Friday, July 29, 2016

6-Star Reviews Part 163: Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons

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

What's 1.7 million words between friends?  Nothing, that's what!  Well, nothing and a month's worth of reading... anyway, here's the review you've all been waiting for!  Tell your friends, tell your family, call in sick to work so you can bask in my reviewage!  My thoughts on Somber's Fallout Equestria: Project Horizons, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  "It's long" is the obvious first impression--checking in at a little less than three times the length of the original Fo:E, there are a lot of words to get through here.  Even assuming that this fic follows Kkat's example and uses its copious verbiage to explore the characters and setting in depth, putting together a coherent narrative that stretches that long is no mean feat.  I'll also admit to being a little leery based on having heard this story described multiple times as "Fo:E with the abuse and violence cranked up to 11."  That... really doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Blackjack is a security pony from Stable 99: a wonderful place, as long as you don't think about it.  But then raiders destroy her home, searching for a mysterious piece of software called EC-1101... which Blackjack stores on her Pipbuck, and takes with her out into the Wasteland, to draw her new foes away from the Stable.  At first, she's just running to stay alive, but soon she finds herself enmeshed in the vicissitudes of both the present and the pre-war past, as existential threats modern, centuries-old, and as old as life itself weave their plots, with her as pawn, fulcrum, or both...

Thoughts after reading:  To back up a bit: PH is actually subdivided into five "books," but I'm reviewing the whole shebang here.  Why?  Well, those five aren't self-contained stories; one couldn't simply read book 1 on PH and feel that they'd reached an appropriate ending point for the story.  And since my nominal goal here is to help people find stories they'd enjoy reading, it didn't make much sense to me to review just one piece of a story; some series you might plan to read only the first X books of, but with PH you're either going to read it all, quit because you dislike it, or never start in the first place.  The upside of all that is that this is a long review; best pack the trail mix, kiddos.

It's also a review that's going to make a lot of direct comparisons to Kkat's story.  Normally, I try to avoid directly comparing different fanfics for more than specific examples, but in the case of an explicit fanfic-of-a-fanfic, I think it's inevitable--doubly so because PH goes to great lengths at times to explain, justify, or just retcon some of the less thoroughly explained elements of Fo:E.  In that way, I'm treating PH a bit like a sequel: it's not a work which is meant to be read independently of its predecessor, and to a large degree, my review is based on the assumption that the prospective reader has already read that fanfic.  If not... well, you could read this first, but there are a lot of characters and plot elements, especially later in the story, which will come out of nowhere and make no sense absent the context which reading Fo:E first will provide.

Now, let's talk about the forced sex and violence!  There's a lot of forced sex and violence.

That shouldn't come as a surprise; this is an Fo:E fic, after all.  And frankly, the levels of each here aren't quite as visceral as I'd been lead to believe; sure, there's a scene where a character is literally nailed to the floor, continually raped for over an hour, and then... well, let's just let it stand that there are multiple "and then"s to go with all that... but even if the events are absurdly nauseating, they aren't described in the kind of stomach-turningly intimate way that I had been lead to believe.  Make no mistake, this is much "worse" than Fo:E in terms of extremity of content, and if you thought that Kkat's story went too far, PH is definitely not a story you'll want to read... but in terms of the story's ability to shock and appall, I actually found it somewhat less effective than its predecessor.

At first, I thought of this as a flaw, but as I got farther into the story, I realized that it was actually the product of Somber's differing goals for this story than Kkat's for the original.  While Fo:E used the frequency of extreme violence to lure the audience into the same apathy the characters began to develop (while still retaining the ability to shock when it intended to show something as truly monstrous), in PH the real horrors are emotional.  Blackjack as a character spends basically the entire story so deep in a pit of self-loathing and villain-justification that she can barely process the violence around her beyond its direct impact on her.  In PH, the various terrible events and actions often blend together into a miasmal fug which inspires more exhaustion than shock--and while that doesn't always make for a pleasant reading experience, it is effective at narratively mirroring Blackjack's depressive tendencies.

In case the above paragraph didn't make it clear, this is a story which looks extensively at the main characters' (not just Blackjack's) feelings of inadequacy, and which devotes much of its length to exploring her and others' battles with depression, despondency, and dependency issues.  It's interesting to note that the drivers are almost entirely internal, despite the obvious external inducers (/excuses); the tolls of things like killing in self-defense or rampant substance abuse are glossed over or ignored, in favor of a focus on more personal elements.  Blackjack doesn't have any inherent moral qualms about kill-or-be-killed situations, so these aren't dwelled on, but her deeply-ingrained fear of becoming an executioner makes less adrenaline-charged life-or-death situations exponentially more fraught for her, and thus, for the story.

