Monday, December 7, 2015

Mini-Reviews Round 109

Like writing?  Like giving gifts?  Like both of those things, but worry so much about the quality of your writing that the only circumstance in which you'd be willing to "gift" it would be while comfortingly cloaked in the soothing veil of anonymity?

Then check out the FiMFic Secret Santa thingamabober that Obs is running!  You have the rest of the month to write just 1000 words (or more), so plenty of time... but you need to sign up by Tuesday.  Go to it!  And, once you've done that (but not before... go on, I'll wait), head down below the break for some of my short takes on stuff I've recently read.

Under a Willow Endlessly Weeping, by Emilia Hawke

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Cloudy Day tells his little sister the story of how willow trees learned to weep.

A few thoughts:  The prose here has a pleasantly Victorian tinge to it without being obtuse or overly dense, but the story does fall victim to another trap that often befalls writing of this style; it wallows.  The first thousand words of the story is all setup for the willow tree-fable, and consists mostly of wistful sighing and opaque observations which do little to develop the characters, and nothing to advance the plot.  Failing to do either by themselves would be perfectly fine, but to fail to do both at once results in a lot of narrative dead space, and it's easy to let one's interest wander despite the strong technical construction.  The in-story folktale is conceptually solid, but follows a very well-known format without variation or development--and more than that, without any significant adaptation to fit its nominal Equestrian setting; it's the sort of tale that would fit just as well (or better, depending on your stance on ponies waging war) in a piece of original fiction, without meaningful modification or adaptation.  With that said, it is conceptually solid, and the story as a whole closes on a strong note; the sister's commentary at the end of the story is a nice touch, and the conclusion is a soft but thematically binding one.

Recommendation:  If you don't care for flowery prose or meandering in general, this probably isn't for you.  But if you like the former or are a particular fan of folktales, this is worth a look.

On Target, by Kestrel

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Snapshot used to be a talented ice archer, but even before the Equestria Games appearance where only a baby dragon's quick action prevented his stray arrow from causing a disaster, his archery--and his life--had fallen apart.  Now, his daughter has a request...

A few thoughts:  This story is very, very telly; more than a few times, it dips back and forth between character perspectives in order to inform the reader of each one's exact thoughts ("Pin’s eyes widened as he continued. She actually looked somewhat interested in what he was doing now. The little filly had noticed how sad he had been and saw how he was always smiling in pictures where he was shooting arrows with his bow").  Moreover, the story is extremely blunt in its attempts at emotional manipulation, dutifully checking off all the usual boxes which mark what I've come to think of as "feels fics."  The sources of depression and, later, resolution are predictable, and even if they're executed with a minimum of unfortunate implications (always a plus!), they're transparent in purpose.  InquisitorM once described a story to me as feeling like the author was standing over his shoulder, whispering "Okay, now be sad!"--that was more or less my impression here.

Recommendation:  This probably has a similar audience to a story like My Little Dashie--readers who are looking for something bluntly unsubtle at what its trying to do, and which requires a minimal amount of reading comprehension to get the full impact out of--but set firmly within the realm of the show itself.

My Path, by Silver Moon

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Fluttershy walks the one path in the Everfree Forest which doesn't scare her: the one that leads to her mother.

A few thoughts:  I'm trying to be as subtle as the story itself, but this is one of those many stories where the "twist" is so obvious from the get-go that the ending becomes an anticlimax.  Frankly, the problem with these kinds of stories in general (and this one specifically) isn't so much that they layer on too much foreshadowing, but that there are so many stories which play coy with the exact same details that anyone who's read even a moderate amount of fiction who, as soon as they look at the chapter title, will know exactly where this story is going.  Predictability isn't a terrible thing all by itself, but this story doesn't really add anything to the reader's understanding of the setting, focus character, or anything else--save for the single fact/reveal which is the crux of the fic.  When that's the only major element of interest... well, there's not much beyond that to keep readers invested, nor to reward them for continuing to read on.

Recommendation:  For young or inexperienced readers (i.e. those who haven't read this kind of story many times before, in both fan- and original fiction), this could still have some impact, and the prose is perfectly competent.  For others, it's not likely to pack much punch.

Anarchive Reigns, by Aragon

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The Canterlot Archivists set out to create a document listing the ages of every pony in Equestria.  It doesn't go well.

A few thoughts:  If you've read one of the author's comedies before, you know the kind of thing you're in for: the story takes the form of documentation of the archivists shocking discovery that wandering up to mares and asking them their age without preamble doesn't produce much more than embarrassment and indignation, and then coming up with increasingly more boneheaded ways to try to do their job ("[W]e had an amazing idea – instead of asking [Luna] her age directly, we asked her how old she was when she was banished to the moon. We knew that we just needed to add one thousand years to that number. Easy-peasy. However, Princess Luna got kind of weird when we asked her just how old she was when she tried to kill everypony in sight. Thinking she was just confused, we made sure she understood what she meant. 'The first time,' we said. 'Like, not the second time you’ve tried to kill us all like some kind of horrible monster. We’re asking about that thing that happened over one thousand years ago. You know, when you betrayed your sister for the first time.'"), and is full of brick jokes, gentle fandom ribbing, and general absurdity.  It's also pretty poorly edited, at least compared to the Aragon's more recent stuff; although it's easy to parse, verb choice and word order pretty clearly marks this as the writing of a non-native speaker, in ways that not all the author's stories do.

Recommendation:  Are we to the point where I can use "Aragonian" as an adjective, like I can with "Blueshiftian?"  Eh, either way: this is an excellent choice for readers looking for something aggressively "dumb fun" with good escalation, though folks looking for something more than what is, essentially, a joke vehicle, may want to give it a pass.


  1. Just so we're clear: Fluttershy's mother is a tree, yes?

    1. Duh, Present, of course she is. Do you even watch the show?

  2. Yooo! "Aragonian"! I feel like I've accomplished something here.

    Funny how you didn't mention how awfully dark that story is, though. It's, as of now, my second-darkest story yet (when it comes to humor, obviously), to the point where sometimes I wonder if I should have written it in the first place.

    'Course, the story is so ridiculous nobody really got offended, so maybe I'm just queasy.

    (Also, i'll take a pic at the editing -- that story only had one proofreader, after all, so maybe that's the issue).

    1. >'Course, the story is so ridiculous nobody really got offended

      I think that's the key takeaway right here. Putting a pedophile in a pony story is super-dark. Putting in a completely incompetent codger who's constantly slipping up by providing TMI on foals? That's rather different.

      Unless you're talking about all the "horrifying" imagery, in which case, I gotta tell you: it wasn't really scary. It was like, it was trying to be scary, but really, it was just trying too hard, y'know? I mean, yawn.

      (for any non-Aragon's reading this, that last paragraph was a joke--one you'd get if you'd read the story!)

  3. Gah! This sucks. Do you get notifications of comments? I doubt you'd otherwise see one on a post this old. I signed up for that secret Santa fic exchange thing, and I was in a quandary about whether to actually submit it to the compilation, since the typical mod position has been that I couldn't also publish it under my own name, and I have reasons for wanting to do so. I was at least going to leave a link and explanation of such in the compilation's comments and PM the guy I was assigned to let him know that was his story, but he's just deleted his account. So I have a gift and nobody to give it to.