Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 40

We pre-empt this intro with some late-breaking news: Equestria Daily and Collins English Dictionary can go straight to hell.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled mini-reviews, below the break.

If Memory Serves, by Pascoite

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Rarity has a visitor for tea.

A few thoughts:  Pascoite is, in my opinion, one of the most consistent authors in the fandom; he doesn't just write enjoyable stories, but writes them on a regular basis, with outliers few and far between.  This story was an outlier for me, though... in a positive sense.  This is a story about the tragedy of losing one's memory, and while those kind of stories are difficult to pull off (and moreover, can be downright offensive when the subject isn't treated with some respect), this story deals with the subject tastefully, realistically (many of the small touches, like there being "safe" topics which never seem to upset the person, lend authenticity to the tale), and touchingly.  This one's going on my short list of powerful takes on the subject.

Recommendation:  Although it's tagged a sad story, this fic doesn't ever try to milk its subject; it's simply a story about the kind of terrible thing that can happen to anyone, which (I think) makes it hit all the harder.  I highly recommend this to anyone with a taste for tragedy without ladled-on dramatics.

ACT OF WILL, by PresentPerfect

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A machine appears in the middle of Ponyville one day, and the townsponies soon discover that it can predict--or perhaps, decide--how one will die.

A few thoughts:  I haven't read the novel this is a crossover with, but I don't think that impacted my reading much (although I generally consider the crossover tag fair warning in and of itself, I do appreciate it when crossovers are broadly accessible).  I do wonder, though, if the mix of comedy, tragedy, and existential crisis made more sense in a longer format than in this 3000 word piece.  Each part individually was fine, but swinging between the tragedy of a fatal Everfree incursion and Derpy finding out she'll die of "muffins" was too big a tonal gap for me to bridge.  The ending was clever, but without knowing whether to interpret it in light of (and in the tone of) the first example or the second, "muddled" is probably the best way to describe my feelings towards this fic.

Recommendation:  If you're a fan of "what if?" stories, this one does a good job of establishing, then playing around with, an interesting premise.  I wouldn't suggest it to readers looking for a consistent tenor, though.

If You Came to Conquer, by cleverpun

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In a world where Celestia was overthrown a thousand years ago, Nightmare Moon asks Discord to help her change the way things came about.

A few thoughts:  This story comes with an excellent twist at the end; one which is set up thematically and conceptually by the rest of the story, but which isn't obvious (at least, in all its particulars) up until it's revealed.  Even without that twist, though (or if one were to go in already knowing what it is) this story holds together well as an examination of the price of one's choices.  "Nightmare Moon won" is one of the oldest AU cliches there is, but cleverpun manages to use the idea to good effect here.

Recommendation:  This one definitely earns its dark tag, so readers averse to death (or extinction, as the case may be) in their ponyfic would do well to stay away.  But for fans of terrible decisions, terrible consequences, and well-executed twists, Conquer delivers.

The Council of Friendship, by Drake Clawfang

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight tries to get her friends--now the titular Council, what with the whole "destiny-tree-thrones-something-something-super-friendship-powers" at the end of season four--to follow proper parliamentary procedure.  It goes about as well as you'd expect.

A few thoughts:  Within a few paragraphs, it's obvious what kind of story this is going to be: Twilight gets increasingly frustrated with her friends, the reader laughs at their snark and her exasperation, she finally snaps, final punchline, the end.  What makes this story so enjoyable isn't the surprises in it (there aren't any) but the excellent character voicing.  Clawfang (an aside: I admit that I was a little trepidatious going into this one based on the author's name; "Drake Clawfang" sounds way too much like a traditional terrible OC name, at least to my ears.  Do other readers get judgemental about author names, or is it just me?) demonstrates an excellent ear for character voices, and a real knack for writing dialogue.  Most of this story is just a conversation (well, argument), but it flows smoothly and never gets dull.

Recommendation:  This is definitely worth checking out if you're in the mood for some light humor.


