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PaulAsaran


Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

More Blog Posts469

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Mar
23rd
2015

Paul's Monday Reviews V · 10:05pm Mar 23rd, 2015

Hello again, all you crazy people! Time again for me to declare my love/hate/indifference/laughing mockery in regards to the stories that have graced/cursed my RiL. We've got a bit of a mixed bag this time around, in terms of subject matter and quality. Read on, friends, and see what I've slogged through this week!

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 0
Pretty Good: 1
Worth It: 3
Not Bad:0
None: 1

Stories for this Week:
Dead Silent by plumander
Sweet Celestia by Rust
Eclipse by 8686
Heads in the Cloud by PresentPerfect
Rise from the Ashes: Book 1 - Canterlot by Sparklecat


A story that clocks in at exactly 1000 words. I know from experience that pulling such a thing off can be tricky.

Dead Silent earns no points for originality, but still manages to deliver with a very effective writing style. It’s direct, has a surprisingly smooth flow, the scenes are clear, the characters feel accurate. Best of all, the story’s premise gives a surprisingly effective reason for Fluttershy to be afraid of just about everything (although it fails to factor in her love of animals). Yet despite being direct, it never outright tells you what the problem is, leaving you to figure it out through inference. This was executed wonderfully, ruined only by plumander’s unfortunate decision to throw the story’s premise in your face as an author’s note.

The one thing I wish for is that this story could be longer. 1000 words is not enough to fully delve into this topic. Still, the story reeks of the ‘weird’ fiction style, and I always approve of that.

Bookshelf: Worth It


Every writer has at least considered writing their own version of how Sombra was originally defeated. The concept is as old as the episode The Crystal Empire. The trick today is finding a more original way to handle it. Did Rust find a way to do so? Not really, but even so I enjoyed this story.

Sweet Celestia starts off with the premise that the royal sisters lived their lives in very different ways: Celestia is a recluse who views all non-mortals as beneath her attention or time, living in a cave in the middle of nowhere and loath to have any contact with even her own siblings. Luna, on the other hand, lives in the original town of Everfree, acting as its ruler. Then, we learn that there’s a third sibling: Crystal, who moved to the north and founded the Crystal Empire.

Celestia is summoned by Luna, who informs her that their sister has been killed by the upstart, Sombra. Celestia promptly takes off in a righteous fury, refusing to let mere mortals be involved in this fight, whereas Luna stays behind to muster a proper army with the aid of Starswirl the Bearded. Celestia encounters Sombra and is handily defeated, with the ‘Mad King’ not so much as breaking a sweat. Turns out he has a little something called the Alicorn Amulet to help him out.

Is there a story in the comics or other side-media that specifically states Sombra had this? I see this idea used over and over again, which leads me to believe there’s some side-canon making the claim.

The story goes on to have Celestia meet Chrysalis in the dungeons of the Crystal Empire, and they’re both summarily rescued by Luna (once again assisting my theories regarding her superiority). The three work together to bring down Sombra, and this is where things got a little annoying for me. Like a character in a bad anime, Sombra ends up feeling a lot less powerful for his second fight. After being able to kick Celestia’s ass like she was little more than a foal, he suddenly fights at something far closer to their level. Where’d all that phenomenal power go? I grant he’s outnumbered and that makes things harder, but that doesn’t explain why he’s suddenly not as strong as he was a day ago.

I was also disturbed by their reaction to Sombra’s 'evil' barrier. Starswirl readily tells them that the price for passing through is their very souls, and what do they do? They walk on through, of course. There’s not even a half-thought of hesitation to consider that maybe they should find a way to dispel the barrier or break through a side wall. The moment felt forced and rather dumb, especially considering the prudence Luna had shown throughout most of the story.

What I do approve of, however, are the unanswered questions. What, exactly, did the barrier do to them? Why has Luna been shown to be more affected than Celestia? Where did Chrysalis come from and why did she help them defeat Sombra? What happened to the Alicorn Amulet? So on and so forth. The story practically begs for a sequel to answer these questions, but I won’t fault Rust if he decides not to bother.

There’s another thing that bugs me about this story, and that’s the fights. Now, don’t get me wrong, they were well-written and a ton of fun, without going on at length. But because they were so over-the-top in nature, I couldn’t help wondering if the entire thing was written just to show Celestia, Luna, Chrysalis and Sombra getting into a brawl. The opening of the story does seem to jump as fast as it can to that first battle, spending just enough time to possibly fool me into thinking otherwise. Worse, there’s this moment between the battles where you expect something to happen – a conversation between Celestia and Luna, perhaps, or some kind of revelation from Chrysalis, or something – but instead we jump straight to “Oh, there’s Celestia and this ugly bug thing, now let’s fight Sombra!” It felt like Rust couldn’t wait to get to the fight, and that bothers me.

