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The first few days back at work after the summer off always leave me feeling tired; I'm not an "up at five" person by nature, and even though I try not to let my sleeping habits completely revert during vacation, I never quite succeed. Having to get up early every day is hard.
Of course, if both the sleep studies that've been done on children and teens, and my own experience, are anything to go by, then it's even harder for the kids. Ah well; as complaints about work go, "starts too early in the morning" isn't the worst one to have. Now head down below the break for my review of psychicscubadiver's The Brony International Guard!
Impressions before reading: On the plus side, the author's written a couple of stories that I've really enjoyed, which obviously bodes well going into any new fic. On the other hand... I'm not gonna lie, the title does not enthuse me, and the premise sounds more "absurd" than "amusing." Grumpiness about the core concept notwithstanding, I'm choosing to put more faith in the writer than in the title as I sit down to read--they say you should never judge a book by it's cover, but nobody ever said you couldn't judge it by it's author, right?
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight Sparkle wakes up to find a group of bronies standing on her library's front porch, waiting to pledge their loyalty and service to her. Intent on getting some answers to her questions--headed by "what are you, what are you doing, and also, what?"--she goes to talk to her friends... and discovers that she's not the only one with a new cult following of alien beings.
Thoughts after reading: This is a story from 2012, and it's fair to say it hasn't aged well. The writing is relatively weak, with regular punctuation problems and a narrative tending to dwell on extraneous details, but the issues don't stop at the technical. Most of the references are grounded thoroughly in Equestria Daily culture of the time, and while most of that humor carries over (or at least, remains identifiable), there are multiple shout-outs that aren't funny without context, and that's never a good thing.
However, the story isn't just a story for meta jokes... but the actual plot is disappointing. Besides playing "go talk to each of the main six in turn" completely straight, Guard also handles its central conceit (that a bunch of bronies have figured out how to reach Equestria) in a clumsy, confusing manner. The humans feel more like soulless automatons than actual people (the repeated insistence that, to quote the leader of Twilight's would-be servitors, "all humans devote themselves to something they admire. It can be a nation, a set of ideals, another human, or even just themselves. The point is that every person finds something they love and does their best to spend their life in service to it," doesn't exactly make them seem like normal, healthy people with diverse goals and interests, for starters), and the way Twilight processes everything she's told with an alacrity that belies the author's desire not to dwell on the whys and hows of the situation.
That last bit is acceptable, to a point. After all, this is primarily a comedy, not a first contact fic, and the purpose of the story should be to have some fun with the idea of these would-be servants showing up rather than developing a coherent and logical tale of the initial meeting of human and equine cultures. But the thing is, there isn't a lot of comedy that's based on that premise. There are a few nice jokes around the sides, to be sure, but many of them are either one-off jokes, are independent of the premise, or both. The meat of the story is played totally straight, which is doubly unfortunate; not only does the serious (well, not-comedic, anyway) presentation invite the reader to think about the tenuous logic of the situation, but it also gives room for the mind to wander to uncomfortable ideas like, "this is a story about 250 people trying to sell themselves into slavery," or "what are the bronies' lives like, that they're apparently willing to forsake their friends and families so that they can be Rainbow Dash's permanent cheerleading team?" This is a story that's awfully dark when subjected to a bit of contemplation, and unfortunately, it doesn't do enough in terms of keeping the proceedings silly and lighthearted to prevent the reader from thinking too hard about it.
But then, I think a major part of this story's appeal is the wish fulfillment aspect. To be sure, the story is having a lark with the idea of going to Equestria more than it is reveling in it, but when you look at the surface events (last scene notwithstanding), it's the tale of a bunch of humans who love ponies, and are rewarded with the ability/technology/whatever to go to Equestria and hang out with their favorite ponies, who all quickly learn to appreciate them and who want to spend time doing the things they're most associated with on the show. I can see a lot of readers finding that to be good daydream fodder, even if the actual presentation here is both clearly unserious and kind of disturbing to think about.
I feel about the same way about this story as I do about My Little Dashie. I don't think it's a good story, and I don't think it's particularly well-executed. But the idea of it has an undeniable appeal to a large group of readers.
Incidentally, it's also like My Little Dashie in that I know that ROBCakeran53 and psychicscubadiver are both excellent writers, even if their best-known works aren't their best.
Recommendation: If you aren't the type to read too deeply into anything, and if you don't mind your humor being mostly of the referential and/or window dressing variety, this might be worth a look--and if you also like to imagine how wonderful it would be to live in Ponyville with your favorite pony, then this is definitely for you. For anyone not meeting that description, this is probably not a good choice.
Next time: Felt Heart, by Tchernobog