Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 61: Best Young Flyer

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

After spending countless man hours, and at the cost of many bothan lives, I figured out how to make that snazzy link to the guest columnist stuff which you should now see at the top of the page.  Kneel before my computer prowess!  Also, consider this your about-two-weeks-to-go reminder; plenty of time to write a post, even if you haven't started yet!  I've got two confirmed posts being worked on, and a few more "maybe"s, so if you're on the fence and would like to give it a try, I could use a few more.  For now, though, enjoy some Chris-written reviewing goodness.  My thoughts on Bookplayer's Best Young Flyer, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  Dash/Scootaloo shipping, eh?  I have to admit, I'm pretty darn leery of this right off the bat; assurances that Scoots is aged up notwithstanding, the age difference and idolization of the older partner by the younger make this sound pretty unhealthy to me.  The fact that it's also tagged comedy could go either way; I'm guessing it will either make a joke out of how bad an idea this relationship is, or else this will get really creepy, really fast.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Dash proposes some no-strings attached "bonding time" with Scootaloo, it seems like a win-win: it won't be love, it won't be serious, and nobody will get hurt.  Things go about as well as you'd expect from there.

Thoughts after reading:  Let me start by summarizing the first couple of pages: we're introduced to Scootaloo as she comes home from work via extended narration/recap of what she's been up to for the last decade, she plops down on the couch and starts masturbating to her Rainbow Dash poster, she finishes (via skip-ahead, thankfully) and thanks Dash out loud, and then finds out Dash was watching her pleasure herself through the window.

It's a good thing for this review that I make a point to read everything I write about in its entirety, because if I was reading for pleasure I'd have quit right then and there.  Words which came to my mind at this point in the fic were "creepy," "uncomfortable to read," and "good god, is this supposed to be funny?"  I guess I'm a wet blanket about this sort of thing, but really, that first section made for some genuinely unpleasant reading.

I did read the entire story, though, and what I eventually decided is this: it works, given two key conditions.  First, that you don't mind a story in which literally everything every character does is about sex, and second, that you find it amusing to watch other people be miserable.

To start with, the first condition: everything in this story is about sex--or rather, relationships.  The only things characters talk about in this story are relationships, or relationship metaphors (that is, the things themselves are metaphors for aspects of their relationships--the characters aren't literally talking about relationship metaphors).  The only things characters do in this story is alternately try to build or avoid relationships, or act out metaphors for the same.  And since sex is the end game (and often, pre-game) of every extant relationship in the story, the net effect is that everypony seems to be solely, exclusively focused on physical congress.  A fair bit of this can be written off as being within the purview of the story--it's a romantic comedy, after all, so one should expect romance to be the focal point--but the fact that it's seemingly such an all-consuming part of everypony's lives is disconcerting.

To the second condition: while Bookplayer does show a knack for more general humor (Dash's listing, and explanation of, the most nervousness-filled days of her life was a particular highlight, and Sweetie Belle brings some nice humor to her appearances), much of the comedy here is based on laughing at the suffering of others.  While it's not a particularly malicious story in that regard, there was a lot of stuff here which was pretty clearly intended to be funny, but which I found kind of sad instead.  This was also my reaction to The Office (the British version, anyway), and plenty of people find that funny, so I'm not saying that it's poorly written for that.  I'm just saying that, if that kind of humor isn't to your liking, this fic probably won't work well for you.

Past those conditionals, though, there's some nice thought here.  For all my concern going in, the author actually does very directly, explicitly address the problems with a ScootaDash (is that the word?) relationship, such that by the end of the story I wasn't nearly as concerned what this might do to Scoots as I had been at the start.  The writing also flowed pleasantly, though even after the introduction, there remains a tendency throughout the story to use the narration to fill in large chunks of "here's what happened between the show and when this fic is set."  Still, if those are an annoyance, they're a tolerable one considering the quality of the prose.

Star rating:

It's true that this story is built on both a romantic premise and a humorous style which I don't have much appreciation for, so I may be a bit biased here.  But I was ready to quit on this story partway through the first chapter, and while it improved, there are still issues I take with the story as a whole, and I can't imagine that this has much appeal outside of its target demographic.  One of the things I look for in stories that I rate highly is crossover appeal; shipping stories that even non-shippers can enjoy, action/adventures that people who normally prefer more sedate and/or cerebral fare might still get caught up in, and the like.  Unfortunately, this story fails that particular test by any stretch.

Recommendation:  Readers who like awkward/painful/cringe-based sex comedy and who aren't put off by the premise will probably like this.  In fact, they'll probably love it!  But outside of that particular demographic, there's nobody else I'd particularly recommend this to.

Next time:  The Sisters Doo, by Ponky


  1. "...they're a tolerable one considering the quality of the prose."

    Yeah, I think I'll pass on this fic. Kinda glad, too. I've been doing really well getting my queue back down and I'd hate to see the number jump too highly while I'm tackling the longer fics (and now that I've said that, EqD's gonna post a bunch of stuff from authors I like; there'll be at least three new ones from Pascoite alone)

    I used to love the American version of The Office, though I stopped watching a few months after joining this fandom. Saw all of the British version, but just couldn't get into it

    1. Where are you getting your information!? (I actually do have three stories ready to submit, but you can only have one in the queue at a time.)

  2. I really enjoyed this story, partially because I knew exactly what I was getting into. This story can be summed up very simply: "Grab some popcorn and watch with detached amusement as two ponies' lives fall apart as a direct result of their incredibly stupid and selfish decisions. Then watch as it all gets reconstructed at the end once they finally learn their lesson."

    If I were to make a very bizarre comparison, I'd almost call it "Faulty Towers, focused on relationships rather than comedy."

    I can absolutely see why someone wouldn't like this story, but I thought it was great.

    1. The difference is, everyone in Fawlty Towers is a completely over-the-top caricature, so whatever happens to them, I find it hard to feel empathy for it (Blackadder works for me for the same reason). That doesn't work (at least for me) in fanfic featuring fleshed-out sympathetic characters from a medium I like. But then, my take on cringe comedy in general is, if anything, even more distanced than Chris' - I can't even laugh at Tom and Jerry, because I can't help thinking how I would feel in Tom's place, at least most of the time.

  3. I'm pleased the uncomfortable aspects are addressed by the end, and I trust bookplayer to write well, but... I think I'm gonna drop this one, too. c.c

  4. I agree that the start of the story is kinda creepy, though I enjoyed the rest of it a bit more than you did.

  5. Chris. You're doing it again. That thing where you slam a good story because it isn't like a show episode.

    News flash: Few of the stories on fimfiction are like show episodes. Because fan-fiction isn't about writing new show episodes.

    "The only things characters do in this story is alternately try to build or avoid relationships, or act out metaphors for the same."

    A story that's only about relationships! The horrors!

    "And since sex is the end game (and often, pre-game) of every extant relationship in the story, the net effect is that everypony seems to be solely, exclusively focused on physical congress."

    Just the opposite. The story is about attempting to substitute a physical relationship for the emotional relationship that both of them want, and how that fails.

    This is a bad review, and you should feel bad.

    1. Hmm. I'm not sure I agree with this. First of all, I actually didn't have any problem with the Equestrian setting--unlike some other stories I've read, this one's definitely "pony enough" by any meaningful definition of the phrase, it uses canon setting and lore to good effect, and the characters are all recognizable and well-realized versions of the ones in the show ten years down the road (allowing for my point about being relationship obsessed, anyway). The problems I had with this story are, for better or for worse (and I suspect you'd say for worse, to be fair) unrelated to the ponyness of the fic, and are ones that I would take equal issue with in a piece of general fiction.

      As for the story being "only about relationships" bit, I was unclear. A fic that's mostly about relationships should be... well, mostly about relationships. Obviously; it makes no sense to expect the characters to NOT spend a lot of time on relationship issues in a fic about relationship issues. But every character in this story is defined solely in terms of their romantic interests or (in the case of, say, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom) their intersections with and opinions on another character's romantic interests, and every conversation or action in the story is either sexual in nature or is a metaphor for their relationship. When I look at some of the higher-rated shipping stories I've reviewed (and passing over stories like Apotheosis, where shipping isn't the sole focus), they're still able to define their characters as complete beings, rather than solely in terms of their romantic relationships. And again, this is something I also see in general fiction, and for that matter in TV shows and movies: entertainment that is singularly, unremittingly about romance to the exclusion of any other dialogue or events are pretty rare outside of highly-targeted works, for good reason.

      And as for the last point... that would make sense to me if Dash was hooking up with a stranger and fell in love with her, but she and Scoots already have an emotional relationship--even if that wasn't clear enough from the show, the first scene makes this clear (in the creepiest way possible). It's just not an exclusive, romantic relationship (yet). This story is all about them ending up in a sexual relationship that they didn't have before the fic started, and which they had a pauperized version of for most of its duration. I'm not sure how you can say that the sexual aspect of their final relationship wasn't important.

      I'm sorry you thought this was a bad review, and I hope we'll be back to agreeing about fics (or disagreeing about the analysis without disagreeing with the specific points) next time--I'll try my best, and I really do appreciate when you leave some criticism. But in this case, even after reading your comments, I still feel like this story has a very specific audience, and is unlikely to hold much appeal outside of that very specific audience.

    2. Oooh! Drama!

      Now I want to read it.

      I'm a bad man.

    3. Whoa there, Bad Horse. I reeeally hate to say it, but I think you're acting on some bias here.

      Bookplayer is a good friend of yours, right? I feel like I read that somewhere. Don't let that blind you to the fact that her stories simply might not appeal to everyone.

    4. Hmm. I'll admit it's been quite some time since I read this story, but I don't find Chris's comment above jiving with my own impression of it from back then. I also had problems with a couple spots in the story: the masturbation scene which pretty much blindsides you; and the argument between Dash and Scoots after the Gala(?), which to me felt too straightforward when I thought, given the character work that had been done, needed more evasion and subtext to be believable.

      That said, I did enjoy the story, and I didn't particularly see it as a big sex and romance piece. What really stuck with me was the depiction of Scootaloo, especially her insecurities and her choices in the years between show canon and the story. Of course, I know I probably have a higher shipping tolerance than a lot of folks, but like most of Bookplayer's work, I tend to view this as a character story in shipping clothing, rather than a proper shipping story. Sure, it takes two characters and shoves them together romantically, but at least to me, that's generally less interesting than the aged up depiction of Scootaloo it provides.

    5. Oh yeah, I'm biased. But the main points of Chris' critique, about the characters not being defined outside the romance, and seeing romance as being about sex, felt to me like areas in which the story was above average, not below average. It did not sound like the same story to me. (Tho frankly I don't think there's anything wrong with a fan-fiction romance not defining characters outside the romance, because it's fan-fiction. You can't do that with original characters, but you can with fan-fiction--outside of the pony community, being able to do that is almost the only reason people write fan-fiction!)

    6. Chris, you are as always a gentleman.

  6. Definitely not my type of story. But hey, it has it's audience, obviously. Ooh, The Sisters Doo is next. That's a story I've encountered a few times.

    Word of the Day: Bothan.
    Took me a while to find out what that meant. Yeah, I know. Might as well turn in my nerd badge.

    1. Mon Mothma is deeply disappointed in you.

    2. I didn't catch the reference either. Also forgot who Mon Mothma was, though the name sounded familiar. It's been a long time since I've seen Jedi. That was the worst of the trilogy (shame they never made those prequels) anyway, so I wouldn't get too hung up about it

  7. While I certainly do not profess to be above awkward/painful/cringe-based sex comedy, I think I'm also going to skip this one.