Fanfiction Reviews

Despite the fact that I’ve been reviewing MLP fanfiction exclusively for the past couple of months, FiMFiction doesn’t hold a lock on good stories. With that in mind, here are a few reviews of standout fanfiction from other communities. As always, I abstain from assigning numerical ratings because I try to review only the really exceptional fics — there’s enough dross that I don’t feel the need to give less-than-amazing stories more exposure. And now, the reviews:

Free Radical (finished)
Free Radical

Fandom: The 1994 video game System Shock. Note that this is a self-contained work; you don’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy it.

Synopsis: In a dystopian cyberpunk future, a hacker leaving his youthful prime plans one last job as a final bid for continued relevance, invading the headquarters of the massive TriOptimum corporation. What he finds there takes him deep into the underpinnings of intelligence and AI, lending a new and startling urgency to the question, “What does a robot want?”

Review: Ahh, Free Radical. I’ll be up front here: This was the very first novel-length fanfiction I ever read, and it blew me away. Even now, years later, this is one of the primary sticks against which I measure other fanfics; I even liked it well enough that I was instrumental in formatting it for the dead-tree version.

While it does lean about as hard as you’d expect on action scenes, given that it’s an FPS/survival-horror fanfic, for me the real draw of the book is the smoothness with which it segues between that and fascinating digressions on the nature of intelligence (artificial and otherwise) and how it relates to the problems at hand. Gripping, page-turning peril flows seamlessly into solid, grounded explanations of the underpinnings of the cyberpunk dystopia the protagonist lives in. What’s more, while some of the details are obviously fabricated to further play to the futuristic setting, everything is plausibly extrapolated from current technology (a result of the author’s tech-savvy computer-programming background shining through).

Overall, the book maintains a steady flow of intriguing plot, consistent setting, edge-of-your-seat action, and insightful technical/social commentary from beginning to end, a feat which I’ve rarely seen duplicated. Seriously, go read it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Man With No Name (finished)
The Man With No Name

Fandom(s): Firefly and Dr. Who. Specifically, the post-Serenity Firefly crew and the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), just after he lost Rose.

Synopsis: The Doctor hadn’t really counted on getting into a pub brawl over the color of his coat on some speck of a planet, or signing up with a crew of petty criminals. Still, he’d always wondered what really happened to those Lost Colonists from Earth…

Review: What really blew me away with this story was the sheer veracity with which the characters were portrayed. The story is told entirely from third-person limited viewpoints, and the word choice exhibited in each chapter is phenomenal. When a chapter is told from the perspective of Captain Mal, for example, both the dialogue and the descriptions simply drip with essential Mal-ness, reflecting his established vocabulary and thought patterns. The same goes for all of the other crew members, including some very credible River-perspective (!). The Doctor is likewise lovingly rendered, and the story captures the whiplash-like speed with which he changes from manic to deadly serious and back with high fidelity.

Of course, all of this attention to character detail comes at a price — of the three stories I’m reviewing today, this one is by far the most reliant on the reader’s familiarity with the source material. I woudn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t watched both Firefly and Serenity, although only a basic grasp of Doctor Who’s backstory is needed (as new elements relating to him are generally explained as they come up). Still, for those who have the requisite show/movie experience, the payoff is impressively substantial, weaving delightful slice-of-life character moments in with the much-needed closure that I felt was lacking in Serenity. Suffice it to say that this story has entered my personal headcanon for the Firefly universe.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (ongoing)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Fandom: Harry Potter. This is pretty firmly alternate-universe, though, so only a passing familiarity with the setting is needed to appreciate it.

Synopsis: Petunia Evans married a biochemist, and Harry Potter grew up in a house filled to the brim with books, reading science and science fiction. Then came the Hogwarts letter, introducing strange new opportunities to exploit. And new friends, like Hermione Granger, and Draco Malfoy, and Professor Quirrell…

Review: What do you get when a respected logician and AI researcher decides to write, of all things, Harry Potter fanfiction? You get something like this story, which more or less spawned an entire genre all on its own — the “rationalist fic”, which drops a scientifically-minded, curious protagonist into whatever fantasy world currently needs parodying and sets them loose. It’s a genre which has a fair amount in common with the golden age of science fiction (such as Heinlein’s “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”), imbuing its characters with a can-do attitude and an unbounded willingness to think creatively and (ab)use every scientific principle they can get their hands on in an effort to advance their Enlightenment-era goals.

