Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 34

As you may have noticed, no April Fools stuff from me.  To be honest, I've never quite gotten on board with that particular "holiday:" it's not that I can't take a joke, but delivering one on a day when everyone knows it's coming seems kind of self-defeating to me.  I prefer to save my pranks for when they're least (or at least, less) expected.

Hope all of you who were part of the joking yesterday enjoyed yourselves, though!  Don't let me be a wet blanket; you guys do your thing, and enjoy it.  But now that your 24 hours of "lol jk" are up (I'm assuming that some of the links I'm using will be restored to their un-fooled state around about the time this goes up; if you click the first story and see MidnightShadow's King of Diamonds, give it a day and try again), recover with a round of mini-reviews, below the break.

Three Nights, by Bradel

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Three different Hearth's Warming Eves, and three different times when Cadance finds family.

A few thoughts:  After I finished reading this, I was planning to suggest to the other Royal Canterlot Library guys that we feature it... but when I went to write up the proposal, I realized the story was written by Bradel, who's part of the RCL, and ineligible for featuring.  Well, pooh.

This is exactly the kind of story I love.  It's thoughtful, it gives plenty of weight to the little moments on which our lives are built without wallowing in minutia, it's emotional without piling on dramatic excesses (there's a wonderful scene toward the end where Cadance drives this home, observing how we build narratives in our head even when the facts don't always support them in a poignant, in-character way), and it's uplifting while never resorting to unearned glurge.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for an example of how to do "heartwarming" right should absolutely read this story.

The Great Equestrian Staring Contest, by PegasusMesa

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Applejack and Rainbow Dash have a staring contest, in Equestria.  It's great.

A few thoughts:  There are some editing problems here, notably homophone confusion ("that poor mare has another think coming!"), but the real problem here is that this story is one I've read a dozen times or more.  Unless you're new to ponyfiction, so have you: pony A and B have a contest with pony C as judge, pony D and E try to assist pony A and B, respectively, in various comical ways, and the contest resolves on a twist involving pony F (you probably know what the twist is, but I'll leave it unsaid).  This such a heavily-used formula that I had trouble getting very invested in the story, and unfortunately, this very short fic doesn't have anything other than its central premise to recommend itself.

Recommendation:  Really, this wouldn't be a terrible story for a fanfic neophyte-- one who hasn't seen tons of variants on this theme.  For them, this might be a shallow read, but one entertaining enough to justify its minuscule reading time.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who nodded their head in recognition at the formula above, though.

A Gift Fit For A Princess, by Bad_Seed_72

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Shining Armor's been so caught up in trying to build a respectable guard for the Crystal Empire that he's completely forgotten about his and Cadence's anniversary.  So, he recruits two of his most promising recruits (heh) to aid him in a last-minute shopping spree.

A few thoughts:  Speaking of predictable stories: here's a sitcom in story form!  As with the previous story, there's not a lot here that the reader can't see coming a mile away, straight through to the disappointing-in-its-dedication-to-formula ending.  There were a few situational gags worth encountering here, though; I did like how comically unfriendly to "normal" ponies the products of the crystal empire apparently are, and if that raises a whole host of questions, then it's also fair to say that they're not really within the purview of a short comic story like this to try to answer.

Recommendation:  As with the previous story, anyone uninterested in hacking through a well-worn template need not bother.  For fans of situational comedies, though, this will probably deliver the style and quality of comedy you expect.

Numbers, by Pastel Pony

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Filthy Rich has a parent-teacher conference with Cheerilee to discuss Diamond Tiara's behavior at school.

A few thoughts:  When I was reading this story, it really put me off that Cheerilee is apparently the most incompetent, emotionally unstable teacher in the world.  After thinking about what little we've seen of her in the show... well, I'll admit there's little enough there to allow a lot of flexibility when it comes to educational competence.  Still, I can't imagine that she's be naive enough to blithely assume that a note she sends home and gets no response to was successfully delivered, unbalanced enough to burst into tears in front of a parent because his child's a step away from expulsion, or emotionally incompetent enough to think that telling a parent he needs to "fix" his child is remotely acceptable.

Past all that, Filthy's emotional distance comes across nicely, but he lacks any characterization here aside from a distant, almost impersonal love for his daughter.  For a first-person protagonist, he gets very little development, remaining almost as much a cipher at the end of the fic as he was at the beginning.  Since the story ostensibly focuses on his dawning realization and (presumably) the emotional fallout therefrom, the result is a "sad" story which lacks almost any punch.

Recommendation:  It's possible I'm just over-sensitive to questionable portrayals of teachers; that notwithstanding, I'd only recommend this to fans of mood pieces who don't mind a technically well-written but emotionally jejune example of the genre.


  1. Wait, wasn't that staring contest one on EqD last month? I thought the pre-readers were supposed to have upped their standards. So much for all those "elitism" claims

    Looks like I'm only adding one fic this time 'round

    Predicted Word of the Day: "jejune", though I believe Chris has used that one before

  2. I don't have any particular investment in teaching as a profession, and even I thought Cheerilee's depiction in "Numbers" was way off, the crying thing in particular. This is behaviour I'd find a little off-putting even in an intimate, emotional scene, much less an ostensibly professional one-on-one.

  3. Yes, the staring contest story went up on EqD. It was one of those "not amazing, but good enough" instances. And that exact "another thing coming" typo was pointed out to the author...

  4. "that poor mare has another think coming!"

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is actually correct. The line goes, "If that's what you think, then you've got another think coming!" Through some linguistic process whose name I forget, the k becomes a g because it's easier to pronounce before another k sound. (Actually, it's more that "nk" is actually pronounced "ngk", so you just lose the k when you pronounce the c because we don't have doubled consonants in English.)

    1. When someone uses that phrase, my first assumption is not that they're made a deliberate choice to use an archaic form of the expression which hasn't been standard outside of dialectical dialogue for almost half a century (note that the line is Dash's, so I don't think that applies)--it's that they mis-typed or mis-heard "thing."

      Still, I'll concede that it is, technically, correct. My bad!

    2. At this point, it's silly to point to someone saying "thing" and call it wrong, just because that's how it's parsed nowadays, but at the same time, the same is true for "think"! :B

  5. 1.) I remember reading the first two chapters and losing interest. But, perhaps upon your recommendation, I should continue.

    2.) Read it some time ago. Totally agreed.

    Holy crud! So many good choices for a Word of the Day! But I'mma satisfy Oats prediction.

    Wordof the Day: Jejune.

  6. No good. I tried to get into Three Night three times, now, and I give up. Almost halfway through chapter three and there's no definable story to it yet, and the writing isn't particularly good. I think this is probably how the EqD pre-readers feel about semicolons; I love an abundance of well-used punctuation, but this is just making me feel like it's trying to hard--making the intuitive unintuitive. Even some of sentence structures were off.

    Maybe another round of editing would do it, but still think I'd be bored.

    1. Once I got the thing done, I wound up feeling like the story was definitely weak on having a clear conflict. I'd be curious for more input on in, though, since it sounds like it really didn't hit your tastes. Comments on stories themselves always wind up being overwhelmingly positive, which makes it harder to figure out what it is I'm not doing all that well.