Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 160: Martial Bliss

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

The NHL playoffs start today!  I won't be doing a fanfic-expy bracket like I did the previous year--too many of the teams are the same, and there're a limited number of super-well-known stories to draw from for comparisons (I think the humor gets lost if you aren't talking titles that most fanfic readers would recognize right away).  Nevertheless, y'all should go watch some hockey!  And watch it soon, because my Wild are probably going to get swept in the first round, after backing into the playoffs by losing their final five games, all in regulation.  Well, at least iisaw will be happy; the Capitals, who were The Celestia Code in last year's bracket, come into the playoffs as clear-cut favorites to claim the Stanley Cup.  When you have a little time around your busy schedule of hockey-watching, though, feel free to nip down below the break and check out my review of Skywriter's Martial Bliss.

Impressions before reading:  On one hand, that title sure sounds like the kind that one comes up with before deciding it's too good not to write a story about--as opposed to, you know, actually having a good idea for a story.  That's not to say that "title-pun came first" and "good story" are mutually exclusive, but it generally doesn't bode well.  On the other hand, this is Skywriter we're talking about, who currently holds one of the three (I've really got to get that number up...) five-star reviews I've given in a Fandom Classic review, so I think it's fair to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Shining Armour hurling Cadence Crystal Heart-ward at the climax of the S3 premier wasn't just a lucky wife-toss: it was a moment he had trained for.

Thoughts after reading:  At about 1500 words, there's not a lot to this fic.  But that merely makes it an excellent example of how to write flashfiction, and how to cram vivid characters, a distinct setting, plenty of humor, and even a hint of character development into what, in lesser hands, would be a by-the-numbers, one-note, "joke's in the cover art" story.

It's true that there's basically one central joke here: Shiny's drunken ex-drill sergeant insisting that wife-tossing is the deadliest of techniques, while Shining plays the straight man.  But Skywriter manages to work in a number of digressions which are shocking in both their number and relevance; there's nothing here that's a non-sequitur for the sake of a cheap laugh.  Moreover, those digressions feel right at home in the world of Equestria circa 2012: if Skywriter wrote this today, he'd probably have had to riff from magical lasers instead of pie-throwing, but as an early-S3 piece of writing, this feels perfectly in tune with the setting, even as it takes on a ridiculous premise the show itself would never touch (at least, in this style).

The source of most of that humor is Sergeant Thunderous, who stands out as a vibrant (if not exactly realistic...) character despite the brief wordcount.  This despite him being entirely one-note, and largely archetypal in his role and style.  Still, archetypes exist for a reason: they give authors a valuable shorthand to use in situations such as these to impart character by implication, and by appeal to audience expectation.  Where Thunderous succeeds is not in being stunningly unique, but in being vivid.  Similarly, Shining's role in the story is largely reactionary (though I did appreciate the small bit of agency afforded to his choice near the end), but by keeping is attitude (long-earned respect tempered somewhat with bemusement and situational disbelief) consistent, rather than, for example, cycling him from oblivious to angry to sarcastic and back again to set up any given line, he becomes a stronger character than most comic fics with this word limit could manage for an equivalent role.

This is, ultimately, almost more of a concept than a story; it's less the tale of how that moment from Return of the Crystal Empire came to be, and more "here's a neat idea with a bit of narrative wrapped around it."  But even if this is more "episode peripheral/add-on" than "narrative capable of standing at least semi-independent," it crafts a fun, easy-to-read conversation which never abandons its sense of humor to expound on its premise, nor abandon its premise to crack wise.  That's nothing to dismiss.

Star rating:

This is a story which doesn't aim for terribly lofty heights, but which demonstrates that even "simple little jokefics" don't need to be unmemorable mini-slogs to a punchline.

Recommendation:  This is an equally good choice for readers looking for a short, amusing palate-cleanser of a fic, and for fans of comedy in general.  Those who are looking for incredible nuance or development will doubtless find this too shallow for their tastes, but if you're just afraid of zero-depth generica, don't be fooled into thinking that there's nothing here.

Next time:  Upheaval: Breaking Point, by Visiden Visidane


  1. "This is a story which doesn't aim for terribly lofty heights"

    ...unlike Shining Armor...

  2. Well, that's two four-stars in a row, and if your fives are so elusive, that just means four should be what anyone aims for. Heck, it even makes three-stars a worthy result.


    1. Two what in a row? Still, though, lately there's been a better run than in about a year.
      It's too bad that 5-stars are so rare, but I've pretty much always treated 4- and 5-star stories here about the same from a functional standpoint: as something to try to prioritize unless there's a strong argument against based on taste (like with the recent Pinkie-lestia shipfic). And 3-stars has always been a worthy result, though depending on the cause for it, the much higher frequency of 1- and 2-stars recently, it might mean more now than earlier.
      On which note . . . I think Fandom Classics just caught up with 6-star Reviews in fics reviewed!

    2. Actually, that might not be until the next one. Still exciting, though.

  3. I'll be rooting for the San Jose Sharks, who are either Hard Reset if Twilight never figured out how to escape the time loop or Scootaloo Dies a Bunch--they keep finding increasingly spectacular ways of getting eliminated from the playoffs.

  4. This fic's going on my list.

    And yes! Upheaval time! I've been waiting on this one for a while. It's exciting, because it's been so long since I read it, and I honestly have no idea how it'll score.