Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 76

It's April first again, and once again, no pranks here.  I just don't get why you would try to prank someone on the first; that's the one time they'll automatically be suspicious of anything you say!  Much better to save any good ideas you have another few weeks, then spring them on some poor, unsuspecting saps.  Anyway, if you're done gawking at all the "hilarious" fake news and posts that are no doubt dominating your favorite sites even as we speak, click down below the break for my thoughts on three recently-read stories.

The Mailmare, by Bad Horse

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In an eternally-twilit post-apocalyptic Equestria, Derpy decides to deliver some long-overdue mail to what survivors she can find.

A few thoughts:  This story got bumped to the top of my to-read list when I found out that it was inspired by The Postman, which is easily the Costneriest of Costner's many movies.  I won't say it's a great movie, but I'll say that I love watching it... anyway, turns out this is based on the book, which I haven't read, but the gist is similar: by bringing back the idea of civilization (in the form of the postal service), the protagonist inadvertently creates the reality of civilization, or at least the roots for the same.  That's a powerful idea, and it works well here with Derpy.  The weakest parts are the early chapters other than the first, where a dramatic situation is repeatedly reduced to myriad variations on the threat of rape; even if you don't inherently mind that being used as a vehicle for drama (I didn't, in this case), the number of times the story goes to that well undermines its effectiveness.

Before reading the author's note, I'd have concluded by praising this as a wonderful example of how to meld dark tones with an Equestrian setting, where the power of friendship can overcome even The End.  After reading the author's note... well, BH and I will just have to agree to disagree about what this story is about.  As far as I'm concerned, this is still a very nice tale of the classic "good will always find a way" variety.

Recommendation:  Anyone bothered by dark themes will probably want to avoid this; while it doesn't have anything graphic, it doesn't shy away from showing a world with murder, rape, etc., either.  But readers who enjoy stories that capture an essential optimism despite those dark themes should give this a try.

An in-depth guide to better writing, by ErraticOverlord

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Davenport drops by the library, and picks up a book about writing.  Unfortunately, he soon ends up literally lost in said book... and the only way out is by mastering the art of pacing, rising tension, and, well, better writing.

A few thoughts:  This is a story that's crying out to be expanded.  As-is, it's a funny idea, but not very well supported.  Plus, Davenport's revelation doesn't carry much weight, being as ill-defined as it is.  On the other hand, the central joke is quite funny, I like the last "punchline" scene, and I think most authors will feel a twinge of sympathy for Davenport.  It's hard not to imagine how what is essentially a silly scene could have been fleshed out, however.

Recommendation:  As a bit of comic light reading, this is funny, if unfocused.  It probably won't appeal to readers looking for any real exploration of the premise, though.

Luna, Princess of Space, by Chuckfinley

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Space Princess Luna returns to the massive space station of New Canterlot, where Twilight Sparkle, her love, awaits her.  But a mysterious spy and a wide-reaching conspiracy draw her into a deadly mystery, and time is running out!

A few thoughts:  As "a love-letter to the works of Jack Vance, Robert E Howard, and Ray Bradbury" (to use the author's words), I loved this; it's pulpy, high-octane fun, the sort that's meant to be consumed quickly and with little thought, but has enough wonder in it to fire an idle imagination even after it's read.  As an MLP fanfic, though, I was awfully unimpressed; there's literally nothing of Luna or Twilight here, and there's nothing of Equestria in the setting beyond the physical descriptions of the races involved.  This is a pulp sci-fi novel with a few pony names grafted on to it.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for pony fanfiction, or for characters from the show, or for anything remotely related to MLP, you should avoid this story.  But if you have a soft spot for the dime-store paperbacks from which this takes its inspiration, it's worth reading on those merits.


  1. After reading this review, I feel even more sure of my opinion on The Mailmare.

    Also, we need more pulp anything in this fandom.

  2. The first and last were already on my list. Should finally get some reading done now that I've got a three-day weekend coming up (that's more than I got all of last month!)

  3. > the number of times the story goes to that well undermines its effectiveness.

    That makes it sound like number of times > 1.

    1. Yup. By my count, it was four. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by "going to that well;" I was using it to mean, "number of times that the threat of rape is (re)introduced." If you go by number of scenes (or chapters) in which Derpy is threatened with rape, that drops it to three; if you go by total number of times rape is threatened, it rises.

      Mind, I enjoyed the story and was okay with that as a plot element; I just wish that, if you were going to use it as a plot element, you had addressed the rape issue more completely earlier rather than having the ponies keep moving laterally around it only to return to the threat. Re-confronting the specter of sexual violation lost its shock value and character-defining function for me quickly, but not its inherent unpleasantness.

    2. I see what you're saying. But I couldn't ignore it any time she interacted with those characters, since it would remain a threat until Derpy dealt somehow with those characters--and that had to happen at the end of the story.