Monday, July 11, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 170: Insomnia

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

Okay, back to Chris time!  Hope you all enjoyed the guest posts... and I hope you enjoy non-topical opening blurbs and a total failure to communicate in the comments on the reviewer's part, because you're still gonna get that for one more week!  Yup, my vacation's not over yet, but I'll be posting my review buffer for your reading pleasure.  Head below for my thoughts on Pale Horse's Insomnia.
Impressions before reading:  I admit I have a bit of a soft spot for princess problems--at least, compared to the many readers who are sick unto death of "Celestia sits around and reflects" after seeing it done poorly a few (hundred) too many times--which is what this appears to be.  Stories with this general description usually come with the Sad tag firmly affixed, though, so not seeing it here gives me hope for something that avoids angst.  I also can see it's a purely epistolary story; I've discussed the pros and cons of each several times in the past, but suffice to say that there are a lot of ways to write an in-universe letter poorly... but the payout for a well-written example is absolutely worth it.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  One night whilst unable to sleep, Celestia pens a letter to her former student and current co-ruler, Twilight Sparkle.

Thoughts after reading:  One of the big rules of epistolary writing--perhaps the biggest--is "don't violate the medium."  That is to say, the only things that can appear in a letter are things that a person would actually write, in the manner they would actually write them.  Insomnia, I regret to say, is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to this crucial test.

On the plus side, Pale Horse does a nice job clearly but unobtrusively justifying the tone of voice--rather more loquacious and far more rambly than Celestia is in the show--by framing the timing, location... in a word, the setting, in a way which connects this voice to Celestia.  On a similar note, the way Celestia brushes up against her main point before circling away on a tangent, time after time, nicely matches a real-life stream-of-consciousness piece of writing.

On the downside, contrivances about.  At the writing level, these mostly (though by no means exclusively) take the form of crossed-out words; an old nemesis of mine, those.  While one or two can usually be justified, this story liberally uses crossed-out words and phrases to show what Celestia is "really" thinking as she writes, in precisely the way that letter writers never, ever, do.  Take this passage:
During Luna's banishment absence, I got into the habit of writing letters to her. I never sent them, of course, and even if she did, I would not have given that demon monster thing that took her from me another way to torment her.
Now picture a situation in which you, if you were writing a letter, would produce and send such a passage to someone.  Showing a character's thoughts when those thoughts are ones they won't even admit to themselves, via their own words, is a formidable task, but not an impossible one.  Sadly, this story takes the easy way out, at the expense of its verisimilitude... which is to say, at the expense of its entire premise.

Similarly, the overall plot tends towards contrivance, liberally employing event contrivance.  This didn't bother me as much as the textual contrivance, both because event contrivance fits the aesthetic of Equestria reasonably well, and because these are consistently used in ways which forward the core idea of the story.  And in any case, the loosely-knit but ultimately purposeful plotting gives plenty of room for Pale Horse to explore various digressions, including explorations of bits and pieces of Celestia's and Equestria's history, without sacrificing pacing (or rather, by keeping the pace appropriately languorous), which make the finished product a pleasantly unaggressive but still internally intentional bit of writing.

Star rating:  

This is a story that never quite succeeded in engaging me, and I don't believe that will prove in any way a problem unique to myself.  Still, there's plenty to like her, as long as you don't find your suspension of disbelief easily challenged by writing decisions, and are amenable to the "Princess Celestia ruminates" school of storytelling.

Recommendation:  Admittedly, those are two big ifs, but still: if that describes you, this is a very solid piece of storytelling which sheds a little light on Equestria's history and on Celestia herself.  If either of those ifs do apply to you, though, this probably isn't going to wow.

Next time: The Assassination of Twilight Sparkle, by Rated Ponystar


  1. Something has gone horribly wrong up there. D:

  2. Good choice to follow up on Pascoite's guest post.

  3. Yeah, it was the not-entirely-convincing crossings-out that meant I could only like this story rather than love it. I just about bought Celestia's voice, but it was a fairly close call even with the justification for it.