Of course, the story isn't all angsting; there's also the fighting itself.  In the first two or three books, its broadly similar in style (if not, as I said above, in purpose or tone) to Fo:E.  However, as the story progresses it becomes more, for lack of a better word, "anime-ish."  There's a certain cartooniness and exaggeration to combat from the very beginning, but later chapters are rife with Shadow of the Colossus-style weak-point-targeting, improbable overkill, absurd acrobatics (absurd even accounting for the fact that the zebra's pre-established MO is absurd acrobatics, that is), and combat descriptions that call nothing to mind more than the HP system, where taking a shotgun blast is in no way incapacitating as long as you're tough enough, and damage often has no immediate impact on performance.  There are several fight scenes toward the end which were simply too over-the-top for me to take seriously, to the detriment of the story (this sense of ill-fit it exacerbated by the presence, in several of these scenes, of characters from the original Fo:E; the sheer gap between what everypony is capable of their versus here widens the disconnect).  It never reaches the level of characters screaming the names of the attacks they're launching back and forth for pages at a time, thank goodness, but it does become inappropriately silly in places.

But in other places, it's entirely appropriately silly.  One thing I was surprised to find in this story: a keen sense of when to cut the drama with a welcome bit of levity.  While these interludes were rather too widely-spaced for my tastes (and, it must be said, a little hit-or-miss; a lot of the sexual humor was entirely too cringy for me, though I admit I've always been rather prudish about horse sex), they nevertheless offer enough respite to keep the story from totally drowning under its own weight, and give a bit of contrast for the larger, depression-exploring elements of the story.  A pair of seaponies and a Steel Ranger who is macho chivalry personified (ponysonified?) were the particular standouts for me, at least in their early appearances (both are given more--but not entirely--serious minor roles later in the story), but Somber shows a real knack for crafting comic relief characters who can poke a little fun at the story events, and even setting, without making a joke of the world.

To come back to what I said earlier about the Fo:E cast: Littlepip and her friends make a few appearances in this story, and unfortunately, I found them to be mostly detrimental to the story.  In addition to the above-mentioned issue of calling attention to the discordant powerlevels at play, it also invites the reader to directly compare Littlepip's and Blackjack's travails... which leads the reader to the rather unfortunate conclusion that the latter's troubles exist mostly to one-up the former's.  To his credit, Somber shows an awareness of this, bit a bit of lampshade-hanging doesn't really address the issue.

Speaking of issues: whatever writing issues one might take with a story, they're almost certainly present here.  Despite the number of editors, there are still missing words, spellcheck errors and the like.  And it's not just editing, but every other poor writing decision you can imagine.  Those level-up notes I disliked in Kkat's story?  Check.  In-story links to thematic music?  Check.  Excessively aggressive fourth-wall-breaking?  Check.  Lazy referential humor?  Check.  Cutesy, grating, phonetically-rendered voicings?  Check.  My old nemesis, letters full of crossed-out words and phrases? Check.

And yet, these are mostly isolated incidents.  In a short epistolary work, convenient crossed-out words are an immersion-breaking disaster; here, they represent *pulls out calculator* about .007% of the entire story, and are a relatively minor note even with that context.  Similar writing flaws are similarly minute in quantity compared to the entirety of the work, and minor in their impact.  Meanwhile, the sheer quantity of quality construction overwhelms those flaws, and when I speak of "quality construction" I don't mean merely "not grammatically incorrect."

In any lengthy story, it's important to have thematic and literal ties to connect the work together--to keep it from feeling like a series of events with only the most tenuous narrative connection.  Somber uses structural repetition to good effect in his writing, returning again and again to the same words expressing the same themes, while using the changing context in which they're spoken/written to invest them with new meaning.  At the start of the story, Blackjack's "don't think about it," is simply a reflection of her desire to keep her life simple.  As the story goes on, it morphs into a statement about the reality of Stable 99, a mantra against self-recrimination, and more.  It's ultimately developed from a character tick into an entire philosophy, and it is only perhaps the earliest example of this kind of use.

Meanwhile, the thematic ties of the story are equally strongly developed.  As I touched on a bit in Wednesday's post, PH is primarily concerned with how its characters--protagonist, antagonist, and other--deal with self-recrimination, and how they process and internalize their own failings (perceived or real).  Almost every named character in this story is explored in this way to some degree.  Partway through book two I was starting to worry that Somber's grand plan was simply to give every character a sob story (the go-to of every writer who wants to give their villains a bit of depth), but as the story continues I found that he was by no means a one-trick pony (heh) of an author; in PH, he's able to give characters motives which are varied, unique, and persuasive, without turning every bad guy into yet another "daddy-never-hugged-me," as a lesser story might.  The ability to define convincing motives and beliefs for characters--and to know when to go into detail, and when to leave things vague--are constantly on display in this fic.

