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Happy Halloween! Try not to get your house TPd; I don't know what the weather's like where all y'all live (I assume "all y'all" live together somewhere, the better to discuss my reviews amongst yourselves. Good planning on all y'all's part!), but around here we've got rain on the way; soggy toilet paper is even less fun to remove than the dry kind.
But you aren't here to talk about homeownership; you're here for fanfics! And in the spirit of the season, you can head down below the break to see my thoughts on Flashgen's A FLEet|ng LIght |n thE DArknEsS.
Impressions before reading: I read this around the time that it came out, an remember being distinctly underwhelmed. However, I've heard basically nothing but good things about it since, enjoyed the one other story of the author's which I've read, and seeing as I can't remember anything specific that I disliked about the story, I'm hoping that I'll enjoy this on re-read.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A transcript of Twilight Sparkle's journal, found in her home by investigators after Ponyville was mysteriously abandoned with no sign of where the inhabitants went.
Thoughts after reading: Okay, I remember why I was underwhelmed: it was because I didn't understand a darn thing that was going on, and didn't feel any need to try to put all the pieces together. Now that I'm doing a review, though, I have done my best to figure out what's going on here. Unfortunately, this is a story that can barely muster up a cogent question, let alone suggest the outline of any possible answer.
Of course, that's more or less deliberate. Fleeting (as I'll hereafter be referring to the story) is built on the classic horror axiom "less is more:" virtually no hint is given as to what is happening beyond a few physical observations and snatches of dreams, less is said of why, how, and what if..., and basically everything is left to the reader's imagination. In fact, I was afraid that I'd have to use spoilers to discuss this story at first, but when I started to organize my thoughs, I found that there was almost nothing in the story to spoil; all there are are hints and whispers, for the reader to turn over an envision for themselves. In and of itself, I enjoy that kind of horror story, and--in and of itself--I found it effectively done here
My problems began with the number of red herrings (I'm using the term liberally here--I don't mean by it "things which turn out to be false leads," as much as "things which are never again brought up after being introduced, and whose relevance, if any, is entirely speculative"), such as the state of the mayor's office, or the (possibly?) expanding distance between the town center and AJ's farm. Such irrelevant-seeming mysteries ended up detracting from the horror experience for me rather severely, because they served to obscure what was supposed to be frightening; rather than trying to imagine what might have happened at this or that point in the story, most of my mental energy was spent trying and failing to tie together story threads which ultimately didn't connect in any purposeful way.
Another issue was the format itself, which I felt was extremely poorly realized. Nominally a transcript of Twilight's journals, the text itself seems to vacillate between treating itself as such (complete with notes from the transcriber describing the speed or style of writing, torn or missing pages, etc.) and treating itself as the journal proper, such as with the use of invisible ink (when you see a lengthy blank space, make sure to try highlighting it. This isn't a great story for e-readers, sadly). Glancing through the comments on the story, I'm a bit surprised to see nobody else complaining about this--I found it jarring and confusing when I first encountered the invisible text, and spent some time fruitlessly trying to imagine what was happening to the transcriber (or copy-editor, perhaps?), before writing it off as a massive, inexplicable writing error.
Beyond that, the word use and structure on Twilight's journal is nicely consistent and fits well with what a character such as her might write. The transcriber's notes are rather weaker in this regard, with word choice which wavers between informal and professional. However, many of the Fleeting's most interesting revelations come from these passages, and they provide a very welcome semblance of context, at least in the early going.
(As an aside, I was also a bit thrown off by the journal being described as having a "leather" cover at the start--given where leather comes from, my first assumption was that this meant Twilight had gone/would go to some very dark places in this story, before discovering that she'd bought it on a whim one day and that the leather bit was of no further significance. That didn't really affect my enjoyment of the story, since it was quickly made clear that the choice of cover material was aesthetic on the author's part rather than a portentous hint, but it's worth remembering to always make sure you've properly ponified your ponyfiction!)
What I found most disappointing, though, was the lack of depth to it all. The title practically declares "there's a riddle to be solved here," and to an extent, there is... but the "riddle" is just discovering that the title hides an (admittedly kind of clever) anagram for the last line of the story, with no particular weight or import being assigned to either. This is another example of where too much ambiguity in the non-horror elements ends up weakening the product: there's nothing done with that anagram, nor any suggestion that either the title or the last line are particularly significant in and of themselves (as specific phrases, that is, not in terms of what they communicate generally), and so you get a neat little puzzle (and it is a neat little puzzle, in and of itself!) that's completely divorced from the story.
★★☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
This story had a lot of individual things that I enjoyed--the sense of isolation in the later parts of the story are well-done, for example--but the overall effect is of a bunch of neat bits adrift in a sea of unconnected ideas and bound together by a flawed narrative device.
Recommendation: This story is not for people who are looking for something "easy" which they can turn their brains off and enjoy. But it also doesn't hold up terribly well to analytical reading. Between those extremes, though, I think Fleeting will prove very effective to readers looking for something atmospheric and creepy, which gives their imaginations room to wander but which doesn't actually ask you to keep track of and fit a bunch of pieces together.
Next time: Couchtavia, by shortskirtsandexplosions