Friday, October 16, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 130: Things Better Left Unseen

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

It's starting to get cold out, again.  I'm not a fan of coldness in principal; one of the greater disappointments of my life was discovering that not only does global warming pose a potentially catastrophic threat within my lifetime, but that it probably won't even make cold winters go away.  Even my silver lining, stripped away.

...Okay, enough about that, though.  Let's talk about my review of Take's Things Better Left Unseen, conveniently located below the break.

Impressions before reading:  This is a fairly recent story (published in July, it's barely three months old as I write this), but got recommended to me on the strength of a very lengthy stay in the feature box, which no doubt contributed to its speedily racking up over 12,000 views (as of this writing).  With that as background, coupled with a look at the description and cover art, I'm going in expecting something random, one-note, and probably without a lot of depth.  But hey, feature-box fare isn't always feature-box bait; I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, and find there's more here than meets the eye.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight invents a machine that shows video feeds from alternate realities, and rushes to show it off to the girls.  But when Rainbow Dash volunteers to see her alternate selves first, Twilight can't seem to find a universe where Dash isn't dating one of her friends.

Thoughts after reading: If I had to pick one line that sums this story up--that illustrates what it does and doesn't do, and that speaks to its overall quality--I'd go with this one:
"I'm team AppleDash!" Pinkie screamed which really helped the totally not awkward mood the room had now taken.
Let's start with the writing: although free of spelling errors and the like, Things is missing a lot of commas.  This, combined with more than a few run-on sentences and a tendency to throw in digressions without regard to sentence-level pacing, result in a lot of lines that feel directionless and rambling.  There are also regular technical errors of other sorts (tense shifts, wandering narrative voice, etc.); on the whole, the sentence-level construction of the fic is solid enough to be parceable, but not much more than that.

As for the story itself?  It takes a simple joke--that the girls react to not!Dash being romantically involved with each of them (and more)--and tells it... and that's it.  The problem is that that joke is a fine jumping-off point for a story, if it's used as a vehicle to accomplish something.  The story could tell us more about Dash's insecurities or sexuality.  It could reveal hidden faultlines, or hidden depths, to any of her relationships with the other girls.  It wouldn't have to be anything deep or meaningful, either--it could just as easily build to a comic crisis of faith as (for example) Rainbow Dash discovers she's the only straight Dash in the multiverse.

This story, however, doesn't do anything with its premise.  It shows a few worlds, shows the surface-level reactions of the ponies to seeing their doppelgangers kissing, and then ends on a "let us never speak of this again."  There's... there's just nothing there.  This is a single idea, dragged out to 5000 words.

There's still the humor of the story to consider, however.  After all, having established that this is a fic with no deeper than making its central joke, there's still at least the possibility that the humor is good enough to justify reading.  Unfortunately, the comedy here is very uneven.  "Rainbow Dash and [other pony] are in love" is the big one, repeated in various permutations but without expansion, and it's competently executed enough for those who find it inherently funny.  But there are a lot of missteps here, from the narrator occasionally dropping in awkward assurances to the reader which don't quite rise to the level of fourth-wall-breaking to the memetic references to, of all things, a full-blown Cupcakes shoutout.  It's been a long time since I've seen one of those in an ostensible non-meta comedy.  And I must say, I hadn't missed it.

Star rating:

Quoth I, back in the "Impressions before reading" section: "I'm going in expecting something random, one-note, and probably without a lot of depth."

 ...Boy, I hate it when I'm right.

Recommendation:  In a lot of ways, this reminds me of a story written back in 2011: the meta-references (presumably intended as humor?), the stock use of the main six, the reliance on premise over any exploration of the same... heck, even the Cupcakes bit.  If you're looking for a pretty decent recreation of what a typical piece of fanfiction from the time looked like (sans the Sunset Shimmer bit, obviously), then consider this a contemporary equivalent.  Beyond that, I think most readers would find it tolerable at best.

Next time:  Canterlot Cantata, by Ringcaat


  1. Both parts of " To read the story, click the image or follow this link" aren't working. Not that they need to, cause well, your review.

    1. Thanks for catching that! The links should work correctly now.

  2. Holy borrowed Futurama concept, Batman! Does it even have a LongThinger™ in it?

  3. >Cupcakes references

    >in 2015

    >time to burn the fandom

    1. There were a bunch of these in MMDG...

  4. I remember this story, but I think the cover art is new. It's nice. I like this artist's style.

  5. I think this story was recommended to me in that "also liked" sidebar thingy. I'm not sure what I possibly could have been reading that was similar to this one, but I skimmed through it. You're right, of course; Things Better Left Unseen is exactly what you'd expect. As much as I adore the site, I don't use fimfiction's front page/feature box to find stories precisely because of stories like this.

    ...The Cupcake's meta-reference was kind of nostalgic, though. Perhaps the best part of TBLU was being reminded of how the fandom's evolved over time.