Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 26

I've never been to a pony-themed convention, and have never seriously considered going to one--mostly because there's never been one anywhere near where I live.  But now, one's gearing up that's not 10+ hours or an airplane ride away: MLP-MSP, which is going to be in Minnesota, on the first weekend in June.  I haven't decided if I'm going to go yet, but I figured I'd ask: are any of you authors and commenters who read this blog going or considering going?  I'm pretty sure this sort of thing is a lot more fun if you "know" some of the people in attendance, and it would be kind of nice to put a face or two to some of the names around here.

But wherever you live, feel free to click down below the break for some short and (hopefully) sweet commentary on my casual fanfic reading.

Princess Luna and the Cotton Candy Sugar Rush, by TheSlorg

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Princess Luna just wants some time off from the all-consuming duties which princessdom entails.  It turns out that combining a bored princess with Pinkie, and adding a confection new to the millennium-absent diarch, is not a recipe for anything particularly good.

A few thoughts:  Sometimes, a story just comes to you at the right time.  Sugar Rush did that for me, showing up at the top of my to-read list right as I was feeling burned-out and brain dead.  It's a simple premise--Luna getting a cocaine sugar high and acting un-princesslike--but the quality of the comedy is rather higher than your average short-and-straightforward fic, both due to the author's skill in mining comedy from bits of characterization ("So it had come to this. Seven confused pegasi trying to determine the more terrifying situation: saying no to one of the royal princesses, or facing the wrath of Rainbow Dash if she were to discover anypony other than herself had been slacking off."), and the fact that there's more than the single "Luna being Loopy" joke to carry the fic.  The ending was a bit abrupt, but I still got plenty of grins out of this.

Recommendation:  This isn't the sort of story that will stick with you months and even years after you read it, but it is fun, funny, and all-around pleasant reading.  That's not nothing; in fact, that's something (I know, right?), and I recommend it to anyone looking for such.

A Hearth's Warming Carol, by Butterscotch Cream

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Perignon is a hard-nosed, heartless wine seller--to outside appearances, anyway.  But a heart-to-heart with a mysterious stranger during a Hearth's Warming Eve blizzard threatens to break his shell.

A few thoughts:  'Tis the season... sorta.  Look, it's still winter, right?  Anyway, after the first couple of pages, I was afraid this was going to be a literal retelling of Dickens' most famous story, so I was pleased to see that not only wasn't it, but that there was plenty of original thought put into it.  It's a very predictable story (no points for guessing that Perignon sees the error of his ways by the end), but hey: it's got a timeless moral that's worth repeating, and that's something I enjoy in a story.  On the downside, this story does lean heavily on speechifying; I don't mind a blunt aesop, but there's a point where to ponies speechifying to one another in a raging blizzard does start to wear on.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for an original take on a classic tale, and an equally classic lesson, will be well satisfied with this.  But those put off by preaching (to the choir or otherwise) will want to avoid it.

Happy Ending, by Bad Horse

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Blueblood goes to see a fortune teller before the Grand Galloping Gala.

A few thoughts:  I had some trouble with this story at first, because I didn't understand who the mysterious force was supposed to be (hint: look at the tags--or don't, if you don't want to know).  It turns out that, despite having been published earlier this month, the story was written before season three, and with that as context, I enjoyed it quite a bit more in retrospect than I did upon initial reading.  This fic does some interesting things with perspective, shifting how you view the main characters as you read by its three chapters in reverse chronological order (though the "This is the end/middle/beginning of the story" chapter headings were a bit much for me), and--now that I know who it's supposed to be, and understand the character's characterization at the time of writing--the ending gives the story a delicious bite.

Recommendation:  I recommend this story to anyone who loves twists, shifting characterizations, and a dark but fitting take on the behind-the-scenes of an episode.

Diamond Tiara Hunts Down and Systematically Murders Bad OCs, by Aquaman

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  What, the title wasn't clear enough for you?

A few thoughts:  Actually, the title's a bit misleading: I was going in hoping for a Mary-Sue killer story, a la Game of the Gods or something (before you go clicking the link: it's a LotR fanfic, and although I kind of liked the first few chapters, it got pretty dumb by the end middle), full of terrible ideas being brutally dispensed.  Instead, it turns into a... I don't even know what to call it.  Psychological metafiction?  It goes odd places which are more mind-bending than hilarious, and while it executes well in that space, I did feel like the title was a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Still, the fic does begin with Diamond Tiara hunting down and murdering a bad OC, so it's not like the itch goes unscratched or anything.  And while I was disappointed that the OC parodies presented here were fairly generic rather than mocking ponyfic-specific tropes (well, we've got a black alicorn... but it's mostly generic bad OC stuff), Aquaman did hit the nail on the head with those flaws he did show.

