Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 129: Just Words

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

If you've never heard of Kahoot, it's a site that lets you design quizzes for a class of students to do competitively on computers or ipads--it tracks score based on both speed and number of questions correct, and I've used it regularly in the past for review activities (nothing like a little competition to get kids to pay attention!).  The site also lets the students pick their own names (which the teacher can delete if they're inappropriate) each time they do a new quiz, which is where this all ties into MLP.  My rule is that students need to use their real first names, but can add emojis or other stuff if they want to; as long as I can tell who they are from the name.  When the students in one of my classes started entering their names for a review quiz today, one boy put in "[name] Scootaloo," which I don't think any of the other kids picked up on.  Put a smile on my face, it did--guess he must have liked the latest episode.  Wouldn't have pegged him for a ponyfan, either, but then again, this fandom's been all about defying demographic expectations from the start, hasn't it?

Anyway, enough about work; how about some fanficcing?  Click down below the break for my review of Device Heretic's Just Words.

Impressions before reading:  The only other story by the author which I've read was his most famous work, Eternal, which I reviewed just a shade under three years ago.  I don't know why it took me so long to get to another of his stories; I've got two more on my long list of fics for reviewing, and I enjoyed Eternal in any event.  Well, let's see if his other stuff is up to snuff!  Or at least, if this particular bit of other stuff is.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  When Twilight discovers that she's adopted, she brings her fury at the revelation to Celestia.  Celestia, of course, already knew.

Thoughts after reading:  A thousand words into this story, I was expecting a fairly predictable "Twilight's upset, Celestia calms her down, Twilight realizes your parents don't stop being your parents just because you aren't biologically related" plotline.  And indeed, I got all that... but then I got a lot more, as the story doesn't end there, but uses that as a jumping-off point to examine Celestia and Twilight's adoptive parents, and to build and examine a drama between them.

I was glad to see that, and indeed, that latter part of the story played to what I came to think of as one of the author's strengths when I was reading Eternal: showing characters fighting.  Not physically, but arguing; Device Heretic has a knack (he left the fandom long ago, but if he's still writing, I'll assume has is the correct word) for showing emotionally-charged confrontations in ways that convey the tense energy clearly, without becoming dull or uncomfortable to read.  Along with this comes a tendency to exaggeration, however; readers could be forgiven for feeling that Twilight's apoplectic reaction at the beginning of the story was out of character for her (though it would also be fair to note that, as a story written well before season three began, the dynamic portrayed here fits her and Celestia somewhat better than it might seem to, five seasons in).  The interplay between Twilight's mother and Celestia is deliciously, tragically passionate, however, and if it may have felt exaggerated at times, it's certainly fair to say that it was exaggerated to good effect.

The writing on this story is solid, using a mix of clever and/or amusing observations ("The guards were shouting, but in the strange, half-hearted way that suggests they were doing so more in the hopes that they wouldn't be suspected of being unwilling to do so later than because they thought it would have any effect whatsoever") and more emotionally incisive language to convey both the tone and Celestia's thoughts.  That said, the author does tend to pile on modifiers so heavily that, in places, they begin to feel meaningless.  Moreover, the occasional bit it distractingly casual phrasing (relative to the rest of the writing) does stick out, though these are infrequent enough to read around without issue, and without clouding the author's intended tone.

To come back to my initial thoughts, though: I liked the bait-and-switch aspect of this story.  That it looks like "just another 'finds out she's adopted' fic" before proving to be something much more interesting than that.  However, I feel like the "bait" part dragged on too long; as written, it's almost like one is reading two related stories... and the first one is underwhelming.  It's required to give context and weight to the second half, of course, but I feel like the same could have been accomplished more effectively in fewer words, which would have given the reader more to enjoy in the first part of the story than Celestia's tone.

Star rating:

I certainly enjoyed this story, but although there was an immediate hook, it took a surprisingly long time for such a short story to get to a hook that wasn't cliche or expected.

Recommendation:  Readers who enjoy emotional confrontations will find all the stress of one, and readers who don't enjoy that sort of thing for its own sake will find that the conflict here builds to a deliciously tragic portrait that expands up Celestia's characterization--in other words, there's a point to it all.  This probably isn't a good choice for those sensitive to hyper-dramatics or slow starts, however.

Next time:  Things Better Left Unseen, by Take


  1. I'd like to imagine that particular student of yours follows your blog. Oh the hijinx!

    What grade do you teach?

    1. HOLY S***

      Chris is MY teacher!? But that guy's an a*******************...

  2. I really never bought Twilight and Celestia's relationship in this one. As I said in my review of the story (haha, Chris, I've already read all of DH's fics!), Device Heretic seemed hellbent on destroying what relationship the show had given them, and I'll never understand that, considering how much he was seemingly into shipping them.

    That, and this was definitely not the kind of story that needed a running gag.

    1. Agreed. Also, Velvet and Celestia's interactions in this just felt off somehow. Without getting too spoilery, I can't wrap my head around why Velvet was so angry at Celestia, considering that nothing in the story points to any of what happened being her fault.

  3. Wait, you're a... teacher?

    Ohhhhhhhh... Suddenly, everything about you makes sense.

    1. You didn't know that? He's mentioned it multiple times before.

    2. Yeah. He's head of books at Zoolander's School for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Stuff.

    3. He's mentioned school a lot, but somehow my mind's always passed over the "teacher" bit.

  4. ...Oh, gods, I miss Device Heretic. I absolutely adore his characterization and slow, deep portrayal of interpersonal conflict and relationships. His story The Other Mare (posted under SleeplessBrony's account) is still probably the only one in the fandom that convinced me that S1 Luna, S2 Luna, and Nightmare Moon could all actually be the same person.

    Even if he sometimes took... liberties... in his portrayal of characters and their relationships, I found that they were always deeper and more real than their strictly-canon counterparts, and that's always a plus in my mind. "Pony enough" or "canon enough" aren't really factors I take into account when reading a story; internal consistency and quality are far more important to me personally.

    Anyway. Been a long time since I read Just Words, but this review kind of made me want to just go back and read all of DH's stuff again. Hope he's doing well, whatever he's up to. ~ Sable