Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 120: Tyrant

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

Before we go any further, I want to call y'alls' (I believe that to be the proper way to pluralize the possessive version of "y'all"--please don't ask me to explain the efficacy of pluralizing the possessive version of "y'all") attention to this picture right here, on the grounds that it's the best thing ever.  I can confirm; this is what it's actually like over here at Ponyfic Review Headquarters.  Well, that's what it's like in the shared office we stick the peons in, anyway; I've got my own executive suite, and I can tell you, it's posh.  Soundproofed so that I don't have to hear the noise the little people/ponies make as they sort their reviews, done up in velvet trim, the shelves lined with specially commissioned illuminated copies of all the stories on my reading list... hey, all those fanfic review dollars have to go somewhere, you know?  Better to me than to those shlubs!

But enough about the hoi polloi; on to important stuff, like my reviews!  My thoughts on PaulAsaran's Tyrant, below.

Impressions before reading:  Back-to-back AUs!  This one appears to be a "What if Twilight hadn't traded her power to Tirek to save her friends" premise--one I've seen a couple of times before, and which has bothered me a bit each time in Twilight-characterization terms, but that's nothing that a good story couldn't explain or justify.  I believe this is the first story by this author that I've read, but I've read a number of his fanfic reviews, and based on that I'm expecting technical competence at the very least.  I admit to being a bit concerned about the line "This story is a reaction piece against the Tyrant Sparkle trope" from the description, though; I'll be honest, I didn't even know "Tyrant Sparkle" was a thing until I googled it up (turns out there are a bunch; I guess they just don't get popular enough to get recommended to me), but regardless, these kind of reactionary fics rarely work well (outside of parody, at least).  But then again, if the reaction in question is "Twilight Sparkle isn't a tyrant"... well, that seems pretty benign and easy to swallow for a story premise, doesn't it?

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After a decade of civil war, the new would-be Elements of Harmony have finally brought their bloody rebellion to the foot of Twilight Sparkle's throne.  What they find there, however, isn't what they expected.

Thoughts after reading:  Well, I was right: the writing on this was quite good, editing and construction-wise.  But the story itself was a bit of a disappointment.

The AU starter premise--Twilight let Tirek kill her friends rather than turn over her quad-alicorn powers--is one I was willing to at least provisionally accept; it is the basis of the entire story, after all.  But Tyrant requires the reader to accept that a lot of seemingly improbable decisions leading up to the confrontation which is the focus of the fic.  One must believe that Twilight would, on one hand, refuse to take any aggressive action against violent revolutionaries, up to and including letting innocents be slaughtered in the name of maintaining her nonviolence toward ponies... yet, on the other hand, refuses to abdicate, surrender, or even simply leave the capital, knowing that she's the cause of this revolution.  It also requires that one accept that ponies as a group would engage in a violent civil war on the premise that Twilight is a murderous tyrant--explicitly on this singular premise--despite all evidence to the contrary, for years.  To put it lightly, one is asked to swallow a lot, with little to nothing in the way of explanation or justification.

In the abstract, though, it's not hard to understand why that explanation is absent.  This isn't a story about an AU civil war, it's a story about Twilight berating those who misrepresent the ideals her friends represented in life.  Twilight's dissection is interesting on its own, and the open ending was, I think, the right way to go with this story; a more definitive resolution would have made for a stronger arc, but would have taken the emphasis off of Twilight's arguments, and that's the real point here.

A bit disappointingly, though, those arguments are almost entirely one-sided.  The grievances of the rebels are shallow revenge and anger, and are almost totally nonsensical in the context the fic provides.  As Twilight puts it, "There is no logical explanation for how you all came to the conclusion that I am evil, dictatorial or corrupt"... and she's not wrong.  As a result, this story feels rather hollow, in the same way that debating the pros and cons of robbing convenience stores would: there's not a legitimate case to be made for one side.  As a result, the open ending is only a partial success.  It does invite the reader to wonder what the rebels decide to do, at the end.  But it doesn't end up asking much of the reader.

Star rating:

I think my review ended up a little harsher than I intended.  To me, this is on the upper edge of one-star: a story that's got some appeal, but held back by one or more significant flaws.  In this case, the premise is very difficult to swallow, and the payoff for doing so is essentially a character conundrum, rather than that and a moral one.

Recommendation:  In the end, I think that line from the description that worried me was prescient, and not in a negative way.  This story is a reaction to Tyrant Sparkle, and would probably be enjoyed by people who specifically want to see a story about everyone treating Twi like an evil dictator despite her not being that.  Outside of that context, though, it doesn't have a lot more to offer beyond technical prowess.

Next time:  I’d Do Her, by Fire Gazer the Alchemist


  1. "... there's not a legitimate case to be made for one side."

    Is that a challenge? Part of me wants to attempt it, but a bigger part of me is lazy, and a third part keeps looking at the list of crap I'm supposed to be doing

  2. Wait, so if Twilight has a policy of total non-violence towards all ponies, then how did the rebels decide she was a murderous tyrant? What were ponies rebelling against? This is still Equestria, right? Ponies don't start bloody revolutions for nothing. Twilight must have done something.

