1) Flashes on the Horizon, by Goblin Scribe
What it is: Six Ponyvillians watch through the night as something ominous unfolds in the distance.
A few thoughts: The best thing about this story is that you never find out what that "something ominous" is. Instead, the reader is left to wonder, along with the ponies on the hill, just what to make of the tantalizingly suggestive flashes and sounds which they strain to catch. My only complaint is that, for a story that plays so heavily on reaction to the unknown, only two of the characters are given much emotional weight. Still, I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
Recommendation: If you're looking for a story that makes excellent use of limited character knowledge to foster a sense of mystery, this is a good one. Readers looking for deep and engaging characterizations will probably be underwhelmed by most of those present here, though.
2) My Little Staring Contest: Alicorns can stare for a very long time, by CosmicAfro
What it is: When a minor squabble escalates, Princess Luna challenges her sister to a staring contest to settle matters. And, as you can probably gather from the title... Alicorns can stare for a very long time.
A few thoughts: I quit after a couple thousand words. As far as a story concept, well, it's all there in the title; this is the kind of fic that sinks or swims on presentation, not shocking twists or stunning originality. And there's a lot wrong with the presentation here. From the very first line ("'Good morning, Luna,' Celestia promptly greeted her lunar counterpart as she entered into the breakfast room") on, I rarely found a sentence that didn't have an strangely out of place adjective, nonstandard and often frankly bizarre word ordering, or (as in the case quoted), an ill-fitting adverb.
Recommendation: The spelling/punctuation are quite good, so if that's all you care about on a fic's technical side, you may enjoy this--what I read was rather slow-paced for a "the punchline's in the title"-type story, but not terrible for all that. For readers more sensitive to writing quality, I don't recommend this.
3) A Single Step, by darf
What it is: When she was little, Twilight stepped on a snail. This was her first lesson in perspective.
A few thoughts: This is basically "slippery slope: the fanfic," it seems to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that; a fic should have something to say, and this one certainly does. Also, I do appreciate that the slippery slope in question wasn't "if you squish a snail, you'll eventually become an emotionally hollow mass-murderer," which was what I initially feared. Instead, this is a story about Twi growing up, and what time and life do for our sense of perspective. The ending does take away some of the bite, which I personally think was a poor choice for this kind of story (and which undermines one of the major themes in the work), but without delving into spoilers I can definitely say it wasn't a fic-ruining conclusion; just not the one I'd have written.
Recommendation: Readers looking for an adult (no, not that kind of adult--I understand the author does some of that too, though) take on how to deal with life, death, and power may find this to their interests. Those looking for a story with a clear POV, but which doesn't caricaturize its protagonist for the sake of making a point, will probably be pleased with this one.
4) In Quintuple Time, by HoofBitingActionOverload
What it is: One day, Applejack steps out of her house and onto a beach. The day gets stranger from there.
A few thoughts: For a random/comedy story, there's not a lot of random comedy here. The premise is suitably mind-twisting, but there's never any expansion on it; Applejack doesn't know where she is or how to get back home, and everypony around her is behaving oddly and acting as though their behavior is normal. I kept waiting for some payoff or escalation, but there really isn't one. The fact is, a lot of the weirdness here doesn't serve any purpose, comedic or otherwise; it's just weird for weirdness's sake, and that's a better way to promote indifference than amusement. There are some nice bits along the way (water buffalo! Ah, I love me some stupid puns), but my overall reaction when I finished the fic was a shrug and a "well, okay then."
Recommendation: I'd describe this as "a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, but with a third the comedy and a weak punchline instead of a deconstruction of one." If that sounds good to you (and hey, a third the comedy of a Flying Circus sketch isn't terrible), by all means give this one a try.
5) Tired, by Ebon Mane
What it is: Some fifty years after they first meet, Pinkie Pie still makes time for her friends.
A few thoughts: I don't really have a lot to say about this one. What I'll say is that the writing is excellent, and if I thought that Pinkie was a bit too contemplative, then I'll also cop that a fifty-years-older Pinkie who's not in perfect health anymore probably wouldn't be as giddy as show-Pinkie, either. Although tagged as a sad story, there's not really a lot of depression fodder here--and what there is is never ham-handed, thankfully. All in all, a sincere, thoughtful bit of writing, and an introspective take on Pinkie that's sweet and, on occasion, touching.
Recommendation: I would recommend this to anyone looking for a take on the main six's twilight years that's serious but not maudlin, and which respects both its characters and its setting.