Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fandom Classics Part 240: Letters From a Secret Admirer

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

As I've settled into the start of a new season of Ink Master and, as is standard practice when watching a competition reality show, picked my favorite, I was struck by the realization that my favorites are disproportionately male.  Like, at least 80% of the time, I pick a guy to root for in these situations.  Which makes me wonder: how concerned should I be that this represents a subtle, ingrained bit of sexism on my part?  To be fair, I frequently end up picking whoever has the best beard, which is going to skew my numbers, but on the other hand, maybe that's an ingrained bit of sexism coming through in and of itself.  And even if it was sexist, what would be the appropriate response?  Making a conscious effort to chose half guys and half girls to root for isn't not-sexist, any more than picking all-guys or all-girls is.

I take some solace in knowing that I apparently have nothing better to do than fret over whether I'm biased against rooting for women who go on reality shows.  Anyway, check out my review of Subsolar Drift's Letters From a Secret Admirer, below.

Impressions before reading:  From the tags, cover art, and description, this looks like a pretty typical TwiDash shipfic, liable to play its rom-com conceit totally straight, and of the sort where I say something like "If you're looking for this specific kind of thing in your ponyfic, you'll like it, but it's got nothing to offer anyone else."  It looks like that, but based on both of the recommendations I got, it's supposedly more accessable to non-shippers than many of its ilk.  And the amount of discussion its generated on its own page (nearly 500 comments on a barely-10k-word story) is probably a good sign for it at least being unique; while it certainly possible that it's just 500 "DAWWWW"s in a row, stories which generate a lot of comments tend (for better or worse) not to be totally paint-by-numbers--something's gotta get all those people talking, right?

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Dash decides to pay back her friends for the whole Mare-Do-Well affair by personally pranking each of them.  And for Twilight, she has a foolproof plan: pretend to be Twi's secret admirer.  There's no way that could backfire!

Thoughts after reading:  Actually, my initial impressions were pretty much spot-on, before I started walking them back.  This is the very definition of predictable shipping: a story with a preordained pairing, in which the romantic path, dung-hits-the-fan, and reconciliation/ending kiss can all be easily predicted simply by reading the fic's description.  In terms of plot or event, there's no reason to read this fic unless you specifically want to read "this (kind of) fic."

But that's not a deal-breaker, by itself.  Lots of stories are predictable.  Heck, any story you re-read is predictable by definition, but we still re-read them because we like them.  But my point is, unless you already like "Dash pretends to fall for Twi, then really falls for Twi, then Twi finds out the letters were fake, then they make up and kiss" (don't even pretend any of that was a spoiler), this isn't the story for you; there's nothing to the plot besides a veritable checklist of shipping cliches.

It'd be fair to say that the arc is disappointing on its own merits, though.  Twilight randomly deciding she was lesbian took the cake (imagine, if you will, a story about a lesbian who decided that she was going to be straight now because she'd "never really thought about liking guys" before, but this one seemed kind of sweet), but a lot of the story's cliches are simply tossed in the reader's lap without support or explanation.  Things happen in this story because they are necessary for the fic to proceed to its next preordained block, over and over again, without regard for building believable characters or developing emotions organically.

And the writing itself doesn't do the fic any favors.  A missing word in the very first sentence is never a good sign, and in this case it belies regular editing errors throughout the fic.  Apparently the story was written under time constraints for a contest; those constraints show in the construction.  And not just in those kind of basic mistakes, as repetition in words and phrases s very noticeable throughout, and there's a tendency for the narration/characters to repeat it/themselves, sometimes in nearly back-to-back sentences.

Star rating:

"If you're looking for this specific kind of thing in your ponyfic, you'll like it, but it's got nothing to offer anyone else," I said before reading, and I was basically right.  This is a fic which has no appeal beyond its core shipping demographic.  And that's fine; entire subcategories of literature are built around sometimes ridiculously specific audiences.  But it's fair to say that Letters from a Secret Admirer belongs to that category of writing unlikely to transcend the boundaries of its core constituency: TwiDash fans looking for the fic equivalent of comfort-food empty calories.

Recommendation:  I think I've been pretty clear, but: if you like TwiDash and the rom-com formula played perfectly straight, this will probably suit your fancy.  If not, there's nothing here for you.

Next time:  Why am I Pinkie Pie?, by Hoopy McGee


  1. "Which makes me wonder: how concerned should I be that this represents a subtle, ingrained bit of sexism on my part?"

    Fun game:
    (using generic Google search definitions)

    Sexism – prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

    Discrimination – 2. recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.

    So if you recognise humans as a sexually dimorphic species then you're sexist. Welcome to to what the culture war has done to screw up definitions.

    1. Okay, but I think it's pretty clear that the Sexism definition is using the other definition of discriminate, which my google search turns up as "make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age."

      There's a difference between "He has a discriminating palate" and "He has a habit of discriminating against women," and it's one of kind, not degree.

    2. And I'd agree with you, except I've met the internet.

    3. We have met the internet, and it is us.

      Getting back to the OP, this is a fic I'll definitely pass. Romance isn't my favourite genre unless something is extremely strong in its concept/writing and I have to read it, and "business as usual" is not in that category. Thanks for the early warning. Moving on with haste.

      Re: the sexism. Probably just chance. In truth, I'm more worried about you watching so-called reality shows, full stop.

      OK, I don't literally "worry" about that. However, it's a genre I avoid like the plague, though less for fear of contagion and more for plain distaste.

    4. I think for it to be sexism the bias has to be because of someone's sex, a mere discrepancy in number or males and females picked is not enough.

      For example, 'discriminating' based on physical strength isn't sexism. (Grated, some people might discriminate by sex and just say they're discriminating by strength to make it seem acceptable, but let's assume people are being honest.) And in some contexts (physical labour job, sporting competition, etc) it would just be dumb to say people can't discriminate by physical strength, even if that leads to a discrepancy in gender.

      I think it's also worth asking if you're doing any harm. I would complain that "who has the best beard" is a silly way to pick a favourite, but you're hardly hurting anyone when watching reality TV (save yourself?). I would never expect you to pick what mark to give a student or what politician to vote for in the same way.

    5. Re: my TV-viewing habits: okay, but, Cold in Gardez watches Ink Master too! I think. I seem to remember that.

      And if someone whose writing I respect does it, that means it's cultured, QED!

      Also, a quick review of my voting record over the past decade and a half turns up no obvious beard-related favoritism, so I think we're good on that front.

  2. For once, we agree on a shipfic, it seems. I panned this a couple years back, for the same reasons. :B

    Also, you need to read, or at least keep tabs on, the story I just published, because I've got your argument against shipfics front and center in my story notes as I write it. >.>

    1. I have it on my watch list... and will probably fail to get around to it indefinitely because I seem to have no time, ability, or opportunity to read things anymore ;_;

  3. Certain implementations of Twilight are one of the rare instances where I could be more inclined to accept "I haven't thought about liking girls before, but now that you mention it, sure!" But it's pretty much contingent on near/quasi-asexuality to start with, and her as a workaholic or some such can help sell that (though some particular external reason for a pronounced non-same sex default would be nice too). Granted, that demands a bit more than a quick rom-com setup, I'd guess, and says nothing about whether this one did much to sell it.