Friday, November 22, 2013

Fandom Classics Part 22: Somewhere Only We Know

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

I started watching the new Bladerunner ripoff original science-fiction TV series Almost Human a couple of days ago.  It really drags in places, but it did enough to engender my goodwill that I'll probably stick with it at least a bit longer.

Okay, mostly I just thought the testicles bit was the most hilariously awkward (intentionally so, anyway) thing I've seen on TV in years.  What can I say?  Sometimes, the lowest common denominator is all right.

Let's (hopefully) move away from "lowest common denominator" with the review, though.  My thoughts on PatchworkPoltergeist's Somewhere Only We Know, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  This is an old one, coming from the summer after season one had aired (and early in that summer, if I remember right).  I have fond memories of it, but I've noted in the past that stories I liked don't always hold up well to inspection.  Still, I don't know that I've ever heard anything really negative about this story, which, given how well-known it is, is probably a good sign.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  An old farmhorse dreams her way through her day--her life--as she imagines a world where all her friends are near, and she's free to run... and to fly.

Thoughts after reading:  Although this is tagged as a [sad] story, I'm not sure that's how I'd describe it.  I'd call it a thoughtful story, and while thinking about the premise can be sobering, the setting isn't intrinsically one of depression and despair.

However, I suspect that many readers will--that many do--have a much more visceral reaction than I did.  The difference lies in how much one humanizes Dash in this story.  To borrow a line from Cold in Gardez, "ponies are people."  However, this story is about a horse in the real world, and how the reader reacts to Dash's "real life" is going to depend in large part on how much they humanize her.

To its credit, the story works whether one views Dash's "real" life as horrific or merely as the unenviable but not inhumane or unreasonable lot of a farm animal.  In either case, the emphasis here isn't on Dash's misery, but on the disconnect between her dreams and reality.  And that disconnect is very well realized.

The fic also does a great job of using the narrative voice to convey the nature of the liminal elements of the dream-reality segments.  Hints in the early going that could easily become comically overdone ("Bad things like that don't happen here") are not lingered over, which makes them both less likely to break suspension of disbelief, and also more effective, than heavier-handed writing would have done.

Where the narrative voice does fall short, though, is in utilizing Dash's voice.  There's some effort to differentiate that voice between the Equestria and real life segments, but Rainbow Dash has a pretty distinct voice--one which doesn't consistently come through in her thoughts or inner inflection, even in the Equestria bits.  Given that the conceit that this is Rainbow Dash is an important (though not a directly stated) element of the fic, this is a noticeable problem.  But with that said, I didn't find it a significant detraction to my enjoyment.

Star rating:  ☆ (what does this mean?)

Although there are some issues with Dash's mentality and internal voicing (at least, in "Equestria"), Somewhere Only We Know is a well-written look at the disconnect between fantasy and reality, one which practically demands that the reader stop and think about what s/he's read.

Recommendation:  Since I haven't mentioned it yet, I guess I should say that there are some formatting issues with this story, at least where I read it (on FIMFiction), though nothing that impinges on readability--occasional extra breaks between paragraphs, mostly.  So... if that's the sort of thing that really bugs you, there's that.  For anyone else, though, this is certainly worth reading as a short but affecting tale of escapism.

Next time:  Hiccups, by shortskirtsandexplosions


  1. Hm, apparently I've liked and favorited this story already, but I can't actually remember reading it. I do, however, remember FiMFlam's parody of it quite vividly. Odd

    1. I remember both fairly well and all I can say is that I've only read SOWK once, whereas I've watched the Rainbow Dash Presents version several times.

    2. That's ironic, because I remember the story quite vividly whereas I'd forgotten all about FiMFlam's version until you mentioned it and I went back to watch it again. Which is odd, because I love RDP.

    3. I've also watched it several times, as it's by far my favorite RDP

  2. I finally made a correct prediction! 4/5 sounds about right.

    I like your insight that the saddest part is the disconnect between RD's dreams and reality. I wondered why this story got to me a bit, whereas a straight-up description of the end of a horse's useful life would not.

  3. Huh. Just read the next story on the list, and while it doesn't appear to suffer from SS&E's usual issues (at least not to the point that I had to quit), it does get into some rather ... racy territory. This should be interesting.

  4. So, yes, I had an oddly delayed reaction to this piece. I read it on a recommendation and found it to be well-written. My only complaint with it is the same one Chris had: there's kind of a weird disconnect between "real-life" Rainbow Dash and the dream-world version, to where I have trouble attaching her personality to this largely docile and resigned horse. But that's somewhat of a minor point, and one that can be explained away, to a degree. She could be imagining herself as someone different, someone that she wishes she could be—who among us hasn't done that?—though as long as this fantasy has been going on, I still have to think that her true personality would have pervaded this persona by now. We can't hide who we really are forever, after all, and as much as she values these friends, I don't think she'd want to represent herself as something she's not, while among them.

