Let’s Talk About Summer Island · 6:21pm
Time for another editorial/review/commentary-thingy! (I really need to come up with a name for these things). As usual, the contents of this will spoil pretty much the entire story, so if you haven’t read it, go away and read it before you go any further.
Don’t make me bring out the pickle barrel.
I’ll do it. I WILL!
So this whole FiMFicition book cover design thing seems to be a lot more popular than I expected. When I first started out, I got someone who declined it. They weren’t mean about it, but it came off as a little bit odd, sort of like a “pat on the head.” In truth, it probably wasn’t meant that way at all and I was just looking at it weird that day. But what ended up happening is I kept them to myself for a while.
And then came “Long Road to Friendship.” The Albinocorn was over the moon about the design for the cover and made one small request for a tweak (which was moving Sunset above a line, so I did it in about 15 seconds) and instantly put it up. Not only that, but several others have expressed nothing but unadulterated glee at seeing this material and instantly put it up and credited me despite my insistence that they didn’t need to. After all, I’m not the artist. I just did some fancy stuff in Pixelmator and used the existing artwork. However, that didn’t stop them.
Then came a rough week or so. I was sick as hell and decided that I needed a break from GoE and my own writing (I can’t write well when I’m sick). Doing this was easy, so I decided to dig through all of the FiMFiction stories I had downloaded using Nyergud’s AMAZINGLY AWESOME EPUB TOOL and go on a crazy-cover-creating spree.
Summer Island was one of the many that I had downloaded. It was well-rated, had some awesome artwork of Scootaloo (best CMC) and had an interesting idea of just having Scoots taking Sweetie Belle to see some seaponies. The synopsis didn’t grab me though. It felt a little weak in fact. It didn’t demand that I read it right now, but my curiosity was piqued.
It was made better when I sent the cover to Bachiavellian...specifically, the response I got. He’s actually the first one to note the effects of the colors used and how the blue background made Scoot’s own colors pop a lot more. It’s even cooler because I used a few Gloom and Vintage effects on the backdrop to give a vaguely similar feel to the existing artwork, so it was something I had put a bit of extra effort into.
So, earlier yesterday, I was looking for something to read in a long meeting (in a theater where I was sitting way in the back) and decided...hey, let’s give this a shot.
In truth, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I thought this was the CMC-age ponies that we’ve come to know and love on the show (Crusaders of the Lost Mark is the best episode too). The absolute last thing I was expecting was an adult Scootaloo, now with her own airship, acting as bush pilot (or something similar) running supplies to various parts of the world taking a world-weary pop star Sweetie Belle on an escape from civilization.
Now, when I first started reading this, I cringed at the use of present tense. I don’t like present tense. It drives me up the wall for reasons I can’t really explain. However, I was surprised to find that once I stopped paying attention to it, I forgot about it entirely save for some of the action scenes. The fact that I forgot about it shows the well-handled writing right there. I should also mention that I was very thankful that the author kept to third-person limited. Too many stories cheat with third-person omniscient.
Right at the start, Sweetie Belle’s reactions to Scootaloo’s questions made me intensely curious what was really going on with her. What was she running from, since she was obviously trying to escape something? I should have seen it in retrospect after the comment about her not bringing luggage.
Now, let me just say that it’s insanely obvious the author knows his way around a boat and then some. As someone without much in the way of nautical experience, there were a few small parts I had trouble following, but for the vast majority of the time, the terminology completely sold the idea of this airship being Scoot’s pride and joy. She knows the Selena from the inside out, from the keel to every speck on the glass of the altimeter.
However, what makes it even better was the seamless integration of avionics. This really felt like a true Equestrian airship, something I’ve seen a great deal in the FiMFiction community and something I dearly love. Heck, one of my own novels is about the maiden voyage of the airship Rose which quickly becomes a desperate search for answers while unraveling a global conspiracy thousands of years old. (Not a FiMFic story, hopefully a story I’ll publish when I figure out what the hell is going to happen in act 2).
