Monday, April 10, 2017

Reviewer Reviews: Titanium Dragon

Over the weekend, I was introduced to long-running webcomic Gastrophobia, which I've been dutifully archive bingeing on since.  A comedy/action comic that's much heavier on the former than the latter, set in ancient Greece, with just enough mythology gags to make me feel smart when I read it without feeling like it's all going over my head?  Yeah, that's a good'n.

But if you're more interested in fanfiction than in Amazonians, then perhaps you'd like to learn a little more about one of the other fanfic reviewers that are out there trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in a doomed quest for horsefame for the benefit of you, the prospective reader?  Head below the break for my thoughts on Titanium Dragon's fanfic reviews.

The subject:  Titanium Dragon's Read It Now, Read It Later, and Recommended Story reviews, all posted on his FiMFic blog.

Posts examined:  Read It Now Reviews #107, Read It Later Reviews #73 – A Mark of Appeal, Read It Now Reviews #106, Read It Later Reviews #72, and Recommended Story Reviews #17.

Reviewer's schedule:  Highly variable, depending on TD's free time and interest level.  Sometimes two or three review posts will come out in a single week, other times multiple weeks will pass with none at all.

Format:  A brief explanation/summation of what TD's been reading/writing/reviewing lately, followed immediately by reviews of 5+ stories (usually 5-7).  Occasionally TD will dedicate an entire post to a single longer fic; I happened to get two such posts in my sample, but they're relatively rare for him.  At the end he summarizes the ratings of all the stories he's reviewed, and shows how many stories are on his various to-read lists (there are a lot).

Reviews consist of four parts: the story's essential information (coverart, author, wordcount, and the author's long description); a brief explanation of why TD chose to read it in the first place; the review proper, consisting both of a summary and TD's impressions; and a rating.

Rating scale:  Four levels, all textually identified.  In order from best to worst:

-Highly Recommended
-Worth Reading
-Not Recommended

The scale is weighted heavily toward NRs; about half of the stories reviewed get the lowest rating.  Recommended Reviews consist only of stories which he gives either a Recommended or Highly Recommended; for Read it Later and Read it Now, TD makes an effort to get at least one Worth Reading or higher-rated story into each post.

What's the goal, here?:  TD's reviews are based strongly on his personal enjoyment, and he makes no particular effort at objectivity in his commentary.  The non-summary portion of his reviews is essentially an explanation of what he did or didn't enjoy about the story; occasionally, he'll dive into the why (especially with solo-fic reviews), but there's not a lot of emphasis on justification.  In the summary portion, however, he generally makes an effort to present the gist of the story in a neutral manner without spoiling any key twists (and truth be told, he's a lot better at brief summaries than many authors are themselves...).  This allows the reader to get a sense for what kind of fic TD read, as well as what he thought of it.

Reviewer's style:  Semi-professional; think "polos and khakis," rather than "three-piece suits" or "jeans and t-shirts."  TD's posts generally don't have much in the way of tangents or digressions, the summary portions of his reviews have some dry wit where appropriate (i.e. when summarizing comedies) but are otherwise pretty straightforward, and his opinion sections are blunt and straightforward.  A bit of character does peek through at the start and end of posts, though, and makes clear that the bluntness of the reviews isn't an affect; that's just how TD speaks (types).

What a strong review looks like: 
I suspect that there are some people who will find this story funny. Unfortunately, I have to say I wasn’t one of them. It all felt rather too telegraphed to me. I’d like to blame this on the pacing – this story is 11,000 words long – but honestly, it didn’t feel that long to me. Rather, I think the problem was that a lot of the humor is based around Mr. Rich discovering the sort of eccentric behavior we see out of people intent on getting deals on Black Friday – which, alas, we the audience are already familiar with. And the story itself telegraphs a lot of future events, which makes them feel even less spontaneous when they occur, doubly so as the “true villain” is clearly marked out in the story well beforehand. 
As such, I think this is largely preaching to the choir – the choir may appreciate the sermon, but the rest may awkwardly shuffle out after communion. I suspect it may appeal more to those who are intimately familiar with (and hate) Black Friday. But it didn’t really do anything for me.
Here, TD does a great job of exploring why he didn't find the story amusing, while offering enough context for readers who might disagree with him to immediately see that this is, in fact, something they might enjoy.  He also does a nice job of identifying what the problem isn't--11,000 words is awfully long for a single-premise comedy fic, and there's value in knowing that, that fact notwithstanding, this isn't a particularly overlong story.

What a weaker review looks like:
Unfortunately, while I liked this idea, I have to admit that I never got a strong mental voice out of Ditzy in this story. I never really got her voice in my head, and I was never particularly impressed with her as a character in the story. She just never really clicked with me, and always felt just a bit superficial as a character (not as in, being superficial as a character trait – just as a fixture in the story). And as the lead romantic interest, this made it hard for me to really engage with Rarity’s emotional desire to be with Ditzy.
Here, TD takes a paragraph to tell us he doesn't like Ditzy's voicing--but never gives us even a hint as to why not.  Sometimes, it's easy enough to suss out what the reviewer means when he objects to something, but here, without having read the story myself?  I as a reader have no idea what's wrong with Ditzy's voicing, whether it's likely to bother me, or whether "I never really got her voice in my head" is intended as a criticism of the story or an admission of failure on the reviewer's part.