As far as the narrative is concerned, the first half of PH is similar in genre to Fo:E: both are post-apocalyptic tales which look at how the Equestria we all know and love could possibly have become post-apocalyptic in the first place.  It's interesting to compare Kkat's and Somber's approaches; both explore how the main six could be complicit in horrific acts of violence, but where Kkat's exploration mostly paints them as overwhelmed ponies doing their best in an untenable situation, Somber delves more into their failings, both moral and predictive, as well as looking at the manipulations to which they were subject.  The second half, however, goes in an entirely different direction, one I'd describe more as "Lovecraftian."  It's not a particularly sudden or ill-prepared switch; this doesn't feel like two stories mashed together, say.  But there's a big switch in narrative between "discover the purpose of EC-1101 while slowly unraveling what the mysterious Office of Interminestry Affairs was doing during the war," and "send a mission to the moon to stop a star-god from destroying the world" (a simplification, but if you want context and nuance, read the story!), and readers who go in wanting nothing but the former may find that the story drifts in a direction they're less than amenable to.

Having said that the second half isn't inherently bad, however... I must admit I found the ending a bit of a letdown.  Specifically, the author's attempts to ratchet up the stakes in the last few chapters didn't work well, for reasons I'm going to try my best to explain without resorting to the spoiler tag.

See, a lot of major characters die in this story--many more than once.  This is a story in which death is cheap, and in which characters who are literally blown to smithereens in full view of Blackjack can and do pop up a couple dozen chapters later.  That's not a bad thing, by itself, but one of the primary ways the author tries to raise the drama at the end is by killing off a sizable chunk of the named cast.  In the context of the larger story, this doesn't really work, because the reader has gotten so used to assuming that death is a minor inconvenience that its impact is negated, and it's often obvious only with the benefit of hindsight that one can tell a character death was "real"--and by then, its potential for emotional impact (on the reader) has passed.  The ending doesn't even subvert this, particularly; many of those characters who are killed off pop right back in one form or another, and I was honestly surprised that two in particular didn't make an appearance in the epilogue, miraculously whole and sound (okay, spoilers here: I really expected Rainbow Dash to have survived the Rainboom, and Goldenblood to come back for a scene with Fluttershy.  For that matter, I'm still assuming Big Daddy is alive, even though he never made an appearance after getting dusted).  Now, the problem isn't that those characters should have lived, or that the scenes I expected would have made a better story.  It's not even that they were poorly-written deaths.  It's that I didn't even register them as key moments in the story until after the fact, precisely because the fic had primed me to expect them to keep showing up.

But what the ending--by which I'm now referring to book 5, and a bit of book 4 as well--does give Somber the freedom to explore some very different ground from Fo:E, and in many ways this is where the fic really comes into its own.  The rest of the story is, at its best, a wonderful exploration and reinterpretation of another author's setting, and at its worst, purely reactionary.  Once matters turn more mythical, however, PH develops a freedom to explore new settings and original characters in ways outside the purview of the Wasteland as Littlepip told of it.  It also gives the author a chance to show off his vocabulary: "Gibbering orifices, fanged and revoltingly yonic," isn't a phrase you get to use when talking about gleefully barbaric raiders, after all.

That phrase, though, is a symptom of one of my biggest complaints about the story: the storytelling doesn't always make sense when one considers that it's Blackjack who's supposedly telling it.  She displays a lot of traits of protagonal convenience: she's regularly said to be (and depicted as) pretty dumb... until the narrative calls on her to come up with a brilliant, out-of-the-box plan, or there's a need to drop a "yonic" into the narration.  She's been raised her entire life to see males as nothing but studs, and this thinking drives fundamental aspects of her development... unless it would be easier for her to be gender-blind for a scene or character, in which case she is.  Her idioms (probably forgivable as linguistic holdovers) and similes and metaphors (rather less so) are filled with flavors, relationship concepts, and other things which a stable mare would never have experienced.  In short, what she knows, and how she thinks, can change with the whims of the story.

And yet, despite these missteps, PH still manages to craft a coherent picture of its protagonist, and uses the many and dramatic changes she goes through (physical, mental, and spiritual--this is a world where spiritual change can be inflicted, after all) to examine what makes her, essentially, her.  Around her, it uses her companions to examine issues like immortality, the destructiveness of the revenge cycle, and hero-worship in nuanced and intelligent ways.  This is a story which may be lengthy, but it's long for the best of reasons: because it has a lot to say.

