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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 Posts471

Apr
6th
2015

Paul's Monday Reviews VII · 10:49pm Apr 6th, 2015

Da-yum, that Season 5 premier, yeah? I'm still sick to my stomach from it. Not that it was bad – I really liked it – but just the concept of what Starlight Glimmer was trying to do. I haven't had a villain terrify me with 'what if scenarios' like this since the Changelings. And now I am looking forward to this season. Before I was sort of 'meh,' largely because Twilight's Kingdom was such a horrible, horrible disappointment and my faith in the writers had been shaken. With this, however, I feel they may be on the path of redemption.

But enough of that. Reviews!

Stories for This Week:

Passing the Time by Rinnaul
Schemering Sintel by N00813
The Pinkie Paradox by SpaceCommie
What's This? by Harmony Charmer
Siren Song by GaPJaxie


Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 2
Pretty Good: 1
Worth It: 1
Not Bad: 1
None: 0


This story takes on a curious premise that I find both intriguing and useful. When Twilight decides to teleport herself and Celestia all the way to the Crystal Empire from Canterlot in one go, they instead end up in an empty white space. After some discussion (and much freaking out on Twilight’s part), they come to the understanding that their minds have been set in the magical body of the teleport spell while the spell resolves. Mentally, they will feel like they are trapped in an empty space for a week, but in the real world they will appear and disappear instantly without anypony being the wiser.

It’s an interesting idea that I can see having some phenomenal uses. I wholeheartedly approve and am tempted to take it on as heacanon, if only the show hadn’t already disproved it.

The brunt of the story focuses on Celestia’s and Twilight’s efforts to pass the imagined week of time. They try reading and sharing some memories – as the spell automatically creates whatever they think about – before resorting to games (Celestia proves a beast and nearly impossible to defeat) and finally just chatting.

There are good elements to the story, including the interesting concept – although it’s really the magical equivalent of being locked in a room together for a week, it’s still curious. There’s just one big problem: nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. It’s just Celestia and Twilight talking, really; no big revelations, no deep heart-to-hearts, nothing at all. The entire story is essentially just the two characters trapped in limbo together for a week and being as normal as can be.

That doesn’t make the story bad, but when the entire point of the story is to say ‘this can happen,’ it doesn’t feel all that special. But this story did achieve something that no story has managed in over a year: Twilight’s freakouts made me laugh out loud. If that’s not worth setting this in the ‘good’ pile, I don’t know what is.

Bookshelf: Pretty Good


Right after this story came out, I heard people raving about how awesome it was. I tend to be very skeptical of stories with mass acceptance, largely because I don’t trust the masses to know Terry Pratchett from Anonymous Airport Paperback Writer #565345561781. Still, some good friends backed it up, and though I’ve been burned by trusting my friends’ recommendations before I still felt I’d give it a go.

I’m glad I did.

The plan behind the story is simple: Spike gets kidnapped and Twilight leaves on a journey to rescue him. The concept, however, is something wholly different: the gradual descent of Twilight, the carefree student of Princess Celestia, into Twintel, the scarred, paranoid and violent mercenary. Upon leaving the safety of Equestria’s borders, Twilight decides that the end justifies the means and abandons her pretty principles in the face of harsh realities and a fierce determination.

The first thing I noticed and immediately didn’t like was the formatting of the first several chapters. Twintel alternates between the beginning of her final mission – to save Spike – and remembering her long, painful and soul-crushing journey. The consistent back and forth was frustrating at best. The past felt far more interesting than the present, and I constantly had the urge to skip Twintel’s run up the mountain in favor of reading the bits in the past.

At the same time, I can see the imagery evoked: a beginning at the base and the steady rise to the dark and terrible top, symbolizing her long and harrowing transformation. To be fair, it was a very effective use of the style. Personally? I wish N00813 had gone a more traditional route. Even so, I must bow before my understanding of why he chose this one and begrudgingly admit that it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It was just too well done for my complaints to hold water.

The dark story is one I enjoy in the setting of MLP, and this is one certainly worth reading. This was a tale incredibly well-developed, from the constant world-building to the steady character development to the quiet, open-ended conclusion. The writing too deserves praising, managing a distinct descriptiveness and flourish without ever descending into purple prose (although I did see a large number of repeated errors, particularly involving comma use).

Above all else, I loved the climax. I’ve written stories that trace this level of dark and thus understand that, in terms of the tale’s purpose, no other route would have been an improvement. There are, of course, some people who will flat-out reject the events due to some misguided view that only happy stories are good stories. If you are among those ranks, this one won’t be for you. This is a story about reality, not escapism, and as such I welcome it into my favorites.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?


SpaceCommie has a solid reputation for being a grammar-centric editor, and I’ve had his help on at least one of my stories in the past. I had yet to see how he writes, though, and so I added The Pinkie Paradox to my RiL. The story takes on the obvious concept of “What if a clone replaced Pinkie from the Mirror Pool?”, a subject I have determinedly avoided specifically because it’s so glaringly unoriginal. Still, I’ve already read cleverpun’s I Am Not The Actor, which went into the subject strong and completely bombed the conclusion. I was eager to see how The Pinkie Paradox would compare.

What I got was a story that wants to be emotionally powerful and perhaps ethically questionable, but couldn’t really pull it off. The story jumps right into the disaster, making it abundantly clear that the Pinkie who wins the ‘Paint Staring’ test is not the Pinkie people know and love (and, in some cases, hate). She’s grumpy, calm, not very fun, and at times downright bitter. Upon learning that the clones hurt Derpy bad enough to put her in a coma, she also becomes overwhelmed by guilt and decides to write a journal for Derpy to read should she ever wake up.

As time goes by, Clone Pinkie realizes that she can’t stay in Ponyville. She flees to Manehattan to start a new life, taking on the name Diane. Unfortunately for her, Twilight figures out the situation and, upon informing Celestia, Diane is promptly brought back for study and to right the wrong.

Aaaand that’s about as far as I can go without spoiling the most important bits.

There were a few things I really liked about this story. The ideas behind it are great, and I can’t help feeling like parts of Diane’s character are nods to the ‘dark’ Pinkie often reflected in a lot of stories, although she never descends into truly dark territory (and no, she’s not a Cupcakes clone. Give SpaceCommie some credit!). The constant reflection on Derpy and how those thoughts impact Diance’s decisions and views strings the story together in a delightful way. It is also very interesting to watch as Diane struggles to understand the world around her and what is expected of her when she only has a few days of total memories.

Yet there are plenty of things that detracted from the story. I think the biggest one is that it all went by so incredibly quickly. Every chapter felt rushed, giving me no time whatsoever to really get into the minds of the characters and feel the moment. We jump from one scene to the next and the next, and while I can’t say it didn’t flow, it’s certainly a rough ride. If I had to offer only one suggestion to SpaceCommie, it would be to slow down. The ending came so suddenly I found myself wondering why the story had stopped, even though it was obviously the end. This is curiously incongruous with the writing style of some scenes. Particularly with the journal entries, SpaceCommie does a great job of establishing Diane’s mindset, intentions and emotions, but in the narrative third-person sections things fell apart.

Another issue is the characters themselves. Let’s take Twilight as an example. She’s depicted as impatient, grouchy and at times downright rude. The most glaring moment came in the first chapter depicting Diane’s return to Ponyville. Twilight essentially treats Diane like a sociopathic criminal, keeping her locked in a room, being mean and not even pausing to consider her situation. Then she has the gall to think that Diane is a bitch (her term) when she responds in kind. The whole thing is extremely un-Twilight and there’s no excuse whatsoever for it. She does make an attempt at repentance by the end of the story, but too little, too late: she’s already too OOC to be believable.

Similar situations arise with Rainbow Dash – who comes close to murdering Diane (but at least manages to pull back at the last second) – and Celestia – who responds to Twilight’s mistake with Pinkie in such a cold, uncaring fashion that one can’t help wondering if she’s gone the way of Nightmare Moon.

Then there is the dialogue. Now, don’t get me wrong, what the characters said made perfect sense in context. What bothers me is that the dialogue flew by (much like the plot); many of the lines had no descriptors. It never descends to the level of talking heads, but even so there is little attempt to manage the flow of the conversation. This really hurts the emotional impact of everything that is being said. As such, I got very little in the way of emotion for this story; there was just nothing to tug on my heartsrings.

There are also one or two questionable plotline decisions on SpaceCommie’s part, some of which feel rather forced. For example, after Diane disappears Twilight determines that she probably went to Manehattan, and thus assigns Applejack and Rainbow Dash the task of finding her. They travel all the way to Manehattan (in the blink of the reader’s eye, might I add) and get one scene where they talk to a group of Royal Guards on the case. And then… nothing. The Guards catch Diane and she’s flown back to Ponyville, with absolutely zero reference to AJ and RD. So… what was the point of them going to Manehattan plot-wise? Did SpaceCommie just have them go there for the sake of giving them some face-time in the story? It can’t be a balance issue, because Fluttershy is practically nonexistent for the entire thing, minus a brief presence at the very beginning.

The Pinkie Paradox has some good ideas for a common concept, and had the potential to be something powerful. Sadly, it didn’t live up to said potential. I aim to read something more recent by SpaceCommie, though, just to see if he’s improved any in the past year.

Bookshelf: Not Bad


What's This?

by Harmony Charmer

What's this? What's this?
Pink pony is our host
What's this?
Jack Skellington is lost
What's this?
I can’t believe my eyes
Somebody wrote this
What the heck, they’re quite the pair!
What’s this?

What’s this? What’s this?
Jack finds this very wrong
What’s this?
She’s singing all his songs

What’s this?
Her head is filled with
All the things that happened
And she seems so very happy
Is he possibly not scary?
What is this?

What’s this?

The writing has some glitches
But still I forge ahead
The start was kind of weak
Yet not so bad to make this dead

The premise is so silly
There’s no random tag in sight
But in my bones I feel this does
Not hurt what’s found inside

Oh look
What’s this?
It seems they get along, they hiss?
Why that suits them so well, but short!
They have a little chat and share history
The story just expires
What’s this?

What’s this?
That’s all!
They’ve left for their own worlds
What gall
Why end it now, you think?
Oh why?

So much more to do, Harmony Charmer
Could you possibly try harder?
And there’s a smile on everyone
So now correct me if I’m wrong
This looks like fun
This looks like fun
Oh, it’s too early to dismiss
What’s this?

Oh my, what now?
The children want sequels
But look, it cannot be equal
No point!
No chance to reach this tale’s potential
Very simple
Just a pair of talking things
Should be more to this dreamland

What’s this?
If Nightmare Night is missing
Jack’s delightful screaming sound
And if you want to get your fix
Here’s where it can be found

Though not enough, I swear
For what it is I must be fair
This meet of Jacks and Pies
Is good enough I do declare

But more abounds
Should see a sequel come around
I’ve never seen this done before
This empty space in FIMFiction has been filled up
I swear is has not been enough

I want it, oh, I want it
Won’t you give it what it owns?
I’ve got to know
I’ve got to know
Why is no sequel to be found?
What is this?

Bookshelf: Worth It

This story was recommended by a friend, and I went into it despite my skepticism aimed at crossovers in general. It did have one thing going for it from the start: it’s a crossover of Bioshock, one of my all-time favorite franchises. I thus went in with mixed expectations, some of them good and some not so much. What I dreaded most was a carbon copy or blatant fan pandering of the original. As has been happening a lot lately, I didn’t get what I anticipated.

Siren Song stars the titular character, a protégé of Princess Celestia, who decides to leave Equestria in search of her predecessor, Twilight Sparkle. This journey leads to her ship being sunk and Siren ending up – inexplicably – in the underwater city of Vision. The story goes on to follow Siren’s quest to escape to the surface, during which she gradually comes to learn just how far the dream of the Elements of Harmony has fallen.

GapJaxie plays this concept wonderfully. Rather than directly copying the ideas and history of Rapture, he makes Vision a world of its own with a unique culture, its own slew of failures and an impressive incorporation of MLP elements to Bioshock ones. Instead of plasmids, we have manufactured cutie marks from poison joke and heart’s desire. Instead of a businessman dreaming of individual gains for all based on merit, we get a disenchanted mage seeking to escape the bonds of alicorn tyranny in favor of a society forged by regular ponies. I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that GaPJaxie has created an imaginative new world that, while similar to Rapture in design and workings, is a totally different monster.

But take note: the name of this story is Siren Song, not Vision. The author might have given us a fascinating, fully-realized setting, but the story has nothing to do with the city. This is a tale about Siren’s sins and growing self-awareness. When we first meet her, certain standards of Celestia’s prized student are waved before us: Siren is cute, young, talented, intelligent, doe-eyed and innocent. Just like Twilight Sparkle.

Or so it seems.

