Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fanfic Classics Part 13: Brony Hero of Equestria

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

Although the official line is still "we're working on it," it looks and sounds like all the Blogger-era comments on Equestria Daily are dead and gone for good.  That kind of upsets me; while I realize that nothing on the internet is permanent, there were lots of comments on my older stories there that I wish hadn't vanished into the e-ether, and (although I'm sure it's been a year or more since anyone looked at any of them) it's sad to think that my own comments and reviews from back then are gone as well.

With that as context: does anyone know an easy way for me to back up my blog, including all the comments?  I don't expect anything to happen to this place anytime soon, but I'd feel better if I had some insurance against the vagaries of fate and/or obsolescence.

Now, with all the business out of the way, let's turn to a review of something which is the precise antithesis of "serious."  Click below the break for Blueshift's Brony Hero of Equestria.

Impressions before reading:  Ah, a CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) story!  I haven't reviewed one of these before--the only other major pony CYOA I know of is my own.  To this fic: I read this right after it was written, and absolutely loved it.  I loved it so much, I was even willing to forgive the fact that at one point, "you" imply that BRIAN BLESSED isn't supremely sexy--blasphemy in any other work.  Now that I'm coming back to review it, though, I'll be looking to see if the construction holds up as well as comedy; writing a vaguely coherent and/or cohesive CYOA is no simple task.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  You--yes, YOU!--are the Brony Hero of Equestria!  Defeat Tiarek, save the ponies, seduce your waifu, seduce someone else's waifu, and die over and over again as you pitifully fail at all of the above!

Seriously, if you don't die at least a few times, you aren't reading this thing the right way.

Thoughts after reading:  It's hard to really summarize the plot of a CYOA, since it's variable by definition.  For example, it's entirely possible in this story to never even become the titular Brony Hero and do all that stuff I mentioned in the summary--there are two different ways to die a horrible death before even getting to the nominal plot.

Luckily for me, Brony Hero isn't even remotely concerned with said plot.  This story is all about mocking bronies, mocking the popular caricature of bronies, mocking the show itself... basically, making a lark out of anything and everything.  The choices "you" are given in this story are clearly designed not to give the illusion of control over one's second-person avatar, but to enhance the comic potential along whatever lines strike your fancy; the very first set of choices you face, upon waking up, is 1) Browse the internet for pony, 2) Go to the shops and buy ten gallons of Mountain Dew, or 3) Seduce [your] Fluttershy Pillow.

And that comic potential is deliciously realized here.  Blueshift takes the greasiest, most obnoxious, most clueless man-child imaginable and builds every scene around his blustery idiocy.  At no point will you ever feel the slightest bit of empathy for our poor hero, but that's by design--the myriad "bad endings" scattered through this fic are some of the highlights, many featuring "you" being karmically or ironically punished, and they're all great fun.  A CYOA should have at least decent "replay value," and this one positively demands multiple read-throughs (or, if you're like me, a dozen open tabs as you navigate through various story paths).

But although I was happy with the replay value, this fic let me down in one other important area: merge points.  A merge point is a page which you can reach from multiple other pages; generally, it's either a "hub page" (one which you go to as a default), or it represents two storylines coming together.  You want a merge point to feel natural when arrived at from every possible angle, and this can be very difficult to pull off.  Unfortunately, many of Blueshift's merge points are pretty rough; several chapters end with a character making a statement or asking a question which requires a response, and one of the choices will be "go back to [hub page]," which takes you there without any mention of how the character reacted when you turned around and walked away in the middle of a conversation.

Past that, though, the use of the CYOA style is excellent.  Specifically, it's used as a means to explore (well, mostly just to make fun of) the stereotype of a "typical brony," and the short pages and rapid changes in mood and setting give the author a chance to engage in all manner of ridiculous shenanigans without having to worry about any of them running long--most will be forgotten or put aside after that single page, if "you" even survive that long.  In essence, Blueshift has created a playground full of little pools of insanity, and has invited the reader to start jumping through them--a pleasant enough task, given the quality of said insanity.