Star rating:  

As I know I've said before, rating long stories is tough: in 1.7 million words, it should go without saying that there are some misfires, some eye-rolling scenes, some gratuitous sex, and a whole lot of other things that don't merit recommending.  But there's also a plethora of wonderful descriptions, thoughtful character development, haunting imagery, and more.  In the end, I have to go with my "overwhelming opinion," so to speak, and that is this: Project Horizons does everything which it sets out to do, and--while its content is sure to scare off many readers--does so in a way that can still be appreciated by even those who aren't in the target audience.

Also, my notes on the fic include the words "Stronghoof is best pony" three separate times.  So, there's got to be something right here.

Seriously, though, this is a story which does a lot of things well a lot of the time, and which rarely wastes the reader's time.  That last bit is one of the truest tests of any story, and to be able to say that of a story this long is a tribute to its quality.

Recommendation:  Go back and re-read the fourth paragraph of the "Thoughts after reading" section.  If your immediate reaction to the idea of a scene like that is absolute rejection, then this probably isn't the story for you.  Besides that, I know that many people will be put off by the length, and that's a legitimate reason to be wary: it checked in at over 100 hours of reading time for me (granted, I don't read at anything like "top speed" when reading for a review, so a quick reader could probably finish quite a bit faster--we're still talking a big time commitment), and not everyone will be interested in risking investing themselves in something so massive.  But if you're interested in seeing the Wasteland through a very different perspective than Kkat offered in the original Fo:E, this is a story that offers achingly believable depictions of depression and despair, clever narrative tricks of perspective, and a mesmerizing mix of bleakness, humor, action, and--despite it all--a fundamentally hopeful outlook.

Next time:  No, I am Not a Brony, Get Me Outta Equestria!, by Bronywriter


  1. I'm happy you enjoyed it on the whole. I have to agree with many of the criticisms there. The power level was very high, and especially later on notional damage often didn't get in the way that much; I had a fair tolerance for the "not a smart pony" coming up with solutions when they were things that felt within her wheelhouse, but more than once I was thrown by too-advanced vocabulary (and I've never got what the "Tyger Tyger" reference was doing there); I suspect that there were aspects of Blackjack's character that weren't fully thought out from the start, especially as relating to how Stable 99 fed through to her cultural consciousness, leading to the odd effects you describe (even if this does get better over time both through solidification of the character and osmosis from the broader world she inhabits after the story starts); the FoE crossovers were an ambivalent point for me, with one point therein which I think worked better when it was still effectively an ongoing serial rather than a finished product.

    I'll confess that the death-is-cheap aspect mainly only came to affect me with respect to Blackjack herself (and there, the question became less if she'd survive but what costs she'd pay); for the most part, whether because I just couldn't learn or because I intuited when things would stick or if they would matter, major deaths tended to maintain their impact with me. Alternatively, it could simply have been a matter of contrast, where I would treat core cast differently than the rest, and there the problem may have been less pronounced. However, one late not-death was a real sore spot for me, and probably could exemplify that pattern in the extremity of the event the character survived.

    Anyway, I hope if you or your readers went back to my assessment from the Somber retrospective guest post a couple years back, you'd/they'd find I wasn't too off-base in my assessment.

  2. I have to wonder if you'd have given the story the same rating if you knew that Stronghoof was ripped straight out of an anime. The entire character, from his appearance and personality all the way down to his style of fighting, is based off of Strongarm from Full Metal Alchemist.

    I'll admit that I enjoyed the character the first time he came around. But that's because I was expecting a one-off reference gag. When Somber decided to make him an important minor character that kept coming back however... It almost felt like plagiarism.

    1. He was too good not to have him back. But I'd like to think its pretty clear that he's not mine.

    2. I hadn't realized the extent to which Stronghoof was "borrowed" from FMA--a few times I've discovered after the fact that something from a story is a reference or ripoff that I missed, though usually it's more of a "no wonder ___ didn't make any sense, it was stolen from a completely different medium in a completely different context!" This seems to happen disproportionately with anime references :P

      Without doing a little more research, I can't say how much this would have affected my enjoyment--there are differences between "homage," "reference," "ripoff," and "out-and-out plagiarism," and I'm not equipped to make the call on this particular character--but he's a small enough part of the overall story that he'd be hard pressed to ruin the story entire for me. At the very least, Stronghoof is fit into an Equestrian aesthetic, which is a major point in his favor.

  3. I look forward to reading this review once I have finished the story sometime in 2017 probably. D:

  4. .... So a story that is nothing but "Fuck you this is how it REALLY happened" retcon of another, insults, belittles and just completely trashes another work while parasatizing off it. Is just all around unpleasant and cynical, and utterly ruins a preestablished setting... gets that rating, while something as all around brilliant, amazing, and just plain incredible as Project: Sunflower gets shafted?

    I just do not get your 'system' at all.

