Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 36: Sepia Tock: Adventures of the Ponyville Clockmaker

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

Right, back in business.  Click below for my review of CanvasWolfDoll's Sepia Tock: Adventures of the Ponyville Clockmaker.

Impressions before reading:  I read this story as it was being written, and I really enjoyed it; I thought it was a clever deconstruction (more on that in the review proper) and a good story in its own right.  Of course, that could just be the rose-tinted glasses talking.  I'm hoping this is still as clever as I remember it being, but I'm not sure how well its premise has aged.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Sepia Tock is not Doctor Whooves.  Sure, he happens to have the same coloration and cutie mark as Equestria's favorite fictional time-traveler, but he's just a disgruntled horologist who is sick and tired of everyone asking if him about you-know-who.

Thoughts after reading:  "Doctor Whooves" was a big, big thing at one point; it's not like it's vanished into the ether since then, but there was a time not so long ago when a measurable fraction of fanworks were either about the Doctor, or had a (often immersion-breaking and irrelevant) cameo by everyone's favorite ponified Timelord.

So along came this fic, which isn't just not about tan-coated-hourglass-cutiemarked background pony being David Tennant, it's about him not being him.  Doctor Whooves is a fictional in-world entity, and here's an entire story about Sepia Tock being somepony else.  Really, it's a very engaging premise, and one which lends itself to a lot of good comedy--which CanvasWolfDoll exploits early and often.

Unfortunately, the writing isn't up to snuff.  From the very first line ("Sepia Tock was awakened by the sound of his shop erupting into a din of alarms") on, there are lots of misfit descriptions, questionable constructs, and more than a few editing errors (though I didn't find that the latter impeded readability significantly).  Run-on sentences are relatively rare here, but the author does have a tendency to try to ram tangential information into sentences, giving the story a lack of focus at the technical level.

At the concept level, though, there is a clear story present... though probably not the one you'd expect from the opening chapter or two, nor from the description.  I don't want to say to much about it (spoilers, and all that), but I will say that there's a major shift in tone about halfway through.  However, I thought that the story maintained its cohesiveness throughout; although things get rather more serious as the tale progresses, this is fundamentally a story about Sepia Tock dealing with his identity, and while the nature of that struggle may change, the fact of it doesn't.

However, everything outside of that central struggle tends to be a letdown.  The characters' backstories are the worst offenders here; often, they're nothing but dry-as-dust exposition, halting the story dead in its tracks.  That said, when Sepia Tock hits its stride, it has some wonderful moments.  The meta-commentary on fan obsession is brilliantly handled--obvious, but still used in a way which makes sense in-story, and without any winking self-awareness--and both the comic and more serious aspects of Tock's identity woes are interesting in their own right.  But once one gets past those core ideas, there's a lot that doesn't hold up to inspection.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

I liked this story--more than I like most stories that I give two stars to, in fact--but it does have some pretty glaring weaknesses in the writing and secondary development.

Recommendation:  I think this will appeal more to readers who've been in the MLP fandom long enough to remember the days of Doctor Whooves' true ubiquity than to newer fans, though this story holds up as a story even without that fandom hook.  This is one I'd recommend to readers who look first and foremost for an interesting hook and good use of one's core concept in a fanfic.  Those who place more of a premium on construction and development will probably want to avoid this, though.

Next time:  Fallout Equestria: Pink Eyes, by mimezinga


  1. Replies
    1. I don't know what you're talking about. ;)

  2. Yes, that's correct. Who is Doctor Whooves.

  3. I remember when this story was still being written, being very excited about someone writing the tan hourglass pony explicitly as someone other than Doctor Whooves. Nowadays, we have Time Turner to fill that role, but even discounting that, I didn't feel this really made as much of its central conceit as it could have. Either that, or I didn't want to read a story about not-Doctor-Whooves not being Doctor Whooves. I mean, the idea could have stood alone, with the title itself being a giant middle finger to a large portion of the fandom at the time.

    Anyway, Pink Eyes? Of all the "major" FoE sidefics I've heard things about, that's the only one that's sounded like anything I would want to read. Be warned: a good review from you might be enough to make me break my "no FoE sidefics (except for those written by authors I follow)" rule.

  4. Pink Eyes? Not sure what you'll make of that. It's a pretty fun story that did a lot of things right, but I can foresee it losing a lot of marks for the editing. Even as a casual reader that doesn't like to nitpick, I could never stop noticing the editing in that story. It wasn't much of an impediment to my enjoyment because, well, I'm me, but I just get the feeling that anyone who's more critical than I am is really going to feel the pain.

  5. Eh, sounds pretty cool, but it's not really hooking my interest for some reason.

    Word of the Day: Horologist.

  6. i admit, i have problems of getting lost in my research when i'm fact checking the jokes. and if i defend the 'dry-as-dust exposition' of the backstories, i was desperately trying to forcefully carve out a new identity for sepia. (plus, younger writer and so on)

    still, the fact that the thing merits a review years since warms my heart. glad you enjoyed it despite itself.