Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 21

Tuesday, I woke up before my alarm--not an unusual thing, in and of itself.  I felt pretty well-rested, too, and I got dressed and started fixing myself breakfast.  Then I glanced at the clock, and saw that it was 2:20 am.

So I went back to bed and, of course, felt like an absolute wreck when my alarm dutifully woke me up a few hours later.

Anyway, the fact that my body's playing practical jokes on me hasn't stopped me from reading a few fanfics that aren't on my "reading list," as it were.  Click down below the break for some short-form reviewmanship.

H, by Silverstein

What it is:  Rainbow Dash returns home after a long absence to discover that she has a baby brother.

A few thoughts:  There are some really nice elements here: the extended metaphor of Dash battling her inner demons ("the snake") is both easy to relate to and not overdone, and there's promise in the concept of a heretofore unknown sibling.  But there are also some serious problems with the execution.  Much of the verbiage here is accounted for by recitations of Dash's mood and blow-by-blow accounting of her thoughts, where a bit of descriptive action (or even just quoting some of Dash's thoughts directly, instead of describing them) would have been much less dull.  When people talk about "show vs. tell" problems, this is the kind of thing they're talking about: stories which, to borrow an analogy I heard over the weekend, are less like watching a movie than having someone describe a movie to you.   Also, the final product comes across much more as "maudlin" than "sentimental," both because of some needlessly credulity-straining assertions about Dash's backstory, and some sadly overwrought depictions of her perceptions ("His coat felt so warm and soft against her own, like a beacon of hope").

Recommendation:  I wouldn't call this a good story, but I could cop to "a story with with a few good things in it."  Although it's definitely got its flaws, readers who are interested in feel-good family drama and who can forgive a classic case of show-vs.-tell (a phrase I don't often use, but which is definitely appropriate here) might still be able to enjoy this.

Teacher's Pet, by Pascoite

What it is:  Although Cheerilee loves all her students, there's one particular foal who's very special to her--enough so that the other ponies in the class take notice.

A few thoughts:  There's a lot I can't say about this one without giving it away.  I will say, though, that I did think Cheerilee's behavior was inappropriate even under the circumstances, and that was an impediment to my enjoyment of the fic.  When a teacher's actions are inhibiting his or her ability to run a classroom or to work with students... I can sympathize with Cheerilee, but she's doing a disservice to a dozen children through her actions, and I have a problem with that.  That said, the fact that this story has all of zero thumbs-down on almost 1400 views tells me that this might be more of a Chris issue than a general issue, and other than that reaction I found the story tight, well-written, and remarkably effective.

Recommendation:  Those who aren't going to get hung up on educator responsibilities to students (which again, I suspect is most readers) will probably find this to be a short but effective slice-of-life tale.

Celestia and Luna's Day Off, by Soothing Stone

What it is:  Celestia and Luna take a day off, so that they can be together as sisters--for the first time in a thousand years.

A few thoughts:  As I set up the link to this story, it occurred to me that my mini-reviews often seem to have at least one fic in which Celestia is a main character.  So I quickly skimmed back and, sure enough, something like three-quarters of my mini-reviews have at least one story about or heavily featuring little miss Sunshine.  Um... go me, I guess.

Anyway, I saw this story floating around in FIMFic's feature box, and I have to say it's pretty typical feature box fare (at least, typical non-clop feature box fare).  An easily relatable premise, an eye-catching piece of cover art, and some glaring problems with the writing.  Redundancy is the greatest flaw on display here, as concepts repeat themselves at ridiculous length, often within the same sentence ("After the next few days passed with time, next Tuesday had arrived at last"), but conversational vs. formal word choice, odd perspective shifts, and some out-and-out spelling and grammar errors are all present.

Recommendation:  That said, this isn't a terrible work--just a significantly flawed one.  Readers looking for something very light, very low-conflict, and firmly on the sweet side of things may want to consider this, but only if they don't mind mediocre writing and editing.

Piefall: A Clandestine Corps Adventure, by AugieDog

What it is:  Nine months after the events of In Their Highnessess Clandestine Corps, Blueblood and Dash are happily dating, Dash is becoming part of the Corps herself, and everything seems to be going well.  But between that and some of the last years other big events (Discord and Fluttershy, Twilight's princesshood), Pinkie worries that her favorite ponies are changing too quickly.  And she's determined to make sure nothing comes between her and her friends...

A few thoughts:  First thing's first: the previously-reviewed In Their Highnessess Clandestine Corps is still amazing, and you should still go read it if you haven't already.  So given how much I liked it, reading the sequel was a no-brainer; I even read each chapter as it was published, rather than waiting for the work to be completed, as I tend to do.