Anyway, I loved the description of the Selena from start to finish. It was this passage that really sold me on the ship:
Scootaloo checks the altimeter; they’re high enough now. The smell of the sea below them has faded, and the wind has gained a biting edge. With a turn of the throttle, the hiss of gas flowing into the balloon ceases. When their ascent has slowed to a stop, Scootaloo releases the winch that has kept the sails rolled up at the top of the mast. A sound almost like thunder echoes across the empty skies as the main sail whips open and is slammed full-on by the an east wind.
“We’re tacking! Remember how it goes?” Scoots calls out. “Watch your head!”
Sweetie gives a nod of acknowledgement and carefully watches the boom.
You can tell the author took their time on the science behind how this ship actually works. Now, all he needs to do is actually build the thing so I can take a ride.
The conversations between Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo felt incredibly authentic, not just as the two characters, but also as a normal conversation. It’s actually rare for fictional dialogue to have something as simple as a misunderstanding.
“Do you ever miss Ponyville?”
“I don’t know.” Scootaloo squirmed in her seat a little. “I think I miss the ponies more than the actual place, you know?”
“Ah, that’s not what I meant…” Frustration creeps into Sweetie Belle’s dulcet voice. “I mean, do you miss when we lived in Ponyville?”
It seems like this story was made up of a thousand small delicate brush strokes that made the masterpiece and each one was handled delicately and with intense care and attention to detail. It’s the best analogy I can think of.
“I feel like a sham.”
This...this was powerful stuff. Sweetie Belle’s confession as to the real reason she’s running is an amazing look at how one can so easily lose themselves in the bustle of day-to-day life. One thinks that one’s life is going as one wants...but finds down the line that they don’t know the person in the mirror, as is pointed out later by the seapony. This mind-set can lead to some really dark places as Sweetie Belle brings up in her next statement:
“Maybe the real Sweetie Belle died, and I’m just a changeling, or a ghost, or something.” Sweetie rests her head on Selena’s railing. “I get these nightmares sometimes. They’re about me forgetting myself, and everypony else trying to remind me who I am. Sometimes I wake up yelling, and sometimes I like them.”
The author deserves massive respect for handling this the way he did. She’s not running because she’s sick of the fame or she feels like she’s living a lie. Not because she’s running from a bad relationship or bad circumstances. The reasoning is far deeper than that...she simply doesn’t know who she is anymore and where she fits in the world.
And I think it’s an issue that far too many people have and probably don’t even know it.
The conversation reminded me a lot of a passage from Kkat’s Fallout: Equestria where the CMC discuss Scootaloo’s experiments through Stable-Tec, where Scootaloo talks about just how bad the world has become. This Scootaloo doesn’t seem to have the same opinion of the state of the world, but she is pretty separate from it with her lifestyle. It’s a wonderful, curious piece of worldbuilding.
The entire storm sequence was great, from the descriptions to the simple bit that Sweetie Belle was seasick to the fact that Sweetie saved Scoot’s life at the very end.
I will say that I felt the kiss probably should have been handled a bit more directly, especially since Scootaloo didn’t seem to be directly protesting. I felt like they decided to just not talk about it. Maybe Scoots was just trying to be a good friend to Sweetie Belle, who was obviously in a lot of pain. I wanted a little bit of potential shipping (that we did get a bit of with Aurora at the end). Then again, I’m a hopeless romantic and a diehard fan of Twilight Sparkle’s Secret ShipFic Game...so I’m biased. ^^;
Even though we never actually meet the seaponies when we get to Summer Island, we get a chance to meet them on the way and boy was it a treat.
“Some places are asleep, and some places are awake,” she slowly says. Her voice ripples out like water in quiet pond. “Some places are for resting, and some places are for living. Every place is for something.”
Their song was amazing, but this passage here is what caught me. This reveals a great underlying mental process and a unique philosophy that has tremendous potential. You can build entire galaxies of possibilities out of ideas like this and the potential for a deep and vast culture based on this idea is simply endless.
“He frowns with all the authority of a coconut.”
This is probably one of the best lines in the entire story, if not the best. It reminds me of Douglas Adams line from Hitchhiker’s Guide "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.” It’s such a perfect and apt analogy that makes no sense at first glance...but makes perfect sense at second.
