Saturday, February 25, 2017

6-Star Reviews Part 164: Binky Pie

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

You read that title right!  All these years later, we've still got the (very) rare 6-star review trickling in.  Will there ever be another?  Well, EqD hasn't actually had ratings for years, and... um, if you look at the list of incomplete 6-star fics, you'll see that there's not much there beyond deadfics and, at a glance, at least three or four misfiled complete stories that I've already reviewed.  Still, who knows?  Maybe The Sweetie Chronicles will eventually finish, and I'll have the dubious joy of reviewing a million-word fanfic which can only be properly appreciated by someone who's read several million more words' worth of fanfic!  That... that'll be a fun day.

But that day is not today!  No, today is the day I review Miyajima's Binky Pie.  Check it out, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  Cards on the table: I never really got into Discworld.  Yes, I like Pratchett as a writer, but his early Discworld books aren't all that great, relatively speaking, and I don't really like the idea of not starting something at the beginning (that said, I did read Wee Free Men despite it not being particularly near the "start" of anything in particular, and it was good fun).  That being the case, my big concern going in is one common to a lot of crossover fics: that it won't be accessable to someone without a strong grounding in the material being crossed over with.  Nevertheless, this is a story that's been on my radar for nearly half a decade, because Pinkie goofing around with Discworld's Death seems inherently funny to me, so I'm hoping for good things.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Pinkie Pie takes a part-time job helping another world's Death transition souls away from their bodies, and on to whatever comes next.  But when they inadvertently switch roles, things get problematic quickly.

Thoughts after reading:  Let's start with the bad news: my concerns vis-a-vis the crossover aspect were, at least partially, realized.  Specifically, this is a story where it's easy to follow the beats of the plot, and where the role and general disposition of characters is never really inobvious, but also one full of moments where it's really, really obvious when you're missing something.  Depending on what you do or don't know about Discworld, many of the characters from that setting will be wholly unfamiliar, and will regularly reference or act upon things which cannot be intuited from the text as presented.  Heck, this even extends to the name of the city itself: someone coming in with no background in the series could easily get confused in the early going by thinking that a place with a name like "Ankh-Morpork" must be a pig-filled city in Equestria (a land which never met a punny name it didn't like) and not be disabused of that notion until far enough in to cause considerable confusion.  A lot of the elements of the crossover are simply assumed familiar to the reader, and it's always clear exactly when you've missed something.

On the other hand, the reason it's clear when you missed something is because the story also makes it really easy to guess the general shape of those lacunas, enough so that I doubt even someone with zero Pratchett grounding couldn't get through this work without much confusion.  I don't know that they'd enjoy the reading experience, but at the very least they'd have a good sense for what the stuff they missed must have been.  Writing a comprehensible-to-all crossover may not be everything, but it's more than many such fics manage.

And while we're on the subject of Discworld, let's talk about the writing style.  It is, in a word, lovely.  Miyajima captures the tone of a Pratchett comedy without trying to perfectly mimic his construction, and the result is a familiarly funny/sweet telling which doesn't feel robotically tied to the specific style of its source material.  In particular, Miyajima shows a knack for taking comic asides and expanding them seamlessly into the larger plot.  Take this passage, for example:

     It has been said by many wise men, that ‘Knowledge is Power’*. It has been said by certain other wise men, that ‘Power is Equal to Force over Distance, Divided by Time’. Equally, it is commonly known that knowledge resides, in a permanent, fixed form, in books.     If knowledge is power, and power is a force applied over a distance over a set unit of time, then knowledge bound in paper and ink must contain vast amounts of untapped potential energy. That’s just science.
In most stories, that would be a funny interjection to the action.  Here, it's initially presented as such, but then is immediately followed by an equally-funny passage bringing it back around to the matter at hand, becoming an important plot point itself--and more importantly, doing so in a textually smooth, amusing way.

