Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fandom Classics Part 183: Applejack's Bar

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

Why is the cover art so tiny?  I do not know.  It just is!  Savor this mystery, my friends; in a world where internet-capable cell phones are a thing, the list of true imponderables has become perilously slight.  Enjoy the opportunity to speculate inanely without any hope of finding the real answer.  Then, go down below the break to see my review of Alaborn's Applejack's Bar.

Impressions before reading:  The wordcount here (a bit over 5000 words) feels somewhat excessive for what looks like a one-joke fic--and if this is a one-joke fic, I'd be surprised if my thoughts after reading didn't include something like "this would have been better at half the length."  But perhaps there's more to this story than meets the eye; we'll see.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A typo on one of the Apple family's building permits means that they're legally supposed to have not a new barn on their property, but a new bar.  A simple enough thing for the mayor to fix... except she's out of town for the week.  And if Applejack doesn't want to face bureaucratic trouble, she'll need to bring farm into compliance until then.

Thoughts after reading:  This story is an excellent example of how poor writing can bring down a potentially amusing premise.  This story has a very workable setup:  AJ has to run an impromptu bar for a week due to reasons, a scenelette from each day with a different character (or more) showing up, and a happy ending with the expected turnabout.  That's a plot diagram which lends itself perfectly well to light humor.

But unfortunately, the few good jokes in this story (and there are some; Berry Punch's Berry Sense ("You know Pinkie Sense?  It's like that, except for booze") comes to mind) are widely spaced, and the intervening verbiage generally lacks intrinsic interest.  Part of this is redundancy, most notably in dialogue tagging, where it's not uncommon for a single sentence to be double tagged (e.g. "'Big Macintosh!' she called.  'We have a visitor.  You get started, and Ah'll deal with him,' she said").  Note that this isn't so much incorrect--editing is not where this story's struggles lie--as it is unweildy and unneccesary.

Beyond that, the narrative often switches over to pat summarization to get from scene to scene.  Presumably, this was done in an attempt to keep the distance between jokes to a minimum, but it ends up backfiring.  It's all to common to run into passages like this:
Applejack broke the bad news to her family. Nopony was happy, but the Apples accepted it stoically, like any problem that befell the farm family. Big Macintosh disassembled part of the new barn's interior, freeing up the minimum required space for the tavern. Apple Bloom assembled the stall doors into a makeshift bar. And Granny Smith brought out the Apple family's special reserves to sell.
...Which detail information that either could have been presented humorously itself (Showing us the Apple family's dialogue would have provided plenty of potential comic fodder, and/or could have been played warm and fuzzy), could have been inferred from later scenes (the "special reserves" are addressed just a wee bit later on anyway), or are simply not worth mentioning in the first place (the fact that Bloom put together the stall doors could probably be skipped over, since those stall doors are never mentioned again).  Instead, time and again, this sort of thing is given to the reader in fundamentally uninterresting form.

Meanwhile, the story itself is predictable.  Which is fine, in itself, since the story is mostly a vehicle for those comic scenelettes and a few other key exchanges.  But, when the story has significant humor gaps, that does mean that there's basically nothing to propel the reader forward; knowing all the beats in advance is problematic when there's a dearth of forward impetus from other sources.

Star rating:

I think this review came out a little harsher than my feelings about the story.  It's not exceptionally bad by any stretch--it's just got a dull-to-funny ratio too great for me to really enjoy.  Given that the author wrote it more than four years ago and is still an active writer, I rather suspect this isn't the acme of his writing, either.  But we can't pick our most famous stories, can we?

Recommendation:  Readers with a high tolerance for over-writing might find this entertaining enough as a piece of gentle SoL, but it's hard to recommend with much enthusiasm to any particular audience.

Next time:  The Ballad of Echo the Diamond Dog, by Rust


  1. Chris, that summary is neither a summary nor spoiler free. :B

    Also, was not a fan of Echo, interested to see your take on him.

    1. did I not notice that?

      I saw a "too" with one too few "o"s, but I had no idea the summary was missing.

      Seriously how?

    2. Let he among you without a copy-paste mixup or three in your past cast the first stone, I say!

      Also, fix'd

  2. Echo will be interesting to examine. As I recall, it was the originator of the Chess Games of the Gods universe, which was something of a precursor to LoHAV/Displaced in that it was a very popular HiE subgenre for a while (or, less charitably, Echo was a story that a lot of people ripped off). I never read it myself, and I don't recall why not, because I was big into HiE at the time it was new, but it's undeniably an influential fic.

  3. This is the first time someone has referred to this story as a fandom classic. Other than the readership and rating, it never got any particular attention.