Friday, October 2, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 99

It's getting cold, and that can only mean one thing: it's time to get raking!  I have two maple trees in my yard, but they're different species, and one starts dropping leaves just about the time the other has finished its pre-winter molt, so raking season for me lasts upward of six weeks.  Hey, at least it's better than shoveling snow, right?  Anyway, mini-reviews below the break; go find out what I read recently, and what I thought of it!

The One Who Got Away, by Georg

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Gaberdine, an Equestrian civil servant, is awarded a barony by Princess Celestia... but he soon discovers that the "land" he's been awarded is anything but.  Still, if he wants to keep his new title, he needs to conduct a complete census of the river which is now his.  And as it turns out, there are rather more denizens of his lands than he would have believed.

A few thoughts:  I feel like this is a story I loved despite its flaws, seeing as its got a fair number.  The first chapter is incredibly perfunctory, using several well-worn cliches to hurry Gaberdine on his way to the plot; the seapony Gaberdine keeps misidentifying as a unicorn can only continue to be misidentified for as long as it is through a monumental application of the power of narrative idiocy, and worse, keeping this "secret" from him for as long as is done serves no useful purpose, plot-wise; the romance in this story, while admittedly played as a mutual attraction more than full-blown True Love,  blossoms with almost no basis over the course of only a few days.

And yet... and yet, despite those issues, I did love this story.  It's a predictable piece of work in its steps--a classic tale of finding oneself, with the fanfic-standard assist from Chessmaster Celestia--which embraces its familiar plot every step of the way, reveling in the telling of a story everyone knows, and most everyone still enjoys.  Along with that, the language is pleasantly evocative in more than a few places (any author who can make seaponies, they of the shoo-be-doo-ing, sound enchanting and sylvan, is doing a great many somethings right), and the mix of hints of politics with plenty of clever work on the setting, both in a worldbuilding sense and in more local terms, combine to create a vibrant space for the story to take place in.  In the end, this is an immensely satisfying story; there may not be much in the way of an antagonist, but a story about someone discovering that their life is a good one is always welcome.

Recommendation:  For readers looking for a very traditionally-structured story about finding oneself wrapped in some clever design and told with quiet aplomb, this is definitely one to check out.

To Dethrone A Princess, by Codex Ex Equus

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The rebels have trapped Celestia inside her throne room, using an artifact that cuts off her alicorn powers and will stop the other princesses from quickly responding.  Celestia is at their mercy... isn't she?

A few thoughts:  I thought the idea behind this was funny enough, but there were some sizeable missteps that stopped me from really enjoying it.  Beginning what should be a silly comedy by invoking the specter of dead guards sours the mood (that nopony apparently did die doesn't really eliminate the problem), and the conclusion was an odd middle ground, too long to be a quick, punchy sendoff, but not delving into Celestia's longer-term motives or history of dealing with rebellions(/decorations) this way enough to make this feel like more than an isolated event.  In between is a fun bit of comedic headcanon, but I still found this didn't do a lot for me.  The one thing this story does well, though, is build up to Celestia's reveal; the pacing there, and the size of the gap between when the reader figures out what's about to happen and when it happens, are well-timed.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something short and silly, and don't mind some tonal wandering around the edges, this would be a perfectly fine choice.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for a more memorable fic, though, nor to those bothered by weak conclusions.

The Legend of the Scorpion Queen, by cursedchords

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Once upon a time, a king traveled out to the desert, and brought a scorpion home to live in his garden.  And though the scorpion was grateful at first, in time it came to resent the king for taking her from her home.  And so, it plotted its revenge.

A few thoughts:  This is intended as an in-universe folktale, and although it doesn't borrow heavily from that storytelling style--that said, it does lean on the language of that style, to good effect--it feels very authentic as a piece of invented history, telling the story of how a particular constellation came to be.  My big issue with it was that there's absolutely nothing "pony" about it; strip away the hooves and replace the unicorn with a court wizard in an Arabian Nights-esque setting, and this would lose nothing.  On the other hand, it's not particularly antithetical to ponies, nor does the story make less sense because it involves ponies, which is what can really irk me.
That all aside, I really appreciated that the author didn't feel the need to force a happy ending, instead opting for a more bittersweet but still uplifting finish; to me, that felt very appropriate both to the story (being about the nature of revenge, as it is) and to the in-universe conceit.

Recommendation:  For fans of folktales, this is a must-read.  It's probably not a good choice for readers looking for something with a strong Equestrian tone, but I'd still suggest it to readers who enjoy well-told fables generally.


