Monday, September 26, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 179: And the Temptress Came Unto Her

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

Excessively extravagant magic, mostly taking the form of lasers?  Lazy pop culture jokes and references?  Casual mindrape with no consequences more lasting than your run-of-the-mill comedy of errors?  Starlight Glimmer's very existence?  That's check, check, check, and a big ol' check.  So yeah, I wasn't really a fan of Every Little Thing She Does.  But hey, what's fanfiction for, if not to wash the taste of disappointing episodes out of your mouth?  Click below for my thoughts on Device Heretic's And the Temptress Came Unto Her.

Impressions before reading:  Device Heretic is (was, I guess) a solid enough writer, and I've enjoyed other stories of his.  I also like the succinct, arresting description ("Nightmare Moon visits Twilight in the night, and things get biblical."); selling a story in only one sentence is tough, but there's good synergy here between the single-sentence cover and the title itself.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Nightmare Moon, no longer tied to Luna, visits Twilight in her dreams.  There, she makes a series of very enticing offers, and asks nothing in return...

Thoughts after reading:  In a lot of ways, that zero-spoiler summary tells you what you need to know about this fic.  It doesn't really go any unexpected or unobvious (inobvious?  Apparently they're both "nonstandard, but in use," which doesn't help me pick! (and heaven forbid I just say "not obvious" and sidestep the whole thing, right?)) places, but it covers its chosen territory very competently.

The writing quality is similar to what I've previously seen from Device Heretic--technically strong, but prone to meandering, and a bit heavy on repetitive adjectives.  This style, while perhaps not for everyone, does suit the story being told well, giving a grandiose air to the dreamscape in which the larger part of the action takes place.  Additionally, that grandiosity reinforces the weight of Twilight's temptation, and helps sell her guilt (and generally, her actions) in the latter part of the fic.

The main "problem" with this story, such as it is, is that it doesn't really do anything.  That is to say, the temptations NMM offers are stock, standard "poison chalice" offerings (albeit, framed in a way appropriate to Twilight specifically, rather than simply dropped in with no Equestrianizing moorings).  Immortality, knowledge, even intimate desires are all brought up, given the story-standard rejections, and moved on from, in ways that are entirely predictable and have been done many times before.  It's not that these are particularly poorly executed, again (though the quick glossing through of the arguments against accepting suggest that the author assumed readers would be familiar with the relevant counter-arguments, and would need no more than a summary, as opposed to a full exploration of, say, the implications of being capable of dispensing immortality)--it's just that there's little here beyond the concepts themselves, albeit wrapped in a pleasantly readable bit of dialogue.

The lengthy ending was, I felt while reading, a misstep; after Twilight awakens, there's still some 3000-odd words to go in this story.  But I'll give the author credit for tying everything together at the end with a literary quote that nicely framed the story, and created a bookend I wasn't even expecting.  That said, I still felt like the level of talking-through of the preceding events was unnecessary, but a lengthy denouement is, by my accounting, a fairly minor flaw.  At least, it is when that denouement has some intrinsic interest, and that's the case here.

Star rating:

You've seen all the "rewards" on offer here in other literature and media, I'm sure, and the story doesn't do much with them beside toss them out and let Twilight twist with them a bit.  But there's still an undeniable satisfaction to seeing the trap laid bare.

Recommendation:  If you think seeing Twilight scarred by having to reject the things she most wants sounds engaging, this will almost certainly deliver what you're looking for, in a form that's familiar precisely because it works.  It's probably not a great choice for readers looking for more than cursory explorations of those temptations, though, nor for those looking for a lot of surprises.

Next time:  Light the Sky On Fire, by EquesTRON


  1. Yeah, the episode wasn't great, but I liked the title. Obviously a reference to The Police, but it immediately made me think of The Beatles and Yes. Pinkie was in it, so that's another plus, and I enjoyed Bug Catcher Fluttershy. "Chillax" was just gross, though, even if they justified it somewhat. "Chill" would've worked just as well and been far more palatable

  2. Starlight Glimmer's entire existence

    I feel you, bro. D: I also feel you on this fic, though in total, I liked it less than you, it seems.

  3. The thing I liked most about this story is its tone. That's something that modern writers almost always screw up when presenting an ancient trope like this one. IMHO, DH got the feel of this spot-on.