  1. Well, at least you didn't tell me to go to Hell. If it makes you feel any better, Collins isn't even a real dictionary. I mean, it's only thirty-five years old, and do you see Webster's name in there? Also, you have to admit "adorkable" was at least the best candidate ("nomakeupselfie"? "Gaybourhood"? What on God's green Earth is a "fracktavist"?!), even if you don't like it

    Read and liked the first two stories - not as rare as it used to be - and I'll be adding both of the others. I was feeling so happy about finally getting my Read Later list down to thirty, too, even if that number's misleading and I still have several million words of ponyfiction left. If Memory Serves even made my "Favourites" - which I just realized is spelled incorrectly

    Also, you aren't the only one who gets judgmental about names. It doesn't affect how I receive a fic, but it does inform my initial impression of a person, author or not. You, by the way, have the best name, in my totally unbiased opinion ^_^

    1. Dammit, how'd I go and misspell "fracktivist"? I blame the fact that it's stupid and made up. Apparently, it has something to do with hydraulic fracturing, which is way better than what I'd imagined. It's still dumb, though

  2. ACT OF WILL I love dearly - probably for all the reasons you don't. The letter-format lets it hop around tone-wise without ever giving me a sense of whiplash while giving me the bare minimum to understand the implications without ever spelling it out. Y'all know that the kind of thing I dig. It may not have been able to keep a top spot on my favourites list, but I'd still rate it top of it's class - deftly avoiding all the pitfalls that similar stories often make.

    If Memory Serves missed quite badly, for me. That in itself is unusual enough in Pascoite's work, but usually it's because the emotion doesn't quite grab me, whereas this time it was the construction itself that actually put me off. I think I get why, though. It goes to some effort to obscure some details, but what I assume was intended as subtlety felt more like being rail-roaded by cheap tactics and it made the ending excessively obvious. It may be the softest baseball-bat-to-the-face I've ever experienced, but I think being so close to working made it grate even more. I don't know how much of that is because it was initially written as a timed entry, but since I know how much he was happy to change for There Will Never Be A Last Laugh, I'm not feeling particularly inclined to be lenient.

    1. What did you feel was obscured? The only one intended is the obvious one, which I won't get into because of spoilers, but in my mind, even if you know that going in, or are reading it for a second time, it wouldn't lessen the impact.

      But here's why I don't feel it was being obscured: Why would the narrator even mention it? If the story were framed as her telling it to someone, then it would, but it's her personal observations made to nobody in particular. It's established early on that this whole process has become very routine for her. None of it will surprise her, so an "oh, by the way" revelation up front would ring false, as in pointing out a detail that's long since become commonplace to her. As a first-person narrator, she's going to be event-driven, not bring up stuff that's convenient for the reader, but wouldn't reasonably be occupying her mind at the time. That's just the way things are. She brings up exposition as events draw her thoughts to it, and nothing happens to make that particular thing a problem until late in the story.

      Sorry, I'm not seeing it. Gotta disagree with you on this one.

    2. I had no idea you thought that, M. :O Thank you.

    3. PP: Well, I definitely remember gushing about it when it first came out, and it was in my favourites box for a year...

      Pascoite: That's exactly what I felt was obscured - specifically that much of the detail and description I would have expected felt missing. The result was a lack of immersion in the first half because it all felt so impersonal. If the intent was to give it that feeling because of the repetition of X's task, then it doesn't help if it's disconnecting me from the story.

      I consulted with a friend to try and make more sense of it, and he suggested that the light 'puzzle' portion of the story just didn't fit with the severity of the main concept. As an emotional story I need to be immersed in the interactions and not 'up in my head' looking for the catch. The opening half did little beyond reeling off scenery, some inconsequential actions, and holding up a neon sign that read 'beware the bait and switch'.

      "As a first-person narrator, she's going to be event-driven, not bring up stuff that's convenient for the reader..."

      This I can't possibly agree with, I think we're re-treading old ground after our discussion re: 'Wolf. First person narrative like this exists solely for the convenience of the reader. She's not actually narrating it at all, so what information gets put across is specifically that which makes the story function. Journals and such can use this excuse (although it's still the authors problem circumvent this limitation where necessary), but here I don't think it stands up to scrutiny - I don't think it's a valid reason.

      And yes... I do feel horrible for saying so.

    4. Well, we will forever be at odds on this, because I think your standpoint on it is dead wrong. Unless the first-person narrator directly involves the reader herself, she's narrating the story for her own benefit (or an implied listener, if you're a real stickler). In your story, you implied a listener with your introduction. In mine, there's no such implication. A first-person narrator is absolutely event-driven. I don't see where you're coming from at all, to the point I'd say this is an inane statement, especially with what you say about journal formats. In a journal, the narrator has had time to reflect on the events and can see them in a new context. She'll be much more likely to mention details that she knows will become important later. But in a standard narration? In present tense? How can it be anything but event driven? She reacts to the events as they happen, because she has little to no control over them and can't predict what will happen. This is the kind of advice that if I saw someone leave it in a story's comments, I'd add my own comment to caution the author about following it.

      I really have no idea what description and detail you're looking for. The one thing she doesn't say up front would be incredibly voice-breaking and amateurish to blurt out. (Opening credits. "Hey, everyone, Bruce Willis's character is dead. Enjoy the movie, folks!")

      If you're not getting the constant emotional cues from the narrator in the early part of the story, then I don't know what else to say. Nobody else has said anything of the like, and that includes some pretty big names. This also finished with the highest rating ever in a write-off, so the /fic/ crowd isn't having the same problems you are.

  3. Thanks, Chris. I initially balked a bit at RCL's decision to honor "In Bloom" because I had this story in final revisions and thought it might actually be better. But then Present Perfect told me that the focus had fallen away from trying to identify an author's best story, so it didn't really matter.

    One thing I wonder if you caught, since I might have made it too subtle (I don't know that anyone's spotted it): For the purposes of this story, Rarity's guest would have the same talents that most people in the fandom would assume. And yet she talks about having to take odd jobs, which would probably be an even rarer thing in a setting where everyone seems to have a talent that naturally finds its own niche in society. But in her case, she's not willing to move away from Rarity to pursue it.

    This was a hard story to write, but also very rewarding.

  4. Derpy finding out she'll die of "muffins"
    Who says it was Derpy? :V

    All I can say about Machine of Death proper is that it's not actually a novel, but a collection of stories. I wrote AOW in the spirit thereof, so you wouldn't actually find a longer exploration of the idea in the original work, save for individual story word counts.

    The way you describe Pascoite's writing (which I agree with) also makes me think of Obselescence, and I exhort you to read The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be, which I just encountered.

    1. I think it's the best of his works I've read to date!

    2. While one certainly could parse the muffins bit such that Derpy's just reacting to someone else drawing the card, I don't think that holds up in context. Twilight's writing a letter to Celestia explaining the machine, and while the information is semi-tangential regardless, it would at least have some relevance if it were particularly ironic (as it would only, presumably, be if Derpy herself were the muffin-selector). That might suggest that the machine was actively malicious, or at least, would offer some evidence to support that theory. Otherwise, it's a totally irrelevant bit of information that I can't imagine would have stuck with Twilight to begin with (never mind one which she would have felt compelled to include in her letter), unless Derpy was literally the only pony who had a dramatic reaction to someone else's demise. The fact that she's singled out this way pretty much rules out, to me, the "irrelevant aside" interpretation.

    3. ...Wait, the story totally mentions Derpy, doesn't it? I wrote it so long ago. :/ Well, it could still pertain to say, her daughter (if such a character exists), but I'm splitting hairs at this point. Your interpretation is obviously what I intended.

    4. Present, Chris has already read The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be and even reviewed it here. Good story, but not Obby's best (hope he doesn't mind me calling him that). Of the ones I've read - and I really need to read more of his work, because goddamn is he good - I'd have to nominate More Than You Know for that honor

    5. orly :O

      I actually like it more than MTYK. The fridge horror is far less mentally scarring for me. :B

    6. Yeah, MTYK didn't do much for me. It relies on the reasoning being sound and it's an awfully long way from being watertight in that department. I mean, it still makes for a good story, but you have to buy the logic for the horror to work, I think.

      Never Was, however, doesn't really require any particular interpretation on the part of the reader - it's accessible to anyone and everyone on the same level and make you're own mind up without any sense of how you're 'supposed' to see it. I like that an awful lot. I always have; hence it is in my favourites box.

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  6. I really like ACT OF WILL, but then, I tend to like the Machine of Death stories quite a bit. The mood whiplash and the way death tends to be treated are some of my favorite things about it, and the fic really captures all that makes it work, while applying it well to Equestria as a whole.