the keepers themselves are interesting, and the very limited knowledge which Discord has of their lives makes them a welcome psuedo-enigma.  Discord changes over the course of this fic, and frankly, that growth is a whole lot more believable here than in Flutter On.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a good S2 examination of Discord will find a lot here to like, once the fic finds its footing.  Anyone put off by shaky characterization at the outset might not make it that far, though.

...Wow, four fics and I enjoyed reading all of them!  I must be on a role.


  1. Of these, I've only one I've read is The Trouble With Phoenixes. As far as CiG's work goes, it's amongst my least favourites. It's still a good story, but that's all it is to me: good. Not the great I've come to expect from him. It never really tickled my funnybone or engage me. The characterization was spot-on as always, the writing clean and concise (barring one little nitpick I found), the plot solid and sensible. It ticked all the boxes but lacked the X-factor that makes his other work so darn amazing.

    Oh, also, you really do need to read his "Mature" work. The Mature tag is more for show than anything, I feel, and he doesn't delve into any more detail than is strictly necessary for the plot. So far his best work, in my opinion, are the mature-rated stories. You owe it to yourself to read the brilliant subversion story known as "Naked Singularity".

    1. It's the voice. Both this and The Contest had a very 'canned laughter' feel to the way the comedy was presented. It never felt natural enough to elicit more than an intellectual response.

      Clearly it's not a bad voice though, because it's largely the same as inNaked Singularity and that seemed to work really well. As yes, you should definitely read that if you haven't, Chris!


    2. I did read Naked Singularity--I gave it four stars when I reviewed it on this blog!

      I was thinking of Salvation and In the Garden of Good and Evil when I typed that; I guess those are his "serious" mature stories? Neither of which I can comment on since, you know, I haven't read them.

    3. Piss, you're right. In fact, I read Naked because you recommended it in an earlier review >_>

      As for the humor still being "canned laughter" in Naked, guess I just like it more because I have a dirty mind. Part of it might also be because my mom reads Harlequins all the time, so there's a link for me to relate.

    4. Cold in Gardez's mature works are, in my opinion, his best. Although you may not be in the business of reading incomplete fics, Salvation (the new version) has my highest recommendations and praise. There's also The Carnivore's Prayer, another of his mature works that I recommend. I enjoyed Garden of Good and Evil less because I had the feeling that it was written without direction, dark for the sake of dark or whatnot.

  2. Infallible is great. My only issue with CiG's entry here is that one of the main jokes was just completely and utterly morbid for no good reason. It didn't quite ruin the story or anything, I just had that sneaking moment of, "Wait, really?" that left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Chris, where are Summer Days and Evening Flames? :(

    1. I had the same initial reaction, but ultimately decided it was worth it. Spots which get a little too dark for the rest of the fic seem to be a recurring issue I have with CiG's work--see also Fluttershy's second opponent in The Contest.

    2. Oh god, the Contest was amazing. Again, it's morbid, but it worked far better as a joke, I think.

  3. I found Infallible to be decent, but I loved Keepers of Discord. Then again, I just love Discord in general, at least when he's done right. Stumbling across a good Discord-centric fic always makes my day.

  4. Tried Infallible and found it rather tiresomely simple. I'm not sure how a running joke where you already know the outcome is supposed to be funny, but as usual, I'm willing to consider that I just have no soul.

    Will try Keepers of Discord later--I have higher hopes for that.

    1. Just for the sake of completeness:

      I read Keepers of Discord, but I found to too lacking in subtlety for it's length and not particularly discord-like in it's voice--not bad, just kinda meh.

  5. Professor WhoovesJune 29, 2013 at 8:33 PM

    >must be on a role

    I'm surprised you haven't read "Salvation". There is sex, yes, but it's hardly the sort of mindless clop that you find in the feature box. "Salvation" is a romance, and for most people, love and sex are inseparable. In this rarest of cases, the story is better for its exploration of physical intimacy. It's one of CiG's best works.

  6. I just read through A Princess Promenade and I gotta say something about it seemed terribly off to me. Not sure what.

    After reading Infallible I'm thinking, "sure, why not."

    And I don't know what to think of Keepers of Discord. Though I guess I can say I enjoyed the read.

    phoenixes. I suppose I agree with lightsideluc's opinion above, but I don't think the issue is as InquisitorM describes.

  7. Haysens everyone!
    While reading "Trouble with Phoenixes", a question crossed my mind and since it's about writing, I figured this might be a good place to ask.
    The part that putt me off was when Rarity was thinking back to her "pony-yoga" classes and brought up a question I asked myself a few times.
    (Well, I cant really phrase it as a question but): It's about the language in fantasy universes.
    So, I get that in every foreign universe (like MLP, Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, World of Warcraft, ...) there is one kind of common language (Basic, Common Speech, Common Tongue, etc.) that most of the characters speak and that is usually directly transfered to English for the sake of understanding it.
    And even while understanding that asking to learn a new language for every universe is a little much, the fact that each of these universes happen to develop the English language has always been kind of an immersion breaker for me.
    Now, while they all share English, almost every other language is unique to that universe (not counting people here trying to speak Elvish or such) and in most of the cases (that I know) other languages from our world don't get represented "over there".
    Equestria might not be the best example, since it's not the most developed universe, but "yoga" is ... kind of an Indian(Sanskrit) word.
    I'm not sure if I can tell this comprehensibly, but is there some "writing convention" for how much fantasy universes can borrow from "our" languages before it becomes an immersion breaker?
    I mean, could AJ refer to her hat as a "Stetson"? At which point is some name a reference and when directly borrowed and how far can this things go before they get unbelievable? If cars would ever become established in Equestria, I'm pretty sure no one would believe that it's just a random coincidence that AJ would be driving a GMC?

    1. What in the world is a haysens?

      Nah, I'm just kidding. I wish I had an answer for your bigger question but you lost me with all that.