In fact, the entire exchange was spectacular. The entire cast of the Island we got to meet was wonderfully written, bursting to the brim with character. In fact, my only issue is that the end with them felt a little bit rushed. I didn’t get a good handle on all of them (especially Aurora). I think this could have been solved by only telling us how old Aurora was. On a re-read, that was what was missing for me. It was only said that she was Sinker’s daughter and Sandy had just earned her cutie mark.
Dammit, stop leaving me wanting more. It’s mean!
So one of things I started with “Long Road to Friendship” was something I’m calling the Highlight Reel. Basically, I make notes as I read on my iPhone or iPad about things that made me laugh, grin, think or generally caught my attention. While I’ve already addressed some of them above, here’s the rest of the ones I highlighted in my readthrough.
Personally, I’ve always like blow-by-blow commentaries on my own works. They let me know if I hit the emotional beats or not. I don’t know if others like it, but hopefully they do!
“Yeah,” Scootaloo replies, “she’s a heck of a ship.”
Sweetie Belle giggles. “What does her name mean, again?”
“It’s the old Pegasopolian word for ‘Luna.’”
This was a great touch...and found out that my objection about The Albinocorn using “Selena” as a name in his book set in the EqG world was totally unfounded. And the Greek/Pegasopolian was great attention to detail since Pegasi Society from before the founding of Equestria was definitely based on Greek Culture (as is most of their architectural design).
“But… seaponies?” Sweetie Belle’s eyes darted from side to side. “Really? Like ‘shoo-be-doo’ and everything?”
Scootaloo shrugs. “They like to sing, what can I say?”
Scoot being completely casual about sold it perfectly. And seriously, those poor seaponies will NEVER escape “shoo-be-doo.” NEVER.
“Lorelay’s a bit, well, out in the middle of nowhere. It’s like the nineties over there; they don’t have radios or anything like that. It’s got a real retro feel to it, ya know what I mean? Might take a few to get used to it.”
The thing that caught me here was the comment about the “nineties.” Even after finishing it, I’m not sure if this ended up being more on the distracting side or more on the world-building side. After all, we think of the nineties in a very specific way, but that’s immediately dashed with the comment about not having radios. In the end, I think this idea could have been presented in a way that wasn’t something that was so easily associated with our culture such as “last century” or even “they made the Ponyville we grew up in look high-tech.”
“Is that your CMC graduation medal? How the heck do you still have that thing? I lost mine years ago!”
Sweetie’s eyes twinkle, and she says, “Twilight showed me how to keep it in safe in a little slipspace pocket. She calls it a magical knapsack. Mine isn’t big enough to hold much—just this and a few other keepsakes.”
I’m ambivalent about the idea of Scootaloo losing her medal. I just don’t think she’d do that. Despite this, I utterly love the idea of Twilight teaching Sweetie Belle how to use pocket dimensions. It’s a fantastic little touch and I’ve found it’s the little touches that make the story real. I do have a small objection to the term “slipspace” though, as it’s used in Star Trek Voyager, Andromeda, Doctor Who and the Halo series as some kind of faster-than-light travel. I think “pocket dimension” would have been a better term (though non-SciFi nuts probably don’t care one wit about it and it’s probably just me being psychotically nitpicky after spending too much time reading the TNG Technical Manual).
My actual comment read: “Yay hammerspace!”
“But it’s only fuel for the fire of Sinker’s big, bearhug of a personality.”
Now that’s a descriptive sentence if I’ve ever read one before.
In the end, the story was a fantastic slice-of-life/adventure piece about a glimpse into an extremely unique vision of Equestria’s future. I want very much to read more about this amazing world, how Sweetie Belle does on Summer Island and a reconnection of the CMC. Pretty much everything done in this story made me crave more, which is the mark of an expert storyteller. In late, out early was handled with almost too much skill!
The characters were handled with deft tact and care, making them fully authentic to the characters we know extrapolated out maybe ten or fifteen years in the future. As I said, it’s filled with little touches, little moments of brilliance that work together seamlessly to create a nigh-poetic masterpiece.
In fact, my real only objection is that there isn’t more of this world to explore right now!
This is definitely going in my favorites and “Epic Adventure” bookshelf. So congrats on a fantastic story that deserves far more attention than it’s received!
That's it for this time folks. Hope you enjoyed it!