In fact, my only issue with the presentation is the footnotes, which are quite a pain to read on both e-reader and when read directly from FiMFic (footnotes appear a the bottom of scenes, rather than of chapters or paragraphs, and scrolling down to find where the scene ends can be frustrating).  But with that said, the alternative is to miss some of the funniest lines in the story; the footnote up above gives us, "*Such men usually had a lot of knowledge and very little actual power. Men in power tended to follow a different equation; ‘Power is Power.’"  Surely, that's worth a little hassle to find, no?

The plot itself is rather rambly; the first three chapters are all spent setting up the premise in ways which don't invariably pay off, and several detours to see various denizens of Discworld are rather transparently made for the sake of getting the cameo in, rather than for purposes of advancing or otherwise enhancing the story.  This is true to a lesser degree on the Ponyville side, where such detours generally at least either serve to show Death's (or rather, Bill Door's, since that's his name--I've been using Death instead so as not to confuse readers who wouldn't recognize the name "Bill Door," but he's not actually Death in this part of the story, so I can't rightly call him that, and oh god this parenthetical is completely out of control) adjustment to mortal life, or to expand upon various ponies in interesting and/or entertaining ways.  The romantic subplot felt rather forced to me, but it was played low-key enough not to bother even a non-shipper like myself, and certainly added to the theme of "(re)discovering mortality."  In any case, the ramblyness isn't necessarily a bad thing; it is, though, a very notable feature of the story.

But what I absolutely must praise about the overall idea here is how it combines the cynical humor of one source material with the sincerity of the other, and lets them openly clash.  Pinkie here is defined by being thrust into a world where the assassin's guild isn't just a thing, but one of the most prominent fixtures in Ankh-Morpork, and having to deal with becoming a part of that world while remaining her ineffable self.  How she deals with that is... well, that's what the story's about, but suffice to say, the awareness with which this dichotomy was approached was greatly enjoyable to see unfold, and its resolution was a wonderful combination of dramatic and sweet.

Star rating:

The big question I struggled with when trying to decide on a rating was accessability.  How accessable is this story?  In the end, I decided that the answer was "enough."  Will you miss things if you haven't read at least a few of the stories its "other" setting is borrowed from?  Absolutely.  But will you still be able to enjoy the fic on its own merits without getting lost?  I think so.  And with that in mind, there's a lot of wonderful humor here wrapped around a ball of genuine warmth.  That's something worth recognizing.

Recommendation:  For fans of Pratchett, this is a no-brainer recommendation.  For others, it's still worth looking into if you don't mind watching references go over your head, and enjoy well-executed comedic writing which neither cheapens nor overwhelms a surprisingly serious theme.

Next time:  The Brightest and the Best, by Pineta


  1. So, a complex yet accessible waltz danced to the proper rhythm, with a charming shift in meter reminiscent of the English Suites of Bach? A relaxing gavotte in two-four, neither too slow nor too fast? A lively gigue exhibiting satisfying nuance?

  2. Damn.

    I started reading this one way, way back, because of course I did. But the slow scheduling put me off enough to barely notice when it was completed*, and I have the feeling I'd have to reread a whole bunch of chapters just to remember what happened.

    * And yes, I say this as someone with about a dozen deadfics of my own. Let me dream!

    Now I feel like I'm getting mixed messages. The final score is four-star greatness, but the bulk of the review suggests three-star goodness. So much space is devoted to its problems that the final score honestly felt like it came out of left field. Not disputing the content of the fic, but without more gushing, the review felt a little lopsided.

    As for Discworld... admittedly, I'm not an impartial disputant here, having read pretty much the entire series (and now treating it like a literary touchstone). But good grief, when even the author recommends not starting at the beginning, the obvious conclusion is that you are missing out. One of the great things about Discworld is how Pratchett wrote it so you could jump in anywhere, and (virtually) every story is self-contained.**

    ** An obvious potential exception is Lords and Ladies, which deals with elvish folklore and continues on from Witches Abroad. Even then, it largely fills in the broad stokes at the beginning, so it's not hard to recommend that one as a standalone either.

    The Watch books alone put the early stuff to shame, even Guards! Guards!, which is number eight in the sequence. Also, Small Gods, The Truth, and Thief of Time are magnificent stories about religious history, investigative journalism, and time-travelling monks respectively, arguably among the greatest stories he ever wrote. And if you like things a little darker and more serious, his later work would probably be of considerable interest. I myself read Thud! as one of my earliest Discworld books, and about a year later I'd more-or-less finished all but the most recent books in the series.

    1. The biggest value I (as the reviewer) get out of those darn star ratings is that they allow me to "correct" somewhat when some particularly positive or negative elements require a disproportionate amount of verbiage to unpack. I felt like I had to spend a good chunk of words on accessibility, given that the piece can't be easily categorized as "you'll be fine, go ahead and read it," or "for Discworld fans only," and since that's a generally negative bit of commentary, it makes the whole review look and feel more negative than it "should."

      It also doesn't help that it's the very first paragraph, but again, I felt that was where I had to start, given that it was my primary pre-reading concern.

      That said, this was on the three-four border, but it's not one I really had to waffle over. So, star ratings are an annoyance and a pain, but here, in this instance, they helped me show... um, that my review doesn't really match my opinion as well as it should.

      Oh, the tribulations of being an fanfic reviewer!

    2. I'm certainly not complaining about the focus on its accessibility. That was actually kind of fascinating, even for someone familiar with the Discworld canon, since it got me thinking about other people's reactions to what I'd probably taken for granted.

      Also, a reviewer is a kind of miner's canary; it makes sense for you to point out what kind of gas to expect before we consider going down the shaft. I understand that much. It just seemed a bit disproportionate that you didn't go into correspondingly more detail about what precious gems we'd find inside if we did so, but at least you mentioned a few, so this is probably quibbling on my part.

      "The biggest value I (as the reviewer) get out of those darn star ratings is that they allow me to "correct" somewhat when some particularly positive or negative elements require a disproportionate amount of verbiage to unpack."

      Now you mention it, I hadn't thought of it that way. This is bigger picture thinking, isn't it? Like taking this one fic as an opportunity to expand upon a more general point.

    3. For a bunch of the start, I was feeling 4-5, and upon reading a couple sentences of the paragraph starting "The plot itself is rather rambly," I was thinking four for sure. So at least to me, the star level matched the verbiage.

  3. Binky Pie is one of the two classic crossovers with the late Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (the other being the abandoned Mort Takes a Holiday). My experience with Pratchett is mostly limited to adaptations of his work (Sky’s The Colour of Magic and Going Postal, parts of Discworld point and click adventure, and the animated version of Soul Music, all of which I did like mind you) as opposed to his writing (besides the first few pages of The Color of Magic, which I’m told was a terrible place to start). But I’m knowledgeable enough to at least get a sufficient amount of references to not be confused, and for the most part, Miyajima filled in the gaps so even those without any familiarity will be able to understand who the Auditors are, what is the nature and requirements of Death’s Duty, how Discworld works, and other necessary plot elements. There is a difference of course between getting something, and enjoying it, and I do believe that someone who is a fan of the Discworld novels will definitely get a much larger amount of the latter than one who isn’t due to minor references here and there and familiarity with characters (a fact true of most crossovers), but Binky Pie is still presented that they can at least can understand it.

    Blinky Pie is what’s called an expanded one-shot, where the first chapter was initially all that was intended. On it’s own terms, Death from Discworld visiting Pinkie Pie and informing her that her late grandfather was actually his horse Binky (and tries to recruit her to take his place), which explains some of Pinkie’s weird abilities (like being able to pop up out of anywhere) is fine, but it’s not anything special, and if I had read it back then, my respond to a new chapter would have been less, “Yes, Binky Pie is going to continue,” and more, “Binky Pie, it sounds familiar… oh yeah, now I remember, the one where Death from Discworld meets Pinkie. That was amusing. Oh, hey, there’s a new Drawfriend.” And it was jarring to see Pinkie take up the job (part-time) of being Death’s horse in the second chapter after rejecting it in the first (and explanation is given, but it comes after we’ve seen her in the role). So one shouldn’t base their decision to read Binky Pie on the first (or even second) chapter; this is a story that doesn’t find its feet (and its plot) until later.

    The strength of Miyajima’s novelette comes in the form of the humor. Most of it emerges in the form of droll observation (“He stared in mild bemusement at his corpse, slumped over the counter, an assassin’s dagger sticking out of his back. He noted, with the eye of a trained merchant, that it was one of those single-use disposable models that the Assassin’s Guild favoured for... less-important clients.”) that are scattered throughout the prose. Other parts are more satirically and meta (I suspect most of that comes from the actual Discworld books), such as the longish explanation of convergent evolution used to expound on the fact that Mrs. Cake has clairvoyance like her namesake in Discworld. Again, there are some gags and style that do require one to be educated on Discworld to accept or enjoy, but there quite a few like that even nonfans will enjoy. Not every joke works though. The footnotes are a big miss for me because unless the asterisk came close to a break line, the annotation came too late for me to be really effective (I didn’t like having to scroll back down or up just to remember what was being referenced). I suspect this was adapted from Pratchett’s writing style, but it’s important to remember that Pratchett was working in print where one only needs to look at the bottom of the page you’re on for the joke. Besides this form of “medium misplacement”, the only other misses were more a matter of tonally placement. But overall, Binky Pie earns its comedy tag. After all, it’s hard not to laugh at something that involves Death coming in on a chatty, pink, joyous miniature equine.


    1. Besides the humor, I found the best part to be Pinkie taking on Death’s role. Miyajima does a good job of portraying Pinkie struggling to take on a new position that she was ill-suited for. Whether it was coping with the Duty, death’s unfair nature (chapter 14 is great in this regard, although I can understand if someone said it was too dark compared to the rest), the Duty, or more, the pink party pony’s turmoil was a treat to read. On the other hand, I found Death’s subplot (in his Bill Door form) less interesting and engaging. While reading, I was expecting that Death’s story would be about him struggling to adapt to mortality and the quirks that come with it (emotions, needs, desires, personality) with the hopes that there would be a broader thematic point of what it means to be human (or pony). Well, I got the former part, but I don’t feel I got the second, and even the first had problems in it. Death rarely interacted with much of the cast (Rarity, for example, disappears before the midpoint, which also left a minor part of the story feeling unresolved), and other parts are underwhelming (the bit with the cockatrice was a missed opportunity for example). Mixed in with the fact there’s fewer jokes (Equestria is not a built-to-order for satire like Discworld), and one feels that the story is marking for time for the other parts in Discworld.

      Actually the plot, or more accurately the progression of the events that leads to a return to the status quo, was a weakness overall. Once Pinkie and Death actually switch places, there’s not really a lot that happens to indicate they’re any closer to getting home [the story makes it clear at multiple point that there’s nothing Death, Twilight, and the rest in Equestria can do to get Pinkie back, a point in favor of the last sentence of the previous paragraph]. Like I said above, the character stuff and humor with Pinkie (and various Discworld denizens like Albert) is enjoyable enough for one not to notice, but once Pinkie starts making a true effort to get home in the last few chapters and the problems of the Equestria stuff become clearer, it starts to dawn on you that the story hasn’t moved much besides a few key developments.

      Still, I liked Binky Pie overall, but I also admit I’m the kind of person who would enjoy Pratchett. Those fans should check this out. I can’t answer as strongly for others more than a “maybe.”

    2. Well, heck. I can't help but feel like you just wrote a much better review than mine. Way to go, one-upping me in my own comments section :B

  4. Hah, darn, I was thinking I could drop this from my RIL after that first paragraph, but now I'm not so sure. D: I know I read a Discworld book once upon a time, maybe even two, but I sure as heck don't remember them.

  5. Okay then, a must-read for me. I'm always a bit wary of stories that have been published over several years, but for something that actually works as Pratchett-but-not-Pratchett, I'm in.

    Also, Small Gods is a truly fantastic Discworld book that doesn't relate (more than very incidentally) to any other book in the series. When people ask me to recommend them one DW book to read,* unless there's a good reason not to it's the one I choose.

    * Amazingly, this has actually happened to me. More than once.