Monday, October 21, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 15: My Roommate is a Vampire

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

Although I didn't plan it that way, it seems appropriate to review a vampire fic as we approach Halloween.  Go me!  Then go below the break, to see what I thought of My Roommate is a Vampire, by Dennis the Menace.

Impressions before reading:  Well, this is one of the most-read fanfics in the pony community, with over 4000 thumbs-up, over 5000 comments, and over 36,000 views (as of this writing).  Popularity may be no guarantee of quality, but all things being equal I still consider it a good sign.

On the other hand, I have to imagine that the simple fact that this is a TaviScratch romantic comedy (always popular with this fandom) with vampires (trendy!) accounts for a fair bit of that popularity.  But hey, credit to the author for coming up with a concept that would be appealing to lots of readers; mass appeal may not be something that every fanfic writer strives for, but the ability to come up with something that will interest lots of readers isn't nothing.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Inspired by a combination of bored observation and a trashy novel, Octavia begins to suspect that, well, her roommate is a vampire.  When it turns out her suspicions are on the money, it turns her life upside-down... and marks the beginning of a star-crossed relationship.

Thoughts after reading:  Excessive meme use is typically viewed as a bad thing in fanfiction, but the truth is that use of memes is just a internet-bred form of referential humor, and can be done well.  The problem many authors have is that, rather than utilize a meme in such a way that a) it works in the story whether or not the reader is familiar with the meme, and b) the meta-level of the reference reinforces the tone of the moment, they just toss a fan gag in without much regard to how it fits into their story, or whether the "joke" even makes sense in context.  Because poor use of memes is so pervasive, though, it's easy to view it as an inherently bad thing.

My Roommate is a Vampire is full of memes; unfortunately, they're mostly bad.  Often, they're "just" non-sequitur gags that only make sense in a meta- context, but Dennis the Menace actually manages to use several in such a way that they inhibit comprehension.  For example, an early chapter ends with Vinyl gasping as Octavia offhandedly pulls a half-eaten sandwich from the fridge and offers it to her.  Why?  Because that's a thing that happened in Epic Wub Time, presumably.  Regardless, neither the sandwich nor the reaction are never mentioned again, which (considering the position of emphasis which they're given, as a cliffhanger chapter ending) leaves the reader grasping for meaning where there turns out to be none.  Sadly, this was not an isolated incident, though it's true that most of the references (fandom or otherwise) were just the "regular" type of bad.

I do want to praise the author for coming up with a solid, appealing concept.  This is a story about a rocky supernatural romance, which uses vamiricism and lycanthropy (and fairydom) to draw direct parallels to homosexuality--an ultimately empowering message about how to be who you really are.  Along the way it looks at parental pressures and dealing with your inner demons in a comic yet (mostly) respectful way, and even has a shadowy secret organization and an inscrutable villain to throw a bit of adventure into the mix.  At the idea level, that's great.

Unfortunately, things break down when it comes to execution.  The writing is a letdown; the author's decent vocabulary belies repetitive word choice (and incredible redundancy: "[it] was basically your basic run-of-the-mill..." is used without comic intent, and it's not an isolated incident), and tense slips, missed words, and the like are disappointingly common.  As the first-person narrator, Octavia's voice and temperament are muddled, leaving the reader to discern her personality primarily through her actions.

And those actions rarely have much impetus.  Things have a distressing tendency to happen in Roommate for no obvious reason, save that the plot demands it.  It's hard to give examples without delving into spoilers, but Octavia's life-changing event towards the middle of the fic is only the most obvious example of something happening with no foreshadowing, no really good explanation, and in a manner which defies suspension of disbelief.  This problem also extends to character logic, as Octavia initiates and then moves through various stages of her relationship with Vinyl based mostly on the needs of the plot.  Far too much of this story consists of incidents which form a narrative arc, but lack any logical connection to give that arc resonance.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

There's a good idea here, as plenty of readers have clearly found.  But too often, the story stops at "here's what needs to happen next," rather than proceeding on to " how can I logically get to that point?" instead opting to simply move on to that event without any explanation.  Couple that with some adequate but unimpressive writing, and you have the recipe for a tolerable but ultimately underwhelming story.

