Friday, January 30, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 93: The Writing on the Wall

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

After being at a low ebb for many (well, several, anyway) months, the spam's coming back with a vengeance.  Luckily, the capcha seems to be doing a good job of keeping the comments from showing up where any of you have to see them.  And more good news!  If I ever get behind on posts, one "Suzlie" has offered to contribute some content from her advice blog, which I haven't checked out yet because the last thing I want to do is fill my backup computer with malware while the good one's still getting fixed I'm just so busy, you know?, but which she assures me is endorsed by Brigham Young University and is full of stuff related to my blog--you know, like templates to create your own family tree!  It's good to know I've attracted such attentive, helpful followers as Suzlie here.  For now though, I'm still on top of my schedule, so feel free to click on down below the break to read my review of Horse Voice's The Writing on the Wall.

NOTE: This review contains ending spoilers. Don't worry, they're behind a spoiler tag you have to click to read... but since I can't figure out how to put multiple spoiler tags into a single post, that means that today's star rating is unspoiled. Just FYI!

Impressions before reading:  I've heard good things about this, but don't know a lot other than that it turns into a horror story before the end--I've been informed that pretty much anything beyond that would be spoiler-y.  I actually hope that isn't the case, because if so, that's going to make this review a real pain to write...

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Daring Do is called to assist an archaeological expedition investigating some ancient ruins, deep in the desert.  This doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill ancient tomb, however: it's far older than any structure yet discovered, and it's covered in writing in many languages--all of which seem to be translations of the same passage.

Thoughts after reading:  Well, dang.  This one is gonna be hard to talk about.  I'll give it my best shot, though.

The story does indeed strike a traditional adventure tone most of the way through, before earning that "dark" tag at the end.  That's a lot of what makes this work, in the end: the twist is something that should come (to the characters) out of nowhere, and Horse voice does a good job of obscuring it, even as he drops hints throughout the fic.  If anything, those hints are too obscure; I actually had to look up a key phrase (which looked familiar to me, but which I couldn't immediately place the significance of) before everything clicked into place, and a glance at the comments shows I'm not the only one who missed or almost missed just what the reveal was.  Incidentally, if you still aren't sure what was going on at the end, head down into the comments; you won't have to go far to find one of the posts that explains it.

To move away from that part a bit, though, let's look at the early going.  As mentioned, the author does a nice job dropping the details in that will all click into place by the end without making them stick out too much, and the early going has an easy charm to it.  Daring and her fellow archaeologists only have a small amount of dialogue to establish their characters, but all of the named ponies are presented vividly for all that.  A mid-story interruption by Ahuizotol heightens the drama nicely, though it does seem almost perfunctory; I was expecting someone in camp or whom Daring had spoken to to have betrayed the camp, whether deliberately or inadvertently, and the fact that he just kind of... shows up, does make his presence feel a bit forced.

...Aaand we're back to the ending.  I'm going to have to break out the spoiler tag to say all that I want to, so up here I'll just say that the ending is surprising in a good way.  It's clever, and it makes you think a little bit.  It also creates a bit of a disconnect between what the reader knows and what the characters do insofar as their last actions are concerned, and I found that a bit distracting, but ultimately not to be a flaw so much as "something to consider."  If you want the ruin-the-story details, click below (and if not, don't!):

Star rating:  

Although it might err at times on the side of over-subtlety, this is still a haunting piece of work.

Recommendation:  If you like dark twists, definitely check this story out.  And although it's not marked as such, this would be a great choice for fans of tragedy, generally.

Next time:  The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds, by RK_Striker_JK_5


  1. ***SPOILERS***

    "I also appreciate that it's not explicitly human-made... there's no reason this story has to be read as taking place on a far-future Earth..."

    Considering it's very clearly Yucca Mountain ("This is not a place of honor", the thorns, etc.), it's hard to read it as anything but that unless you didn't make the connection


    But damn, is Horse Voice good! Think I might have to "favorite" this one

    1. See, I don't think that means it has to lead to "Equestria was Earth all along" any more than the fact that the ponies use technology and tools clearly designed for human use does. I mean, it's still the obvious conclusion; I just don't think it's particularly more impossible to imagine a pre-G4 pony civilization doing this than it is to imagine that the ponies have a horse-shaped statue of liberty.

    2. Eh, it still seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Yucca Mountain feels like a very different class of thing than the Statue of Liberty. The latter's something most kids might include in their imaginary worlds, whereas the former wouldn't (or it only would be by the "weird" kid)

      Yeah, it's possible to make the connection while reading it as some kind of non-human, parallel Yucca Mountain, but I think you'd have to force that interpretation because you actively don't want the alternative

  2. Huh. I totally missed what the danger actually was. Sometimes these things just go over my head.

  3. This story certainly gets my approval.

  4. I must wonder. It says that after a hundred thousand years, the, ah, thing inside would no longer be deadly.'s stated to be at least seventy-one thousand years old. Wouldn't it's deadliness be significantly be reduced by then, while not enough to be harmless, at least enough to not be the instant-death-sentence-from-just-looking-at-it stuff as presented? That doesn't seem entirely right to me.

    1. I'm not sure about this; I know that radioactivity doesn't decay at a steady rate, danger-wise (i.e. something that will be inert in 100 years isn't necessarily be half as dangerous in fifty years as when it was created), but I really have no idea how scientifically accurate that part is. Anyone else know?

    2. I'd go by half-life. So if a material has a half-life of 50k years, than after 71k years, about 37% of it is left. At 100k years, 25% is left.

      What can make it a little worse than that is whether or not the decay products are themselves radioactive for that particular material.

    3. A cursory glance at information regarding high-level nuclear waste reveals there's not a real consensus on how long it should be stored. Yucca Mountain itself was intended to keep things closed-in for 10,000 years, so I'm not sure where the 100,000 figure came from, though perhaps the material here was of a higher grade and lasts longer. It just doesn't quite seem correct to me that

      A. After 100,000 years, it's harmless (or at least "cannot kill", whatever that means)
      B. 71,000 years later, it can still cause acute and immediate fatal radiation poisoning in the manner presented, even though only 30,000 years later it presumably wouldn't present such a danger,
      and C. The materials were being held in this structure longer than the real thing by a factor of ten, leading me to wonder what it actually could be.

      I'm not saying it ruins the story for me; maybe they underestimated how long the waste would remain dangerous, I don't know. It just kind...takes me out of it.

    4. Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

      Yes, you can tell I'm no physicist. I did only enough research to get by with this one. But my objective was to get people talking about it, and I'm glad to see it's still doing just that.

    5. Ah, so it was 100,000! I thought I was misremembering. That does lend more credibility to the idea that this is a parallel world rather than ours in the future

      Chris: 1 Oats: 0

  5. Off-topic here, but I just saw this and thought you might enjoy it:

  6. Oh sweet, you are doing Elements of HArmony and Savior worlds...right when I am doing my own chapter by chapter eview while doing a live read, Sweet.

  7. I'll be interested in what you say about this next one, I think I fell out of it towards the end.

  8. If you liked this story, you'll probably find this report interesting (although the writing is naturally very dry):

    Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant