Friday, April 14, 2017

Mini-Reviews Round 181

In case you somehow haven't seen this elsewhere, the Royal Canterlot Library is looking to refeature an author, and we're giving everyone a chance to vote on what fanfics better represent their authors than the ones we actually featured!  The nominations have died down, so even if you were following before, now's a good time to go through the thread and vote for the stories you think best "correct the record."

Also, I hear something pony-related will be happening over the weekend.  Of course, so's Easter, so we'll see if I get to it before Monday, i.e. in time to post about it when it's still at least vaguely fresh-ish.  For now, though, we'll still have to content ourselves with fanfiction... so head on down below the break for my reviews of some of the good (hopefully!) stuff!

Pinkie Pie's Foray into Absent-Minded Treason, by Desavlos

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Celestia decides to make an impromptu visit to Ponyville, which naturally puts both Twilight and the townsfolk on edge.  Still, they have nothing to fear, since the princess isn't prone to violent overreaction... right?

A few thoughts:  Given the author's summary, you might expect this story to be about Celestia's hair, and some terrible secret concerning it.  Actually, that's really just a punchline (of sorts) at the end of an otherwise unrelated comedy fic; set your expectations accordingly.  Now, there are some nice bits of satirical humor scattered about this fic--and in particular it does self-referential callbacks to stuff like the frequency with which Celestia's doors get broken down very well--but they don't ever form into a cohesive or consistent whole.  In other words, the thing this story is sorely lacking is a point; some narrative or thematic (and/or comedic!) commonality to tie it all together.  The editing also ends up a little on the wonky side, though not to the point of interfering with readability.

Recommendation:  If you find evilish-Celestia-played-for-laughs inherently funny and don't mind your horsefics on the ephemeral and random side, then this might prove amusing enough for you.  I wouldn't recommend it outside of that audience, though.

Why Rainbow Dash Can't Be the Element of Honesty, by Original Usermane

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  The girls discover that Rainbow Dash has a "terrible" secret.

A few thoughts:  Here's another story that leans heavily on low-key randomness for its humor; the reveal isn't set up by anything else in the fic, ponies show up at random to comment on the proceedings (to be fair, this is deliberately played for laughs), and everypony's reactions are based more on what would be humorous/keep the scene going than on consistent personalities.  The resulting story is one that's got a fair bit of humor in it, but it's largely of a diffuse, unfocused variety.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something light and silly, this isn't an awful choice.  It's definitely not for anyone who wants more than some tangential humor which leads up to a thematic non-sequitur, though.

A Mistake in Identity, by JapaneseTeeth

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Cadence wakes up with a terrible hangover and no recollection of the night prior.  Meanwhile, Vinyl Scratch has one heck of a story to tell her roommate...

A few thoughts:  This is not a complicated story; it's a classic "reveal the forgotten embarrassment" fic, in both structure and event (that the structure is told from two alternating perspectives gives the story a bit of construction-level interest, but only a bit).  What it succeeds at doing, however, is telling its story in a consistently engaging manner, with a quick pace, and with humor based around its characters and their vastly disparate reactions to what transpired.  So while this may not be a deep story, it's very successful at what it sets out to do.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for something short and funny (and it's got kissing!), then this is a solid choice.  It's obviously not for readers looking for an intricate or involved tale, but for those seeking morning-after comedy, this is a well above-average example.


  1. I agree with some of the FiMFic commenters (and I would have agreed there, except I'm not a group member) that this is likely to be no more than a popularity contest, but whatever. Chris already did a column on stories he really enjoyed by authors already featured, and as I understand it, RCL also has a backlog of repeat author features if they ever run short of new ones, so that avenue's already been explored, imo. I'm curious to know what would happen if the voting favors a story RCL had previously considered and rejected, or maybe had not considered, but once they read what they're about to feature, agree they would not have chosen it themselves. Feature it anyway, I'd guess, and the public will never know the difference. I can't say I'm at all surprised at the choices floated in the thread. I still think it's going to end up being someone with a huge follower count. I appreciate those who are trying to reiterate: "No, the point is to choose a story that's significantly better than their featured one," but not many are taking it that way.

    1. I got curious about this, so I looked up some statistics. Here are the nominated authors, noted with a multiplier if they were nominated more than once, along with their follower counts as of the time I'm posting this:

      8686 (413)
      AcreuBall (269)
      Arad (2072)
      Aragon x2 (1785)
      Bad Horse (1460)
      BlazzingInferno (530)
      bookplayer (1730)
      Carabas (405)
      Casca (133)
      Cynewulf (1504)
      Dubs Rewatcher (774)
      Estee x3 (1455)
      GaPJaxie (1557)
      georg (2303)
      HoofBitingActionOverload (930)
      Hoopy McGee (3353)
      InquisitorM (230)
      Jake the Army Guy (953)
      kits (1490)
      Lucky Dreams x2 (318)
      Majin Syeekoh (1255)
      naturalbornderpy (1624)
      Oroboro (1203)
      Pineta (480)
      Regidar (2144)
      shortskirtsandexplosions (6139, 1529, 359, 431)
      Skywriter x3 (2758)
      The Descendant x2 (4099)

      It's not at all surprising to see a lot of popular authors, right? I mean, if they weren't good, they wouldn't have gotten popular. Well, we know popularity isn't the same thing as quality, thought they're already vetted for quality by being RCL inductees. Of the ones nominated more than once, Lucky Dreams is the only pleasant surprise there. He should have far more followers than he does, but then he writes exclusively for a niche audience. There is an even number of authors here, so there are two medians in follower count: Bad Horse at 1460 and Estee at 1455. Luckily, these are very close together. Bad Horse ranks 117th on the site in follower count, Estee 114th. So speaking roughly, half the nominated authors are in the top 100 follower counts. That's... a little disappointing, as the sheer number of RCL-inducted authors makes it impossible for half of them to be in the top 100. Are the top 100 more likely to write multiple good stories? Yeah... probably. But that's misleading. I'm not willing to invest the time necessary to see whether the nominated stories predate the ones featured, which would imply the RCL curators had already decided those weren't the best choices for that author.

