Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 210: Forever and Again and Again

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

Yesterday, it got close to 70 degrees.  Tomorrow, there's snow in the forecast.  What's a man supposed to do with this kind of this kind of schizophrenic weather?  Stay inside and read fanfics, I guess.  Head down below for my review of Titanium Dragon's Forever and Again and Again.

Impressions before reading:  I have a reflexive dislike of this story, because I keep misreading the title as "Forever and Ever Again," which is clearly the author's fault and not mine.  Beyond that, though, it's hard to say how this might come out.  Worst-case scenario, it could end up being a mere headcanon dump based around the question asked in the description.  Best case, it could be a clever and nuanced look at Celestia and Twilight's relationship, framed by the latter's own history.  That's a big range; I guess I'll just have to read on and see what I find.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Twilight discovers a hall full of stained-glass windows commemorating various ponies and events from Equestria's past.  Celestia explains why they're all in an inaccessible portion of the castle--and provides a little history, too.

A few thoughts:  The one thing this story does really well is capture the wandering rambly-ness of an actual conversation; the way the topic drifts from decorum to history to reincarnation and more feels organic and natural.  Given that this story is a SoL piece about its two principles having a talk, that's obviously a key success.

But on the other hand, the story's biggest weakness is arguably the sentence-level dialogue decisions.  The author has a number of key points he wants to hit in this story, and in order to fit them all into less than 4.5k words, often lets the characters fall back to suspiciously specific or relevant dialogue choices.  The result is that, while the overall arc of the conversation feels normal, there's a strained artificiality to the specific sentences where it's clear that there's a great number of points that are being shoehorned into a small space.  Consider this exchange:
     “Thanks,” Twilight said, rising back to her feet, her head bowed a little. Celestia leaned in conspiratorially. “Though just between the two of us, the guards were ordered to simply admit you after you snuck into the restricted section of the Royal Canterlot Archives at age six.”
     Twilight blushed. “You knew about that?”
     “Of course. Who do you think set up the alarm spells?”
     “But Princess, there aren’t any alarm spells on the Royal Archives.”
     “Not that make any sound,” Celestia said, smiling.
     Twilight tilted her head. “What’s the point of an alarm spell if it doesn’t make any noise?”
     “Because, Twilight, anyone who can get through the spells I have guarding it is far too dangerous for the Royal Guards to handle on their own.”
     “Oh.” Twilight sighed, looking down at her reflection in the polished stone floor. “I’m still not used to thinking like that.”
There are a lot of neat ideas here... but the problem is that, in order to fit all these bits of worldbuilding or characterization into one or two sentences each--seriously, go count, there are fourteen sentences here, and eight different character or narrative inflection points in that same space--the gears of the story get exposed.  There end up being a lot of portions of the conversation which are well-written in the abstract, but where the leading dialogue and concept density feel more appropriate to a treatise than a tonally low-key piece of creative writing.  I should also mention that this isn't a particularly unrepresentative sample; I could easily have grabbed the next half-dozen paragraphs or more from these exchange and pasted them here as well.

Characterization does suffer in some superficial ways from those writing problems (both characters feel rather cold when talking about the departed and departed-to-be, but this is more a product of the aforementioned information density than their saying anything particularly callous), but by and large, I was impressed with the way both Celestia and Twilight were presented here.  Well into the story, I was all ready to complain about Twilight being excessively obtuse, but the way the conversation winds down makes it clear that Titanium Dragon doesn't think Twilight can't pick up a hint, and helps give the preceding conversation a bit more interest.  Meanwhile, both some of Celestia's dialogue and her choice of subject matter for her windows (at least, the ones we're privy to) paint a pleasingly grey picture of her--the author clearly doesn't belong to the "Celestia is above mistakes or prejudice" school of thought, and some of her more questionable beliefs are allowed to peak through at the edges of a story that's otherwise about her making the mature choice in a difficult (or at least, potentially difficult) circumstance.

Star rating:

The biggest draw here are the little bits of history and lore that pepper the conversation, and those are certainly worth the price of admission.  Beyond that, though, this still manages to feel like a cohesive scene in its characters' lives--which is exactly what a SoL fic should be.  Specific complaints notwithstanding, the idea of this fic is spot-on.

Recommendation:  If you enjoy low stakes and prefer densely-packed writing to more lackadaisical storytelling, consider this highly recommended.  If you prefer your ideas to have some breathing room or are looking for much in the way of exploration of any of the many ideas here on display, this might leave you cold, though.

