Friday, August 11, 2017

Mini-Reviews Round 197

Well, today's my last day for the next couple of weeks.  When I come back, I'll presumably be refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to write up a review of the fic I'll be reading on vacation: Through the Well of Pirene, by Ether Echoes.  That'll be the 30th, but before then, I've got seven guest posts lined up for y'all!  And, having already read all the posts that will be going up before I get home, let me assure you all that you're in for a treat: we've got some reviewing, some analysis, some writing advice, and even a little comedy, all from a mix of old and new fillers-in.  There's a lot of horsewords talent coming down the line for the next fortnight, is what I'm trying to say, and you'll want to make sure you don't pull a Chris and just lay off of OMPR for a while.

Speaking of, something I'm also laying off of for a while is the Royal Canterlot Library, which I assume will immediately burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp in my absence.  But as a going-away-for-a-couple-weeks present/placating gesture, I thought I'd review a story by each of the other RCL curators before I skedaddled!  Head down below the break to see my thoughts on other reviewers' writing.

Three Letters, by horizon

Why I picked it:  It's horizon's newest fic, and has gotten some positive attention since it came out.  The human tag isn't my bread-and-butter as a reader, but on the other hand, it's got a Minnesota license plate as its cover art.  Local connection!

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A young man taking a woman claiming to be the pony princess Twilight Sparkle on a cross-country trip to reach a spot where she can return "home" invites her to play a simple word game.  That game ends up revealing more about Earth than either of them expected--or, perhaps, wanted.

A few thoughts:  It's refreshing to read a story with a clear, explicit moral that nevertheless doesn't beat you over the head with "HERE'S WHY BEING GOOD IS GOOD AND BEING BAD IS BAD."  Three Letters succinctly sets its scene, makes its case through the natural dialogue and reactions of its characters, and closes with an author appeal of the sort found in the better brand of folklore.  The abrupt opening (the reader simply needs to accept the first sentence of my summary as entrance to the story) gives the whole story a slightly off-kilter feeling; it was so much, and finished so fast, that I never really found my footing as I was reading.  But I don't think that's a bad thing for the reader to feel in the context of this particular story; this isn't a fic you come to for deep immersion, but to see the concept of (language as an expression of) societal morality explored.  And on that count, this delivers.

Recommendation:  This would be a great choice for readers who like a story that they can chew the arguments of after they've finished reading, and will be most appreciated by those who don't like being talked down to by the author.

Those Who Wield Power, by PresentPerfect

Why I picked it:  It's one of PP's newer fics, and he described it in a blogpost as a "serious" story.  Not that I don't love PP, but he writes a lot of stuff I just have no interest in reading (more power to those of you who love the Beer and Knife Fight series, though).  This is something of his that looks more up my alley.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A university student asks Celestia a question.  She answers it in a way which tells him what he really needs to know.

A few thoughts:  If there's one thing that I love about this fic, it's that it tricked me into thinking that it was going to be about the kind of philosophy 101 question that ill-trained authors occasionally stumble upon and use to show how smart they are, unaware that they're a thousand-odd years late to the conversation... but then ends up being about something else entirely.  Because let's face it; the student's question to Celestia only highlights his own ignorance and pedantry, but the story eventually shows why Celestia humored him anyway.  It's a very subtle, enough so that a glance as the comments shows that many readers missed it entirely.  In that way, it's almost the opposite of Three Letters, and in truth this fic could have stood to be more explicit about its message (in particular, the meaning of Celestia's gift), but to be fair, everything's there--if you're willing to read between the lines.

Recommendation:  Readers who enjoy ferreting out meaning will find plenty to work with packed into a small space.  But by the same token, those who like the narrative to spell things out for them may find themselves wondering why a story about the Omnipotence Paradox spends so much time on the questioner's insecurity.

A Giant Leap Forward, by AugieDog

Why I picked it:  Because it's been sitting in my RIL folder for two years, and this exercise is a convenient excuse to rectify that :p

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Star Swirl sets out to travel forward in time.  He succeeds.

A few thoughts:  This is a sweet little ficlette, but also rather insubstantial.  The reason I say that is that the story is told entirely from Clover's perspective, yet the character arc belongs entirely to Starswirl.  Clover may have her fears and worries, but she doesn't grow or learn anything (beyond the academic) here; Starswirl does, but we don't really see his growth, because we're following Clover's concerns instead.  The result is a clever little bit about explaining away a lore discrepancy, but not something that stays with you as a reader.

Recommendation:  If a little historical explaining wrapped in some quality writing ("Starswirl was giving her a half-glare, the kind that only set her mane to smoldering rather than outright singeing it") sounds nice to you, then this is a pleasant, bite-sized bit of pony fiction.  Just don't expect any heft behind that pleasantness.

Sol Invictus, by Soge

Why I picked it:  Because Soge hasn't written enough :(  Seriously, he's got less than 30,000 horsewords to choose from, and half of it is stuff like "In which Twilight Sparkle murders the entire population of Ponyville," which doesn't seem like a great fit for me.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  A recounting of the history of an ancient tradition which dates back to the Roman Empire, in which pilgrims travel through a strange wood to another world, and there meet a goddess in horse form.

A few thoughts:  This reads more like an infodump than an actual story.  It's got a lot of interesting bits of info it dumps, though; tying Celestia and Emperor Aurelian together is certainly neat in the abstract.  The awed tone of the narrator comes through clearly, and the little crosses between human and pony history are neat.  The only thing that's missing is the actual story, though if you come in not expecting that, then it's not hard to appreciate on its own terms.  Well, unless weak writing is an issue for you; this story comes to us from 2013, and I'm going to go ahead and say that Soge's ability as an editor has massively improved since then.  This isn't atrocious or anything, but there's a fair number of missing words and other highly noticeable varieties of error.

Recommendation:  If a bit of historical/mythological worldbuilding is your cup of tea (and if you don't mind HiE, I suppose), this might be worth looking at.  It's not for readers bothered by a lack of things like "plot" or "quality proofreading," however.


  1. That story of Present's was already on my list. Horizon's is getting added to it.

  2. After Titanium Dragon:

    Reviewed "Leap" two years ago, I realized that the story needed to be about Starswirl's disappearance bringing Clover and Platinum closer together. But that wouldn't work 'cause Platinum and Clover aren't what anyone would call close during the Hearthswarming tale, so they obviously didn't became close before that. So I just abandoned the story in place.

    Now, though, with your review--and maybe because of the "Pony fic vs. original fic" panel I helped out with the other night--it now occurs to me that I could move this situation into an original fantasy setting and have it work out much better. So that project goes to the top of my list after Baltimore's done with me.


  3. Each of the other current RCL curators, apparently...

    1. Maybe I should do a former curators blogpost sometime. Between you, Vimbert, JP, and Ben, I wouldn't exactly be hurting for good stories!

  4. > which I assume will immediately burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp in my absence

    Well, if you look at today's crosspost… :P

    Anyway, thank you for the review! That's awesome of you, and I'm glad your experience with the story was positive.

    (This may be the first time, actually, that you've read one of my stories and haven't been rubbed the wrong way by background ethical implications! I'll count that as a win.)

    1. There are currently 40 comments in my inbox.

      I am afraid to look at them. D:

    2. It was nice of you to write a story where ethics is the point, and not an uncomfortable undertone! Or, alternately, it was nice of me not to get hung up on misreading your writing--take your pick which fits better.

      (PP, you should make a blogpost where you publish all 40, scrubbed of the names but with all the rage intact. The world needs more salt)

    3. If people need salt, they can jump in the ocean. >:B