Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 17: Whom the Princesses Would Destroy

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

I'm having problems with the squirrels in the backyard, lately.  See, I put out an ear of corn on a tree spike every day for them, and in exchange they come eat it and wrestle each other for control of the ear and are generally adorable.  But lately (and they do this every year, around this time), they've started pulling out the kernels, just eating the very inner tip (the white part), and dropping the rest on the ground.  So after a few days, I come out and there's, like, a pound of barely-eaten corn kernels in a pile at the foot of the tree.

I tried not feeding them for a few days, on the theory that desperation would teach them not to get all picky with their food, but they retaliated by refusing to come be entertaining for me.  Long story short, I caved first.  But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

ANYWAY... click below the break for my review of GhostOfHeraclitus's Whom the Princesses Would Destroy.

Impressions before reading:  I started this story once, long ago, and didn't really get into it--I think I gave up on the story within a page or two, though I honestly couldn't say at this point.  It wasn't far, in any event.  What I've heard since has been pretty uniformly positive, though, and I really like the quote/commentary at the very start of chapter one (which I couldn't help but read (help myself, that is--the quote didn't exert any agency on me (that I noticed)) when I downloaded the story).  That's got to be a good sign going in.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A short-notice visit by Twilight Sparkle spawns a crisis for the Equestrian Civil Service, the bureaucratic glue which binds Equestria together despite Equestria's best efforts.

Thoughts after reading:  As was the case with my first encounter with this fic, I wasn't immediately enamored with the story (aforementioned quote/commentary notwithstanding).  The writing is a strange combination of "British comedy" dry and adverb-intensive, and there are a noticeable number of tense slips ("Getting cleaned up was going to be a nightmare as it is").  The latter problem persists throughout--the example quoted is actually from the last chapter of the story--but the tone eventually settles into a consistently staid level of wittiness.  This turns out to be an excellent accompaniment to the story itself, which is very, very funny.

The humor comes in several forms.  Snark and understatement are omnipresent hallmarks of the fic.  There's also a fair bit of wordplay (referring to a room rendered uninhabitable after being coated in custard: "He gave he desserted tower a look..."  Stars above, I love puns!), and I would tangentially add that word usage and vocabulary is excellent throughout (and is thoroughly British in lexicon; I suspect most US readers will find that this gives the story an air of pomposity appropriate to the story being told.  Also , I now know that "courgette" is unamerican for "zucchini").  But for the most part, what's so wonderfully endearing are the asides which dot it.  Often just a sentence or two, they're short enough not to distract from the story's primary thrust excessively, and add a wonderful level of whimsy to the overall product.

The story itself flits between several closely interconnected ponies, collectively giving a short glimpse into the eternal quest to keep everything running smoothly.  That is to say, this is a story about the status quo, and the ponies that guard it.  The situation escalates slowly but steadily throughout the fic, moving from pedestrian yet comic crises to extradimensional ectoplasmic horrors.  The fact that the characters react to both, and to everything in-between, in approximately the same way, is at once hilarious and a key part of the characterizations.

And those characterizations are vivid, despite being incomplete.  What I mean by "incomplete" is that all but one of the characters don't have motives or major personality elements developed beyond their defining one (dedication to preserving the status quo).  However, this is not a story issue for two reasons: first, those motives and elements aren't necessary to the story being told.  Second, all of the characters are given an assortment of minor tics and other secondary personality traits (often via humorous aside) which set them apart from one another and offer a bit of depth as well.

As mentioned, this story spends most of its length steadily building up increasingly ridiculous crises, before bringing the fic to two separate climaxes; an emotional one, shortly but not immediately followed by a resolution of the plot issue(s).  These parts worked very well, both in terms of pacing and placement, but I wasn't as fond of the fic's ending proper.  While it certainly wasn't story-ruining or any such thing, it felt uncomfortably like the punchline to a joke which the rest of the story hadn't bothered setting up--or rather, it felt like the punchline to a single, relatively minor theme within the story.  Coming as it did at the end, it gave the work a slightly unbalanced feeling, but it certainly did nothing to detract from the sheer enjoyment to be had in the work as a whole.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Although the ending was slightly underwhelming and the beginning not immediately gripping, I found the in-between to be consistently funny, smart, and witty.  And wouldn't you know it, I like all of those things.

Recommendation:  Those who enjoy puns, wordplay, and other humor on the dry (but never boring) side will want to check this out--be sure to read the footnotes for the full effect.  Anyone who believes that, as I've heard before "90% of a story is the 10% at the edges" is likely to be less impressed, though.

Next time:  Variables, by The Descendant


  1. "Those who enjoy puns, wordplay, and other humor on the dry (but never boring) side..." So, everybody?

    1. For the record, I hate puns. Though I got a chuckle out of the one cited in this review.

    2. Just to be clear, do you hate puns in-and-of themselves, or just poorly constructed ones?

    3. Bad puns are bad.

      Good puns are physically painful.

    4. In that they make you grin harder than anything else and rupture your gut from laughter, yes, they are quite painful :D

  2. −1 for the borders, huh? I guess I'm not as picky as I thought I was about these things.

    "Those who enjoy puns, wordplay, and other humor"
    So that's why Scott hated it!

    1. Hell. I'm sold by the review. I'm happy to give it another go. I did say that I cleary didn't read all of it.

      Additionally, I want to say in advance that I'd rate Variables as a four-star fic: The Descendant at his best (style-wise).