    1. Dude, it's not canon. I say so. Kkat says so. Get over it. You're like one of those people complaining that the original Ghostbusters is ruined forever because of the remake. I think 4 stars is appropriately fair.

    2. Should I start with all the flat out inaccuracies in that comparison and the details it totally misses the point of or how it makes no sense in context given those differences in details? Cause that could go on for awhile.

      Yeah I bucking loathe the story and everything I know about it, but the above comment was more my continuing issues with the blogs 'system' for rating which makes no sense to me, and seems the complete antithesis of my own outlook on reviewing. Valuing technical construction and how well some High School English teacher would grade the work based on how it followed the "Big Book of How Everything Must be Written" then anything involving the actual heart and true nature of the story. More focused on how the story is written then what it is about.

    3. That's because you're not the end all, be all authority on what is and isn't a good story. And if you don't like it, you can go make your own review blog. ::Grins:: With Blackjack and hookers.

    4. I don't think I can physically make myself take someone who actually writes 'bucking' in that context seriously.

    5. I did, without the stupid meme. Hence the wording "my own outlook on reviewing." Doesn't mean I can't still find another take on it to be baffling and totally missing the entire point of stories. I note there were no substantive refutations of any issues rather snarky "No you!" ish Personal attacks.

    6. Ah, I remember this guy from one of iisaw's blog posts. Think it got deleted, 'cause I couldn't view his reply to me

      Sera, you need to take a deep breath and calm down, 'cause you're starting to sound like Tom Spiegel. Don't let yourself become that guy. I'm sure you're better than that

      Scott, if you think "bucking" is bad, you should've seen the little brat who got all pissed at me over humanized ponies a few years back. He actually said "flying feather" in a moment of pure, red-in-the-face fury XD

    7. Seraphem, I really appreciate constructive criticism, but I have to be honest: I'm having trouble matching your comments to my review, to the point where I'm not sure I can take anything useful out of what you've said.

      You say I'm "Valuing technical construction and how well some High School English teacher would grade the work based on how it followed the "Big Book of How Everything Must be Written" then anything involving the actual heart and true nature of the story." Which would be a reasonable criticism in and of itself... but it doesn't seem to match up with this review. At a quick count, the "review" potion of this post is 19 paragraphs long. Two of those paragraphs deal with what we might broadly call "technical decisions"--editing, formatting, and the like. Unless you feel that discussion of theme, tone, plot, and characterization aren't part of "what the story is about," then I'm afraid I don't understand this complaint. And if you are, then I must ask: what kind of information is part of "the true nature of the story?"

      That's not a rhetorical question; if there's some important piece of information that you feel I'm not including in my reviews, I'd like to know that. But your complaints so far don't strike me as particularly applicable to what I've actually written.

    8. I think you have it backwards, Chris. I believe he is comparing your rating to his opinions on the story.

      I do't think he's saying that you are 'valuing technical construction... blah, blah, blah'; I think he's saying that he is, with the implication that you're wrong not to judge it as harshly as he obviously does.

    9. From what I can tell, you're half right, InquisitorM. He is comparing Chris's rating with his own opinion of the story.

      But he does believe that Chris values technical construction (very broadly defined, such that almost the entire review is about "technical" matters, "how the story is written") effectively to the exclusion of what he—Seraphem—cares about, which is "the actual heart and true nature of the story," or "what it is about."

    10. Okay, first off, yeah that was probably a bit to harshly worded. This particular story... as you can likely tell by the little exchange between me and Somber.. there's a history here. A very very not pleasant one and even having this fic brought up tends to.. put me a bit more on edge then normal. I only showed up here because someone linked to it in an FOE thread..... and yeah let's not delve into all the issues between me and Somber. I really should have kept my mouth shut but, I've more then learned by now that is far to hard for me to do that regarding this fic. Sorry about that bit.

      But overall, this wasn't about this review in and of itself, it's really just a long standing I've kind of had with your reviews... I just don't really like them all that much. Now, they are quite good in a lot of ways, and most of your points you bring up tend to be rather spot on, and you do do a great job exploring some aspects. I don't really think there is anything directly 'wrong' just, how you tend to focus seems utterly at odds with how I prefer to look at stories. Your reviews, to me (what one's I've read) tend to feel.. to cold, clinical, adding to the feel of going for technical execution over heart. I went back through a couple other of your reviews for other fics I've read and, it still held true. Plus looking through things, it does seem like you place more weight on the technical, how well it presented itself and it's ideas, over just what those ideas mean and how they fit into the larger world the story takes place in. It's less the specific things you bring up, and more how you weight them in making the final decision. Or just what you focus on.

