Friday, December 5, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 84: Do Changelings Dream of Herding Sheep?

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

Well, it's December, which means it's officially close enough to Christmas that I don't feel obligated not to bake Christmas cookies anymore!  Luckily I'm one of those people who can eat sugar all day and not gain a pound, or else I'd double in weight every holiday season.  Nobody needs two Chris's in one body, after all.

Unrelated to the above, but very related to the post title: click on down below the break to check out my review of John Perry's Do Changelings Dream of Herding Sheep?

Impressions before reading:  I like Philip K. Dick, and I'm open to the idea of ponification thereof, but what I'm seeing in the description and cover art doesn't look much like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Putting any thematic ties aside, I think I've only read comedy and/or slice-of-life by this author before, so it'll be interesting to see how he handles a dark story.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Daring-Do and a royal guardspony track a group of changelings south after the failed invasion of Canterlot.  But when they track them south of Dodge Junction, they find a town that's not on any map.

Thoughts after reading:  This story takes a while to get going.  It follows Daring and Equites (the guard) closely, and while they're both fine as characters, the story has a distressing tendency to dip into "stock moments"--scenes or scenelettes which are such cliches that they feel phony even as they fit the characters involved.  Take this "classic" gag as an example:

Daring Do knelt down next to a set of these new tracks. She inspected them closely, gently placing a hoof over them. “Hmmm, they look fresh,” she commented. The pegasus sniffed the air. “Definitely fresh. Less than a day old, I’d say. Plus, they had something to eat beforehand.” 
“Remarkable,” Equites said. “You were able to tell that just from their hoofprint?” 
“Actually, I was able to tell that from the scat you just stepped in,” Daring replied, pointing at the stallion’s gold-colored horseshoes.
Stock moments aren't necessarily bad--these kinds of moments are comfortable, in that there immediately recognizable and familiar.  But they're so cliche that they feel artificial, which is a problem in a serious story like this.  It's not the fact that there's a little humor in a dark story that's a problem--it's that the humor is, in this case, working at cross-purposes to the rest of the story.  Moreover, since most of these moments come in the first half of the story, it makes the early going, the early going in the fic is somewhat uneven.

Once Herding Sheep finds its flow, however, there's a lot to recommend it.  The revelation of what's happening in Mountain Meadow is built up to well, and the dark bits of the story (which are saved for near the end) feel shocking but logical--a difficult feat to pull off convincingly with ponies.  The ending is pleasantly ambiguous as well; it's not clear what's going to happen to Mountain Meadow, but enough is done with the relevant characters and their roots/motives that it's tantalizingly easy to imagine.

There are also some very nice asides scattered through the story.  As if to make up for the occasional dips into hoariness, Herding Sheep is also sprinkled with fascinating bits such as commentary on the difference between apple- and pear-bucking, or a buffalo legend that feels like an authentic myth despite (because of?) its brevity.

Star rating:

This fic is a tad on the lumpy side, especially in the early going, but it pays off by the end with a grim but believable ending which is more thoughtful than edgy, and invites a bit of thought.

Recommendation:  Fans of dark stories in the "more thoughtful than edgy," for starters.  But although this has a strong initial hook, it might meander too much in the early going for some readers.

Next time:  The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends, by PsychicScubadiver


  1. > such as commentary on the difference between apple- and pear-bucking

    Good lord, I forgot I even wrote that.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed it for what it was worth.

    1. Hee hee, Perry and I had a little bet of what the star rating would be. Looks like I win!

      ... nothing. Nothing was on the line. Wagered. Put up for grabs. No ante here.

      Imma fold and run now.

  2. > I like Asimov, and I'm open to the idea of ponification thereof

    Do you mean Dick?

    1. >I like Dick

    2. See, this is what happens when you try to type up your pre-reading impressions at five AM before work, so that you'll have them done in case you do some reading in the lunchroom.

  3. I'm one of those people who can eat sugar all day and not gain a pound

    I detest you D:

    1. I get that a lot. If it helps, I don't overeat much the rest of the year, and get plenty of exercise, so it's almost like I earn it!

  4. If you doubled in weight every year... and we count that as having two of you in one body... then by the time you're 33, you'd contain over half the world's population in one body!

  5. Sounds like another one for my list.

    And I still haven't even read The Wreck yet.