Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Comment and a Question

As the title suggests, this post has two parts.  First, the comment (preceded by the context, because without context you'd just have mm - tx, assuming my algebraic skills haven't abandoned me):

Several commenters have informed me that the epilogue of the just-reviewed Of Mares and Magic was written in response to a bunch of readers expressing displeasure at the way the Trixie/Twilight romance resolved in the "original" ending, presumably in a completely measured and reasonable manner.  Assuming that's the case, I'd like to present it as evidence of a maxim I make use of when discussing author/editor dynamics: committees are good for many things, but creative writing is not one of them.

Speaking of snogging, on to the question (again preceded by the context, because I have a compulsive need to bury my questions behind multiple paragraphs): I've had several Mature (sex) stories recommended to me to review, most notably Romance Reports.  In fact, I've had that one recommended to me by three different people, now--two of whom began their recommendations with a variant of "I know you don't like pony sex, but..."

Let me make clear: I have absolutely no interest in pony erotica.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean I would refuse to read anything with adult content in it.  At bare minimum, however, I would be looking for two things in such a story: is there a story here beyond the porn, and is the sexual material important to the story (i.e. would this story be as strong or stronger if all sexual content was edited out or replaced with a (literal or metaphorical) fade to black)?  Without the former, there's nothing but purposeless porn (not really something I could review in a useful way, even if I wanted to), and without the latter... well, that's as much a form of purposeless porn as the former, isn't it?

So, with that in mind, can some of you who've read Romance Reports suggest whether it would be something I should consider reviewing?  And more broadly, are "those kinds of stories," as the marms would put it, something you all think I should be reading and reviewing at all, both from the standpoint of my edification and your interest?

Just to be clear, this isn't a vote; I'm interested in getting some opinions as I decide whether or not RR and Mature(sex) stories generally are something that I should consider letting onto the to-read list.  If you've got any thoughts, for or against, I'd love to hear them.

39 comments:

  1. I don't think you should do xxx stories as i feel that you have a general audiance here and the fact that there are more then enough places to find high quality pony erotica (eqd after dark, clopfic section of fimfic, etc). plus if you do allow them it might get swamped by a bunch of "highly well written" clop stories that would bloat your already full Queue.

    However if you do decide to go ahead include eroctica then you should have be by a case by case matter to be sure it is worth reviewing or simply have be on its own seprate blog. (one man's pony ramblings after dark?)

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    1. You're right about there being many places to find such fics, but how many offer reviews of the calibre (seriously, spellcheck?) found here? And what about those of us who, while not interested in pony porn, are willing to look past that for a story of truly excellent quality? This is potentially a means for us to find gems we might've otherwise overlooked

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    2. Jeez, I sound like some Hollywood liberal. I think I need to throw up now

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    3. This blog is about quality ponyfic. Chris makes an effort to evaluate fics fairly regardless of his personal preferences in character, genre, and mood. The presence of graphic or sexual content should not bar a fic from review any more than, say, an unfavorable Trixie interpretation (see "Fallout: Equestria").

      Separate sites like EQD After Dark are expressly for erotica. This site is not for erotica; it's for good fics.

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    4. That's what I was trying to say, only better. Can I have your brain, Whooves?

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    5. I definitely want to avoid "XXX stories," but I don't feel like that's necessarily the same as avoiding stories with sex in them. I do have reservations about appropriateness for the blog, though; while I don't have any strict "family friendly" policy, I do mostly try to keep my my posts suitable for all readers.

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  2. Like you, I have absolutely no interest in ponyrotica. However, there's no reason such a fic couldn't be a well-written and constructed story, so I feel they should be just as eligible for your review as any other ponyfic. To exclude them seems an unnecessary sort of censorship. That said, Anon does raise a valid point about the volume of suggested fics that probably aren't as high-quality as they're lauded. For that reason, I'd suggest you take greater precaution accepting their recommendation. There's enough single-stars as it is :p

    For those who have no interest in such material, regardless of quality (and I really can't blame them), I'd suggest you mark these works as explicit on the ratings list

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  3. I agree with what ProfessorOats said.
    In addition, whether anyone likes it or not, stories with mature content in them are an integral part of the fandom.

