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For those of you who don't follow me on FiMFiction, I'll open up the same challenge I made in my bi-weekly roundup post: if you can correctly identify which story from the Secret Santa compilation was written by me, I'll give you... something. A review for a story you want me to talk about, probably? If you don't want that, ask for something else; I'll make sure you get something at least vaguely rewarding, above and beyond the vindication of being able to identify Chris-fiction on sight. PM or e-mail me if you've got a guess, and be sure to tell me how you figured it out!
But enough about stories that might have been written by Chris; let's talk about one that definitely wasn't! My review of BronyWriter's Fluttershy and Celestia Play Chess, below.
Impressions before reading: This looks suspiciously like an "all there in the title" type of story; the kind where there's not much to say about it beyond, "yup, they definitely do that thing in this story." Chess is a convenient metaphor for all sorts of things, though, and if this story can take an original angle that builds on its characters, it could certainly be much more than that.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: When Fluttershy doesn't want to join her friends in watching the Wonderbolts, Celestia offers to keep her company. And to pass the time, they settle on playing some chess.
Thoughts after reading: As it turns out, this story doesn't use chess as a metaphor for anything. Instead, it uses it as an unrelated accent to conversation for a while, before turning it into a comic centerpiece. Unfortunately, neither of these uses was well-realized.
The problem with the conversation/chess game is fairly obvious: they're totally unrelated. More than that, though, the conversation is (while not necessarily uninteresting ground by itself) unrelated to anything else in the story; it doesn't build on anything in the lengthy setup, and it doesn't have any payoff at the end. The result is a bit of musing on how the main six would handle fame which has no grounding whatsoever in the fic itself. As for the way it's played for comedy... I'm no chess expert, but I probably know more about the game than "the average reader." Still, I feel like anyone with even a cursory understanding of how chess is played would recognize that the games as described make no sense relative to their story functions; any fic in which some sort of deep tactical insights can be gleaned from submitting to a Scholar's Mate is taking a very loose approach to how the game is understood, indeed.
The writing itself is dry and technical, with a heavy focus on movement details and dialogue transparently geared toward exposition. Having read several stories by this author before, I found this rather surprising, and have previously found his writing to be generally solid. I can only attribute this to Chess being one of the author's earlier works; this would also explain why there are some repeated technical errors (missing commas, odd or flat-out incorrect capitalization choices) which I definitely wasn't expecting to see coming in. Frankly, it's kind of nice to see an author improve with experience... but make no mistake, this is the kind of story which serves as a negative example of how far the author's come, construction-wise.
Outside of the chess game itself, there's a fair bit of humor for a story without the comedy tag. However, most of the humor here is either referential ("'Oh don't grovel,' [Celestia] said. 'If there is one thing that I can't stand its ponies groveling.'") or of the unexplained random variety ("'This is called a television,' [Celestia] said. 'Luna and I use it to watch movies because television channels have not been invented yet.'). Neither is particularly to my taste, but even leaving that aside, I felt the latter robbed Fluttershy and Celestia's conversation of any of the thoughtfulness it might otherwise have managed. Couple that with the overlong setup for each piece of the story (over a thousand words are spent simply on establishing the first sentence from my Zero-ish spoiler summary, without any particular character development, foreshadowing, or... anything, really), and there are large segments of the story that don't seem to serve any purpose, or at least fail to serve them effectively.
★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
Although there's nothing particularly awful here, Chess is a story with little in the way of direction, cohesion, or individually well-executed elements.
Recommendation: I can't think of any group to whom I'd specifically recommend seeking this out. The best I can offer is that readers with minimal familiarity with chess and little concern for technical or construction quality might enjoy this as a piece of ephemeral goofiness.
Next time: Boast Busted, by RainbowDoubleDash