Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 32

Among my non-pony hobbies is assisting with the high-school chess program.  Now, I'm not terribly good at chess, so mostly what I do is help anyone who's still learning the basics and/or keep the rowdiness at practices to a minimum (and enforce etiquette when we're preparing for tournaments--you play like you practice, and all that) as needed.  But recently, when I've also been going to the tournaments to volunteer, and the director's got it in his head that he can use me as a gap-filler if we have an odd number of junior varsity players show up.  So, for the last month or so, I've continuously found myself playing kids from other schools whose ratings are probably at least a couple hundred points higher than mine, hoping desperately that I don't do something stupid enough to make everyone wonder why I'm listed as an "assistant coach."

Improbably enough, I've yet to lose one of those games.  But I'm definitely in over my head, here.  Anyway, short-form reviews of my casual pony reading, compiled below the break.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Fluttershy is acting very unlike what Rarity expects, and Rarity intends to find out why she's so chipper and assertive all of a sudden.

A few thoughts:  It's tough to be sure exactly what to say of this story.  As anyone who's read a couple of the author's stories knows to expect, Mr. M keeps the focus here tightly on his characters' emotional reactions and impetuses, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.  I felt that he nailed that side of the story; there are a lot of times throughout the fic when characters are acting subtly (or sometimes, not-so-subtly) off, but these never fail to serve the larger purpose of the story.  However, understanding that story requires a lot of effort on the reader's part, filling in the barely-dropped hints and unstated but implied assumptions which dot this work.  Readers with a taste for implication-heavy literature will definitely be impressed, but make no mistake; this isn't light reading.

Recommendation:  This is a fic for those who like to be challenged by their reading; anyone looking for such will find here a deceptively straightforward story which, as a glance at the comments will quickly show, can quickly lead the unwary to confusion.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, by InquisitorM

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A shaman comes to a frontier town, seeking a particular story which had its origin there--and about which he knows more than a little, himself.

A few thoughts:  Like Stallion, this story is heavy on subtle emotional cues, but it's a much less demanding piece in terms of reader attentiveness, which I found more in line with my personal tastes.  At its core, this is a story about the power of words--to craft a narrative, to define us and the world around us, and to evoke or deny reality--presented in a pleasingly high-stakes but low on the "epic" scale way.  There's an air of tension all the way through this fic, which nicely fits with the claustrophobic setting and characters' intentions to create a perfectly appropriate mood.

Recommendation:  This is a good one for anyone who's a fan of folktale deconstructions, especially those who like a little complexity to their clear-on-the-surface reading.

Bitter Harvest, by Esle Ynopemos

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Golden Harvest is definitely straight.  She's got a coltfriend and everything... she does wish Applejack would stop being so distracting, though.

A few thoughts:  With two deeply psychological stories commented on, how about we turn our attention to an irreverent comedy?  Bitter Harvest does get Carrot Top's name wrong (add that to the list of things Chris can be surprisingly inflexible about, I guess), but Ynopemos shows a delightful knack for stream-of-consciousness-style representations of character thoughts and amusing tangential asides, both of which make this story feel remarkably short despite weighing in at just a bit south of 20k words.  There are some missteps (Pinkie's (thankfully minor) role in the story is a particular disappointment), but the hits far outnumber the misses.  And, although this is definitely a comedy, it was nice that Carrot Top's identity-turmoil was more than just an excuse for pony snogging (and was, by the standards of shipping stories, remarkably nuanced).  It's not like there's a lot of depth here, but what there is is nice.

Recommendation:  Fans of dry comedy, particularly of the observational or digressive variety, will definitely want to check this out.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Three vignettes of times Spike didn't want to go to sleep.

A few thoughts:  Although I didn't particularly dislike this story, it seemed to me there was less to it than met the eye.  What was lacking for me as a strong connection between the three bedtimes shown beyond the fact that, well, Spike didn't want to go to sleep.  The first two were well-written enough though, even lacking that; it was the third one where I felt the issue here.  Without delving into spoilers, the lack of a lesson, or even a thematic or moral connection between it and the previous two made it hard for me to feel emotionally invested in it.

Recommendation:  Readers with a fondness for "scenes from a life" stories will find this to be a well-constructed one, but those looking for much depth beyond that will probably find it lacking.


  1. Always happy to read Inquisitor's work, though the first was already in my queue (and probably would've been read already were it not for Augie's contest). Thought about adding Bitter Harvest when I saw it on EqD, but decided my queue was large enough as it was (didn't stop me from adding one of Pascoite's fics, though). Think I'll pass on that last one, but congrats on the EqD feature, Messenger!

    I seriously need to stop adding fics; this is getting ridiculous

    1. My fics? Man, you are desperate.

      Of these, I've only read The Boy Who Cried Wolf, because I had the pleasure of helping out with the editing. (Really, that's the only way to get me to read a story these days: ask me to review it.)

    2. That's just it, though, I'm not desperate. I have more than enough ponyfics for some time. Too many, if you ask me

      Also, shut your mouth; you know you're a good writer. Actually - and I could be wrong about this - I think I've read more of your fics than any other author's. Weird, considering I wasn't actively seeking them out

    3. If my experience is anything to go by, Pascoite's stories tend to worm their way into reading lists because they never disappoint. Which is not to say they're always amazing, but certainly since I've been paying attention, they are always good--even when they are not by bag, generally.

      I guess in that sense we probably operate on different core principles: Pascoite seems to shoot for optimum clarity in all cases--leading to the above statement--whereas I don't feel like I'm pushing hard enough if I don't lose or confuse a few readers along the way.

      Actually it reminds me of one of Neil Gaiman's rules or writing:

      8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

      Both confidence and experience go a long way, and Pascoite clearly has plenty of both. And you can't argue with Neil Gaiman--he's made more money from it that you!

    4. #5's pretty interesting; reminds me of something Dan Povenmire and Steve Marsh said regarding their development of Phineas and Ferb - when pitching the show, they'd listen to executives' notes, but wouldn't change the show in exactly the way suggested. A suit might recognize the need for some change, but their ideas for how exactly to do that were often crap (like that "cool" rapping dog on The Simpsons), so Dan and Steve would come up with alternative solutions during the meeting. "That's good, but what if we..." These worked better with the original vision and satisfied the people they were pitching to

    5. I guess it wasn't on EqD before. It's there now. Maybe I saw it on FIMFic

  2. Rowdiness? At a chess club? That's... well, it's different than the chess club I was a part of.

    Eitherhoo, yay! You read Bitter Harvest! I loved how that story played with my expectations and kept me audibly laughing all the way though. Well, except for at one point where I thought Carrot Harvest's Denial might be crossing the line from funny to.. tragic? I think that's the word I'm looking for. Either way, that didn't last long so yay!

    No Word of the Day today it seems. So I'll just use an amusing word I learned from somewhere else recently.

    Word of the Day: Brobdingnagian.

    1. What a chess club is and what it should be do not always neatly intersect. Who knew that sticking a bunch of high schoolers in a competitive setting might result in so much trash talking?

      Also, since I forgot to say it when you recommended the story: thanks for the recommendation!