Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 136: The Star In Yellow

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

It's almost Thanksgiving; what better time for a supernatural light-horror story?  Check out my review of Blueshift's The Star In Yellow, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  I read this one... about 177 weeks ago, according to the timestamp on the comment I left.  At the time, I said, "Frankly, it's better than a lot of the 6-stars I've reviewed, so it is a bit of a shame that it missed out on that rating."


Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A series of miscommunications results in Twilight reading an ancient book--a child's journal--which holds terrible power, and can drive those who read from it insane.

Thoughts after reading:  It's always a little interesting going back to S1-S2 stories, because those were written when the main characters were a lot more fluid than they are today.  Case in point: Twilight's destructive attitude toward literature doesn't really fly in the face of episodes like Trade Ya!, but her attitude in this story ("Books aren't art, Spike, they're just the containers for ideas, and you can't damage ideas!") is perfectly reconcilable with what we knew about her at the time this fic was written.  This is all a roundabout way of saying that The Star In Yellow might not ring altogether true, in terms of its characterizations, to someone reading it today with the benefit of over 100 episodes of character development, it fits quite well with those ponies circa S2.

I don't consider that a flaw, and I think most readers don't; I mention it only to clarify the time period of the writing, and set expectations accordingly.  Where I did sometimes take issue with the characterization was from the dialogue.  Blueshift has a tendency to fall into British speaking patterns which sound distractingly out-of-place; characters saying "I've not" (instead of the more American (and, apparently, Equestrian) "I haven't"), for example.  As long as we're discussing the writing, I'll say that the story's extremely well-written otherwise, with the glaring exception of poor use of commas (primarily, that they're almost universally absent around names).

What is excellent about about this story is the humor; from the comical single-mindedness of (multiple) ponies to some real-world shoutouts (Twilight's homage to Fermat's last theorem was and is a favorite bit for me), and through to the classic character-based humor which is its bread and butter.  The only stuff that didn't really work for me was some of the sillier and more explicit metahumor--a joke about how everyone hates Scootaloo, in particular, feels very dated.  Still, this story is consistently funny... when it's trying to be.  That's most common in the first part of the story, as the horror/insanity aspect starts to come into play later on.

However, it's not entirely confined to the early acts, and this was my most substantial gripe about the story.  Plenty of stories mix humor and horror (especially fairly light horror, as this is), but usually they do so by starting out funny, and gradually becoming more serious as the stakes are raised and as characters the reader (hopefully) cares about by now find themselves in actual danger.  A Canterlot librarian's cantankerous quest to ensure that he doesn't get blamed for any of this weaves between passages where a brainwashed Twilight threatens the safety of Equestria and herself in the name of her compulsion, for example, and the former saps a lot of the drama from the latter; there are simply too many dips into silliness, at inopportune moments, to take any character's fate too seriously.

This is doubly a pity, because even with that handicap, the ending is both surprising and sad.  Moreover, the "villain" of the piece is anything but, in the best possible way; despite having some genuinely disturbing lines (and ambitions), her motivations are always born of a naive desire to do the right thing, which makes her a tragic figure even as she threatens reality.

There's also a significant meta-element to this story, and I'm not talking about those jokes I mentioned earlier.  As the author explains in the note at the end of the story, this is ultimately a story about fanfiction (and about self-insertion, more specifically).  Surprisingly, it treats the subject with both a healthy respect, and a goodly amount of nuance.  And it does all that while keeping things firmly in the context of the story itself; although the parallels aren't exactly invisible, neither are they immersion-breaking, or questionable within the context of the story itself.  The result is a remarkably thoughtful story, which is also consistently funny.

Star rating:

I just went back and checked: it's been well over a year--closer to a year and a half--since I last gave out a five-star rating.  I admit that I was kind of hoping this story would break that cold streak, since I remembered it fondly, but the mood-breaking goofiness of the later portions and consistent editing problems dragged it down.  Oh well; this is still an excellent piece of fiction, and it was still enjoyable to (re)read.  That's the important thing!

Recommendation:  For fans of Lovecraftian horror (the "creeping madness" bits, not the "tentacle monsters" aspects), this is certainly worth a look, and I would also suggest that readers looking for comic stories that tackle a bit weightier, and darker, fare than normal give this a try.

Next time:  A little loopy., by warewolves


  1. It feels like it's been a while since you gave out a four, too. I'll take it! :D Whoo!

    1. Same. It's seemed like the Classics have tended to have a lower score distribution, so seeing anything above a 3 feels like something special. Maybe it's because of the greater difficulty of qualifying as 6-star than as a classic, or at any rate the more formalized process threw fewer false positives or something.

      And it's not a uniform shift down, but far more 1's than you'd expect if the distribution was the same, about as many 2's, 7/8s as many 3's, 4/5 as many 4's, and 2/5 as many 5's. The higher you go, the more hollowed out it gets.

  2. This story is on my Top Favorites shelf for many of the reasons you noted above. There's also the emotional aftertaste; truly bittersweet, which is something often attributed to stories, but rarely actually achieved.

    As a side note, Rainbow Dash Presents has risen from the grave to do a parody of this story, and it looks to be a fairly extravagant production.

    1. Wait, really? That's the best news I've heard in months.