Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 27

Just a few pony things I've read recently, and have decided to comment on.  Click down below the break to see what I've been reading, what I thought of it, and what today's word (for deftfunk) and silly typo (for the rest of you--I do hate to disappoint) proves to be.

Twilight Finds a Book of Puns, by Troll

Zero-ish Spoiler Summary:  After reading a book of puns, Twilight feels compelled to use them.

A few thoughts:  I read this because Present Perfect blogged about how it was full of puns.  Well, he may be a stick in the mud, but I adore good punnery!  A good pun can build vocabulary, lighten the mood without being raunchy, and entertain, all at once!  They're like the steak of comedy; always a good decision (though the analogy does break down when one realizes that a well-done pun is the goal, while a well-done steak is a crime against humanity (bovinity)).

Sadly, there's not much in the way of well-done puns here.  Despite its brevity, this fic resorts to recycling puns with depressing frequency (read: at all), and most of them weren't terribly funny.  Moreover, most of them are just homonym replacements--a good pun adds an extra layer, such as imparting additional information or forming a secondary reference.  At the very least, a pun ought to tie directly to one's situation ("water you doing" is only funny if one's conversation is at least vaguely water related) , but Twilight can't always manage even that.

Recommendation:  Pretty much the only draw here is the puns (the story itself is an afterthought at best, nonexistent at worst), and they're not terribly impressive, even in a "bad pun" way.  Somehow this has twelve hundred upvotes, but don't ask me to explain it.

Glory, by Rune Soldier Dan

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Blueblood knows that nothing matters, because he can't possibly make a difference no matter what he does.  Still, when the fate of Equestria is at stake, he has to try to make a difference--even if he knows he can't.

A few thoughts:  I thought this story offered a very interesting take on the kinds of circles depression can lead one into; the idea that "if I invent something, it doesn't matter because someone else would have done it later anyway" seems a classic example of something that might be obviously fallacious, but can sound true in your more vulnerable moments.  I absolutely loved the way that Blueblood addressed (and didn't) his ennui throughout the story.  Add to that a light but succulent dose of worldbuilding and a strong meshing of internal drama and setting, and there's a whole lot to like here.  Pretty much my only problem was that I had a lot of trouble matching "Prince Blueblood, the aristocrat ninny" to the stoic indifference of the main character in this story; the author does try to tie the two together, but the few sentences explaining the connection between his behavior here and in The Best Night Ever weren't enough for me.

Recommendation:  That said, I still really liked this one.  I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a short but honest (and ultimately, hopeful) story about overcoming self-doubt.

Twilight is Doomed, by Akumakegetsu

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight tries to un-stick herself from a double-sided piece of tape.

A few thoughts:  This is one of those thousand-word, joke's-in-the-premise (not the title, this time!) fics which are so common out in the wider world of fanfiction.  Sadly, there's not a lot to elevate it.  The punchline did answer a question that I was resigned to having go unanswered--that was nice--but the rest of the fic is a remarkably slow crawl to get there.  Physical descriptions are often needlessly complicated, which lends the whole affair an overwrought air.  Couple that with the inherent predictability of the story, and it felt like a bit of a waste.

Recommendation:  This one's tagged incomplete, though whether by accident or because Twi's going to continue to be doomed in future installments I don't know.  In any event, I don't plan to continue following it, and while it's by no means awful, I'd only recommend it to readers specifically intrigued by the premise.

Small-Town Charm, by Cold in Gardez

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  One day, Twilight Sparkle wakes up to find Ponyville--and her bed--infested with giant star spiders.  This doesn't seem to bother everypony else nearly as much as her.

A few thoughts:  To quote myself talking about another fanfic, "This story is one of my favorite kinds of comedies: the kind that has a completely absurd premise, which is treated totally seriously."  I love the blase reactions which fill this fic, and rather than being repeated ad nausium without variation, here they're gently varied from pony to pony, not to mention leavened with wonderfully funny dialogue (“'Well, it’s like Granny Smith says. You can let a foal go through life afraid, or you can lock her in a dark room with a thousand spiders until she stops screaming.' Applejack put her basket under another tree and lined up for a kick. 'She’s just full of folksy wisdom.'") and some genuine thoughtfulness at the end.  Indeed, one thing that I really loved about this story was that it made me laugh, but it also slipped in a bit of reflection which neither detracted from the comedy, nor derailed the story.

