Friday, December 18, 2015

Fandom Classics Part 140: Awakening

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

We all have stories about the moments (or sometimes, lifetimes) of idiocy or sheer un-awareness which we've seen from family members; you live around people, you're going to see and hear them do and say some stupid things.  But a woman at work yesterday took the cake for stories in that category: apparently, her uncle once invented a new kind of dip, made of mashed-up avocados and some salt and oil, which he was immensely proud of.  It fell to her to inform him that what he had "invented" was, in fact, guacamole.  Dashed his hopes of getting on "Shark Tank," it did.

But enough about the relatives of the people I work with; on to ponyfiction!  My review of solocitizen's Awakening, below the break.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In a far future where magic and cutie marks are a myth told to foals, a unicorn named Lumina pilots a cargo vessel from world to world.  When a mysterious ship forces her to crash-land on a desolate ice planet, she learns that those myths are rooted in truth--and that her childhood visions have been preparing her for this moment.

Thoughts after reading:  One thing that I sometimes find challenging when writing reviews--and it's something I get the impression some other reviewers struggle with, as well--is making sure my reviews don't just communicate what I thought were the most significant shortfalls and successes of a story, but also that they communicate my general opinion of the story.  That's a big part of what I use the star ratings for: so that, even if I end up harping on a story's negatives or praising its strengths "too much," there's something at the end which gives a summary impression.  Still, in a good review, the review itself should be pretty indicative of how good one thinks a story is.

I mention this here, because I'm finding that, although I have a lot of negative things to say about Awakening, I did in fact enjoy it a lot.  It's a story I found engaging from the start, introducing an interesting premise which is far-removed from Equestria, but giving enough hints of how (and assurances that) the FiM setting will be used to keep one invested.  It uses flashback chapters to good effect, parceling out information at a good pace, and never feeling coy with what it reveals.  And it embraces a soft sci-fi aesthetic and tone, wisely not getting caught up in the minutia of how any of the technology works, and treating it all simply as established fact while focusing on Lumina, and both her immediate struggles and her crisis of faith.

But with that said... I do have a lot of negative things to say about Awakening, and that starts with the writing.  Semi-regular word errors--tense slips, "lied" for "lay," that sort of thing--dot the story, and odd timeskips (e.g. a chapter ends on a seeming cliffhanger, the next chapter is a flashback, and the chapter after that starts a week after the first chapter, only revealing how the cliffhanger resolved in passing) occur more than once.  There's also some question as to the narration's phrasing, with occasional expressions that seem to come from Lumina's vocabulary worming their way into the otherwise aloof narrative voice, but this I didn't find to be particularly distracting.

There's also a problem with the arbitrariness of a great many plot-relevant events.  A lot of questions, such as "who or what was the ship that attacked Lumina in the first place," are simply never answered.  This might be acceptable by itself--deliberately refusing to answer or even acknowledge a question which lies outside of both a fic's thematic focus and its characters' knowledge can help give a story a strong sense of direction--but often, these events don't just seem important in the abstract; they're given narrative emphasis.  For example, the mysterious raiders(?) are brought up more than once as an ongoing threat, by multiple characters, and yet their identity and motives are just as opaque by the end of the story as they were at the beginning.  This is by no means an isolated incident; a lot of things in the story happen for reasons that might make sense thematically, but which seem from an in-universe standpoint to be unlikely, over-convenient, or just plain inexplicable.

Some of this ties into the way that the canon characters are used (yes, this story features some canon characters), but frankly, I felt like they were under-utilized.  The problem is that their goals, and the methods they use, seem so convenient that it calls into question the entire idea of their mythological stature.  Lumina may worry that she's going crazy when she starts hearing voices, but she does hear those voices, and her protests are fairly weak and quickly pushed aside--if not dropped, at least held in abeyance to the point of giving those voices a chance.  And when she tries to use magic, a thing that she believes to be literally impossible, she's almost immediately successful.  This all begs the question: if it's so trivial to learn these things, why haven't other ponies managed to do the same?  There's a perfectly good answer hiding in the bushes, but it's never seriously explored, to the point where I'm not even sure if it was under-developed or completely unintentional.

With that said, the character interactions were generally one of the strongest points of the story.  Lumina is a well-balanced character, and her interactions with (multiple) AIs throughout the story are both amusing in their own right, and give a nice, unspoken look at how a bit of personality and friendship can keep a pilot sane on a long haul.  The minor characters in the story are often pleasant surprises; though they're usually introduced in stock terms (the Doubting Thomas father, the (presciently) Ferengi-ish griffon, etc.), solocitizen invariably fills them out in small but important ways, making even characters who only appear once or twice feel vibrant.

As for the overall story arc: tonally, it's a mishmash.  It's first and foremost a personal journey/awakening arc, and while I did have some problems with the sense of ordained-ness to some of the proceedings, it's a fine concept overall.  I do wish it hadn't been mirrored quite so perfectly by the external challenges being faced, however; the fact that survival events so perfectly matched what Lumina needed to learn or discover lended to my sense of over-convenience.  And the way that the family arc was basically dropped in favor of the destiny arc (I'm trying to keep the spoilers minimal) felt to me like it detracted from the latter; without some closure on the matter, even a simple assurance whether or not her mom actually is alive, would have made her destiny seem less like a hostile takeover of her goals, and more like a piece of genuine character growth.

Star rating:

Like I said: as much as I find myself focusing on the negative, this was a story that I thought had vibrant characters, an engaging premise, a compelling arc, and which was, overall, an enjoyable read.  That sounds a lot better than what I put up above, doesn't it?  This story has plenty of flaws--but certainly, nothing I found fatal to my enjoyment.

Recommendation:  Readers looking for gritty, hard sci-fi will probably be disappointed, and those who want compelling logic (and explanations) to drive all of a story's major events will be driven batty.  However, for readers looking for an imaginative, far-flung hero's journey that embraces the magic of friendship even as it turns the setting upside-down and inside-out, this is likely to please.

Next time:  Ascend, by xTSGx


  1. I remember really wanting to like this story and just not, by the end. The lack of motive for the ship attack was just one of many bugaboos, but ultimately it was the little things that turned me off, I think.

    1. Yeah, it was the same for me. I really wanted to like it, given how hard "proper" sci-fi is to come by on the fandom. However, there were so many things that bothered me, that I almost gave up on it. In fact, I am one of those 13 dislikes on fimfic.

  2. I find myself thinking that all the flaws you've mentioned are going to bug the heck out of me, but your opinion of the upside of the story is strong enough that I'm adding it to my TBR list.

  3. Okay, this one's going on the RiL list. I'm almost certain it's going to infuriate me, but at least now I know I'm not going to get all the answers, I shouldn't have to get to the end thinking I've missed something vital.