      Going off this particular one is, likely not the best given my issues with the story, but two others that I went back through that spring to mind for it "It's a Dangerous Business" and "Project: Sunflower" are the ones that kind of solidified things. The first one, yeah it was beautifully written, but also full of rampant Idiot Ball passing for the sake of the story, and those damn Deer-Elves... I did a whole massive bit in my review about how badly handled their addition to the story and world was, it really drags the entire setting down...(Which was shame because I actually liked the Deer as characters overall, it was their place in the setting that was so bad, while the Comics deer were the opposite. Horrible characters, but at least fit the setting outside of that.) The Daleponies were just awesome though.

      And then with the second story... yes it had issues with some aspects, but the core of it, that it did such an amazing job at showing... yeah I did not get that review at all. Project Sunflower was one of the most powerful, emotional, grand, and just beautiful stories I've ever read, that embodied all the best aspects of Ponies that made me love the show and the fandom in the first place. Out of all the Pony-fics I'd read, I could only flat out say the original FOE had a greater emotional impact and was more powerful. So yeah, wasn't sure at all what story it seemed you had read just by how vastly different your take on it was.

      So really it's more you simply focus on aspects of the story in ways that are the completely opposite of me leading to only a small small handful of reviews where I can find myself agreeing with your final rating and overall feel, even if I do agree with a lot of the points you bring up at times. I am not by any stretch trying to say I think you are 'bad' at this, not at all. It's just a case that your style of reviewing is one I simply do not enjoy or find all that helpful or even tend to agree with often. Just a differing in what to focus on and what matters most when it comes to stories. How it's written, versus what it's about. (And yes the "How" part DOES matter, not saying it doesn't, just that I'll place more weight on the 'What' the you seem to)

    11. Okay, and, just to try and delver direct examples.. just from your summery here. The wording choices that give me the "more interested in how it's written then what it's about" feeling.

      "that there are some misfires, some eye-rolling scenes, some gratuitous sex, and a whole lot of other things that don't merit recommending. But there's also a plethora of wonderful descriptions, thoughtful character development, haunting imagery,"

      All the pros added seem like, just the basic building blocks of a technically well written story. Well maybe not that last one, but still, it's rather generic, "It was well written" stuff. Versus actually making a case for if those vivid descriptions, imagery and characters were worth it in the first place.

      And then

      " does everything which it sets out to do, and--while its content is sure to scare off many readers--does so in a way that can still be appreciated"

      The pro is that it did what it tried to do, while the content..... okay yeah again I have a very very bad history with this story to begin with so I am likely over thinking this aspect of it.

      Again sorry for not being able to keep my mouth shut when it comes to this thing. But those are the key phrases that lead my towards "Weighs the How it's Technically written over What it's about" aspect. Which, is something I've gotten from a lot of your reviews.

      Not trying to insult you, or saying you are wrong or 'bad' or, anything like that, just.. as above, your style of reviewing is just not one I can enjoy, but that's just due to YMMV.

      ( not adding more after the fact, just original post was to long for one comment.)

    12. I might actually care if you actually read any of it, Sera. But since you won't, you're essentially complaining about a book you haven't even read. Even Kkat managed to get to chapter 16 before bowing out, which I respect. Heck, I'd give you perks for getting through the first five. But you won't. Unless, of course, you've changed your mind and have actually read some of Horizons. Then I'd be fascinated to hear your response.

      You still have yet to grasp that your opinion is not fact.

    13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    14. For what's it's worth.. I did try since then.... I couldn't even make it through the first chapter without without needing to close it down and walk away before what a dark unpleasant slog it was from the start drove me into an anxiety attack, not to mention what a complete perversion of one of the greatest aspects of the original it was to turn a stable into a freaking vault. But we've been over this.

      None of that alters that the above wasn't about your not so little retcon fest but an overall sentiment I've had about these reviews for a while, it was just seeing this thing pop up that made me need to vent a bit (Again Chris, sorry about that part..... and I'm still not used to that..[same name always feels weird.]) And why I pointed out other reviews that I got the impression I did from as well as just the particular wording of the summary here that further conveys that to me.

    15. Unfortunatley Seraphem is under the MISTAKEN impression he is the end all be all of the canonical of the FoE fic and sidefics. The internet is littered with his vitriol and in ability to let it go or respond in a constructive manner without misrepresentation of the story (that he hasn't even read) or the facts.

      Trust me, you can't win against him because you can't reason someone out of something they weren't reason'd into. And because he feels his way about Project Horizons, he feels that everyone else must feel the same way. Don't play his game and respond, you won't change his mind, you won't convince him, you won't win. He will always get in the last word because he simply has nothing better to do.

      Seraphem: it's a fucking sidefic dude, no canoncity, don't read it. I liked the story myself and agree wholeheartedly with the review on this blog, deal with it.