Recommendation:  This might be my favorite CiG comedy to date, and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone looking for something funny, which is built around a single "joke" (lots of spiders, and nopony cares!), but transcends its one-note description to offer a little bit of everything in a mere 4k words.  I guess arachnophobes might find this too willies-inducing to enjoy, but it's a wonderful story regardless.

A post-reading glance at the comments shows that arachnophobes apparently make up a large portion of the readerbase, though (along with readers who seem to have found that having a thoughtful moral made it impossible for them to enjoy or recognize the comic exaggeration of, say the line I quoted above), so maybe I'm off-base in my assessment.  But for my money, this was one of the best fics I've read in a while.


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  2. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Small-town Charm. I'm also very glad that so many people found it worth discussing ruminating on. This is probably the only story of mine where I think I've learned more from the comments than from actually writing the thing.

  3. Sadly, there's not much in the way of well-done puns here.

    Implying there is such a thing in the first place. :V

    Also, having written a story about arachnophobia, I can attest to the large numbers of arachonphobes in the site's userbase. I suppose it's just a common phobia.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure." - Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)

      Had to fix the attribution, and I'm not sure I did that right

    3. >Also, having written a story about arachnophobia, I can attest to the large numbers of arachonphobes in the site's userbase. I suppose it's just a common phobia.

      Now some devious part of my mind wants to write a story in which Twilight Sparkle has a loving sexual relationship with a giant spider.

      It shall be called Twilight Sparkle has a Loving Sexual Relationship with a Giant Spider. The description will simply read "This one's for you, arachnophobes." It shall dominate the feature box for five weeks straight. Expect it coming out in 20-never.

    4. Luckily (???) for you, there is already a story where Berry Punch has sex with a giant spider. It's the sequel to a story where Berry Punch has sex with a giant wasp. Both stories are hilarious, just trust me.

    5. Twi already had sex with a spider, though not a giant one (just a little big)


  4. Glory added for later. I almost have to wonder if you wondered what I'd make of this when you read it.

    Read Small-Town Charm and added it to my growing list of things I just don't understand. At least in this, the Fluttershy segment at least gives me a window through which I can suppose that I disagree with the premise so fundamentally that it isn't confusing to not 'get it'.


    1. ADDENDUM:

      "You can let a foal go through life afraid, or you can lock her in a dark room with a thousand spiders until she stops screaming."

      When you can make me laugh at child abuse, you're doing something right, at least.

    2. One of those niggling little things that I've noticed in CiG's comedies more than once is that they'll usually have a scene or two which, while it makes me laugh, also feels a little too dark for the story (e.g. the corpse in The Contest, the woodchipper in Phoenixes), and while they've never been enough to ruin the story for me... well, like I said: it's something I noticed.

      Apparently, I put "locking a child in a dark room with a thousand spiders of whom she is terrified" on a rather lower level, because after reading Small-Town Charm, one of my first thoughts was "finally, a CiG comedy without a comic but down-tone scene!"

    3. The woodchipper was kind of scarring. It honestly kept me from liking that story.

    4. Confession: The original version of Small Town Charm didn't have the scene with Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash. There was no moral lesson or twist; it just ended with Twilight waking up and realizing she kind of missed the spiders.

      Then one of my editors said the story "lacked conflict." I'm not sure this is what he had in mind, but I got impatient and hit the Publish button before he had a chance to read it again.