    And...American culture, as far as I can see it, regards sex, and associated activities, with a...distaste? fear?
    That has always baffled me.
    In a movie, it is far, far, far easier to see somebody's guts on open display than to see the protagonists make love, and going against the trend would, I think, be beneficial to all.

    Oh, and I've read romance reports and there is indeed a story. One centered on the problems that sex brings with it, oddly enough :-P

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    1. Yes, America (as a society) is ruled by an uneasy mix of sexual liberation and puritanical morality. It makes for an uneasy mix, sometimes. Well, often. And it's certainly true that I personally have a greater tolerance for pony gore than pony sex (though in both cases, I have little to no tolerance for inexplicable pony gore/sex). Make of that what you will.

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  4. I wouldn't mind finding some new stories to read, erotica or not. I just skim the "naughty" bits anyway if they're not integral, which they usually aren't (Sorry, George R.R., I know you spent a lot of time on that twincest but...).

    That said, I'd rather discover well-written stories through your reviews that aren't smutty. I'm not against sex in writing, just disinterested.

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  5. Sexual content should not disqualify a fic from review, but as you say, most fics that focus on sex are not quite literature as we've been evaluating it, and many fics include sex unnecessarily. The only good fics that I can name off the top of my head that include sex are "Salvation" (by Cold in Gardez), "Xenophilia" (4,285/123 up/down), and perhaps "Romance Reports" (others seem to like it).

    Good luck sorting the [good fics that include sex] from the [erotica that is popular].

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    1. Heh. It won't surprise anyone, but I thought Xenophilia was one of the more horrid abusers of unnecessary pony-porn. I mean, I don't so much care that it does, but every part of the world building is pretty much just an excuse for more and more gratuitous levels of sex. As a story, it's very poorly written and doesn't stand up on it's own.

      Romance Reports is at least competently written, everything else aside. I'd imagine Cold in Gardez can can use mature tag to good effect, and if he every finishes that story I'd love to read it.

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    2. Oh, Salvation is marvelous. Before I read that story, I had absolutely zero interest in mature stories and was convinced there was no way you could do clop (between the mane six, no less!) in anything resembling a good story. Salvation changed all that.

      However, it's still incomplete, so while I heartily recommend it, you're probably going to have to wait before you review it, Chris.

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    3. I agree that "Xenophilia" would have been better without so much sex. And the plot is sort of romance with a discarded mystery. But the worldbuilding is fantastic. That's why it has so many spin-offs, similar to "Fallout: Equestria" (though not to the same extent). Rainbow and Lyra have great characterization. Pony social behaviors are pretty interesting. I also liked the martial arts aspects, but they may not resonate with everyone.

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    4. And again. All those bits you listed were the things that killed it for me. The world building was mostly just setting up excuses to make a human have sex with multiple talking horses.

      As for Lyra/RD... more world destroying than world building. It was pretty much gutting anything l liked about the show and replacing it with generic wankery. To me, it comes of as a total lack of imagination, not the use of it.

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  6. The problem here is one of subjectivity.

    Usually, this isn't an issue because we're here to read a review (well, some of us are... and some of us are just enjoying the community) based on some arbitrary criteria that is intended to shed light on the subjective value of a work. Subjective opinions of whether to review something at all is just asking for trouble.

    For example: Romance Reports was widely touted as a story where 'the clop matters'. I read it, and it wasn't. It does, however, feature a story that is actually worth the attention. If you can't stomach clop, don't read it. If you can muster at least an indifference, it's worth a shot. My own suggestion in this arena was Ribbons and Lace, which, for my money, did a far better job of using the erotica to drive the character development, and yet, I couldn't actually say that I didn't go overboard--ideally the clop needed to be about one third the wordcount to not ping my sense of gratuity. It was, however, one of the better character interactions I've read.

    If you're going to qualify a review based on clop that isn't excessive within the story... give the idea up. I don't think they exist in fanfiction. To ask whether the story has merit beyond the clop is kind of missing the point of doing a review to see how the story stands up! (Fnar)

    Personally, I don't think Romance Reports meets your criteria, but I think Ribbons and Lace does (despite some gratuity); however, it all depends where you draw the line between explicit/mature and sexual. The former could be reduced to being 'merely' mature, while the latter would actually lose something for it. That's pretty much how I differentiate them, but that doesn't actually say a damn thing about whether you should, and thus my opinion becomes somewhat moot.

