Friday, May 19, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 213: Negotiations

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

For those of you who keep up with writeoff-related happenings, the most recent minific round has concluded, and I managed to pace well; my story sandwiched neatly in between Ceffyl Dwr's first- and third- place entries.  Seriously, who writes two good stories in 24 hours?  Anyway, look for it to show up in either my minific collection or on its own (depending on how much my edits expand the wordcount) sometime in the near future.

But if my horsewords don't interest you, you could always read my words about horsewords!  My review of Rated Ponystar's Negotiations, below.

Impressions before reading:  I'm not too optimistic about this one going in.  It looks, on the surface, like a bog-standard bit of HFY (that is, "Humanity, F*** Yeah!," i.e. a story in which humans are indomitable badasses), applied to a TCB (that is, "The Conversion Bureau," a story about Equestria overtaking Earth and everyone turning into ponies, which remains massively influential despite being permanently incomplete) setting.  Neither of those bode well to me, and I've found both of the author's stories that I've reviewed to date underwhelming.  We'll see.

Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twilight meets with the human ambassador to discuss the terms of Equestria's surrender after the disastrous war Celestia launched against Earth.  There's just one complication: the ambassador is adamant that Celestia's death be part of the bargain.

A few thoughts: I do not think this can be appreciated as a story, which is unfortunately the vector by which I'm evaluating it.  It's trite, full of unbelievable characterizations, projects individual attributes onto species with impunity, and feels at all turns self-(that is, human-)serving.  It's telling that the author notes, "I kinda made if for the "Humans are Superior" group I'm a part of;" it is, indeed, humanwank through and through.

But more than that, it's an anti-Celestia screed.  Not particularly one opposed to anything she says or does in the show itself; no, the Celestia Rated Ponystar rails against is entirely a secondary construct, possibly rooted in TCB lore (though most of the specifics are unfamiliar to me.  I admit to having only the most rudimentary of knowledge of the setting--I'm not well-equipped to tell which elements are the author reacting to someone else's headcanon, and which are him inventing evils to decry).  Indeed, the vicious, casual-genocidal supervillain depicted in this story bears little resemblance to anything an average ponyfan might picture when they hear the name "Celestia."  Were the story to be about this discrepancy, that would be one thing, but instead it's part of the fic's essential grounding; it's simply a fact one needs to accept, that Celestia is evil and also wrong about literally everything ever.

Meanwhile, the rest of the story feels vaguely masturbatory, in a way similar to the omnipresent military fetishization fics (if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky), only directed at humanity itself.  The fic is full of passages (from Twilight's perspective) like, "Human technology was always so amazing to see, even now. To think an entire race did this without magic. It made me wonder what would happen if magic and technology was to combined? It was a different mind-set than Princess Celestia; she hated their technology," which inelegantly combine clunky writing with the celebration of human ingenuity in contrast to the imagined stagnancy of an imaginary creature from an imaginary race.  To be clear, celebrating how humans are better at something than a species whose relative abilities you define within the fic itself is an accomplishment that rings rather hollow.

In any event, the story is poorly constructed, dropping most of its setting on the reader in awkward reminices of Twilight's which fill the narration.  Even if the characterizations made sense, it would still feel like a lore dump masquerading as a story.  But as-is, it simply feels like a self-congratulatory put-down of a strawman.

Star rating:

The best I can come up with in this story's defense is that it's entirely possible that some or even most of its most distasteful elements and absurd characterizations are directly taken from TCB and/or some of its most important side-stories.  But even in that case, this is still a transparent declamation of ideas that are silly enough not to require declaiming in the first place, and a celebration of traits which feel more banal than laud-worthy.

Recommendation:  Unless you really, really like to reflect on how awesome humans are and how anyone who would want them to behave differently would have to literally be a murderous mindraping "for the Greater Good"-tier villain, then this probably isn't the fic for you.

Next time:  Let’s Find You a Date!, by soundslikeponies


  1. "Were the story to be about this discrepancy, that would be one thing..."