      Looking forward to what Chris makes of it.

    2. We should do predictions for every review! Chris reads the comments, though, and I don't want to influence his judgement.

      ...Fuck it, I say three stars. Spike has some decent characterization and the end is nice, but it's really just a dragon talking to himself plus some scenery porn.

      Of course, the reason for The Descendant's popularity has always escaped me, so maybe I'm just missing something. His MO, "A Cup of Joe", is just the MC repeating his brother's name in varying tones of distress (also the princesses'). And then filly Twilight comes out of nowhere with a corny speech. And then

      "Do share, Tia! Do share!" called Procer Luna Revenio, The Younger Sister Sovereign, The Nightbringer…and then she too proceeded to slowly draw her muzzle against the opposite side of his face, slowly kissing him over and over, the white of the powder evident against her darker coat.

      I would give it a 3, but Chris rated it 5/5. So my rating for "Variables" might be a bit off.

    3. I quite agree about the choices of prose--I've raised those issues myself on a few occasions--but it's his overall storytelling that has always kept my attention. Sadly, that do seem to have found substantially less of it in his more recent works.

      Personally, I found that "it's just a dragon talking to himself" is what made the story work for me.

  3. I'll also have to give it another go. Like Chris I wasn't initially enamoured with it and didn't read far.

  4. Oh. Wow. It's quite a pleasure to have one's story called a 'classic,' and even more gratifying to the ego to have it be reviewed so well. Thank you.

    However, the thing I'm most impressed by is actually what you find objectionable about it. The tenses aside[1], the weaknesses you see are _exactly_ what I see as weak about the story. And as you imagine, I've a bit of an inside view on this.

    The ending _is_ weak and _is_ an orphaned punchline because, well, that's what it is. Let me explain:

    This was meant to be a much smaller story. My original plan was 2000 words, actually. It was supposed to be a joke-fic, something to get my eye in, before I started on my epic magnum opus[2]. But after I got verbose, as I do, it bloated to 9k, and there wasn't enough character to hold it all in one piece, and I had to rework it utterly. Or so my--tender, kind, sweet-natured--pre-readers said. Loudly.

    In the process of reworking it, I really started imagining the characters properly, as ponies and not props, and the result is a story that hangs too much on too slender a frame, and suffers for it. What I should have done, perhaps, was rework it from the ground up to have the characters, the plot, and the themes all dancing to the same tune, instead of each of them doing their own respective boogie in some corner of the metaphorical dance floor. It is the very first thing I ever wrote, and I had _absolutely_ no idea what I was doing. I do think I've since improved, though. A bit. A Canterlot Carol at least _tries_ to have a plan. Operative word being 'tries,' I think.

    All in all, thank you for a gratifying and interesting review.

    [1] English is not my first language, and stab me, but it shows. I've been working on it, though. Not to any great effect, mind, but I have been working on it.
    [2] Working title "Gods of Equestria." Mercifully I got to my senses before I tried writing it.

  5. I think Chris is right that the little joke at the end is too small to end the story with. Ghost has gone and resolved all my comments, so I can't tell whether I said anything about that at the time. The other thing that bothered me was the insertion of a serious scene about a sexual assault, which Ghost did because he has a huge, Tolkienesque backstory and wanted to start working it in.

    I like this story very much, BUT I also think it is the weakest of Ghost's stories. I don't enjoy it as much as "Twilight Sparkle Makes a Cup of Tea" or "Canterlot Carol".

    Ghost has the highest ratios of watchers to stories of anybody on fimfiction. Bastard.

  6. AHA! So now I remember why I dropped this first time. Introductory scene is horribly wordy for what transpires, and the detail is handed over in an odd way that constantly made me aware of the writing, rather then the story. As soon as it said 'Equestria Daily' I quit on the spot. I don't recall if the footnote was there at the time, but I'm betting it was and it didn't help! Everything about is screamed 'horrible misunderstanding of British comedy' rather than 'British comedy'.

    Since Chris said it picks up, I'll keep going and see what (if anything) I've missed.

    1. Nope. Can't do it. I quit.

      Halfway through chapter 1 and I'm beaten. It's actually painful. You would have to pay me to keep reading at this point. The fact that you wouldn't have to pay much is more a factor of the environment.

      This one can join Princess Celestia Hates Tea in being fired into the sun. Now where's my paracetamol...

    2. Fair enough. You gave it considerably more than its fair chance, and clearly something about the way I write rubs you the wrong way. I will, however, humbly submit that it isn't a function of the story being _that_ bad[1], but of my style, such as it is, being very much not to your liking.

      [1] Oh, I've no illusions, there's plenty wrong with it, but people with otherwise impeccable tastes do seem to find it agreeable.

    3. Oh, yes. Exacty that.

      Even setting aside the fact that bad is as subjective as good, I'm just a miserable sod with a very particular taste. Just ask the other inmates!

  7. I, like a few others, tried getting into this story, multiple times if I recall correctly, but found that I just couldn't. However, I just found the drive to finish it and I completely agree with this review. I very much enjoyed it, but man, that beginning and end.

    I find it interesting, actually. The first chapter is so remarkably ungrabbing that I'm pretty sure one could completely skip it, Gather the information that Twilight is visiting from the description, and not lose much at all from the experience. Likewise, I feel that the ending would've been a lot stronger if the part where Twilight actually arrived was completely cut off. Yep, them's my thoughts on the subject.

    Word of a Day Long Past: Staid.