    5. That scene with the corpse was one of my favorites. I thought it was just the right level of darkness and exactly what that story needed

      CiG, it's interesting you say Small-town Charm didn't originally have a moral. It felt a little weird (a common issue with moral lessons in fiction), but I also liked how Fluttershy knew the spiders didn't possess those emotions. It certainly added something to the story; gave it a sense of... purpose (that's probably not the right word). I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, honestly

  5. "They're like the steak of of comedy"

    Well, that didn't take very long :/

    Like Inquisitor, I added Glory and had already read Small-town Charm. Like all CiG fics, this one was pretty enjoyable. It was right on the edge of four and five stars for me; the child abuse line alone is tempting me to go back and favorite it

  6. The reaction to Small-town Charm is perhaps one of the funniest things about that story (which is saying something, because I laughed hysterically at some of the dialogue, particularly the Granny Smith quote). I don't get what it is about that thoughtful moral at the end that spurred such a dismayed reaction. Perhaps readers saw too much of themselves in Twilight and reacted to Fluttershy's line accordingly? I just don't get it.

    1. It's not a thoughtful moral--that's the problem.

      When Fluttershy answers that everyone knows that they don't really have feelings and ponies are projecting their own emotions onto them, she's basically saying that everyone Twilight knows is not acting in accordance with reality. From that point of view, Twilight is being honest and being made out to be in the wrong. That's the kind of mental abuse that countless people commit suicide over every year, so yeah, it actually disgusts me, if only mildly because I know it's just a story and not intended that way. It's something I can't fail to take fairly seriously.

    2. Then you had a completely different reading of the moral than I did. I just viewed it as everyone projects their own personalities onto the spiders, and the issue isn't that Twilight is being honest, it's that she's being cynical. I didn't view everyone else as acting against accordance with reality (but I'm also accepting the absurd premise on its own terms), rather, everyone else's love of the spiders is merely an affirmation of their own optimism.

      The real-world analogy to this would be people applying to emotions to pets. As someone who's not very fond of dogs, I've applied evil intentions to dogs ("He's coming at me! He wants to attack me!") where their owners applied good intentions ("He's just excited!"). In the end, who's to say which one of us was accurate? The reactions probably said more about us than about the dog itself.

    3. I kinda hate you right now, Inquisitor. I was in the middle of replying to you when I went into this mental tangent on Absurdism. Now I'm gonna be thinking about European philosophy all night (just like high school)

    4. To me, the moral of the story is more about not dismissing others' beliefs and cultural practices just because they seem absurd at face value. Throughout the story, Twilight is convinced that everyone around her is crazy for liking the spiders and acts all high-and-mighty about her knowledge of invertebrate neuroscience to know that the spiders can't exhibit friendliness. She's the only sane person in a world gone mad! Fluttershy's comments, however, turn this trope on its head. Her words humble Twilight, making her realize that perhaps she's not that much smarter than everyone else, and that she probably should have made more an effort to understand everyone's joy at star spider day rather than to immediately dismiss it as stupid.

      The story reminds me of the South Park episode about Mormons, where Stan meets a Mormon kid and starts to learn about his religion. The show spends a great deal of time demonstrating how absurd the story of Joseph Smith is, leading Stan to lash out at the Mormons for trying to brainwash people with their stupid, made-up religion. Yet at the end of the episode, the Mormon kid confronts Stan and says that yes, he realizes that some of the Mormon beliefs are silly, but he chooses to go along with them anyway because overall their values make him a better person.

    5. M, I'm not trying to imply that your sense of humour or your opinions are wrong or anything, but don't you think it's a little strange for you to look at a silly story about magical spiders that ponies like to project emotions onto like a pet, and for your first thought to be "suicide-inducing mental abuse"?

      I'm just saying, I think you might be a little too serious sometimes. And if there are any two words in the English language that don't go well together, it's "comedy" and "serious".

    6. I completely understand what you're saying, Danny. Let me draw you back to Pascoite's guest post Writer-centric Reviewing, however.

      On speaking of the advantages of time spent editing and reviewing, Pascoite said, "Your writing will benefit from than mix of reading, writing, and critiquing. Unfortunately, it can have the nasty side effect of ruining your ability to read simply for pleasure. I can no longer turn off the voice in my head that points these things out."

