Friday, October 14, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 182: Sun Princess

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

I don't talk about politics on this blog, but I think an article about political polling (and how a (mis)application of weighting is screwing up one poll's results) is fair game.  So, if you're interested in why the LA Times/USC polls have consistently had a sizable bias toward Trump compared to everyone else's polling, check out Nate Cohn's article.

Then, when you've gotten your statistics fix, head below the break for my review of Skywriter's Sun Princess.

Impressions before reading:  My gut reaction to a sad-tagged, under-2000-word story about dying is pretty negative; while there are exceptions, that description perfectly matches a plenitude of shallow, barely-considered fics which exist for no purpose greater than to allow the author to pretend they've written something "deep."  On the other hand, my gut reaction to a Skywriter-authored fic is pretty positive, enough so that I trust him to be one of those exceptions.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Winona--or "faithful student," as she sees herself--reflects on her duties to Applejack--"the sun princess"--even as she grows more sick.

Thoughts after reading:  Let me start by acknowledging that I am a cat person.  If I wanted something needy, obsessive, high-maintenance, and yappy running around my house, I'd marry a reality-show star (hey-o!).  So, this was never the kind of story that was going to strike my heart like a laser-guided missile.

But of course, the best stories succeed even when that's the case.  A great travelogue is fun to read even if it's about a place you personally haven't always dreamed of visiting, for example.  And so, I'm pleased to say there's still something here worth reading, even if "dying dog" isn't going to singlehandedly get you emotionally invested.

The biggest strength and weakness of this story are identical, as it happens: how much the fic sets out to do.  In addition to evoking some end-of-life emotion through a limited perspective, this story also paints some very direct links between AJ and Winona on one hand and Twilight (and ponies, generally) and Celestia on the other, discusses the concept of duty, and more.  The strength here is that the story successfully hits all these notes, which makes it a much more nuanced, thicker piece of writing than it would otherwise be.  The weakness comes from the fact that, between this broad approach and the story's short length, none of these angles gets fully explored.  I found the AJ-Celestia angle particularly lacking in this regard: the ties are made, but nothing ever really comes of it.  There's no suggestion of how Winona's impressions might be extrapolated to inform our view of the princess, for example, beyond the most basic, nor is anything ever done with the comparison between the two Sun Princesses' "immortality"s.

So, this is a story which says a lot of things, but most of them in a fleeting and/or incomplete manner.  That still leaves the central emotional crux e.g. the dying dog.  As I hinted at above, the effectiveness of this crux is likely to depend on how much pre-investment one has in the idea that losing a pet is sad, without being wholly dependent upon it.  Skywriter does end up relying on a lot of the standbys of stories of this type--master crying while the pet, uncomprehending desires to comfort her, and so on--which I think was probably unavoidable.  Still, it does mean that there's not a lot here that readers of sad short stories (not just ponyfics) won't have seen before, impact-wise.  Everything here is presented with a combination of excellent, not-overblown writing, and genuine respect, which is enough to recommend the story all by itself.  But it's also fair to say that, past the writing and respect, this isn't a story that transcends the cliches of its genre so much as it takes them and puts them to effective use.  Whether that's enough for any given reader is another question--but at the very least, it's not nothing.

Star rating:

I suspect this is the type of story that some readers will find absolutely devastating, and which others will find perfectly readable for what it is, but rather less impactful nevertheless.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for a sad story which doesn't rely solely on a depressing premise to buoy (sink?) it, this would be a fine choice.  It probably will come up a bit short for readers looking for something that actually chews its gristle, however.

Next time: Applejack’s Bar, by Alaborn


  1. Holy carp, was I behind! I had to read seven posts before this one just to get caught up. I haven't binged that much OMPR since 2011. Can't even use work as an excuse, as I've been on vacation this week

  2. I've been crying about dead dogs since Where the Red Fern Grows in fifth grade. ;_;

    It hasn't stopped. ;___;

    Bonus points if it's from the dog's perspective and they don't understand what's going on. ;_________;

  3. Right there with you, PP. ;__;

    What I think this story does really well is to bring into sharp focus the idiocy of the "immortality is bad because I will miss all my friends" argument.

    I miss every dog I've ever...

    ;__; damnnit

    But I loved them all and never regret an instant I spent with them.

  4. Oh man Where the Red Fern Grows kicked me right in the dick as a kid.

  5. Why did you monsters have to bring up WtRFG... It took me 11 years to forget the pain. ;__;




  6. This story absolutely kills me. I get why it wouldn't be as effective for some people, but I'm very attached to my pets. It grabs my heart and wrings it like a wet dishrag.

  7. This was fairly close to how I recall my reaction. I recognized that there was some great work there, and thought the job done on the perspective was very well done, but it wasn't enough to overcome the fact the content was mistargeted where I was concerned. It was something good, but not great for me.

  8. Oh God. I didn't know this fic was about a dying dog when I put it on my list. I'm seriously reconsidering now, because that's really not something I want to read about. It still feels like only yesterday I lost my springer spaniel.

  9. Hmm. I'm not a very sentimental person and I think that dogs are great pets for other people, so I guess that's why I found Where the Red Fern Grows kind of boring and baffling as a child, and find Sun Princess a bit forgettable now. I'm sure that they're excellent stories, but I'm clearly not the target audience.

    1. This is pretty much my feeling, too. A lot of dog people don't understand why non-dog people are non-dog people, but I am a non-dog person and so this is pulling on heartstrings I don't have. I'm reading it from the outside, as it were.