One of the ideals I find most interesting in fiction is that of the inquisitive protagonist. When a character is presented with a new experience, the really interesting questions (in my opinion) are not “Do I believe in this?” or “How do I feel about this?”, but rather “How can I be sure this reflects reality and isn’t the result of a misconception on my part?”, “What are the implications of this if it’s true?” and “Once I’ve determined its validity, how can I exploit it?”. The rationalist!Harry in this story does an excellent job of embodying that concept — he gleefully probes the new boundaries and rules of the magical world he’s thrust into, applying the scientific method and generally causing mayhem on those around him. The only thing that stops him from ruling the wizarding world inside a week is that the author has a well-developed sense of balance and adheres to the so-called “First Law of Fanfiction”: “Every change which strengthens the protagonists requires a corresponding worsening of their challenges”, AKA “You can’t make Frodo a Jedi without giving Sauron the Death Star”. As such, several of the other characters in the story have been strengthened correspondingly, and the resulting situations are all the more gripping for it.

The other main draw of the story, apart from the aforementioned qualities, is simply how much fun it is. Currently weighing in at a massive 475k words (as compared to the 150k-ish count fics elsewhere in this review set), one might be excused for thinking that reading through it would be a slog; luckily, the precise opposite is the case. Rationalist!Harry’s sense of humor is highly refined, and he takes an unholy glee in making the lives of those around him more surreal. The conniptions of the professors as they try to deal with the disruptions he creates are highly entertaining, and even straight-laced Hermione finds herself wondering if she should be taking quite this much enjoyment from besting the Boy-Who-Lived academically. The chapters fly by, and when reading this I frequently found myself losing significant chunks of time as I was drawn into the story. Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend reading this anywhere explosive laughter is frowned upon, as the narrative frequently descends into situations which, while internally consistent, are thoroughly ridiculous and difficult to read in silence. I highly recommend this fic, if for no other reason than as a vehicle for learning about myriads of sound cognitive principles in a very approachable manner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 6

All right, I’ve accumulated a few more exceptional fics, so here’s a full review:

The Powers of Harmony (ongoing)
The Powers of Harmony

Synopsis: Half the power of the Elements of Harmony is transferred to the Bearers during the battle against Nightmare Moon. Celestia discovers this, but withholds the information. The Mane Six continue their lives, unawares. Two months later, Celestia sends thirteen members of the Royal Guard to monitor the Bearers as they manifest and develop their new abilities. However, the members of the Guard aren’t what they seem, for they carry a secret of their own.

Review: I’ve read relatively few alternate-universe fics; most of the time, I prefer to stick to the world as shown in the cartoon, with characters and events conforming to their canon equivalents. This one begins just after the events shown in the 2-part pilot of the show, and quickly takes things in another direction entirely. Specifically, it answers the question, “If the individual Elements of Harmony (as opposed to the Elements all together) conferred powers, what would those powers be?”. We’ve seen multiple times in the show that once the Mane 6 put on their jewelry and get in formation, they produce an Orbital Friendship Cannon, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the Elements were more than just two-dimensional plot device trotted out a couple of times a season to take down the latest Big Bad(tm)?

…if this fic has anything to say about it, the answer is “Yes, yes it would”. What really drew me to The Powers of Harmony was the character work — the fic applies a magnifying glass to each of the Mane 6, developing their individual characters as they discover their newfound powers. There are some really neat nuances that the world-building lends to the characters; the nature and mechanics of magic in Equestria, for instance, is much better defined: Unicorns have a static “pool” of magic that only regenerates while sleeping, and attempting to cast spells with an empty pool is hazardous to the caster’s health. Twilight was born with an abnormally-large pool and has had to function her entire life with artificial limiters in place to prevent a repeat of the wild-magic incident that caused her cutie mark to appear, while Rarity has been forced to become an expert on spell efficiency and careful metering of power, as her chronic insomnia means she’s constantly operating in or near the danger zone.

