Friday, February 17, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 201: There, They're

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

Tomorrow's high is 60 degrees.  I mean... what?  It's February.  Sixty degrees usually doesn't come until May--sometimes late May.  This is wholly unnatural.

But I suppose there's no sense complaining about warm winters, at least unless the entire agricultural system collapses under the weight of these kinds of rapid environmental changes.  That would be a good reason to complain.  But it hasn't happened yet, so... hooray for jacket-less winters?  Yeah, let's go with that.  Then go below the break for my review of FanNotANerd's There, They're.

Impressions before reading:  A grammar-themed adventure fic?  Sounds good to me!  The only thing that looks really off to me, in fact, is the chapter lengths; the sixth and final chapter of the fic represents about 40% of the story's total verbiage, which is just slightly disproportionate.  But hey, if unevenly spaced chapters are the only problem here, then that's a good thing, right?

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight discovers a terrifying(-to-her) rise in the number of spelling mistakes her friends and associates are making--up to and including Princess Celestia herself.  She's certain that something awful must be happening.  And, improbably enough, she's right.

Thoughts after reading:  This was a fic about which I had a tough time deciding how I felt.  There were a lot of things in it that I enjoyed quite a bit.  But on the other hand, I'm not convinced it all hangs together.  Let's talk about the bad first.

To start with the most minor: there are a few typos here.  Not many, but given the subject material (and the fact that typos in in-character writing are a key plot point), they stick out quite a bit more in this particular story than they would in any other.

On a somewhat more substantive thread, there's the matter of the whole "earthquake" sideplot.  By this I'm referring to the stuff involving an angry mob, Celestia and her guards, and a random OC who takes on focal character duties for several scenes despite having no relevance to... to anything, really (in fact, his inclusion rather reminded me of that troll from page 15 of my elementary school magnum opus, at least in terms of relevance.  Thankfully, only in terms of that).  These all seem like they should be the A plot to some other story entirely--a significantly darker one, for starters, and one which ties itself far less closely to the show's mores than this fic does in all its other elements.  I found myself repeatedly thinking that all of these elements could be excised in their entirety, or at least (in the case of things like the existence of an angry mob) only briefly alluded to, and the fic would have been much stronger.

 There's also a lot of narrative contrivance going on.  Some of this is perfectly acceptable in the kind of story which this is: Twilight knowing a secret passage into the forbidden archives and the timing of what happens there, for example, are certainly contrived in the sense that they're collectively improbable from an outside perspective, but they work just fine within the story's narrative framework.  On the other hand, there are matters like the several changes of heart which on character undergoes in the space of perhaps a thousand words, or Celestia's random (and, story-wise, almost totally tangential) turn into censorship for no easily discernable reason.  These are bizarrely character-breaking moments with minimal payoff (the latter has none whatsoever; the former ends up weakening a rather poignant character arc by portraying warring emotions in a manner which suggests something more akin to wishy-washiness), and they're definitely not the only two examples.

But so far, all the major stuff I've mentioned has come from the back half of the fic.  The front half, by contrast, was very fun and lighthearted.  Twilight (pre-alicorn) is well fit to her story role, her neurotic over-panicking fitting well enough with her character and letting the story hit the ground running.  There's a fair bit of humor in the early going (though that's almost entirely abandoned later on), and the plot is certainly an engaging one.  This is an interesting idea, make no mistake, and that's far from being nothing.

And even beyond that, it's an interesting idea which gets an interesting treatment for significant stretches.  Even the back half, which admittedly does have all my least favorite parts of the story, is still founded on a strong core concept: Twilight and the girls investigating the loss of literacy in an interesting setting, searching out an intriguingly mysterious entity (working very hard to avoid significant spoilers here!).  And even though the presentation is sometimes downright trite, those major story beats are still executed with enough competence that their fundamental interesting-ness isn't overshadowed.

Star rating:

I dithered between two and three stars for some time.  On one hand, I think it's fair to say that I enjoyed most of the story, and that the parts I didn't like at least didn't ruin the reading experience.  On the other hand, there are a lot of clear flaws to this fic from a storytelling perspective, and even if they didn't ruin the fic, it's also certainly true that they impaired my enjoyment--and more importantly, that I think they're likely to be an impediment to many peoples' enjoyment.  That this impediment isn't catastrophic is a fair point, but the issues are both significant and systemic enough to knock me down to two, here.

Recommendation:  This wouldn't be a great selection for people easily put off by character contrivances or uneven tone (vacillating from very close to show-style all the way to "thousands, probably tens of thousands, dead").  But outside of that, readers who enjoy a good Twilight-breakdown and an adventure which can mix humor and drama effectively will probably enjoy this.

Next time:  Binky Pie, by Miyajima


  1. I usually go back and check out my own reviews after seeing these, when they're about stories I know I've read. This was the 102nd fic I ever reviewed. c.c Classic, indeed.

  2. It's been a weird winter, and is still pretty warm over here, but in the last couple weeks we did finally get a bit of real snow.

  3. Oh, hey, "Binky Pie" is up next! One of the first stories I tracked in the fandom, then it went forever without an update. I haven't read the stuff since he came back and finished it, so I still need to. It struck me as being a good mimic of Pratchett's style, but then I haven't read any of it in 4 years, so it'll be interesting to see if it holds up.

  4. I read There, They're a long time ago, but unfortunately I wrote a pretty useless review of it which tells me little beyond the fact of that tone shift and that I liked it moderately. Your review did jog some memories, though. I think I was a tad disappointed that the humour all but disappeared, but I nevertheless had fun with the Twilight breakdown.

    Binky Pie actually got finished? I'd forgotten all about that one! Here's hoping it's worth the read.

  5. Man, I read There, They're sometime within the last year, and I barely remembered what happened in it until your review jogged my memory.