Friday, May 23, 2014

6-Star Reviews Part 151: Icarus

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

Based on the number of times I've mistyped it in this review, I apparently feel really strongly that "Icharus" is the superior spelling of that title.  Why my fingers keep trying to drop an H in there, I cannot say.  Regardless, click down below the break to check my (hopefully correctly-spelled) review of Tamar's Icarus.

Impressions before reading:  Our last 6-star review this week has a bit of an odd backstory; it was put up on EqD while still incomplete, earned 6-star status, and was finished.  Then, the author pulled the story for a rewrite, and the EqD post was taken down.  Eventually, Tamar gave up the rewriting and republished the story... but it never made it back onto Equestria Daily (thanks to DPV111 for the history/summary).  I don't really know what to think of all that re. fic quality--presumably it's not a great sign if the author feels it needed editing desperately enough to unpublish it--but the description sounds interesting, at least.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When a mysterious fog rolls into Ponyville, and seems to be spreading all through Equestria, Rainbow Dash goes to Cloudsdale to find out what's wrong.  When she gets there, she meets with the mayor, and learns that there's more to the story of Equestria's founding than she'd ever known.

Thoughts after reading:  I've always liked fics with significant worldbuilding elements--at least, when those elements are interesting in and of themselves--so I was a little disappointed that the author swept the vast majority of the worldbuilding in this fic under the rug.  A lot of the most interesting questions raised here are brushed aside with a "well, someone else is looking into it" at the end, when I'd have been much more interested in reading about, say, exactly how much veracity the Mayor's version of Equestria's founding had than about the nominal focus of the work.

However, I don't hold it against stories which do this, so long as the worldbuilding is clearly a secondary element.  If an extended history is clearly outside the purview of one's tale, then leaving it out might mildly disappoint someone like me, but putting it in will probably bore many, many more readers, and dilute the message you're trying to share to boot.

However, in this particular case, it's not clear that the worldbuilding isn't the main attraction.  There's some light shipping (which brings an unfortunate case of "love is just friendship, but more" to the story's resolution), but this doesn't seem to be the focus of the fic.  There's some short action setpieces, but again, these are kept fairly short and contained.  There's some memory manipulation stuff, and this probably has the strongest claim to being the fic's "point," but it's given a fairly shallow treatment, and is ultimately interesting only as an event contrivance (that is to say, as a way to advance the plot).  So I keep coming back to the fact that the many interesting cultural and historical questions which this fic begs are pointedly left completely unanswered, a decision which I'm left feeling not only wasn't necessary, but is actually detrimental to the story overall.

To be fair, though, the story does at least bring up enough of those hints to make me miss the lack of a fuller explanation.  Tamar posits quite a bit about pegasus culture and attitudes which, though ill-explored, does offer some nice dressing for what ends up being a fairly straightforward action story.

The lack of explanation is a problem which extends to the plot and characters, but here again, there was usually at least enough to try to make sense of what was going on.  For example, the willingness of the other pegasi to go along with Icarus's plan is never explained, but there are certainly hints of a possible explanation.  Again, however, I find myself wondering what was gained by leaving out these details.

As far as the plot itself goes, "straightforward" is clearly the rule of the day.  Although, as I mentioned earlier, there is some mild playing around with the idea of mind-manipulation, the reader is never left in any suspense.  Moreover, characters move the plot forward with an almost mechanical efficiency.  To the author's credit, these actions don't really drag anyone out of character, but this fic clearly holds to a narrow scope.

Star rating:

There's a reasonably solid action/adventure story here, complete with mild elements of intrigue and romance.  If one squints at it right, it even holds together reasonably well.  But that requires a lot of effort on the reader's part, to bridge the gaps of characterization, event, and history which dot the fic.

Recommendation:  If you don't mind filling in a lot of details for yourself and are looking for a by-the-book dramatic tale, Icarus is a good bet.  But for readers looking for something more surprising or with more depth, this will probably fail to tickle that fancy.

Next time:  We're back to the Fandom Classics, and the next one up is...

Wonderbolt, by WovenWord


  1. I started this one, but that introduction to shipping was just such a massive red flag that I just ran.

  2. I read this when it was first posted. It was okay, but average in just about every way.

    I think it's telling that the history behind this fic is far more interesting than the fic itself.

  3. Ichorus crafted a pair of wings out of blood, then went vampire hunting.

    Yay, one less story on my RIL! :D

  4. I suffer from the same problem, Chris, but on a much more common and mundane word. Probably because my hands are trying to type "what," about half the time, I end up sticking an "a" in "why." It is my shame to bear.

  5. When this initially went up, the author was asking for reviews on Ponychan. I gave my first and only public review on a story (which had gained six star status already), and shortly afterwards, the author took the story down. I don't know how related the two are, but I decided to maybe keep my reviewing to friends making specific requests, heh.

  6. Prediction for "Wonderbolt": 2/5 because Chris doesn't like shipping.

    1. You make it sound as though Chris is biased against shipping. I feel he's been pretty fair; he just doesn't give fics a free pass for featuring his OTP

    2. I agree: Chris has been more than fair regarding shipping.

      I think it's fair to assert that shipping has a bad name because so much shipping is lower quality than it's popularity would othewise imply: so many of the standard tropes are genuinely writing faux pas, so it always looks bad when they are judged under set standards rather than 'it's just fanfiction' standards.

      Thus, in a cross-section of 'fandom classics', I'd say that it's reasonable that an above average number of ships get panned.

      I tend to agree that it will likely get 2/5 just for being a bit to procedural and 'tell-y' regarding the plot's delivery. For a vignette, it lacks impact or implication, slipping a little too close to wish-fulfilment to score well.


    3. I should clarify: the crux of "Wonderbolt" is in the shipping. The whole darn thing is about Twilight's reciprocation of Rainbow's feelings. And if the idea of two colorful horses being in love with no back story doesn't appeal to you, then I don't think you'll be able to appreciate the story in full. The rest of it — the worldbuilding, the tough choices — is afforded significance by the shipping. I think this fic, which would otherwise get a 3 or a 4, will get a 2 because shipping removes Chris from the fic, the same way spelling or grammar errors prevent me from fully enjoying a fic. (The comparison is hardly perfect; I'm trying to emphasize that it's not a bad reason to lower a rating, but it is a reason.)