Friday, May 12, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 212: A True, True Friend?

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

So, I made mint juleps last Saturday, because you're supposed to drink mint juleps for the Kentucky Derby.  And they were great, and that was all fine as far as it went.  But to make them, I first had to make simple syrup (i.e. I boiled some sugar water), and you need, like, a tablespoon of simple syrup for mint julips, and my friends and I aren't exactly heavy drinkers, and now I've got a cup and a half of simple syrup in my fridge and nothing to do with it.

If you have any suggestions for what to do with a bunch of sugar water, I'd love to hear them.  But if not, you can just shrug your shoulders and move on to my review of Blazewing's A True, True Friend?, below the break.

Impressions before reading:  The person who recommended this story described it as a great character piece, but I've got some concerns going in.  First off, the story description contains the words "Just a one-shot I cooked up in my spare time"--in my experience, it's rarely a good sign when the author is setting expectations like that before you even start reading.  Also, the surprisingly low upvote-to-views ratio (about 1:22) is a little worrying, given that this story isn't old enough to have lost a bunch of upvotes from back when the purged anonymous votes.  Votes aren't everything, of course (sometimes, they don't seem to be anything), but all things being equal, I don't consider that a great sign going in.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  After the girls forget to include Spike in on of their friendship activities--again--he's forced to ask whether they're really his "friends" at all.  And as it turns out, he's not the only one concerned by his treatment.

Thoughts after reading:  There is a whole category of fanfiction dedicated to explaining how terribly Spike is canonically treated (he's basically a slave!), how unappreciated he is, and how awful it must be for anyone to have to live such a life of misery and woe.  These stories are, generally speaking, not very good.  The most obvious problem, of course, is that it requires a lot of selective memory to build a case that Spike is "basically a slave" into more than a joke, and that it would be a pretty tall order to fit a premise like that with Twilight's characterization.  Or the main six's, or Spike's himself... you basically have to write around all the the characters in the show to get to a point where you can sell your core concept successfully.  And since the core concept is "Spike is, in the show, consistently treated with contempt and his many virtues belittled and ignored," the end result is generally a bunch of over-the-top angsting about that one time Twilight told him to do some chores, or somesuch.

It is to A True, True Friend?'s credit that it doesn't go whole-hog for the histrionics of many of its fellow Spike-defense fics.  Instead, it focusses on a half-dozen or so slights, doesn't really try to project them into an uninterrupted pattern of neglect, and never seriously questions that Twilight and the girls actually do love Spike, their occasional forgetting of him notwithstanding.  That's about as positive as I can get about the story, though, and while "premise doesn't flatly contradict the show when it's nominally about exploring what happens in the show" is a good thing, it's also not really much of a bar to clear.

Instead, this fic spends a good chunk of its verbiage either summarizing canon events (the first 2000 words are largely a combination of show material and Spike remembering the same) or the story itself (the epilogue is perhaps the most egregious example, as Spike writes a letter that repeats, often verbatim and without expansion, what has happened in the fic).  In neither case does this make for terribly interesting reading, since it's just a rehash of material the reader has already.

Meanwhile, when the story does get to exploring its characters, it generally does so in an almost comically overblown way.  Take this passage, which in context is clearly intended to be read totally sincerely:
Rock candy necklaces, a symbol of friendship, and he hadn’t even been included in the equation. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His blood boiled hotter than his own dragon-fire, and his fangs gnashed as he fought to hold back the diatribe of rage and distress he was dying to spew forth.
To again give credit where it's due, the story does describe this as a "temper tantrum," and not, say, "his righteous fury" or something equally silly.  But although the fic may acknowledge that some of its character's reactions are a bit overblown, it nevertheless sympathizes with the uniformly across narration and every single character PoV.  In other words, the story may acknowledge that this is a "temper tantrum," but it never so much as hints at the idea that maybe, just maybe, the problem here isn't entirely with the way the girls treat him.

I also find it unfortunate that the story never seems to explore, even superficially, what Spike's relationship with Twilight is.  Given both their history and interactions in the show, they're a unique mix of friends, siblings, and mother/son, and if this story had looked at how Spike and Twilight interact with each other through those vectors--and how the, again, unique nature of their relationship means that those vectors can come into conflict--that might have given the fic more heft.  But instead, it simply dwells on the slights against Spike, spends its energy on abasement and apology, and then concludes.

