Monday, May 23, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 165: Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger

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

There was a new episode on Saturday--The Saddle Row Review--but I have nothing to say about it.  See, Carrot Top wasn't in that episode.  At all!  I even slow-mo-ed my way through the lengthy line outside Rarity's new store, and nothing!  So... I mean, I could talk about how I felt about the way the episode justified all of the main six's involvement (novel and refreshing), the plenteous off-model facial expressions (grating) or my overall impression (enjoyable, but not terribly memorable; a solid and entertaining episode which doesn't break into my upper-tier), but really, what's even the point?

Instead, let's talk about Hearth's Warming Tail, which I already briefly commented on over on FiMFic.  Don't worry though, I saved the best for you guys:

At this moment, my only regret in life is that Carrot Top's too far in the background for a higher-resolution image

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  LOOK AT THAT DRESS!  LOOT AT THOSE RUFFLES!  LOOK AT THOSE FEATHERS!  LOOK AT THAT CARROT NECKLACE!  I thought that dancing Carrot Top .gif I posed on Wednesday was going to be the highlight of the episode, but OH MY GOD THIS IS THE CUTEST THING IN THE HISTORY OF THINGS

Y'all are on notice: if anyone makes a nice-looking plushie of Carrot Top wearing this outfit, I want to know about it.  I think I've finally found the piece of FiM-merch that I'm willing to spend unreasonable amounts of money on.

Okay, okay, I'm getting to the review, honest!  Click down below the break for my thoughts on AdmiralTigerclaw's Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger.

Impressions before reading:  I've heard that this is one of the best HiE fics out there, and with over 45,000 views, it's certainly one of the most popular (the 40th most popular, it looks like--at least, if we take "most-read" as a near-synonym).  A missing comma and some awkward phrasing in the long description doesn't bode terribly well, but this has been recommended to me by multiple people who I know are pickier about grammar than I am, so hopefully that's not portentous.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The mission logs of a lone human explorer's trip to Omega Centauri, a celestial anomaly of a system where the start seemed to orbit an Earth-like planet instead of vice-versa--and of the first-contact mission which that trip quickly became.

Thoughts after reading:   There are, in fact, a good number of editing errors in this fic, but that's not a particularly noteworthy part of the story (I only start with it because I talked about it in the pre-reading impressions).  The types of mistakes being made are rarely the sort that impinge on readability, and while the writing itself tends toward the simple and straightforward, it's perfectly servicable.  In any case, the story is told almost entirely through the main character's written logs, so that all can be attributed to in-universe mistakes, if one feels charitable.

Now, let's talk about the interesting stuff.

The strength of this story lies in its lower-key moments.  Much of the story revolves around Randy (our titular lone ranger) working to catalogue Equestria, figure out how Celestia's able to move the sun, and help Twilight learn more about Earth, humanity, and English.  These are pleasantly drama-free, with the author wisely allowing the characters to interact cooperatively, to not instantly assume the worst of one another for no good reason, and to generally avoid the types of conflict which would detract from the tone of the story.  The result is a fic which is, in a word, pleasant: there's still plenty of conflict, make no mistake, but little in the way of ill will and hurt feelings.

On the other hand, concept is one of the largest weaknesses of the story, specifically as regards the vast number of unaddressed contrivances which litter the fic.  To pick out a few of the major ones, in no particular order:
1) It's never explained how or why a world precisely like a 250-year-old children's show exists in the "real" world
2) It's never explained why the sun is orbiting the planet in the first place (despite this question being repeatedly brought up)
3) It's never explained how or why Randy is largely immune to magic
4) The explanation for why Randy is the sole individual sent on the mission is nonsensical
5) There's no explanation for why Randy is so willing to let Twilight near sensitive equipment, given his repeated insistence that there are literal "everyone dies" buttons on the ship, and Twilight's repeated demonstration that she's going to keep messing with things without understanding what they do (this is lampshaded at least once, but still)
This is far from a complete listing; it's just a few of the bits I highlighted in my reading which were never returned to.  Now, there's nothing wrong with leaving some mystery in a fic, nor with asking the reader to accept an unlikely event as the premise for a story; if "Randy's on this mission alone because reasons" was the only (story premise-level) contrivance I was being asked to accept as a reader, that wouldn't bother me overmuch.  But much of this fic fails to hold up to even cursory inspection, and looking over my notes, well under half of Randy's core explorations are conclusively addressed.  Not "answered," mind: less than half even have him acknowledge the question after framing it as an important one at an earlier point in the story.

There's also the question of the framing device, to wit: that this is a collection of mission notes and journal entries, occasionally supplemented by video log transcripts, e-mail chains from the folks on Earth, and the like.  AdmiralTigerclaw does a commendable job sticking to the restrictions of the chosen format; I can't think of any entries that struck me as egregiously "not what someone would write," and there's enough flexibility in the "supplemental materials" to work in certain elements that wouldn't work/make sense in strict journal entry format.  The one area where I felt a little disappointed was in Randy's tendency to end entries on cliffhangers; while this could arguably be written off as his flare for the dramatic showing through, in at least two places it struck me as terribly out of sorts for someone to sit down and type.  Generally speaking, however, the format was a strength.

