Monday, May 4, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 107: Without a Hive

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

Don't take this the wrong way; I thought Appleoosa's Most Wanted was a decent episode, all things considered.  But as the episode ended looking at its moral, all I could think was, "there's no way that that can be reconciled with the first couple of seasons."  Thematically, I mean; the idea of getting a cutie mark without knowing what it does, and one that actively sabotages your life until you figure it out, is a very cynical, jaded take on an idea that, while it's got plenty of potential to seem malignant, has previously been generally portrayed in a much more positive, less fridge-horror-y light.  Honestly, I think this episode would have been better as fanfiction than as canon; in a fanwork, it would be a darker, more "real" examination of something the show couldn't touch on.  As an actual episode, it felt jarringly malicious to Trouble Shoes.

And on an unrelated note, am I the only one stumped as to why we needed a tension-building scene with Sweetie using her magic to steal the key to the prison door, when they could have just grabbed it off the hook after they tricked the sheriff in to leaving?  Maybe the girls just didn't think their plan through all the way.  Anywho, click on down below the break for my review of Phoenix_Dragon's Without a Hive.

Impressions before reading:  Seeing as this is a psuedo-sequel (sidequel?) to another story which I haven't read, I'm a little wary going into this dry.  The description promises that this story "stands on its own," however, so let's hope that's the case.  That aside, I'm leery based on the repetitive word choice and its/it's mix-up in the description, though the meat of the blurb seems to promise a solid enough premise.  Color me interested but guarded.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A young changeling nymph, hoping to be chosen for the coveted duty of covertly collecting emotional energy for his hive, gets stranded in pony territory while on a training expedition.  Without any way to get home or anyone who can help him, he has to figure out how to blend in and survive amongst the ponies... long-term.

Thoughts after reading:  I've observed in the past that some stories are better read serially than in one sitting, and after finishing Without a Hive, I think it belongs in that camp as well.  That's neither a good or bad thing, by itself; it simply reflects how the story is structured.

In this case, the fic is (despite being tagged an adventure) mostly low-key, and dwells amid the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life far more often than it delves into action and the like.  This is for the best, frankly; the more action-centric segments, an early example being the disaster that strands Nictis (the protagonist) in Equestria, are among the weaker parts of the story (that scene, in particular, comes across as very contrived).  This fic is at its best when it focuses on its changeling protagonist's attempts to simply live his life and accomplish his evolving goals.

However, at nearly 200,000 words, the mostly low-stakes plot can create a fug of dullness if binge-read.  Hence, my suggestion that this is better suited to serial consumption.  And in fact, the story holds together well, taken one or two chapters at a time; given the frequent timeskips and changes of location, but relatively small cast of characters, it's easy to keep track of who's who while also feeling plenty of sectional momentum.  It helps that the major characters are all vividly (if broadly) characterized, and given memorable traits which extend beyond informed attributes to help keep them distinct.

Characterization is, in fact, one of the big draws here.  Nictis's attitude toward ponies isn't exactly an uncommon one in changeling fanfiction (that they're resources meant to be exploited for maximum effect (sustenance)), nor is his character arc.  But what makes this story so much more than just another "changeling learns about ponies" story is how Nictis's worldview slowly and organically evolves, rather than being completely static... or worse (and more common), being static up until some epiphany, then completely reversing.  Instead, this fic has him develop his personality and worldview in a halting, piecemeal way which feels like a logical outgrowth of his upbringing and life experiences.  That kind of believability is relatively rare in fanfiction, and it was nice to see it here.

Voicing is of somewhat more variable quality.  Nictis's voice is sometimes of the "stiltedly formal" variety, presumably to show that pony-speech his natural mode of communication, but the irregularity with which it's done makes it simply look like poor writing.  Likewise, the narrative voice varies between impartial and informal, going from carefully distant to lines like "changeling hunting sucked" and back with some regularly.  On the plus side, the writing issues I feared from the description never really materialized; while the technical construction is often staid, it's well-edited and (voicing issues notwithstanding) doesn't draw any undue attention to itself.

Pacing on the work as a whole is inconsistent.  Several recurring character arcs never get a satisfactory resolution, and the last few chapters bring some abrupt developments which are never adequately explained.  The side-quel I mentioned earlier answers some of those questions, but other elements remain frustratingly unexplored.  The good news on these fronts is that all the major character arcs are brought to logical endpoints from an events standpoint, if not necessarily a thematic one, and that Nictis's personal arc is satisfactorily completed by the time "the end" rolls around.

Star rating:

This is probably best viewed as an extended character piece, and while it meanders mightily, those meanderings are often endearing and interesting in their own right.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for something character-based, relatively unchallenging, and good for broken-up reading will probably find this well-suited to their interests.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone seeking a lot of action or quick pacing, though a sedate reading schedule may ameliorate those weaknesses.