After a few hiccups early on caused by an overabundance of named characters (13 OCs who all enter the story simultaneously), the story flows extremely smoothly and becomes significantly hard to put down. I especially liked the scenes that occurred whenever one of the Mane 6 unconsciously used one of their developing powers — the author repeatedly pulled off a fascinating literary effect analogous to the filmmaking technique of subtly desaturating the world around the camera’s focus, then having it snap back once the scene was over. Recent chapters have started to move the plot forwards at an ever-increasing pace, and I look forward to seeing where this one goes.

Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger (ongoing)
Arrow 18 Mission Logs: Lone Ranger

Synopsis: The star system Omega Centauri was just another oddity on a map to scientists in the not too distant future. However when they found the star was orbiting an earth-sized, earth-like planet instead of a black hole as its motion had suggested, a mission was scrambled to investigate this most unusual of celestial behaviors. Hamstrung by politics, and nearly crippled before it began, the ‘Lone Ranger’ mission was reduced to just one crew member and left to his own devices. These are the logs of Arrow 18 and its lone commander.

Review: All right, now THIS is how you do Human in Equestria! Actual first-contact HiE fics are so hard to find, and this is the one I’ve found that does it best. This story covers the journal entries of a man in an FTL-enabled sci-fi future who is sent to investigate the bizarre astronomical phenomenon detected in a remote corner of the galaxy, which (of course) turns out to be the result of the magic celestial interference portrayed in the show.

What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through a first-contact scenario, as seen from both sides (with the supplementary “Sparkle’s Notes” side-story located here). Honestly, it reminds me of some of the fun bits from the Band webcomic — no, alien entities aren’t going to suddenly speak your language, but any smart sentient being should recognize math as a common starting point for communication. Twilight makes an excellent foil, obsessively learning as much as she can about human culture and technology while the protagonist investigates the seemingly-physics-defying magic that the ponies possess and compares their culture to his own. Overall, it’s a refreshing take on an overused genre, with surprisingly few handwaves and a lot of fun critical thinking.

Harmony Theory (ongoing)
Harmony Theory

Synopsis: Rainbow Dash awakens one thousand years in the future, with no idea of how or why she came to be there. She doesn’t know the language, the geography, or any of the rules of this new time. She must make friends and allies, and find out why she has been sent to the future so that she may find her way back.

Review: World-building is where this shines. A character we’re familiar with is propelled into a world set hundreds of years after an unspecified cataclysmic event which culminated in the disappearance of the Princesses and the devolution of Equestria into two competing kingdoms separated by a magically-scarred no-pony’s land. Genetic drift has changed how cutie marks work and weakened the race’s inherent magical abilities over the centuries, and the arrival of a certain rainbow-maned pegasus from the distant past with Superman-like abilities has upset the delicate balance that the powers that be have been maintaining. Powerful figures on both sides of the divide can’t wait to get their hands on her, and all Dash really wants is to figure out what went so very, very wrong and get back to her own time so she can prevent it.

As if the fascinating setting weren’t enough, the world of the distant future is populated with interesting, relatable characters. Heroes and villains alike have discernable motivations, and even incidental characters often turn out to be surprisingly deep. Vaguely-sympathetic point-of-view characters working both for and against the protagonists ensure that no faction ever seems like a cardboard cutout. I’ll definitely be following everything this author puts out, as the other short story they wrote (The Archer and The Smith) shares similar spellbinding properties.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 5

And now for a special episode of FiMFiction Reviews: Crossover Edition!

A Study in Rainbows (finished)
A Study in Rainbows

Synopsis: Returning from Zebrica, Rainbow Dash finds her lot cast in with the brilliant and eccentric detective, Rarity, as they unravel a crime most foul.  Starring Rainbow Dash as Watson, Rarity as Holmes and Fluttershy as Lestrade.

Review: Even amongst crossover stories, it amazes me how much variety there is.  Some, like the previously-reviewed Dresden Fillies series, merely transplant one or more characters from one universe to the next while maintaining their trademark writing styles.  Others (such as the Fallout: Equestria series) apply the concept of ponies to an established framework, exclusively crafting entirely-new characters to fit the altered setting.

