Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 33: A Novel Tale

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

For those of you who aren't active on FiMFiction, they've got a new project: The Royal Guard.  If you've got any interest in trying your hand at this reviewing thing, this looks like a good place to give it a go in a structured environment.  And if you've got a story you think is up to snuff, they've opened up submissions, so go give it a shot!

Below the break, my review of Blissey1's A Novel Tale.

Impressions before reading:  I really like the premise, though it sounds more like a comedy (-of-errors) than a SoL, which is how it's tagged.  Either way, though, I'm hoping that the titular protagonist's tribulations don't become too repetitive; a 50k word story can get old fast if it just plays its concept without variation.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Novel Tale, a changeling living as an author in Canterlot, decides to include a changeling as a character in his newest book.  Everyone's impressed by his originality... but when Chrysalis and her hive attack Equestria, it doesn't take a genius to realize that his portrayal is a little too close to the real thing to be coincidence.

Thoughts after reading:  This story is basically an excuse to expound upon the author's headcanon about changelings, it seems to me.  Not that there's anything wrong with that: worldbuilding fics are a major element of any fandom, and I personally have a soft spot for expansionary and extrapolatory fics as a genre.  But there are two things such a story needs to do: first, its worldbuilding should not only be intrinsically interesting, but should fit (or be made to fit, at least) within what we know about Equestria.  Second, it should never come at the expense of the story itself, whatever form that story takes.

On the first count, A Novel Tale definitely succeeded for me.  Blissey1 lays out a detailed, internally cohesive vision of changeling biology and society which was, without a doubt, the selling point of this fic.  From feeding habits of social norms to the hierarchy/organization of hives, I found the expansion of the race both a strong, natural fit with the world in which they're placed, and interesting in its own right.

I was less impressed, though, with the story surrounding it.  The broad strokes of the story are interesting, but characters too often resort to lengthy monologues detailing their moods, or engage in extended conversations which may allow the author to develop her headcanon, but are an ill fit for the characters between whom and situations in which they take place.  While one changeling expounding upon his hive's sense of honor duty may help fill in the world, that does nothing to change the fact that his dialogue sounds like it was lifted verbatim from a particularly dry schoolbook.  Oddly enough, a pair of interludes taking the form of research notes on changelings prove a far more engaging way to present information about the race than via dialogue, both because it doesn't break immersion and because the dryness there is obviously deliberate (and well-executed).

"Dry" is a recurring problem with the dialogue, in fact.  Much of this ties back to the telliness of character conversations; a stilted unnaturalness which is a repeated issue.  This unnaturalness fades when the subject shifts away from worldbuilding and to the characters themselves, though.  Novel's slightly-panicky, affable put-upon-ness comes through clearly in these cases.  Also, on a semi-related note, the author has a nose for the kind of puns on which the show thrives, though they're as inconsistent as the dialogue--some are clever, but I could have lived my life without "Leonardo Da Hoovsie."

What really bothered me about this story, though, was the lack of direction to the story itself.  That seems an odd problem to have, considering that the premise provides such a strong hook and direction, but there are a number of questions throughout the story which the characters are remarkably incurious about.  For example, it's literally not until the last chapter that Chrysalis's reasons for attacking Canterlot in the first place are addressed with more than a "I dunno" and a quick change of subject.  Throughout the story, though, characters too often focus on whatever the author wants to talk about rather than what circumstances dictate they might want/need to discuss.

Star rating:    (what does this mean?)

Although I enjoyed exploring Blissey1's vision of changelings as a race, and found Novel a likable enough protagonist, I found that characters too often became unconvincing emotional automatons ("I feel upset!"  "Even though [the wedding] was really exciting, I guess I still really don't like that changeling queen," etc.) and that the story direction more often followed the dictates of authorial whim than the needs of the narrative.

Recommendation:  This is a classic case of "...if you like that kind of story."  If you're interested in an intelligent, detailed expansion of changelings, this story will not disappoint.  If not, though--or if you're neutral toward the whole matter--there aren't a lot of other big selling points here.

Next time:  Spitfire’s Day Off, by Artimae


  1. Well, my predicted rating wasn't that far off. I feel validated.

  2. Damn, I had 4:1 odds on a rating of 3/5.

    I wrote "interesting premise", you wrote "worldbuilding".
    I said "lack of growth", you said "lack of direction".

    Your comments are more insightful, I think. I can identify flaws based on how fics make me feel — this one's stagnant, that one's preachy — but you identify the actual literary flaws. In this case, the author did plenty of exposition but forgot to write a story.

  3. "Leonardo Da Hoovsie"? That's just lazy! I don't know crap about horses, so there could be a decent pun I can't think of, but even "da Whinny" would've been better

    1. Replacing the names of famous people with horse puns always bother me, to the point of breaking immersion even. They never do that in the show for ponies, only cities, and I have no idea why the fandom decided that this would be a thing.

    2. Wait. Ponies and cities are different things?

      Mind. Blown.

      ... My intuition is that most fans don't notice that horse puns are limited to cities. They just think "Lookit, they used a horse pun on a proper noun HORSE PUN ALL THE PROPER NOUNS."

    3. Moreover, they do it on the show now. Coco Pommel?

    4. Not just cities; mules too. Remember Mulia Mild?

    5. A.K.Yearling, too.

    6. Cranky Doodle Donkey would fall under that category too, I suppose.
      Also, Let's not forget about A. K. Yearling.
      Also Also, a mention of a Wild Bull Hickock and Calamity Mane in the Last Roundup. That was season 2.

      I personally don't have a problem with horse-punning famous names. They have their use. They can give the reader a good general Idea of what a certain pony is about while saving of a few descriptive sentences that might have to be included if one uses an original name. Also using their un-punned names would be even more immersion breaking I'd imagine. On top of that, puns can be fun. I see no reason to limit them to just cities.

  4. While that Royal Guard business sounds like a cool thing in ideal conditions, but I kind of worry about the workload. Especially since I know some people involved in that are quite involved in other projects.

    But I'm probably worrying too much.

  5. Oh crap! I nearly forgot....

    Word of the Day: Put-upon-ness.
    ...I don't know what you mean by that, actually.

    1. Another made-up word (as is pretty much anything I slap a -ness onto; it's one of my tics, I suppose); rather than say that he's put-upon, I'm saying that he exudes put-upon-ness, that is, being put-upon is more part of his nature than it is a result of his circumstances (though given the story, there's obviously plenty of the latter as well).

    2. Oh, also: what happened to your country in >CLOP? It says you're nationless!

    3. Well, I understood the "-ness" part just fine. It's the "put-upon" That I was lost on. Though I realize now that I did the silly thing and looked it up with the "-ness" included and got the results that you'd expect.

      But yeah, put-upon. I don't think that's a word I heard before.
      Actually, I likely have, but I certainly never realized it's meaning.

      And about >CLOP, I keep losing nations because I keep building too many farms or their equivalents, and then log in too infrequently to keep my ponies satisfied. I'm going to give it another go, but I'mma wait until I'm slightly less distracted. Perhaps after my latest reading is done. I'm pouring quite a bit of time into that right now. Captioning is a lot more time consuming than it looks. Why do I even subject myself to such torture?

  6. Prediction

    Spitfire’s Day Off: 2/5 some punctuation abuse and a bit on the shallow end of the slice-of-life pool.