  5. 4/5 is way too high. The highest it really deserves is a 3 or even a 2. I'd rather not do a counter analysis of why I think PH is much worse that you give it credit for, but let me just say that Stronghoof isn't the only thing PH uncreatively ripped off.

    1. And that's a fair criticism. One of the biggest failings in Horizons is my use of outside sources. They're insidious, and I recommend that any writer avoid them like the plague, because once you start they're like salty parabulas. You just can't stop. And if you thought Stronghoof was bad, I tried to bring in Star Paladin Mustang, Paladin Hawkeye, and Initiate Alchemy into it! (Thank my editors for killing THAT idea. It took three of them. And shovels.) But yeah, they became a real detriment to the story. However, do you have any idea how difficult it would be to extract Stronghoof from 1.7 million words?

  6. Thanks for the great and very fair review. Horizons is good, but it has it's flaws. It's length. The references. That death is cheap for so many characters. The cthulu cosmic horror vibe at the end. There's lots of places where the story degraded over time.

    I committed the cardinal sin around chapter 30: I changed the story. Originally, the story was Blackjack gets into the hoof, destroys the necromantic generator, and decides what to do with the Hoof. EC-1101 was basically the platinum chip from New Vegas and the story centered around the MacGuffin. Over time, I became increasingly dissatisfied with that direction, as there were many New Vegas stories being explored. This was also around the time that Kkat released her chapter dealing with cthulu and suddenly a whole world opened up. I could USE this! And so I turned the necromantic generator into a dead god and the stakes were the entire world! (I have a bad habit of 'saving the world' narratives). To say the fights were more animeish is extirely correct. One is straight out of Ghost in the Shell, because I love it so much and Blackjack is fighting a tank! Because of course she'd fight a tank!

    My biggest problem is that the story's power level goes right up to Mothership Zeta levels. It's too high for a Fallout story. It's more fitting for a final fantasy story, where the expectations are different. The death is cheap is something that I'm trying to fix in the sequel Homelands. When characters die, it's for good. And I admit, I planned on Goldenblood to survive to see Fluttershy in the epilogue, but I didn't want him to be a Karma Houdini. By the last quarter of the book I was like "Screw it, Rainbow Dash is a ghoul!"

    Now, as for using Littlepip and her friends... The first time was pure fan fun. I'd originally planned on having them miss each other, or maybe just a glimpse. But then Kkat said that Littlepip wasn't going to look at those extracted memories and a little part of my brain said "Oh, come on! If you're going to have them both be in Tenpony at the same time, then you got to have them doing shit! It's too awesome an opportunity to miss! The second time was more story based. Basically, after being the heroes in the West, would LP's crew simply hang back and let the events in the Hoof happen without trying to intervene? I could have used some kind of trite excuse why they arrived after it was all finished, but it felt better to have them sucked in just like everything was sucked in. The Eater was a black hole spirit after all.

    Since Homelands is just getting started and takes place is the zebra wasteland, what are the three biggest things you think I should avoid? I already know the gratuitous sex and out of story references need to go. What do you think are the biggest do's and don't I should take away from Horizons?

    1. Glad you liked the review, Somber! Thanks for sharing, as well; it's nice to have a little authorial context.

      As for what you should take away from this story? Well, I'll skip over the obvious ones (references, having a plan from the get-go, etc.), and see if I can't offer up something you don't already know.

      First, I'd recommend having a plan for what death means in the context of the story. Like I said in the review, it's hard to go back and forth between "characters come back all the time" and "this character's death is tragic and dramatic." You can do either by themselves, and a certain amount of mixing is possible (if you establish that certain kinds of death are "for real" and stick with that, then it can still be used), but if you're in a habit of bringing ponies back from the dead, try to use something other than death to establish stakes and set drama.

      Second, watch for consistency in voicing. It's easy to put an author's vocabulary into a character, and while you did a good job of keeping everypony from sounding identical, using vocabulary appropriate to a character's background, age, and outlook is a slightly different challenge.

      Lastly, resist the urge to one-up. You already have a handle on this vis-a-vis Kkat's story, I'm sure, but also think about it within the context of your own story. Yes, you want stakes to raise and excitement to climb throughout the story, but there are ways to do this without a lot of power creep. If you're looking for a good example of what I'm talking about, check out The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. They've got excellent dramatic progression, despite the fact that somewhere in the middle of the second book represents the apex of the protagonists' collective abilities. Neither Covenant nor the people of The Land grow progressively more powerful or even able as the third book unfolds--the opposite is true, in fact--yet the stakes remain high, and the drama with it.

      That's not to say that characters getting more powerful and feats more impressive is bad, of course! Just that it's not the only way to keep tension from backsliding. The warning here isn't "don't get progressively grander;" it's "don't feel like the only way to do so is to continually power everything up."

      I hope that helps!