    "To be clear, celebrating how humans are better at something than a species whose relative abilities you define within the fic itself is an accomplishment that rings rather hollow."

    In addition to the typo, that second sentence was a bit awkward to read

    Looking forward to the next review. I've only read a couple of sounds' fics, but enjoyed both of them. Also, they have one of my favorite avatars, which is practically the same thing as being a great author

  2. And then you've got fics that swing entirely the other way, with humanity being completely awful (also in the TCB verse!) I wonder where the on-balance fics are. Not just not depicting humanity as either the greatest or worst thing ever, but specifically calling attention to that idea.

  3. You haven't done TCB? It seems like something you probably should, what with it spawning a whole subfandom and all, like "Fallout Equestria" and "Boast Busted" with the Lunaverse.

    "To be clear, celebrating how humans are better at something than a species who's relative abilities you define within the fic itself is an accomplishment that rings rather hollow."
    -> Reminds me of one of the (many) terrible facets of the "Left Behind" series raised by Fred Clark's (excellent and entertaining) criticism:

    "It’s another example of Left Behind’s weird fiction-as-confirmation-of-prophecy confusion. The authors tell us that the Bible prophesies specific future events, and then they provide a fictional account of those events unfolding exactly as supposedly foretold. That much would be fine, except that they treat this fictional fulfillment as though it were actual evidence and proof of their claims rather than just an illustration of them."

    1. Maybe it's one of those Arguments from Imagination? "If we can envision the apocalypse, it must be real!"

      As for TCB, I've never reviewed it because it's permanently incomplete, and doesn't even really go very far with its narrative. It's relevance is as a concept which other authors took and ran with, not as a piece of writing itself--if I tried to review it, the only thing I'd really be able to comment on was the premise! And, I suppose, the quality of writing, but the point is, there's not really a "story" suitable for reviewing there.

    2. If you were to review TCB, you ideally wouldn't be looking at the original at all, because it's barely relevant to what TCB morphed into.

      The original story is pretty much just about this central conceit of humans voluntarily becoming ponies, which is barely present in Negotiations, because TCB is essentially built on reactions and deconstructions of previous iterations of itself. First we had this slightly creepy idea of a bureau that transforms humans into ponies because of reasons. Then we had deconstructions which painted this as a death of the self an act of genocide. Then we had the human-pony warfics. And then we reach the point we're at now, with fics like Negotiations and Other Side of the Spectrum reacting to said warfics.

  4. I've seen this fic and its sequels around a lot. The sequels, at least, I saw in the feature box a few times. This is a whole 'verse, with its own TV Tropes page and everything. I never did like the sound of it either, but I had no idea that it was this... blatant in its aims, I guess.

  5. I've read a few of the TCB fics, and none of them portrayed Celestia in a way that could be twisted into the caricature of a super-villain. If anything they went to the opposite extreme. There was no war; the whole ponification thing was to save humans from the (improbable) deadly collision of two universes.

    If I were to write an anti-TCB story, I'd focus on the fridge-horror aspect of the implied lobotomy that made humans "nicer" after becoming ponies.

    I'm actually kind of surprised that you'd inflict this sort of masturbatory power fantasy on yourself. I can't remember... did you review Fall of Equestria?

    1. Worth noting Fall of Equestria is not like FoE or TCB, a universe stemming from a single fic. The original FOE was just a series of comics/art commissions from a single person across multiple artists -- and I could be wrong about the specifics, but the point is, there's no single, central Fall of Equestria: The Story. I had this same problem when looking for one to review.

    2. Huh. I did not know that!

    3. And if Chris hasn't reviewed it he probably shouldn't because, well, what is there that really merits critical review? Most of what I see falls into the category of 'My turn to take on one of the fandom's bogeymen' than anything else.

  6. From what I understand, TCB is notorious for being really extreme in its views and it even spawned an opposite group just to 'combat' it

    1. I've heard that, too, but the stories I read aren't extreme at all. Unless you count the major theme that, generally, ponies are nicer than people, and it's more fun to be a pony.