Monday, November 27, 2017

Fandom Classics Part 237: Just an Assistant

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

Hope everyone enjoyed their weekend!  I got to catch up with some friends in from New York, which was nice; I don't get to see the farther-scattered folks as much as I'd like to.  Woo!

But now the holiday's over, and it's time to get back to the grind.  Head down below the break for my review of RadicalDishonesty's Just an Assistant.

Impressions before reading:  I vaguely recall this fic kicking up a bit of a fuss when it was first published; given its premise, I assume it was Spike-related.  The "poor abused Spike" subsection of this fandom is easily provoked to praise and/or disdain, so that's not much of a surprise.  It'll be interesting to see whether this fic falls into the category of "Spike apologia" or if, as the description suggests, it might have a little more substance than that to it.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  While visiting over tea, Princess Luna congratulates Twilight on how well she keeps her indentured servant in his place.  And although Twilight bristles at the thought, Luna's perspective seems uncomfortably on-point to her.

Thoughts after reading:  I was worried when I began this story--not so much because of the plot, but because the writing's weak off the bat.  A bog-standard weather-report opening and some clunky narrative telling (e.g. "[...]Spike replied in the sarcastic tone he liked to use") in the first few paragraphs put me on edge, which isn't a great way to approach a fic.

Luckily, the quality of the opening was misleading, at least so far as construction was concerned; while Assistant isn't without its storytelling flaws, it's put together quite well, leading naturally from setup to premise-introduction to the promised culture-clash and Twi-shaming.  From a technical and design perspective, this is a solid piece of writing.

The actual content, however, seems to me like something likely to have a relatively narrow audience.  That's not by itself a good or a bad thing; it's simply an acknowledgement that both the approach to dialogue and the approach to Spike's role in the show which this story takes are not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  To start with, the former: this is a story that is very much dedicated to getting Luna to explain the uncomfortable (to Twilight) parallels between how she treats Spike and how an owner treats a human equine draconic piece of property.  It does this effectively, make no mistake... but it also sacrifices a lot of the naturalness which differentiates the dialogue in a story from that of a polemic.  Luna goes out of her way to argue word definitions and "innocently" implicate Twilight in acts she clearly finds abhorrent; even if Luna truly doesn't understand why, there's a level of bullheadedness and disconnect from the actual direction of conversation in her pronouncements that rings false.  In other words, it's interesting arguments, but not well-written dialogue.

There's also the fact that the story requires the reader to accept a pretty uncharitable view of Twilight--and of several other ponies, for that matter--in order for it to make sense.  Those of you familiar with "Spike apologia," as I alluded to in the Before Reading bit, may already be picturing the kind of thing I'm talking about: things like an assertion that Spike barely knows Twilight's family outside of Shining Armour, while Cadence was welcomed into the family with open arms and made to feel a Sparkle in a way Spike never was (never mind that Twi didn't find out Cadence would be joining the family at all until literally the day before the wedding...), or suggesting that getting a kid out of the house for a few minutes by sending them out on an errand is somehow not a chore, but "servant's work."  To be fair to the story, it never explicitly states that these things are true; Luna asserts them from the position of "a thousand years ago, that's just how these things were done," and Twilight comes to see the connections too.  A perfectly valid interpretation of the story is that Luna's so trapped in a to-modern-eyes horrific mode of thought that she's literally incapable of understanding healthy relationships that aren't based on power differentials, and that Twilight is being justifiably paranoid about whether she's raising Spike right.  That alone elevates this story above a lot of stories that take a similar approach to Spike's treatment; it makes its case entirely in-character, and leaves interpretation to the reader.

It doesn't hurt that there's a rather sweet ending to it, and one that feels complete while being open-ended enough not to feel like a message mallet has been applied to the reader's forehead.  The dialogue delivery may be heavy-handed, but the narrative takes a refreshingly light touch.

Star rating:

This runs into the same rating issue I occasionally find with the narrower-appeal set of shipfics: I think there's a not-insignificant audience that will really enjoy this, but that a lot of readers outside of that audience won't care for it.  So if this is the kind of fic that hits your interest, feel free to shade this up a bit, while if it doesn't, probably mentally knock it down a star or so.  As for what those interests are...

Recommendation:  If your reaction to "Twilight realizes just how terribly she treats Spike" is essentially positive (vindication, vindictiveness, etc.), then this would be a great story for you; it doesn't only hit that note, but does it in a way that doesn't patently insult the reader's intelligence!  If you find that premise a tough pill to swallow, though, this isn't for you--all you'll find is dialogue non-sequiturs to get to "the point" and shallow justifications left substantially unchallenged.  Although, even within that crowd, readers who enjoy culture clash (and, again, can handle the dialogue) might want to give this a chance; Luna does an unusually good job representing a Roman-era approach to "enlightened" human (pony) ownership.

Next time: The White Mare, by Warren Hutch

1 comment:

  1. Oh, nice. The next story is an old favorite of mine. I always felt disappointed the author never did much else with the concept, it was very intriguing.