      Here's the other thing that troubles me. No new nominations have been made in over 3 days, and look at the voting for all of them. There are 35 nomination posts in the thread. The first one came early on, and many people saw it. By the tenth one, some people who had already voted didn't come back. Here are the total votes for each nomination, in the order they were posted:

      2, 22, 23, 5, 27, 19, 11, 6, 14, 10, 15, 7, 2, 43, 8, 5, 5, 3, 9, 11, 2, 5, 5, 1, 3, 5, 6, 2, 2, 3, 5, 5, 4, 2

      There are two effects going on here. First, notice how it sharply declines by the day after the OP (starting around the story that got just 1 vote). People aren't coming back to vote. The early nominations are getting all the attention, and the later ones aren't seeing enough traffic to compete, since it's all driven by raw numbers. Yes, there are some low totals on the first day, but they tend to be later in the day (same effect) or for authors with lower follower counts (popularity effect again).

      skirts is currently leading with 33 upvotes. In a distant second place is bookplayer at 21. This should surprise nobody.

      And yes, it's probably more appropriate to post all this in the FiMFiction thread, but I'm too lazy to join the group, even though it would have taken less time than compiling all these numbers did. I'm weird that way.

    2. I'm also not sure what to make of the fact that of 181 RCL-featured authors, only 28 have been nominated for a second feature. Yeah, the point is to find ones who have another story better than their featured one, but not many voters are taking it that way, and yeah, a number of those authors may not have any other stories worth nominating, but that still seems awfully low to me.

    3. "the point is to find ones who have another story better than their featured one"

      Not really. The point is to select a second story that better represents the type of story they are know for. So, if we featured a serious fic from an author that is known for his wacky comedies, we would like to see some nominations for a solid comedy, even if it is not as good as the story we actually featured.

    4. Okay. But that's splitting hairs, as I would think "better represents his style" would need to satisfy a quality threshold and thus be "the best of his stories that represent his style." Plus it refutes nothing of what I said. It's still going to be a popularity contest won by an author with a very large following or maybe something nominated early on, if not both.

      I'll quote horizon's post:
      "We firmly agree, it is NOT about raw numbers of fans; if that were the case, instead of a vote we'd just refeature SS&E."

      Yet you are going by raw numbers: upvotes, which is going to be hugely driven by numbers of fans. And SS&E is out to an immense lead. Go figure.

    5. Unfortunately I think part of this is that the nomination process is hard, especially if people aren't just going to think about it as a popularity contest. You need to know if they've been featured, check what, see if you had another story that would have been a better fit/that you liked more (and ideally a *unique* preference), and explain why. And ideally that's a comparison over nearly 200 authors.

      Where voting's concerned, if you're taking the contest parameters seriously, before voting you should have at least read the nominated story and have a decent understanding of the author's other work. That's a lot to ask over 20 authors, and it's probably only going to be very popular authors where many voters have read multiple stories of theirs. Add to this the knowledge that making a nomination (which is a nontrivial effort) for someone not in the top 100 authors (seems like in all seriousness top 25 or something with those vote totals) isn't worth it.

      As for the dropoff issue, there are potential workarounds for future votes, but the one that springs to my mind has a big potential tradeoff with speed/engagement: you take nominations over a period, either publicly or privately, and then post them all at the same time in a subsequent thread.

      I'm happy Lucky Dreams got nominations, and was considering nominating one myself (may have voted for one, actually), but I think he's a bad fit for this vote; it's hard to say that any of his stories aren't representative. On the other extreme, with people like CiG, there's the problem that they operate in at least two distinct fields, and so nothing really hits them as a whole.

    6. Or, to push less-followed authors, instituting a scaling effect (votes/followers, votes/ln(followers)) or simple follower cutoff (<500?) could push in that direction, but I don't know that that's really the goal.

    7. You've hit on something here that I meant to say but didn't. Again, taking numbers as of the time of my original post, someone nominated Casca's "Scald." In got one upvote (presumably from the person nominating it) and one downvote. Casca has 133 followers. Skirts' story has 33 upvotes. What are the chances there are 33 people who have read enough of Casca's work to know what his style is, much less read that specific story and can make a comparison? And that they know about this RCL thing and care to stop by and vote? He has no chance. It's predicated on how many people are familiar with the nominated authors' writing, which is, more or less, popularity.

      And while I was pleasantly surprised to see Lucky Dreams nominated (and more than once!), I agree that he writes basically one style, so he's not really a fit for the stated purposes of this contest.

  2. Eh. I hadn't spotted this, and I could nominate the same as i did last time, but I learned last year that it's far more a popularity contest and did-I-get-on-the-front-page contest than about writing ability or story quality. I got close to getting someone in last year, but I'm not oblivious to why.

    Not really worth paying attention to, for me.

    1. After all, if there is one thing I have learned on the internet, it's that you never let the public vote on anything permanent.