    One other thing that struck me as odd, but I don't count it as a weakness, since it's easy to sacrifice for suspension of disbelief to buy the story's underlying premise: it requires these horses to be very self-aware, to the point of being sentient. If they're capable of all this abstract thought, certainly they'd also be able to communicate with the humans and exert some more control over their lives, argue against their mistreatment, pull the latch on the gate and run away, etc. There's just this strange disconnect between their detailed and fairly elaborate thought processes and what they can actually do with it.

    And the other way I thought this point might have made the story even stronger is in the way the narration is handled from Dash's viewpoint. Animal narrators follow a broad spectrum of intelligence, from being fully aware and able to communicate, to understanding what happens around them while only having a limited interaction with the dominant species, to having a more reactive and instinctual interpretation while still able to fully express themselves in the narration in a human-like fashion, to having only very basic thoughts and conveying them very simply according to their intelligence relative to humans. Because the story hinges on Dash realizing what her life is and being able to compare it to her fantasy world, I see this more as that third example, where she doesn't really have a human-level understanding of the world as a whole, but is able to communicate her thoughts on the matters that would concern an animal very elaborately and eloquently. I'd say that's mostly the right choice here, but again, it brings up that disconnect: how can she have all these higher-level thoughts, absent the wherewithal to do anything about them, given that she's obviously dissatisfied with her lot in life. For me, it would have been even more powerful if the bulk of the narration were presented much more simply and without judgment at all. Yes, she likes her dream world, and she can get very philosophical there, if she likes, but in the real-world, she's a simple horse, and while she may still remember and like the fantasy, the real world is still there, and she reacts to it in a very circumspect manner, because that's the way animals are. Her basic needs are met, that's just the way things are, and she shrugs and makes her way through it. For me, that has the most punch. I feel bad for Dash because of her yearning to stay in the dream while she's there, but even more so in the real world, because she doesn't even realize what she's missing while she's there. It's like the classic dichotomy of a brilliant mind succumbing to Alzheimer's. Do you consider it a mercy that he doesn't even know what he's lost, or a cruel theft that he can't appreciate what he once was?

    1. Like I said, I had a delayed reaction to this piece. I first read it, took it at face value, and found it to be a nicely wistful mood piece. Then after slowly sinking in over the next few days, it really hit me with that interpretation. And it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to get there, so I'd consider that point-of-view advice to be more fine-tuning than vital. And even then, that's only my take on how I would have done it.

      There's a piece of advice I often give as a reviewer: If you listen to everything I have to say, you'll end up with my story. You have to write your story.

      I don't know what, if any, of these approaches or interpretations are what the author was aiming for. Maybe it's by accident, and maybe by design, but I do like a story that can have different meanings on different levels. Is the fantasy world just in Dash's mind, or is it some kind of collective thing in which they all exist? Is it really fantasy, or is it some actual place they exist when they dream? Is there that much of a difference between the two?

      I haven't read anything else by this author, so I don't know whether to ascribe that level of nuance to him or not. I know I've certainly stumbled into writing things that were good by accident rather than design. But for whatever reason, I found this to be an engrossing read, and it's one of the few stories that I'd call a favorite.

  5. Back in my early tenure as a pre-reader, this story and Fon Shaolin's Forever Is Forever were both highly recommended to me (by the same person, which might have something to do with this). I was not altogether taken away by them (it was my recommender's opinion that they were both Oh So Sad and The Best Things Ever), but I remember this one at least giving me something to think about, yes. For that, I recall it fondly.

    And now that I've mentioned it, if Forever Is Forever isn't on your "classics" list, it probably should be. :B

    1. I think I mirrored both your and Pascoite's sentiment's when Sessalisk did a guest review of this on this very blog. It's very unusual to have a think-y reaction to a story, and I guess in a way it's not really what I look for, so I wasn't too positive beyond the fact that it does make one think, which is nice in itself.

      It's something I could enjoy having a chat about but not really reading about in this way.


    2. Yes, a thinky story does have its own appeal, provided you're in the mood for one. There's something to be said for that, and it takes good execution to make it such: set up an appropriate premise, leave several avenues of interpretation, and don't over-explain it to the point that ambiguity is ruined. I suspect Chris is the type to enjoy such things, comma, too. He said as much in a mini-review of one of my short stories: " of my favorite kinds of stories: the kind that demand a bit of introspection in order to appreciate."

    3. Aaaaargh.

  6. The negative reaction to the fic is not about what horse Dash is "suffering". It is about the idea that all the characters and stories we love from the show are just the fantasies of a depressed horse, and that the real animals the characters are based on have mostly suffered some misfortune or other. It converts the endearment of the FiM ponies to empathy and sympathy for the creatures and fathomless regret that their true lives are so darkly contrasted to their FiM existence.

  7. The biggest issue I had with this story was that the whole thing left me wanted to know a heck of a lot more about the "real world" and how the main characters fit into it. No real information is given about Twilight, which bothered me. I suppose it might have been implausible for Dash to encounter all of them during the random town visit, but I wish there had been some incorporation.

    Probably not the reaction many other people had, but I just really wanted to know a whole lot more about the "real world" shown in the story than the brief bit we got to see. I felt a bit sad, not due to the content, but because this honestly felt like a really interesting world and take on the characters and we got such a tiny glimpse into it.