The narrative itself has little direction; Randy does a variety of first-contact-y things and futzes with his ship, but with little in the way of overarching goals; while he was nominally sent to investigate the "celestial anomaly" which a geocentric system represents, that's not a driving motivation for most of the story.  This is not a bad thing, necessarily; the laid-back structure gives the author plenty of room for SoL moments and plot digressions, which create the kind of relaxed, calmly investigatory atmosphere for which the story strives.  But it does result in a story that's easy to put down and never come back to: especially if one knows that few of the questions posed are addressed by the time "the end" rolls around, there's not much forward impetus to keep a reader going.

Star rating:

This seems to me like the kind of story that people who like the kind of story this is (whew!) will enjoy quite a bit, but which isn't going to do a lot to win over people who don't have a pre-existing yen for friendly first-contact HiE.  That's not a bad thing to be, of course... but a story that only appeals to one particular subset of readers is hard to broadly recommend as "the best the fandom has to offer."  On the other hand, it's hard to see many people getting terribly bent out of shape over this story (save, perhaps, those who finished it solely to find the answer to a particular question posed by the story who came away disappointed).  "Broadly enjoyable" may not describe this fic, but "broadly inoffensive" is probably fair.

Recommendation:  For HiE fans looking for something low-key and gently, consistently entertaining, this is an easy story to recommend.  It probably isn't a good choice for those looking for tightly focused narratives, or an emphasis on lore or believability.  And for those who just aren't interested in HiE to begin with... well, this isn't what you're afraid of, but it probably isn't going to win you over so much as earn your neutrality.

Next time:  Princess Twilight Sparkle’s 500th Birthday, by Autumnschild

...Okay, I have one thing to say about The Saddle Row Review:

Devil-Rarity's got nothing on Devil-Carrot Top.


  1. Something I'm going to be saying in an upcoming review is that HiE is a subgenre I find myself wanting to like, but there are far too many eye-rolling tropes in so many of the stories -- everything from aghast discussions of omnivory to human/pony sex -- that I never can. I'll take roundly inoffensive any day.

    1. Off the top of my head, I recall enjoying these three fics and TwilightSnarkle's Order from Chaos trilogy

      Also, I'm very scared right now. While nabbing those URLs, I saw 73 notifications on FIMFiction. I've never had that many before

    2. Human in Equestria stories are pretty consistently bad. Arrow 18 is effectively the best long-form one I've read; if you don't like it, you're unlikely to enjoy any HIE story (though I haven't read the Voltaire in Equestria one yet). A handful of short ones are interesting, most notably Something to Look Forward To by Anonymous_, but that's about it.

    3. Don't forget about Riverdream at Sunset.

  2. That's some top-tier pony right there. I'd put her at around 150 aB. Only Pinkie's managed to top that

  3. Hmm, probably not for me, then. HiE is never going to be my favourite genre, partly for the reasons Present Perfect mentions and partly because I don't really want the human world intruding -- and this doesn't look like a fic that'll be one of the occasional exceptions.

    Next week's story, though, is one I've actually read for a change! It's also one I liked with a couple of reservations, and I'll be interested to see if one in particular irks you too.

  4. It's never explained in words, but you can glean the answer to those problems by reading between the lines. Why the sun orbits the planet is pretty simple: the protag records that unicorn magic is the same thing that allows his ship to travel faster than light, which a careful reader would take as a mechanism for Celestia's control over the sun. Granted, that's more of a how than a why, but it's there.

    MLP never existed in that universe I think is the answer to your first issue.

    I'd also like to add that not everything needs to be explained.

    1. I definitely agree that not everything needs to be explained, especially if it's a secondary story element, but sometimes even if it's a primary point. I tried to make the point that my issue wasn't that this or that particular thing being unaddressed wasn't the source of my frustration, but with the sheer number of such things in this story... but maybe that wasn't clear enough from my review. Sorry!

      As for the first paragraph, Randy actually does explicitly lay out exactly what you said. But, on multiple occasions throughout the story, he wonders how the system got to be like that in the first place... then never makes a serious effort to find out. Which wouldn't bother me overmuch by itself, but which I think is a fair example of one of the many things this story fails to address.

      The "They have no MLP" thing ties back to my issue with a lot of reboots, I guess. If you're going to tell a story that takes place in an alternate universe where a particular movie, story, franchise, or whatever else never existed... well, surely there are more interesting things to do with that AU than just use the now-deleted original concept, aren't there? Although it might not be "fanfiction" per se, I'd be interested to hear how the world 200 years in the future would be different if the original "My Pretty Pony" had been a flop!