You all knew this was coming, right? My review of the seven not-written-by-me stories for Augie's recent contest. It's a nice mix of known talent and budding (or even first-time) authors, too, which is always nice to see in an event. I may not be the one deciding who wins and loses, but click down below the break to see what I thought of the other entries.
Day Dreams and Nightmares, by Warren Hutch
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Following Luna's return from lunar exile, Celestia is haunted by nightmares--and guilt, over their content.
A few thoughts: Although it was deliberate, I found the mood whiplash in the early part of the story a bit off-putting--going from lines like "She thrashed and kicked and struggled, breaking through with a horrible crackling sound that might have been the bones in her wings as much as the hideous growths giving way," to something that's straight-up silly didn't end up working for me. I also wished that there was a bit more setup for Celestia's more emotional reactions, since as-written her role in the story is mostly high-vulnerability, and some of the effectiveness of that choice is lost when it has no in-story counterpoint. However, I really enjoyed the theme of the story, and once I got over the whiplash thing found the middle section struck a good balance of goofiness and sentiment.
Recommendation: This would be a good one for fans of sisterly bonding-style Celestia and Luna stories (I count myself among their number. What can I say, I'm a sucker for that particular brand of sentimentality), especially those who are more amenable to intentionally discordant openings that I proved to be.
Dream a Dream, by Jaestring
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Since her return, Luna has yet to dream. Celestia suggests that returning to her ancient habit of treading the dreams of others may help, and soon Luna finds a pony who needs her (somnolent) ministrations.
A few thoughts: This is a seriously sweet story, all the more so because its drama dwells in the realm of "believably minor but not unimportant," which both compliments and contrasts nicely with Luna's personal issues. However, that contrast does mean that the resolution of Dinky's role in the story feels more than a little over-dramatic. The dialogue tended toward the over-dramatic, too--this didn't bother me too much in the dreamscape (dreams give you a lot of artistic leeway), but when the conversations shifted to real life, it stuck out.
Recommendation: This is one I'd recommend to readers who like their stories on the schmaltzy side, or who like their stories to be firmly grounded in the children's show tone and ethos.
He Kindly Stopped For Me, by Pascoite
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Scootaloo suffers a serious injury and, in a dream-like state between life and death, faces a choice.
A few thoughts: First off: I still haven't decided whether or not I like the moth thing (you'll know it when you get there); it straddles the line between clever and distracting. Be that as it may, this story reminded me of one or two other stories by the same author. Specifically, its greatest strength is the emotional honesty it shows when dealing with a high-tension, emotional situation, and its greatest weakness is the occasionally overwrought or stilted dialogue. There's a wonderful idea concerning what the Nightmare Moon bit of Luna really is, but I think it suffered in this fic from too little fleshing out; we're barely introduced to her as an entity before she makes her dramatic decision, and I felt like a bit more grounding in her pre-decision personality and rationale would have made her choice feel less abrupt and more powerful. That said, it's not like it isn't a powerful choice as-written; one thing this story definitely does is invest its events with purpose.
Recommendation: I think this would appeal most to readers who like sad stories, but are sensitive to false emotions or unempathetic appeals.
Philomeanie, by Skywriter
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A thousand years ago, a battered but unbroken Nightmare Moon faced Celestia's phoenix in a life-or-death game of cat and mouse. A thousand years later, a newly reborn and greatly weakened Luna tries to care for that same bird. In neither case does it go particularly well.
A few thoughts: My word, there is nothing about this story I don't love. The language is wonderful throughout (my word of the day was "horripilated," which I'm now wondering how I ever made it through a Halloween without), the wordplay even better ("Celestia Sol Invicta smiled lambishly, which is a bit like smiling sheepishly except much smaller"), the juxtaposition of the high-drama standoff of yore with the decidedly more low-stakes poopflinging of the present somehow manages to impart the story with the gravitas of the former and the lightheartedness of the latter, without the fatigue and absurdity of either (respectively) discrediting the other. And at the end, a beautiful bit of tonally-appropriate sweetness.
Recommendation: Though those put off by advanced vocabulary or rapid shifts in tone might find this too overwhelming or jarring for them, but I'd recommend this to almost anyone else. It's funny, epic, and touching in turn, and it juggles all those elements beautifully.
Luna's Landing, by thescentedllamaofdoom
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Luna meets a pegasus one night, and tells him a story about her and Discord.
A few thoughts: This is apparently the author's first story, and in many ways, it shows. Editing is a major issue (primarily commas, of which there are perhaps a third as many as there ought to be), the intro drags a bit, and a stronger thematic tie between the story, the story-within-a-story, and the titular landing would have benefited the fic (the first two are connected well enough; the third is fascinating in its own right, but tangentially relevant for something awarded a place of prominence at the beginning and end of the fic). However, there's some wonderfully dry wit in the dialogue, enhanced by the minimal tagging and rapid-fire delivery which marks most of the piece. Granted, this style sometimes falls flat in the less comic segments, but there's a great Abbot and Costello quality to the best moments.
Recommendation: Readers who enjoy dry humor and witty dialogue may want to give this a look, but folks sensitive to poor punctuation and lack of strong ties between story elements will want to look elsewhere.
Thou Goddess, by horizons
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Scansion, poet of Ponyville, finds himself communicating with an unknown being via sleep-poem-writing. Not coincidentally, Luna's just recently returned to Equestria...
A few thoughts: Everyone else showering this story with praise seems to be focused on the many types of poetry which the author works into this story. I, sucker for stupid puns that I am, was won over by "tear a dactyl," and will be using that one henceforth (in the same sentence as "horripilated," if at all possible) and the deliciously droll limerick. Clearly, the finer of the fine arts are wasted on me. Be that as it may, this story is dense but full of cleverness, smart word use, and has a genuinely touching ending to boot.
Recommendation: Considering how much of the story is poetry, readers who have no patience for verse will obviously want to look elsewhere (I'd call you philistines, but... well, puns and limericks for me). Anyone who enjoys poems will definitely want to read this, though, and even those neutral toward the art will want to read this for the intelligent yet sweet story which wraps around them all.
Discord Comics, by Silent Strider
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Discord's come up with a brilliant idea to alleviate his boredom: interactive comics! Now, there's just the matter of putting them into production, which will require more than just a snap of his fingers.
A few thoughts: There's a touch of over-writing here (in the first page, we get "the owner of the house, a draconequus called Discord,"), and such plot as there is meanders about with little direction, but I still enjoyed the general idea here: that the Power Ponies comic everyone got sucked into was Discord's doing, not to mention a more in-depth look at why he was able to do that in the first place.
Recommendation: This would be a good one for readers who favor concept over execution, but anyone put off by lack of focus or poor (or rather, mostly nonexistent) characterizations for the non-Discord characters will probably be less enthralled.
And that's the crowd! For the record, if I were selecting the winner (also for the record: I'm not), I'd pick Philomeanie, followed by Thou Goddess, Dream a Dream, and He Kindly Stopped for Me (I was going to do a top-three, but He Kindly was a really close fourth, and deserves mention on the list without question). But if I was AugieDog, I'd be pretty darn happy with the quality of fic in this competition from top to bottom.