Monday, March 2, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 99: Yes, Apple Bloom, there *is* a Santa Hooves

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

It's still cold and snowy out.  That means it's basically Christmas.  And that means that this review is seasonally appropriate!  Here's Lucky Dreams' Yes, Apple Bloom, there *is* a Santa Hooves, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  I like Christmas, but I hate corny tripe, and let's face it: a lot of Christmas-themed stories are corny tripe, across all mediums.  But this is the same author who wrote In the Place Where Wild Horses Sleep, a story with which s/he demonstrated an impressive ability to tell a simple children's story without being cloyingly faux-sentimental.  I really hope that ability will be on display here as well.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Apple Bloom writes to Santa Hooves to ask for a cutie mark for Hearth's Warming, she gets back an unexpected--and unexpectedly brusque--answer, setting off a chain of letters to and from the north pole.

Thoughts after reading:  Thankfully, my pre-reading prayers were answered: this story is sweet and perhaps even a bit sappy, but it's a refreshingly sincere sweetness--the same sort that helped get me and a lot of people into FiM in the first place, I'll wager.

The real appeal here isn't the story, which is basically an excuse to get several characters to put pen to paper; it's the letters themselves.  This is a story you'll want to read on-site, rather than via download, as each letter is an uploaded, (mostly) handwritten image, and the different writing styles, stationary, and the like are a very nice effect.  Even without such physical markers, though, character voices come through clearly in the letters.  This was all the more impressive to me, because the author also did a nice job of limiting the content of those letters to something the characters would actually write; I've said this in regards to epistolary stories before, but I find breaking format or using "crossed-out" text to tell the reader something the character can't or wouldn't say is a very distracting form of cheating, and that was basically absent from this work.

The one area I felt a bit let down by, oddly, was the spelling.  Several of the younger characters have poor spelling, which is fine... but said poor spelling is pretty transparently artificial.  Maybe it's just that I read lots of writing by poor spellers for a living, but it was far too obvious to me that the spelling mistakes were artificial, and sometimes it seemed like the author was just picking words at random to mess up, with no rhyme, reason, or consistency to the errors each character made.

Well, and Twilight's writing was a bit sloppier than I'd have expected.  I guess she's used to having Spike transcribe everything for her, though.

There's not much to say about the plot; it's a straightforward story of remembering who you are via friendship, and while very competently put together, it's... well, like I said: there's not much to say about it.  I definitely appreciated that the humor of the story (and there is a fair bit of humor, especially in the early going) is of the uncynical variety.  Make no mistake, cynical humor can be wonderful too; it's just that it would have been a poor fit for a story of this sort.  Thankfully, this is a light but sincere bit of letter-writing, which perfectly complements the overall tone.

Star rating:

This was a rather hard one to rate; how much weight does one put on things like presentation and physical design, which are clearly selling points here?  However one decides to weight that, though, the fact remains that this story is amusing and sweet even if read in its text-only version, and the final letters managed to bring an unironic smile to my face despite it being the end of February.

Recommendation:  That said, a significant chunk of the appeal is in the presentation; if getting to actually see the "hoofwritten" letters doesn't sound charming to you, then the appeal here will necessarily be diminished.  If that does sound at all interesting, however, I definitely recommend this as a bit of light but memorable reading.

Next time:  Iron Hearts: Book 1 - Planetfall, by SFaccountant



    And then Chris lost his mind.

  2. It's got one third of the CMC in it - of course there'll be sap.

  3. I got several laugh-out-loud moments out of this one!

  4. There's also an absolutely adorable reading of it on Youtube

  5. I rather liked this story, and this is definitely the author to pull it off.

    Amen to your nitpicks about things authors put in letters (to which I'd add other supposed articles of writing as well: essays, journal entries, newspaper articles, etc.). So many authors don't consider that if a letter-writer decides not to say something, there are only specific circumstances under which they'd reasonably cross it out and keep going. They have all the time they need to think through what they want to write before they write it, and they have the ability to grab a fresh sheet of paper and start over. It's a cheap way to insert emotions and intentions that just doesn't fit the medium in the vast majority of cases, and I constantly call out writers on such practices. I'd add to that list things like including full conversations of verbatim dialogue and asides about how the setting looks, which people just don't put in letters, nor would they even remember such detail an hour later, much less however much time has elapsed before they wrote it down.

    That this is a story that gets a large amount of its impact from the presentation itself is an interesting point, and one which can have a different effect, depending on the story. And I do mean "story" in both senses, the overall product and the narrative that takes place in it. There's actually a nice plot here, and the format reinforces it instead of being incidental to it. If I ask myself whether I'd read another two or three stories the same author might write in the same format, I'd say that I would in this case, because it transcends the gimmick instead of having it as the biggest selling point.

    In contrast, take something like "Breaking News and Weather." There was barely a story there. It mostly rehashed canon events, and while it did take different viewpoints on it (the children's school paper was a nice touch), many of those viewpoints were so homogeneous that they ran together (pretty much all big-city residents with about the same account of it). I'd urged the author to try for some more variety there, but he didn't care to. The side story about the labor dispute at least adds something, but to me, it was a weak story that survived on the novelty of the presentation, and once that karma's spent, it's spent. So, the same question: if this author wrote two or three more newspaper-format stories, would I care to read them? I'd probably give one more a chance to see if it moved past a gimmick-only approach, but if it hadn't, then no, they wouldn't be something different anymore, which was the only thing making them appealing.

    1. Dang it, you and Chris just gave me a fic idea. And right before work, too. That's gonna bug me my whole shift! Jerks

    2. @Pasco:

      "... it transcends the gimmick instead of having it as the biggest selling point."

      That's something I'm now slapping my forehead for not clearly stating in the review. Yes, the format stuff was well-executed, but more than that, it was well-executed in the service of the story. That's part of what makes this more than just a story with some art-project add-ons.

      @Oats: Suffer, suffer! Bwa-ha-ha!

    3. @ Pascoite: I think the most erroneous example of crossing out lines in a letter is right at the start of the third Twilight book, where the guy crosses out an entire page worth of notes about how very, VERY angry he is at Bella, before settling with a simple 'I miss you but we probably shouldn't hang out for a while, soz'. It's kind of incredible to read -- it's so transparently lazy that it's actually kind of enjoyable to read in it's own weird way... but my point is, I had it in my mind the whole time I was working on this story. It saved me from making the same mistake myself.

      I agree with your comments about Breaking News and Weather, although from the sound of it I enjoyed that one a lot more than you yourself did (I really did enjoy how spot on some of those covers were). Maybe I should have a go doing that sometime? Looks like it could be fun.

      Also, I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

  6. I was wondering why people were suddenly favouriting this in the beginning of March!

    Thank you for such a lovely review -- I'm super thrilled to get a story rated four stars here! I totally agree with your criticisms though, especially regarding Twilight's writing. My thinking was that she's far too practically minded to care that much about how pretty her writing is -- so long as it's easily legible, than that would be enough for her. In retrospect however I really wish that I had made it neater anyway. Just 'cause it's Twilight, and she's always so incredibly neat, even when she's not particularly trying. Her messy writing is something that quite a lot of people have commented on.

    But thanks again!