  1. On the Scorpion Queen story, I was the one who approved it for Equestria Daily. It's definitely improved over the first draft, and I did appreciate the fairy-tale feel of the language and atmosphere, a good example of a piece in which so-called "telly" language actually works to its benefit. However, the original had a framing device in which Twilight was out stargazing with her friends, Applejack notices the scorpion constellation and makes some kind of remark about what it portends, then Twilight proceeds to tell them of the myth behind it. I called out the author on that only because it didn't bring closure to that frame. Twilight didn't make a point with her story; she just basically says, "And that's it!" Fin. I quite liked that it was framed, because it anchored it better as a ponyfic and related it to something going on with Twilight and her friends. I wish the author had let Twilight draw a conclusion from the story instead of excising that part, but I still found it enjoyable.

    1. I never really got the chance to reply to you on that one. I really liked the whole Twilight and friends frame as well, and I did spend a fair amount of time thinking about how I could give it a satisfying conclusion. But I just couldn't think of how to close that circle. Cutting the frame was the best alternative I had, and the story was still quite fine without it. I'm still amazed that it all turned out as well as it did.

  2. I'll admit The One Who Got Away follows a fairly predictable plot, but one of the reasons that particular path has been trod so many times before is because it works. :)

    Romances always walk a fine line. Too long and people get bored with them. Too short and they're choppy. I was fairly happy to get the >start< of a romance blooming, what with the two or three other plotlines I had running in parallel, and I really didn't want to run on for thirty chapters like I did in Traveling Tutor, so I crafted it as close to the bone as it would go with only the key plot lines fleshed out. Note that the chapters are laid out to introduce the characters in sequence, first Gaberdine, then Sen, Ripple, her mother Pearl (yes, that's my sole pun), and various and sundry relatives. Same sequence for the plots, starting with the census, then the steamboat/ship, then the little helper (at which point the readers were hopping up and down, pointing and shouting 'Seapony!'), and only then introducing the love interest. (Love at first listen :)

    In effect, the whole story is about Gaberdine's place in life, much as a puzzle piece stuck in the wrong place might be taken out by a perceptive individual and moved over to where it truly belongs.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll see about making some more for you to read shortly.

  3. Well... I pretty much agree with all the criticisms of The One Who Got Away listed above. If the theme was meant to be about "finding oneself," I think it would have been much better served with an actual first act; that is, taking at least a little bit of time to show us how the main character was originally, building up the problem(s) in his life that leave him unhappy, before it skipped to the part where he acclimates to his new life on the river. As it is, the story just sort of tells us partway through that his life sucked and his new one is better, which was boring and a bit of surprise, given how good he seemed at his job during the (extremely perfunctory) beginning. I had been given the impression that he was some sort of uber-accountant-bureaucrat; the sudden knowledge that he actually hated all of that and wanted a simpler life was a bit frustrating to me.

    Since the "unicorn filly" was obviously a seapony from the get-go, there was no real surprise factor there, and the degree of obliviousness required for the main character to not notice this was constantly pushing my suspension of disbelief. Still, it didn't bother me too much as I assumed it would all tie into a speciesism/racism theme and end up nuking the romance that the story was supposed to be about. There was a tension there as I waited to see when the main character would finally recognize the seaponies for what they were, and how bad the fallout would be.

    ...And instead he finally figures it out on his own and decides "Huh. That's nice," basically rendering that entire aspect of the story pointless. If it wasn't going to matter, then I don't understand why the story made any point in hiding the seaponies from him in the first place.

    Without a "before" picture of the main character, there's little grounding to understand why the "after" picture really even matters; the romance is perfunctory and assumed; and the only real twist is a thematic one, where it turns out that race and species have no real bearing on the story at all. This leaves the whole thing feeling more like a snapshot of a pony's life than an actual story with conflict and tension and character development, at least to me.

    ...That being said, it still does a good job with establishing characters, and setting, and mood. The pacing is reasonable, and I don't recall any serious spelling or grammatical errors. All in all, it felt like 80% of a good story; it's just unfortunate that the missing 20% were such critical components, at least to me.

    But I can certainly see how one could forgive it its flaws, if one is interested in that sort of short, idyllic story. I'm currently enjoying a 300,000 word story with absolutely awful grammar and mechanics, voicing, and pacing issues (among many other things), because those things don't matter as much to me as conflict and characterization, and because I really enjoy the fundamental story concept and execution. People like what they like, I guess.