Friday, October 20, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 233: What is a Name?

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

As you read this, I'm AWOL!  Enjoying a few days hanging out with my sister at her place, before I come home on Sunday.  Presumably I'm having fun; I'm good at that (distinct from being fun, which I'm more hit-or-miss at).  And I hope you're all having fun doing whatever it is you're up to, too!  But if not, I know of no better way to turn that frown upside-down than a fanfic review.  Get my thoughts on Key Tapper's What is a Name?, below.

Impressions before reading:  Here's a 2012-era classic, with subject matter to match; variations on the Pinkie/Pinkamena personality split have never really stopped being a thing, but this fic is certainly from their heyday.  Although a split personality theoretically has a lot of interesting avenues one could explore, I haven't had great luck with Pinkamena fics in general.  But every rule has its exceptions, and the "Pinkamena doesn't actually know about her Pinkie personality" angle that the description seems to promise is at least a bit novel.  That's a good sign going in!

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Pinkamena wakes up in the hospital one day, surrounded by five ponies she's never met who claim to be her friends.  After she figures out that she's "really" Pinkie Pie with acute amnesia, things seem like they might work themselves out, but there's just one problem: things are more complicated than anypony realizes, and for Pinkie Pie to come back, Pinkamena will have to exit stage left.

Thoughts after reading:  This is a story with a couple of interesting concepts, but unfortunately they're obscured by weak writing and narrative contrivance.

The writing, to start with it, is full of telly, bland narration.  In the segments which are told from Pinkamena's first-person perspective, this could perhaps be excused as an attempt to show her bland, hyperfactual mindset... but the voicing and tone don't vary at all in the many third-person segments from other characters' PoVs, which makes that interpretation seem dubious.  In any case, much the of the problem is that the things the narration is explaining are obvious from context, or are otherwise useless to the narrative and ill-suited to aiding one's understanding of the characters in play.  Needlessly expository passages like "Normally, Rainbow was the one would sit back and not ask questions. This was both uplifting and upsetting at the same time.  While it did confirm the fact that she was a loyal, caring friend, it also showed just how desperate the situation had become," are the rule, not the exception.

The larger problem with the story, though, is how contrived it is.  To start with, the entire plot is based around Pinkamena waking up with magical psuedo-super-amnesia in the forest one day, and nothing about the why or how of that is ever explained.  That might feel less problematic if the story had a laser focus on Pinkamena's feelings and fears, but the wide-wandering scope of the story precludes a "those explanations wouldn't be relevant to the real story" justification.  But this is far from the only thing that just... happens, for no reason better than because of the demands of the narrative.

The whole story seems to exist in a vacuum, with nothing happening unless it is necessary to advance the plot.  Pinkamena wakes up in the hospital, her last memory being an eleven year-old living with her parents... and the doctor discharges her not twenty minutes later, because... actually, I can't even begin to guess at the reason (she's explicitly discharged under her own recognizance, not given into, say, Twilight's care).  Weeks after the event, nobody has bothered to tell her family what happened.  Days and even weeks pass at a stretch without anyone expressing more than a mild interest in helping Pinkamena get her memories back (Twilight can be excused as taking a more study-centric approach, and Dash at least tries one thing over the course of a month-plus, but everyone else seems content to sit on their hooves and wait for Twi to try something, despite having been specifically instructed to try and help her remember her past).  Multiple characters magically intuit that Pinkamena is, in fact, a separate entity from Pinkie proper, well before anyone in the story actually discovers this to be the case, and in defiance of everything they know at that point.  And several aspects of the drama-filled climax are transparently artificial, reliant on arbitrary-even-by-story-standards deadlines which strain credulity.

Which is a shame, because I did like the generally positive portrayal of multiple consciousnesses trapped in a single body.  I've read plenty of stories with two (or more) entities trying to inhabit the same body, of course, and a few where those entities aren't mutually antagonistic (usually because they're not aware of one another at all).  But what I appreciated here was that Pinkie and Pinkamena (once they become cognizant of each other) get along.  After all, why wouldn't you get along with yourself?  I wish more had been done with the idea of two entities both trying to put the other's needs above their own, but even as-written, this idea gets some small exploration.  It's a pleasantly friendly take on the subject, and one that felt appropriate for Pinkie.

Star rating:

This is a prime example of the kind of story where things happen because the author needs them to, rather than out of any kind of internal logic.  The result is a story that makes sense on the meta-level, structurally, but which falls apart when one goes looking for character consistency, or takes any notice of the prevalent plotholes.

Recommendation:  If you're really intrigued by Pinkie/Pinkamena fics, this one has a rather nice, pleasant take on the concept at its core.  But I wouldn't strongly recommend it outside of that audience, and even within that group readers with an aversion to telly writing and authorial fiat will probably want to give this a pass.

Next time:  Shipping Sickness, by Skywriter


  1. "Which is a shame, because I did like the generally positive portrayal of multiple consciousnesses trapped in a single body. That's something I've seen in fiction before, of course, but what I appreciated here was that Pinkie and Pinkamena (once they become cognizant of each other) get along. After all, why wouldn't you get along with yourself?"

    This is anecdotal, but every instance of a multiple consciousness I can think of is usually portrayed as antagonistic. Am legitimately surprised that you've seen "a positive portrayal" often enough to feel the need to single this one out, unless you mean you've seen multiple consciousnesses before and are surprised that THIS time it's portrayed positively.

    Also, I can think of a few reasons why one wouldn't get along with oneself, but the two main factors that occur to me most strongly are:

    1. Self-dislike, most obviously self-loathing. If you possess a trait that you don't consider praiseworthy, you're not likely to cut another version of you some slack.

    2. The "stone-thrower's glass house" principle. If there are two of you, then you're not only throwing out a trait but also receiving it. Make it a trait you wouldn't want to come back to you, and there's a recipe for conflict.

    Speaking hypothetically, of course.

    1. I edited the last paragraph of my review a bit to clarify what I meant; I've read stories where the entities aren't mutually antagonistic before, but what was new to me here was that Pinkie and Pinkamena were (eventually) mutually aware, and both immediately wanted to help the other when they figured out what was going on. Thanks for pointing out the poor writing on my part!

      (that was an unironic thanks, as in "glad I could fix that." Not an ironic "way to call me out in front of the babes, brah." Tone can be hard on the internets)

      And I can see why some people wouldn't get along with themselves, but I think most people would be so curious and so eager to be on their best behavior for themselves (lest they seem, even to themselves, like they might be the evil opposite!) that they'd get along, at least for a while.

    2. Not poor. Just ambiguous as it stood. I did wonder myself if I was overcomplicating what no one else would notice. (Sadly, it wouldn't be the first time).

      Ha, that bit about "evil opposites" reminded me of that Futurama episode where the crew go to an alternate universe with an alternate crew. BOTH sides promptly assume the other is the evil version.

      I see what you mean, though. No problem.