Still working my way toward "not so stressed that I can't focus on anything;" Thanksgiving break will hopefully help with that, or at least give me the opportunity to get back to work feeling relaxed and confident, rather than snippy and behind-the-ball. I've managed to read a few bits of fanfic nevertheless, though! Click down below the break for short takes on what I've read lately.
Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness, by Vivid Syntax
Zero-ish spoiler summary: The story of how a young, unpromising minotaur became the Iron Will from the show.
A few thoughts: This story hits its beats well, and isn't poorly written by any stretch. It fell flat for me though, for one reason: I never bought into the idea that Iron Will was actually a product of his time, place, or birth. Rather like plucky (and inexplicably progressive) feminine leads in historical fiction, Iron is more of a surrogate for the reader's presumed attitudes toward his society than a participant therein. I was never really sold on the story's primary conceit (Iron's transformation and internal struggles) because the questions he was asking, and the attitudes he was applying, were those of a 21st century progressive American.
Recommendation: Worldview displacement is a pretty big issue for me, so readers who aren't as bothered by that might still want to give this a look for its solid fall/redemption tale.
Ponies Protecting Ponies, by Venates
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Sparkler has just been inducted into the PPP, a secret organization under Celestia's auspices which keeps ponies safe from dangers they don't even know exist. Assignment number one? Join several other agents in keeping tabs on Twilight Sparkle, who's just leaving Canterlot to help set up the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville...
A few thoughts: For most of its length, this story did just enough to keep me going. It's exposition-heavy, plays way too fast and loose with Equestrian tech levels for my taste (though that's a bit of a personal thing), has its main characters tossing the drama ball (like the idiot ball, but for interpersonal conflict) around willy-nilly, and occasionally introduces or resolves conflicts without any rhyme or reason. On the plus side, though, there is some wonderful light humor scattered about (I loved the Ponyville branch's secret hideout entrance, and Carrot Top's straight-faced explanation for why it's perfectly secure), and both those moments and the larger plot really capture both the feel of Equestria and the tone of the show... right up until the end of the story, which suddenly takes a right turn into "'the magic of friendship' is stupid, laser beams and super-science are the only way to get stuff done!" Not that there couldn't be a good ponyfic with that kind of ending, but here it undermines the first 90% of the story for no obvious gain (and makes a bunch of plotholes which could have been glossed over in the former tone suddenly stick out like sore thumbs). It's hard to write a story that both revels in and mockingly subverts the virtues of friendship, cooperation, etc., and unfortunately, this didn't rise to that challenge.
Recommendation: Without the ending, this would have been hard to recommend despite its redeeming qualities. With it, I'm having trouble thinking of any specific group I would suggest this to.