A Study in Rainbows takes a heretofore-undiscovered (by me, at least) third option, matching characters from the show with various personalities from the Sherlock Holmes universe, subtly melding them until elements of both clearly shine through.  The result is a delight to read, capturing the feel and word-choice of the early Holmes novels while adapting the plot and character motivations to a distinctly pony-like flavor.  I felt that the ending in particular was well-done, to the point that when the climactic scene rolled around, I was wearing a wide grin after realizing that it really couldn’t be any other way.  All in all, this is a delightful set-piece, thoroughly enjoyable despite its short length (it clocks in at just under 19k works).

Binky Pie/The Wizzard and the Pony (both ongoing)
Binky Pie

Synopsis: Characters from MLP interact with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe.  Specifically, his anthropomorphic Death (in Binky Pie) and Rincewind (in The Wizzard and the Pony) settings.

Review: There are some authors whose writing styles are so transcendent that I’ve read everything they’ve ever written, and will read anything they ever write, just to get another hit.  Terry Pratchett is one of those writers — not only is he incredibly prolific (coming up on 35 books in the Discworld series alone), but all of his books have an amazing penchant for orthogonal, witty, giggle-inducing description.  Some examples from (from the original Discworld books):

“They called themselves wizards, and they had less magic in their whole fat bodies than I have in my little finger! Banished! Me! For showing that I was human! And what would humans be without love?’



‘What shall we do?’ said Twoflower.

‘Panic?’ said Rincewind hopefully. He always held that panic was the best means of survival; back in the olden days, his theory went, people faced with hungry sabre-toothed tigers could be divided very simply into those who panicked and those who stood there saying ‘What a magnificent brute!’ and ‘Here, pussy.’

Now, I’ll be clear: Neither of these stories are consistently Pratchett-quality.  They do, however, both have frequent flashes of genius that strongly evoke their respective Discworld sub-genres, and for that I love them to pieces.  In particular, the concept of the First Cathedral of the Pink Pony of Death (from Binky Pie) cracks me up, and The Wizzard and the Pony’s skillful use of Pratchett’s trademark footnotes was quite entertaining.  Both stories are incomplete, and haven’t updated for a while; one can only hope that more chapters are being written, as I for one am eagerly awaiting them.

Whip and Wing (finished)
Whip and Wing

Synopsis: The Medallion of Light and the Medallion of Shadow are some of the most powerful yet obscure artifacts of antiquity.  Created by a now-vanished cult of assassins, the two devices together give their bearer the incredible power to walk the worlds with but a single step.  Nefarious forces are closing in on both artifacts, and very little stands in their way.  Heinrich Himmler’s agents covet the medallions for the greater glory of the Third Reich.  Ahuizotl’s simply want their master to get what’s coming to him: the world, and everything in it.  With the fate of all good people and ponies in doubt, one thing’s for certain: saving two worlds would be one hell of an adventure.  And if adventure has a name, it must be Daring Do… or is that Indiana Jones?

Review: I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve never actually read an Indiana Jones novel. I’ve watched the movies, but that’s the extent of my contact with the franchise.  This, however, is almost exactly what I picture a good Indy novel would be like (minus the ponies, of course).  All of the traditional elements are there — cartoonishly-dastardly villains, multiple plot upsets, lightly-foreshadowed betrayals, and, of course, a large dose of enthralling fist-, hoof-, wing-, and whip-centered action.  The story centers around Indy and Daring swapping universes, dealing with each other’s rogue’s galleries, and tackling the problems that come their way using their own, surprisingly distinct approaches.

One of the things I especially liked about this mashup was that it quite handily walked the line between too much parallelism and not enough.  On the one hand (hoof?), Indy and Daring go through many of the same experiences in each other’s worlds, learning pleasingly-complementary lessons.  On the other, each half of the story is quite distinct, with no “Daring met a mook, so Indy meets the same mook as a pony”-type nonsense.  Each world (and set of characters) is nicely defined, with their own plots/dangers.  The action is everything one would expect out of an Indiana Jones movie, with antagonists buying it in various grisly fashions while the main characters do what they can to up their badass quotient.

If you like the narrative feel of Indiana Jones, you’ll love this.  I thought it was an enjoyable summer-popcorn-flick diversion, and it kept me engaged all the way to the end.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 4

It’s time for another round of reviews!

Order and Chaos (finished)
Order and Chaos

Synopsis: Night and day. Fire and ice. Creation and destruction. Everything has an opposite, and Chaos is no exception. Princess Celestia tells Twilight the true history of Discord’s rise, the Alicorns’ fall, and the creation of the Elements of Harmony.  She tells her student the story of Order and Chaos.

Review: While relatively short, this story does an excellent job of utilizing Celestia’s first-person storytelling perspective to describe an origin story that’s compelling enough to be headcanon for a few people I know.  The major theme is the divorcing of order and chaos from the “good vs. evil” spectrum — both extremes are rather inhospitable to life as ponies know it, and when they come into conflict, disaster and genocide ensues.

From a technical perspective, the writing is top-notch, and the various character voices are spot-on.  The pacing is impeccable, with the first-person remembrances of Celestia being occasionally broken up by present-day questions from Twilight and interruptions.  Characterization, likewise, is excellent, presenting the relatively black-and-white immortals from the show in pleasing shades of grey.  Celestia and Luna show up as less than all-knowing and perfect, while Discord is presented with a significant sympathetic side, all while retaining the traits we’ve seen on the show.  It’s quite well done.

Lez Ponies (ongoing)
Lez Ponies

Synopsis: Kate the college student loves ponies. But unwanted magnetism to her own gender has also made her a bit of a homophobe. Landing smack in the middle of Ponyville, she discovers (to her horror) that she is even more attractive to mares than she is to women. Her mission? Find actual friendship without being shipped. Whether or not she’s successful… is entirely up in the air.

Review: All right, I’m going to have to tread a bit carefully with this one.  I’d like to make two things clear: one, any kind of explicit clop has never been my thing, and two, this never descends to that level.  That being said, this is a inversion-heavy farce with a vaguely sophomoric premise, so innuendo played for laughs abounds.

Fortunately, ‘played for laughs’ succeeds brilliantly here.  The protagonist is reminiscent of the hilarious, genre-savvy, spaztastic heroine from the Grrl Power webcomic (which I also recommend).  The inversions of many of the typical Human in Equestria tropes are pulled off with seemingly-effortless aplomb, as the protagonist (for once) distinctly shies away from the semi-crazed attentions of every pony she meets, and eventually discovers an in-universe reason for it.  What really drew me in here was the sheer exuberance and richness of the narrative.  I’ve always had a thing for a well-written wisecracking first-person perspective, and this delivers it in abundance.  The protagonist muses on which narrative archetypes her current experiences most closely follow, holds highly-amusing conversations with traumatized portions of her psyche, and pokes pop-culture-saturated fun at the world.

Yes, it does deserve its “Teen” rating, but the journey is so much fun that I couldn’t let it go without a review.  The huge grin that was plastered on my face the entire time I was reading wouldn’t allow it.

Project: Sunflower (finished)
Project: Sunflower

Synopsis: It’s 2038, and the Earth is under assault from an apparently mindless enemy that has been dubbed the Black Tide, which is using nanotechnology to remake the planet into something hideously alien.  Erin Olsen works for Project Harmonics, humanity’s last-ditch effort to find a new world before the Tide can wipe them out. But when that world is found, and it turns out to be occupied, will Erin have the courage to face the unknown in an attempt to save the inhabitants of both worlds?

Review: If I had to describe this story in two words, those words would be “blissfully sane”.

What, not enough?  Let me elaborate.  Project: Sunflower is an adventure that defies easy classification, encompassing the human-only, ponified human in Equestria, and first-contact/two-worlds archetypes at different points in the story.  Now, every single one of those genres is fraught with pitfalls.  As I was reading the story, time and time again I would be unfortunately certain (based on my previous experiences with similar fics) how things were going to turn out.  Each time, I was delighted to be proven wrong as the author adroitly avoided the clichéd option and effortlessly set a path for his characters that was both believable and reasonable.