And make no mistake, there's all manner of insanity here.  In addition to the BRIAN BLESSED bit and Tiarek, there are also references to Dr. Who, My Little Dashie, that "Trixie eating pinecones" thing from a while back, Cupcakes (“Oh Pinkie, you’re so silly, I thought you were going to murder me!” Pinkie doesn’t seem to find this funny though, and stays curled on the ground, sobbing. ¶  “Why would you think something so ridiculous?” Mrs Cake turns on you angrily as she hugs Pinkie. ¶  You shrug. “Oh, I just write a lot of stories where Pinkie Pie is a crazy murderer.”)... I'm just scratching the surface here.  And in terms of style, well, Brony Hero is obviously heavy on parody, but it's also got plenty of laughs of every kind scattered throughout.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Although the connections between pages were often a weak point, the content of those pages was refreshingly ridiculous.

Recommendation:  Anyone who's going to be offended by the fact that the brony hero is an obese pile of failure should stay well away from this fic--I'm telling you now, it'll just make you mad.  But for folks looking for a story they can laugh with and at at turns, and who want to revel in the "freedom" to make idiotic decisions and suffer the hilariously appropriate consequences, this is a must read.

Next time:  A Candle to the Sun, by Moabite


  1. Didn't realize before this that, with a few exceptions, you haven't been linking to the EqD page for those Fandom Classics on there. I'm slow

    I absolutely adored this fic when it came out, my favorite part probably being that death scene with the Fluttershy pillow. My comments are pretty much exactly what I remembered: I compared the story to Purloined Pony, saying the latter was better structured, but that Brony Hero was " still pretty darn funny". Like with any other CYOA, I went through every possible path with this one to determine what I considered the best one. I don't recall the exact notation rules for this, but here it is:

    START 27 4 5 10/12/20 5 22 8 6 5 14 19 23 7 9 16 3 9 34 52(42)/56(50,38,41,54)/59(49) 34 51 45 35 53 43

    Also, I'm a little disappointed you spell it "ether". Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I was hoping to find a kindred soul - one who also referred to the quintessence as "aether". Well, at least... *coughs blood as vision swims and head hits ground* we still have double-spacing after periods...

    1. I spell it aether, so you've always got me for that.

      But double-spacing is heresy, and Satan grows stronger with every instance of it.

    2. I occasionally spell it "aether," but only in an obviously historical context. For modern phrasings and general use, I use the Gygax-approved spelling.

      Gygax has had rather more influence on my spelling choices than I'd like to admit, honestly.

    3. Not sure how I missed your replies before. Danny, double-spacing is The One True Way and I will duel you IRL to end your heathen practices!

      Chris, I don't think Gygax would be a poor influence on spelling. Organization, yes, but not spelling. He is, however, wrong on this one. I reserve "ether" for alcohol. I suppose it could've worked if you'd gone with "e-ther", though

  2. Ah yes, Tiarek, the Equestrian demon of jeweled headwear. :V

    Brony Hero is absolutely amazing. The continued theme of "Seduce X" as choices throughout the story never failed to draw laughter out of me.

    And for those who like comedic CYOAs, "Tiny Equine in Everfree" is another. Not quite as amazing as this one, but still hilarious in its silly way.

    1. I've never even heard of this story! Time to go check it out...

  3. Chris, last week you gave Pipsqueak's Day Off a glowing review and 3 stars. This week you gave Brony Hero a glowing review and 4 stars. Brony Hero is approximately perfect at what it does, and taking off a star discredits your rating scheme more than it discredits the story.

    I don't think you should give star ratings. I agree with your 1s and 2s, but your 3-5 ratings seem arbitrary, and imply that only a handful of stories in the fandom are worth reading. These ratings only annoy authors and distract from your much more-useful comments and criticisms.

    1. Chris' star ratings have been a pretty good indicator of how much I'll like a given fic, so they're very useful to me in deciding not only what to read, but what priority they're given. The actual review is what's important, of course, but the stars are a helpful shorthand for organizing purposes. That and I get off on a sense of hierarchy and numbers :P

    2. His 3-5 ratings don't work for me. Chris is like an old-school Olympic gymnastics judge, who subtracts points for everything not done perfectly. I'm like a modern Olympic gymnastics judge, who gives extra points for things done especially well.

      His explanation of his ratings says that the five-star is something publishable. Well, I read about .001% of books that are published. Publishable is a very low bar. If fandom has only produced three publishable stories, we should all leave now.

