Friday, September 27, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 17

Some of you might not know this, but I like to read fanfiction every now and then.  I know, I know, shocking.  Sometimes, I even read fanfics which aren't on my "to be reviewed" list, and (being me) I have opinions about them, too.  Here are a few recent (or recent-ish) fics I've come across, along with a few brief thoughts of mine about them.  Check them out below the break!

1)  The Voice of Reason, by Pascoite

What it is:  Derpy has a voice in her head: a voice which mocks and berates her at every turn.  It's hard to be happy when the voice is talking, but luckily, she has friends and family who help.  Sometimes, without even knowing.

A few thoughts:  This is based on a couple of the author's minifics, one of which I've read.  It's an idea that, I think, benefits greatly from a little extra breathing room, which is exactly what it gets here.  The Voice of Reason flits through several semi-connected scenes, documenting Derpy's struggles with the voice via anecdote.  There's not a strong resolution here, but I felt that fit the window-into-life tone which the story strikes.  Overall, this is a very sweet story, one which verges on excessively sappy at times, but which never goes too far over the edge and becomes laughable.

Recommendation:  Folks who like a heaping dose heartwarming in their fanfics will be well-rewarded here--for a story about a debilitating lack of confidence (one which doesn't magically disappear by the end, moreover), there's a lot of sweetness here.  

What it is:  Applejack has a horrible truth which she must confess to her family: she's gay.  Things quickly get awkward, though not in the way AJ was expecting.

A few thoughts:  This is a comedy, and it's certainly full of comic stuff, but I can't say I really enjoyed it.  Much like a Larry the Cable Guy stand-up performance, this story aimed for a lot of low-hanging fruit, and mostly delivered, with the result being a lot of very flat, one-note jokes.  Stuff like Granny Smith waxing poetic about her younger years and Apple Bloom knowing more about sex (if only academically) than her sister are introduced (kind of funny at first!), and then just sort of repeat without variation or expansion.  The fact is that it just wasn't for me; there are a lot of obvious, lowest-common-denominator jokes here, and I got bored of it before long.

Recommendation:  Look, I'm not going to pretend that this is a bad story, any more than I'm going to pretend that Larry the Cable Guy has no talent; he just happens to be talented at something I have no taste for.  If you like Larry or his brand of humor (Ace Ventura comes to mind as another example), then by all means check this out.

What it is:  Following the "discovery" of Spike's publication of the Noble Dragon Code, a large group of dragons decide to worship him as the prophesied one who will restore their race to its ancient glory.  Unfortunately, dragons and theology mix about as well as epic battles to the death and plungers (a major plot point, as it turns out).

A few thoughts:  I saw one or two people compare this to Monty Python's Life of Brian, so naturally I had to check it out.  And whether because that statement put me in a movie-comparison mindset, or by simple happenstance, I stumbled upon an epiphany as I read: The Descendant's comedies are to this fandom as Mel Brooks is to movies.

Brooks is an unquestionably funny guy.  Moreover, he has the ability to make you care about characters just long enough for the whiplash when they go back to being comic vehicles to be effective.  Likewise, TD manages to work some genuinely empathy-inducing history and emotion in to his story... from which he will typically transition immediately back to the goofball humor which characterizes the larger part of the story.  Even as he sells you a tragic tale, he's already taking the wind out of his own sails.  That's a difficult feat to pull off effectively, but here I found that the swings emphasized the ridiculousness of the comedy nicely.

But then, there's bad Mel.  He's the one who looks at a lightsaber and says, "I bet I could make, like, two hundred dick jokes about that."  Tragically, he's right, and parody and comic skewers are replaced with the stuff of which teen boys' giggles are made.  Even at his worst, he's not terrible--if nothing else, one must grant a certain grudging admiration to a man so dedicated to a non-sequitur gag that it produces the (in)famous "combing the desert" scene from Spaceballs--but the dropoff from targeted cultural and social barbs to unconnected sight gags is a big one.  Likewise, when TD latches on to some joke, he doesn't let go.  He makes self-depreciating noises about fanfiction multiple times within this single fic, spends almost half a page on one "wouldn't it be silly if Twilight became an alicorn" joke, and that plunger is practically a major character in its own right (I admit, I thought the explanation for its import was pretty funny, but by about the fiftieth time it was pulled out, I was feeling like the joke had run its course).  

Recommendation:  I just compared TD comedies to Mel Brooks's films at length, didn't I?  I'd put this particular one at about 75% Spaceballs to 25% The Producers, in terms of comic nature; judge your interest accordingly.


  1. How dare you compare Ace Ventura, possibly the finest contribution to buttocks-related humor in History, to the mindless drivel of that Midwestern mountebank? Clearly, sir, you have no sense of taste; were I a wiser man, I'd cease to take your recommendations into consideration henceforth

    'Course, I'm none too bright, so I'll add #'s 1 & 3 to my queue. I've already read #2, which was alright, but nothing to write home - or a review - about

  2. Thanks, for the review, Chris. I'm glad you liked it.

    The one I'm assuming you read before makes up the final scene. The other makes up the scenes at the Summer Sun Celebration (which actually did better in its respective write-off), then I added the opening two scenes to frame it all. That other micro actually made it so that everyone was being mean to Derpy, and though most voters liked it, I took Aquaman's criticism to heart, in which he immediately dismissed it as a "mistreated Derpy" fic. While I don't know that he'd like the change, I felt it made the story stronger to have that be her misinterpretation rather than the truth. However, I swung the pendulum completely the other way, which surely would have set off your sap-o-meter. Though we did butt heads a bit as to what we wanted this story to be, I have to give props to NTSTS for prodding me into finding a middle ground (to where it's ambiguous whether Derpy's interpretation was wrong—she just has to recognize the ambiguity instead of assuming the worst) and putting more thought into exactly what roles Big Mac and Carrot Top should play and how much gets resolved.

    It's on Equestria Daily, and people generally like Derpy stories, so it's mystified me a bit as to why this one is struggling for views, but I guess it's just one of those oddities.

    I agree 100% that it's sometimes beneficial to giving more space to some of these microfics that had to fit within a strict word limit. Three of my published stories now have been expanded microfics, and more are on the way. It's odd—when one of these micro write-offs is underway, I know I can't come up with some elaborate idea and hope to meet the word count cutoff, so I just invent a very simple premise that doesn't require much explanation. And yet I almost always end up well over the limit and still have to trim it back. Thus, it's a natural extension to grow that story back out when I get the chance later.

    As a side rant, it's common in these micro write-offs to relegate oneself to writing a scene, since it's exceptionally difficult to establish a conflict, build it up, and resolve it, all within a few hundred words. But it can (and imo, should) be done, and is a wonderful exercise in conciseness and getting the most out of every word.

    I thought you did a superb job in your own two entries in the event where you would have encountered one of the two that make up this story. And in your case, I actually have a tough time envisioning that much more would need to be said in either one, though iirc, you had the same issue of having to pare them down significantly to make word count. I'd be interested to see how you'd elaborate on those. And in a nice bit of irony, the only time I can up short on word count and actually went back to add verbiage to reach the 400-word limit was the one that finished second to you. That story was more of an afterthought, but one of the EqD PRs has called it one of the best stories that will never be on EqD, due to being so far below word count threshold. Go figure. I'd like to expand that one, but I'm afraid I wouldn't do it justice in coming up with enough material to make it six times longer and meet EqD's one-shot word limit.

    In summary: write a longer version of "The Play's the Thing," please.