Neither human nor pony is inherently either angel or monster; no villain acts on unjustified (in his or her eyes) motivations, no hero is an untouchable Mary Sue.  Characters who behave badly towards the main character aren’t necessarily marked as irredeemable antagonists whose only role is to soak up karmic retribution.  The protagonist, while thoroughly likable, is far from perfect, which makes her all the more endearing.  Bad apples exist on both sides of the fence, but nowhere does the corruption extend to the roots of society.

Overall, Project: Sunflower is a thoroughly refreshing read that’s a delight to follow.  I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 3

All right, I’ve now read another few fimfics that fall into the “really good” category, so here are my reviews:

A Friend of the Night (finished)
A Friend of the Night

Synopsis: It’s been a few weeks since Luna’s returned from the moon, and all is not well.  She’s become more introverted than ever, rarely leaving her room and obsessing over work.  Celestia hopes that studying Twilight Sparkle’s Friendship Reports will at least help her get out of her shell, though an unusually talkative servant may just help in that regard… and is anypony else getting strange feelings from that statue out in the gardens?

Review: While not necessarily as epic or mind-blowing as some of the other stories I’ve reviewed so far, A Friend of the Night does an excellent job at essentially providing a “director’s cut” version of the show up through roughly when Luna shows up in “Luna Eclipsed”.  Ever wonder what Luna was up to offscreen while the main characters were doing their thing?  This fic fleshes out her character as a vulnerable, isolated alicorn whose thousand-year absence impedes any connections she might make, and (in typical MLP style) brings the whole thing to a heartwarming conclusion and a lesson well-learned.

All-American Girl (ongoing)
All-American Girl

Synopsis: “My name’s Daisy Jo Martinez.  I was born – or so my birth certificate says – on March 30, 2012.  I’m married with two kids, my husband’s a Naval officer.  I’m originally from a town just outside of DC called Winchester, Virginia – apple capital of America, yay, go me.  I’m a Republican – that tends to shock a lot of people – and I’m a practicing Catholic – and that tends to shock more people than the first, and like I said, I’m married – I think people start passing out at that point.  I’ve lived a happy, charmed life and I’m proud to be an American.”

“And as you can also see, I’m a pony.  Well, physically anyway.”

Review: This is by far the best two-worlds-coexisting story I’ve read so far.  Unlike certain other fics (*cough*ConversionBureau*cough*), All-American Girl doesn’t take the “humans are inherently evil, ponies are inherently good” stance that seems to pervade other entries in this genre.  Instead, the heroine is a pony who got mysteriously teleported to Earth as a foal, and was raised by loving adoptive parents for a decade and a half before the Equestrians figured out how to recreate the event and opened portals to our world.  Now, the nations of Equestria have effectively integrated themselves into global (now transdimensional) politics, to the point where Equestrian and human soldiers fight side-by-side against mundane and magical threats.  High drama, believably-flawed characters, and good worldbuilding abound.

Why am I Pinkie Pie?! (ongoing)
Why am I Pinkie Pie?!

Synopsis: Okay, I don’t know if anyone can hear this, or read this, or whatever, but I’m trying my best to use Pinkie Pie’s legendary fourth-wall-breaking powers to try and get a message out.  If you can hear this, I need help. I’m in Equestria, and man, this is strange. But I’m also stuck in Pinkie Pie’s body, for some reason. Yes, it’s just as weird as it sounds. And now, I need your help… because all the ponies in this town think I’m crazy!

Review: Aaaaand now for something completely different.  Given my previous review choices, I have a penchant for the epic, the moving, the feels.  This… is none of those things.  Instead, it’s an impeccably well-written jaunt into the mind (and body) of my least favorite main character, as a brony suddenly finds himself effectively possessing Pinkie Pie, with all of the baggage that entails.  His struggles to convince anyone, anyone at all that he’s not really the pink pony while fighting off Pinkie’s tendency to… well, be Pinkie had me giggling like a madman the entire time I was reading.  The first-person meme-aware perspective really clicked with this for some reason, as the protagonist struggles with the cognitive dissonance that ensues whenever he manages one of Pinkie’s trademark nonsensical feats (such as catching random ponies trotting down the street in formation after him when he begins to hum the Smile song under his breath).

