Monday, February 23, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 97: One in a Million

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

It's a well-known fact that children in many parts of the world play their preschool games wrong, so I was both relieved and proud to hear from a friend who works at a nearby preschool that the hispanic students there play "pato, pato, pato gris."  Classic games know no linguistic boundaries, it seems!

On the subject of avians (or at least, equavians), click down below the break to see my review of ocalhoun's One in a Million.

Impressions before reading:  Hey, a Scoots-gets-her-cutie-mark story!  I've read a fair number of these, but most of them follow a general form based around learning to be different from, but just as awesome as, Rainbow Dash (seriously, I've read something like a dozen stories of that description).  This looks like it's going to go a rather different direction, though, so I'm kind of excited by the novelty.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After years of trying, Scootaloo finally gets her cutie mark... by learning how to teleport.  Unsure what else to do, Twilight enrolls Scoots in magic kindergarten, which turns out not to be the most welcoming place for a non-unicorn.

Thoughts after reading:  To be honest, this story feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch.  Between the adventure tag and the description's emphasis on Scoot's leaving Ponyville to face unnamed tribulations, I was expecting... well, I was expecting an adventure story about Scootaloo and learning about/using her new and unusual talent.  Instead, what I got after chapter one was a highly exaggerated but otherwise banal tale of schoolyard trials and tribulations.

"Highly exaggerated" is the key phrase I'd use to describe the story, in fact.  The professors Scootaloo has to deal with are frankly absurd caricatures, while the other students she exists alongside are generally defined by a single characteristic, amped up to 11 and stripped of other traits.  By itself, this isn't a terrible thing; it makes the story feel juvenile, it's true, but "juvenile fiction" is a perfectly respectable genre.  But this tone is blurred by the moderately advanced vocabulary (i.e. "not the sort that sends you scrambling for a dictionary, but clearly not written for expanding readers either") and by the story's occasional dips into darker territory (e.g. a character who was adopted after Discord murdered her parents during his escape (as an aside, this is a pre-S3 fic)).  That level of exaggeration also leads to some characterizations that border on offensive; Scootaloo is mentored by a lunchroom Uncle Tom-type character, and while he (thankfully) may not be a zebra, his story role and over-the-top accent ("'Dat I was – dat I was.' He laughed and shrugged it off. 'You probably right. You know dis colt better dan I do, fo sho'") made me feel distinctly uncomfortable with him as a character.

There's also a fair bit of missing motivation, especially in the early going.  Scootaloo gets packed off to magic kindergarten (which, luckily for her, is only a week long) because Twilight's going out of town for a week and doesn't know what else to do with her while she's gone... but she's never given any reason to particularly care how she does in magic kindergarten, besides pride... and even that is barely touched on.  Considering that her being motivated to pass the course is at the heart of much of the drama in this fic, the fact that her motivation is basically assumed seems an oversight.  Not a critical one--as I said, it's not like it's hard to come up with one or more reasons for her to care--but one which robs the story of what should be one of its greatest sources of direction.  On the same subject but a more positive note, though, the cartoonishly villainous/dismissive antagonists who dot the fic provide plenty of drama.  It may be hard not to role one's eyes at the sheer blatancy with which the unicorns' sense of superiority is portrayed here, but that doesn't make it any less effective as a narrative device.

What I keep coming back to, however, is that there's a really solid hook amid all this.  Scootaloo as a magic-using pegasus is a clever idea, and dealing with racism and misinformation at magic school is a solid story concept.  The tone may be more "Disney Channel dramedy" than "serious exploration," but hey; Disney Channel's got an audience, doesn't it?  That said, this story doesn't really hit that target perfectly, either (see: uncomfortably offensive character stereotypes and questionable writing level/story style synergy), but this is still the kind of story that, even if you aren't enjoying it, makes you want to finish it.

Star rating:

And although the presentation may be frankly silly in many places, there are plenty of readers who like something over-the-top on occasion.  Within that specific context, many of my issues with this fic become ignorable, or even strengths... but not all of them.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for characters and conflicts exaggerated well past the point of self-caricature (think Snidely Whiplash-levels, here), then this story has a strong hook and an equally vivid plot.  If you're looking for even a modicum of nuance, though, this probably isn't for you.

Next time:  A Joke Too Far, by ZOMG


  1. >a character who was adopted after Discord murdered her parents during his escape

    It's funny to think that this used to be considered a plausible interpretation, at least by some. So much has changed since then that reading a line like that in your review actually makes me do a double-take now.

    >A Joke Too Far, by ZOMG

    Ooh, prediction!

    One star. For reasons of being a "joke's in the cover art" fic.

  2. This story lost me because its characters were so massively overblown and one-note, even by fanfic standards. Also, I refuse to believe that the world of FiM as presented in the show harbours this many racists right under Celestia's nose - and not just the "I have no experience with non-unicorns, so I might be a little insensitive" types, but full-blown, honest-to-God, using-an-appropriate-metaphor-for-these-characters-would-be-Godwinning-myself racists. Celestia has been ruling Equestria for over a thousand years; the character from the show would have done her best to stamp out such patent untruths, especially in people this (relatively) close to her.

  3. I recall reading this one as it was being published. The author included the Romance tag for the sole purpose of screwing with the reader's expectations. It was just one of many sadistic things he did that made me regret reading the story.