    As for Starlight Glimmer. I have a feeling they're setting us up for a "no matter how good you are, there's somebody better" lesson. People who hate alicorn Twilight ought to be happy.

  4. "Starlight Glimmer's very existence?"

    Chris, I...

    1. Also, I think non-obvious, or nontrivial is your best bet for that word.

  5. "Starlight Glimmer's entire existence"...

    Oh, I don't know about "entire". Season five's premiere was one of the more interesting ones largely because of her, and back when she was still a villain, she was arguably one of the best to have appeared in a two-part episode.

    Although I get the impression you meant "entire" in another sense, but I'd need clarification before I could comment on that. :(

    1. You're right; I really meant "Glimmer, post-redemption." The S5 premier was pretty solid, as two-parters go!

  6. Yeah, I'm not getting the impetus for this Starlight Glimmer hate. On the one hand, there are characters in the show that this or that person isn't going to like, no matter what. Vimbert could never stand Rarity because she reminded him of a couple RL people he hated. I couldn't take Dash until around S4.

    But "entire." Do you think she was ineffective in "The Cutie Map"? At that point, it wasn't clear she'd turn up again, and I thought she played a very good part. In fact, I found her one of the most effective villains in the show, because she didn't actively mean harm. She actually thought she was doing the right thing.

    Then "The Cutie Re-Mark." I liked her in that, too, though I guess I could see people saying she was too OP. Even so, it just made her a better foil for Twilight that she wouldn't just be some pushover.

    Now as Twilight's student. This is where I hear the most people dissatisfied with her, but I like her there, too. Some of the PRs were having a discussion about how this season's been good, but it's writing itself into a corner where the main characters are all achieving their life goals, so there's not much direction left to them. And in that mien, Starlight is basically taking over Twilight's old role, since they kind of jumped the gun in graduating her from it, so now another is required. She's naive about friendship in different ways than Twilight is, and I like her nervousness about how she thinks ponies won't like her, as opposed to Twilight just being a hermit. The plotline about her trying to re-engage with Sunburst was a great illustration of that, and so was "A Hearth's Warming Tail." I find her an interesting character.

    1. Speaking personally, I thought Starlight was, if not a great villain, at least a different kind. Far less a world-destroying deity, and not even as powerful as Sombra, at least at first. Her arc in season five was great, right up until they tried to reform her. And not so much because they tried, but because they screwed it up.

      And what we got out of it was a rehash of a character we already have in the franchise: Sunset Shimmer, who I, at least, give far more of a damn about. Every time I see Starlight creep onto the screen, I find myself wishing Sunset was learning her lessons. She's superfluous as hell, and I'm starting to get tired of her constantly one-upping Twilight in terms of magical skill.

      The only time I really cared about her was in relation to her history with Sunburst. Her backstory may not be the greatest tragedy ever, but it fits the show, and I was really happy we got to see them reconcile in the S6 premiere. After that? I really just don't give two shits about anything she does, though I did like No Second Prances. The most recent episode really does show that she's entirely one-note, as her 'fear' of friendship lessons is the only thing holding her back. We already saw that in the premiere and NSP, it's time for something else to give her a reason to exist.

    2. See, that's exactly it, though. She isn't Sunset Shimmer. She's not the one taking the impetus to share her troubled past so others can learn from it. And Sunset never thought she was trying to steal the crown to achieve some greater good. Sunset's also not under anyone's tutelage, unless you just count learning by example. She's pretty much winging it and coming up with this stuff on her own. I do find Sunset a compelling character, but I don't find Starlight very similar at all.

    3. The main similarity is "former villain, now reformed and haunted by the mistakes of her past". Starlight's going through almost the exact same arc as Sunset in the movies. (Haven't seen the fourth one yet, don't know if that still holds.)

      And you've got a point that their initial motives are quite different, but the show doesn't really play that up. Where's the resent that her ideology was trampled by an overpowered godling? Where's feeling trapped or stifled by being under the tutelage of someone half her age? (Okay, that may be headcanon, no one on this show has a real age, but I can't see her as anything less than ten years older than Twilight.) Instead, she's left as a bland pseudo-Twilight, to mope about and fuck things up on the occasions the show writers deign to drag her out of the background.

      My point being, Discord has had a better redemption arc overall, and I'm still of mind reforming him was a bad idea. Starlight just doesn't fill much of a narrative purpose, and every time she learns a lesson the mane cast already has, I just have to roll my eyes, because it feels like she should know better. At least Discord has the benefit of being a god-thing with a completely different mindset from the ponies around him.

