Monday, August 5, 2013

The Most Frustrating of Fanfiction

The column of the hour is brought to you by the inimitable Bugs the Curm, whom you might recognize from the comments section on this very blog. If so, you'll know that he's got opinions, and he's not afraid to share them. And sharing opinions in an unafraid manner is exactly what he does here, as he examines some of those stories which, despite being Good Stories, he simply can't bring himself to like. A vexing problem for a reviewer to have, I can say from experience. Click down below the break for his take on four good fanfics which just didn't work for him.

A while back, I got to watch a comedy by one of my favorite directors, Howard Hawks. That film, “His Girl Friday,” is a fast-paced, dialogue heavy, and filled to the brim with jokes (sometimes too many, I actually missed a few) with quite a bit of wonderful acting, mainly from Rosalind Russell (Hawks was exceptional director of women compared to many of his fellow colleagues). And yet despite it’s many advantages and things I admired, I just could not bring myself to enjoy the movie. The biggest issue was due to the plotline; Cary Grant’s character is the ex-husband and former boss of Russell’s character (a star reporter), and when he discovers that she’s going to marry an insurance man and settle down (be a stay at home mom), he sets out to sabotage those plans (bringing her back into his arms and her job) through means of trickery by convincing her to report one last case. I flat out could not support Grant’s character in his scheme, it was too disgusting in its manipulation (he has the insurance man arrested by setting him up numerous times) even for a comedy to find funny (it actually felt rather sexist). But the thing was, I wanted to enjoy it. As I mentioned, it had a lot things I liked, and to be honest a guy getting his ex’s finance in trouble with the police is funny when you think about. But as I was watching, I just couldn’t find it as such. And it irritated me because of that (even more so was the fact that I enjoyed the similar The Philadelphia Story, which is also about Cary Grant’s character working to end a relationship and marriage of his ex-wife and getting her back with him, the only positive differences is that he’s more subtle and Jimmy Stewart has a role, but otherwise is a weaker film).
Thinking about it reminded me of a fanfict that sparked a similar reaction, Daetrin’s “Off the Edge of the Map.” There were a sizable number of things in it that I liked, such as the handling of Scar in Draconia, and yet for much of the fict, I wasn’t entertained due to a number of decisions such as some very dull bits of the two traveling over an ocean and through a cave to a lack of conflict between Dash and Fluttershy. And it’s an example of the most frustrating of ficts, perhaps even more so than the ones that never get complete, the one’s that I know are good or have a lot that I really like, but for whatever reason I just don’t enjoy myself. “Off the Edge” isn’t the only example I can think of. Below are four others that I really wanted to enjoy, but for a few reason I can’t. There will be spoilers.

1) Checkmates by xjuggernautx

What I like about it: I’m an avid board game player, including games that are more for people willing to sink quite a bit of money into and take hours to play. As such, I know the difficulty of teaching rules to people aren’t as into such games as I am such as when people question rules that go against logic (this page on Boardgame geeks is an example of such stuff) and the difficulty of not trying to blow your top when they get distracted. Certainly, there are number of things that I actually can really appreciate.

Why I think I don’t enjoy it in the end: I can buy Twilight being a chess player, what I can’t buy is the idea she would even consider teaching Dash or Applejack. Yes, they’re both competitive, but neither have the patience to learn a game (I couldn’t buy Dash liking that pony Battleship in “Read it or Weep”, nor being good at it). Plus, Twilight’s blowouts actually offended me (this is slice-of-life, not just comedy, so I expect it to be more like an episode). Back in my undergrad years, I was part of the college’s gaming club, and I know that you can’t lose yourself like this; otherwise no one wants to play with you. It got in the way of a number of gags that I actually thought were well done.

2) Want it; Need it! by Lucefdu

What I like about it: This is one the most tragic of Ponyficts I have read because if you think about it, one of the character’s life is pretty much ruined at the end with little to no hope of recovery. Plus, “Want it, Need it” accurately and effectively says, in addition to the time-worn (but still well presented) idea that using others as stepping stones we bring about our downfall, the things we often say bring us happiness and success such as love, can actually be abused and ultimately ruin us. This was one of the few ficts that actually had me thinking about it days after.

Why I think I don’t enjoy it in the end: I think some liberties are taken with the ‘want it, need it’ spell, but even that wouldn’t wreck it for me. What does keep me from liking it is Twilight’s characterization. I just couldn’t buy (even though there’s really no solid reason for me to say that it’s implausible); it felt way too low for her. Plus, some things were never clear for me (such as the relationship between Twi and Crimson, which seemed to move between the latter having feelings for the former but couldn’t even say a word to her to the two of them being close friends and some awkward jumps at certain parts). I spent most of my time asking questions about the story instead of enjoying the story.

3) White Box by Chromosome

What I like about it: Writing about a character who has suffered memory loss isn’t easy to do, but done right, it can lead to some interesting results. I think Chromosome got that right about Canvas. I was even more impressed by his ability to portray the loneliness and anger that results from solitary confinement that comes having everything you loved taken away (it almost got me emotionally). Plus, the black background with the white lettering feels like a natural thing (the other color use, is neither a good or bad thing, for me).

Why I think I don’t enjoy it in the end: A lot of debate about this is whether they can accept the fact that Celestia imprisoned someone for basically being a potential danger (basically, the crime of existing). I can’t buy that part, particularly when we learned when Canvas was taken away and why the others were locked up (and how is a person who speaks of “revolutionary” ideas that can influence others would be on the same level as someone who can paint reality, that can could describe any modern speaker in the real world; come to think of it, copying a cutie mark isn’t dangerous either, why was he imprisoned). Worse was the talent of Canvas and the other incarcerated ponies. Actually, talent isn’t the right word, they have frickin’ superpowers that put them on Discord’s level. The idea that a pony could be that powerful was ridiculous. Also frustrating was the level of pretentious this fict displayed at times. Finally, I believe the White Box would have been better as a short story with humans, with adjustments, about whether its right to lock people up who are potentially dangerous. Instead, it’s this.