(In fairness to TD, I'll point out that this is just a one-paragraph excerpt from a larger review, the next couple of paragraphs do a much better job of explaining his problems with the story--but the issues he brings up in this paragraph don't get elaborated on or explored further)

So, should I read this?:  TD's reviews are a great place to look if you want someone who won't sugarcoat or make excuses for what they don't like, but who doesn't feel obligated to take a vindictive or cruel tone--there's no mockery here, just opinion.  He might not be the go-to reviewer if you're looking for someone who'll look past personal preferences or what other readers might think of a story, but he's definitely straightforward about what he reads, and what he thinks of it.


  1. I'll say, TD is one of those reviewers whose positive recommendations I always take note of. His standards are so tight that his NRs don't tell me anything, but when he recommends or highly recommends something? Almost a guarantee it's going to be excellent.

    1. Taking note of his positive recommendations is worth also considering who the author is. Like any reviewer, there are authors that just seem to suit his taste better, and I find far more anomalously good ratings for those authors than I'd expect by random chance. I also find it odd how he'll severely ding one story for something he's incredibly forgiving of in the next one.

      And I have to do a Phoenix Wright here.


      "TD" has and always will refer to The Descendant.

    2. "'TD' has and always will refer to The Descendant."

      This. It's always felt a bit weird to call someone else TD

    3. Just came up with a new abbreviation for him: Tit Drag. It's short and has a nice ring to it

    4. I've been using "Tit Dragon" for years. We think alike. :B

    5. Great minds and all that. Also, I'm pretty sure Present owns the rights to that emoticon. You probably owe him royalties now

    6. I've long used TD to refer to both, prefacing it with "the other TD," or "the first TD," or whatever, as necessary.

      But I'm glad to report that y'all have shown me the light, and from now on, I'll be exclusively referring to Titanium Dragon as "Titty D."


  2. I like TD, even though we clash at times. Well, *because* we clash at times too. One of the greatest gifts an author can get on his work is a thoughtful criticism pointing out all the weaknesses. There’s zero percent chance I could do what he does with reviews, because my detailed description on why I like/dislike a fic can normally be summarized as “Because it was/wasn’t interesting?”

    He’s a more strict and methodical person than myself, but merely having your fic *reviewed* by TD in itself can be considered a recommended, and his “It doesn’t suck much” tag is high praise indeed. His one weakness that I’ve found (all dragons have one) is that if I complain about never getting a good recommend from him (and I have), he will refute my claim in great detail (and give me an even more swelled head than I already have, so I try not to push his buttons).

    In short, I recommend him. Two opposable thumbs up.

    1. I knew I never should have trusted that thrush. Telling everyone about my weak spot. *grumble grumble*

      Seriously, though, thank you. <3

  3. Thank you for writing this! I always find it interesting seeing what other people think about the work I do, and it is rare to see reviews of, well, reviewers.

    My reviews sort of reflect my philosophy about reviewing. The reason why I don't have anything between "Not Recommended" and "Worth Reading" (and indeed, the reason why so many things end up with NRs) is that my personal philosophy is that there isn't much of a meaningful difference between the meh and the bad when it comes to a recommendation. While some things might be truly dire and other things merely mediocre, when I'm out looking for something to consume, be it a book, a video game, or whatever else, I don't want to grab something which is merely okay, I want to grab something which is actively *good*, something where I was like "this was a good use of my time".

    It is easy to get wishy-washy, and I see that a lot in video game reviews where someone reviews a kind of mediocre game and gives it a sort of mediocre score. It isn't that they aren't rating it fairly, it is that, in the end, as a consumer of reviews, I'm more concerned with whether or not something is worth my time rather than "Well, is this better than Duke Nukem Forever?"

    Thus I basically eliminated the bottom half of my scale and just condensed the whole thing into a single rating. This leads to the weirdness of a truly dire story being in the same category as something which just didn't quite get there for me, but in my mind, the real goal of my reviews is to try and ensure that I'm pointing people in the right direction. After all, there's a ton of stories they could be reading, so if I'm going to point something out to someone, I'd like for it to be something which is genuinely above average.

    I am thusly sort of aiming for Present Perfect's reaction in this thread - basically, that my ratings (especially my higher ones, recommended/highly recommended) have particular significance, and thus even if you don't read most of the stuff I review, I draw great attention and focus towards the ones which are the best.

    I don't think that's the only way to recommend stuff, but that's my personal philosophy towards it.

    WRT personal opinions and objectivity - I'm of the general opinion that I'm better off explaining why a story made me feel the way I did, and why I liked or didn't like a story, than I am guessing at what other people would or wouldn't like. It is hard enough to formulate one's own feelings about a story precisely and accurately; it is very easy to review something and not really understand why you disliked it or why you liked it, and when you go searching for reasons, it is easy to make something up which isn't quite right.

    As such, I try to home in on what it is that makes me enjoy or not enjoy a piece, and via my explanation of my own thought process and feelings in response to the story, give people some sense of why I reacted the way that I did - and thus, hopefully, allow them to draw their own conclusions about how they're going to react to it.

    Thus, my goal is to give them a hopefully objective understanding of my subjective enjoyment of a piece.

    As for my blunt writing style... yeah, guilty as charged. I've actually been accused of secretly being a robot a few times before for some strange reason. >>