    -Scott

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    1. Actually yes, Ribbons and Lace was excellent. (I'm only saying this to make M feel bad.)

      Having read but a single sex scene in Romance Reports, I feel like it's "necessary" in a "you couldn't just fade to black" sort of way. We need to see Twilight's emotions and observations in the moment. But all the explicit descriptions weren't necessarily necessary and the scene could have played out solely as reactions to unspecified stimuli.

      But with that said, I recently came to the realization that writing good sex scenes was like writing other good scenes. I think it was fight scenes, I'm not sure, but the analogy can definitely apply. I forget where I was going with this.

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    2. Writing good sex scenes was like writing other good scenes in that you need more than a four-second memory?

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    3. I AM NOT A GOLDFIthere was some kind of parallel about necessity, pacing, level of detail and ways in which they can be used to further the narrative rather than the narrative existing to justify the scene, aka PWP.

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    4. Porn Without Plot (which takes on an unintended double meaning in this particular fandom, come to think of it...).

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    5. Wait, it's possible to write good sex scenes? I haven't read many sex scenes, admittedly, but all the ones I have either made me laugh or cringe

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  7. Sexual content alone does not make a story poor or unworthy of review, only the misuse or overuse of it. Think of it in terms as you would Grimdark when judging a story. If a Grimdark story is Grimdark only for the sake of being Grimdark, meant for cheap shock value alone, like that crap heap Cupcakes, for example, then the story is worthless and has no place receiving even the honor of a bad review. But if Grimdark is merely an aspect of the story used to make for a greater whole, enhancing that story as a vehicle to substance instead of the story's sole destination, such as, say, Fallout Equestria, then you have a worthwhile story that deserves your attentions. Think of stories with sex as the same--is sex a well-employed tool for a greater purpose in the story, or is it just the entire focus?

    That said, I'd skip Romance Reports. It's fairly poor.

    Also, that maxim of yours is usually true, but I'd maintain that there are some clear exceptions. If the ending of Mass Effect 3 has taught us anything, it's that there can, indeed, be times when the audience can recognize an inept mishandling of art that the creators are too blinded by self-importance to recognize.

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  8. I think it's heavily open to interpretation how necessary any given sex scene is to any story. If you wanted to be harsh, you could argue that no graphic sex is ever necessary unless vital plot points are revealed by it, and stories of any genre or format where that happens are rare indeed. Of course, that would pedantic and stupid, because there's a lot more to it than that and I'd argue that stories are built mostly around things that aren't necessary but rather just nice to include. You could technically rewrite Lord of the Rings without the flowery prose, make it dry and analytical, and not lose anything story-wise, but it'd obviously not be as enjoyable a book for most.

    What I'm saying is, I don't think you should really be thinking about how necessary they are. Just decide to review stuff based on your first point. If there is indeed a story there, review it as a story, and treat the sex how you would any other scene or story element when deciding how necessary or unnecessary it is. Because I think that's ultimately something only you as the reviewer can decide.

    As for whether RR has a story for you to review at all, I'm afraid I honestly couldn't tell you, because I never read it. I've heard about it a lot, but only ever in passing. I do know that I've heard frequent claims that Xenophilia has a good story (because I am unfortunately part of the HiE Fimfiction group), but I also know that it has a lot of weird headcanon and isn't very true to the show, so make of that what you will. It has a ton of spin-offs though.

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  9. (Goddammit blogspot I'm tired of getting the comments before I get the post!)

    Should you decide to review mature fics, that's a good rubric to use. And yes, Romance Reports is a classic and generally considered to be the best sexual fic in the fandom. I'm a third of the way into it myself, I'd say it's both excellent and the sexual content is used well. It might be worth doing on its own regardless of whether it's indicative of a paradigm shift.

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  10. "preceded by the context, because without context you'd just have mm - tx, assuming my algebraic skills haven't abandoned me"

    They kinda have: comment - context = coent*(mm - xt) if we assume the usual axioms and that c,o,m,e,n,t & x are drawn from the set of complex numbers (you would have problems if any were quaternions, as multiplication ceases to be commutative).

