Friday, September 11, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 96

Football is back!  You'll all be indifferent to know that I've put my stinking-it-up streak on the line by entering the same fantasy football pool I always do.  I felt like I had a pretty good draft, which probably means I can pencil in another season at about 4-8, following season-ending injuries to any or all of Eddie Lacy, Drew Brees, LeSean McCoy, or Alshon Jeffery.  Oh wait; those last two are already listed as "questionable" on their respective injury reports, and their teams haven't even played their first games of the season.  Its... it's gonna be a long year, I think.

But let's talk about things y'all presumably do care about, like fanfiction!  Short reviews, below the break.

Arthurian—The Black King, by Wellspring

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The tale of Sombra, from his birth and knighthood to his eventual banishment by the Royal Sisters, told in the style of an in-universe epic Romance.

A few thoughts:  The author lists Le Mort D'Arthur and Ivanhoe as the primary inspirations for the style on display here.  The latter, I'm sorry to admit, I know only through excerpts, but Malory's work is something I'm very familiar with, and Wellspring does a commendable job capturing both the literary style, and the feeling of history-by-way-of-myth which permeates that work.  A capital-r Romance in the truest sense, this is a story about character archetypes presented in a tell-heavy style, which obviously isn't to everyone's taste... but as someone who loves that style of storytelling, I was utterly impressed by this story.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of basic editing work that holds it back.  Tense is all over the place, rarely staying consistent for even a single paragraph, and basic errors like using the wrong pronoun (e.g. calling the queen "he") and the like abound.  This is doubly unfortunate in the case of this story because it includes a great number of deliberate errors (or rather, deliberate faux-anachronisms in wording and punctuation), and the effect of these is obscured when one has to parse the actual mistakes from the purposeful ones.  Still, the (real) author mines a lot from the premise that this is an in-universe work, and not just in terms of archaisms; the copious footnotes (which necessitated reading with a second tab open, pre-scrolled to the bottom of the page, for ease of reading; they were absolutely worth it) and three afterwords to editions published at different times in Equestria's history are every bit as interesting as the story itself.

Recommendation:  Anyone who's a fan of the style (subordinating character to event and archetype; heavy on fantastical additions to lore without a need to explain or justify; heavily grounded in a traditional understanding of chivalry), or of stories as in-universe documents, should absolutely check this out, posthaste.  Readers looking for a more accessable mode of storytelling (at least, more accessable to modern eyes and ears) may find this offputting, however.  Their loss.

The Flower's Dream, by Fanofmosteverything

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  An adult breezie tells his child the ancient tale explaining why he needs to go out into the dangerous world beyond to help gather pollen.

A few thoughts:  This is a clever little creation myth, but it never quite sold me on its premise; that it was being told by a parent to a child.  This feels a little like missing the forest for the trees, but I kept returning to questions about the storytelling premise as I was reading (if this is their creation myth, why has the child never heard about it, never mind actually heard it?  Why does dad feel the need to keep repeating his child's questions?), at the expense of thinking about the story itself.  Beyond that, the story is clever and feels original, but between its brevity (barely a thousand words) and the father's style, the effect more "clever idea" than "engrossing narrative."

Recommendation:  Readers looking for something short and original will probably find that this tickles that itch quite well, though those looking for a more in-depth treatment of their mythology will probably want to read the story above instead.

The Taxening, by Admiral Biscuit 

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Written Script is sick and tired of ponies complaining about their taxes, and this year, he's not just gonna take the abuse...

A few thoughts:  This is the sequel to A Taxing Evening, a lovely slice-of-life story the RCL (and by extension, I) reviewed over here about Written Script putting up with a parade of complaints and other issues in his role as Town Treasurer during tax season.  The sequel is a completely different piece of work; it's basically a jokey murder spree, as Written gets his revenge on all the ponies who made his life difficult in the first fic.  That's not something I felt a particular need to read, and although the deaths started silly and pretty much stayed that way, I didn't feel like there was the kind of absurd escalation as the deaths accumulated that I was hoping for.  Still, this was kind of amusing just for the contrast between it and the first fic, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little satisfying to see Written exact some revenge.

Recommendation:  A lot of the enjoyment to be had here is predicated on having read the original, so I wouldn't recommend it independent of that.  If you have read A Taxing Evening, and you specifically want to read a tonal 180 of a fic about the ponies from it getting (literally) cut down to size, then you're the target audience, but I wouldn't recommend this far beyond that group.


  1. King Sombra was always my favorite villain in the show. That, combined with the fact that I haven't really read a lot of epic poetry style stories before (I read Beowulf as well as The Iliad and The Odyssey a long time ago, but that's about it), I decided to give Arthurian—The Black King a try, and I enjoyed it very much. He's just such a cool character! And the story Wellspring made for him captured the epic feel really well.

    Some of the plot events seemed familiar, so I'm not sure if it's based on other epics I don't know so well, or maybe my brain's archive of stuff just decided to pluck random strings in its web of connections now and then for no reason, but either way, it didn't bother me that much. If they were references to other stories, they were used effectively. And the shifting between tenses never threw me off too much either. It kind of made me want to try my hand at writing something like that.

  2. Did you read that one fic about ponies doing fantasy hoofball? Search me what the title was...

    1. It's in Sharp Sparks short stories collection:

    2. Many thanks! :D Chris, go read that!

    3. I read that after you reviewed it, actually! It was good fun, though I felt like I didn't need the entire first scene--or at least, it could have been a lot shorter. I'd have started a lot closer to the draft itself, since Lyra's appearance is where the action really kicks off.

  3. Hey, thanks for the review!

    I actually wasn't sure I should publish it as a standalone, or add it to one of my collections.

  4. Flower's Dream was already on my list, but I'll be adding Wellspring's story too.