    1. Oh, sure, blame the victim! Not like it isn't hard enough for political leaders to come forward without people questioning their behavior or defending their would-be assassins and dissidents. I know, it's gotta be the wings, right? What right-minded citizen wouldn't revolt after seeing her preen those things? She was practically asking for it

    2. "It also requires that one accept that ponies as a group would engage in a violent civil war on the premise that Twilight is a murderous tyrant... despite all evidence to the contrary, for years."

      Well, if the ponies are human analogs... have you seen some of the accusations flung at Obama by the stars-and-bars crowd? No reasoning seems necessary. ProfessorOats was making a joke above, but it's not far from the mark.

    3. I don't know how it goes in the story, but if it were me I'd probably rebel against her Mary Sue levels of unjustly earned importance and hoity-toity pseudo-intellectual quasi-pandering geekism.

      "Down with the tyrant! Nobody is buying it! You're making everyone associated with you look worse by comparison! All the hyphenated words needed to describe you aren't leaving any for the rest of us!"

      Jokes aside though, from the review, I feel like this story is the literary equivalent of, "Nuh-uh!" when a friend says they're better at jumping rope than you are. They needed an oppressed people and a rebellion to fit the mold of the usual Twyrant fanfic, but then when it came to Twilight actually being a tyrant, they just answered "false" instead of "true." Any explanation or justification would fall flat because the foundation of the whole thing is moot. It's an uninspired response to a minor irk in a small subgenre of unfiltered fanfiction that's an offshoot of an iffy concept from a single episode of a cartoon whose main focus is selling toys to children. I've seen stories with worse motivations, but to be something worthy of independent merit, you've got to aim a lot higher than that.

      But I haven't read it, so who am I to say? All I've got to ride on are my previous experiences with this kind of thing, and I've certainly been wrong before.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. One of the insurmountable problems in this fic is that Twilight seems to think that having a military fight and die on your behalf doesn't count for anything if you don't personally take part in combat.

  3. Nice picture you linked in the header there, by the way. I don't quite understand the reasoning behind having a bin full of mini chalkboards with the words "good" and "bad" pre-written on them when you already have a giant chalkboard in place, but I'm no Ponyfic Reviewologist. Maybe it's because they don't have any actual chalk or erasers to write with, so they need to reuse old chalkboard parts instead. Such are the sacrifices for illuminated reading lists, amiright?

    The colors and lighting are nice though. I can tell what time of day it is right off the bat!

    1. If you had to write with your mouth, wouldn't you find a substitute for chalk?

    2. If I had to write with my mouth I would probably replace chalk with prime rib and strawberry lime Jones soda.

  4. Your complaints are about equal to that of virtually every nay-sayer out there for this particular story. Not that it's particularly wrong, mind you. I've long learned to accept that a lot of people don't get the real intention of the story, translating all the 'assumptions' to 'the author expects you to make this conclusion,' which is not what I was doing at all. The real purpose behind the many things that make no sense lies in the very fact that they make no sense... much like the trope to which I was reacting. I figured that if an idea isn't going to make sense in the first place, why not go all the way with that theme?

    But alas, that goal got lost in translation, and that's my own fault for not providing a proper explanation in the Author's Notes. Regardless, I appreciate you taking the time to review the story in the first place and don't hold it against you that you felt so negatively about the whole thing. The story's not going to be good to everyone (even those who 'get' it).

    1. As I recall, Twilight thought she might be able to save her friends; she didn't straight-up trade them for defeating Tirek. That may seem like a subtle difference, but is is a very important one, IMHO.

      Anyway, I strongly disagree with the review and faved the story. It even partially inspired me to write my own (double) subversion of the Tyrant Twilight trope.

    2. If your goal was to write a story where many of the things in it make no sense, I certainly can't fault you for failing on that count. This is probably a story that simply requires more fandom context than I possess to properly grasp.

      Sorry I didn't "get it;" hopefully next time I review a story of yours, it'll be one I'm better able to understand!

  5. Having read it, and even with the benefit of two author's notes and the comment over here, I have trouble seeing much of a point. I guess it's about authorial fiat and how misusing it can result in contradicting characters' nature? But that arises in most genres, and in fact is one of the things fanfiction exists to allow.

    But worse is that I don't see this holding up as a story, so without heavy explanation (and even with) all I see is a bad story. The logic doesn't hold together, even after you account for there intentionally being no logic at all; in fact it actively undermines the point trying to be made: even if Twilight wasn't intentionally trying to rule with an iron fist and never personally fought in putting down the rebellion, well, allowing her army to keep on fighting a war she don't intend to pursue a victory in doesn't reflect well on her either. Letting the guards fight to their deaths trying to delay the attackers actually seems like the kind of thing associated with an evil tyrant, raising for me the question if Twilight is a severely unreliable narrator here, too deluded to see that the revolution was actually in the right.

    Frankly, a better format for this reaction would have been either a blog post, where you can just say what you want to say, or a comedic satire/parody that hits the ridiculous points as they come. This . . . there was no there there, and simply pointing out that you can write something without any logical underpinnings and have it be true anyway within your own story doesn't do anything to convince that that is the case for other stories in the genre (which I hadn't been aware of until now), certainly any more than for plenty of other AU ideas.