4) The Glass Blower by Cold in Gardez

What I like about it: Gardez flat-out nails the style of the classic fairy tale with this one. This story of what an artist will do to get the love of another feels like something Hans Christian Andersen would write, down to details such as a mirror that show’s the inside of another. And yet, it never feels like a copy. Plus, the prose, if I remember, was pretty good.

Why I think I don’t enjoy it in the end: As much as I enjoy fairy tales, I read them for cultural curiosity. The problem with classic fairy tales is that they lack things that more conventional literature have such as actual characters. Rarity could have easily been replaced with a generic mare (she just needs to be beautiful and arrogant) and nothing of value would be lost. What’s more is like other fairy tales, “The Glass Blower” has a very repetitive and predictable nature; I knew what was going to happen at the beginning, taking much away. Finally, there was a sense something was missing. I never figured out what it was and where, but it was there.

Again, the none above ficts are not bad in my mind, but they’re works that left me frustrated when I finished them. Surrounding the things I did like and wish were more common in the realm of ponyfiction, were a multitude of things I just wish wasn’t there. What’s makes it worse was that I get the niggling sense that if some of those elements were removed, the overall work would be weaker. There are cases of the opposite, when the strengths of a work knocks aside a huge number of things that would normally prevent me from enjoying it and cause me to myself (Star Wars (New Hope, because it’s the only one I like) comes to mind, as do Fallout: Equestria and One Piece), but often it’s a case like that of “My Girl Friday,” I’m left unhappy overall. And the noun I’m most unhappy with is myself. Yes, works like the above give me only increase my self-loathing. Maybe I’m just crazy.


...I have nothing substantive to add here, other than to observe that both the third and fourth stories on this list will be reviewed by me in the coming months, and I'm now looking forward to seeing if I find them as frustrating as Bugs did.


  1. Ooh, looking forward to those reviews. Glass Blower sounds interesting. I enjoyed White Box, but Bugs is right about it being annoyingly pretentious. I was pretty disappointed by the ending, as I'd expected the story to take a very different direction I'd felt would be much stronger (though I can't for the life of me recall what that was)

    While I enjoyed all three Star Wars films (don't anyone dare suggest others were made!), A New Hope was easily the best. It feels weird to say this, since we'd miss out on so many classic scenes, but Star Wars might've been stronger had it been limited to just the first one

  2. YAY!

    Thank you, Bugs!

    3) I found it something of a mismatch. The emotions it seemed to want to pull on were at odds with the scope if the facts(?) presented. I thought it needed to focus on either the incarceration or the power, but both felt washy.

    4) I've said it many times, but I feel the story lacks a character I can root for. The main character comes off as a short sighted, unworldly idiot and there is no discernible attempt to make the character likeable. I know that many such fairy-tales wander dangerously close to misogyny, but that's because the baseline we're taking from is pre-enlightenment in that sense; we can do a lot better than that in the modern era, or at least include the darker side as part of the message. I've never understood why this is so popular.

  3. Of these, I've only read the fourth, and I liked it. I agree entirely with Scott that there wasn't a character I felt that much of a connection to, but I'm okay with that in this case because in my mind the story achieves what it sets out to do: mimic a fairy tale style. Many fairy tales don't have a clear protagonist and give characters exaggerated flaws so they clearly illustrate a point to a younger audience. Yes, Rarity's a stand-in for a personality type, and as such, I can see a complaint of it from a fanfiction perspective, but I enjoyed it for the writing quality, the atmosphere, and the form.

  4. I couldn't get into White Box. I don't know why, but I suspect it was the pretentiousness (I hope I spelled that right).

    I loved The Glass Blower, and I think it's a wonderful modern fairy tale. It's just not an MLP story. The only thing really MLP about it is Rarity, and "Rarity" may well be noblemare who just happens to have the same name as the canon character - she's just too OOC. The story could be humanized and not lose anything.

    Of course, if Gardez was to do that, where would anyone read it? From what I understand, short stories were mainly printed in dedicated magazines, and that they all went belly up a while ago.

  5. I now feel I have to state that I love White Box but was unimpressed by Glass Blower. GB was definitely overhyped to me before I read it. And while the imagery was fantastic, the flanderization of Rarity just killed the story for me. Fairy tale or not, people don't talk that way, and certainly ponies don't either.

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  7. I DID IT! I MADE THE CUT!!! Oh, wait....

    Well, at least it was memorable?

  8. 1.) Like Chris said in his mini review of this, It is well-written, yes, I find it a more shallow approach that what I expect. it just seems there could be so much more done with ponies and chess.

    4.) You guys all bring up valid points, but me personally, I love the glass blower himself because he's got an ethic that I highly respect: Set your sights on a goal and let absolutely nothing stand in your way. It may make him, as InquisitorM says, "a short sighted, unworldly idiot," but what I find awesome is that he recognizes this and doesn't even let that stop him.
    That and I love seeing unusual magical forces at work. I'll likely say much more when Chris gets around to his review of this.

  9. Off the Edge of the Map, The Glass Blower, and White box are the only ones I am familiar with and I have to say I have exactly the same issues you do. Except I found Rarity in TGB a bit too interpretive.