Monday, November 4, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 18: Variables

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

The end of daylight savings may be my least-favorite time of year.  Dang it, I don't want to give back that hour of daylight!  I've got few enough as it is!  The fact that it'll be returned to me in a few months is some comfort, but it doesn't do much for me now.

Speaking of nows, now would be a fine time to click down below the break and check out my review of The Descendant's Variables.

Impressions before reading:  I've had several of TD's fanfics recommended for review (and I may well come back to him again--I'm perfectly willing to review the same author twice, I'd just prefer to space such reviews out a bit), but I chose this one for a simple reason: it's my favorite of the author's fanfics.  I thought it would be a good idea to come back and take a second look at it, seeing as it's been over a year since I read it.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Spike has a nice, long chat with Discord's statue.

Thoughts after reading:  I know I saw this described somewhere--possibly on the EqD page for the story, possibly elsewhere--as "Spike talks to a rock."  That's pretty much it, in terms of events: this is a 8k-word story about Spike monologuing to an inanimate object.  And that simplicity of premise is this story's greatest strength.

Because, of course, there's a lot more to the story than the bare events: this is a story about how Discord's brief second coming affected Spike (this story was written pre-Keep Calm and Flutter On), about decisions and consequences, and about navigating the intersections between justice, revenge, and clemency.  I don't want to spoil the ending, but the way this story concludes is one of the most thought-provoking finishes I've seen in a ponyfic, and offers a tremendous amount of insight into not only the above, but into Spike's and Discord's character.

Speaking of characters: Spike is the obvious one here, and he's very well fleshed out.  However, despite being locked in stone, Discord is very much a pivotal player in this fic.  It's his thoughts and actions that guide the Spike's "dialogue"--the story is in large part about Spike trying to understand how Discord thinks, and to reason out how to make Discord understand: to understand what Spike needs to do, to understand what his chaos puts ponies through, and to understand Equestria.  The fact that Discord doesn't really get the opportunity to do anything other than repose during all this doesn't mean that the reader doesn't have a fuller understanding of both dragon and draconequus by the time "the end" rolls around.

This story is also chock-full of headcannon about Equestria's history, the Princesses, and Discord himself, most of which has been blown to smithereens since the fic was written.  That doesn't bother me--though I realize there are some people who it does--but what I did take issue with in places was the superfluousness of these digressions.  This is a very simple story, conceptually, and some of the less characterization-relevant musings about alicorns and their immortal associates felt like distractions.  This can be excused in one sense by saying that Spike's rambling (stalling) is in-character, but that doesn't change the fact that it fuzzes the edges of a piece which is at its strongest when it shines an unblinking focus on Spike, Discord, and the decision which lies between them.

There's also the issue of this fic's slow start.  While I certainly wouldn't call it a bad beginning, the story takes an excessively long time setting itself up: it's not until eight or nine paragraphs in that Spike even shows up, and even then it takes a bit for the conversation to turn to interesting territory.  This story lacks an obvious hook, and the reader is expected to stick around long enough to see if their time investment will pay dividends.

But make no mistake, Variables does repay the reader for that early trust.  This is the rare monologue fic which not only justifies its monologuing, but which manages to inspire dread, empathy, and genuine thought.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

At its best, this story shines a laserlike focus on Spike as he tries to work through the "problem" of Discord.  There are places, i.e. the beginning and some of the more tangential bits of world lore, where this focus flags, and it's here where the fic begins to weaken; it's here where one begins to notice that nothing's actually happening, and where impatience begins to creep in.  Impatience which is elsewhere held at bay by that unblinking attention.

But, even after re-reading, this remains my favorite of the author's fics.  Although I can't bring myself to give it five stars due to the kind of issues mentioned (Luna's appearance, for example, I thought an unwelcome distraction), I personally enjoyed it as much as any of the fanfics which I have given it that rating.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for something short but thoughtful will want to check this out.  Those looking for an example of how to write a character monologue which is engaging, non-immersion-breaking, and generally excellent need look no further.

Next time:  Of Mares and Magic, by GannonFLCL


  1. Just wanted to let you know that you linked Whom the princesses would destroy under the story pic.

    1. Oopsie! Thanks, I've fixed it now.

  2. Maybe I just need some sleep, but that first paragraph is confusing the Hell out of me. The clocks were moved back, so aren't you gaining an hour? Consider: I woke up at midnight last night, and had work at 3 PM, which would normally give me fifteen hours to pony and sleep some more. However, the clocks were turned back at 2 AM (2 hours awake), then making it 1 AM, thus leaving me another fourteen hours, for a total of sixteen hours instead of my usual fifteen

    1. An hour of daylight, is what I meant--because of the shift, it's 100% dark from now until spring when I'm going to work (to be fair, it's not like the sun would actually be up for most of that anyway), and I don't necessarily get any sunlight on the back end, either.

    2. Ohhh... that makes much more sense! I wouldn't worry too much about it. Sunlight's overrated

  3. Sounds like an interesting fic. might have to read it once the link has been fixed.

    By the way it looks like Silent Ponyville 3 has been marked complete. Guess that meens you have two stories you'll need to do follow up reviews on.

  4. So Spike's all like, "It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big."

  5. Ah, I remember this one. Yes, TD is really fantastic at getting into Spike's head, despite his recent lamenting about his portrayals of the character, and this is a really tense piece for it.

  6. I remember this one. I thought it was a pretty good one.


    I have nothing else to add. Sorry.

  7. I remember:

    Trying to read this one at some point, but the meandering at the beginning turned me away. Now that I think about it, I've had the exact same problem with the other stories by this author I've tried to read..

    Reckon I oughtta give 'em another look, then... :)


  8. This is your favorite of The Descendant's stories despite giving A Cup of Joe a higher rating?

    1. Burn. Give this gender-indeterminate anonymous poster a cookie.

      I'm sure Chris already has his perfectly rational rebuttal prepared, don't you, Chris?

    2. I'd imagine his star ratings are similar to the ratings Roger Ebert gave films. That is, they're meant more as a measure of how much he thinks others might like the fic than purely his own opinion

      I can look at AD&D's healing rules and recognize their flaws, as well as how easy it'd be to fix them, yet I still find them endearing on some level and would have no problem using them in a campaign. Hell, I was about to port 'em into a 3E campaign I never started. A better example might be the rule to treat natural 20s as a 25 before modifications. It's only needed 'cause the AC range exploded (and only got worse over time), but I'm hesitant to drop it from my game

    3. My rationally prepared rebuttal goes something like this:

      "A Cup of Joe is a better story, in my opinion, than Variables. Variables is my favorite of TD's fanfics (that I've read)."

      Rather like how Rocky is the best Rocky movie, but Rocky IV is my favorite (and the favorite of all red-blooded Americans, I might add).

    4. What are you talking about?

      Rocky V is the best.

    5. I have a confession: I've never seen any of the Rocky films(or Rambo, for that matter). I've seen bits of 'em on TV over the years, but never from the beginning, and I can't start watching something in the middle unless I've seen it before. They were on my Netflix queue, but I don't have that anymore