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I'm ready for Thanksgiving, now. I realize it's still a week and a half away, but my family and a couple of friends from out of town will all be around, and I'm looking forward to seeing them. It'll be nice.
To help us pass the time, here's another review! Click down below the break for my thoughts on Wheller's The Parliament of Dreams.
Impressions before reading: Well, my very first impression is that it's got a nice title: evocative but appropriately vague. The premise sounds promising, as well. I've seen more than a couple stories with "in the future, nopony has cutie marks... until!"-type setups, but that doesn't make them any less solid a template for an adventure/discovery fic.
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A series of poor decisions forces Sparky, a young unicorn mare in the Equestrian Republic, to flee her home with a few friends and acquaintances. Things don't get any easier for her once she's off on the lam, though, as she finds herself roped into a very far-ranging mission...
Thoughts after reading: I suppose I ought to start by saying that everything I was looking forward to from the Impressions segment is, at best, minimally present in this story: the titular Parliament ends up literally being a dream fragment with no real bearing on the rest of the fic, for example. More disappointingly, the whole "cutie marks have returned!" thing is basically a story-long tease. It's given a bit of weight right at the start, but the reader soon discovers that Sparky getting a cutie mark is really just a plot device to get her to panic, and although her curiosity about it/need to cover it is occasionally mentioned thereafter, it is at best a tangential story point. So tangential, in fact, that the story never gets around to explaining why she got one in the first place. Well, the proximate cause is eventually revealed, along with a vague line about how she has "a destiny" (not even "a special destiny," at that), but nothing about why this happened to Sparky, how or why the creature that gave her her cutie mark acted or what its goals were, etc. For all that a person reading the story's description might expect otherwise, the entire cutie mark "thing" is essentially a minor sideplot.
As for the main plot? That's actually rather hard to say, as this story flits randomly about through several semi-related characters, few of whom have any particularly strong motivations for what they do. In terms of events, meanwhile, there's... well, there are a lot of things which happen in this story, which don't really make sense in the context of the characters. This is a story where one group of main characters are kidnapped by a foreign government and told they'll be the crew on a mission to a faulty spaceship, for no particular reason (these characters have, at best, tangentially related skills and, at worst, are somewhat less qualified to do anything than a random pony off the street) and with precisely zero training or practice. It's a story where, perhaps two hours after meeting a couple of complete strangers, Sparky is comforting herself knowing that they're friends "she could count on[... They] would never abandon her, and she would never abandon them." It's a story where a key bit of investigative stonewalling occurs at one point because, in a world where every important pony has a MIP (basically a Pipbuck from Fo:E; a personal, hoof-mounted computer), there appears to be no means of recording an interrogation (in fact, on at least two occasions, it's strongly implied that "he said, she said" is the de facto law of the land). It's a story where a pegasus who had never before seen the inside of a spaceship can successfully pilot it to earth unassisted (with all the keys labeled in a foreign language, no less!) because she's a pegasus, and "it all comes down to roll, pitch, and yaw in the end!"
In other words, a lot of things happen in this story, and most of them don't make much sense when viewed individually. However, they do make a certain meta-sense when viewed from a story perspective; just as the cutie mark's appearance is really just a vehicle to get a character to briefly panic early in the story, "these random hostages being sent on a space mission" makes story sense, when one realizes that those characters need to go to space in order to advance the plot. On a similar note, character interactions and morality are entirely informed by the broader narrative, rather than any individual's knowledge or motivations. For example, at one point in the story a clean cop leaves the police force to become a private detective, leaving his repentant crooked partner behind. A bit later, said detective is hired by a mysterious pony to commit industrial espionage and corporate spying, at which point the formerly crooked partner is able to show that she's truly cleaned up her act by... um, aiding and abetting in a criminal act. For both of the characters involved, this is almost absurdly backwards logic... but if you only think about it in terms of "the corporation is doing something bad, they're exposing it, therefore they're the good guys," then you can see the story logic driving the writing.
Unfortunately, "story logic" is no substitute for "character logic, motivation, or internal consistency." And all of those thing are routinely missing from the story. Instead, the writing tends to focus excessively on details which are bizarre, unnecessary, or both. The narration is full of things like overly-technical walkthroughs of how Sparky combs her hair, pauses to explain things like the last few governments to rule a country which none of the characters is from, and to which none of them travel at any point during the story, and other such irrelevancies.
Connected to that last point, this story is a prime example of the purposeless ponification of Earth-analogues. For example, one character in the story is a "Nephite," which is essentially a Mormon. As in, a religious order founded by an earth pony who was directed to a set of magical metal tablets by an angel, who send their young adults out on two-year missions, etc. Now, there's nothing wrong with ponifying something like that... but it's done for absolutely no story reason. This story contains no meaningful commentary on Mormonism, doesn't draw any meaningful parallels between early American history and Equestria's modern history, and otherwise adopts wholesale a set of very specific beliefs and customs into an ill-fitting society for no particular reason. This is done time and time again, from large matters (Spain, France, and the USSR are all given nearly one-to-one expys) to small touches (while many stories might make a "Rennich Mean Time" pun, few would then pause to explain that it "was five hours ahead of the local time. Rennich being a town that the prime meridian passed through, in the United Kingdom of Welara where the idea of time zones was first proposed").
As I touched on earlier, the writing is full of odd digressions. These stick out rather more than they otherwise might because of the poor punctuating; run-on sentences are common, and more broadly, there's very little sentence flow in the narration. Two or three vaguely related ideas will often appear in a single paragraph, with little or nothing in the way of connective thread. As a result, some sections of the story end up reading more like lists of facts and actions than a cohesive narrative. Those individual facts and actions may be easy enough to follow, but they often don't obviously add up to anything in particular.
★☆☆☆☆ (what does this mean?)
I feel like this review ended up being awfully heavy on "Here's a thing that happened in the story." In my defence, I had a lot of highlights on this story after I finished reading it, and some things are easier to show with concrete examples than with more general statements.
Recommendation: This story is all over the place, enough so that the Random tag wouldn't feel out of place on it. As such, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for any sort of cohesive narrative, though readers who find descriptive digressions interesting regardless of relevance will probably enjoy it more than I did.
Next time: Dear Idiot, by The Descendant