Friday, December 13, 2013

Mini-Reviews Round 24

I've recently picked my on-again-off-again dalliance with online poker up once more, and I'd just like to say that there's a special place in hell for the *cough*holes who go all in on the first hand of a tournament, double (or more often, quadruple) up, and then turn on auto-folding and leave the table, hoping for their stack to last through enough blinds to get them a payout.  

Don't be those people.

Anyway, mini-reviews below the break!

Daring Don't, by Flynt Coal 

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Dash wins a chance to go on an expedition with her literary idol, Daring Do... only to find out that the real Daring Do doesn't have much in common with the adventurous, quick-witted mare from the books.

A few thoughts:  So, there was supposed to be a Fandom Classics review today... but when I started setting up the blog post and pulled up the story's FiMFic page to link to, I noticed the viewcount and said, "wait a minute... why are there only 400 story views?"  Turns out I was supposed to be reading Daring DONE!, but had mixed up my fics.  So, uh, oops.  We'll let Don't lead the mini-review instead, and DONE! will come on Monday, once I've actually read it.

The story itself has some quite funny bits to it--it's at its best when it brings some gentle parody elements to FiM, Indiana Jones, or fandom-ing generally (I laughed aloud at an early play on the classic "red travel line on the map").  Unfortunately, the story itself is almost painfully predictable.  Every character fills a very archetypal story role, each played without variation, and each telegraphed miles in advance.  Add to that some pretty serious punctuation problems (commas appear to be placed at random throughout--surprisingly, non-punctuation editing is decent, though), and I was underwhelmed.

Recommendation:  Folks looking for a very "by the numbers" take on the summary above will find that this does exactly what they expect it to do, and has some stylistically appropriate humor along the way.  Folks seeking anything beyond the obvious, in terms of characters or plotting, will not find it here.

Until the Moon Rises, by AdrianVesper

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A genie is found by Twilight, and waits and wonders what she'll wish for...

A few thoughts:  I wanted to like this more than I did.  Which isn't to say I didn't like it--but I wanted to love it, and I didn't, really.

The one thing I felt was missing was a sense of originality (or at least, Equestrian-ness) from the genie, and the crux decision Twilight faces.  He's very much in the mold of a typical (by modern Western standards) wish-granter, bound by the expected set of rules and giving out wishes prone to going awry if phrased poorly, and the climax is one that is equally typical (by modern Western standards).  With that said, it's not like there's insufficient originality or pony in this fic: Twilight and Spike are the other two major characters, and Vesper nails both of their personalities as they muddle through the day over which this fic takes place.  The genie's narration is well-rendered, and there's nothing to complain about here on a technical front.  Really, I don't have anything bad to say about this fic.

Recommendation:  This is a well-written take on the nature of literal vs. sadistic wish-granting, and I recommend it to people who like stories about "playing within the rules."

Pilgrimage, by Pascoite

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Apple Bloom takes an annual trip with her sister--one that means very different things to her and Applejack.

A few thoughts:  Much like the last one, I enjoyed this... but there was something which pulled me back from "this is incredible" to just "this is pretty good."  In this case, it was a sense of contrivance.

Not emotional contrivance; that's one of the fastest ways to ruin a story for me.  In fact, the emotional impetuses which drive AB and AJ are the best parts of this story; Pascoite has a knack for addressing high emotions without becoming excessively maudlin, and if the dialogue is occasionally hyper-dramatic, then it must also be said that (in my experience) that hyper-drama is far from unrealistic.

No, what bothered me was that the setting which surrounded all of that sometimes seemed contrived to be maximally resonant, to the extent that I found it unbelievable.  This sort of thing always bugs me, because I feel like an emotional climax should be able to stand on its own--piling on isn't just excessive, it's excessive without purpose.  When the drama of a scene stops relying on how the characters think and feel and instead hinges on stuff like the reader assuming that Apple Bloom's ribbon (which she's worn everywhere for years) can't get wet without being ruined, it pulls me out of the story.

Recommendation:  That said, I want to re-emphasize that the feelings and actions which drive this story feel invariably genuine, and that is by far the most important thing in a story like this.  Readers looking for a sweet and emotionally honest look at how we show our love will want to give this a look.

The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be, by Obselescensce

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  As all of Equestria prepares to be subsumed into the mega-consciousness which is Harmony, Twilight stops to talk with Discord--and to voice her private doubts.

A few thoughts:  Let me just throw this out: the idea of "Harmony" as presented in this story is one I find terrifying, and the fact that everyone on the planet is more-or-less on board with combining into one super-awareness rubs me the wrong way.  Unlike with the just-reviewed Friendship is Optimal, there's not even the excuse here that a super-intelligence is actively manipulating everyone.

Given my attitude on that count, I found this story an uncomfortably depressing take on Equestria--without giving away the ending, it appears that the only fates possible are the enaction of Harmony (whether delayed or not), or something only marginally less horrific. 