    2. Absolutely. I have problems with Majina's voice. Is she ADHD or not? Is she consistent or not? My biggest fear right now is slog because unlike Horizons, Homelands takes place in a wide variety of places. That requires a whole lot more description and building so that everything feels right. 13 tribes, 13 legions, and other creatures all to describe and make work. It's not going to be as tight as Horizons, and Horizons is almost the antithesis of tight!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Manbob the JimdogJuly 30, 2016 at 3:13 PM

    There's just something about really long stories that brings you to a level of immersion you can't get anywhere else.

    When I read the majority of this story over the course of a month about two years ago, I was completely addicted. During tests, classes, before I went to bed, there were times I just couldn't keep it out of my head. While the later parts didn't grab me the same way the first 30 chapters did, I don't know if I will ever be as entranced by any other media as I was with parts of this story.This story was an experience for me.

  9. "Well, those five aren't self-contained stories; one couldn't simply read book 1 on PH and feel that they'd reached an appropriate ending point for the story."

    I was actually going to ask about this. Would they work as temporary endings? That is, could I read them like a series with other fics between books, or would I have to commit to finishing the whole thing before I start something else?

    1. Oh, absolutely; the five books all make perfectly good "pause points," if you will. Think of it as like LotR: you don't have to go straight from one book to the next, but you can't stop after Fellowship and feel like you've read a complete story.

    2. As someone that read PH as it was released, I would argue that you could even read it as a series of short Novels, given how each chapter tends to present a somewhat cohesive story on it own. Sure, you won't get the full picture from just one chapter, but they are very satisfying as a unit of a whole.

  10. Ah, Project Horizons. For all its faults, I had a blast with this story.

    I love over-the-top anime-ish action (at least if we start more grounded and work our way into it gradually, which we did in PH), so all the fights and such were great for me. And I also don't think anybody can deny that PH's characters had real depth, personality, and development, so that appealed to my more highbrow tastes as well. I can't even really get mad at the references, since they were mostly to things I haven't seen before. Stronghoof IS best pony, damnit.

    Of course, I get why people dislike it too, but I think some of the story's more dedicated haters can be a bit excessive in their vitriol. Even in this comments section, you can observe it. Guys, calm down. This much salt is bad for your blood pressure.

  11. I have to admit that I was waiting for your review before diving into this behemoth. Loved Fo:E and would vastly enjoy more of the same.

    But despite the high star rating, you've convinced me that PH is not for me. All the problems you brought up made me think that this was going to be a two-star fic, and I suppose that's mainly because of my own tastes.

    And, see... this is why I think you're such a good reviewer. You can love something and I will still be able to tell that I would hate it. Keep up the good work!

  12. Hmm. That review has made me a bit more likely to read this -- I can live with the flaws if they're not story-breaking, and these clearly aren't, at least for you. And seeing the author engage constructively in a review's comments is always a plus. But it's the length, still, that puts me off. Same reason I put off reading The Lord of the Rings for years as a kid, despite being an avid reader even then. If this were a 200,000-word story, it would be... well, different, accepted. But also a lot more attractive to me. It's a shallow reason, but I'm just not sure I want to invest that much time in one story, when something I like so much about the ponyfic world is its breadth and variety. So I guess my chances of reading PH sometime have risen from, say, 2% to 20% -- but it's still heavily adds against.

    1. The first "volume", chapters 1-16, total around... 177,483 words. Each book/volume is a good stopping off point. You really don't have to read the whole thing at once, and I wouldn't really recommend doing so. There are many intense moments and reading many chapters in the same sitting can make it blur together a bit. Remember, the story was written serially.

    2. Honestly if you feel like investing the time to read it, read it, if you don't don't. I don't see how much it helps to say "This made me want to read it slightly more but not enough"

      Is the story flawed, it certainly is; but honestly 90% of the hate of it is coming from the 10% of the people who have nothing better to do with their lives then to let it go and move on.

      It is definitely a trawl to read if you're busy, I and several others invested the time and had an absolute blast. If you're not one who is into anime or over the top scenes a la Kill La Kill, then you should stave it off.

    3. I don't see how much it helps to say "This made me want to read it slightly more but not enough"

      I didn't post my comment with the intention of "helping" -- it was just a statement of fact. I really liked Kkat's original story, and that's not flawless, so that in itself isn't a deal-breaker. I had almost no interest in reading PH before I read Chris's review; now I have a little more. The reason is simple: that I found the review interesting and informative, giving me a bit more information to help me decide in the future. I didn't say it was necessarily "not enough"; I said it had increased the chance to about 20%. There are very few stories that have either a 0% or a 100% chance of my reading them right now.

  13. Wow, absolutely fantastic blog. I am very glad to have such useful information.