This story is... nice.  Well, that's too weak; Piefall is a solid, entertaining, enjoyable story.  But it suffers for the comparison to its predecessor.  Specifically, the shipping is a weak point: where the original was able to get away with its whirlwind, kinda-ridiculous romance because a) come on, Blueblood and Dash were made for each other, and b) more seriously, it fit the Bond parody elements of the story, Piefall's central ship feels far more tacked-on and underdeveloped.  However, the opening sequence of this story is just wonderful, and the rest of the story is definitely worth reading.

Recommendation:  The biggest "problem" with this story was my-through-the-roof hopes for it: anyone who can approach this sequel (and you should read the first story first, if only because it's great) with reasonable expectations will find it to be a fast-paced, humorous, and all-around delightful romp.

Plus, it's one of the exceedingly few stories to use "Pinkamina Diane Pie" without being terrible and/or a Cupcakes knockoff, so bonus points there.

The Cellist of Saraneighvo, by Ruirik

What it is:  In the midst of the siege of Saraneighvo, Octavia strikes a chord of defiance by staging an impromptu performance.

A few thoughts:  This is based on a true story, and in fact it's pretty much just a dramatized telling of (a small part of) Vedran Smailović's story, only with Octavia as Vedran and a horse pun in the city name.

I really don't get the point of this story.  It's told well enough, but the presence of ponies adds literally nothing to the tale.  No, that's not even true: the presence of ponies significantly detracts from the story being told, because it creates in inappropriate and distracting disconnect from the horrors of a modern siege, while providing no compensatory benefit.  Vedran's story is a powerful one, but I can't see any reason to read this over a story that actually is about him, and I can see several reasons to prefer them to this.

Recommendation:  If you belong to the school of thought which says "everything is better with ponies!," then you may well find this to be a moving account of resilience and the indominability of the human equine spirit.  If not, though, you will probably find yourself wondering why this story needed to be ponified, or at least ponified so lazily.


  1. Obviously gonna add Piefall to the queue, and Teacher's Pet sounds pretty good too. Not too sure about Saraneighvo, but it's short, so I'll add that one as well (though at the bottom of the list)

    Augie, you're killing me with those Bond puns!

    1. The one I'm sorry:

      I didn't get to use was "Pie-monds are Forever."


    2. Nice! Was "GoldenPie" too obvious for ya?

      Also, I've decided to nickname you "The Man with the Golden Pun"

    3. GoldenPie:

      Was gonna be Act V of the story till my outline convinced me that I didn't need an Act V--even though having an Act V might've given me more room to address the "central ship" problem Chris found in the story. But the story's done, and, as Ed Wood keeps saying in the movie of the same name: "Perfect! Let's move on!"

      My next Pony story, after all, will have six chapter, each named for a different flavor of quark. :)


  2. Thanks for the review, Chris. I do agree that Cheerilee is acting with some irresponsibility here, and I have gotten the comment 2 or 3 times (including when a shorter version of this was in a minific write-off) that a reader had an expectation going in, came out with another, and wasn't sure which was more disturbing. To be fair, she does say that she only let it be a significant intrusion to her class on that particular day, and she does regret it, but being aware of the issue may make it even more irresponsible of her to let it happen. In any case, she obviously cares about her students, but it does ask you to sweep a bit under the rug.

    And thanks for the vote of confidence regarding the up/down vote status, but... that's FiMFiction for you. I could point to a ton of stories that have very good or very bad ratios that they don't deserve. It's like the feature box: It can be indicative of quality, but often isn't, though I'll gladly take whatever readers it brings in.

    1. FIMFiction will continue to be FIMFiction, so there's no sense worrying about that--I find it's best to just assume your readership is as thoughtful as you'd like them to be and hope you aren't proven wrong. You are, of course, very welcome for the review!

  3. Once again:

    Fair and reasonable criticism, Chris--thank you as always!

    Of course, I'd like to blame the weakness of the "central ship" on the weird structural experiment I was conducting, but looking at comments for my last couple shipping experiments, I'm coming to the conclusion that, having never been involved in a romance myself, I should only try writing it under very specific story circumstances. It's almost as if the old standby "write what you know" has a corollary: "don't write what you don't know"... :)


    1. I've always preferred the the corollary "if you don't know about what you want to write, learn it!" though in the specific case of romance that might be a little more difficult to dip into for research purposes than some fields...

    2. though in the specific case of romance that might be a little more difficult to dip into for research purposes

      That's one thing:

      Ponyfic has taught me: I'm thinking specifically of Twilight's List and Romance Reports here.... :)