Recommendation:  Readers who are fond of YA romance may find this to be in a similar vein, albeit with rather worse word use and narrator voicing than (most of) what you're likely to find in the realm of published fiction.  However, those who are looking for tight plotting or believable characters, or who rightly abhor poor use of memes, are unlikely to enjoy this story.

Next time:  Princess Celestia Hates Tea, by Skywriter


  1. I knew it! I knew I wasn't crazy! This fic /is/ as bad as I thought it was! [insert relieved but maniacal laughter here]

  2. Oh look, that's one less fic on my to-read. :V

  3. As this comment's section go-to "Well I liked it!" guy, I'll say that I wasn't bothered by most of the problems you mentioned, though with this fic I definitely did notice them. This is another of those stories you read for cheap laughs and the concept itself rather than because you're expecting it to actually be good, and that's what I read it for.

    Though admittedly, nearly a year onwards, I'm hard pressed to remember much about this story other than the author's constant blog posts about how the EqD pre-readers are all a bunch of snobs. Those never failed to leave me in a bad mood.

  4. But hey, credit to the author for coming up with a concept that would be appealing to lots of readers; mass appeal may not be something that every fanfic writer strives for, but the ability to come up with something that will interest lots of readers isn't nothing.

    That right there is where I give a lot of credit to Dennis the Menace, and actually rather envy him. Each of his stories have concepts that just draw you in and really have a mass appeal, and there's a real art to that. Too bad the stories themselves aren't very good.

    I had a real love/hate relationship with My Roommate is a Vampire, because I absolutely adored the first part of the story, before Vinyl is revealed to be a vampire, and it was this first part that actually partly inspired me to write Mission: Implausible. There was something about Octavia's dry wit and the dynamic between Octavia and Vinyl that reminded me how much fun these characters are to write together, shipped or not. Oh sure, there was an over-reliance on meme jokes, but there was a real charm to that first part of the story I loved.

    Once Vinyl was revealed to truly be a vampire, it all went downhill from there.

    Like you said, this was a story which didn't follow a logical progression of events, things just... happened. Things would just keep building up, getting wackier and wackier, and I read it all the way to the end but was honestly bored probably about three-quarters of the way through. I would have preferred if the story ended before it got into the wacky adventure/fighting stuff, because it was just bonkers and completely defied the light, comedic tone of the first part of the story.

    I would have preferred if Dennis had ended the story around where Vinyl is revealed to be a vampire and kept it a light, comedic/shipping story. Like have an ending where Octavia confronts Vinyl and then finds out she's not actually a vampire, and establish that their relationship grows closer after coming through this hurdle. Or have Vinyl convince Octy she's not a vampire, then hint that she actually is, and leave it on a comedic "The End?" note. Something like that. All the secret underground conspiracy war stuff was pretty much pointless and didn't make me care about these characters anymore than I already did. The appeal of the story, for me anyway, lay in not knowing what Vinyl actually was and watching Octy try to figure it out, to humorous effect. Once Dennis opened that door and spilled everything, most of the fun was lost.

    Man, it's rare for me to have this much to say about a fanfic. I'd better stop here.

  5. I hate it when you tell me what's wrong with stories I like, and you're right. So what did I like about this story? Checking chapter one...

    The style is fine. Clever, efficient, gets across Vinyl's character in ways that are always amusing. There are some errors, but not enough to bother me. The characters are engaging, entertaining, sympathetic. It would have been a cute little story if Vinyl had turned out not to be a vampire, but a different story. I was dismayed when Octy became a werewolf, and the "plot" wasn't the story's draw for me. I liked the Octy/Scratch interaction. It was good enough to make up for a multitude of sins.

  6. Hmmm,
    I really need to write a hundred word riff of this for my short ship of this. What were its most cliche phrases?

  7. I really didn't notice the memes all that much. My biggest problem was that Octavia seemed a bit out of character.