Monday, August 8, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 172: No, I Am Not a Brony, Get Me Outta Equestria!

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

It's no secret that I love road cycling, but it can be a horrifying sport at times.  Watching Annemiek van Vleuten's crash in the women's road race on Sunday was a sobering moment; you don't think of biking as being a dangerous sport in the same way as boxing or even football, but going downhill on narrow, winding roads at 50+ miles per hour is a task fraught with peril.  Luckily--frankly, miraculously--she seems to have escaped not only death, but any life-destroying injuries at all.  Still, it's hard to enjoy much of the Olympics with something like that fresh in your mind.

Given that less-than lighthearted note, I'm going to forgo any attempt at transition, and just say that below the break is my review of Bronywriter's No, I am Not a Brony, Get Me Outta Equestria!

Impressions before reading:  On one hand, this looks like the absolute nadir of self-insert HiE fics; "but he's not a brony, so it can't be a self-insert!" I can hear the hypothetical author cry, convincing no one.  On the other hand, this isn't written by "hypothetical author," but by Bronywriter, who is by all accounts a perfectly capable author and editor.  Between that and the non-proliferation of tags (six or seven genre tags would be "traditional" for a nadir-fic; this is just marked comedy, along the with human content-tag), I'm thinking this is a parody of SQUID (Snarky Quippy Underdeveloped Irritating Douchebag--thanks, John Perry!) HiE-fics rather than a serious/unaware attempt at the same.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  TD Powell is a "normal" college student who doesn't watch FiM.  That doesn't stop him from getting hauled through an interdimensional portal to Equestria, though--and he's not happy about it.

Thoughts after reading:  After finishing this story, I still mostly suspect that this is intended at least semi-parodically--the writing is stilted and unnatural in ways that the other two Bronywriter stories I've reviewed definitely weren't, for example, which makes me suspect that TD's voice is poking fun at overly-expository authors--but I'm frankly not certain.  There's simply so much about him that's played straight, and about his circumstances that passes without comment or glimmer of self-awareness, that it's hard to tell whether many elements are jokes which are too underplayed, or legitimate bits of characterization which are too ridiculous to accept.

Let's start with the writing, though, since I already mentioned it.  Although there's nothing much to complain about on the editing front, voicing is utterly unbelievable at all times.  This is a story wherein the protagonist can speak--out loud, to other ponies--for paragraphs on how he feels about the main six at that particular moment ("'Nah, Fluttershy is cool enough.  She didn't do anything bad.  She's kinda like the kids at [Cheerilee's] school in that she didn't wrong me, and she actually likes me for me - you know, she cares about what I'm feeling and going through.  All that just makes her impossible to dislike on any level,'" he expounds, before continuing on to everypony else in turn).  The other ponies never comment on his bizarre habit of inventorying his feelings aloud at frequent intervals, perhaps because they assume all humans talk like that--but more likely because they're all equally likely to begin expositorily emoting at the drop of a hat.

Moving on to the premise, I found it very much under-explored.  The -verse of which this is the first entry (side note: although it leaves off on some heavy sequel bait, it can be satisfactorily read as a stand-alone, if one is so inclined) is called the "Non-bronyverse," after all, and I was expecting the idea of someone who doesn't like/doesn't know about MLP to be played with.  Instead, TD turns out to be reasonably well-acquainted with the setting, and not particularly hostile to it--he's seen several episodes, and has decided they aren't for him.  That's fine as far as it goes, I suppose, but it does quickly eliminate two of the most promising avenues for comedy--TD not knowing how Equestria works, and TD hating how Equestria works.  Instead, he basically goes along with everything up to and including the presence of massive musical numbers as a feature of pony life, expressing only mild surprise and more "need to snark" than actual annoyance at the world around him.

Meanwhile, the recurring theme here is "TD never does anything wrong."  I will grant you, this is accomplished with rather more nuance than your average do-no-wrong protagonist; while a typical example of such would simply make the right decision at every turn, TD does occasionally do stupid stuff.  However, he never does anything wrong without somepony immediately wronging him an order of magnitude worse, so that he can remain the clear victim, the one who is in the "right." This reaches absurd lengths--somehow, Pinkie setting TD on fire to get back at him for breaking a Pinkie Promise is only the second most disproportionate piece of retribution in this fic--but the point is that his victimhood remains absolute, such that he can always hold the moral high ground over all around him.

Meanwhile, references to other fanfics (and fandom) run rampant.  Well, not so much "references" as just literal rehashings; the entire first scene of Cupcakes is reenacted here, with the only variation from the original being changed Rainbow Dash to TD.  Meanwhile, Cloudkicker shows up and wants to bang, Lyra pops by and thinks hands are amazing, and... well, you can probably fill in the blanks on your own.  To be fair to this story, it comes from late 2012, a time when plenty of people still thought that having Luna talk about her abacus was comedy gold (to this story's credit, it does not make an abacus joke).  Still, the Cupcakes bit at least was virtual plagerism, and there was plenty more that left a sour taste in my mouth.