      It's not different from philosophy.Once you've learned to look at the whole and not one small piece of any situation, the world changes forever. It's not a reflex action, it's just something that makes sense that didn't before; it's not like I spend time breaking it down, it's just obvious. And, if I may suggest, if you could see how people in the world all around you were being made sad by those kinds of things--that kind of thinking--every day, wouldn't you want to raise awareness of it?

    7. I understand what you're saying too. I'm just... I think the best way to put it is that I'm sad for you that you're unable to turn that part off and just enjoy things sometimes. Especially things that are made to be enjoyed. It's why I'm able to forgive so many flaws in fiction; I DO read for pleasure. When I critique, I do it afterwards as a favour to the author or because I think they need it.

      I'll admit that I feel a sense of kinship with someone when we hate the same things, but I never like it when someone has a bad time with something. That's why I agonise so much about my own mediocrity with writing. And it's why your comments always make me a little sad, I guess. You just seem to have a bad time more often than not.

    8. Heh. You really don't want to know what I thought of Glory, then. Even by my standards it's too depressing for public commentary.

      Though it may surprise some, I do read for pleasure, but I need a story to draw me out of this world and into another to do that. I had a conversation with Horse Voice recently and he made a comment that mostly summed up my reading experiences: "It's not written for you."

      It's never written for me, and there are good reasons for that: reasons I can explain, when an author asks; reasons that seem to make sense and provide useful insight time and time again. That's the lonely part: knowing that it takes a detailed explanation to take even one step into understanding how the world looks to me (in writing or otherwise). Consequently, when a story isn't internally consistent or expects me to make accept something counter-intuitive, it will not work on me. When it does work, such as Cold in Gardez's The proper Care and Feeding of Monsters, it is a genuinely bright spark in an otherwise bleak world.

      "You just seem to have a bad time more often than not."

      More than you know.

    9. This here is exactly what I'm talking about. I can almost physically feel the melancholy radiating through my computer screen.

      I want to understand as well though. What sort of stuff is written for you? What does it take to get Inquisitor M to genuinely like something? You mentioned CiG's story as one of those bright sparks, but I don't see it among your favourites on Fimfiction. And what of your favourites I can see, I can't seem to pin down any connecting element in, at least not without reading all of them.

      Whatever it is that gets you to like a story that much, I gather that it's either something very subtle, or you're like me in that you don't like any genre or element specifically so long as it's good, and these are the ones that meet your criteria for that. Or maybe you just use favourites differently. I don't know.

      I apologise if I make you feel, as you put it, lonely again by asking you to explain this to me. I do want to understand you though, and maybe if I do, the world might be a little less lonely for having another person in it that can see your perspective.

      I like to think that I'd be able to do that, at least.

    10. It is in my favourites, and my 'Top Favourites' box, too.

      As for things written for me? Honestly, I think written for me just means showing me enough respect not to try and make a point, but to show me stuff that makes me think, feel, and doesn't pander to me for a second. I have a hyperactive brain: I generally don't need things explained to me, and if I see you doing it, I'll grow resentful--or at least bored. As Andrew Stanton (Pixar writer) said: make me work for my lunch.

      Every time a story explains something I didn't need to know, it's inviting me to assume that the author doesn't trust me to keep up. Every time narrative assumes something is good or bad, rather than a character, it's like being told I'm not allowed to think for myself. Every time prose (or the story construct) is redundant it's wasting my time, whether it's explaining/quantifying a joke (a cardinal sin if there ever was one), explaining something already shown, or simply using heavy-handed attribution on dialogue that's already clear.

      Don't tell me how great your world is; show me your world and make it great enough that I agree with you. Don't sell me a lesson or moral because you think it's good; show me a character learning it so that I think it's good. And lastly, don't assume that your plot is interesting because it has ponies in it; make your stories interesting because it has interesting characters and situations in it.

      Just yesterday I finally read The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be and it fits these requirements perfectly. Twilight's opinion of 'harmony' is never anything more or less than Twilight's opinion. Discord's motivation is obscured, driving a thoughtful and unforced narrative with no right or wrong answers. The core conflict isn't even described: it's enough to know that it is happening and we know how Twilight feels about it. And after 99% misdirection, the curve ball at the end is one that inspires consideration through scant words and no explanation.