Recommendation:  The story's perfectly well written, and those who don't have the same visceral reaction to Harmony which I do might well enjoy the Discord's scheming.  But personally, I found the premise too off-putting to really enjoy.


  1. I had to go back and re-read your review of Daring Don't about half-way through. The bit about the red line had me thinking I'd misread something and you were talking about the episode, or that this was some joke where you reviewed the episode as though it were a fanfic. I actually spent a good second trying to figure out the punctuation issue, figuring it to be some clever jab at the writers

    I've already read Pilgrimage. Good story, but the ribbon part bugged the crap out of me!

    Adding Until the Moon Rises and Never-Was to the queue. I'm especially interested in the latter because, depending on how they're done, disturbing stories can be some of the most enjoyable. More Than You Know was a great example of this and - oh hey, they're written by the same guy!

    I should take a break from my "real" book soon and get back to fanfiction. The queue's getting too big for my tastes and I'm pretty excited about Never-Was now

    1. Just read both of 'em. They were alright. I really can't picture the characters in the show ever agreeing to Harmony, or Twilight ever thinking it was a good idea in the first place. If anything, it sounds like the type of thing a villain would propose and Twi might give some speech about it being perverse, followed by a Rainbow Cannon of FRIENDSHIP!

  2. I think I saw Never Was in the feature box recently. I kind of glanced over it at the time, but now my morbid curiosity may just get the better of me.

    1. Having now read Never Was, I'll say that I think you over-hyped it for me. Yeah, I'm just as morally and ideologically opposed to the idea of the Harmony, but it's just sort of something that I found I disagreed with, not something that induced feelings of horror or revulsion.

      I do agree that it seems a little odd for everyone in Equestria to have gone along with it though, or for Twilight to have even come up with it. I don't quite understand the reason why it needed to happen in the first place, to be honest. Seems rather pointless, unless Equestria was expecting to come under attack from the Anti-Spiral or something. In fact, the way you described it, that's what I thought was going on. When you talked about it being either Harmony or something almost just as horrific, I pictured Harmony as being some last resort measure made to survive some kind of cosmic disaster or angry god bearing down on them.

      And above all I think that despite the Harmony playing such a large role in things, it wasn't about that. It was a story about Twilight and Discord, really, and I think that your getting hung up on the Harmony caused you to miss that. Which is a shame, because I really liked this story's take on Discord. He's one of my favourite characters, so there's nothing I love more than a fic about Discord that gets him right.

      I'm just going to add this story to my "I like this" pile. Yeah, the Harmony is sort of disturbing and it could have been handled better, but like I said, I can get over it and I consider the story to be about more than just that, and its other elements are good, so... yeah.

      God, Chris, why can you and me never like the same things in these mini reviews?

    2. We can't like the same things because then we couldn't be arch-nemeses! Trust me, it's more fun this way.

      I did like Discord's characterization, but... oy, everyone in Equestria either gets eternal chaos, or they lose everything that makes them individual, unique, and relevant. That's a tough pill to swallow.

  3. I felt the same way about Never-Was. It bothered me on some deep level that this all-consuming singularity was really what Harmony in the show could mean. The fact that it was Twilight's end goal kind of made me ill.

  4. Thanks, Chris. I struggled with a bit of this on my own. Regarding her ribbon, I hesitated to use it that way, but I ultimately decided to for a few reasons. First, it's another demonstration that Apple Bloom doesn't attach the same importance to certain things that Applejack does. Second, I couldn't really envision anything else she'd have reasonably brought along that she could have used in the same way that would have had a similar importance. Frankly, I'd considered going without it at all as being impractical for that purpose, but I looked at a picture of her, and that thing is huge. So at least it seemed feasible to me. Lastly, I had it envisioned that she has more than the one bow, and this isn't her normal one. She wore it for the special occasion, not thinking anything might happen to it, but I didn't really communicate that. I just had this burning idea in my head about Apple Bloom's relationship with her mother and cranked the story out in about three hours.

    This is only the second one of my stories I've shared with my creative-writing-professor sister (a de-ponified version, of course, which does necessarily take a bit of weight out of some of the things that happen), since it really requires no prior knowledge of the universe in which it takes place, and she brought up a good point about what she felt Apple Bloom's reaction should have been, one that could have possibly superseded the issue with the bow. But that die is cast. However, I want to give this a bit of thought and might write that as an added chapter.

    1. "... cranked the story out in about three hours."

      I hate you

    2. I hate people who can do this, too. This was entirely unprecedented for me. Normally, a story of this length would take me a good 3-5 days of mulling over. To be fair, this is also a revised version that I spent several additional evenings on. The original was a write-off entry I didn't start on until I'd finished my first idea, with about 4 hours to go until the deadline. It was also only about 65% as long.

    3. Don't let him fool you, there was editing involved! :V