    4. Aaaand PP has just perfectly articulated almost everything I dislike about SG.

      But I have to add that the worst thing about SG is that she is just flat-out boring. SS had that bad-girl, take-over-the-world thing going for her, but SG? Shallow political idealist.

      Twilight, even as an alicorn princess, still has that eager enthusiasm and tendency for entertaining freak-outs. SG seems just neurotic and stand-offish.

      What it comes down to is that SG just isn't very likeable.

    5. Now you're just getting back to the very first thing I said. Some people will never like some characters for purely personal reasons, but there's nothing anywhere that says an unlikable character is a bad character. Some people find political idealism interesting, and you don't. That's fine, but it doesn't mean I have to find her boring, too.

    6. Oh, I not saying an unlikable character is a bad character, at all! (I love Flashman, for example.) Neither am I saying that Starlight is "unlikable"; I'm saying she "not likable." It may seem like a trivial difference, but it's not.

      I actually found her attempt at a utopia very interesting... as well as her attempt at revenge. But those didn't last. It's SG *now* that I find uninteresting. I actually liked thise episode, because train wrecks are entertaining even if there's no "character" involved. But Starlight...

      So what is it about her that you find interesting/engaging? Maybe I'm missing something.

    7. Just that she has a very different motivation than any of the other villains, and I like seeing the interplay between what she's certain is right and what she's conflicted about. The reason I found her to be one of the most effective villains goes back to when she prevented the rainboom by convincing the bullies to leave Dash alone. Twilight couldn't say anything against it, because Starlight was right. She still has flashes of that, where she's right, but for the wrong reasons, and she still has this certainty that she's doing the right thing at times, to the point she gets hostile about it when challenged. I like her choice of Trixie as a friend, because that played out similarly to the bully situation. She wasn't going about things exactly the right way, and though it wasn't a nefarious purpose, she was still convinced she had the right of it, even when her mentor was telling her otherwise. And then she turned out to be right, but she was needlessly confrontational about it. I like characters that have these inner conflicts and contradictions, because they're more realistic to me. That's why I like Rarity.

    8. I think you're right, that's what made No Second Prances really work. They're just not focusing on that enough in her other episodes. I mean, "mind controlling your friends because you're lazy" doesn't have the same effect as "hanging with the wrong crowd because you're starved for friendship and too neurotic to hang out with normal people".

    9. Those are good points, and I admit that I really liked her as a villain. Maybe it's because the stakes are so low/undefined for her at the moment that I have a "meh" reaction. Actually, I think the season finale is going to make or break my appreciation for the character... ghod, it would be great if they don't screw it up!

  7. I feel like part of the problem with Starlight is that she's being transitioned from a villain into ... something else. In some cases, maybe almost an anti-hero, but frankly I don't think that can be supported in the format of the show. Maybe just a particularly distasteful protagonist (I actually originally wrote antagonist there)? In "The Crystalling," that was fairly well dodged, since her actions seemed somewhat in proportion to what she was up against. Here, it wasn't even close, and as you've said, it wasn't presented in a way that could be spun like "Lesson Zero."

    Further, I think one needs to consider the pattern of conduct: this is entirely consistent, even perhaps more blatantly wrong than, with what Starlight did in her two villain stories (and was at least a stronger form of some of what she pulled in "The Crystalling," where in contrast we'd seen indications of how Twilight could end up going the route she did in "Lesson Zero," but that that wasn't her primary mode of existence, rather an extreme point with a basis in her prior life.

  8. Honestly, I'd dislike Starlight if she went right from her cult leader mindset to a humble, bashful friendship student. I've been sort of hoping for some more evidence that she hadn't made the transition perfectly, so maybe that's why I didn't mind the episode(that said, she did get off waaay too easily). Not that I want her to be a bad pony forever, but come on, that kind of change takes time even in Ponyville.

    Maybe it's just that I wasn't drawn to the show by the optimism. If that were the case, I can definitely see why she'd be grating!

    I guess I don't have much else to say about her? Uh, I always think of her as being middle-aged because of her initial beehive that makes her look like she fell out of the sixties?

    Anyway, sorry for coming by just to rant about Starlight Glimmer of the Dubious Morals.