In the end, what most stopped me from enjoying this story was the lack of focus to its humor.  For example, there's a scene wherein TD does a dance in which he simulates setting Prince Blueblood on fire (and does it poorly/flamboyantly enough that all the ponies write it off as "just part of the dance") after Blueblood acts like a ponce toward him.  Are we supposed to join TD in laughing at the confused Blueblood, who is quite sure he's being mocked but isn't certain how?  Should we laugh at TD's ineffectual pettiness?  Am I reading too deep in, with the real "joke" being the musical reference (complete with youtube link) and nothing more?  It's not at all clear, even in context, and this ends up being the case for a lot of the story.  Even when the joke is obvious, it's frequently hard to tell what direction the comedy is supposed to take.  Even when the jokes are funny, this is problematic, as it prevents the reader from developing a sense of narrative consistency; characters attitudes, aggression levels, and intelligence all vacillate at the whims of the plot.  And when the joke falls flat, not even knowing how you're supposed to take to the attempt at humor is worse than no humor at all.

On a final note: about 1/3 of the story's wordcount is deleted scenes and other extras of varying canonicity.  I have no strong opinions about this in general (though I do have some strong opinions on specific ones; the very first deleted scene is a a bare-bones scenelette to fill out a filk version of a Disney song--presented in full--and this ends up being more or less representative of the type of thing on display), but if you're thinking about starting this story, be aware that the story proper is closer to 80,000 words than 120,000.

Star rating:

In this particular case, I don't think it really matters what the author's exact intentions were with this story.  I mean, of course those do matter, but not vis-a-vis my rating and recommendation.  Whether this was supposed to be a parody of SQUID stories or just a funny but otherwise sincere take on (elements of) author-insert HiE, the end result is something most likely to appeal to fans of the latter, and those who like to imagine themselves in TD's role.  There's a very strong element of self-insertion which this lends itself to from the reader's standpoint, and it's easy to see many (especially for less experienced readers) imagining themselves in his shoes: able to lash out with impunity without ever having to worry about being in the wrong, allowed to say what's "really" on your mind without being interrupted or corrected, and so forth.

Recommendation:  This is, in a way, the yin to My Little Dashie's yang.  Where MLD is a piece of exploitative drama which undercuts its blatant wish-fulfillment with a forced-bitter ending, I Am Not a Brony is an exercise in snark and pop-interjections which undercuts its blatant wish-fulfillment with its own protagonist's ambivalence.  So: if you enjoyed MLD, or if the reason it didn't appeal to you was that it was too bleak (or too contrived in its bleakness), this is probably a decent choice for you.  Otherwise, I would give it a pass.

Next time:  Princess Celestia? Do You Have a Belly Button?, by Foals Errand


  1. I, too, always assumed this would be a parody of HiEs with a protagonist who, y'know, wants to get the hell out of Equestria because he hates being there. Like the title says. Y'know.

    But reading this review, I can't help thinking that, if I want that, I should just read a Dan Vs. crossover instead. <.<

  2. Oh, this is the progenitor of the TD series. If it's the same one that I think it is, he ends up becoming an alicorn or something jacked up like that, marries a pony, has a pony kid, the whole self-insert shebang. So completely straight played there.

    It rubs me odd: the title, the "I'm NOT a brony!!" element seems to be there just so that closet fans can justify the wish fulfillment. I mean, more power to them, and I could be wrong.

  3. Yeah... about what I expected. I wasn't holding out any hope for a fic with a title like that. Even back when I was writing bad HiE myself, that title still set off warning bells for me.

  4. Pretty sure the abacus thing was considered old back then

    I was actually just telling my brother about filk and how the term seems to have fallen out of use (I only know of it because of Lee Gold). Funny that I should then see it in this post

    1. Yeah, I think most nerd musicians nowadays just go by that term - "Nerd/Geek Musician" (like Jonathan Coulton or the Doubleclicks or Paul & Storm or Hank Green), or by fandom-specific terms like "Wrock" (Wizard Rock - Harry Potter) or just "Brony Musician" in this fandom.

  5. Late comment because the Olympics keep on getting in the way... I liked bits of this one a great deal. Maybe I'm easily pleased, but I can live with things like clichéd Lyra in a story like this if she's not portrayed truly horribly. And yes, I was greatly entertained by some of it.

    On the down site, I found the thing terribly sprawling (and that's not including the extras) and in enough need of proofreading that it really did get distracting. Also, American football references are a surefire way to turn me off.