      To me, this is the same reason that The Proper Care and Feeding of Monsters or T.D.'s Variables work for me: they're inviting me into an equal partnership with the author to explore a world. Hell, I've lost count of the number of stories that didn't work for me that I've commented positively on because do anything to make me unwelcome.

      In the end it's about respect—given consciously and skilfully, not assumed.


    11. Well I see nothing wrong with that. Okay, maybe you have higher standards than most, but wanting to be treated with respect as a reader and wanting the story to be told without that interference isn't really unique.

      Though, I can see why that makes it harder for you to find stories you like. Most fiction isn't really written like that, because to have a character learn a lesson but not have the lesson espoused by the narration as well is often considered a bit too subtle for some readers, or at least that's the thought.

      Personally, I do try to keep myself out of my characters and narration, but I've probably broken all of your golden rules at some point or another by worrying about not wanting to leave any reader behind. I guess that'll be that "pandering" you mentioned. I never really thought until now that it might be construed as insulting by those that already get it, but hey, you learn something new every day.

      A lot of your previously harsh-seeming criticisms do make a lot more sense to me now though, and I'll remember what you've told me whenever I critique other authors or write a story of my own in future. In hindsight, I don't think a story like Never-Was really lost anything or turned off any readers for its subtleties, and fiction in general would probably be a lot better if it aspired to be like that.

      Thanks for taking the time to lay that all out for me.

      (And oh God, I can't believe I managed to miss that story in your favourites list when it's only like twelve stories long and I was specifically looking for it. What the hell was wrong with me yesterday?)

    12. Agreed. The self-righteous anti-intellectualism annoyed me, too. "If you look at something not alive and don't pretend it's alive, and if you don't believe in something transparently nonsense... well, that just proves you have no soul and we do". Utter bull, and it's about time we cut it out.

  7. Twilight is Doomed is one of the few stories that I've read that makes me physically angry. I mean, the whole premise of the story is dependent on Twilight forgetting that she's a unicorn. If she remembers, there is no story.

    That is just an asinine idea, and there is now way that I can even put it aside and just roll with it. It's like asking me to believe that Rarity is trapped in the middle of the street because she's forgotten that she can walk. It's not just bad, it's insulting.

    1. Or Fluttershy forgetting she can fly! Oh, wait...

      Sorry, I just saw the opportunity and had to take it. I know there's actually a meaningful difference explaining why Fluttershy can make such an error the others wouldn't. That said, I kinda like the idea of that Rarity fic

    2. Yeah, it would be different if it was like the Fluttershy thing. That's a screen gag that takes a few seconds of time. It's not like the entire episode is based on not remembering how to fly for no reason at all.

      And, uh, go to town on the Rarity story, I guess. It's all yours!

    3. Me? Write? I'm no writer. If anyone else wants to give it a go, though, I'll read it

  8. For me, STC was probably more about the thoughtful moral than it was the comedy. I did get a chuckle out of it, but I don't remember finding it hysterical. That said (and I mentioned this in my comment on Fimfiction too), a comedy that doesn't make me laugh all that much but which does make me think is still a net gain, and it's all the more memorable for it.

  9. Because I'm the guy:

    Who always talkes about how stories remind him of other stories, "Small-Town Charm" is the first Pony fic I've come across that made me think of Franz Kafka.

    I mean, that opening is as close to a Pony version of "Metamorphosis" as I ever want to see, and whole set-up for the story reminds me of Kafka's parable "Leopards in the Temple" quoted here now in its entirety: "Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony."

    I personally love what it says about Ponyville that their reaction to this regular invasion of their town by big spiders is to turn it into a celebration of love and togetherness.


  10. Ah, Twilight Finds a Book of Puns. I remember that from when the Reading Rainboom guys did a reading of it. It was weird, whenever the guy leading the project would run out of fics recommended to him, he'd always go for ones like that. I believe that was one of the many nails in that show's coffin.

    But more importantly, although "ennui" is a word that I swear I will never fully grasp the meaning of...

    Word of the Day: Blase.