    Unless you're saying that comment = c+o+m+m+e+n+t & context = c+o+n+t+e+x+t, in which case you're correct.

    "At bare minimum, however, I would be looking for two things in such a story: is there a story here beyond the porn, and is the sexual material important to the story"

    With regards to Romance Reports, yes to the first and no to the second. Sort of.

    I think you can split stories that contain sex into two rough categories: stories in which it is important that sex was had and stories in which something important happens during the sex. To me, Romance Reports is an exemplar member of the former: no significant advances in characterisation, plot or themes occur when the characters are getting it on; this is either reserved for the non-steamy sessions, or it is that the characters are getting it on which is important.

    One of Sleepless Brony's other works, Up in the Clouds, contains an example of the other kind. Here, Rarity betrays Fluttershy during a sex scene. Bad Horse's Pony Play has the pivotal moment contained within an act of BDSM (I think that is his fetish, given this and the leather suit 4 Bronycon). The sex, here, is a crucial moment within it. I can't really say the same with RR: the sex scenes improved the story by being there, but they were never crucial.

    I see Xenophillia's been mentioned. I wouldn't bother with it: there's nothing of interest there save the counter-to-show headcanon, and that's novel if you've only ever read FiM fanfiction from FiMfiction.

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    1. This reminds me of the time my students thought I was a drug dealer because I had an ounce scale in my office for weighing envelopes. I didn't want to admit that I wasn't, because it was the first time I'd ever been cool.

      I've "committed" acts of mild BDSM with women who liked it--a surprisingly large fraction of women do!--and I've read some about it because it's fascinating and puzzling. But so far, it doesn't appeal to me.

      The horse suit, though--I like that.

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  11. You should definitely read RR, as I consider it a pretty amazing story. In response to your first question, there is a pretty complicated and engaging narrative underlying the sex having. As for the second question, I'd give it a sort of. The sex is likely not a strictly necessary component of the story, but I feel that it does some good characterizing work, and that it occasionally has minor impacts on the story. It could probably be removed, and the fic wouldn't be destroyed by the absence, but there's a chance that it would be made a bit worse. The whole fic is about Twilight's evolution as a character, and the sex having is a part of that to some extent.

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  12. I think complaining about gratuitous sex is like complaining about gratuitous humor. A serious story that had jokes thrown in at odd moments would be irritating in the same way as a story with random sex scenes, but sex shouldn't be singled out as something that needs to be specially justified more than any other element. Like humor, it is its own justification, if done well. Sexual arousal is a valid goal. I think the main reason I don't read porn is just that video works better.

    I hope you read Romance Reports, because then I won't have to (unless it's good).

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    1. To me, the more obvious comparison was to gratuitous gore, rather than gratuitous humor--and I do object to gratuitous gore. There's a reason it's called "torture porn," after all.

      There's a place in the world for things (written or otherwise) which serve no purpose other than to arouse one's self, sexually or bloodlustilly... but reviews of the sort I like to do are not one of those places.

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  13. I'd say yes, you should read Romance Reports. I think it's a great story that's very well-written and has pretty accurate characterisation. It just also has a ton of sex in it, which isn't entirely gratuitous.

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  14. I'll be honest -- I liked Romance Reports. There are very, very few stories that have attempted to actually include sex while not descending to the level of porn, and that was one of the first. It was enough to convince me to try dipping my toes in those waters (a few people above mentioned Salvation), and I have to say I don't regret it.

    Here's my view: sex is a human activity, and it's one of the most important. To purposefully avoid reading or writing about it simply because it is so often conflated with sexual gratification is to ignore an entire facet of human life. I am convinced it can be done well, and I believe I have seen it done well. I hope I am doing it well.

    As for RR, I think the strongest part was the characterization and narrative tone, rather than the sex scenes themselves. I'm not sure you could skip them, but if they're that offensive to you, it wouldn't be impossible.

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    1. You make good points about sexual writing, but for me personally... in my (extremely, extremely limited) exposure to pony sex, I've never been able to get past the fact that the creatures whose sex acts are being described in terms designed to titillate are ponies. Leaving aside the fact that they're sapient and all, they have anatomies which I find totally antithetical to arousal.

