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If any of you are fans of Bob from Bottles' stories, you might want to go check his FiMFic page--he's re-uploaded most of his writing. Glad to see that back; I hate to see things disappear from the internet, even if it's only kinda-sorta disappearing, and he's got some gems to boot.
But we're not here to talk about his old stories! We're here to talk about one of Hoopy McGee's old stories. Specifically, we're here to talk about Project: Sunflower, the talking-about-which you can find below the break.
Impressions before reading: A story about a human getting turned into a pony and visiting Ponyville looks pretty darned ominous to me; that is not a premise I associate with quality. Then again, neither is "Princess Celestia shows up on a brony's doorstep to conduct an interview," yet the same author's Interview With a Princess proved to be, if not genre-defying (that is, I wouldn't recommend it to someone with an aversion to humans in their ponyfic), far more enjoyable than I expected.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: In the year 2038, Earth is on the verge of total destruction, and a desperate humanity is in search of a world to inhabit. A top-secret project researching alternate universes manages to locate Equestria, and, unable to find any other volunteers, recruits intern Erin Olson to be ponified and sent as an advance scout to determine if Equestria is suitable for human habitation.
Thoughts after reading: There were lots of things I enjoyed about this fic. Mr. McGee does a nice job of writing all the main six ponies; even Pinkie Pie comes across as hyper and goofy, rather than annoying and unpleasant, and that can be difficult to pull off. The Black Tide, the thing destroying Earth, is appropriately apocalyptic and futuristic. And I'm all for a story that makes fun of Minnesota social graces. But on the whole, this fic left me cold.
Part of the reason is that I never really bought into the central conceit: the particular technologies needed to set this story in motion aren't so much "far-fetched" as they are "suspiciously convenient," and when that's paired with the already improbable series of decisions that lead to a single ill-prepared intern being humanity's sole representative on this fact-finding mission, it serves as a constant reminder throughout the story that this is, well, just a story; it's difficult to suspend disbelief when the entire premise feels transparently like an excuse to get Erin into a pony body and over to Equestria. The tendency of characters to narrate things that everyone in the room already knows for the sake of the reader (at least, in the early going; this drops off pretty fast) only exacerbated that feeling.
(And, as an aside: this story obviously takes place on our Earth in the near future, yet it appears to be some sort of alternate Earth where My Little Pony (not just G4) never existed--but all other pop-culture touchstones remained intact. I personally found that really odd and occasionally distracting, but I suspect that's more a personal than a general reaction.)
Beyond that, characterization was an issue. While the main six were good, as were the ponies generally (the villain on the pony side is a bit disappointing in that his motivations during several key points remain opaque, but even he's generally competently conceived), the humans tended to be ridiculous caricatures, generally defined by a single salient characteristic and prone to improbably spastic actions (at one point, the Chair of the Committee of Human Survival--whose job is presumably pretty PR-heavy--answers a reporter's question at a press conference by yelling "What the hell are you talking about? Are you insane? Where in the world did you get that idea?" His behavior, if not his exact wording and hot buttons, is pretty representative of the social abilities of every person, including the ambassadorial staff, in this fic). When the ponies in one's fic are more realistic than the actual people, that says something.
On a more positive note, the writing here is pretty good. There is an occasional overabundance of adjectives, and the narration does rarely wander into direct addresses to the reader (where it normally maintains a more neutral style), but neither of these are frequent or deal-breaking issues. On the whole, the story is well-constructed at a word level, easy to read and with an easy, natural cadence, which is hardly nothing.
But what really bothered me about this story was the lack of sustained conflict. Of course, there's the Black Tide looming over everything for most of the tale, and an Equestrian villain gets introduced into the mix as well, but few and far between are the conflicts or difficulties which aren't resolved within a few hundred words of being introduced--often, instantly. The result is a story with very little impetus; once Erin gets to Ponyville, there's relatively little to drive the story forward from scene to scene. That meant that, at moments of low drama, this story quickly became boring, and that's not a word anyone wants associated with their work.
While I didn't hate this story--indeed, most of the time I didn't even begrudge it the time it took me to read--I found large parts of it dull, and the rest unimmersive.
Recommendation: Erin makes a pretty good everyman (everywoman (everypony)), despite actually having a decent degree of characterization--at least, in contrast to the rest of the humans in this story. Readers with a specific interest in a story about being ponified and going to Equestria may want to give this a try, but those looking for something which is engaging on its own merits will probably be unimpressed.
Next time: In Celestia We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Georg