Monday, March 21, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 156: Regarding the Need for Sex Education

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

I tried scanning that barcode on the bottom of the picture; to my mild disappointment, it's not real (or at least, not tied to any actual product).  IMMERSION: RUINED.

Can any story win me back after such a bitter betrayal in the cover art?  Find out below, in my review of GaPJaxie's Regarding the Need for Sex Education.

Impressions before reading:  I've got wildly mixed feelings going into this story.  On one hand, I have a very high opinion of the author's writing in the abstract, buoyed based among other things on the story of his I read for the RCL.  On the other hand, apologetics in a description, even jocular ones like these ("A Los Pegasus charity commission for Pav Feira. He... he gave me the prompt. I had no choice. Forgive me.") aren't usually a great sign, and I wasn't too keen on the last story of his that I reviewed.  Balanced against both of those is the fact that I've never read a comedy by Jaxie, and comedy is a rather different beast from drama.  So... I'd peg this somewhere between a one-star and a five, based on what I know going in.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight is panicking because she's sure that she's pregnant.  Except... she doesn't seem to quite grasp the mechanics--or the necessity of a stallion being involved in the process.

Thoughts after reading:  There's not a lot to say about this story, because it's basically variations on the one joke, "Twilight is oblivious to the realities of conception," combined with the obligatory visit to every one of her friends.  Now, normally, that's the kind of thing I would say about a story that's getting a quick one-star and a recommendation along the lines of "if you think 'I got pregnant with another mare' is funny enough to justify 7600 words worth of repetition, then go for it; otherwise, give this a pass."  And to be fair, most stories that can be accurately described as "variations on one joke" aren't all that good.  But this one is significantly better than that description indicates, and it's worth looking at why.

To start with, each of the girls Twilight visits brings a unique angle to the picture; Dash is equally oblivious but unwilling to admit it, Rarity tries to gently probe the subject, Pinkie is Pinkie, and so on.  Twilight herself exhibits basically the same histrionics at each stop, but the other characters are differentiated enough from one another to avoid much repetition of joke from scene to scene.  That said, some of Twilight's lines do start to repeat, but the differing reactions of the girls is enough to make this a minor note, rather than a serious flaw.  There's also the fact that the comic escalation is well-handled; there's unquestionably more than a whiff of character destruction involved, but the fact that the first scene or two are very faithful to the characters' personalities (allowing for the premise, anyway) before gradually building to increasingly ridiculous heights makes the later excesses palatable.  Each new absurdity is just a bit more extreme than the last, so that the transition from "ridiculous, but grounded," to "Twilight explains what she needed fifty sticks of butter for" is so smooth as to cause no complaint.

There is the question of the marefriend, though.  It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that this is a Twilestia fic (at least, insofar as something that takes itself this unseriously can be said to be a "shipfic"), and if you're the sort of person who finds shipping those two a dubious ethical prospect, this might go sour for you pretty quick.  Twilight definitely comes off as "woefully unprepared for any relationship," in case the description didn't make that clear, and if you're looking to be offended by the pairing... well, you'll probably be offended.

If you aren't specifically looking to be offended, though, you'll probably be able to appreciate that this is a ridiculous comedy, and that the shipping is treated with just as much reverence and seriousness as Twilight's concern.  As the exact nature of Celestia and Twilight's relationship takes shape over the course of the fic, it's not exactly difficult to see the joke.  But hey, people get bent out of shape about shipping all the time, and Twilestia is divisive enough as it is; probably better to mention it than not, right?

One issue that I took early notice of the repetitiveness of nonverbal cues.  I'll acknowledge that I may have been primed to notice them, given that they were such a pervasive issue in Would It Matter if I Was?, but even without having read that story fairly recently, it's pretty distracting when, say, Twilight starts to blush four different times in a single conversation.  Frequently, ponies in this story are described with awfully telly adjectives and adverbs, as well (e.g. lifting a firm hoof to her lips, or drawing sharply away).  These can help set a tone in measured doses, of course, but when every action seems to have some emotional cue attached to it, it stops being informative and becomes positively wearisome to read; the effect (I don't presume the actual intention, obviously, but the effect) is almost as if the author doesn't trust the readers to figure out how the characters are feeling, and is compelled to constantly remind them through narration.

Star rating:

Although this is of the "variations on a single joke" genre, it doesn't forget that "variations" are crucial to the process, and if the writing is pretty bludgeon-y, it's also fair to say that the sense of comic timing and escalation were consistently spot-on.

Recommendation:  This isn't for anyone who's going to get huffy about Twilight being obtusely idiotic, obviously.  That aside, this would be an excellent choice for readers looking for a story that shows how to do something simple and unserious without being wholly insubstantial.

Next time:  The Witch of the Everfree, by MagnetBolt

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