Star rating:

The best I can say about this story is that it could easily have been much, much worse.  As-is, though, it's still basically an 8000 word Spike apologetic which fills itself with repetition and hyperbole.

Recommendation:  If a Spike apologetic is something that appeals to you, this would be worth a look; it's at least muted enough in its histrionics (or, failing that, at least aware that they are histrionics) for someone sympathetic to its premise to take seriously.  I don't recommend it outside of that specific audience, though.

Next time: Negotiations, by Rated Ponystar


  1. You could do the following with the simple syrup and a little work, to make one of my favorite desserts:

    1-) Boil up the simple syrup until it starts to brown (if it wasn't at that point yet).

    2-) Beat up in a blender 6 eggs, 2 cans of condensed milk, and use those same cans to measure 2 doses of milk.

    3-) Pour the simple syrup around a round baking tray, preferably with a center hole. Quite a bit of it will pool at the bottom, but that is expected.

    4-) Put the baking tray inside a larger pan with water, cover it with aluminum foil, and then put both in a 360F oven for about 1 hour (Check if after sticking a knife near the center it comes out clean)

    5-) Put the Baking tray in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 hours.

    6-) Take the tray and flip the result on a large enough plate with raised sides (otherwise the caramelized syrup will spill). You might have to make sure that it isn't stuck to the sides with a knife

    You can replace the condensed milk by doing 6 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, and 3 cups of milk. You can mix in Vanilla essence too if you want, but it isn't necessary.

    1. ...Wait, what do you do with the stuff you mix in step 2? O.o At no point is it mentioned to pour it in anything.

    2. D'oh! You are supposed to pour it into the baking tray, after pouring the syrup on it on step 3.

  2. You can make a simple hard caramel just by cooking it until it turns brownish and pouring it out on an oiled cooking sheet. Or you can make a flavored syrup pretty simply. For example, if you have it, add a tablespoon or two of rosewater, maybe a bit of vodka or white rum to help it keep longer. Great for topping ice cream or pancakes.

  3. Next review should be interesting.

    I've seen quite a lot of the type of fics you talk about here pass through Rage Reviews. "Spike apologetics" are something of a recurring subgenre there, and typically rank pretty low on their scales. Rise of Spike the Dragon would be the apex example. They did a pretty thorough breakdown of that one.

  4. On the topic of recommendations of various forms, you should check out Lost Time, by Bookplayer. Like most of her stuff, it's somewhat romantically inclined, and also like most of her stuff, it's AppleDash, but I'm not even entirely sure that's the focus of the story for the most part. Not in love with the first chapter, which is possibly necessary exposition, but after that point it's this amazing reversal of works like Big. Where these future mind swap works put a huge premium on youthfulness, and explore where adults have lost that aspect of themselves, Lost Time has Rainbow feeling like she's perpetually in the shadow of this seemingly amazing version of herself.

    All in all, I think it's one of Bookplayer's best works, ably combining the clear metaphorical angle with some good actual content. As what is ostensibly a shipping story, I think it features a lot of stuff that you'd like. A lot of plot stuff that's fully unrelated to romantic entanglements (and I mean separate from the overarching time thing), a focus on developing the key relationship as opposed to just assuming its presence (though there is a bit of that there, given that future AJ has been with future RD for a ton of time), and just generally some story stuff that I don't think I've seen anywhere else. It was neat.

    Really wanna see if I can test your, "This stuff seems like it would be cool for people that aren't me, but I don't get it," line. Her ongoing Cookie/Celestia story is pretty great too, incidentally, but I can't really recommend that at the moment for the obvious reason that it's ongoing.

  5. Gosh, I remember reading this two and a half years ago. I seem to have felt that the very fact it was a Spike story made it worth a look, despite its sledgehammer message and a way-too-convenient resolution. I was very forgiving of Spike stories at that time, but I can't honestly say I remember any of this particular fic's details -- even after having read your review. Shame, really, as I do like Blazewing himself. All the (few and minor) dealings I've had with him have shown him to be a thoroughly decent guy.

    Never read the next one, largely because of what it's based on. It's going to take at least a three to get me to change that, barring miracles!

  6. When I first glanced at that illustration, I thought Spike had censor bars over his groin and... wait, do dragons even have nipples?