What’s fun is that this fic started out as a completely random side-project that the author used to distract himself from the writer’s block he was having on his “real” serious writing project.  As it turned out, Why am I Pinkie Pie swiftly eclipsed his main work in popularity, and is now sitting at more than double the amount of likes on FiMFiction.

Bonus review: Do Not Serve These Ponies (finished)
Do Not Serve These Ponies

Synopsis: Lyra knows the truth. Lyra knows that a shadowy conspiracy dating back to the very dawn of Equestria is responsible for manipulating every major event for the past two thousand years. And Lyra does not care how many museums she has to destroy or how many transdimensional rifts she has to open in her quest to inform the public.

Review: This is a story I feel conflicted about.  On the one hand, the first three or four chapters are absolutely glorious, balls-to-the-wall, laugh-out-loud crazy, written in a style vaguely reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  On the other, the story takes a pretty significant left turn in the fourth chapter, jumps the rails, and devolves into something that’s merely strange, instead of hilarious.  As such, I wouldn’t put it into the same category as the other stories I’ve reviewed (which I view as all top-notch), but I’d still put forth that you’d be missing out if you skipped this one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 2

And now for part 2 of my reviews…

The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends/False Masks(1 story complete, 1 ongoing)
Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends

Synopsis: Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, accidently travels to Equestria after being attacked in the Nevernever. Twilight is none too amused with their newest ‘guest’, but trouble is brewing. Somepony is planning something sinister and the mane six may need Dresden’s help, however little some of them want it.

Review: The Dresden Files is one of my all-time favorite book series, as Jim Butcher has both a flair for the descriptive and an able eye for well-written, hardboiled noir inner dialogue. This crossover fanfic captures the tone and style of the Dresden books quite well, to the point that I was jonesing to reread the actual books once I finished this story. The thing that draws me into Dresden novels (and, by extension, this fanfic) is the protagonist’s penchant for longsuffering, self-deprecating inner dialogue that coincides with an external willingness to bluff and wisecrack his way past opponents who are far out of his depth, combined with an ironclad refusal to back down when his friends are in danger. Overall, it makes for delightful reading, and judging by the comments on the story, several people have been convinced to read the books as a result of the excellent writing here.

Note that while Strange Friends is entirely Human in Equestria, False Masks does dive a bit into the protagonist-turned-pony trope.

The Light Goes Out (finished)
The Light Goes Out

Synopsis: There comes a time when the light must go out; but how do you know if you’ve burned brightly enough?

Review: This is the first truly sad piece I read on fimfiction, and directly led to me discovering Eternal. Whereas Eternal is a sprawling, wide-ranging piece of fiction that oscillates between pathos and adventure/world-building, The Light Goes Out is 3,000 words of concentrated philosophical tearjerker, covering the last moments between Celestia and Twilight at the end of her journey. The concepts in this short piece resonate strongly with me, and it was only slightly awkward to be sitting at my desk at work with happy/sad tears rolling down my cheeks. Beautifully written, and one of the more potent short fics I’ve read.

Background Pony (ongoing)
Background Pony

Synopsis: “My name is Lyra Heartstrings, and you will not remember me. You won’t even remember this conversation. Just like with everypony else I’ve ever met, everything I do or say will be forgotten. Every letter I’ve written will appear blank; every piece of evidence I’ve left behind will end up missing. I’m stuck here in Ponyville because of the same curse that has made me so forgettable. Still, that doesn’t stop me from doing the one thing that I love: making music. If my melodies find their way into your heart, then there is still hope for me. If I can’t prove that I exist, I can at least prove that my love for each and every one of you exists. Please, listen to my story, my symphony, for it is me.”