Still, for having epic fights while still managing at least the façade of a story, I approve. Rust manages to cover a lot of bases while at the same time leaving us with tons of questions just begging to be answered, and I like that. Is it a game-changer in the annals of Equestrian History? Not even close… but it is a lot of fun.

Bookshelf: Worth It


This story started off shaky. Not just a little shaky, either, as the opening premise is atrocious. I mean it, it’s a horrible, terrible way to start a story. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how phenomenally bad the premise of the story is, and I can tell you with certainty that if it had been mentioned directly in the description I wouldn’t have read it at all. How fortunate for me and 8686 that they chose not to make that blunder, because once you get past it there’s actually a gem waiting to be uncovered.

Here’s the idea: Luna thinks Celestia doesn’t trust her, and that Celestia fears she will go back to being Nightmare Moon. Luna ponders on this for a while, trying to find some way to ease Celestia’s mind on the matter. Her ultimate solution? To banish the moon from the skies forever by figuratively throwing it into Tartarus.

This. Idea. Is. Shit. No, make that all capital letters: it is SHIT. The premise expects us to believe that Luna would readily and happy get rid of her charge, the object that may well be the single most precious item to her, which symbolically asserts her authority and place as ruler of the night, and arguably the thing she is most readily recognized for. I might be swayed a little if Luna showed some regret for this decision, but she is outright gleeful at the idea of getting rid of the thing. There’s so much wrong with this idea that it would take me all day to write about it, and I just don’t have that kind of time.

Once we get past this SHITopener, the whole point of the story is realized: Celestia and Luna will leave Equestria under the rule of Twilight while the two of them travel to Tartarus to retrieve the moon. There are so many potential and far, far better ways to lead into this, but let’s try to leave the SHITopener behind and get on with it, shall we?

Once I made it past that hideous first impression, I found something worthwhile. In a well-paced tale, the royal sisters end up leaving Equestria, meeting the King of Dragons (who has the best characterization in the entire story, he’s awesome), cross the river Styx and meet Cerberus, traverse the chaotic land of Tartarus and ascend to the moon. It’s a compelling adventure involving harpies, Scylla and Charybdis, a gang of cyclops and, of course, dragons. Throughout the entire story we get to watch Celestia and Luna steadily rebuild the bond of trust they once had a millennium ago, revealing secrets to one another and gradually coming closer.

There were some great moments in this story. Ragnarok the Dragon King was an exemplary character and I second the call to see more of him. The action scenes were interesting and fun to read, and 8686 wins creativity points for their depiction of Tartarus on the whole. I also enjoyed the worldbuilding aspects of the story, including references to a war with the dragons and a very interesting look at how the sun, moon and earth are linked. 8686 operates these ideas with a suggestion that the three may be considered living entities – without ever outright saying so, thus leaving some room for uncertainty that was great for maintaining intrigue – and added catastrophic implications for failure.

The relationship between Celestia and Luna was also a treat to watch. The two of them are constantly struggling against one another’s flaws and uncertainties, and they regularly alternate between loving and angry, acceptance and frustration, trust and doubt. The scene in Midnight Castle, in which Luna shows Celestia the ‘prison’ Nightmare Moon had created for her, was an especially nice moment.

There are some things I still found fault with, as always. One issue I had was in 8686’s use of ancient mythological creatures as opponents for Celestia and Luna. Yes, we all know that the show and comics use mythological creatures all the time, but they modify the creatures’ traits to make them fresh and interesting. 8686, on the other hand, just takes exact carbon copies of the concepts and uses them in the traditional form. The river Styx and Charon, Charybdis and Scylla, the cyclops, all were essentially ripped right out of their origin tales and applied without any creative modification, which was sorely disappointing considering 8686 had proven capable of effectively doing things their own way.

I also took issue with the focus on the Mane Six. 8686 devoted a whole chapter and then some to Twilight and co. struggling to deal with the unnatural weather threatening to rip Equestria apart thanks to the moon’s disappearance. I understand the need to occasionally go back and show what they’re up to, but I think 8686 devoted a little too much time to this. This story is supposed to be about Celestia and Luna; we don’t need an entire chapter as a tangent for anything that’s not related to them. I would have been far more comfortable with a short, 1000 words-or-so aside at the beginning/end of every other chapter to keep me up-to-date.

The major plot-oriented issue I had, however, is the treatment of Luna’s character overall. Throughout the vast majority of the story, Luna appeared more like a scared child eager to please than a noble alicorn princess. Oh, she had her moments – her verbal sparring with Ragnarok, the battle against Scylla, the way she stood up to the cyclops – but when dealing with Celestia she was unpleasantly submissive. Even her reasons for the SHITopener made her seem akin to a little girl desperate for attention and affection. I would almost call her manner degrading to her character, and it irked me with every chapter from the beginning right down to the final few paragraphs. I get it, 8686 wanted to apply a ‘younger sister/older sister’ dynamic to their relationship, but I think they seriously mishandled that particular aspect of the story.

In terms of writing… well, it’s decent, but definitely needs work. 8686 falls into the trap of saying more than they need to, with typical lines such as:

"Luna, you mustn't blame yourself," said Celestia kindly

"I need to rest..." said Luna wearily

"It...makes no difference," she said haughtily.

A lesson to be learned here: adverbs are not your friend.

There’s also a tendency for telly lines like this one:

Valkyrie looked annoyed.

I don’t mind these as much as some of my more haughty peers, but it’s prevalent enough to be a definite problem.

Yet even with all of these flaws, I have to say that I’m happy with how this story turned out. 8686 did well with the tools they decided to use, somehow managing to keep the unoriginal as interesting as the creative. If it wasn’t for the SHITopener, Eclipse would be on my ‘Pretty Good’ list, but the SHITopening error is so glaring, so preposterous, so indescribably foul (look at me trying to find more words!) that I have no choice but to dock it a level. Even so, if you can work your way past it then expect something worth your efforts.

Bookshelf: Worth It


I have been reviewed by PresentPerfect myself, and I consider him capable and competent in that endeavor, but this was my first time getting to see how he operates as a writer. How often do we see people critique the stories of others and yet have nothing to prove that they have any idea what they’re talking about (and worse, are still taken seriously)? So I have to admit, I was looking forward to seeing if PresentPerfect could deliver.

Heads in the Cloud has a very creative premise, competent writing and an unfortunate lack of ambition. The story involves a re-imagined G1 villain – Catrina – stealing a useless artifact and being targeted by the Mane 6 for capture, but manages to put Rainbow Dash in a coma by an unknown spell. As the story moves (too quickly) forward, Twilight comes to learn that Catrina was attempting to access ‘The Cloud,’ a metaphysical storage for all pony thoughts and memories that literally contains every piece of information in the collective history of ponykind. Every thought, every secret, every memory of every pony, alive or dead.

Simply put, it’s a data server with (presumably) limitless memory.

Twilight discovers that Rainbow’s mental ‘link’ to the Cloud has been severed, and so her consciousness is now trapped in this metaphysical repository. Twilight enters the Cloud to find her friend, only to discover that this was all part of Catrina’s plan from the beginning.

There are a lot of great things about this story. The very idea behind it is fantastic, the writing is excellent and the flow is decent. I have nothing but praise for the concept and, aside from one or two small nitpicks, the delivery is solid. There’s just one problem in all of this: Heads in the Cloud completely fails to live up to its potential. And believe me, there is a ton of potential here.

What happens if the Cloud runs out of space?

Memories can be severed via the Cloud. Does that mean they can also be created?

What happens to a pony trapped in the Cloud?

Could the Cloud potentially apply to concepts such as ghosts and curses?

Does magic let a pony manipulate the Cloud, or does magic come from the Cloud itself?

If a villain like Catrina managed to manipulate the Cloud and change memories, severe links entirely or just take desired knowledge, how would they be stopped? Could they?

And let’s not forget the meta and philosophical possibilities of the entire concept, which PresentPerfect just barely touched upon.

Simply put, while the concept behind this story is great, I was left horribly unsatisfied. This could have been a big story, with the potential to achieve such heights as Background Pony in terms of well-deserved fame. Instead, we get a 15k stub of “here’s a problem, here’s the solution, done.” So much opportunity, cast aside far too easily.

Because Heads in the Cloud so blatantly failed to live up to its potential, I won’t be throwing it into my favorites. Even so, PresentPerfect has proven he can write as well as he can review, and I am still quite pleased with this first foray into his works.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


Every now and then I will peruse the groups that put on display the little-noticed stories that slip through the cracks and fade into obscurity. The Underappreciated Story Society is a favorite haunt in this regard. I’ll scan the stories and find one that appears particularly unknown, with practically no views or votes, and throw it on my RiL. I do this specifically because I remember what it’s like to be unknown and unrecognized, and because I want to be helpful to inexperienced, new, or simply ignored authors. This is intrinsically risky, because you never know if you’re picking out a missing gem (unlikely) or something credibly offensive to a writer’s sensibilities (almost a certainty). Still, it’s a risk I’m often willing to take.

Rise From the Ashes is one such story.

First, the good news: Sparklecat has some good ideas. No, really, I mean it: the concepts behind his story are as solid as they can be. There’s ambition, there’s a desire for epic worldbuilding, and there’s an opportunity to create a new history of Equestria that goes far beyond the borders of Equestria itself. Sparklecat aims to delve not only into the history of Equestria, but to also create five new kingdoms and fully explore them, complete with new races, magic types and cultures. In terms of sheer creativity, Sparklecat wins big time.

But, in practically every other way Rise from the Ashes fails. Sparklecat’s inexperience is painfully apparent, and there are so many grammatical and stylistic mistakes that you could write a English thesis on it. There’s no sense of flow, characters behave in ways that make absolutely no sense, those characters who aren’t OCs are blatantly out of character, logical progression is nonexistent, the text descends beneath telly into an entirely new plane of literary existence not recognized by man, there’s no attempt to maintain plot consistency, the twists are nonsensical, and the whole thing is compacted into 14k words when it probably should have been something more akin to 50k. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, people.

Sparklecat is a well of creativity and originality bottled up by a regrettably clear illiteracy. If he can make use of the abundant resources available throughout FIMfiction and learn to translate his ideas into something legible, we could have some awesome stories from this author. I really hope Sparklecat doesn’t become discouraged and figures things out, because we need more ambitious authors on this site.

As for Rise from the Ashes… well, I think we all know where it’s going. As great as the ideas are, the flaws are just too numerous.

Bookshelf: None


Stories for Next Week:

Little Deceptions by Taranth
Applejack Goes To Magic School For Some Reason by JasonTheHuman
Allure by TheSlorg
Forever Young by Hyperexponential
Dearest Fluttershy by Terrasora

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Comments ( 10 )

Throughout the vast majority of the story, Luna appeared more like a scared child eager to please than a noble alicorn princess.

This has always been a big peeve of mine as well. I imagine the royal sisters to be very different, but not unequal.

Quite the collection this time around. My Read Later List grows ever larger.

Is there a story in the comics or other side-media that specifically states Sombra had this? I see this idea used over and over again, which leads me to believe there’s some side-canon making the claim.

Nope. Pure fanon that's so prolific that you can be excused for thinking it's canon. The reason why? Sombra's horn is red and he's black. The Alicorn Amulet is red and black. His horn got blown off. Thus, the two are obviously linked! :facehoof:

Really, it started even before the Season 3 opener when a profile picture of Sombra in a video game and pictures of Trixie wearing the amulet leaked out.

2903499
This isn't even 'unequal,' it descends to Luna being a child in the face of her motherly, wise and far superior sister even in her own mind. Ick.

2903512
Good to know, now I don't feel frustrated that my headcanon for the Amulet has nothing to do with him.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

an unfortunate lack of ambition

Well put! :D

Lack of expressing creativity has always been an issue for me... No really, practically everyone I express my ideas to says that. Not to mention my grammar is my downfall.

I think I should just stick to small OC-only story until I can try to fix up and learn from my mistakes. Not gonna stop trying though!

Maybe I should get a mentor...?

2904180
No, grammar is not your downfall, it's just one piece of the netting. As I've told many a person, it takes far more than just good grammar to make a good story.

Mentors – particularly patient ones with lots of time on their hands – are hard to come by, but nice to have when you find them.

2904953
True, but I never seem to do well in grammar at all so that's why I'm usually annoyed at how poorly I do at it. It seems I can never learn my lesson about them in stories. Speaking of stories I have a few more ideas for small stories, I hope.

Hm, true enough.

Thank you for the review! The 1000 words note is something I get a lot, actually.
I'll go delete that author's note now.

2907260
I'm not surprised, considering it seems to be your MO.

2907273 Haha yeah. I've considered abandoning that, but that's another story for another day.

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