Friday, May 20, 2016

Mini-Reviews Round 135

That's right, it's time for more mini-reviews!  This week, we're doing a long fic/short thoughts edition: sometimes, I read novel-length stories, even when I don't have to.  Now you can find out what I think about them!  Well, about the three that I reviewed this week, anyway.  Check out 300,000 words worth of fic distilled into about a score of paragraphs, below the break.

Good Intentions, by Just Horsing Around

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Two new ponies come to town, and suddenly things start going missing all over Ponyville.  Surely that's not a coincidence, right?  Well, Twilight thinks otherwise: thanks to the princesses, she's certain that there's more to this than a pair of pony thieves, and that if she doesn't do something soon, lives will be at stake.

A few thoughts: Let's start with the bad: various writing issues (punctuation problems, britishisms, etc.) are definitely noticeable, and the author uses a lot of question marks to end phrases that aren't actually questions, to the point where it became a real distraction. I also didn't really buy some of conclusion-jumping going on here. To cite an early example: Twilight's been asked to research a monster that, in generations past, has occasionally caused a pony to go missing. There's no indication that this monster-thing is anywhere nearby, that it's currently active... it's not even clear if it actually exists, for goodness' sake. And yet, the first thing Twi does is try to tell Fluttershy that she needs to leave her home on the outskirts and move into town so that she'll be safer. Where did that come from? More than a few times, I felt like ponies were just leaping ahead six assumptions, and leaving me behind to scratch my head.

On the plus side, though, Summer and Silver were indeed well-done OCs, and the story did a reasonable job of balancing dark tone with FiM setting. More impressive to me, though, was that the story was consistently engaging, despite spending a lot of time on "mundane" stuff; lengthy Ponyville goings-on that don't feel like overlong intrusions are tough to pull off in a story like this, but these did a good job of not feeling like unimportant window-dressing before we can get to the monster-y bits.

Recommendation:  Monster-y bits notwithstanding, this is largely SoL in tone, with some dark bits around the edges.  Readers looking for something largely low-key with a few cherries of dramatic payoff will probably find it to their liking, though it's not for those sensitive to technical issues or characters channeling the author's knowledge of the fic.

Subjunctive, by Integral Archer

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The tale of Errenax, a changeling linguist and infiltrator, in the leadup to and aftermath of the attack on Canterlot--and of his observations on the nature of Equinity and Changeling-kind, exemplified in their differing philologies.

A few thoughts:  I really, really wanted to like this story, and there are a lot of things about it that I love not just conceptually, but in execution.  The language differences are well-researched and intriguing.  The writing is deliciously dense, and frankly beautiful in many places ("As I watched her, I could feel immobility and impotence wrapping the slender stalks of their i's round my body and squeezing me till I became nearly breathless").  And throughout, the story retains a delightful ability to surprise; the comings (and goings) of major characters are unpredictable, yet mostly make sense in hindsight.

That mostly is the first of a number of issues that kept me from fully appreciating this story, however.  More destructive to my enjoyment was the ultimate failure of the story to hew to Errenax's viewpoint: although the early chapters are written strictly from his point of view, this conceit is later abandoned (before, confusingly, being picked up again at the very end of the story).  While the "as written by the changeling linguist" angle invites the reader to accept a number of questionable issues as being the result of an unreliable narrator (and while this can still be applied in some cases, as with the suspiciously same-y, out-of-character-for-the-canon-characters-in-its-vernacular dialogue), a lot of things don't hold up as faithful retellings; the presentation of a bizarrely brief, abrupt, and absolute romance sticks out in particular.  For me, this ended up being not so much a "great story" as a "story with some great things in it."

Recommendation:  If you value prose over content, this is absolutely the fic for you--it's not even that the content is awful (it largely isn't), but the writing and philology on display are a pleasure to take in.  If you're liable to get hung up on narrative consistency or conceit, this will drive you absolutely batty.  

Thorn of the Rose, by BlackRoseRaven

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The creature which was once Celestia is entrusted with the care of a young foal.  It's a burden she little wants, as she directs the rebuilding of a world of robots and technology, but at the same time it stirs old memories...

A few thoughts:  This story throws you right into an unfamiliar setting with no explanation, and while I found it a bit abrupt at the start, there were still enough early hints and flashbacks to assure me that all the seeming character and setting incongruities were done with purpose, and would have a perfectly good explanation.  And by the end of the story... that explanation had not come.  There were some bits and pieces, ideas of the characters involved in those changes... but this ultimately felt like the sequel to a story I hadn't read.

It turns out that, despite not being labeled as such, this is part of the author's sprawling 'verse, and while I'm reasonably certain (based on the quality of prose and storytelling) that there are good explanations for all those things somewhere in the earlier twenty-odd stories, this is by no means a stand-alone fic.  That's unfortunate, because as good as the writing was, and as interested as I was in the story despite its being a bit darker and, dare I say, edgier than I usually prefer my ponyfic, it seems from a glance that starting this series from the beginning means signing on for at least a six-figure wordcount.  I may yet go and check out the first story, but it's hard to recommend this one on its own.

Recommendation:  I don't recommend this story as an entry point into the author's writings, and if you're already up-to-date on the fics which come before this one, you probably don't need my recommendation to know if you want to read this as well.  For all that, I think this is a good story--it's just not one that I can usefully point a reader to.  


  1. Hmm, I'm intrigued by the verse potential of that last one...

  2. "nine-figure word count"

    Are you sure you meant nine? As in 100,000,000+. Even as a long-running series, that seems unlikely.

    1. Clearly, Chris is utilizing the senary numeral system. Unless my New Math is wrong, the series should come out to 240,422,335 words in base-6

    2. Millions of words, billions of words... what's a few orders of magnitude among friends?

      Anyway, I've changed it so that the implication is that the author's setting has a wordcount in the same general ballpark as Project Horizons as opposed to "the entirety of Wikipedia."

    3. Now I have no idea what numeral system you're using. Possibly duodecimal or hexadecimal. I know you're a Douglas Adams fan, so maybe it's base-13