Review: I know I said in my previous post that Anthropology was the defining work for the character of Lyra Heartstrings, and I still believe that to be true, but it would be a crime not to mention this alternate interpretation. The premise is vaguely similar to that of The Silence in Dr. Who — Lyra receives a curse that turns her into a true background character, never able to make a lasting impression on any living thing around her. The story starts off after she has already gone through the classic stages of grief and has come around to acceptance of her fate, working to find meaning and purpose in her Groundhog-Day-ish life.

What stands out to me here is the sheer quality (and quantity) of the writing. Achingly beautiful turns of phrase abound, and almost every chapter is longer than most multi-part fics on the site, clocking in at an average of roughly 20,000 words each. The first-person protagonist is philosophical, introspective, and uses a large vocabulary to good effect. Each chapter features a semi-standalone chronicle of her interactions with various characters from the show, pulling together a poignant (if loquacious) vignette while advancing the overarching plot. While the story isn’t finished, each chapter provides enough partial closure for me to wholeheartedly recommend this excellent work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FiMFiction Reviews, Part 1

Hello all!

I wrote up some reviews of stories from fimfiction, and thought I’d put them somewhere I could link to them (as opposed to the closed forum where they originally were).

Anthropology (finished)
Anthropology by Jason the Human

Synopsis: Humans. Truth or myth? Ancient lost civilization or just an old pony’s tale? No pony has ever seen one, and most haven’t even heard of them. But Lyra knows that these wonderful creatures are more than just old legends, and she’s going to find out… and possibly drive her roommate insane in the process.

Review:  This was one of the first completed epic-length fics I read, and it’s partly what pulled me in to the concept of ponyfic as a whole. The story does a stellar job of taking what’s essentially a throwaway joke about a random pony in one of the show episodes (showing a pony sitting in a distinctly human-like way) and expanding upon that, turning it into a full-blown, understandable backstory with its own plot threads tacked on. Judging by the number of references to Anthropology I’ve seen in the other stories I’ve read, this interpretation of Lyra has more or less become fanon, if just because of how well-realized it is. Admittedly, the ending is a bit derivative, but overall it’s good, well-written, clean fun.

Windfall/Earth & Sky (ongoing)
Earth & Sky by Warren Hutch

 Synopsis: Seven years after the end of the series, the Elements have gone their separate ways, while remaining close friends. The birth of Fluttershy’s first foal (in Windfall) and a startling new magitech development (in Earth and Sky) bring the gang back into each other’s lives, underscoring the changes that have taken place while reinforcing the bond they share.

Review:  World-building and extrapolation are key to this story. Believable older versions of the Mane 6 (and other characters from the show) interact in ways that show character growth while still recalling their more carefree versions from the show. “Windfall” is more or less a short vignette; “Earth & Sky”, on the other hand, feels almost like hard sci-fi to me, in the truest sense of the term — chronicling the impact a single new invention has on the characters and society as a whole. Some very touching moments are to be had as Archmage Twilight, franchise-owner Rarity, Wonderbolts Captain Dash, farmowner spinster Applejack, and mothers Fluttershy and Pinkie react to the changes that life inevitably brings while trying to absorb the implications of an invention that will change the world.

Unfortunately, this story is still ongoing, so we’ll have to see where it ends up. So far, the journey is more than worth the wait.

Eternal (finished)
Eternal, by device heretic

Synopsis: Many years after sending her beloved protege to Ponyville, unease sits heavily on Princess Celestia’s heart as her relationship with Twilight Sparkle seems to have cooled despite all they’ve accomplished together. On the advice of her sister, Celestia sets out to investigate and resolve the lost connection with her most faithful student. What does it mean to be a Faithful Student…or a Princess of the Sun?

Review:  I’m not sure I can do this one justice. This is a sweeping psychological magnum opus that frequently brought me to tears while slowly growing from a slice-of-life tragedy to a mythic fable that encompassed all of Equestrian history. It explores themes like the significance of names, the masks we wear, the inevitable tragedy of immortality, the dangers of guilt, the deeper meanings of true friendship… the list goes on. The story takes the “magic of friendship” and turns it on its head, taking it immeasurably deeper than the show, maturing it by tempering it with the realities of adult life. Contains some of the more heartbreaking — and heartbreakingly beautiful — moments I’ve seen in a piece of fiction to this date.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment