Friday, September 12, 2014

Mini-Reviews Round 50

Let's call this the Outside Insight not-even-close-to-a-wrapup: four stories, all of which are from that contest, that I've read recently for fun (as opposed to for Fandom Classics or for the RCL--I've read at least a couple for the latter, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if one or two eventually end up on the former).  Click on down below the break to see what I read, and what I thought of it.  Them.  Whatever.

Rise, by Blueshift

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A young breezie comes of age amidst the backdrop of her people's eternal war with ponykind, and the looming threat of winter.

A few thoughts:  Let's start out strong: this story was absolutely wonderful.  Blueshift may be best known for his random/comedy, but stories like this show that a great author can write any kind of story.  While it still finds grounding in the Equestrian setting and its light-humorous air, Rise takes that setting and wonderfully grounds the breezies' fearful-yet-resilient mentality within it.  The result is a story that's genuinely touching, expands the lore of Equestria in unexpected but brilliantly realized ways, and tells a classic hero's tale in a novel, dramatic, thoughtful way.

Recommendation:  I have only good things to say about this story (okay, maybe one or two bad things; it bothers me that someone could write something great like this, but still types "span" instead of "spun"), and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dramatic worldbuilding and dramatic storytelling in equal measure.

...Nor the Battle to the Strong, by MagnetBolt

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Griffon Commander Astrid meets with Celestia under the guise of "peace talks," only to discover that her people's ancient enemy remains unpredictable and alien.

A few thoughts:  Griffons have been portrayed as Klingons-lite (or sometimes, Kingons-heavy) many times in fanfiction, so this story doesn't really cover any new ground on that front.  That said, it covers it convincingly enough, and there are some novel touches here--Astrid's reason for fearing the way ponies kill was a wonderful touch of perspective, of just the sort this contest was meant to produce.  I was pretty disappointed by the ending, though; everything wraps up tidy and neat via timeskip, and the drama of the first part is pretty well negated by the quick-and-dirty exposition of "and this is how everything went."  It's not that the ending was bad intrinsically, but in context it weakened the first act dramatically.

Recommendation:  Fans of diplomacy might want to read the first chapter; it ends on a satisfying enough note to take independently.  I don't particularly recommend the whole-fic experience, thought.

Moot Model, by Sarcasmo

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Daisy wants to be a fashion model, even though she knows it's impossible for someone like her to appear in a fashion magazine.  Still, she works up enough nerve to try--barely.

A few thoughts:  I had a weird sort of cognitive dissonance as I read this: on one hand, I could see pretty clearly what the author was going for, and it was a good message (if a bit hokey, but hey, I can dig a hokey message), and looking through the comments, it's clear that that's what the other readers (including some people whose opinions I respect) saw.  But at the same time, the entire ending read to me like a classic tale of the White Man's Burden: the donkeys are too stupid/unindustrious/weak-willed to have any fashion of their own, so it's up to the clever/industrious/enterprising ponies to bring fashion to them.  It's entirely possible I'm grasping at straws here, but I kept making uncomfortable comparisons to plantation novels as Daisy is empowered by Photo Finish, without whom she (and donkeykind) are apparently incapable of producing any meaningful contributions in an artistic field.

Recommendation:  This story left me feeling very uncomfortable, but I can't say for sure that it wasn't just me.  If you think my problems with this fic aren't liable to bother you, then this could still be read as an uplifting tale of someone finding the confidence to do something with themselves.

Let Them Eat Grass, by Cloudhammer

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A sheep thinks to wonder why ponies don't have to live inside of fences.

A few thoughts:  My biggest thought after reading was "why on earth is this tagged comedy/SoL?"  This earns every bit of the dark tag through its portrayal of the slavery of complacency; the sheep are literally too passive and content to care about how they're being used.  That notwithstanding, this story does a nice job of showing that oppression, often as not, doesn't look like Sombra's cackling, chain-intensive MO.  More often, it's just doing what's easy, what works... and what cedes all authority to someone else.

Recommendation:  Anyone looking for a dark psychological tale (whether intended or not, there are plenty of parallels here to modern politics) will definitely want to check them out.  And I guess if you don't think about it too hard, it's also a story about sheep being funny.


  1. I agree on Nor to the Battle. That timeskip was just a little too much and brought down the whole thing a peg or three.

    My problem with Moot Model was that for a good third of the story, I thought Daisy was a cow and was wondering why ponies weren't having a greater reaction to her.

    And Let Them Eat Grass is tagged comedy because I told Cloudhammer to. :B "Sheep are dumb" is funny!

    1. Just saw your (three week old) comment on Nor. What's wrong with hippogriffs? Satyrs I get, but hippogriffs seem to fit right in. Do you have something against mules too, ya bigot?!

      Agreed that "sheep are dumb" is funny

    2. Oh, it's just my usual pony-centric racism. :V Stop mixing random creatures together and thinking you'll get something new! Stuff like that is the reason I wrote Faun: even if the genes combine, you're not likely to get something that's nicely half X and half Y; it's going to be blended and awful and a blight on nature. (Mules exist in the real world, so at least we know they work.)

    3. I've got nothing against pony-centric racism, and I've got my own issues with hybrid species (freakin' half-ogres...). It's just that the show's very clearly based on Greek mythology, so I'd think that traditional, non-human hybrids from that source material should work in the pon-iverse

    4. Hey, even the human hybrids of Greek mythology have been used in the show and worked, thanks to clever redesigns downplaying the human part. Since the show started, we've had a manticore, a minotaur AND a centaur appear. I think even a satyr could be made to work in FiM's setting if using the same design principle.

    5. How the Hell did I forget all three of those examples?!

    6. It depends on how much cartoon physics you want to use. I, for instance, have no illusions that griffins were created by an eagle/lion tryst, but various writers have taken that route.

      For me, it's more that I just don't think ponies and griffins should be romantically involved. :B

    7. My main issue with the fandom satyrs — which aren't actually satyrs at all — is the human/pony relations aspect. Hybrids should at least have the appearance of being their own creature, rather than the product of inter-species breeding (whether or not they are), and human features must be downplayed

      Present, weird question, but what if hippogriffs were more like (proper) half-orcs in that they weren't a result of romance? Would you be more willing to buy into the concept, however distasteful it might be?

    8. See, the thing about griffons is that it actually just doesn't make sense for them to be a natural crossbreed, because neither eagles nor lions are talking animals in this setting, but the griffons themselves are. The intelligence would just come from nowhere.

      Unlike Present, I have no problems buying that wildly different species can create viable crossbreeds in a magical world like FiM's, because weirder things have happened. But I don't think that's the case here. To me, it just makes more sense to assume that griffons (and probably most other chimeras too) came about through magical means.

      Now the human hybrids of the setting are a different can of worms altogether, because it seems pretty clear that 616 Equestria has no humans. Minotaurs and centaurs, at least, may indeed be their own creatures in FiM's world, rather than chimeras of any kind. Just weird-looking creatures that bear a resemblance in places to some other species, rather like the duck-billed platypus.

    9. In that they were a natural species? (Which would be fine.) Or are you just trying to get me to support pony rape? D:

      Pony rape is too out of show tone for it to really be an option, though.

    10. Herp, didn't see that new post.

      You can think about the human-style creatures as deriving from minotaurs, or at least describe them that way. Tirek? Minotaur top half, pony (or horse, or bull, we don't have to be racist here :V) bottom half. That's at least your in-world descriptor with minotaurs being a race of their own. (I mean, centaurs can even be a race of their own, but given that Tirek's the only one and his "brother" looks like anything but, you could literally say anything and it would be true enough.)

      I wasn't aware manticores were part human, I thought that was sphinxes.

    11. Manticores' heads just resemble those of humans. I don't recall any stories about them being a crossbreed

      No, I'm not trying to get you to support pony rape. Just wondering if that seems more believable. Obviously, that has no place in the show itself, but there are darker fics in which it'd be more appropriate

      I asked because there's a similar situation in D&D. Half-orcs are traditionally the product of rape, but that's been downplayed in recent years and some have decided humans and orcs being romantically involved somehow makes sense (and then they just pretty the orcs up, so what the Hell's the point?!). Normally, I'm not too fond of semihumans, but the rape story makes half-orcs much more believable for me, while also emphasizing just how vile orcs really are

    12. I once convinced a friend to play the twin brother of my half-orc barbarian. He was a wizard who carried a large obelisk covered in runes. (His "spellbook". He beat people with it.) His name was Og; my character was Not-Og. The explanation for why a half-orc would have magical prowess was due to their father being a rather waifish human bard who was captured by orcs, caught the fancy of one, and spent the rest of his miserable days as her "toy". (I can't remember if she broke him, or if the brothers did. It doesn't matter, you know it happened.)

      In a grim and gritty fantasy setting, the rape explanation can work, but you really need a careful touch to make it happen right. And as compelling as "rape survivor deals with her innocent, outcast hybrid offspring" could be as a plot, I'm really not sure how much I'd want to read that. I mean, just in general because ponies. :/

  2. I think I'm going to have to add Nor the Battle to my list.

  3. I liked JawJoe's "Queen of Queens".
    "I refuse to bend before oblivion."

  4. I had:

    A lot of trouble with "Rise," but I seem to have been pretty much alone in this--the only way I can get the ending to work, for instance, is by making the story even darker than it already is. If I hadn't been wunna the judges, the story might've finished even higher than it did...

    Still, it got fifth place, right? So I don't hafta feel too guilty. :)