As the story moves along and the horrors of Vision make themselves known, Siren’s true colors begin to come out. If she’s doe-eyed and cute, it’s because she wants something. If she appears innocent, it’s to make sure you have the right impression. Siren Song is manipulative, mean, selfish, arrogant, hypocritical, and just plain wicked. I would go so far as to call her a borderline sociopath. The mare seems to have no moral compass save for ‘Celestia wouldn’t approve,’ and even that is limited to how it best suits her. She acts like she’s mature and in charge, but then the slightest thing happens to threaten her control and she goes into a full-blown panic – only to tell herself afterwards that, oh yes, she’s totally in control and that was just a stupid slipup, won’t happen again.

Now, most people at this point are saying “I can’t enjoy a story if the main character isn’t likeable.” That’s the weird thing; she kinda is. Siren is so good at fooling everypony that, to a certain extent, she even fools herself and the reader into thinking she’s a genuine good pony, only to remind us when the chips are down that, no, she’s actually a terrible, terrible pony. This constant back-and-forth, demonstrating her emotional immaturity, was fascinating to watch throughout the entire story. GaPJaxie played this particular knife’s edge very well.

The story was also very well-connected, meaning that it all flowed smoothly. You can see, with some observation, how everything that happens is showcasing Siren’s faults and her personal growth. There are certain things that weren’t clear to me before, but as I look back on the past events and where the story has gone it comes to me that this is a remarkable well-pieced story. Protip: the chapter names are important. They’re telling you what you really need to pay attention to. Even if they seem like a small part of the story, they are there for a reason.

Then we get to the ending, an ending that isn’t really an ending at all. No, it’s only a stopping point, a place to pause and catch your breath before the story moves on with the sequel. When I hit the concluding chapter, I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted to open up the sequel and see what happened next, because I just wasn’t satisfied. Clearly, I wasn’t meant to be. For this I give kudos to GaPJaxie: it’s rare to find a story that can so smoothly lead into its sequel.

Now, there were a few things that bothered me. There always is. The very first thing that got to me was the total lack of information. We know Twilight led an expedition to found Vision and the Mane 6 joined her. We know there was a civil war before Siren’s arrival. We know ponies using the poison joke/heart’s desire tonics are addicted and will eventually mutate into hideous, mentally deranged abominations (splicers). We even have the tiniest hint of what led the Mane 6 to leave Equestria.

It’s not enough. We don’t specifically know why Twilight cut ties with Celestia. We don’t know what happened to reduce the Element-Bearers to… well, for lack of anoher spoiler-free description, what they’ve become. We don’t know why there was a war. We don’t know what Trixie’s real game is in the overall scheme of things. There are dozens of unanswered questions.

Sometimes, I like unanswered questions. The argument can be made that a story is more realistic as a result. But I feel GaPJaxie left out too much even for that. Bioshock gave us more than enough to figure out the true history of Rapture, and I had expected to see the same thing for Vision. I don’t mean a lot of telly lines giving us exact details, but I feel there could have been more hints of a more specific nature. My curiosity was hardly sated by what has been offered, and I dearly hope the sequel will answer a lot of questions.

Time was another issue. GaPJaxie drops a few hints about the age of Vision, but combined with other facts, we can’t really see how far after the show this story is meant to take place. Many of the numbers offered in the story seemed to conflict with one another, and at one point I did some math and determined that, with my established headcanon, Vision is only seven years old from the day construction began. Therein lies the problem: I had to rely on my headcanon to give me a number that doesn’t make realistic sense. I imagine most people aren’t going to be too bothered by such a detail, but it bugs the hell out of me.

There was another element that I wanted to touch upon, though, one that may be considered either a big positive or a big negative depending upon how you interpret it. One of Siren’s established gifts is that she knows how to read ponies. She is well-versed and talented at seeing the tiny motions of the body, the near-invisible visual cues that can tell her a lot about who she’s talking to. Better yet, she knows how to abuse those motions and behavioral appearances herself to manipulate ponies into doing things for her. It’s a fascinating character dynamic, but what’s really interesting about it: it makes telly narrative an important part of the story.

This is truly an interesting trick. By reading other characters, Siren regularly specifies exactly how a character feels, sometimes without even bothering to show us what tells her this information. You can’t really say anything about it, though, because this is part of Siren’s skillset, directly incorporated into the narrative. Now, don’t get me wrong, Siren Song is not written in an overly telly fashion. Far from it. It’s just that when the telly lines do pop up, I barely noticed because it was just Siren doing her thing. It almost feels like GaPJaxie is getting away with doing something wrong, and knows it.

Personally, I liked it. Others, however, may be more critical.

Oh, and one more thing: where's Spike? The poor guy didn't get so much as a mention the entire story. That bothers me a bit.

To summarize: Siren Song is imaginative and undeniably interesting. It’s also rough – there will be blood and pain in this story. You’ll look at how bad things are in Vision and ask yourself, “where did it all go wrong?” Certain moments are genuinely horrifying, and the main character is at times hateful, yet I always ended up rooting for her by the end. I’ve heard many stories referred to by readers as a ‘wild ride,’ but this is the very first time I’ve agreed with the sentiment. Is it sad? Absolutely, though it didn’t tug at my heartstrings. What it did do was earn my fascination and respect. Best of all, after all the crap has been waded through, the story ends with the understanding that big things are coming via the sequel.

A sequel that I am looking forward to.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read This Yet?


Stories for Next Week

"I want to be an uncle... THAT'S AN ORDER, PRIVATE!" by Dr Atlas
Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Wings (But Were Too Afraid to Ask) by mr maximus
RUN, LUNA! RUUUN! by Pony With A Hat
Discussions With A Defeated Queen by TheExhaustedBrony
Late Night Reading Buddy by Scout Feather

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Comments ( 14 )

BLESS YOU FOR THAT SONG PARODY. And don't worry there's a sequel in the works.

That was a fantastic review, thank you!

I also really like your other "Why Haven't You Read This Yet" stories. Rise was amazing.

2954172
No, thank you for writing something awesome so that I could give it a positive review.

Rise was indeed amazing. It's a shame I read it long before I started doing these reviews.

That was a pretty fair review.

If you're curious as to how I'm writing lately, you should probably check out my most recent project, The Lunatics: it's gotten a bit of critical attention, and I'm proud of it.

Although, of course, being a SpaceCommie original, it's fast-paced, dialogue-heavy, and also not finished yet.

2954458
I'm pretty firm in my rule of not reading a story unless it's been completed, so Lunatics will have to wait. I do have Chompers on my RiL, though.

No stinkers. I'm shocked.

And I know I make quite a few academic recommendations. But the only times I've ever said Dude-You-Need-To-Read-This-Right-The-Fudge-Now" is when I honestly mean it. To date, that's been Twilight Sparkle: Nightshift and Siren Song. So as far as I'm concerned, I have a 100% success rate! :flutterrage:

Also, derpicdn.net/img/view/2012/7/22/52482__safe_princess+luna_human_batman_best+pony_robin_slap_my+parents+are+dead.png For you. :duck:

2954606
Twilight Sparkle: Night Shift was a mixed bag, with one part awesome and one part crappy, so don't take that one as a total success.

And of course The Goddamn Batman is a Luna fan. How could he be anything different?

Woo! More reading material that I haven't seen yet.

I really want to beg you to give ImplodingColon's Austraeoh series a shot, but the first book is something like 200k words, and I'm not sure of its your type of story or not. Also the names are very hard to pronounce.

There's also this guy named PaulAsran, his stuff is pretty good.:raritywink:

2955330
Austraeoh, uh? I'll add it to my RiL and we'll see.

PaulAsaran? Sounds like a loser. And such an unoriginal name! I dunno...

Meant to reply to this one a while ago.

Thanks for the review, and yeah, Passing the Time had a bit of a weird life. I started it in January of last year, got about three-quarters of the way through the final product, and didn't pick it up again until I started trying to wrap up old ideas for Oneshotober, about nine months later. Suffice to say, I have (or had, back in October) no idea what my original intent with it was, beyond just sticking them somewhere with zero distractions and having them interact. I do recall, though, that I originally meant it to be much longer, and intended to write out the entire week.

Then I decided that would be unbelievably boring and finished it where I did.

2959971
Even if nothing happened, it was still a worthwhile read. The idea is still pretty good, too; with some research on Twilight's part, I imagine there could be some significant practical applications in spending a ton of time without actually spending a ton of time. Education comes to mind: Twilight and Sweetie Belle go in, and an instant later they come out with Sweetie having learned a dozen spells.

Sadly, I'm pretty sure the show makes it clear that this doesn't really happen, but it's still a cool idea.

2960334
I'm not sure it would be all that useful for learning spells. With everything in the teleport limbo so malleable to thought, you couldn't be sure if the spell worked because you wanted it to work or because you did it right. Would be great for learning a lot of other things though.

2964480
This is precisely why I said 'with some research.'

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