Friday, April 7, 2017

Mini-Reviews Round 180

These days, I rarely read incomplete fics.  The fact is that there are so many finished works out there that there's little incentive to take a chance on something that might never be finished--and let's face it, unfinished fics are an ever-present risk one runs when reading incomplete stories.

But that's not to say that I never read incomplete stuff!  So head down below the break, and take a look at my thoughts on three still-in-the-making stories.

The World Within the Web, by Lord Max (read: through chapter 26)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  In a fantasy world reflection of the internet's fandoms and social media spaces, a new conglomeration--the Bronies--has arisen, and reached an uneasy peace after a violent and tumultuous rise from the depths of the Chan.  But this peace is threatened when a Knight Moderator is slain, and the leaders of the fandom are implicated in his murder.

A few thoughts:  If your first reaction to that premise is "that sounds really cringeworthy," then rest assured, that was my first thought, too.  But I was pleasantly surprised when I dove in; the internet fandoms stuff is used as a basis for the setting, rather than trying to tie in one-to-one with individuals and such.  And the world it creates bears more than a passing resemblance to something like A Song of Ice and Fire: heavy on politics and intrigue, with a sprawling cast of flawed and interesting characters.

That sprawling cast does lead to the one issue that tripped me up the first time I tried to get into this story, though: it's easy to lose track of characters between updates.  That's why I've only read to chapter 26, despite there being 30 published chapters as I write this; that's where the last "part" ended, and I'll probably wait another dozen chapters or so for the current part to end before I catch up.  But that's commentary on consumption practice, not on the quality of the fic itself.  This is an intriguing mix of low fantasy grit and murder-mystery, and has a good balance between relatable characters (Coin Counter is as refreshingly adrift as the reader, which makes him a useful conduit for introducing us to some of the politics of the piece) and totally alien (the Warden of Honesty, one of the six leaders of the Bronies, is a monstrous, barely-human paragon of truthfulness (and a marked contrast to the other Wardens, who are all basically ordinary people)).  This story takes its conceit totally seriously, which helps sell a premise which could easily fall into lazy metahumor, and mixes action and scheming in an engaging blend.

Recommendation:  There aren't any ponies here, to be clear: if you're looking for something about Equestria, this isn't your fic.  But if an internet-influenced piece in the style of a modern medieval fantasy saga is up your alley, this is a well-written, complex, and above all engaging piece of writing.

Sweetie Belle and the Journey to the Kingdom of the Frogs, by TheSlorg (read: through chapter 5)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A magical accident gives Sweetie the ability to understand everything--a power which it's going to be difficult not to misuse.

A few thoughts:  Although this is by all accounts Not Dead, the update pace is murderously slow--the entire story is sitting at only 7000 words after a year and a half!  It's a pleasantly low-key fic so far, though it's still early (Sweetie hasn't even made it to the titular Kingdom yet).  I am a little disappointed by the way the last two chapters to date played out, largely based on expectations--I thought this would be a "Sweetie can talk to animals" fic, when in fact it's more "Sweetie has near-godlike powers and must resist the temptation to use them"--but the show-tone humor and lively but not frenetic pacing remain big selling points.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something light in the adventure genre, this has a lot to recommend it.  It's definitely not for those who fear slow updates, though.

Big Tavi Lil Tavi Cardboard Box, by All Art Is Quite Useless (read: through chapter 13)

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Vinyl Scratch, Octavia's Ponyville roommate, begins to open herself up to other ponies.

A few thoughts:  Despite the comedy tag and the author's description, which sounds quite goofy, this is more of a straight drama than anything else.  It offers a pretty standard take on its two principals (Vinyl is "cool" but a bit nerdy at heart; Octavia is standoffish but kindhearted) but, using Slice of Life as its primary reference, gives them a fuller (platonic) relationship with each other and their world than many such fics manage.  The main difficulties here are threefold: first, editing is rather rough, especially when it comes to sentence construction (run-ons and missing commas are regular issues).  Second, the characters have a tendency to self-narrate to an almost ridiculous degree, mentally checklisting their feelings and motivations on a regular basis.  And third, there is a lot of filler here.  By "filler," I'm talking about passages which are not relevant to the larger plot, don't build upon any of the story's themes, don't tell us more about the characters, and aren't intrinsically interesting.  Take this paragraph from the second chapter:
She was given 2,500 bits in cash, and 17,500 in Equestrian bearer bonds, worth 500 bits each. These were legal tender in many large companies and often used to trade when physical bits were not practical due to their weight and the space they took up. The bearer bond represented the owner's entitlement to the specified amount of bits, when requested at a bank or building society. However they were easier to forge than bits, so were often accepted with skepticism or not atall by smaller companies, not wanting to lose out on coin due to fraudulent trading.
Other than the fact that she got her money, none of the rest of this is of any further relevance to the story.  Passages of this sort dot the fic, and make the end result feel more than a little ramble-y.

Recommendation:  This would best suit fans of (non-shipping) Scratchtavia in general, and readers looking for a well-developed "growing and overcoming self-imposed limitations" arc which doesn't contract or trivialize the steps involved.  But even within that audience, it's probably not a great fit for readers put off by writing issues or lack of focus.


  1. I'm glad to see Lord Max's story is still hanging together well. The author's rate of output has long since outpaced my ability to keep up with it, so I dropped out way back around chapter 9, but not for a lack of interest or quality, just a lack of time. Based on the premise alone, I expected it to be something easily dismissed, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I did talk to the author about this not being that intrinsically pony, and that he may well reach a bigger audience branding it as straight fantasy, and he has expressed some interest in doing so once he has it finished.

  2. "Although this is by all accounts Not Dead, the update pace is murderously slow--the entire story is sitting at only 7000 words after a year and a half!"

    Pfft. Amateur. Come back to me when you've passed the five-year limit. :(

  3. Also, based on that passage, the story seems a bit confused on what bearer bonds and legal tender are. Two mistakes of that kind from a single (randomly selected?) filler paragraph isn't a great sign.

    1. I'm not sure whether this is the case in the US, but over here (UK) the phrase "legal tender" is very widely used in a much looser sense than its strict definition. I wouldn't have a particular problem with its being used to mean that the items in question could be used like paper/metal money. The main exception would be if the precise technical meaning was relevant to the story.