Next time:  Winds of Change, by Masterweaver


  1. The ideas in Titanium Dragon's stories tend to be really good, or at least catchy. He's got a knack for that -- but his writing always leaves me cold, for the reasons you said and then maybe some more.

    He's got no actual style, I'd say is the problem. The narration and dialogue are sort of bland, completely neutral -- he reads like a textbook. He lacks some kind of... spice? Of narrative voice, of AUTHORIAL voice.

    Because it always reads slightly awkward, at least to me. Like it needs an extra layer of polish. He tries to get the story concept carry the whole thing, but the execution is left at 'functional' at best. Lacks a soul. He's readable, but never quotable. Adequate, but forgettable.

    A good story concept is great, it can be extremely good even, but I think that execution is what really makes a story -- not WHAT you write, but HOW you write it. I could never get into Titanium Dragon's stories precisely because of that; I'm surprised you gave it three stars instead of two, but maybe I just have a bias.

    1. I think this is a case where the author has a particular style, and that style isn't equally suited to every type of story--but works well enough in this particular case. This is something that was commented on when I reviewed one of Estee's fics a few months ago--that some of the "flaws" in Estee's usual writing were obscured by the particular subject matter of that fic.

      In this case, if we accept for the sake of argument that Titty D's "narration and dialogue are sort of bland, completely neutral -- he reads like a textbook," then we should also note that this is a much less serious issue in a fic about Twilight and Celestia talking history than it would be in, say, a fic about Rainbow and Pinkie having a prank war. The particular characters are easier than most to accept speaking in this style, and the plot lends itself to something textbook-y in tone.

    2. Titty D, huh?

      Clearly I need to start writing rap and putting on baseball caps the wrong way.

      Anyway, I kind of agree WRT: my writing style being more and less effective at times. I actually struggle with it a bit, as I do have a rather clinical writing style in some ways, but it is hard for me to generate a real authorial voice without generating text that sounds excessively purple. The Butterfly's Burden was one attempt at such, but it ended up being a major semicolon offender (I think it has 100 semicolons in it). I've had more success with things like The Collected Poems of Maud Pie and The Legend of Falling Rocks, Buffalo Brave, but in both cases I was adopting a totally different writing voice from my own.

      I think part of the reason why a lot of my stories end up so dialogue-heavy is because of my choice in perspective and my slight feelings of awkwardness about my prose. I often write stuff from a detached third-person perspective rather than from inside of characters' heads, and while I follow characters aren't I tend not to throw in a huge amount of prose.

      It is something I do periodically try and attack, though. I've got a footnotes comedy which is an attempt to do something more with my prose, but alas, like some of my earlier attempts, it too is more of an exercise in trying to emulate ideas about the voices of others rather than trying to find a distinct voice of my own.

  2. I can't say I've read much of what he's written, pretty much just some of the minifics during write-off events that I got on my voting slate, so I have no impression of his writing style. But from an external perspective, I find it amusing how he consistently writes stuff that simultaneously gets a crap-ton of views but mediocre voting ratios. On an individual story, I don't pay too much attention to voting, but when it keeps coming up like that? I don't know what's tending to rub readers the wrong way, since the stories aren't bad, and they're not the kinds of things that inspire drive-by downvotes (like unpopular ships, shipping where the relationship fails, trollfics, Flash Sentry, etc.). So I have no idea why it keeps happening, but whatever it is, he's nailed that niche.

    1. I've had at least one person downvote all of my stories after I gave them a negative review. So it might be some of that is from people who were upset at me for some reason, though how much is from that, I don't know.

      That said, my voting ratios aren't actually all that mediocre. Two of my stories have been the #1 highest rated stories on the site at one point or another, and I have three stories which are rated in the top 1% of stories by ratings on the site, and my top 12 are all in the top 5%.

      I've had a few stories which were very heavily downvoted (Thanks Mother and Rose Petals), but I suppose having an evil protagonist and having Applejack accidentally poison Fluttershy can do that.

    2. Whoops. Said the wrong fic name there, though Rose Petals also wasn't a fan favorite. Two of my three most downvoted stories involve me making Fluttershy cry.

      A terrible crime indeed. :V

    3. Truly, you are history's greatest monster. V:

  3. I think I left my thoughts about my writing style in the other comment above, but I just wanted to make sure I said thank you for the review! I'm glad you ultimately ended up enjoying this story and the idea behind it, and that you felt that the ending helped it come together.

    1. You're very welcome! It's always a pleasure to read and review something I don't actually hate :)