Next time:  Pinkie Watches Paint Dry, by AbsoluteAnonymous


  1. am I the only one stumped as to why we needed a tension-building scene with Sweetie using her magic to steal the key to the prison door, when they could have just grabbed it off the hook after they tricked the sheriff in to leaving?


    Also whoo, PWPD. :D

    1. Whoo! Yeah! Pocket Weasel Party Day! Everyone fill your cargo pants with jerky because it's coming!

    2. It would have been so easy to fix, too: Just have the key on the sheriff's belt or in a pocket of his vest.

      More problematic is the existence of a sub-tropical forest in the middle of the desert, and how a huge, clumsy pony is going to fit in with a team of athletic and highly rehearsed performers in the long run.

      Polsky doesn't seem to think things through with any depth. The fridge horror of the possibility of getting a cutie mark that sabotages your life is the result.

      It was still a decent episode, though.

    3. Actually it makes a bit of sense. What if the sheriff automatically grabs the keys when he rushes out the door?

    4. How would the girls know he did that, though? You want viewers to make that leap of logic, you've gotta lampshade it!

      And yeah, the forest was... strange. I dunno, maybe it's an Equestria thing? They can control the weather, maybe the local geographic manager sneezed while designating tropic/arid boundaries on the quarterly map and everypony just shrugged and said, "welp, guess a forest goes here now!"

      That would've been another thing that needed to be lampshaded, though.

  2. Hmmm. Not sure about the take on the episode. Your view on it is logical, but I feel like Troubleshoes is supposed to be an obvious outlier. His personality is set up specifically for him to take things the worst way. With an apparent lack of guidance in his life, he messed things up by being too narrowly focused.

    However, it could certainly be argued that the cutie mark comes at a moment of epiphany. That's how I always viewed it, but Troubleshoes seems to point to the cutie mark being independent of discovery. The magic is in the action, not in the understanding. It's just for almost every other pony, the two things coincide. Troubleshoes was the rare (I suppose) exception.

  3. I think the thing that confused me most about the episode was that they kept building it up like Trouble Shoes was going to realize that his cutie mark actually meant something other than what he thought it did, but no. He was just unlucky.

    Also it brings into question how cutie marks are actually attained, because isn't it supposed to appear when you realize what you want to do in life? If you lose focus because you're afraid you'll mess up at the exact moment it appears does it doom you forever?

    Also since when do rodeo clowns put on shows for entertainment? I thought their job was to distract bulls from trampling riders when they fell off, and they just dressed like clowns because someone at some point in history made a bad choice about how rodeos should be done. So many confusing questions....

    I did like the fact that, going back and watching Over a Barrel after watching this, the background ponies still hung out with the same friends they did then. Hooray for background pony continuity! Hooray for Lucky in a cowboy hat!

    As for the actual subject of this post, I can't really say much there. I haven't read it, but from how you've described it I don't think I would like to. 200,000 words is a big investment just to watch a changeling get over culture shock. I guess that was the whole point of this blog in the first place though, so good job, Chris! Crisis averted.

    1. I rewatched the episode today, and the way I see it is this:

      TS had the epiphany that he belonged in the rodeo. That's when he got his CM. However, "be in the rodeo" has a lot of component, as the episode demonstrates. He wanted to be a rope-trick pony or a hay baler and saw his clumsiness as getting in the way of that, instead of putting it to work for him to become the greatest rodeo clown ever. So he wasn't wrong, he just wasn't looking at it from the right angle (for however many decades).

      Also, I can't imagine bulls trampling anyone in an Equestrian rodeo. I mean, all you have to do is just ask them politely to watch out, and I imagine even the angry ones will come around. :B

    2. So you're saying that his cutie mark appeared when it did because of a sort of subconscious realization that he wasn't fully aware of until it was pointed out to him? It's a little far fetched, but I suppose I could rationalize that.

      As far as your theory about rodeo clowns in Equestria goes, though, I'm actually afraid to agree. That would mean that even in other worlds where they aren't needed, they still evolved into existence somehow. I don't want to imagine a place where rodeo clowns exist despite not needing to! It's too terrifying!

    3. I like Present's theory. I'll go with this.

    4. I meant his theory on cutie marks, just to be clear.

      But come to think of it, I like the rodeo clown one, too.

    5. "That would mean that even in other worlds where they aren't needed, they still evolved into existence somehow."

      Hardly a new issue with this show. Everything makes more sense when you view Equestria as the imaginary world of a child

  4. And another important point about the episode which no one has mentioned: Why is it that whenever any pony has a bandage-wrapped injury, Applejack always feels the need to poke them right in it? That's just rude.

  5. Prediction for "Pinkie Watches Paint Dry": 3/5 for some comedy and choice lines but not much substance

    "Once she started crying after eating a cupcake because she missed it"

  6. Looking forward to that next review, as PWPD's in my "Favourites". Be interesting to see how it holds up after three years