      You can see, I'm sure, why that would make erotic pony lit a non-starter for me. That's not to say I could never enjoy a story that had pony sex in it, but fanfics or scenes in fanfics designed solely to provoke arousal simply don't "work" for me.

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    2. The fact that they're ponies is why I find the concept so hilarious.

      But I'm pretty sure that's just me.

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  15. "Romance Reports" is not a bad story, although SleeplessBrony has some style quirks to his writing that might be irritating, especially considering the length of the story. I agree with InquisitorM that the sex scenes aren't "necessary", per se, but they do add to the tone and texture of the story. And while the story has its haters and detractors, some of whom have made excellent points against it, I think its upvote/downvote ratio on Fimfiction does warrant its inclusion here (it's at 2277 up to 97 down at the time of this writing).

    It still doesn't hold a candle to its companion story "Like Fine Wine", but that's a personal opinion due to that one being among the best Sparity stories out there, and I happen to like that pairing (with appropriately aged Spike, natch).

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  16. I don't get out:

    Among the fandom that much--of the 20 "fandom classics" you've reviewed so far, I've only even heard of five of them--so I don't know how unusual it is for a piece of fanfiction to inspire fanfiction of its own. But Romance Reports has Device Heretic's The Other Mare, Cold in Gardez's "In the Garden of Good and Evil," and my own "The Golden Age" attached to it like happy little remoras. Which shows that at least three of us found enough of interest in the story to wade into it ourselves. :)

    The only problem I've ever had with the story is at the very beginning where we're asked to accept Twilight's crush on Princess Luna without a bit of preamble. Other than that, though...

    Mike

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  17. Dangit guys, this didn't help me make a decision at all! It just gave me more to chew on!

    Anyway, I'm definitely not going to rule out anything with sex in it--I reviewed Fallout: Equestria after all--but as to RR specifically (or a couple of the other fics mentioned here), I think the wise thing to do is probably to skim through the story in question before deciding whether to consider it. In any event, don't expect to see any of these stories pop up on my review list right away, if they pop up at all--but I'll keep them under consideration going forward.

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    1. Chris, stop saying "pop up", it's not helping. :B

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  18. In regards to OMaM's fiasco, I would say that it's issue is far deeper than the direct pressure for a different ending. I would say that in fact that negative impact on the creative process began due to the far more subversive peer pressure of fandom memes and tropes, such as shipping, specifically the Twixie OTP of many. Most people who truly liked the story enjoyed the early chapters without romance equally to the rest of the story, and pretty much all of the illogical butthurt over the original ending was from readers who were obsessed with that meme and cared about the shipping far more than the story itself. If the story had avoided shipping to begin with, none of the negative points of the story would exist.

    As for Erotic Ponyfiction...

    I don't want to make that long of a comment here so I will keep my opinions to 2 specific fics:

    1: Romance Reports: Is the sex integral to the story. Disregarding my personal opinions on plot and characterization, I would say that, to be precise, the degree of explicitness in the majority of the erotic scenes is completely unnecessary in regards to the story. However, a large amount of character development occurs internally during most of these scenes. I would say that, based on how the scenes are written and what aspects of them affect the story, there is only 1 sex scene that would detract from the story if altered. The majority of the other scenes are integral to the story but could have been far less or completely non-explicit. There are at least 2 scenes where it would have made no difference if the intimacy was sexual or milder and there are at least 2 scenes that are completely skippable.

    I would like to say that RR has a unique case of OOC. The characters' personalities are very IC for the most part, but the majority of their actions are unfathomably OOC. And this applies to nearly every character in the story from the princesses down to Spike.


    2: Bechdel's Law: This is an incomplete fic but each part is more or less a self-contained story. I would hold chapter 1 only as probably the best example of a story about and containing sex in the fandom, period. The sex scenes do not get overly descriptive of anatomy, the characters are believable and make sense, and characterization is not forced at all. Romance Reports is probably a better story, despite all the characters losing terribly at idiot dodge-ball, but Beschdel's Law chapter 1 is probably the best done story of it's type, and the one single article of MLP:FiM erotica I respect.

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