Monday, July 21, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 45: Most Dangerous Game Edition

You all knew this was coming, right?  Obselescence is running a contest--basically, "write a great fic that uses terribly cliche ideas (alicorn OC/2nd person/OC x main six shipping/etc.) but it still amazing."  That contest is now in the public voting round, the judges having narrowed it down to five finalists.  Click below for my reviews of those five stories!

Oh, and a couple of details before we begin: first, although use of the prompt(s) was one of the criteria for judging the stories, I'll be reviewing these just like I would any fanfic.  The point of the contest was to write a genuinely good story under the restrictions/prompts provided, not just one to use those restrictions/prompts well.  And in any case, the judges already weeded out any stories that didn't use one or more of the prompts effectively.  Second, I'll be putting these in order of how I voted starting with my fifth favorite (which sounds much nicer than "the one I ranked dead last," don't you think?), so that those of you who've already voted can see what I picked and decide how wrong you think I am.  If you want to vote in the contest and are afraid my opinions will overly influence you, story information and the voting form are here--go for it, and come back when you're ready!  Okay, now on to the reviews:

5.  To Love the Sun, by Magello

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  You came to Equestria and fell in love with Celestia, but she would have you prove your love... and the price of failure is high.

A few thoughts:  At first, I thought the second-person narration was indicative of a self-directed rant or diary (internal or literal), but the narrator starts directly addressing "you" after a while, imparting information that "you" couldn't know ("[While you slept] they moved you, you know"), which leaves me confused as to why this is in second person or what that's supposed to convey.  Also, "you" are a human, for no obvious reason--being human doesn't seem to add anything to the story compared to being a pony or other Equestrian native, and brings up a whole host of questions which remain unanswered.  While it's true that those answers are mostly outside of the purview of this fic, my rule of thumb is that if something introduces unexplained issues into one's fic without providing any benefit, that thing should be cut.

I could still have gotten into this fic, I think--there's an engrossing, dark neediness here which kept me interested--but I didn't really buy the characters portrayed, either.  "You" I didn't really understand the point of, as mentioned, but I certainly didn't feel much connection with him.  And while Luna's character had an interesting twist to her, Celestia was so utterly divorced from her canon personality, attitude, and even dialogue that I just couldn't buy it.  Oh, and I'll mention up here that this one could use another editing sweep; it's not bad in that regard, but the semi-regular punctuation and construction errors stand out compared to the other four stories.

Recommendation:  Although it's not an awful story (the awful ones have all been weeded out at this point--I haven't read the other sixty or so entries, but I have no doubt there were a few awful ones), I'd only recommend this to people planning to read all the entries (duh), and to those who are more interested in a story that creates a dark mood than in things like characterization or construction.

4.  Far from the Tree, by Aquaman

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Applejack knows that Applebloom's not a little filly anymore, and that she hasn't been for years--knows it academically, anyway.  But it takes a chance discovery (and a long conversation) for her to begin to come to grips with it.

A few thoughts:  When I went to rate these five stories, I found I didn't have much trouble settling on my top and bottom choices... but the two, three, and four spots were all pretty close.  So, for the record, the differences in my overall opinion of the stories from here to #2 is marginal at best.

That said, this one did tend to drag in places.  Applejack's emotions are front and center here, as they should be, but at times the narrative gets a bit too wrapped up in detailing her thoughts/gestures at the expense of forward momentum.  But despite that, this is still a great example of how to write young love.  It's awkward and fumbling, but fervent, and while it doesn't make a lot of jokes at the characters' expenses (or worse, make jokes out of the characters), the realistic stakes and strong dialogue keep this from becoming over-dramatic.

Recommendation:  This is a good one for shippers looking for a well-executed example of the style, and for general readers who like serious but not excessive--and ultimately, optimistic--family drama.

3.  For Whom We are Hungry, by Cold in Gardez

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Chrysalis and her army were defeated, you were hurled away--to Ponyville.  You live there now, skulking about and surviving on scavenged scraps as best you can, alone and unloved.

A few thoughts:  Here again, I'm not really feeling the second-person narration.  I can't think of anything it adds that first person wouldn't do as well or better; several times I was pulled out of the story when "I" thought something that... well, that I wasn't thinking.

But in large part, I was able to ignore the perspective, which I suppose is a testament to Gardez's writing ability.  Moreover, there's a massive amount of world construction in this fic.  We learn some about the changelings, but the expansion on the myriad commodities which can be harvested from the Everfree is the real pull here.  These are invariably interesting in their own right, good fits for an Equestrian setting, and well-considered in their placement.  Pair that with a sweet but not silly odd couple story base, and this made for enjoyable reading.

Recommendation:  Definitely one to read if you're a changeling fan (and there must be a lot, or I wouldn't keep getting changeling fics recommended to me!  Ah, who am I kidding, I like a good changeling fic too), this would also be a good choice for fans of biological/ecological worldbuilding, and it's plenty accessible despite clearly having a fair amount of knowledge behind it.

2.  The Young Filly and the Sea, by Georg

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Young Twilight Sparkle is stuck at the beach... and, thanks to her foalsitter, doesn't even have a book to read.  But a chance encounter with a young colt quickly pulls her out of her funk, and turns her mind to magic.

Thoughts after reading:  My big gripe with this is that the very end of the second chapter feels to cheap and easy--while the item was set up earlier in the story, the fact that the first chapter had so little romance to it made things feel way too abrupt for my taste.  Another thousand words might have been enough to sell me, or ending a few sentences earlier and leaving the "desire" stuff off-screen could also have worked.

But then, I'm a grump about romantic destinies, and I loved the rest of this story.  The first chapter (the meat of the fic) exaggerates Twilight's studiousness just enough for comedy without overly distorting her character, and the sometimes-mock-seriousness, sometimes-actual-seriousness of children comes through perfectly here.  And, if I didn't completely buy the romance, then the ending was nevertheless very sweet.

Recommendation:  I'd recommend this to folks who enjoy slice-of-child-life (which ought to be a tag, now that I think of it; it's not at all the same as slice-of-adult-life, really), though those who are turned off by main six shipping aren't likely to find anything here so sublime that it changes their minds.

1.  In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep, by Lucky Dreams

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  There once was a young girl named Mia, who wanted to run with the wild horses.  One night, she got her wish.

A few thoughts:  I love well-written children's stories.  They're surprisingly rare, but every now and then you find one which captures the whimsy of youth without speaking down to the reader or pandering, and which has a warm, clear moral which doesn't grate or feel tacked-on, but which is a natural outgrowth of what you've read, and manages to be important--to you, the reader, personally--even if you know it already.  Even if it's one you've heard a hundred times, even if it's a moral you don't particularly need reminding of yourself, it's that one that sticks.

This is a well-written children's story, and I absolutely loved it.

Recommendation:  I can't adequately describe how big the gap was between what I expected upon realizing I was going to be reading a story about a little girl magically going to Equestria, and what I actually read.  I heartily recommend this story to any fans of children's literature.


  1. "... the narrative gets a bit too wrapped up..."

    "You live there now..."

    A couple of these were already in my queue. I'll definitely add #s 1 and 2 to the list. Even though it's short, I think I'll pass on To Love the Sun

    I'm surprised Present and Augie's entries didn't make the finals, as I enjoyed both of them (big surprise there, right?)

    1. I'm not surprised, on either count. :B

    2. Oops, forgot one: "... made things feel way too abrupt for my taste."

      Didn't realize I'd used "surprised" twice there :/

    3. More errors than usual this time! Let that be a lesson to you all about doing your only proofing sweep at 6am.

  2. There doesn't appear to be a hyperlink for In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep.
    Here it is for anyone that's interested.

    1. Thanks, I added that one in.

      What would I do without you guys?

  3. It's time to be unpopular again:

    "And in any case, the judges already weeded out any stories that didn't use one or more of the prompts effectively."

    Are you seriously telling me that you think The Young Filly and the Sea fulfils the conditions of the contest? I really hadn't given it a thought at first as I didn't judge by prompt either; I judged it as a piss-poor romance that completely forgot to have anything romantic in it. But now that you mention it...

    I totally meant what I said in my review: This story is nothing more than 'two ponies meet and then later they fall in love for reasons completely untouched on'. It's a spit in the eye to every author who actually followed the guidelines and suffered because of it. Right now, I genuinely feel like the judges ought to be ashamed of themselves if they have any integrity at all.

    You know all those "Still a better love story than Twilight" memes that have been floating around for years? Well Twilight is a better love story than this. It may be cute and fluffy and sweet and all -- I got not issue with that -- but it is simply not a romance and it does not meet the criteria. Someone who wrote a story in good faith has been betrayed by this decision. Otherwise, I can press my Pritt-Stick against my dictaphone, make kissy noises, and call it a romance (and it would still be a better love story than Twilight!)

    In all sincerity.


    1. Thank you for your honest opinion.

      I've never been a fan of old-style Harlequin romances (Young woman meets older man, angsts about it for the whole book, confesses love at end) or the typical FimFiction romance (Hi, I love you, let’s bang). Romantic partners need common interests and differences or they don’t turn into Old Married Folks who sit on the beach and watch their children play like they did once.

      In short, you went into this story looking for something (much like the protagonists) and didn’t find it (much like the protagonists), but failed later to realize that what you were looking for was not what you actually were supposed to find (much like the protagonists).

      I sincerely hope you find your own Sea Sapphire, and that it will lead you to your heart’s desire. Just remember to share when you’re done with it. :)

  4. I'm glad we agree on what best story was. :3

  5. "... the fact that the first chapter had so little romance to it made things feel way to abrupt for my taste."

    Well. They're only somewhere around 6-8 years old during that time, which makes it difficult to be romantic when cooties are involved...

  6. I've already voted, so I guess I can come out with my tastes now.

    I pretty much agreed with you except for your #2: The Young Filly and the Sea. While it was certainly a decent story, I didn't expect it to make the top five, and I thought it just failed at the biggest part of the challenge: a main character falls in love. We never actually get any of that; we see Twilight playing as a foal with a colt, and then, bam, 20 years later they meet and suddenly they're in love. While I appreciate the storybook 'love at first sight' trope, I never really found it personally compelling.

    Aside from that, I was with you. And yes, I shared your #1 pick. It was a fantastic story.

    Also expect a submission for your vacation-review-guest-post-thing tomorrow.

    1. Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one.

  7. I liked The Young Filly and the Sea, but I do agree that it did feel like it kinda seemed a bit lacking. The first chapter reads as a nice moment in time story, then the second two chapters feel kind of tacked on the end. I mean, I like the author's work and if he had put in all the stuff between the chapters I'm sure it'd be good, but that connecting tissue and muscle of the story just isn't there.

    In fairness, I didn't think it was quite as bad slipping under the prompts as one of the other stories. So it's hardly alone in cutting a bit close for strict interpretations.

    1. Hmm. I'm guessing that would be some of the questionable use of 2nd-person narrative you're talking about?

  8. I say this contest should've included metafiction as one of its prompts, though I can't remember if the ban on that has been officially lifted or not.

    I'd love to see if someone could actually pull that off well.

  9. I'm late to this party (as always) and I have an issue.

    First though, I can't help but agree with your assessment of Wild Horses. It's basically perfect. :D

    Anyway, this:

    "And in any case, the judges already weeded out any stories that didn't use one or more of the prompts effectively."

    ... isn't true. They picked the five that used the prompts most effectively and were the best written in general. There were several stories that came very close to the top 5 spots.

    I know it's kind of semantics, but there's a hell of a difference between "these fics didn't meet the prompt" and "these fics met the prompt but weren't quite good enough to be in the top five".

    That's it really. Back to lurking now.

    1. You may want to re-read that. Chris never said every cut story failed to meet the criteria, only that those which hadn't were among those cut