Monday, May 11, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 82

When I decide to start reading something short, I generally finish it no matter how little I enjoy it; it's short, I've already sunk two minutes into it, I might as well get to the end and at least have the satisfaction of finishing.  But with longer fics, I'm more amenable to cutting ties after a few chapters if I'm not enthralled or engaged--even if the story isn't actually that bad.  So today's mini-reviews contains several stories I didn't finish.  Find out why, below the break.

Diary of a Ruler, by Lamia (about 2800 words (10%) read)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Excerpts from Celestia's diary, containing her musings about life, immortality, and all sorts of other stuff.

A few thoughts:  To put it succinctly, Celestia here sounds like an angsty teenager.  It's full of unselfconcious dismissal of everyone around her ("I wonder about my complex thought processes. I look at the average individual; they have little to no worries. One wakes in their bed and make plans a day at a time"), and short on actual depth.  Even if one subscribes to the "regular ponies are ants compared to Celestia" school of characterization, you'd think she'd approach the subject of her subjects from a less myopically self-important perspective.

Recommendation:  This is definitely one to avoid for readers who dislike the "immortal angst" genre.  Beyond that, it's a well-written look at a self-absorbed but un-self-aware individual; if you can reconcile that characterization with Celestia, this might be worth a look.

Death By Dragon, by Compendium of Steve (about 25,000 words (20%) read)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In a dark alternate Equestria where Twilight, upon becoming princess, made books her first, second, and only priority, Spike is tasked with tracking down delinquents who fail to return books to the library in time, and dealing with them... with extreme prejudice.

A few thoughts:  This kind of story (grimdark AU) isn't usually my cup of tea, but I actually enjoyed it at first; there's a bleak humor pervading the story, a lot is made of the contrast between the murder-happy plot and the Equestrian setting, and Spike's noir-style makes for a nice narrative voice.  But there's a lot of fourth-wall stuff here, and I got well and truly sick of it by chapter four (where, among other things, Spike tells the reader that if they've got any questions about a certain event, they should get someone in the comments to explain because he can't be bothered).  There are also some noticeable writing issues: missing/misused words and the like.

Recommendation:  If you're interested in a dark comedy, this one has a lot going for it, and the way it plays with and exaggerates its characters and toys with the tone.  If you're sensitive to writing issues or immersion-breaking material in general, though, I wouldn't suggest this.

Monsters, by Sharpe Quill  (about 17,000 words (20%) read)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The quiet town of Dock is rocked by a warehouse fire--and a pair of deaths--and Captain of the Guard Belle is going to find out exactly what happened.

A few thoughts:  The story's short description gives us this tantalizing question: "When Twilight returned from Tartarus, she claimed no monsters had escaped. What if she was wrong?"  Unfortunately, I never got to that part; while there's some nice setting-building in the author's take on Dock, the characters which populate the story are a letdown.  Or rather, the narrative emphasis on physical features, coloration, and other ephemerals at the expense of actual characterization, coupled with Belle's tendency to over-narrate her opinions on everything anypony does, make the story feel very slow and ploddy.

Recommendation:  As I said, I never actually got to the "out of Tartarus" stuff, so I can't really comment on the adventure aspects of this adventure-tagged story.  In light of that, it might be worth considering for fans of the premise, but only those not put off by very delayed gratification (at least 17,000 words, anyway) and general slow pacing.


  1. Just an open question here, seeing as a lot of the people that read this blog seem to dabble in fanfic editorialization.

    Has someone ever asked you to read a work in progress of theirs and tell them what you think, then when you start reading it, you realize that it's the type of thing that, if you'd come across the story on your own, you would have given the above treatment? How do you handle that? How do you give a helpful critique on something you would rather have stopped reading altogether without sounding condescending in the process? I've never really been able to pull it off.

    1. Well, it depends. If I can tell that the reason why I don't like the thing is mere subjectiveness (as in, I just don't like the genre/particular style -- it might be the best Spike-shipping HiE story ever, but I will still dislike it for pure personal reasons) then I just read it and try to judge it objectively. As in, what works and why, and what doesn't work and why.

      (In fact, sometimes that's how you get the best reviews -- if you want to make sure your romance works as a story even if you take the blatant shipping-fanservice away, then give it to a guy who fucking DESPISES the pairing and make it work for him).

      If I see that I don't like the story because it doesn't work, or it's just plain boring, I merely try to explain it as softly as possible. "This doesn't work because of X, the hook is not strong enough, you need something more original, etc.)

      As a rule, however, I say you should never tell the guy that you would have stopped reading the story if it wasn't because of your promise to finish it. That's not really advice or anything, so the only thing you'll do is mess up with motivation and ruin his day.

      When in doubt, be nice, always.

    2. In my opinion, just be honest. Admit your biases, try to identify why you dropped the story beyond "it got boring", and tell the author exactly that. If you keep going even after you would normally drop the story, point out where you think you would have dropped it. Odds are that other readers might feel the same, so it tells the writer he should add some hook, tighten up the pacing, or something else to keep readers invested.

    3. To SeeVee's question, I see nothing wrong with telling someone that their story needs major revisions if they've asked you to edit for them--that's your job, after all. If you feel like the problem is purely personal, then that might be another matter, but often it really isn't; I'm extremely uncomfortable about Twilestia stories, for example, because of the perversion of the student-teacher relationship, but that doesn't mean that I can't offer advice on how to make such a ship less offensive to someone like myself. As Aragon said, there's often value to seeking out such reviewers specifically.

    4. All good advice. The main thing I'm taking away here is to be straightforward and think of it more as a way to show (or warn) the author about how outside viewers of their story might see it. I imagine that if they liked it, and they expected you to like it, such a strategy might still upset them, but at the same time if it's really bad enough to make you stop reading it, then that probably can't be helped. I suppose that if they really don't like what you have to say, they can always find a second opinion somewhere else though.

      Thanks everyone!

  2. Well, that's two off my RIL! :D Thanks, Chris!

  3. The only one of these I've read is Diary of a Ruler, and believe me, you did the right thing dropping it. The story had potential, but about halfway through it decides to commit itself to being dark and edgy, doubles down on the angst, and goes in a very disturbing direction.