      His explanation also says that one star means "There are significant, systemic problems with this story." If you look at great works of literature or literary prize winners, most have terrible systemic problems: Hamlet, Moby Dick, War and Piece, Madame Bovary, everything by Proust or Faulkner, Ulysses, Cloud Atlas, Infinite Jest. That's because great literature doesn't play it safe. It does some things especially well at the expense of other things. Literature like that can't get five stars in Chris's system.

    3. War and Peace... (voice recognition software fail)

    4. BH, I'm actually not a big fan of the star ratings, either. I think they're overly simplistic and don't necessarily do a good job encapsulating my feelings about a particular fic, and they practically demand that one make comparisons between fics which are patently inapt. Nevertheless, I keep giving them out because 1) lots of people like them, 2) I've found that having to come up with a "score" helps give me some focus when I'm composing reviews, and 3) it provides a not-useless (minimally useful, maybe, but not TOTALLY useless) summation point. I've actually talked about my dislike of star ratings before; here, if you haven't read it.

      As to what, specifically, pulled Brony Hero down from "pretty much the best thing ever, even outside of the sub-subcategory 'ponyfiction,'" that would be the fact that pages frequently fail to link together cohesively, even within the context of a random comedy, and the general ephemerality of the piece (not something I touched on in the review, as I didn't feel it was likely to be a deciding factor in whether or not one read the story based on my other comments about the story's style and sense of humor, but this is, ultimately, a story you enjoy, then forget. I don't consider that a failing, particularly, but the stories I five-star (including the comedies) are generally ones that I think are more likely to stay with you--stories that make you think about something in a new light, re-evaluate the story or yourself, etc. I'd like to hope Brony Hero doesn't demand too much introspective self-evaluation from most people).

      As for Pipsqueak's Day Out, it fell into the "'just' top-tier fanfiction" category based on the fact that, while much of it was twistedly hilarious, significant segments were dull and/or vaguely uncomfortable (in a non-literary, non-story-advancing way--discomfort to make a point I'm more amenable to), and that first scene was just awful, and not merely in a "I took it in a bad light based on first expectations" way; a group of teenage boys taking dick-pics and threatening blackmail (obviously jokingly, but that only partly ameliorates the point) is just a... I don't even have words for it. "Unconscionably creepy and awkward" comes to mind, and the first impression you receive of the characters is very much more negative than the rest of the fic ultimately paints.

      Those points are all totally debatable, of course, but I don't claim that my reviews are objective and beyond question; just that they represent my best attempt at objectivity in an admittedly subjective field. Still, when it comes to three- and four-star fics, maybe I need to put a bit more effort into explaining what weaknesses I'm seeing.

    5. I don't deny the problems, but it sounds like you require a story to have "no problems" to give it 5 stars. I can imagine this working for short stories--there are short stories that I think are nearly perfect. But it doesn't work at all for novels. Most "great" plays and novels have horrible problems. Hamlet has an opaque theme, a bunch of flat characters, and a lazy, unfocused ending because Shakespeare never really figured out what it was about. The Sound and the Fury is nearly unreadable, and Faulkner would get rejected from EqD for his speech tag use alone. The underlying drama in The Great Gatsby is smothered in detatils about the lifestyles of the rich; Fitzgerald relies almost entirely on the readers' imagination to construct any feelings at all. Hemingway's novels have no sense of time, no before or after for the characters. /Persuasion/ sets up the "good guys" and "bad guys" in stark black and white. Et cetera.

    6. Look at the list of 5-stars and it's pretty clear that's not a requirement. It's a Dangerous Business had plenty of problems (enough that I almost quit early on) and Fallout had even more

    7. I don't mean to make a big deal out of it. I appreciate Chris' reviews, I know Chris has thought about the ratings a lot, & I realize giving ratings "correctly" is an undefined & inherently impossible task.

  4. I've always taken Chris's rating system as "3 is good". If you get 3 stars from Chris, you should feel confident that you've written a good story. In a way, that does make the top three ratings somewhat arbitrary (because why wouldn't you feel good about a 4 or 5 as well), but really authors shouldn't be discouraged by them and focus on the meat of the review, as you say.