Recommendation:  If you go in expecting high-octane absurdity/slasherism, this will disappoint.  But if you're looking for something that's a bizarre trip with some parody elements, you might want to check this out.


  1. Unfortunately, that con's about 600 miles out of my way, so I won't be attending. Besides, I only get one week's vacation a year, and I've already reserved it for TrotCon. Ah well, at least I'll get to see Present again, and that's just as good, right? Right?!

    You must be in a good mood or something, 'cause you made every fic here sound good enough to add to my queue. Except Happy Ending, as I've already read and enjoyed that one. Great job, Bad Horse!

    I must be in a good mood too. I've favorited, like, three stories this week. Currently reading one of TD's fics, which is probably gonna make four seeing as I keep quoting it on Facebook

  2. The only thing I can say against Diamond Tiara is that it really doesn't live up to its title. It's hilarious and fun, but I had hoped for even more of the hunting down bad OCs than what we got.

  3. >though the "This is the end/middle/beginning of the story" chapter headings were a bit much for me

    Agreed! In fact, I stated this very explicitly to the author. He declined to take my advice. I thought it could have been more elegantly worked into the narration.

    This is actually unprecedented for me. I've read 3 of the 4 stories reviewed here. Huzzah!

    I found TheSlorg's story funny, and while there wasn't anything groundbreaking in the sugar-fueled antics, they were crazy enough to hold my interest, and the unexpected little moral at the end finished on a great closing note for me.

    I haven't read Bad Horse's story since the original draft, so I can't say whether the problems I initially had with it are still present. I recall feeling unsatisfied that the antagonist's motives were nonexistent, but perhaps that's not the case anymore.

    Aquaman's story... is what it says it is. An odd idea stretched out for a bit of fun, and knowing him, that's all he ever cared for it to be, so a success.

  4. >Agreed! In fact, I stated this very explicitly to the author. He declined to take my advice. I thought it could have been more elegantly worked into the narration.

    I did consider your advice, but didn't take it in the end. For one thing, it's not supposed to be subtle. This is a metafiction, in the correct sense of the word. One gloss of it could be, "Real stories don't have beginnings and endings; they stretch on into the past and the future, and no part of them can be understood outside the whole." Another gloss of it could be, "The author of this story is a cheeky bastard." But I don't want the reader to /miss/ the metafictional aspect. The reader needs to look at the story and say, "Someone deliberately shuffled the parts of this story around," before they can ask, "Why did they shuffle these parts around?" I had to make it stick out enough that they would realize it was a gimmick and ask questions about it.

    But that wasn't the deciding factor. The more important factor was that if anything is at all possible to miss, some readers will miss it. I promise you that if I hadn't used big headings, if I'd just started chapter one with "Tuesday night, ..." and chapter 2 with "Tuesday afternoon, ...", dozens of readers would have never figured out the story was in reverse chronological order. I don't know how, but they'd have managed.

    The big problem with this story was that some readers, including you, didn't figure out the antagonist's motives. I had to hide the key that unlocks everything until chapter 3, so figuring it out required either going back and re-reading chapter 2, or a really good short-term memory. I didn't manage to fix that. And I think you were at a big disadvantage from trying to puzzle out the story while at the same time correcting its grammar.

    But in any case, step one towards fixing that was to remove every other unnecessary potential source of confusion. I wanted to make sure the reader spent as little mental energy as possible figuring out the chronological order of events.

    I rewrote most of the story completely, because in the original it was easy for a reader already ill-disposed toward Blueblood to interpret him unsympathetically. That could throw the reader off the trail when it came to figuring out other things in the story.

    1. I will grant you:

      My short-term memory is horrendous.

      (In AugieDog mode)

  5. I've already read both Bad OCs and Happy Endings. I had a few issues of my own with the latter (and I notice I've been saying that a lot more recently with stories reviewed here, when usually I'm the one defending them), but I already covered my criticisms when I commented on the story on Fimfiction.

  6. I'mma just copy/paste my short review of Princess Luna and the Cotton Candy Sugar Rush here:

    Right idea, lacklustre execution. It felt bland and too straight-forward for something that was supposed to use absurd humour. The telly exposition for the effects of Luna's sugar rush killed what little suspension of disbelief I had each time it reared its ugly head and Luna's antics were too tame for what she was supposedly going through. Her comic story of running the day put her into far more interesting scenarios without the need of high-energy junk food to excuse them, establishing just how out of touch she was while providing plenty of laughs. This, meanwhile, was as cerebral as cotton candy is nutritious, with none of the guilty pleasure the latter involves.