Friday, September 30, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 180: Light the Sky on Fire

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

So, I guess Britain's getting their pony fix early?  The season finale will be airing there before we get it in America, it seems.  As someone who watches the episodes online (and, these days, doesn't always get to watch them right away anyway) this isn't a huge deal for me, but it does raise the question: assuming, as is probably safe, that I have OPINIONS I NEED TO SHARE about said finale, should I share them as soon I see the episodes, or wait until they air in the US?  I'll probably just follow everyone else's lead on this, but if you have any strong ideas about the whole matter, let me know.  Otherwise, let's get on to the reviewage!  My take on EquesTRON's Light the Sky on Fire, below.

Impressions before reading:  "Scootaloo learns to fly," the more positive offshoot of "Sad Scootaloo (because she can't fly)," is right up there with "Rainbow Dash loses her wings" and "Twilight messes up a spell" in the Pantheon of Done-To-Death Plots.  Interestingly, it's one of the very oldest fandom tropes as well, while this story is... well, not new by any stretch, but not exactly ancient in fandom terms, either (post-S3 going by the publish date), so I'm hoping there's more to this than just a paint-by-numbers fic.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Scootaloo never understood why she couldn't fly... until the newly-princessified Twilight helped her investigate her innate pegasus magic.  It turns out, the problem wasn't with either her physical or magical abilities, but with a lack of understanding--and understanding things is something Twilight is both uniquely qualified to help with, and (given her recent wingification) eager to do.

Thoughts after reading:  Before I even get to the story itself, I want to address two matters vis-a-vis the whole "stock fic" thing I talked about up above.  First off, why do these things get so darn pervasive in the first place?  And second, what's wrong with writing something that a bunch of other people have written, even (especially!) if the author isn't as intimately familiar with ponyfic tropes as the reader may be?

To the first: "Scootaloo learns to fly" is a staple fanfic plot because it works.  It takes a premise that's, if not inarguably canon, at least well-supported by the show (Scootaloo can't, or can barely, fly), and which provides built-in drama (she wants to fly!).  Then, it resolves that drama, creating a pleasing arc in which a character whom the reader (presumably) has pre-existing empathy for struggles and succeeds in a trial specific to her wants and needs.  It's common because it's solid premise.

So, having said that, what's wrong with it?  What's wrong, exactly, with a story about Scootaloo learning to fly, beyond the possibility that the reader's already come across a fic with a similar premise--which, surely, isn't the author's fault?  Well, that much is true, though it would still be fair for a reader to prefer something more novel, "fault" be damned.  Still, there is a flaw in the "generic Scootasoar story" concept, which is its triteness.  A story which concerns itself solely with getting Scootaloo into the air is essentially a forward-facing fixfic, "correcting" a character "flaw" from the show, and piggybacking off of that reader desire for closure while bringing nothing but a conclusion to the tale.  In other words "generic Scootasoar story" is not actually a complete story, but is only the last chapter of a story the show wrote, devoid of any greater import.

Now, with that all out of the way, let me say that Light the Sky on Fire is ultimately more than "generic."  It brings something unique--or at least, a unique twist--to the proceedings, namely, Twilight's role in the story, and the attendant explanation for why Scoots had so much trouble getting into the air in the first place.  While the beats beyond that are exactly the ones you'd expect, this is ultimately more than just a fic for the sake of getting her in the air; there's an actual story in here.  Admittedly, this goes exactly where a story of its type invariably does, to the point where I can't think of anything beyond that Twilight connection which separates this from a dozen other stories I've read, plot-wise, but again: that's might inform a reader's interest, but it's not a story criticism per se.

The biggest flaw of the story is its fluffiness.  Rather than focusing on its unique element, this story spends quite a bit of verbiage moving through predictable scenes of varying heartwarmingness, a literary montage of sweetness and comforting devoid of larger substance.  I would have enjoyed this story more at half the wordcount, making it a less wander-y, more focused tale, which emphasized its original portions.  Alternately, a longer fic might have been better able to explore those original portions--they're largely informed in the story, albeit perfectly satisfactorily--while allowing the fluff to feel like a tonal accent, rather than being the larger part of the fic.  Regardless, this story felt like it was in an uncomfortable middle ground to me: too short to really get into the details that could set it apart, but too long to pack a lot of punch per word.

The narrative voice (first person, present tense) is a bit of a mixed bag.  On one hand, the character voicing is good in the abstract, sounding sufficiently Scootalish to be recognizable while still showing a bit of the verbiage one might pick up while studying with Twilight for months, and working in some nice, in-character asides along the way.  Additionally, that voice is used to create some very effective descriptions and metaphors which don't break character.  On the downside, I didn't feel like that voice was effectively utilized.  The choice of narrator and tense both lend an urgency and immediacy to a tale, but this only really comes into play at the tale end of the fic; before that, it's a sometimes-distracting ill mix for the series of flashbacks and SoL moments which populate the story, calling attention to the narration instead of the narrative.

Star rating:

This is a story that does what it sets out to do reasonably well... but the "what it sets out to do" bit is low-hanging fruit.  Meanwhile, its strongest elements are often underutilized compared to its more banal offerings.  That all said, there is more here than an uncharitable projection would predict, and the end result is a very readable, if not very unpredictable, product.

Recommendation:  If you already have a good idea what "exactly the [beats] you'd expect" from a story of this sort entails, I'd give Light the Sky on Fire a pass--there's not enough here that you haven't already seen.  For the rest of you, though, this would be a fine choice for readers who like a lot of fluffy adversity-overcoming in their fiction--or who just want to see Scoots fly, I suppose.  Like I said, it's a common trope because it's a good one at its core.

Next time:  Scion of Chaos, by SilentBelle


  1. In other words "generic Scootasoar story" is not actually a complete story, but is only the last chapter of a story the show wrote

    Couldn't you say that, to some extent at least, about jsut about any fanfic, though? Okay, maybe not just the last chapter, but certainly not the whole book.

    I might read this one at some point, as occasonally what I want from a story is predictable fluffiness. A non-stop diet of shattering originality would exhaust me!

    1. Not quite the way I mean it. Fanfiction takes setting and/or characters as givens, but it should still have its own plot impetus. For example, say I was writing a story about Robin Hood: I might well skim or skip over entirely the details of who knows whom and how, assuming that readers are familiar with the basics (robs from the rich and gives to the poor, has a band of merry men, lives in an Olde Englishe forest, etc.). That's one thing. But if I write a story about Robin Hood and Maid Marion getting married... well, that can be PART of a story, certainly--even the main event in a story. But by itself it's just a resolution with no conflict. Without expansion or development, it relies entirely on the reader to supply any reason to care about the wedding, and asks that they bring their own investment in seeing these two characters wed.

      That can be enough for readers who come in looking for a continuation/conclusion to that particular part of the Robin Hood mythos, but it's not really a STORY, by itself.