Friday, January 29, 2016

Mini-Reviews Round 118

I heard this joke yesterday, courtesy of a seventh-grader: "What's a tauntaun's body temperature?"

...Give up?  It's "Luke-warm."  Eh?  Eh?

Hey, I liked it.  And now that I've established my (lack of ) taste, let's showcase a bunch of my opinions!  Mini-reviews, below the break.

Triptych, by Daetrin

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Following the events of Apotheosis, Celestia temporarily turns over responsibility for Equestria to Luna and the newly-deific Twilight.  While Luna and Twilight try to carve a place for themselves in both the magical and political fabric of Equestria, Celestia travels to distant lands to speak with other gods, hoping to discover more about what Twilight's transformation means--for Equestria, for the world, and for herself.

A few thoughts:  When I said, in the last mini-review, that I was going to read stories by authors whose stuff I knew I liked, this was near the top of my list: the sequel to one of my favorite fanfics, which I've never quite gotten around to reading.  And it should surprise nobody that, now that I've read it, I'm kicking myself for not having gotten to it sooner.

Tryptych gives about equal weight to Twilight growing into her godhead (on that note: unlike the first two stories in this continuum, Tryptych does not stand alone; if you haven't at least read Apotheosis before coming into this, you'll be left very confused) and to Celestia's travels and dialogues, and while this felt unbalanced at times during the story--the connection between Celestia and Twilight's discoveries/growth is only gradually developed--the unwaveringly elegant prose makes this a pleasurable reading experience at all moments.  And even as this story moves away from the setting-emphasis that I so enjoyed in Daetrin's earlier works, it does more than enough to develop its main characters (and to obliquely build up several other races via their deities (which is itself a plot point!)) to keep my interest high.  The pacing feels a bit frenetic at times, cramming events that feel like they could reasonably take weeks into just a few days, but there are so many powerful scenes that the overall effect of the story is overwhelming in a positive sense, rather than incomprehensible.  In the final analysis, it's strongest moments still stand out, rather than blurring together--and there are some powerful moments here, indeed.

Recommendation:  I cannot recommend this to anyone independent of the story it's a sequel to, but for anyone who has read and enjoyed Apotheosis, this is a must-read.  And for anyone who read Apotheosis, but found it merely okay, this story shows a significant improvement in the already-excellent writing quality (I looked for a choice passage to quote, but found a dozen... in the first chapter), and a tighter focus on character-building than its predecessor.

Babel, by Cold in Gardez

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  One day, Discord takes away everypony's ability to speak to one another--and then vanishes without a trace, leaving the ponies to pick up the pieces he left behind.

A few thoughts:  I've had this one on my to-read list ever since it was published, the description having caught my eye.  I was expecting a rather different story from that description than the one I got; I thought I would be reading a story with more of a societal scope, while the actual fic has a very personal focus.  Although that may have caught me off-guard, I thought the story was very enjoyable, and painted an interesting picture of the limits of the author's oft-quoted (by me, anyway) maxim that "ponies are people" by contrasting how Equestria's society would handle the destruction of their common language, compared (implicitly and titularly) to humanity.  This isn't a terribly deep examination of its premise, but it's got enough thoughtful little touches to feel believable--and in such a short story, that's enough.

Recommendation:  Readers who want a highly-detailed examination of the premise will probably come away wanting more, but as a piece of flash fiction, this is very successful at showing (the (lack of) fallout from) a major event through a single character's eyes.


  1. Just realized Triptych's been on my list for about two years now, and the sequel's been finished for several months. I'm gonna have to make reading them more of a priority after this weekend

  2. "I was expecting a rather different story from that description than the one I got; I thought I would be reading a story with more of a societal scope, while the actual fic has a very personal focus."

    That's something I've been trying lately with my stories -- telling a story about people trying to deal with an extraordinary situation that involves them only peripherally.

    I remember, when I was a kid and reading my first novels, that I loved stories about epic heroes whose actions shaped the world. The very first novel I read was Piers Anthony's "A Spell for Chameleon," in which the protagonist is at the crux of a world-changing conflict. The next several stories in that series were in the same vein, all dealing with amazing people who had amazing powers.

    The Xanth series was very long, but after the first few novels Piers Anthony did something different -- he gave us heroes who were ordinary people. Not powerful magicians or great warriors or anything, just regular people called upon to survive in difficult situations and try to make the world a better place in whatever fashion they could. At the time I disliked these stories, and avoided them in favor of protagonists who shook the world with each step.

    But now, twenty-some years later, I realize that was an unsophisticated way of reading. Stories, after all, are about people, and the more we can relate to them as readers, the more potential the story has to tell us something about the human condition. That's the ultimate purpose of stories, and it's where my maxim "Stories about ponies are stories about people" comes from.

    So, that's why Babel isn't about Discord or the Elements of Harmony trying to undo his curse. It's about ponies -- people like us -- trying to make their way in a strange world, and I hope that story says something about us too.

  3. You'll probably like Cartography of War better than Triptych, to judge by your comments here. That said, yeah, pacing was the thing I had the most issue with. Triptych was almost...experimental in plotting, and it's not one I could have done without the preliminaries in Apotheosis.